The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Linda Borchers (Kona)

 

 

Brothers

Chapter One

 

Johnny clung desperately to Barranca.

His left arm was a mass of throbbing, searing pain.  Why had he let Murdoch goad him into doing something he knew he had no right trying alone? Why hadn’t he just turned around and walked away? But his temper had got the best of him…his mother’s explosive temper…fired all too often by the man he both loved and hated.

He groaned in misery as Barranca missed a step sending pain shooting through his left arm, so exquisite that he nearly passed out.

What a sight he must have made, sagged over the saddle, his face resting in Barranca’s golden mane.  He had lost the reins an hour ago, or was it two…? Johnny couldn’t remember.  He had simply let them slip out of his right hand to dangle along the ground as Barranca slowly, but unerringly, took his compadre home.

It should have worked.  It would have, and that stump would have been history, Murdoch would have been happy, and he would have been sitting at the table eating Teresa’s famous roast beef dinner, if the tackle hadn’t broken.  He could still hear the snap of the rope, could see the heavy wooden block catapulting toward him. He tried to jump out of the way, but it still caught him.  The velocity knocked him off his feet, tearing a gash in his left arm clear down to the bone, and most likely breaking his collarbone as well.

Why hadn’t he stayed home?  He knew a storm was heading their way.  He’d sensed it in the air.  Now he could feel the cold snap of wind blowing from the east, down off the Sierra’s. The kind of storm that tore at the land and feasted on both man and animal.

The cattle would have sense enough to put their backs to the wind and wait out the storm.  But what was he doing?  Trying to reach home…hurt and defenseless. It would be a miracle if he made it all the way to Lancer.

The feel of warm blood slowly flowed down his throbbing arm, dripping off his fingers and saturating his pant leg. How much he had lost, he didn’t know.

There were a lot of things he didn’t know.  How long he lay in the hot sun before the clouds started rolling over the valley.  How long Barranca nuzzled him with his soft nose, prodding him to awaken.  How he got into the saddle. How he was going to make it home.

Johnny sighed and slipped closer to unconsciousness.

 

***

Murdoch let the letter slip from his fingers and watched it flutter to a silent landing on top of his desk.

“I’m sorry, Murdoch. I thought you would want to know as soon as possible,” Arthur Bell said, his regret at having to bring the unwanted news to Murdoch Lancer etched in his face. As Murdoch’s attorney for fifteen years, he both respected the man as a client and as a friend.

“Are you sure?” Murdoch asked, his voice a shadow of the strong, confident owner of the largest ranch in the San Joaquin valley.

Arthur nodded. “I checked it out myself before coming here. To tell you the truth, I received the information two days ago. I wanted to make sure it was true before bringing it to you. There’s no doubt, Murdoch. I’m sorry.”

Murdoch grabbed for his over-stuffed desk chair and dropped into it, his legs no longer able to support him.

In the distance, another clap of thunder rumbled, but Murdoch didn’t hear it. “How?” he asked, the disbelief and misery in his voice reflected on his face. “The Pinkerton Reports…”

Arthur shrugged. “I contacted them. They stand by this newest report. The letter stands true. I’m sorry.”

“You said that already,” Murdoch snapped. “Twice.”

Arthur knew what this news would do to Murdoch. He had cautioned his friend about sending for his sons. He knew Murdoch had been waging a losing battle against Day Pardee and his gang of land pirates. But his sons were complete strangers to him. And his decision to offer them both a third of the ranch was, in his estimation, a very dangerous move. He had tried to persuade him to send for Scott only. College educated, a lieutenant in the cavalry, a background in business and a protégée in his grandfather’s firm. He was an acceptable risk, even if he didn’t know a thing about ranching.

But Johnny Madrid was a wild card Murdoch was a fool to play. What would he do if they defeated Day Pardee? Turn on his father and his brother and take the ranch for himself? Arthur had argued long and hard that there was no room in the valley for a gunslinger like Johnny Madrid.

But he had been wrong. Johnny Madrid had fallen into the role of Johnny Lancer like a man starving for stability in his life. Within six months the brothers had formed a friendship that seemed to be strengthened by their years apart. And Murdoch, with a few remarkably stupid blunders at first, had a family at last.

Arthur glanced down at the picture frame sitting on Murdoch’s desk. He remembered the day Murdoch had herded a reluctant Johnny Lancer into town to take a family portrait from a traveling photographer. He would never forget the high jinks that boy went through to avoid sitting still for the hour required to get the perfect shot. The time and effort on Murdoch’s part had been worth it. Somehow the photographer had captured each Lancer perfectly as they sat on a riser, Murdoch on the top step and Scott to his left and Johnny to his right on the step below. Murdoch’s pride could be seen by a blind man. Scott’s military background was evident in his straight posture, but there was a look of contentment in his eyes…this was where he wanted to be, this is where he belonged. Johnny was the surprise; somehow the photographer had caught that mischievous twinkle in Johnny’s eyes. He may have been a hardened gunfighter, and could still turn into Johnny Madrid at a drop of a hat, when needed, but that day he was Johnny Lancer, sitting with the family he never knew he had and always wanted.

And now the letter he had delivered to Murdoch had destroyed all that.

“What are you going to do?” Arthur asked softly.

The life seemed to drain out of Murdoch. He looked up, his eyes pleading for an answer that would not destroy his world. Arthur didn’t have one.

Murdoch leaned back in his chair and swiveled it so he could look out the picture window.

The incoming storm was already whipping up the wind and the bank of dark ominous clouds marched closer with each clap of thunder. It seemed fitting, this turbulent weather, the forbearer of his world once again shattering in front of his eyes.

“There was a time when this was all I cared about,” he said, his voice heavy with the memory. “This land, this house. I convinced myself that it was enough. There was nothing more important. Scott was healthy and getting the education he deserved. And Johnny…God…Johnny.  I prayed he was safe, that someone had taken him in after Maria died. I convinced myself, right or wrong, that there was nothing more I could do for him. Still, there was never a night that I didn’t think about them both as I closed my eyes. In the morning…in the morning I pushed them back in my mind and took care of the only thing I could nurture, this land. Damn it, Arthur, if I had tried harder. If I had spent more money on the Pinkertons to find Johnny, or demanded to have Scott live here, by my side where he belonged.  This never would have happened.”

“You can’t blame yourself, Murdoch. You were deceived. You believed he was your son because he wanted you to.”

“He looks so much like his mother…”

Arthur sighed deeply. “We believe anything if we want it badly enough.”

Murdoch slammed his hand down on his desk. “I won’t believe it. There has to be a mistake.”

“There’s no mistake. The Pinkerton’s have proof.”

Murdoch reached out for the portrait and pulled it toward him. “It was all I ever wanted. My sons home where they belonged.” He looked up at Arthur. “It doesn’t really matter. They were strangers when they got here. They are both my sons now.”

“It does matter, Murdoch. You are denying your true son his share of this ranch. Doesn’t he deserve what is his birthright?”

Murdoch closed his eyes. How was he going to rip this family apart?

“How am I going to tell him his brother is an imposter?”

 

***

Scott turned the collar of his jacket up against the stiff cold wind coming down from the Sierras. Thunder that had been rumbling in the distance was getting closer at an alarming speed. He would never make it home before the storm hit. Now he wished he had stayed in San Francisco one more week, but something was niggling in the back of his mind that he needed to get home. The stagecoach ride had been uneventful, but discovering that Jelly had not been back to Green River to leave his horse at the livery had furthered his feeling of unease. It could be that they hadn’t received his telegram in time, or thought he would not try to travel with an approaching storm. But it could also mean that something was terribly wrong.

His rented horse was already getting nervous and he had to keep a tight rein on him. Remembering Johnny’s alternate route to the house, avoiding the steep road that dropped down into the meadow where the hacienda sat, he turned south, heading directly into the wind.

Scott hadn’t traveled another half mile when he suddenly pulled his horse to a stop. Something had caught his attention. He remembered his brother’s warning that a smart man gave into those uneasy feelings. If it turned out to be nothing, then nothing was lost. But if you ignored it…you could regret it for a lifetime.

He squinted against the wind and saw something moving across the crest of a hill a quarter mile away. It was a horse walking slowly southward toward the hacienda. It took him a moment to realize the pale horse, silhouetted against the approaching storm clouds, was Barranca.

His heart skipped a beat. What was Barranca doing out here alone? That niggling feeling quickly grew into outright worry.

Tapping his reluctant horse with his heels, he coaxed the animal into a fast trot and, as he got closer, he realized there was someone splayed precariously over the saddle and the neck of the palomino. With a sickening feeling, Scott knew Barranca would not allow anyone but Johnny to ride him like that.

As he approached, he saw Barranca slow down and stop, his head held high, his nostrils flaring. Barranca had no idea who he was. If he had been riding Charlemagne, Barranca would have recognized his stable mate immediately.

“It’s all right, Barranca,” he called gently as he dismounted.  He took a few steps closer to the nervous palomino. “It’s me. I just want to help Johnny.”

Johnny was draped over Barranca’s neck, his black hair hanging over his face, a startling contrast to the blonde mane of his beloved horse.  His left hand dangled over Barranca’s shoulder, his sleeve drenched with blood, dripping off his fingertips to stain the Palomino’s coat. His pant leg glistened with more blood.

He took two steps closer, slowly reaching out for the dangling reins. He dropped the reins to his own horse, hoping the nervous animal would stay ground tied.

“That’s it, Barranca.” Scott kept his voice calm and steady, despite the fear that rode up his spine when he got a closer look at Johnny. There was so much blood on Johnny’s shirt and pants he could not tell if his brother had injured his left leg as well as his arm.

Another clap of thunder shook the ground but Barranca just sidestepped.

Scott quickly checked Johnny’s arm, pulling apart the torn shirt and seeing the deep gash in his bicep. Blood still trickled from the ugly slash, but most of the bleeding had seemed to stop. From the amount that coated Johnny’s sleeve and pant leg he knew his brother had lost too much blood already.

“We have to get him home,” he said. Knowing that Barranca would do all he could to keep the ride gentle, Scott decided to leave Johnny as he was. To move him might start the bleeding again.

Giving thanks that his rented horse had not spooked at the thunder, he mounted and slowly walked both horses toward the house, keeping close enough to Johnny to catch him if he started to slide off the saddle.

 

***

Murdoch poured himself a stiff drink and downed it in one gulp. Offering a drink to his friend, Arthur shook his head. “I better get going before this storm gets any stronger. As it is I’ll be drenched by the time I get home.”

As if on cue, the rain began. “You’re welcome to stay the night, Arthur,” Murdoch offered.

“No. I have a feeling you and your boys have things to settle tonight.” Arthur looked at him severely. “You are going to confront him on this.”

Murdoch nodded reluctantly. “I will. When the time is right.”

“Murdoch, putting it off is not going to make it any easier. In fact it will just fester in your craw. Don’t make it worse on yourself by waiting. It won’t go away with time.”

“I know. I’ll take care of it. I…”

On the heels of another clap of thunder, both men heard a frantic plea for help from the courtyard. “Murdoch! I need help out here!” Murdoch froze as he recognized the voice.

He looked toward Arthur. “That’s Scott,” he said in disbelief. “He’s not due back from San Francisco for another week.”

Both men moved to the picture window behind Murdoch’s desk.

“My God! Johnny!” Murdoch’s knees nearly buckled at the sight of Johnny draped over Barranca’s neck, blood saturating his clothes and the horse’s side. The stupid argument they had over breakfast reared up and punched him in the gut. He had sent Johnny out to remove that tree stump on his own. Scott was in San Francisco and the men were in town for the weekend after payday. Why did he insist that stump had to be removed today?

Before he knew it, he was standing next to Barranca holding the palomino’s reins, trying to keep him calm as Scott rounded both horses. He could feel Barranca trembling, sensing the fear in the air and the coppery smell of blood. It was a miracle neither horse bolted.

“What happened?” he demanded, his voice harsher then he intended. But he was just so damn scared.

“I don’t know,” Scott shouted, reaching up to pull Johnny out of the saddle. “I found him slumped over Barranca, on his way here. I decided not to move him and let Barranca carry him home.”

Scott worked to pry Johnny’s fingers open, but the boy had a death grip on the Palomino’s mane.  “Come on, Johnny!”  Scott shouted, “Let go.  You’re home.  You’re safe.”

Arthur was by Scott’s side waiting to help him pull Johnny off the saddle. A guttural sigh came from Johnny’s lips as if he lost all the fight left in him and he slid off the saddle into Scott’s waiting arms.

Arthur quickly helped Scott shift Johnny’s weight in his arms and ran toward the house to open the door.

Murdoch stood for a long moment frozen in place. Lightening streaked through the sky, followed by a shattering clap of thunder, and the horses reared back in fear, bringing him to his senses. The rain started to fall in earnest, and he turned back to the house, Scott’s back just disappearing through the door. He didn’t have time to look after the horses and prayed they would stay close.

Inside he rushed past Scott, clearing the massive dining table with one swipe of his huge hand.

“What happened?” he barked as he helped Scott gently lay Johnny on the table. Johnny’s normally deeply tanned face was as white as a sheet, his black hair heavy with sweat and plastered across his face. His left sleeve and pant leg were soaked with blood.

 

“I don’t know,” Scott answered, ripping Johnny’s shirt open. “I didn’t have time to check him over, but he’s got a deep gash in his arm. And it felt like his shoulder was dislocated when I carried him in.”

Murdoch nodded. “We’ll need plenty of hot water. Arthur, would you get the water started, and you’ll find a basket of medical supplies in the kitchen pantry.”

“Of course,” Arthur said, quickly running into the kitchen.

Murdoch searched through the utility drawer in the hutch behind the dining table and found the sharp knife he was looking for.

“Where’s Teresa?” Scott asked.

“At the Hamilton’s for the week.”

“We could use her now.”

“I know. But I’ve done my share of sewing up wounds over the years.”

Arthur came running back from the kitchen. “The water’s on and here are all the medical supplies I could find.”

Murdoch took the basket and set it on the table next to Johnny. “I’ll need more light than this. Bring all the candles and lanterns you can find.”

Arthur looked from the stunning amount of blood covering Johnny to the knife in Murdoch’s hand.  “Shouldn’t I go for Dr. Jenkins?”

Murdoch shook his head as another clap of thunder pealed overhead and the steady cadence of the rain hitting the roof grew louder. The brunt of the storm drew nearer. “No, you’ll never make it. If this storm is as big as it looks, it could be days before the roads are passable again. You would never get Sam back here in time.” 

“What are you going to do?”

“What we always do. Take care of our own.” Murdoch looked up at Scott, a grim look on his face. Scott nodded determinedly. 

Scott began unbuttoning Johnny’s pants, noticing for the first time that he was not wearing his gunbelt. What would make Johnny relinquish his gun?

“Do you know what Johnny was doing?” he asked Murdoch, not able to keep the accusing tone out of his voice. He hadn’t read the look on his father’s face until just now. Guilt.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Murdoch snapped. “Right now we have to get this bleeding stopped. Arthur, is that water ready yet?”

Scott would not be dismissed so easily. “Yes, we will talk about it later.”  He moved down to Johnny’s boots and pulled them off then continued to strip Johnny of his damp clothes. Suddenly, he realized his brother’s clothes were damper than just sweat alone would account for, but the rain had not started until after he had gotten him into the house. He let the questions wait. Murdoch was right about getting the bleeding stopped. Johnny could die while he questioned his father. But later he would get his answers.

Arthur set the large candelabra at the head of the table and lit the tapers, then set the lanterns and candles he had found in the downstairs rooms around the table.

Murdoch dipped a towel into the hot water and began wiping the blood from Johnny’s arm. “This looks bad,” he said grimly. “It’s clear down to the bone.”

Even unconscious, Johnny shifted on the table against the pain of the carbolic acid as Murdoch cleaned the wound. Blood flowed freely again from the jagged tear and Scott quickly threaded the needle and handed it to Murdoch. Murdoch nodded, taking the needle and hesitating for only a moment, then began sewing the wound closed. “Sam will probably have to reopen this to check the bone, but we have to stop the bleeding.”

Scott nodded, handing Murdoch a roll of bandaging from the basket. “We’ll need to pop that shoulder back into place and look at his chest.” Dark bruising was beginning to appear on his left side. “He may have broken a rib too. What in the hell was he doing?”

“Taking out that stump in South Creek,” Murdoch answered through clenched teeth.

“Alone?”

“You know how stubborn your brother can be.”

“I also know that he is too smart to attempt something like that unless he was goaded into it.”

Murdoch ignored the taunt and tuned to Arthur instead. “We’ll move Johnny into one of the bedrooms down here. Would you see that the fireplace is lit and the bed turned down?”

Arthur nodded, taking one of the lamps with him. The storm had sent the interior of the house into dark shadows even though it was still hours before night would arrive.

Turning back to Johnny, Murdoch gently probed his ribs and felt the tell tale give of a broken rib. “Set him up so we can bind this rib, then we’ll set his shoulder. We’ll wrap his arm against his chest to protect his shoulder and support his arm.”

The two men worked in silence, moving Johnny about, his arms and legs as boneless as a rag doll’s. It seemed surreal to Scott as the large candelabra cast dancing shadows over his lifeless brother. They had removed all the other lamps around the table so they could bind Johnny’s ribs and shoulder. Now he laid motionless…his face as white as the towel his head rested upon.

“He’s going to be in a lot of pain when he wakes up,” Scott said. The anger he had felt for his father was gone now in the quiet moments, as shock and fatigue set in. He had seen dreadful things when he was in the army, but none struck him so soundly as seeing his own brother so badly injured.

Scott could hear the fatigue in Murdoch’s voice as he gently wiped Johnny’s face with a cool towel. “I have a nearly full bottle of laudanum left upstairs. Johnny refused to take it after Pardee’s bullet.”

“He’ll be taking it this time, at least until Sam can get here. We can’t afford to let Johnny move around with that arm.”

“Johnny’s room is ready,” Arthur said as he returned to the great room. “I collected extra pillows and blankets from the other rooms in case he needs them.”

“Thank you, Arthur. Now, if you could help us move him.”

Laying a sheet and blanket over Johnny to keep him warm, the three men carefully lifted Johnny between them, carrying him with infinite care across the great room and down the hall to the bedroom. The storm raged overhead, lightening flashing beyond the windows and thunder shaking the walls like the devil himself was on a rampage.

It would be a long night before any of them knew if they had done enough to stave off the hungry Angel of Death.

 

***  

 

Chapter Two

The flickering light from the hearth’s roaring fire warmed the downstairs room, but it gave no solace to the two men who sat beside Johnny’s bed, waiting for a sign that he was going to wake up.

It had been several hours since they moved the youngest Lancer into the bedroom and settled him in as comfortably as they could, with pillows cushioning his left arm.

Murdoch’s thoughts were as turbulent as the storm raging outside. His own complicity in Johnny getting hurt trying to move that stump alone weighed heavy on his shoulders.   His inadequate medical care, when his son needed the expert care of a trained doctor, added to his guilt. But above all that, the damn letter from the Pinkerton agency hung like a specter over his every thought. He could not, no...he would not believe that his son was an imposter. Surely there was a feeling that only a father knew…that feeling that his son carried his blood through his veins. Because as sure as he knew that God created this earth, he knew his boys were his.

Scott stood, wrung a cloth out in a cool basin of water and wiped Johnny’s face. “We need to get him to drink some water soon. He’s already developing a fever.”

“I know.” Murdoch tried to resettle himself in his chair, his back and leg protesting his sedentary position. “I’m afraid even that carbolic wasn’t enough to stop the infection. Damn it, we need Sam.”

“We wouldn’t need him if you hadn’t sent Johnny out to move that stump by himself,” Scott snapped, regretting his harsh accusation the moment it passed his lips. “I’m sorry, Sir, I was out of line.”

“No. You have every right to be angry. I’m angry with myself. We had been doing so good, then this morning…one thing led to another and words were said. Just so you know, I was wrong.  And I will admit it the moment Johnny is well enough to understand my apology.”

Scott looked over at his father and knew there was more than Johnny’s injury and whatever angry words they had exchanged. And whatever it was had spilled over to include Arthur. He had seen it in the interaction between the two older men. There was something between them. And Arthur… the man could barely look him straight in the eye.  As soon as Johnny showed some improvement he would talk to both of them. Murdoch and Arthur had been friends for too long to have something come between them.

Another clap of thunder exploded overhead, rattling the windows until Scott feared they would shatter. Johnny’s head lolled to the left then settled again. Murdoch was out of his chair quicker than any man his age should have been capable of, bad back or not, brushing the hair from Johnny’s forehead gently.

“It’s all right, Son. It’s just the thunder.” Murdoch’s voice was as gentle as a spring rain, and Scott had to wonder what kind of father he would have made if fate had not intervened and robbed him of his paternal rights.

Arthur appeared in the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the door frame. “I don’t think we’ve had a storm like this in ten years,” he said, cringing as another clap of thunder shook the house like an earthquake.

“The horses!” Murdoch began to push himself away from the bed when Scott waved him back down.

“I took care of them after we settled Johnny in here. They’re fine. I gave Barranca a couple of apples Johnny had stashed in the barn for him. I thought he deserved an extra treat.” Scott re-wet the towel and folded into a square before placing it on Johnny’s forehead. “I don’t think Johnny would have survived if it wasn’t for Barranca.”

Murdoch combed his fingers through Johnny’s unruly hair. “Johnny said Barranca picked him. I have no doubt that he’s right.”

Arthur cleared his throat and said from his position in the door way.  “And I have no doubt that the both of you are starving. I took the liberty of raiding Teresa’s kitchen and made a quick stew from the leftovers in the pantry. If you would both like to take a break I will watch Johnny for you.”

“Thank you Arthur, but I want to stay here with Johnny. One of us should be here when he wakes up.”  Looking up at Scott, Murdoch nodded toward the door. “Why don’t you take a break and have some of Arthur’s stew. Arthur may be a lousy lawyer, but he is one hell of a cook.”

Arthur bowed dramatically at the waist. “I will accept half that compliment.”  Turning to leave he poked his head back in the room. “But the other half I will consider the ranting of an overwrought father. I’ll bring you up a plate in a few minutes.”

Scott reluctantly followed Arthur out the door. It promised to be a long night. He was sure at some time Murdoch would need some rest himself and he wanted to be there for Johnny.  There were so many questions swirling in his mind right now, but he knew now was not the time to try to get answers. When Johnny was out of danger. Then he would be every bit as formidable as Arthur Bell.

 

***

Sopping up the last of the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread, Scott had to chuckle to himself. What would his grandfather think of his lack of manners?  Without a doubt he would be appalled. But the freedom he found here was a balm to his heart, and he couldn’t see himself returning to the staid and formal life he led in Boston.

Pushing himself back from the table, he headed into the great room to look out the picture window behind Murdoch’s desk. He had seen his share of storms, but this one was one of the worst. He could smell the ozone in the air, and feel the thunder pounding in his veins. This was Mother Nature at war.

Moving away from the window his eye caught the painting of his mother hanging on the wall, for a moment lit with breathtaking beauty by the lightening.

“She was beautiful,” the voice came from behind Scott and he turned to see Arthur standing by the dining table, ready to take the empty dish back into the kitchen.

“Did you know my mother?” Scott asked. The knowledge that so many other people knew his mother when he had never met her haunted him.

“Yes. I was part time lawyer, part time swamper at the saloon when Murdoch and your mother arrived. Morro Coyo was little more than a one horse town...little need for a lawyer.” Arthur smiled, “Cleaning spittoons put money in my pocket, what little there was, but the law fed my soul.”

“You seem to be doing quite well now.”

“At times, too well. I may need to take on a partner sometime in the future. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

“It seems to be a condition none of us can avoid.”

“Well put.” Arthur glanced up at Catherine’s portrait again. “Your mother would be proud of her Harvard educated son. Ironic how capricious life can be. If your father had not sent your mother away for her safety, you would have been born here. And if Maria had not left with Johnny. Instead you both return some twenty years later, strangers to each other and your own father. I can’t imagine how difficult those first few months were.” 

“It’s been worth all the blood and sweat. I can’t see myself anyplace but here now. Boston and Harvard are in the past.”

“But it must be hard sometimes to find stimulating conversation.”

Scott walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself and Arthur two fingers of Murdoch’s good scotch. “If you mean the staid conversation with pompous politicians or Harvard teachers with overblown egos…then no I don’t miss it a bit. In fact I would much prefer to sit down with Johnny and talk over a couple of beers. Most people don’t know just how smart Johnny is. They find it hard to see past the cowboy or the reputation.”

“He means a lot to you.”

Scott turned toward the hallway that led to Johnny’s room. “I never met anyone quite like him. I’m not sure I would have stayed at first if it had not been for Johnny. Murdoch may have needed his sons to help him fight Pardee, but Johnny needed a family more. I couldn’t walk away from him, no matter how hard he tried to push us away.”

“It must have been quite a surprise to find that you had a brother after all those years growing up alone with your grandfather.”

“Surprise is an understatement. I thought I was prepared for what I would find here…”

Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Did your homework before you came?”

“You could say that. But I only had my grandfather’s slanted view of my father and this ranch. It turned out to be so much more. I…”

Murdoch’s voice trailed away on a clap of thunder, but Scott had heard the call and was half way down the hall before Arthur had a chance to react.

Scott found Murdoch leaning over the bed trying to calm Johnny as he tossed and turned in a fit of delirium.

“Hold his legs,” Murdoch ordered as he held Johnny’s uninjured shoulder against the mattress. “He’ll rip those stitches in his arm.”

The thunder and lightening raged over the house as Johnny fought a storm of his own.

Arthur lumbered into the room beneath the weight of a large bucket of water. “Take those covers off. We have to cool him down.” Grabbing the top sheet, Arthur dunked it into the bucket and pulled it out dripping wet. “Lay this over him. We have to get that fever down.”

Scott covered Johnny with the soaking sheet then raced to the bureau and pulled another sheet from the drawer. He soaked that one in the water while Murdoch kept changing warmed towels for cold ones to lay across Johnny’s forehead as his fever continued to rise.

For the next hour not a word was spoken. Scott kept soaking the sheets in cold water as quickly as Arthur could refill the bucket from the kitchen. Murdoch kept replacing towels until he suddenly stopped, feeling Johnny’s forehead.

“Thank God,” he breathed.

Scott placed the back of his hand on Johnny’s forehead, and smiled and nodded. “He’s cooler.” The feeling of relief almost staggered him on his feet. He felt like every ounce of energy was depleted from his body. But they still had work to do. The mattress was soaked and Johnny’s body had sunk into the center of the soggy bed. “We’d better get him to a dry bed.”

Arthur shook his head. “It will take too long to get the fire going in a cold fireplace. We need to bring a new mattress here.”

Murdoch gave his old friend a grateful smile. “I’ll get Johnny ready to move and get this floor dry while you and Scott bring the fresh mattress.”

It was another half hour before the three exhausted men could sit back and relax. The soaked mattress had been tossed outside and the new mattress now supported a dry and cooler Johnny. Even though his face still was flushed from fever, it was not the life threatening inferno it had been earlier.

Murdoch sat in a chair, his feet spread in front of him, his weary body almost too heavy to hold his head up. Scott caught Arthur’s eyes and nodded toward his father. Arthur nodded back and gently, but firmly, coaxed Murdoch out of the chair and over to a cot that had been brought into the room for him.

“Rest,” Arthur said as he laid a blanket over his old friend.  “Johnny will sleep most of the night. He will need you rested in the morning.”

Murdoch nodded gratefully, but suddenly reached out and grabbed Arthur’s arm. “What we talked about before,” he whispered, “stays between us for now. Promise me. I want Johnny healthy before we start asking questions… Promise me.”

Arthur nodded, patting Murdoch’s shoulder before pulling the blanket up over his chest. “I promise. We will talk about it when you are ready. However, that doesn’t mean years down the road. We will settle this as soon as Johnny is able.”

Murdoch closed his eyes. The inevitable taunted him, but exhaustion commanded his body and he fell into a deep sleep even as the house shook with thunder and the room lit up like daylight as each streak of lightning raced across the sky.

 

***

It seemed like only minutes since Murdoch had closed his eyes, but the crick in his neck told him he had laid too long in the awkward position on the short cot. He looked over toward the bed and saw Johnny sleeping, his face still flushed, but nothing like it was earlier. They had dodged that bullet…he hoped there would not be another one before this damn storm let up and Sam could get there to give him the proper medical care he needed.

Scott was also asleep, his head listing forward, moving just slightly with each breath he took. It had been an ordeal for all of them. He was proud of the way his son worked under fire. He wasn’t sure if he could have saved Johnny if he was alone. It had taken all three of them, working together to get Johnny through the crisis. All three…He had forgotten about Arthur for a moment. Damn the man and his principles. Murdoch knew his old friend would never let this rest. Why couldn’t he understand that both these boys were strangers to him, and imposter or not, they were both his sons. If truth be told, he would leave things as they were. He loved them both.

Struggling to lift himself up from the cot he stretched his cramped muscles and moved his head around trying to loosen the crick in his neck. The storm still raged outside. It was impossible to tell what time it was with the dark clouds still blotting out the sky. He would check the old grandfather clock in the great room later. Time really didn’t mean anything at the moment. He walked over to the bed and looked down on Johnny. He looked so incredibly young when he was sleeping, and the flush to his cheeks made him look like the boy Murdoch had envisioned as he counted off the years they had been apart.

Now, at last, they were together. But all too soon they would be torn apart again. He sighed heavily. Arthur was right. If his son was an imposter, where was his real son? Alive somewhere… or dead? And if he was dead, how had he died? Natural causes, or at the hands of a man who wanted to steal his identity?  His eye caught the portrait of Johnny and Scott on the nightstand. A chill went down his spine. At best he was looking at a criminal, at worst he was looking at a man with murder on his mind.

 

*** 

 

Chapter Three

Scott startled awake as a clap of thunder exploded right overhead.

“It’s just thunder, Boston.” Johnny’s voice came weakly from the bed.

Scott bolted from his chair, both angry with himself for falling asleep, and happy that Johnny had at last awoken.

“How do you feel?” he asked, noting the flush of fever still dusting Johnny’s cheeks and the glassy, not quite focused eyes. There was a tightness around his mouth that told Scott his brother was in a great deal of pain. “And I want the truth.”

Johnny lifted his head just enough to see the thick bandages binding his left arm to his chest and sighed, letting his head fall back into the softness of the pillow. “I’ve felt better,” he said with a grimace.

“I should hope so. Here.” Scott gently lifted Johnny’s head up a little higher to sip at a glass of water. “Drink as much as you can, it will help with the fever.”

Johnny swallowed a couple of sips then shook his head. “Enough.”

“All right, for now. But you’re going to have to drink a lot more than that. And you’re going to take this.” Scott held up the dreaded brown bottle of laudanum and Johnny shook his head emphatically.

“Sorry, Brother, but I’m pulling rank. You need this, and you are going to take it, one way or the other.”

“I’d listen to him, Son.”  Murdoch’s voice hitched on the tail of a loud clap of thunder, making the suggestion sound like an order from the Gods.  

Scott waited, bottle in hand, as his father walked across the room. “I won’t pull any punches here, Johnny. Your arm is broken, you have a gash clear down to the bone that I sewed together as best I could, and at least two broken ribs. We have a storm out there that is hell bent on blowing us to kingdom come, and no way to get Sam out here to tend to you. We’ve done all we can, now it’s up to you to do your part. That means staying in this bed and taking the laudanum.”

Sheepish is the only word Scott could think to describe the look Johnny gave their father. Taking advantage of Johnny’s unaccustomed acquiescence, Scott poured a liberal spoonful of the opiate and watched him swallow the medication.

“That should take effect in a few minutes.” Scott rinsed the spoon in a glass of water and laid it next to the bottle for the next time.

Johnny looked around, confused. “How did I get here?”

“Barranca was bringing you home when Scott spotted you.”

“Barranca?” Johnny suddenly tried to sit up, gasping at the pain. Both Murdoch and Scott quickly pushed him back down,

“Lie still,” Scott admonished. “He’s fine. I brushed him down and gave him two apples from that barrel you have stashed in the barn. If Teresa knew where her best apples were going.”

Johnny smiled. “He’s worth it. Best horse I ever had.”

Scott watched Murdoch gently pull the covers up over Johnny’s chest and then brush his brother’s flushed face with the back of his hand. “Something I learned a long time ago,” Murdoch said softly. “A horse is a good judge of character. Barranca is no exception. He picked you for a reason.”

Why was it that Murdoch could find the perfect words to say to his son when he was hurt or sick, but those same words never passed his lips when Johnny was healthy? Scott remembered the talk he had planned to have with his father. He would add that one to the list of questions.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Scott asked, noticing the look of guilt in Murdoch’s eyes.

“I was pulling that stump out at South Creek. Don’t know why, but the rope broke and the block nearly took my head off.”

“You never should have been out there alone in the first place.” Scott shot his father an accusing look. “There was still two feet of water left in that creek. He could have drowned.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny, I pushed you into it,” Murdoch said softly

Johnny sighed. “I was just being stubborn. I should’a known better,” he said, his words slurred as the laudanum started taking effect.

Murdoch combed his fingers through Johnny’s thick black hair. “I would never do anything to cause you harm.”

Scott hoped Johnny heard those last words as his heavy eyelids slid closed. They had come so close, once again, to losing Johnny. But they were a family now. Nothing would pull them apart…ever again.

 

***

Arthur stood in the hallway listening to Murdoch and his sons. It made him question the Pinkerton’s report. But it was there in black and white. Had the imposter played the game so well that he now thought that he was truly Murdoch’s son? And why the deception?  He had made no overt acts, so far, to suggest he wanted to take over the ranch. Was he simply in need of the love and trust he found here?  Perhaps he had other plans when he first came here, but found himself accepted almost without question. Surrounded by a father and brother that was not his by birth, but now his by desire?

He knew he was asking a lot of Murdoch. His old friend had waited years to be this happy. Damn, he should have been sure. He owed it to Murdoch to search for the truth before handing him the Pinkerton’s suspicions. But Murdoch needed to know. If there was another man out there who truly deserved to be here, then what right did he or Murdoch have to deny him what was justly his?

And if his son was an imposter…they could all be in danger.

Clearing his throat, he stepped into the bedroom. “Was that Johnny I heard talking a minute ago?”

Murdoch nodded. “He came to long enough for us to get some water and laudanum down him. He’ll sleep for awhile. Hopefully this storm will blow over soon and we can get Sam out here.”

“I was hoping I could have a minute of your time, Murdoch.” Arthur ventured carefully.

Murdoch looked at him suspiciously.

“Go on, Murdoch,” Scott said, sitting back in his chair. “I’ll watch Johnny for awhile. It looks like you could use a strong cup of coffee.”

“Yes, I could. Can I get you anything?”

“A cup of that coffee sounds good. The stronger the better.”

Murdoch patted Scott’s shoulder. “Consider it done.”

Arthur studied the two brothers again. Could it be possible?

 

***

Murdoch led Arthur to the kitchen then turned on him, their friendship strained to its limits. “I told you I didn’t want to discuss this until Johnny was better.”

“Murdoch please, just hear me out.” Arthur deliberately took his time pouring himself a cup of coffee and Murdoch was losing his patience rapidly.

“Get it said, Arthur. Then not another word.”

Arthur nodded.  “We’ve been friends for a lot of years, Murdoch, and we’ve been through our share of highs and lows. You more than I. I just don’t want to see you hurt again. But you have to face facts. If there is a chance…You have to speak to Johnny.”

Murdoch slammed his coffee cup down on the butcher block table in the kitchen, spilling the hot liquid onto his hand. “And tell him what?’ Murdoch roared. “Johnny, your brother isn’t really your brother. He’s an imposter.”

“It has to be done.  Murdoch, think about it. Do you have any proof Scott is who he says he is? Do you have a picture of him?”

“I showed you the picture of him standing next to General Sheridan.”

“You showed me a picture of someone standing next to General Sheridan. How do you know that is Scott Lancer? Because he told you so?  Do you have any pictures of him standing next to his grandfather?  Do you have anything solid to prove that Scott is who he says he is?”

Murdoch shook his head, striving to find answers to Arthur’s damnable questions. If he asked, and he was wrong, would he lose Scott forever?  Scott was a proud man. To have his identity questioned, to have his own father question who he was could drive him away in a heartbeat. And once the question was asked, it could never be taken back again.

“Scott looks so much like Catherine.”

“Because you want him to.” Arthur reached across the table and laid his hand atop Murdoch’s. “Whether you want to believe it or not, Johnny could be in grave danger, if Scott is an imposter waiting for just the right moment to strike. Murdoch, why did that rope break? I know Johnny has had his share of accidents….but have they all been accidents? Did that rope have help breaking?”

“That’s nonsense. Ropes break. A ranch is a dangerous place to work.”

“More so if there is someone trying to get your share of the ranch.”

Murdoch stood, the chair scraping the tiled floor. “I’ve heard enough, Arthur. I don’t want you saying a word to either of my boys, do you understand?”

“You’re making a mistake, Murdoch.”

Murdoch leaned forward, his knuckles on the table. “You brought me this information as my attorney, not as my friend. It will stay between lawyer and client. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes. But I hope for Johnny’s sake, you are making the right decision.”

Murdoch strode out of the room, angry at Arthur for pressing him on the matter, and angry at himself for having a niggling doubt about Scott’s identity.”

 

***

Murdoch was down the hall before he remembered Scott’s coffee. The tumultuous weather outside couldn’t hold a candle to the feelings he had inside. Damn Arthur and his Pinkerton report. The idea was ludicrous. And yet…

Murdoch stepped into Johnny’s room. The drapes were pulled tight against the ferocious storm outside. Still the room lit up with each streak of lightening, playing shadows against the walls.

Scott sat by Johnny’s side, book open on his lap, but his eyes were glued to his brother. His brother…was he?

“How is he?” Murdoch asked. Could Scott hear the hesitation in his voice?

Scott leaned forward on the chair and resettled the covers over Johnny’s chest. “He seems to be sleeping comfortably. I checked his arm a few minutes ago, no new bleeding. You may have missed your calling, Sir. You should have been a surgeon.”

“With these?” Murdoch held up his huge hands.

Scott smiled. “I’m not sure size has anything to do with it. Some people just have an innate skill. I’m just glad you knew what to do for Johnny. I think he will be all right until Sam can get here. His fever hasn’t gone back up and his fingers are a healthy color and warm to the touch.”

“It could have been so much worse. Thank God that block didn’t hit him in the chest or the head. It could have killed him. I can’t believe that rope broke like that.”

“It does seem odd. I know Jelly checks all the equipment every time it’s brought back to the tack room. If it was frayed I’m sure he would have noticed it. And if he hadn’t, Johnny should have. I guess that’s why they call them accidents…”

Murdoch looked from Johnny to Scott. “Accidents?”

“You know that Johnny is accident prone. Sometimes I think he goes about things with so much enthusiasm that he forgets to be careful”

“A man doesn’t survive the life of a gunfighter by not being careful.” The coldness in his voice surprised him. Murdoch saw Scott raise an eyebrow but said nothing in return. He couldn’t let himself fall into the trap of second guessing every word Scott said, dissecting his every movement. Either he trusted Scott or he didn’t. He couldn’t walk the tightrope of suspicion.

Clearing his throat, he gently laid his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “You didn’t get much sleep last night. Why don’t you get a cup of coffee and try to relax? You know what a handful Johnny can be when he thinks he’s better. Save your strength for the fight ahead.”

Scott smiled, so reminiscent of Catherine’s smile. How could this not be his son?

“I think I’ll do that, Sir. We’re still looking at a few days before Sam can get here. Even after this rain ends the roads will be impassable.”

“That last time we had a storm like this, it was a week before anyone could travel. I’m afraid this one is worse. But we have plenty of food and a strong roof over our heads, we’ll ride it out. And with God’s help, Johnny will too.”

Scott took one last look at Johnny before smiling at Murdoch. “Knowing my brother, he will do just that. Call me if there is any change.”

“I will, now get some rest.”

Scott turned down the hallway leaving Murdoch to ponder exactly who he had just been talking to.

 

*** 

 

Chapter Four

The brunt of the storm had finally moved on, leaving behind a steady light rain.  It had been three days since Scott had brought Johnny home, and although Johnny still had a mild fever, the constant hot compresses had drawn most of the infection from his arm and the laudanum had kept him mercifully quiet.

Flashfloods and sodden roads still kept most ranches in the area isolated. It would be another three days before anyone could travel. And longer if this rain didn’t stop soon.

Scott finished his breakfast, a far cry from the meals either Maria or Teresa set forth each day. He could whip up a fried egg or an omelet, but he had to admit that he had gotten used to the Mexican breakfasts, with their spicy sauces.

He broke the yoke in his egg and watched it spread across his plate, stopping an inch away from his limp bacon. It was better to watch the intricacies of a sunny side up egg than the growing tensions between Murdoch and his old friend Arthur. Whatever had come between them seemed to be festering more each day they were forced to be together.

Sometime today, when Murdoch was sitting with Johnny, he would speak to Arthur and try to find out what was causing the rift. He knew the fragility of friendship in times of crisis. Words could be said, feelings could be hurt. Whatever it was, he hoped to get to the bottom of it and reunite the two.

Arthur set his fork down on his plate, overly loud in the silence. “Compliments to the chef,” he said, trying to keep his voice light. “I’m afraid I always massacre my eggs. You surely didn’t learn to cook at your grandfather’s house. I’m sure he had a staff of cooks around the clock.”

Scott saw the angry scowl Murdoch aimed at Arthur.

“Grandfather had some of the best cooks in Boston. I use to sneak into the kitchen and watch them. When Grandfather was away, Myrtle would let me help her.”

“I’m sure your grandfather would not have approved.” Arthur chuckled, easing the simmering tension.

“She would have been fired on the spot if he had found out.”

“Is Myrtle still working for your grandfather?” Arthur asked.

Scott shook his head. “I’m sure she is long retired, or dead. She was not young when I knew her.”

“You must miss Boston.”

“Sometimes. Especially when it’s a hundred degrees out and I’m pushing some dumb cow out of the underbrush. At those times I can see myself sitting in the balcony of the Arena Theater.”

“On the corner of Chandler and Tremont Streets, right”

Scott nodded, noticing how intently Murdoch was now following the conversation. It was odd that it should pique his curiosity. Most conversations about Boston bored his father to tears.

“Nothing could be better than a night at the opera,” Arthur continued.

“Opera?” Scott laughed. “Mr. Bell, the Arena Theater was a far cry from the opera. At the Arena you would see burlesque acts, singers and pantomime. For an opera you would go to the Boston Museum.”

“Yes, of course.”

Murdoch looked between the two men. “Why would you go to a museum to watch an opera?”

“A very good question, Murdoch.” Arthur nodded to Scott to answer the question.

“The Boston Museum is a theater, but it also houses a gallery of curiosities. One of my favorites was the wax tableaux. A collection of full size figures sculpted in wax. It was an amazing sight.”

“I have to admit it gave me the shivers. I would much prefer to stroll down State Street or Commercial Street.”

Scott nodded. “My favorites were Winthrop Square and Franklin Street. I can’t imagine what it looks like now after the fire. I’m sure it will be remembered as one of the worst fires in history.  Over seven hundred buildings were lost.”

“A terrible disaster. I’m afraid I haven’t heard all the details. I hear very little from back east of late. You must get regular reports on the comings and goings in Boston from your grandfather.”

“I get a letter from him at least once a month.”

That statement seemed to surprise Murdoch. “I had assumed Harlan had washed his hands of you since I haven’t seen any letters.”

Scott shrugged. “I guess they have always arrived when I’m in town. And I didn’t think either you or Johnny would be very interested in what he had to say.”

“Probably not.”

Suddenly feeling a little uneasy, Scott stood and excused himself from the table. “I made some light chicken soup for Johnny. I was hoping he could start eating something more than broth.”

“Good idea,” Murdoch agreed. “If he can hold that down, maybe some toast soaked in milk.”

Scott nodded, feeling two sets of eyes watching his back as he ladled the soup into a bowl. It seemed that whatever was between Murdoch and Arthur Bell somehow involved him too.

 

***

Scott knocked lightly on Johnny’s bedroom door and received a soft, but truculent, answer. “It ain’t locked.” Scott sighed heavily. His brother was beginning to feel trapped. It was both a blessing and a nightmare. It meant that Johnny had gotten through the worst, for now. It remained to be seen what Sam would have to do to set his broken arm. But it also meant that Johnny had beaten the life threatening infection. Now it was up to him and Murdoch to keep their patient quiet and in bed until Sam could look at his arm.

He opened the door and stepped in, a smile growing in spite of himself at the sight of Johnny petulantly staring at him from the bed. It was times like these that he found it impossible to believe that his brother had at one time been the infamous Johnny Madrid. Now he looked like a very sick, very vulnerable young man. Murdoch had spent the night watching over his youngest son and at some time had lifted Johnny into a semi- sitting position, his back supported by a nest of pillows. There was no longer any blood showing through the heavy bandaging trapping his left arm against his side.

Even across the room Scott could see the glazed look brought on by the laudanum, but Johnny’s complexion no longer looked pasty white. The drug, whether Johnny liked taking it or not, was controlling the pain and keeping him quiet. But even the opiate would not keep him down for much longer. They certainly had their hands full.

“Morning,” Scott grinned. “I thought you might like something besides just plain broth. I made a very nice chicken soup, if I do say so myself.”

“I’d rather have huevos rancheros,” Johnny grumbled.

“I’m sure you would. But one: I can’t cook like Maria, and two: you aren’t ready for anything but soup.”

“Maria would make it for me.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Not until Sam had a look at you. Nice try, Brother.”

While Scott talked, he unobtrusively slipped a napkin under Johnny’s chin and dragged the chair sitting next to the bed closer. Filling a spoon with the savory soup he raised it toward Johnny.

“I’m not a baby, Scott. I don’t need spoon feeding.”

Scott sighed. “I know you don’t like to have to admit that you need help. But, Johnny, you are as weak as a kitten.  Let me, let us, help you. That’s what families do. They help each other. And they take the help when it is needed.”

Scott saw the conflict in Johnny’s eyes. He was asking a lot of his brother. To admit he needed help, to allow anyone to care for him was a big step for the ex-gunslinger. He had lived a solo existence for most of his life. To trust anyone was the biggest step of all.

After he had been felled by Pardee’s bullet he had needed help. But he never once accepted it willingly. He fought everything they did for him. Never wanting to admit he wasn’t able to take care of himself. Now, again, he needed help. Would he accept it this time? Had he learned to be a part of this family enough to allow the family that loved him to care for him?

The answer came in a soft sigh. Johnny nodded toward the bowl. “Well, you better get spooning, ‘cause I’m starving.”

Scott grinned. “We can’t have that.”

Johnny was only able to take a few bites, but it stayed down and he soon fell asleep. Scott pulled the blanket over Johnny’s chest and gently brushed his cheek. There were simple moments in life when the smallest of things seemed the most important. This was one of them. Johnny had trusted him, and that was a gift that was immeasurable. He had read once that every journey begins with a single step. This morning had been one of those steps.

 

***

It took another two days for the rain to stop and the roads to dry up enough to become passable. Reluctantly, Scott agreed to be the one to ride into town and bring Sam back. He didn’t want to leave Johnny, especially with Murdoch and Arthur acting so strangely, but Murdoch would never leave Johnny’s side and Arthur was too old to make the journey safely.

There was also a concern about Sam. Would the old doctor be able to sit a horse long enough to get to Lancer?  There was no way his surrey could get through the mud that still covered the roads. It was horseback or nothing.

Murdoch handed Scott his rifle and he stowed it in the rifle scabbard on his saddle. “Take care,” he said. “If you can’t get through, come back. Johnny is holding his own now.”

Scott knew that. He also knew every day that Johnny’s arm was left unset made it that much harder for Sam to correct it. If they couldn’t get Sam out here in time, Johnny could have a useless arm. He would do anything to keep that from happening.

“I’ll get there and bring him back. Might take some time to track him down. Who knows where he might be.”

Murdoch laid his hand on Scott’s knee. “The most important thing to me and your brother is that you come back safely. Johnny can live with a busted arm. He wouldn’t want to live without his brother.”

Scott was overwhelmed by Murdoch’s uncharacteristic sentimentality.  His odd behavior was getting worse by the day. Whatever was simmering between him and Arthur was spilling over and affecting everyone. Even Johnny.  Johnny had noticed it too, and had asked about it. Scott could tell him nothing more than he knew himself. Which was nothing.

Tipping his hat, he turned his horse toward the Lancer arch and rode away.

 

***

Another morning and Johnny watched the sun brighten the sky outside his window. He felt every bit as much a prisoner here as he would in a real jail. His shackles were his own body, too weak to even climb out of bed, and the iron bars were the window and door leading out of his room.

Murdoch and Scott were his wardens, as calculating and tough as any warden he had met in his frequent stints in Mexican jails. They were not cruel or vengeful like real wardens; they used love and guilt to keep him in this bed.

If he laid very still, he found he could go for longer periods of time without the dreaded laudanum. But that gave him time to think. To try to remember.

He had only faint memories of what happened. He had to rely on Scott and Murdoch to tell him what really happened…what he had told them in his delirium. He vaguely remembered the stump and Barranca nuzzling him awake. But after that, nothing until he awoke here in one of the downstairs bedrooms.

There was also something else going on, something he could not put his finger on. A feeling of tension that went beyond his accident, and no one was willing to tell him what it was. He had sensed it the minute he was cognizant long enough to put two and two together, and had asked his brother, but Scott seemed as confused as he was.

Murdoch seemed worried about something, and it went far beyond the ill conceived guilt his father felt for sending him out to tackle the stump. He could see it in his eyes. He could see it whenever Scott came into the room. For the first time since Pardee had attacked, Johnny saw distrust in Murdoch’s eyes. Not for him, but for Scott. What could Scott have done to test Murdoch’s belief in him?

From the very beginning, Scott had been the favored brother. It didn’t bother Johnny all that much. He knew Scott was the son any man would be proud of. College educated… a war hero.  And what did he have to offer? A reputation as a fast gun? It was a miracle that Murdoch had not told him to hit the road once Pardee had been taken care of. And in the months that followed, hard as they were at times, he came to feel that this was his home, and Murdoch was his father.

Now he felt a riff, and it worried him.

A light cough startled him and he looked toward the door to see Arthur standing there. He had been so lost in thought that he had not heard the man walk down the hallway. Was he feeling so comfortable here that he was losing his instincts, or was the laudanum still addling his brain?  In either case, he did not like that he had lowered his guard so completely.

Feeling the awkwardness of the moment, Johnny waited for Arthur to speak. He watched as the lawyer crossed the room and poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the night stand and offered it to him.

“Your father is out looking over the damage from the storm. I thought I’d look in on you.”

“Gracias.” Johnny accepted the water and drank half a glass. “Where’s Scott?”

“He left at first light this morning to bring Dr. Jenkins out here. It seems you have quite a reputation for not behaving. They want the doctor here as soon as possible.”

Johnny snorted.

“Can I get you anything besides the water?”

Johnny studied the old man. He was near to Sam’s age, he guessed. Never saw him in anything but a suit and bowtie. Johnny knew he was an old friend of Murdoch’s. But something had happened to test that friendship. If Scott hadn’t mentioned it, he would have seen it himself.

“I’m fine, thanks.” Johnny handed the glass back. “You’ve been friends with Murdoch for a lot of years,” he said, determined to find out what was going on between his father and Arthur.

Arthur nodded. “I met Murdoch when he and Catherine first came to Morro Coyo. He still had a Scottish brogue back then.” He laughed.

“Never could figure out how a refined woman like Catherine Garrett could marry a man like Murdoch Lancer. I mean, he ain’t exactly refined.”

Arthur had to laugh. “Catherine may have been refined and used to the finest social circles in Boston, but she had a temper. She was as strong as any woman born out here, had to be to survive this wild land.”

“But she didn’t. Survive I mean.”

“It nearly broke Murdoch’s heart when he found out. But who knows what would have happened? Perhaps she would have died in childbirth here as well as on the road. And if she hadn’t, then your father would never have met your mother.”

“Was she happy here? At least in the beginning?”

“She seemed to be. Your father had a propensity for marrying strong minded women. Maria had a temper, and when she let it go the whole valley could hear her. But your father took it in stride. She was so beautiful and so full of life. After he lost Catherine, he seemed to lose that spark of life. Your mother brought it back to him.”

“Then destroyed it again when she left,” Johnny said dourly.

“He was a broken man when she took you away from him. I thought I would never see him happy again. But when you and your brother returned, despite the hardships, he was happy.”

“Was?” Johnny prided himself in reading men. He could see, an instant before they knew it themselves, when a man was ready to draw his gun. And he could tell when something was biting at a man’s craw. Arthur had something on his mind and Johnny was bound to find out what that was.

“Murdoch has a lot on his mind right now, not the least being your health.”

“It’s more than that. I’ve been hurt before. He almost looks lost. I don’t know what’s causing it. And I can’t help him if I don’t know what it is.”

“It isn’t my place to discuss it. It falls under lawyer client privilege.”

“If it has to do with the ranch then it concerns me too.”

“It’s not about the ranch. And even though it concerns you, it is not about you. Now, I think I have said more than I should, and you need your rest.”

“If it’s not about me, is it about Scott? Is Scott in trouble?” Johnny reached out and grabbed Arthur’s hand as the old man turned away, the action drawing a gasp of pain from his lips. “I asked you a question. Does it concern Scott?”

“What’s going on here?” Murdoch demanded from the doorway.

Johnny looked at his father and held him fast with a look that said he would not be denied. “We have some talking to do.”

 

*** 

 

Chapter Five

Murdoch watched as Arthur left the room, Johnny’s eyes on both of them. What had Arthur said?  He had no intention of telling Johnny about Arthur’s suspicions. Or his, as much as he hated to admit it. But once his younger son’s curiosity was piqued, nothing but the whole story would satisfy him. This time, the whole story could rip this family apart.

The door swung closed behind the lawyer and Murdoch was left to look down at Johnny. The young man was in obvious discomfort and if he could, Murdoch would medicate him with laudanum, both helping with the pain and getting past the interrogation he knew was coming. But Johnny loathed the medication and would fight tooth and nail not to take it.

“Arthur says you’re worried about something,” Johnny started off immediately. “Something to do with Scott. Mind telling me what it is?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Murdoch answered sternly. “It’s a private matter and has nothing to do with you.”

“That’s not what Arthur said. He said it involved me, but wasn’t about me. If it involves me, I got a right to know.”

Johnny leaned back against the mound of pillows and tried to find a more comfortable position, the small movement still causing him considerable pain. Murdoch saw the grimace and hoped Scott could find Sam.

“If I wanted to discuss it with you, I would. And I will, when it’s time. For now, please, trust me that I’m doing what is best for everyone.”

Murdoch saw the hurt look pass over Johnny’s face. Damn Arthur for saying anything. This was not the time to discuss it, and he would not burden Johnny with the doubts that now plagued him. Without knowing it, old discussions between him and Scott would tumble unwanted into his head. He found himself second guessing everything the young man said.

“Johnny, try to understand. I’m not keeping secrets from you. I have come across some facts that need to be verified. It would be unconscionable of me to say anything until I know the truth of it. Johnny, you’ve lived with the pain of half-truths all your life. I know the pain they have caused you. You above anyone should know the danger in speculating. I will tell you everything when I have enough information.”

To Murdoch’s surprise, Johnny nodded. But the set of his mouth told him that his son was not satisfied with the answer. It stunned Murdoch to think that they had come this far, that Johnny was willing to wait, for now at least. They had come a long way since that first afternoon in the great room when two strangers stood before him. Now he had to wonder if Scott was still a stranger.

Johnny fingered the edging on the blanket covering his chest. “Tell me one thing…does it have to do with Scott?”

Murdoch could see that Johnny had his answer when he hesitated.

“If Scott’s in trouble and your silence hurts him…”

Murdoch raised his hand. “I promise I will do everything within my power to help my son. Now you need your rest. If Scott is able to find Sam, they should be back in a couple hours.”

Johnny closed his eyes and Murdoch knew he was being dismissed. He had come so close to saying something to Johnny. Why did this have to happen now? When they were a true family, when they were happy?  It wasn’t fair. Damn it to hell, it wasn’t fair.

 

***

Johnny felt a light touch on his forehead and smelled the strong order of soap and medicine that always clung to Sam Jenkins clothes. With a soft sigh he opened his eyes. At last, maybe he would get out of this damn bed.

“Well, young man, what have you done this time?” Sam asked. There was worry in his voice, but no condemnation. Sam was an old friend of Murdoch’s and Johnny’s first true friend when he arrived here. He felt instantly that he could trust the old doctor, and Sam had never let him down. Truth be told, there were things Sam knew that no one else in the world knew. And Sam understood the trust Johnny put in his hands.

“An old stump got the better of me.” Johnny grinned. “Then Murdoch and Scott got it into their heads that I couldn’t get up out of this bed. Been waiting for you to spring me.”

“Is that right? Well, let’s have a look.”

It seemed to take hours for Sam to finish his examination. By the time he was through Johnny was sweating and hurting almost as much as he did when he first woke up almost a week before.

Sam washed his hands and set the towel on the nightstand. Ladling a dose of laudanum, he gave Johnny that look that said he had better obey, or else. Johnny wouldn’t give in to just anyone, but Sam wasn’t just anyone. Johnny took the medicine.  “You rest for a few minutes, Johnny, and I’ll have a talk with your family.”

“No.” Johnny bristled. “You got something to say about me, you can say it in front of me. Bring them up here.”

Sam nodded reluctantly. “It won’t be just your decision here, Johnny. Your father still has a say in your treatment.”

“I’m over twenty one,” Johnny snapped.

“Yes, but not by much. Let’s get them up here and make some decisions.”

As Johnny watched Sam open the door and disappear down the hall he had a terrible feeling that he was not going to like what Sam had to say.

It took longer than it should have before Johnny heard the hurried footsteps approaching his room. It appeared Sam had a talk with Murdoch and Scott, and they had already made THEIR decision. Well he still had a say in it.

Johnny felt as if he were facing a firing squad as the three men filed in silently. Sam took the chair in front of his bed and sat for a moment deciding what to say.

“Get it said, Doc,” Johnny said.

“All right. You know of course that when the block hit you it ripped a gash in your arm clear down to the bone, breaking the bone as well. Murdoch did the right thing under the circumstances…the only thing he could do; stitched up the tear and immobilized your arm. But broken bones are a funny thing. Even if they are not aligned properly, they begin to re-set, knitting in the position they are in. That is what has happened to your arm, Johnny. It has already started to set. If we leave it as it is, I’m afraid it will be useless to you.”

Johnny couldn’t find enough spit in his mouth to swallow.

“The wound looks clean and your fever is down, but of course I am concerned about the broken bone.”

Johnny somehow found his voice. “You said if you leave it…sounds to me like you can do something.”

Sam nodded. “The bone will have to be re-broken and set properly. It will require surgery and more time in bed. But it is the only chance for you to have complete use of your arm.”

Johnny looked from Sam to Murdoch and Scott. He could tell in their faces that they had already made their decisions. He had to admit to himself it wasn’t that hard. Either do as Sam said or have a bum arm the rest of his life.

“When will you do it?” Johnny asked, hoping his voice didn’t give him away.

“In the morning. I don’t want that bone knitting any more than it already has. It will require anesthesia. And afterwards you will need to stay in this bed for a minimum of two weeks.”

“Two weeks!  I’ve been here for a week already.”

Scott leaned forward, patting Johnny’s knee. “Two weeks will fly by. In a couple of days everyone will be back and you’ll be too busy warding off Teresa and Maria’s mother henning to notice the time.”

Johnny glared at him. “It’s not Teresa and Maria I’m worried about. It’s him.”  Johnny nodded toward Murdoch. “He’s the worst mother hen I’ve ever met.”

“Damn right,” Murdoch agreed, a hint of humor in his stern voice. “Whatever Sam says is gospel.”

Johnny’s eyelids had begun to close of their own volition. As he sank toward sleep he wondered if he would ever find out what was troubling Murdoch. Tomorrow…tomorrow he would ask Scott. If it involved his brother then maybe he had some answers.

 

***

Johnny wasn’t ready for this. Somehow they had carried him down the hallway and now he was lying on the dining table. He felt as if he were drifting just above the table, the feeling both comforting and frightening. He tried to move his arms and legs but they didn’t exist.

Scott leaned down over him, his face close to Johnny’s face. “Hey, you’re awake.” Scott’s voice sounded distant and unreal as if he were in the midst of a nightmare. Maybe he was.

“Not to worry, Johnny.” Sam took Scott’s place and looked down at him. “You’ll just go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over. Scott is going to put a mask over your face to administer the chloroform. Don’t fight it, Johnny. I promise you’ll be safe.”

There was an odd confusion of words then Murdoch was looking down at him, brushing the bangs from his forehead. “Sam’s right, Son, you won’t feel a thing. And in a couple of weeks you’ll be up and around again.”

There was something bothering Johnny. He couldn’t remember exactly what it was. Scott…Something was wrong with Scott.

Scott placed the mask over Johnny’s nose and mouth and he smelled the sickening sweet odor of the chloroform. But he was still worried. “Scott…” he gasped, trying to fight the anesthesia. “Keep…Scott…safe…” And he knew no more.

 

***

Scott was both fascinated by the surgery and repelled by it. So much blood, and the seemingly callous way Sam re-broke the bone. He carefully administered the drops of chloroform onto the cloth mask to keep Johnny under, making sure he didn’t inhale too much of it himself. The surgery took longer than he expected, but at last Sam was ready for the heavy splints that would keep Johnny’s arm in place. He could only imagine how uncomfortable the contraption would be. But he also knew how necessary it was. The trick would be to convince Johnny of its necessity.

At last the surgery was done. Sam was satisfied with the outcome and together Scott, Murdoch and Arthur carried Johnny back to his bedroom and his waiting bed. Pillows were placed at his sides to keep him from trying to turn over in his sleep. His ribs were once again bound tightly, and his now newly broken arm was strapped to his side. A folded sheet protected his skin from the rough wood.

Sam assured them all that it would be several hours before Johnny regained consciousness, and that they had better take the time to rest before he awoke, because he would not be happy.

 

***

Happy Johnny was not. And after being trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey for a week he was ready to take some heads off.  At the moment he didn’t care who his target was, he just let loose with a salvo of venomous diatribe that would behead any lesser man. Luckily Scott was that man, and he was ready for Johnny.  In fact he was waiting for this moment, knowing that when his brother started to heartily complain, he was on the road to recovery.

It was almost comical, in a macabre way, and Scott had to fight hard not to smile in sympathy. Johnny didn’t like sympathy.

Sam had been over judicious when it came to Johnny, though it was not hard to understand, given Johnny’s track record for listening to Sam’s orders. After setting the broken bone, Sam had set his arm in three heavy strips of wood from just below his armpit to his fingertips, and then strapped the splint to his side. That left Johnny without the ability to bend at the waist to sit up or crawl out of bed.

Sam had also been aware of Johnny’s antics when he had been injured before, and tied the bandaging that held his arm prisoner behind him and out of his reach.

After several expletives, both in Spanish and English, Johnny got down to the heart of the matter. “Would you get this damn thing off me? I’m not a damn cow, I don’t need to be hogtied! I swear when I see Sam he’ll regret the day he ever met me. Never heard of a man being trussed up like this just ‘cause he has a broken arm. All I need is a sling, and I’ll be fine. Come on, Scott. I promise to wear a sling for as long as you say, just get me out of this contraption.” Johnny’s voice was starting to weaken, and so was he.

“Sam explained why you needed that ‘contraption’. It wasn’t a simple break, and you know it. Besides that, you dislocated your shoulder and broke a couple ribs. Another week and he’ll change it to something lighter and I’m sure he’ll let you out of bed. Patience, Brother, just a little patience.”

“Easy for you to say,” Johnny snapped.

Scott hung his head. “I know, Johnny. And I’m sorry this happened to you. It shouldn’t have. You should never been out there on your own…”

“Don’t want to go over that again, Scott. I was the one who made the decision to go out there. It wasn’t Murdoch’s doing.”

“He goaded you into it.”

“I could have said no. It was an accident. It just happened. Let’s leave it at that.”

Scott pushed the chair sitting next to the bed closer, looking back at the door. “I get the feeling our father doesn’t think it was an accident. Has Murdoch been asking you any strange questions?” he asked softly.

“Strange…like what?”

“I don’t know. About the rope and how it broke. Why it broke.”

Scott saw Johnny’s surprised look. “I thought I wasn’t hearing things right with all the medicine Sam’s got Teresa and Maria shoving down my throat. But, yeah, now that I think about it, he has been asking some strange questions. Scott, I gotta tell ya, there’s something not right going on here. First Murdoch and Arthur Bell ….”

“What kind of questions?”

Johnny looked up at Scott then turned his face away, nesting his head deeper in the pillows.

“Johnny, what kind of questions?” Scott coaxed.

“Nothing that makes sense,” Johnny answered, his voice muffled in the pillow. “Like if you ever seemed confused about who you were.”

“What?”

Johnny turned his head back. “I told you it didn’t make any sense.”

“Arthur was asking me about Boston. If I didn’t know better I would think he was quizzing me.”

“About what?” Johnny groaned, shifting on the bed. Scott quickly readjusted the pillows supporting his arm.

“Do you want something for the pain?”

Johnny shook his head. “It’s not my arm. It’s my legs. I’ve been laying in this bed so long they’re cramping up.”

Scott knew the feeling, lying in bed so long after coming back from the war. He raised the blankets and began massaging Johnny’s legs, probing his fingers deep into the lax muscles.

“About what?” Johnny asked again, his breath coming in short hisses as Scott’s fingers worked throbbing muscles.

“I don’t know. It seems like Murdoch’s built a wall between us.”

“That doesn’t make sense. I’ve always been the one Murdoch’s not sure of. Hell, he was downright scared of me at first. But he took to you like a duck takes to water.”

“Well, the duck seems to have an aversion to water lately. At least I know I’m not imagining things.”

“Maybe I can talk to him. Most times he doesn’t talk to me the way he talks to you, but I can try.”

Scott nodded. “Thanks, Johnny. I’ve got to admit, I don’t like being on this side of Murdoch. I don’t know how you take it the way you do.”

Johnny chuckled, languidly pushing the hair from his eyes with his good hand. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

Scott saw the signs of fatigue but couldn’t end it like this. “I know it’s been rough on you, and to be honest, I don’t know why you have stayed this long.”

“It’s getting better, Boston. Besides...” Johnny’s voice faded as his eyes closed despite his best efforts to keep them open. Scott barely heard the last words, but he did and he felt touched beyond words. “…I stayed for you.”

 

***

 

Chapter Six

Murdoch sat at his desk, his ledger open to the same page, the same column of numbers he had been hunched over for the past three days. It was at the end of the month when bills had to be posted and accounts balanced. But he could not get past the growing dread that Arthur might be right, and the man he called son was an imposter.

He shifted position and his knee bumped the bottom drawer of his desk. He almost felt ill at the thought of the paper that sat locked in a file at the bottom of that drawer. He had not looked at it again after Arthur showed it to him. He didn’t have to. He knew every word by heart as if it had been branded into his brain.

Now his days and nights were haunted with questions. Were the stories Scott told of his years growing up with Harlan Garret just that - stories? Facts and fabrications carefully planned and executed to deceive him?

Murdoch had spent six months in Boston after coming out west, smitten by the woman he knew he could not live without. She had been beautiful and headstrong and, for some unexplainable reason, madly in love with the boy fresh off the boat from Inverness. They had married despite Harlan Garrets objections and left for the wilds of California with a handful of money and a dream of a life together. Then fate had stepped in. Now twenty six years later he had their son beside him, or did he?  He saw Catherine in Scott’s every move, in the slightly crooked smile, in the dip of his head when he was contemplating a verse of poetry, or the fire in his eyes when he debated a passage in a book that mesmerized him. How could a stranger know these things? Scott was his son, he knew it in his heart…but his mind would not let the question rest.

A soft clearing of the throat drew Murdoch from his inner reflections, and he looked up to see Scott standing in front of his desk.

Scott looked exhausted. Not only was he taking up the slack created by Johnny’s accident, he was also overseeing the cleanup after the storm. The job was daunting, and Murdoch knew he should be out there directing the men himself, but he could not pull himself away from the house, away from Johnny’s side. Just incase.

“We’ve tallied the herd,” Scott said, his voice mirroring his fatigue. “And we didn’t lose as many as we thought. The main herd made it to high ground before the flooding.”

Murdoch nodded; even that news did not brighten his spirits.

“However,” Scott continued, “most of the fencing is down. I put Cipriano in charge of the work crew. He’s going to concentrate on the areas that are a danger to the cattle first. I sent Emanuel into Morro Coyo to buy fencing.”

Murdoch jerked his head up. “All the fencing?”

Scott dragged a chair over to the desk and sat down heavily. Murdoch could see the weight of decision weighing heavily on him.

“I told Emanuel to talk to the other vaqueros from the surrounding ranches. We were hit hard, but so was everyone else.”

“And…?”

“I told him to buy only what we needed. And, if another ranch needed more we’d discuss it.”

Murdoch realized he had been holding his breath. He studied the young man sitting before him, the man he proudly called son. Could he ask for a better son? He saw the strength of leadership and the compassion for his men. If this was not the Scott of his loins, he was the Scott of his heart.

He nodded. “As long as everyone sees it the way you do we’ll come out of this just fine. Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll have Maria bring your dinner up to Johnny’s room. Your brother is being exceedingly cooperative. But I have the feeling the dam is going to break any minute.”

Scott laughed; a sound Murdoch hoped he would hear for a long time to come. “He’s been ‘almost’ the perfect patient. I have a feeling that will all change tomorrow when Sam takes that splint off and puts his arm into a cast. Care to wager a bet that he’ll find some way to saddle Barranca?”

Murdoch laughed. “That would be a fool’s bet.”

“No takers, huh? Didn’t think so.”

“In fact,” Murdoch added. “I think it might be the perfect day for you to spend with him. You’ve been doing the work of two men, you could use the rest. And Johnny could use a big brother.”

The smile that spread across Scott’s face nearly killed Murdoch. What was he going to do?

 

***

Johnny looked down at his arm dejectedly. The still wet cast glistened in the sunlight pouring in through the open window. A rubber sheet covered the bedcovers protecting them from the messy plaster. It was nearly as heavy as the wooden splint, but at least his arm was in a more comfortable position. Bent at the elbow, his arm now rested across his waist.

“There now, that should be a little more comfortable.” Sam smiled sympathetically. “I know its still a bit cumbersome, but in a few days you can be up and walking around.”

“A few days!” Johnny would have bolted from the bed if Sam wasn’t pushing down on his shoulder.

“Johnny, behave yourself,” Murdoch warned.

Sam kept the pressure on Johnny’s shoulder. “It takes three days for the plaster to harden properly. After that you can move around the house freely, even outside. But, no riding, Johnny. Not for at least a month.”

“A month?” If Johnny had stared at anyone else but Sam Jenkins the way he stared right now, the man would have been out the front door. However Sam never let Johnny intimidate him, and Johnny knew it.

“If you took a spill and broke that arm again it might never heal properly. I’m telling you Johnny, stay off horses and…” he winked back at Murdoch and Scott, “fences.”

Finding Sam not the least bit funny, Johnny harrumphed loudly and turned his face away, dismissing them all. Three days was an eternity tacked onto the time he had already spent in this bed, but he would stay. He would stay because that is what families did, they stuck it out together. That was the hardest thing he had to learn, living here at Lancer, with a father and a brother. That comfort accepted was sometimes more important than comfort offered.

He heard Sam putting his supplies back in his medical bag and felt a gentle tap on his knee. “I’ll be back at the end of the week. Make sure you have someone with you when you get up. You’re going to be weak as a kitten after all this time in bed. But you’re young and strong and you’ll get your strength back in no time.”

“I’ll see you to the door, Sam.” Johnny heard Murdoch offer. He didn’t miss the uneasiness in the old man’s voice. He wondered if anyone else had heard it. “Johnny, Teresa will be up in a few minutes to clean up this mess before lunch. Scott, would you mind helping her?”

“Not at all.” The sound of the chair being pulled closer, and the heartfelt sigh as Scott sat in the chair, was the answer he was hoping for. He wanted time to talk to both Scott and Teresa. The old man was getting worse by the day.

“Very well, I’ll see you this weekend, Johnny,” Sam called and the door closed leaving Johnny and Scott waiting in silence.

 

***

Murdoch walked down the hall stopping abruptly. Sam had to side step him to keep from plowing into his back.

“What is the matter with you, man? You were acting like a horse with a burr under his saddle in Johnny’s room. The boy is going to be all right. You did everything you could, and you did the right thing.”

“It’s not that, Sam.” Looking at Sam as if he was looking at the last friend he had on earth, he asked. “Do you have time for a drink?”

“It appears you need more than a drink. What’s going on here, Murdoch?”

Murdoch led the way into the great room, his steps heavier than usual. Sam had not seen the man in so much turmoil since his sons had first come home. Of late they had settled most of their differences. It would be a great exaggeration to say they were the perfect family. But they had come a long way, and at least until now, they seemed to be getting along.

He watched Murdoch pour him a drink and a double shot of scotch for himself. Murdoch was not a heavy drinker, and seeing him with the liquor nearly reaching the top of the glass worried him.

“What’s wrong, old friend? I haven’t seen you like this in a long time.”

Murdoch heaved a sigh and dropped into his favorite chair facing the roaring fireplace. “I don’t know what to do, Sam.” The pain in Murdoch’s voice scared Sam.

“Can you tell me what’s bothering you? The ranch?  Johnny?”

“Johnny?” Murdoch hissed. “Why does everyone think it is Johnny when there is a problem?  It’s not Johnny. It’s…” His voice trailed off as he turned his head toward the fireplace.

“Murdoch, we’ve been friends for a lot of years. Been through our share of hard times, and good times. I thought we could talk, that we could come to each other when there was a problem. Whatever it is, it’s tearing your insides apart. It doesn’t take a doctor to make that diagnosis.”

Murdoch raised his glass to catch the reflection of the flames in the clear liquid. “Arthur Bell came out to the ranch the day Johnny was hurt. He brought me news that I still can’t believe. New that I don’t want to believe.”

Sam waited. Murdoch was not a man who could be rushed. He was also not a man who could be easily thrown for a loop. At this very moment, Murdoch looked like he was hanging on by a thread.

“Arthur showed me a letter from the Pinkertons. He’s acted as my lawyer for more than twenty years and handled most of the correspondence when I was looking for Johnny.  Sam…they have reason to believe that Scott…that Scott may be an imposter.”

“What!”

“They think the man that arrived here was not the real Scott Lancer.”

“My God man, you can’t believe that. Scott looks just like Catherine. He talks about Boston, Harlan Garrett. He knows…”

“Knows what?” Murdoch demanded. “Everything that was in the Pinkerton report or could be found by spending a few days in Boston?”

“You really believe this?” Sam asked incredulously.

Murdoch downed the scotch and climbed heavily to his feet, walking over to the liquor cabinet to pour another glass. “I don’t want to. But…Sam how do I know? Scott says he gets a letter from Harlan once a month, but I’ve never seen the letters. He says it’s just his good luck that they come in when he’s in town. I have one picture of him, standing next to General Sheridan. Is that Scott Lancer? I don’t know.”

Sam was stunned. He knew Johnny. He had held him in his arms as a two year old. There was no doubt in his mind that he was Murdoch and Maria’s child. But Scott…He had never thought to question the man who arrived to meet his absent father and collect a thousand dollars “listening money”.  Still, he could not believe that Scott was an imposter. The idea was ludicrous.

“Murdoch…I don’t know what to say. Have you made inquiries with the Pinkertons?”

“Of course I have. Arthur’s been writing to them. But you know how long it takes to get answers back from them. I don’t know what to do Sam. Damn it, I love him like a son. If he’s not, do I want to know?”

The question seemed suspended in silence, only the crackling of the fire daring to intrude.

Finally, Sam found his voice. “You have to know. If nothing else, it’s fraud. But, Murdoch, if the Pinkertons are wrong…”

Murdoch nodded wearily. “If I ask Scott to prove who he is then I’ll lose him. And Johnny. I’m not fool enough to think that Johnny stayed here for me. He stayed because he found a brother he had always wanted. It’s just in the past couple of months that Johnny and I have found our way. Then I do something stupid like goad him into pulling a stump out that I know takes two men. Sam, I don’t want to lose either one of them. I love them both.”

Sam seldom found himself lost for words. But at this moment, he couldn’t think of a thing to say.

Murdoch stood up, swaying slightly. “Sam, I know you know the way out. I’m going to rest for awhile. I haven’t been sleeping well the last few nights.”

“Murdoch…promise me you won’t say anything until you know more. You have too much to lose if the Pinkertons are wrong. I have doctor friends in Boston, let me write them. I’ll be discreet.”

Murdoch nodded, then turned back as he headed for the stairs. “Arthur thinks if he is an imposter, that Johnny’s accident may not have been an accident. And eventually he will own Lancer.”

Sam felt his heart jump in his chest. The ugly shadow of doubt had just ingrained itself in his mind. Could he ever look at Scott the same way again?

 

***

“He just has a lot on his mind,” Teresa said, paying more attention to getting the mess of plaster wrapped in the rubber sheet than Scott’s questions. “He’s worried about Johnny and all the damage from the storm. He’ll be himself again soon.”

“There’s something more,” Scott persisted. “He seems on edge all the time. It’s like…”

Johnny looked at Scott and smiled faintly. “It’s like you are me.”

Scott flinched, but could not deny it. Murdoch had always treated him differently than he did Johnny. Maybe that was why it bothered him so much now. While not considering himself the favored son, he felt that he had a closer relationship with their father than Johnny had. He had hoped in time that they would be equals. But now it looked like he had done something to topple his place in Murdoch’s eyes. For the life of him he could not figure out what.

Teresa wrapped the rubber sheet in a bundle and threw it on the floor. “You are both over reacting.”

“Are we?” Scott helped Teresa straighten the blankets on Johnny’s bed to his brother’s chagrin. “Has he asked you anything unusual?”

Teresa thought for a moment. “No, just…well, he wanted to know if I ever saw you writing to your grandfather or if I ever saw one of the letters he sent to you.”

“Why would he ask that?’ Johnny asked.

Scott shrugged. “I never shared the letters with him because I didn’t think he would be interested. I know there is no love lost between the two of them.”

“That’s an understatement.” Teresa said, starting to look concerned.

Scott looked to the other side of the bed at Teresa as if he was trying to decide if he should ask the question that was most on his mind. “Teresa, when you were cleaning my room, did you go through my writing desk?”

Teresa looked up surprised. “Even if I had the time to clean your room, I would never invade your privacy.”

“No, never.” Johnny smirked. “You’d never invade our privacy by running into our rooms without knocking.”

“That’s different,” she answered, indignantly. “I may forget to knock sometimes, but I would never go through your personal possessions. Scott, did someone go through your desk?”

Scott nodded. “Grandfather taught me to keep a neat desk, everything in its place. Things were disturbed.”

“Who…” Teresa began.

“Murdoch?” Johnny asked. “If he was so interested in the letters between you and your grandfather, then maybe…”

“He wouldn’t have found anything. The last letter I received from Grandfather angered me so much that I threw all his correspondence into the fire. He demanded that I return to Boston where I belong. He said that he had spent too much money and time on my education for me to waste it here playing cowboy. It was childish, I know, but I enjoyed watching the letters burn.”

Johnny groaned in frustration as he tried to shift the heavy cast into a more comfortable position. “Nothing makes sense,” he said, pain and fatigue straining his voice. “But until we figure this out I’d stay out of his way for the time being.”

“You’re probably right,” Scott sighed. “There’s enough work to keep me busy for a month.”

“Murdoch’s not about to talk about it until he’s ready, but maybe I can find out something.”

“And I’ll see what I can find out too,” Teresa said, combing the black bangs back from Johnny’s forehead. “For now, though, you need to rest. We’ll figure this out together.”

Johnny’s eyes closed despite his best effort to keep them open. The house that had settled into a comfortable home was now falling apart round them.

 

*** 

Chapter Seven

A week had passed and Johnny was prowling the house like a caged cougar. Despite his bravado, he had to admit that the cast was heavy and cumbersome, and his ribs were still hurting. Even with the sling, which he wore without complaint, each step bounced the cast against his side.  Teresa, the angel of mercy that she was, had fashioned a harness from strips of sheet that secured the cast across his stomach so it did not move when he walked. For once it was worth being trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

 

This morning was worse than others. Scott had left before dawn to check the line shacks and the damage in the outer perimeters of the ranch. Cipriano and Jose rode with him. As he listened to them joking through his bedroom window, he would have given anything to be riding with them.

Instead he was stuck here. First he pestered Maria in the kitchen until she nearly took her stirring spoon to him, then he found Teresa weeding her vegetable garden. The hoe was enough of an incentive for him to leave her to here chores.

That left Murdoch. It wasn’t a secret that his father was up in the attic again. It seemed he spent an inordinate amount of time up their lately. However no one had asked him why. Johnny’s mood was primed for just such a question.

Climbing up the steep, narrow drop down stairs at the back of the kitchen, Johnny worked up a legitimate sweat by the time his head breached the attic floor and he saw his father hunched over an old trunk pushed up against the far wall.

Murdoch hadn’t noticed his arrival, even though he made more noise than a herd of mustangs. Johnny watched him, feeling a moment of guilt that he was intruding on his father’s privacy. But he couldn’t look away. This was a different side of Murdoch, a tender, soft side of his father he had only had glimpses of when he was too hurt to respond. Was this the man his mother and Scott’s mother had fallen in love with?

He found he was holding his breath as Murdoch’s huge hands carefully lifted a delicate dress, fringed with fine lace and delicate pearls, once white but now tinged yellow by age. Instinctively Johnny knew that it was Catherine’s wedding dress. What had his mother’s wedding dress looked like? Surely nothing like this. But that was unfair, and he knew it. It was not Catherine’s fault that she came from money and his mother hadn’t. Knowing the man his father was, he knew that was how he felt too.

Not for the first time did Johnny wish that his father would open up to him and Scott. His boot heel suddenly slipped on the narrow step and he had to reach out with is good arm to keep from falling back down the stairs.

Murdoch jerked his head up, anger and concern flickered over his face.

“Sorry,” Johnny said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I was just wondering who was up here.”

Murdoch carefully laid the dress back into its resting place in the trunk and closed the lid.

“What are you doing up here?”

Johnny struggled to climb up the last few steps and sighed in relief when he was at last sitting on the attic floor, his feet dangling down the opening.

“I never heard anyone up here before.” He lied. “Teresa mentioned there was a lot of old stuff up here, but I never thought to check it out.”

Murdoch studied him for a long moment then sat down, resting his back against the wall and stretching his long legs out in front of him.

“It’s been years since I’ve been up here. I’d forgotten the memories.”

“Was that Scott’s mother’s wedding dress?” He knew he was stepping on thin ice with the question, but there didn’t seem to be any other question that needed asking.

Murdoch took a startled breath. He looked from the closed trunk and back to Johnny. Johnny held his breath again. His answer could mean so much.

“Yes,” Murdoch said softly. A smile graced his face, a smile Johnny had never seen before. “She tried to tell me that a wedding dress wasn’t that important. The important thing was marrying the man she loved. But I could see it in her eyes, a girl’s childhood dream of walking down the isle in the perfect wedding dress. And it was. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

Johnny smiled sadly and Murdoch interrupted it all wrong.

“Son, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that your mother….”

Johnny shook his head. “I know. Catherine and my mama were as different as Scott and me.” He chuckled. “It’s like Scott in his plaid pants and me in my conchos”

Murdoch nodded. “Catherine was refined, but strong. I learned early in our relationship that I didn’t stand a chance in winning an argument. No one knew her true spirit, not until she announced that she was traveling to California with her husband. At one time I thought all of Boston would take arms against me. But Catherine had made up her mind. She was everything a young man off a boat from Inverness could have ever dreamed of. There was a time when I couldn’t start the day without wondering what life would have been like if I had not sent her away and she had not died in childbirth.”

“You ever stop wondering?”

“After Catherine died, and Harlan Garret made it clear that I didn’t stand a chance in hell of raising my son, I put everything I had left into making Lancer a ranch to be proud of. I might not have been equal to Harlan Garret in Boston, but by God, I would be someone worth reckoning in California.”

“This was all just payback against Scott’s grandfather?”

“It was. At first. Then I took a trip to Mexico and ended up in a town called Matamoros.”

“Where you met my Mama.”

Murdoch snorted. “You didn’t just meet Maria. She was like no one I had ever met before. I fell in love with her the moment I laid eyes on her. We talked night after night at the cantina. I told her about Catherine and Scott. I told her that I wanted to build a great ranchero where I could bring Scott home and raise him along side our child. She seemed swept up in the moment. We were in love; in love with a dream. Two years later reality was more than she could handle and she left with you.”

Johnny hung his head. “I wish I’d known.”

“I wish you had too. Johnny, I searched for you, for so long. When I knew riding from one border town to the next was not getting me anywhere, I returned here and hired the Pinkertons. It took them years to find you.”

Johnny nodded. “I can’t say I’m not glad you hired them. I was about two minutes away from saying hi to the devil. He’d been saving a place for me for a long time.”

Murdoch jerked his head up. “Don’t ever say that. Don’t every say that again. What happened to you should never have happened. You should have lived a safe life here.”

Johnny shifted, trying to find a more comfortable place to sit. His arm was hurting, his ribs were aching, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. Never had he seen his father’s defenses down so much. Never had he seen the pain exposed so openly. This was the Murdoch he had caught snatches of when he was sick, when he could not respond or contradict his father’s words.

“I killed the man who killed my mama,” Johnny said coldly. “It was a rightful kill. After that…”

Somehow Murdoch was beside him, his powerful arms pulling him into an embrace that he both wanted to break and desperately needed.

“You were thrown into a life no child should have to endure,” Murdoch ground out. “You did what you needed to survive. There is not a man alive who could stand before you and condemn you for what you did unless they walked in your shoes. I made the mistake of thinking I knew who…what you were, when you first came here. Never have I been more wrong.”

Johnny was at a lose for words.

“I was so willing, so eager to condemn you when Scott…”

Johnny froze. “When Scott…”

Murdoch was suddenly alert, realizing that he had said too much. But Johnny would not back down.

“When Scott…?” he repeated.

“It is between your brother and me.” Murdoch seemed to suddenly realize that Johnny had climbed up the narrow stairs with his cast. “And you know better than climbing up here with that cast. When will you ever listen to orders?”

“When you stop hiding the truth,” Johnny said.

Johnny waited for Murdoch’s triad, but it never came. Instead his father seemed to collapse into himself. He crawled back to the trunk, as if Catherine’s presence could save him from whatever demon haunted him.

It would have been so easy just to leave Murdoch here with his memories and nightmares. But Johnny had faced his own demons before and he knew how powerful they were. He was not ready to let Murdoch face them alone.

“What is it, Murdoch?” he demanded. “What’s making you treat Scott the way you have the last few weeks?  He’s my brother. I have the right to know.”

Murdoch looked up at him with a face so haunted it took his breath away. “Are you so sure he’s your brother?”

The question stunned Johnny. “What kind of question is that?”

“Nothing. Just go back downstairs. I’ll be down in awhile.”

“I asked you a question, Old Man.”

“Don’t be insolent with me, Boy.”

Johnny’s temper flared. “You’ve got this whole family wondering what’s got into you. I’ve never seen Scott more eager to get away from here. Whatever it is, you better figure out how to make it right. I’m used to being on your wrong side, but Scott isn’t and it’s got him tied up in knots.

Murdoch looked down at his hands clamped almost white in his lap. He’d never known his father not to be in control. Slowly Murdoch climbed to his knees and opened the trunk, sifting through it until he found what he wanted. A blue knitted baby’s cap. “When Catherine found out she was pregnant, she began knitting six baby hats. Three pink and three blue. She said she wanted to be prepared. Then the raids started and I sent her away…And you know the rest.

“I saw Scott for the first time on his fifth birthday in Boston. He was a shy, quiet little boy, and I would have recognized him in a crowd of a hundred five year old boys. He looked so much like Catherine.

“I didn’t meet him again until I saw him downstairs in the great room, standing beside an arrogant and angry young Johnny Madrid. You demanded so much attention. I accepted Scott into my life without question, because he was safe and you were anything but.”

Johnny shifted uncomfortably. It was not his cast, or his ribs that pained him, but the look of anguish on Murdoch’s face.

“What are you trying to say, Murdoch?”

Murdoch pointed toward Johnny’s right hand. “That little scar you have on your thumb, you got that when you tried to hog tie a rooster like you saw the vaqueros hog tying the calves. The old rooster took exception and Sam had to sew it closed with three stitches. There are so may other small things that prove beyond doubt that you were my boy.”

Johnny raised his hand to look at the thin white scar in the middle of his thumb. He’d collected so many scars that he couldn’t remember where he got half of them. This one was just always there.

“I don’t have that with Scott. I never held him in my arms and rocked him until he cried himself to sleep. I never rode him around the ranch on my horse, so proud I nearly burst at the seams. I never paddled his behind for not obeying the rules. A ranch can be a dangerous place, and for a toddler who was into everything you were an accident waiting to happen.”

“And you didn’t have that with Scott. That’s not his fault.”

Murdoch inhaled deeply. “No it’s not. But Johnny, don’t you understand. I know who you are…I don’t know who Scott is.”

An uncomfortable silence suddenly descended over the attic. All the life seemed to drain out of Murdoch. Johnny saw his shoulders sag as if the weight of the world were on them.

“Exactly what do you mean?” Johnny finally asked, his voice sounding hollow in the stillness.

Murdoch cleared his throat. His voice was but a shadow of what it should have been. “Arthur Bell came to the house the morning you had your accident. He had a letter from the Pinkertons…”

Johnny waited. He held no love for the Pinkertons. They put plenty of facts together, but never bothered to fill in the story. If they were accusing Scott of something…”

“The man you met on the stage to Morro Coyo, the man I call son…they think he is not really Scott Lancer, he is an imposter.”

A Burma bull kicking Johnny in the chest could not have taken his breath away as suddenly as Murdoch’s statement. His mind could not process it. He stared at Murdoch dumbfounded.

“You mean you think that Scott is not your son? Not my brother?”

“I don’t know,” Murdoch said helplessly. “God have mercy on my soul. I don’t know.”

Johnny stood up awkwardly on the stairs, swaying at the sudden movement. “I need some air.”

“Johnny, wait. Please.” Murdoch climbed to his feet and approached Johnny cautiously, as if he would retreat like a wounded animal. “Talk to me, help me. I don’t want to believe it. I love Scott. But there are so many things that don’t make sense.”

“Like what?” Johnny demanded.

“No letters from Harlan Garrett, no pictures with his grandfather. He knows facts, places, even people, but he could have learned all those things from the Pinkerton file.”

“Nothing you say will make me believe that Scott isn’t my brother. I trust him with my life.”

The letter the Pinkertons sent…it says  they have proof that a man fitting Scott Garret Lancer’s description boarded the Cimbria, a merchant ship headed for England, a week before they delivered my invitation…summons… to you and your brother to come here to Lancer.

“That doesn’t mean it was Scott.”

“They have several witnesses that knew Scott and swear it was him. They sent an agent to check the ship’s passenger manifest for that trip. Scott’s name was on it.”

“How do you know it was Scott who signed it?”

“How do I know it wasn’t?”

“You could find out. If this Scott, who ever he is is in England then find him. Make him prove who he is.”

“It’s not that easy, Johnny. He may not be in England anymore. The Pinkertons found that he had plans to travel to France.”

“France?”

“It’s another country in Europe. A man could disappear there, even if he didn’t intend to.”

“If he’s Harlan Garrett’s grandson, then he’d know where he is.”

Murdoch nodded. “The Pinkerton’s have sent agents to question him. But he is always too busy,” Murdoch growled.

“He won’t be too busy for me.”

“What?” Murdoch reached out to grab Johnny’s right arm, but Johnny whipped it away.

“I’m going to Boston. If you want proof that Scott is your son and my brother you’ll have it.”

“Johnny, that’s insane. You can’t travel all the way to Boston. Your arm…”

“I can’t do anything here for another month, you won’t miss me. Murdoch, I haven’t had anyone but this family to give a damn about me, and the one who cared the most from the very start was Scott. I’m not giving up on him because of some stupid Pinkerton report.”

“Johnny, please.”

“Don’t tell Scott where I’ve gone. He doesn’t need to know that you don’t trust him.”

“I’ll go with you.” Murdoch said urgently.

“No, Old Man, you would only get in the way. Someone fed the Pinkerton’s a heap of lies, I plan to find out who and why.”

“But you’ve never been to Boston.”

“There always has to be a first time.”

“I don’t know, Johnny.”

“I do. I’m going to make this right,” he promised.

Murdoch gently eased Johnny around so he could climb down the ladder then followed him, closing the attic door behind him. If it was only that easy to close the questions in Murdoch’s mind. Johnny had no questions. It would take more than the Pinkertons to make him doubt Scott. He had waited a lifetime to have a brother, and he had hit the mother lode with Scott.

 

***

Chapter Eight

 

Scott wearily followed Cipriano’s lead as they made their way toward the line shack.  He had spent three grueling days assessing the damage wrought by the storm. The land that was not still underwater was mired in thick mud. It seemed that every once in awhile, Mother Nature had to prove her power to the lowly humans on earth, lest they erroneously forget who was in control.

Dismounting with a tired groan, Cipriano pulled the reins from his hand. “Jose will see to the horses, Señor Scott. If this roof did not leak, there will be food and blankets waiting inside. If not, there is firm ground a mile north. We will sleep under the stars again tonight”

Scott shuddered at the thought as he looked toward the door, still closed despite the fierce winds. He was so cold and wet he wondered if he would ever be warm again. So far, three of the four line shacks had leaked so badly that everything inside was ruined.

Saying a silent prayer, he opened the door and smiled. Though it smelled of mildew from the damp air, it seemed to have weathered the storm. Even the blankets on the two bunk beds looked dry and comfortably inviting.

“I’ll start the stove and see what there is to eat,” Scott said.

“Si,” Cipriano smiled. “There will be suficiente here. Your padre always keeps the line shacks well stocked with food and medical supplies. He is a good patrón. He takes care of his vaqueros, and they in turn would do anything for him.”

The mention of his father brought back that unsettled feeling in his stomach. He really didn’t need to be out here checking line shacks. Cipriano and his men could have handled the job. But, he had needed to get away. Not since the first day he had set foot in the great room had he felt so awkward in his father’s presence. The clandestine looks, the sentences started and abandoned. He felt like a stranger in his own home.

At first he had attributed it to Johnny’s injury. But once Johnny was out of danger, Murdoch had seemed to distance himself. It was as if his father blamed him for his brother’s accident. If there was fault to be meted out, Murdoch need look no further than his own hot headed disregard for Johnny’s safety.

Thinking back on it, he realized things had seemed to mellow out over the past month. No longer were Johnny and Murdoch censoring their words, afraid that they might say the wrong thing and start another battle. Instead they seemed comfortable with each other. They were at last a family. Then he had retuned to find Johnny so horribly injured and now they were back to square one. No…a new game had been started, with Scott playing the outcast.

“Señor.” Cipriano looked concerned. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Scott flinched, realizing he had been daydreaming. “No. No thank you, Cipriano. I’ll have dinner ready in a few minutes.”

Cipriano nodded. “We are all hungry, si?”  Then his voice softened. “I have spent many nights talking with your hermano. If there is anything you would like to discuss...” The old Segundo shrugged. “My ears, they listen, but my mouth repeats nothing.”

“Thank you, Cipriano, but I’m fine.”

“Si.” Cipriano chuckled. “You are as stubborn as your hermano. But even he understands that he needs an amigo when times are hard.”

Scott dipped his head, suddenly aware that he was taking up some of his brother’s mannerisms. “Thank you, Cipriano. I will keep that in mind.”

“Si. You will find dry wood for the fire in the corner over there. Your padre insists that everyone who uses the line shacks replenishes the wood.”

Scott looked to the corner and saw half a cord of dry wood stacked against the wall. Even though he could not restock the dry wood, he would make sure he stacked wet wood in the barn to dry.

Stepping inside, he pushed the door closed behind him. He went straight to work, checking the stove and the flue. Satisfied that the stovepipe was clear he began stacking wood inside the fire box. He had watched Johnny carefully place kindling in the stove first, then coax the small flame into a flickering fire before adding the split logs. He had grown up in the pocket of wealth and prestige in Boston, never once having to start a fire at the Garret mansion, or worry about when or where his next meal would come from. Then came Harvard, and for the first time he had to fend for himself. Looking back on it now, he had to laugh. At the time he had thought having to eat at the dorms dining room with the rest of the students a hardship.

Johnny had grown up far differently, his education not learned from a book, not abstract concepts and ideas, but real life. Knowing and respecting the land, making it work for him. Scott knew he had learned the art of survival when he was in the cavalry, pinned down behind enemy lines then captured. But he had done only what he needed to live day by day. Johnny knew how to co-exist with the land. He envied Johnny sometimes.

Satisfied that the stove was venting properly, Scott began to rummage through the pantry. Cipriano was right. There was an abundance of food. Cans of beans and jars of pickled vegetables, peaches and stewed tomatoes lined the shelf. At last, something more than just beans and beef jerky.

By the time Cipriano and Jose returned he would have a meal fit for kings.

 

***

The sound of Jose snoring softly from the top bunk lent a somnolent feeling to the line shack. Scott sat in front of the stove watching the flickering fire through the half open door. Behind him he could smell the faint odor of Cipriano’s cheroot. It was times like these that he knew why he stayed here…why the lure of Boston no longer enticed him.

Looking back on his life in Boston he knew he had been a mere actor in a play. Everyone in the business world was. A character was created and preformed from the moment you woke until you laid your head back on the pillow to sleep. His grandfather had taught him well. No one had known who the real Scott Lancer was. Not even Scott Lancer. But here, where men spoke their minds, where a man’s word was his life and his life was his word, Scott knew who he was. No more genuflecting to the false deity of the corporate world; he was free to be himself.

He remembered how content he had felt over the last few months, more sure of himself and his life. For the first time feeling a part of a real family. To find that he had a brother he had never known existed was amazing in itself. But, to have Johnny be that brother…He had learned more about life in the few short months they had been together than all his years at Harvard. Johnny showed him how to love the land, how to use and not abuse what nature had to offer. And in turn, he had opened Johnny’s eyes to a world that he loved: books. To his surprise Johnny could read, slowly, and with many questions about words and ideas, but more often than not, his brother would come up with a different interpretation that made him rethink his own ideas.

Suddenly he shuddered at the thought of how close they had come to losing Johnny again. If he had not taken the long route to the house to avoid the steep descent to the valley he never would have found Johnny. Would Barranca have brought him home in time? No one would ever know.

A log popped and hissed inside the stove and Scott watched the bright yellow embers drift toward the floor, disappearing before they hit the planking.

He heard the wooden chair Cipriano sat on protest beneath his weight, then the slightest sagging of the floor beneath him as the old Segundo joined him, chair in hand.

“May I join you, Señor Scott?”

Scott grinned, noticing Cipriano had brought his chair with him. “I was getting a little lonesome.”

Cipriano set his chair next to Scott, settling into it, his legs stretched out before him.

“Ah, this is much better.”

Scott studied the old man’s face. There was a wealth of information there. Not just in ranching, but in life. Did he have the answers to the questions Scott was seeking?

“Dinner was muy bien.”  Cipriano sighed. “Your hermano, he would have added chili peppers to the beans and called it dinner.”

Scott chuckled. “The hotter the better.”

Cipriano patted his stomach. “Si. Too hot for me sometimes.”

A companionable silence settled around them. This is what his life had been missing.

Night sounds drifted into the shack, a wolf howling in the distance, mournful yet comforting, an owl hooting from a nearby tree. Above all, though, was the din of frogs croaking from every direction. It sounded like millions had taken residence in the flooded fields.

“Are there always this many frogs?” Scott asked in amazement.

“Si. Ten sounds like a hundred, and a hundred sounds like a million. But they are good to have around. Watch this.” Cipriano grunted as he lifted his tired body out of the chair and carefully opened the front door. “Holá,” he called softly and it was suddenly deathly quiet. He waited, shadows flickering across his face from the open stove, until first one frog then another started croaking. Soon the air was filled with their sound again. “They are as good as a watch dog, and they do not need a bone.” Cipriano chuckled.

Scott could not help but laugh out loud. “I learn something new everyday.”

“Si. A smart man knows that he has much to learn. Juanito listens and learns all the time. He tells me you are the same.”

“He does?”

“Si. He thinks much of his hermano. As I know you think much of him. But you are worried. He will recover. He is a strong man.”

Scott frowned, the levity suddenly gone. “I know. But he always pushes himself so hard.”

“That is his way. The way he learned to stay alive. You can not change that anymore than you could change the color of his eyes. It is who he is.”

“I will try to remember that next time he does something altogether foolish.”

“He is lucky to have you as his hermano. But, now I must go to bed. We have one more line shack to check before we can go home tomorrow.”

Scott nodded. “It will be good to be home.” As Scott said the words he didn’t know if he meant them. He would go home for Johnny. Murdoch? That was another question.

 

***

Johnny had spent a restless night, Murdoch’s words haunting him. The thought that his father, their father, could think of Scott as an imposter brought bile to his stomach. He would not believe it… could not believe it. Because in doing so, he was accepting that the most important person in his life was a liar. And he knew with every instinct within him that Scott was his brother, son of Murdoch, grandson of Harlan.

The thought of boarding the train and traveling clear across the county frightened him more than any gunfighter he had ever faced. But he would travel anywhere if it helped Scott. And he knew, without hesitation, that Scott would do the same for him.

After breakfast, Johnny had spent the morning with Jelly. He would only tell the old handyman that he was taking a trip, something he wanted to do, but hadn’t had the time until now. With his arm out of commission, and unable to do any ranch work, it was the perfect opportunity. But he was still not willing to leave the protection of the ranch unarmed. Even though his gun hand was not affected, he couldn’t strap on his gunbelt, and he wasn’t prepared to ask anyone to buckle it on for him. So he went to Jelly with his problem, and by the end of the day, Jelly had rigged a lightweight holster that hid inside the sling that supported his cast.

The combination of the cast and the gun sheathed in the holster pulled the sling uncomfortably around his neck, but with time he would adjust to the extra weight. He practiced all morning, not coming close to his fast draw, but it was far better than no gun at all. He could only hope that Boston didn’t have any fast draws looking for a reputation.

Murdoch had reluctantly bought a ticket on a train leaving Stockton tomorrow afternoon. At first Murdoch was categorically against the idea. Johnny was wholly out of his element. But Johnny had his mind made up. And once his son was determined to do something, a herd of wild horses could not change his mind. No one bothered to ask where he got his stubborn streak from.

That afternoon he packed a small traveling bag. He was used to traveling light, and he didn’t want to deal with anything more than he could handle.

He didn’t see Murdoch standing in the doorway watching him. Every move he made seemed awkward and painful. If it wasn’t his dislocated shoulder, it was his ribs that still raked across his chest with every move. He didn’t tell anyone how much he hurt. There were worse things in life than a little pain. Like losing his brother.

“Are you planning on packing a suit?”

Johnny swung around, startled that Murdoch had made his way down the hallway without him noticing. That was happening all too often of late.

“Not planning on going to any parties.”

“Maybe not, but...” Murdoch held up the dreaded formal suit he had tailor made for his son. “In Boston, a well dressed man speaks louder than a six shooter.”

Johnny was lost for words.

“It won’t hurt to pack it,” Murdoch cajoled.

Johnny reluctantly nodded and stood back while Murdoch folded the suit to put in his bag.

“May I?” Murdoch chuckled as he pawed through the bag. “I think I can make this a little neater.”

Johnny grinned. “I never was good at this.”

Murdoch dumped the contents of the bag onto the bed and began to reorganize. He didn’t flinch at the boxes of bullets Johnny had packed, and he didn’t ask how he was going to load his gun single handed. In the end, he had repacked the bag with room to spare.

“Sam sent word that he was coming out this evening to take a look at your arm.”

Johnny lifted an eyebrow. “Nothing is keeping me from that train tomorrow.”

“I know. And so does Sam. But he worries, like I do.”

Johnny turned quickly toward the window, still not accustomed to people worrying about him. He cleared his throat. “No need to worry.”

Murdoch smiled. “It’s a father’s prerogative. Now why don’t you try to get some rest before dinner? I’m not supposed to say anything, but Teresa and Maria have been working all afternoon to make you a special dinner. That can only mean that I’ll be up all night.”

“Then you’d better get yourself some sleep too.”

 

***

Johnny pushed his plate away, declaring silently that he could not eat another bite. Teresa and Maria had outdone themselves, the table laden with all of Johnny’s favorites.

“Gracias,” he grinned when Maria tried to offer him another tamale. “I will explode, Mamacita. I won’t have to eat for a week.”

“You had better eat properly, young man,” Murdoch admonished.

“Don’t worry, Murdoch, I’ll see that he behaves.” Sam wiped his mouth with his napkin, then pushed his chair away from the table. “Delicious ladies, even though I will probably use my entire supply of bicarbonate tonight.”

Johnny looked toward the old doctor. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means my stomach can’t take spices like these and…”

“You know what I mean. About seeing that I’ll behave.”

“Oh, didn’t Murdoch tell you?” Sam asked innocently.

Johnny turned to look at Murdoch, anger seething just below the surface. “Tell me what?”

“Well…Sam was planning a trip to Boston next month to visit an old friend, and we thought, since you were going to Boston…”

“No,” Johnny said emphatically. “I don’t need no nursemaid.”

Sam rolled his shoulders back indignantly. “I am no one’s nursemaid, young man. I happen to be going to the same place in a few weeks and I thought it would be nice to have some company on the trip.”

“No, I travel alone.” Johnny started to stand up and his left arm accidentally hit the edge of the table, eliciting a sharp gasp.

Sam shook his head in frustration. “As much as you want to believe that you are ready to travel, you are not. And especially not alone. Have you thought about how you are going to do the most mundane things? Like button your pants in the morning? I know Murdoch helps you with them now. But he won’t be there. You won’t let him. You need help Johnny, whether you like it or not.

And what will Scott think? He will already be suspicious that you left before you were healed. He won’t for one instant believe that you are ready to travel alone. Nothing but Val throwing him in jail would keep him from following you. If he knows I’m with you, then maybe Murdoch can keep him here until you find what you are looking for in Boston.

Be sensible for once in your life. Besides,” Sam seemed pleased with his next statement. “If you want to find the right people in Boston, then who better than a doctor to lead you to them?”

Johnny looked around the table and knew he had been set up. His anger waned as he realized he could not be mad when he knew they were just trying to help. Accepting help, he reminded himself, was as important as giving it.

Not willing to let them have the last hurrah, Johnny leveled an irate look around the table before he huffed and walked away, calling back over his shoulder. “I hope you don’t snore or we’ll be riding in different cars.”

 

*** 

Chapter Nine

 

Johnny ate the breakfast Maria set before him, knowing she would never let him go in peace if he didn’t. Murdoch sat at the head of the table, silently eating his steak and eggs. He had barely raised his head to look at Johnny all morning. Worry and indecision had robbed him of his sleep and he had said so as he slid into his chair.

“I still don’t like the idea of you traveling all the way to Boston. Even with Sam. You’re not ready. Give yourself a few more days to heal.”

Johnny shook his head. “Scott’ll be back this afternoon. He’s gonna ask questions, and I can’t lie to him. He already knows something’s wrong, and he’s got this way of tripping you up on your own words.”

“Then stay in town with Sam for a few days, at least until Harlan responds to the telegrams we’ve sent. Even if he ignores the messages from the Pinkertons, surely he’ll answer ours.”

“How many telegrams do you have to send before you get the message that he isn’t gonna reply? No, the only way to get answers is to go there in person.”

Johnny sipped at his coffee, remembering something that had come to mind as he fell asleep last night. “Why did you keep the Pinks on me and Scott even after we came here? I heard they ain’t cheap.”

“No they aren’t. In fact, I went into debt at one time paying them to find you and your mother. But…” Murdoch looked at Johnny, realization dawning on his face. “My account with them is closed. It has been since they contacted Scott and found you in Mexico.”

“Then why are they still interested in Scott? All that work, finding his name on the ship’s log, talking to the man who said he saw him get on board. Someone’s been footin’ the bill.”

Murdoch sat back in his chair, stunned. “It never occurred to me. Johnny, let me look into it before you go back east. We might find all the answers…”

Johnny shook his head. “You won’t get the truth from here. Someone is working real hard to make Scott look like an imposter.”

“And if he is? Are you prepared to accept the truth if it isn’t what you want to find?”

“I know Scott is my brother. I made a living reading people. Scott hasn’t been lying to me, or you. I’d stake my life on it.”

“Just be careful, Son.”

Johnny grinned. “I got Sam with me. He’s as big a mother hen as you are. What can go wrong?”

“Oh, John…I wish you had never asked that question.”

 

***

Scott heard the sound of cattle bellowing as they rode up the slight rise. His heart plummeted at the sight of a dozen or more cows huddled together in the center of a large bog. It would take the rest of the day to free them from the thick mud and, by the time they were done, it would be too late and too dangerous to try to make it home. He faced another night out on the trail, another night of not knowing if Johnny was still improving or what was behind Murdoch’s strange behavior.

Tomorrow he would sit down with both of them and get to the bottom of this. He was tired of feeling like an outsider. He had worked hard to learn how to work on a ranch. He had persevered through tired muscles and blisters on his hands and feet. He had learned to rope and brand and ride a cutting horse. There was still so much more to learn, but until just a couple weeks ago, he thought he had plenty of time. Now, he wasn’t so sure.

Could he live under Murdoch’s critical eye? He could go back to Boston and reclaim his life there. He would be the talk of the town, the slightly dangerous man from the Wild West that would attract any woman’s fancy.

But that was not what he wanted. He wanted things to be as they had been. The past two months had been the happiest ones since they first came together. Murdoch and Johnny had found a common ground and the three of them worked the ranch as partners. What had happened? What role did Arthur play in all this?

Questions, more questions and… no answers. But tomorrow he would demand an answer.

The sound of a frightened cow, trying to find purchase in the slimy mud, drew his attention, and he followed Cipriano down to the edge of the bog.

 

***

Johnny said very little on the trip into town. There was nothing more Murdoch could say to change his mind. He had pulled his hat low over his eyes after they passed beneath the Lancer arch and remained quiet. If truth be told, he was hurting much more than he had expected. He would never admit it to anyone, but he was glad Sam was traveling with him.

Sam Jenkins was rocking in the comfortable chair outside his office, his two large valises sitting beside him, with his medical bag propped on top.

“It’s about time you got here. I was beginning to think you had changed your mind.”

Johnny grinned and eased himself down off the wagon. “You would a thought I was gonna be gone for a year the way Teresa and Maria were acting.”

Sam chuckled. “I can imagine.”

Johnny felt the rumble before he saw the stage make the last turn down the center of town. He knew the hardest part of the trip would be from here to Sacramento.

Murdoch climbed down from the wagon looking suspiciously at Sam’s luggage. “How long do you plan to be gone?”

Johnny saw the twinkle in Sam’s eyes and fought hard not to bust out laughing. 

“I travel with more than just a couple of saddle bags.” He nodded toward Johnny’s small traveling bag. “And more than one change of clothes.”

“I got all I need, Sam,” Johnny grinned as he climbed down off the wagon and headed for Sam’s valises.

Murdoch quickly stepped in front of him. “I’ll get those. No heavy lifting, remember?”

“How could I forget?” Johnny asked, not altogether happy with the situation, but silently thankful that his father had stopped him from doing something foolish…again. It was just hard having others do for him.

Murdoch lumbered across the street to the stage carrying the heavier of the two valises. To Johnny’s surprise Val was suddenly walking beside him, carrying the other valise, a silly grin on his face.

“I didn’t believe it when I heard you was traveling with Sam. Not that Sam ain’t good company. But Chicago? You think more than that arm of yours got busted…maybe your head too?”

Johnny hated lying, but he couldn’t take the chance that word would get back to Scott that they were headed for Boston. 

“My head is fine. Nothing I can do at the ranch right now. So…”

“But you going to Chicago. That’d be like Scott going to Mexico. Don’t make no sense.”

“Sheriff,” Murdoch’s voice boomed. “If you want Johnny to stay at Lancer, then you can come out and ride shotgun over him. No heavy lifting, no riding., no…”

“I get the point,” Val grinned. “Chicago sounds like just the right place for Johnny.”

“Thanks Val.” Johnny glared toward his old friend, but his eyes flashed with mischief. “I thought at least you would be on my side. Instead of going off to Chicago with Sam I could bunk in with you. Keep out of trouble…”

“And in my hair all the time.” Val opened the stagecoach door. “Get in before I throw ya in.”

“I’m glad you agree.” Murdoch stood back as Val and the stagecoach driver manhandled the heavy luggage onto the top of the stage.

“I hope ya got someone to take these here bags for ya at the train station.” Val grunted as the last bag was secured in place.

“The porter will see to them,” Sam assured him. “And make sure they get on the connecting trains. They do it all the time.”

Two passengers climbed into the stagecoach and Murdoch held out his hand to Johnny. “Have a safe trip, Son. Send me a telegram when you reach Chicago.”

“I will.” Johnny leaned in close so no one else could hear his words. “Treat Scott right. He’s your son, I know he is. Don’t say something you can’t ever take back.”

Murdoch nodded. “I won’t say a word.”

Johnny nodded then climbed awkwardly into the coach. He was in for a long trip - one he hoped would give him the answers he wanted to hear.

 

***

The stagecoach ride had been as rough as Johnny feared and now, as they stood on the train platform ready to board the huge belching monster that would take them to Boston, he wondered if this was such a good idea after all.

But it was the only way to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Scott. And he would travel to the ends of the earth to prove that Scott was his brother.

“All aboard!” the conductor called and Johnny gave Sam a tentative look.

“I upgraded our tickets to a sleeping berth.” Sam smiled. “It will make traveling a lot easier. This old body isn’t up to sitting in a hard seat for the next six days.”

Johnny knew Sam was doing this for him and he felt a sudden sense of pride that he had found such a good friend. Not something he had a long list of in his past.

The porter escorted them to the sleeping car where two lines of bunks awaited the passengers. Two tiered, each bunk had a curtain for privacy. Johnny couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of sleeping in the elongated boxes. With his arm in the ponderous cast and his face glistening with sweat, he watched as the porter pulled a curtain open to a bottom berth. Turning to Sam, the porter suggested with a warm smile that the older man take the bottom berth right across from Johnny.

“When you reach Ogden in the morning you’ll find the Union Pacific more comfortable. They have Pullman cars.”

“Thank you.” Sam smiled and palmed a coin into the porter’s hand. “I suspect my friend here will sleep through most of the night. I just need a glass of water for his medication.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Johnny raised an annoyed eyebrow at Sam but sank down onto the bottom bunk, his head hitting the underside of the top berth. He cursed up a blue streak in Spanish, not caring if anyone heard or understood him. He was too tired and too sore to care. The stagecoach ride had been hot and stuffy after they picked up four more passengers along the way. His arm and ribs were throbbing from the rough ride. Again he thought that he should have listened to Murdoch.

“Here, take this,” he heard Sam direct and a glass appeared in his hand. “It will help you sleep. And not a word about you not liking to take medicine. You are in no condition to take this trip in the first place. So, if you want to continue on you’ll do as I say.”

Johnny reluctantly downed the glass of medicated water. He couldn’t think of very many people who would dare talk to him like that, or get away with it.

“You’ll be sound asleep before you know it. Now, let’s get that jacket and those boots off.”

Struggling to find a comfortable spot in the confined area, Johnny finally settled into a semi- tolerable position. He drew back the small curtain covering an even smaller window to see the train station slowly fall behind as the train shuddered and began to build up speed, amid a cloud of belching black smoke and the shrill call of the whistle.

What was he doing here? Would he really find the answers he needed to prove to his father what he knew without question: that Scott was his brother?

He felt his eyes grow heavy as the combination of the sleeping powder and the click clack of the iron wheels on the tracks lulled him toward sleep. He felt Sam cover him with a blanket and the curtain close as his last thoughts were of Scott and Murdoch. He should be there, running interference like Scott had so often done when he was butting heads with their old man. But he also needed to be here. Needed…he drifted off into a deep sleep.

 

***

Scott ached from head to toe as he stretched out on the hard packed ground. It had taken twice as long as expected to get the cows out of the bog, and by the time they were done, both men and horses were exhausted. The only thing they could think of was a warm fire and a dry piece of land to set their bedrolls on. But as the morning mist made way for the warming sun, Scott stood up slowly and inhaled the clean soft air. Boston with its factories and row upon row of houses, all with fireplaces, filled the city with an ever present layer of smoke. Out here the air was clean and fresh. He couldn’t think of anything that would send him back to Boston. He had everything he could want or need right here. Except for the way Murdoch had been acting of late. But that was going to stop as soon as he got home. He was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. He would get both Murdoch and Johnny together and demand to know what was going on. He knew Johnny would back him. His brother had been in this position all too often. How had he stood it for so long?

Breakfast was hot and nourishing, and bested some of the lavish displays that greeted him in the morning in Boston. Who would have thought bacon frying in a cast iron skillet over a campfire would taste so good?  He drank a second cup of strong coffee before packing up the supplies and heading off toward home.

Scott was both comforted and dismayed as they passed beneath the Lancer arch. His enthusiasm for the coming confrontation with Murdoch had weakened as they got closer to the house. It had to be done, but now he wasn’t so sure he really wanted to know the answer.

He gave Cipriano the reins and headed for the front door.

Inside the house was quiet - overly quiet. He walked into the great room surprised and concerned when he didn’t see Johnny or Murdoch. Had Johnny taken a turn for the worse? He made his way into the kitchen to find it empty as well. The little niggle of worry was blossoming. Something was wrong, he could feel it.

He hurried up the stairs to Johnny’s room, alarmed to see the bed made and no evidence of Johnny having been in there for some time. He marched down the hall to his father’s room and swung the door open without knocking. It too was empty.

Making his way back down the stairs he heard the back door close in the kitchen and quickly walked back through the great room into the kitchen. Maria stood by the stove, beginning the preparations for dinner.

“Where is everyone?” he demanded.

Maria turned around, startled by Scott’s sudden appearance.

“Senor Scott, do not sneak up on someone like that,” she scolded him, holding a substantial wooden spoon in her hand.

“Sorry, but no one is here. Where did they go? Where’s Johnny? Is he all right?”

“He is fine. Your hermano is taking a trip with Senor Sam. It is the only way to keep him out of trouble.”

“A trip? Where?”

“To Shee ca,” Maria struggled with the name. “It is many days away by train.”

“Chicago?” Scott asked in disbelief. “Johnny went to Chicago with Sam?”

“Si. It was a way to keep Juanito out of trouble. He was already wanting to ride that horse of his.”

Scott could not help but feel a twinge of anger. He was expecting Johnny to be here, to help him with Murdoch. It seemed so out of character for Johnny to agree to travel with Sam. A stagecoach ride, maybe. But a train? Johnny had never ridden a train for more than half a day and even that nearly drove him crazy. He was looking at four days getting from here to Chicago. Every which way Scott turned his world seemed to be hurtling toward chaos.

“El Patron says for you to rest today and he will be home for dinner.”

Great, he thought. Dinner should be a lively event. Turning to leave, Maria called. “Lunch will be ready in an hour.”

For some reason, he thought sardonically, he had suddenly lost his appetite.

 

*** 

Chapter Ten

Scott rested for awhile until Maria called him back down for lunch. Murdoch was still not there and after eating a roast beef sandwich and drinking a glass of cool tea, he had headed out to the barn to check on Barranca.

The palomino raised its head and snorted a greeting as Scott grabbed an apple from Johnny’s hidden store. The horse snatched it from his hand and chomped on it with delight. Barranca was not the only one missing Johnny. His hopes of he and his brother confronting Murdoch this evening seemed to have been derailed. He would have to face his father alone. But what would he say? Nothing overt had happened, just an escalating tension…and a disturbing feeling of distrust when he was in Murdoch’s presence.

Whatever it was, it had to stop. He couldn’t continue to live like this. And with Johnny gone, he had no buffer. God, how often had he played that role between Johnny and Murdoch? He felt a flash of anger that Johnny was not here when he needed him.

The sound of Cipriano shouting at a vaquero caught his attention and Scott patted Barranca’s nose before heading back into the courtyard.

A horse had broken the corral fence and several men were trying to keep the rest of the horses from escaping the enclosure while Cipriano herded the horse back to its home.

“What happened?” Scott asked.

“Estúpido,” Cipriano cursed as he climbed out of the saddle, his own horse acting nervous. “Felipe, he kills a puma in the high country, then brings the hide back and asusta– scares – the horses. He will remember what he has done when he rides drag on the next cattle drive.”

Scott slapped Cipriano on the shoulder. “Remind me never to do something estupido around you.”

Cipriano chuckled. “You are learning the language, Senor Scott. Juanito has taught you well.”

The mention of Johnny’s name sobered Scott and he looked back into the stable, Barranca’s blond mane dimly visible toward the back of the building.

“I think I’ll take Barranca out for a run, let him stretch his legs.”

“Si. He misses his Juanito.”

“We all do.”

Scott headed back to the stable. Maybe a workout would be good for both him and Barranca.

 

***

Somehow time had gotten away from Scott and it was near dinnertime before he loped into the courtyard and handed a tired Barranca over to Jelly. The old handyman’s nod of approval said more than a thousand words and Scott knew he had done the right thing for Johnny, even if his brother had decided to head to Chicago, of all places.

The smell of ham and sweet potatoes greeted him as he opened the front door. He barely had time to take his jacket off and hang his holster from the peg on the wall before Teresa grabbed his arm and escorted him to the dining table.

“Don’t say anything to upset him,” Teresa warned as they entered the great room and saw Murdoch sitting at the head of the long dining room table. “He’s been a bear all day. I think it’s because he’s worried about Johnny taking that trip to Chicago.”

“What on earth made him go there? I thought Johnny hated traveling.”

“So did I. But he seemed determined to go yesterday morning. Oh Scott, I don’t know what is going on here. But please, try to fix it. Murdoch has been impossible with everyone.”

Scott leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Scott slid into his seat aware that Murdoch was deliberately trying not to make eye contact with him.

“I understand Johnny took a trip with Sam,” he said, coaxing his voice to sound as normal as possible. “Chicago I’m told.”

Murdoch nodded. “Sam has a medical conference there and we thought it would be a good opportunity for Johnny to see the city.”

“He never mentioned it.”

Murdoch busied himself with buttering a biscuit while he talked. “Sam had no intention of going until we realized how hard it would be to keep Johnny confined to the house. It would only be a matter of time before he would be in the barn trying to saddle Barranca.”

“So you sent him on a stage from here to Stockton. Didn’t it occur to either of you that Johnny was in no shape to be on a stage? And might I remind you that riding on a train is not all that comfortable either? What were you thinking?”

Murdoch raised his head and squared his shoulders but Scott would not be denied.

“When I left here Johnny was barely able to get down the stairs alone.”

“Sam felt that Johnny was healed enough to make the trip.”

“But why on earth would he go? Johnny hates big cities and crowds. He hates train rides and more than anything he hates being coddled. We both know that Sam will fuss over him like a mother hen.”

“The alternative was staying here being fussed over by Teresa and Maria, and looking at Barranca everyday knowing he couldn’t ride.”

Scott lost a little of his bravado. It made sense in a way.

“How long will he be gone?”

Murdoch shrugged. “A month. Maybe longer.”

“That leaves just you and I,” Scott said softly. Another reason, he thought, why Johnny’s timing seemed unusual.

Murdoch raised an eyebrow. “It that a problem?”

Scott stiffened. “It might be.”

“Just what is that supposed to mean?”

Scott could not keep a rein on his tongue any longer. “It means that you have been secretive and standoffish since the day Johnny was hurt. And I’m tired of it. I have done nothing wrong, at least that I know of. To tell you the truth, I was expecting Johnny to be here tonight so we could talk to you together.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. I’ve been worried about Johnny, that’s all. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’ve been trying to avoid you.”

Teresa walked in, and set a platter of ham next to a bowl of sweet potatoes on the table then hurriedly returned to the kitchen before the inevitable explosion.

Scott cleared his throat. “I don’t believe I mentioned the word avoid, Sir. I said secretive and standoffish. Have you been trying to avoid me? Now that I think about it, that appears to be exactly what you have been doing.”

“I have not been avoiding you. I’ve had other things to worry about. I didn’t realize that I had to baby sit you. You’ve been here long enough to know your responsibilities and to carry them out. I expected you to understand that Johnny was hurt and needed my attention.”

“He didn’t need your attention as much as he needed a little honesty. He was the one who asked me if I knew what was bothering you. He was the one to ask me what I had done to make you mad. And he was the one who felt guilty that our roles had been reversed and you were treating me like you have always treated him.”

Murdoch jumped to his feet. “How dare you! What gives you the right to question me when you aren’t even...”

“Even what?” Scott demanded, turning to look up his father.

He watched in astonishment as Murdoch suddenly dropped his head and dropped his arms to his sides.

“Don’t push, Scott. Please. Don’t push. I can’t tell you what I don’t know myself.” The pain in Murdoch’s eyes took Scott’s breath away. “I know it is a lot to ask, but I’m asking you to trust me.”

Scott could only nod. Any words he might have said were forgotten in the face of his father’s desperate appeal. He watched Murdoch get up and walk toward the stairs. Scott heard him climb the steps slowly, as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Scott sat back and stared at the ham, his appetite gone. He’d never seen his father so troubled. He looked at the empty chair beside him. Johnny’s chair. What did Johnny have to do with this? Why had he gone to Chicago? Why had he been in such a hurry to go? His anger at Johnny for leaving him here alone with Murdoch grew, along with a burgeoning suspicion that his brother knew more then he had let on.

He stood up slowly. He would honor his promise and not “push” Murdoch. But that didn’t mean that he wouldn’t try to find some answers on his own.

Half an hour later, Scott had his horse saddled and he disobeyed the cardinal rule of not galloping before reaching the other side of the Lancer arch. Val was Johnny’s good friend. Maybe he knew something. Someone had to know what was going on here. If he had to, he would follow Johnny to Chicago.

 

***

Johnny awoke to the clatter of the iron wheels on the tracks keeping cadence with the throbbing of his arm. His berth swayed and bucked as he looked out the small window and saw the end of the train. A lantern swung from the caboose, a half a dozen cars behind, following like a snake behind his car as the train tracks wound through a vast landscape just coming into view in the purple mist of morning.

Sam said they would be changing trains when they got to Ogden. He wanted nothing more than to be out of this claustrophobic berth, but he feared he would find the same thing on the next train. And he had another five days to go. He was beginning to think he wouldn’t make it.

But he was doing this for Scott. And if it meant riding on the top of every train from here to Boston he would do it.

Johnny saw the black drape slide open and Sam was swaying in the aisle, a glass of something in his hand.

“Take this, and no argument,” Sam ordered.

Johnny took the glass and sniffed at the contents. “Laudanum. I don’t want…”

“Take it, Johnny. We had a deal. You’ve been moaning in pain for the last hour. Now take it, or we head back home when we reach Ogden.”

Johnny drank it reluctantly, wishing he hadn’t agreed to let Sam travel with him. It wasn’t long before he felt the pain in his arm and ribs ease and his eyes grow too heavy to keep open.

 

***

Johnny was not sure how much time had passed as he awoke to the sound of the train’s shrieking whistle and the hiss of steam as the engine chugged to a stop. He heard a flurry of activity in the aisle on the other side of his drawn curtain and he carefully pulled it open just enough to see a line of both men and women walking slowly toward the car’s exit. It appeared that Sam was not in any big hurry and allowed the car to empty before pulling the curtain open all the way and smiling down at him.

“We have about two hours before we board the next train. How does breakfast sound?”

Johnny wasn’t very hungry. Between the motion of the train, the laudanum and his worry over Scott he would gladly forgo the meal. “How about a cup of coffee?”

“How about a couple poached eggs? Nourishing, but easy on the stomach?”

“Is this how it’s gonna be? You fussing all the time?”

Sam chuckled as he helped Johnny struggle out of the cramped berth. “You’ve given me plenty of practice. Now let’s get that breakfast before the next train arrives.”

And that’s how it was the rest of the trip. Though the next train had a Pullman car and it was just about the most elegant thing Johnny had seen outside a bordello, he still found it hard to find a comfortable resting place with the heavy cast on his arm and his ribs protesting all the time. Besides, Sam was a lot harder on the eyes than a working girl.

Johnny had no idea how long a trip it was from Lancer to Boston. He had naively thought that once he boarded the train in Sacramento he would stay on it until he arrived in Boston. But so far they had changed four trains before, at last, they pulled into the Boston Station.

Despite the luxury of the Pullman cars, Johnny was exhausted and hurting. He was looking forward to solid ground and a steady bed.

Johnny waited amid the noise and confusion of people arriving for their train or picking up passengers. He felt conspicuous sitting on the bench, his arm supported by the black sling. Everyone seemed compelled to look at him. His pistol concealed inside the sling gave him a modicum of security. He remembered Sam catching him slipping the gun into the holster Jelly had fashioned for him and, to the doctor’s credit, he had only raised an eyebrow. Sam knew Johnny Madrid was never truly safe anywhere.

A few minutes later Sam arrived in a cab with their baggage stowed in back and they were off to the hotel. A short ride later they arrived at the Parker House. Johnny wasn’t prepared for the size or the grandeur of the hotel and he felt even more out of place. But Sam took charge and they were soon following a bell hop to the second floor where they shared adjoining rooms. This was the world Scott had come from. He hadn’t realized, until now, what a transition his brother had made from this life to part owner of a cattle ranch. It made Johnny all the more determined to prove that Scott was who he was. His brother had worked too hard to have it torn from him because of false allegations.

Spotting a comfortable looking chair facing the fireplace, Johnny sat down heavily. He was tired, hurting and wholly at a loss as to what to do next. He was totally out of his element here. What would he do if Harlan refused to see him? Pull his gun on him and demand the old man tell him the truth? Somehow, he knew that was not going to work. So what then?  He had thought of a lot of things as he traveled across the country. But he had only thought of what he wanted to do, not how to do it.

Sighing heavily, he ran his hand through his black hair and stood up. “Putting this off isn’t gonna get the answers we need.”

“You’ve had a long trip, Johnny. Rest today and we can go see Garrett tomorrow.”

Johnny shook his head. “I didn’t come all this way to lay around here. I’m gonna have a talk with the old man and get this settled.”

“Let me freshen up a little and I’ll be right with you.”

“No, Sam. I’ve got to do this on my own. If I don’t get anywhere with the old man then you can start asking around. At least this way, we’ll know where we stand.”

“Johnny, this is not Morro Coyo. You don’t know how to get around a city this big.”

“I know the address and I can get me one of them cabs. I’ll be fine, doc.”

“You are far from fine,” Sam said a little too loud, his exasperation growing by the minute. “You’re exhausted and in pain. I can tell by your face. You can’t lie to me, young man.”

“I’m not trying to lie to you, Sam. It’s just that I got to get this done as soon as I can. Scott is back home with Murdoch and I don’t know if Murdoch can keep from telling him what’s going on. Even when I have the proof that the Pinkerton’s report was a lie, I could still lose him. I can’t take that chance.”

Sam nodded. “All right. But let me come with you in the cab. I’ll wait until you have talked to Garrett. At least I’ll be there if you need me.”

A smile small sneaked across Johnny’s face. “Don’t you ever get tired of fussin’?”

Sam chuckled. “It’s part of the Hippocratic Oath.”

“The what?”

“The rules a doctor promises to follow. And no, I never get tired of fussing when fussing is necessary. Now give me five minutes to get ready.”

Johnny sat back down to wait. In truth, he was glad Sam was going with him. Even though he would not be by his side when he talked to Garrett it would be reassuring to know he was outside waiting if he needed him.

 

***

Johnny paid no attention as the cab wound its way up and down street after street. In reality Garrett’s house was not that far away, but the streets were so long that it seemed to take forever before the cab reached an intersection and the horse clopped on down the next cobblestone street.

Finally the cab came to a complete stop and Johnny looked out the window at a three story brick building. Even with the trees that lined the pathway to the front steps, it looked cold and uninviting. This is where Scott grew up? He suddenly felt a pang of guilt for having so much more than his brother had. Even though he didn’t always have a roof over his head, or food in his stomach, he didn’t have to live in a place like this. It seemed devoid of life.

He gave Sam a nervous smile and climbed out of the cab. He reached the steps and climbed them slowly. Not just because he was tired, but because he was about to look into Scott’s life and he didn’t know if he really wanted to. Ignorance was bliss, someone had once said. At this moment, he deemed them right.

Johnny patted his sling, feeling the familiar shape of the holster and gun then knocked three times on the foreboding front door.

It took several minutes before the door finally opened and a stiff- backed man in a black tailored suit stood in the doorway. The man arched an eyebrow and looked down on Johnny from the last step that led into the house.

“If you are looking for work, there is none here,” he said with repugnance.

Johnny held his temper. He had come too far to blow up at the first slight. He knew there would be many more to come. “I’d like to speak to Mr. Garrett.”

“Who are you?” the man demanded.

“You can tell Mr. Garrett that Johnny Lancer has come calling on him. He’ll know who I am.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“Look Mister, I just want to see Mr. Garrett.”

“You’ll find Mr. Garrett at the King’s Chapel Burying Ground,” the man said as he began to close the door. “He was killed in a buggy accident two months ago.”

 

***  

Chapter Eleven

“Dead?” Johnny quickly stuck his foot in the threshold, leaning his good shoulder against the heavy ornately carved door, the word still echoing in his head. “Why didn’t you tell Scott?” he demanded.

“Remove your foot, or I will have you arrested for trespassing.”

“I asked you a question,” Johnny snarled. “Why didn’t you tell Scott?”

“Several letters were sent, if it’s any of your business. But no one knows for sure what part of Europe Mr. Scott is in at the moment.”

“Europe…?”

“Yes. Now, will you remove yourself from this door or will I have to summon the constable?”

Johnny felt like he was gut punched. He could barely breathe. He watched the door close in his face and just stood there, stunned beyond reason. Garrett dead? Unbidden questions wormed their way into his thoughts. If Garrett was dead then who was sending those letters to Scott? He had never actually seen the letters…no one had. No! He refused to allow those thoughts to take root in his mind. He trusted Scott. He was here to find the truth. But was Murdoch right? Could he accept the truth if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear?

He turned and walked back down the stairs toward the cab, a fog of confusion and despair blanketing his thoughts. Sam opened the cab door and Johnny climbed in, barely aware of what he was doing.

“Johnny?” Sam’s voice hardly registered.

“Garrett is dead,” he answered, his voice devoid of emotion.

“What?”

“He died two months ago.”

A long, stifling silence filled the cab, broken only by the driver when he opened the small window between the driver’s seat and the interior of the cab. “Where to, Gents?”

“Back to the hotel,” Sam ordered.

The cab lurched as the horse made a wide circle and began to retrace its steps back to the Parker House Hotel.

“I don’t understand. Surely someone would have notified Scott.”

Johnny looked out the window, not seeing anything. “They did. But it takes a long time for a letter to get to Europe.”

“Johnny, what are you talking about?”

Johnny felt as if the inside of the cab was closing in around him. He needed air to breathe, time to think. “Stop this damn thing,” he barked, grabbing the handle.

“Johnny, no!” Sam held his arm. “We’ll be at the hotel in a few minutes.”

Johnny snatched his arm free and opened the door as the cab slowed to a stop. Sam scrambled out after him, stopping only long enough to hand the driver the fare.

“Johnny, wait!”

Johnny barely heard Sam, his mind reeling. Garrett dead. It was the last thing he ever thought he’d hear. He walked past people, so many people. Could they tell that he had just been betrayed by the one person in this world he trusted most? Anger welled up inside him. He’d been so sure that he could confront Garrett and get the answer he knew in his heart was true. But now…//dead for two months//…Someone jostled his shoulder and he hissed in pain. //No one knows for sure what part of Europe Mr. Scott is in at the moment.// Lies, all lies. But who was lying? //Your brother may be an imposter’//. No, Scott was back at Lancer. His gut told him so. His heart told him so. But what if he was wrong? He’d never allowed himself to ask that question until now.

The unforgiving stone sidewalk jarred his arm with each step, but he couldn’t stop, not now. His hand went automatically to the gun hidden inside his sling. It was the only thing he could rely on, could trust not to let him down. He’d been a fool to let his guard down, to let people into his life. It was safer to stay on the outside looking in.

Suddenly he realized he was entering the hotel lobby. Sam was steering him toward the stairs, and he let him. He was too tired to fight. The pain in his arm throbbed with each beat of his heart. His feet didn’t seem to reach the ground anymore. Now he was sitting on the edge of the bed, Sam pressing a glass into his hand.

“Drink this,” Sam ordered.

Johnny complied because he didn’t have the strength or the will to say no. //No one knows for sure what part of Europe Mr. Scott is at the moment.//

Sam gently maneuvered him until he was lying on the bed, his left arm supported beneath a soft pillow. He knew Sam had given him something to make him sleep. Would it make him stop thinking? Would it stop the questions?

He felt his body sag deeper into the mattress as he drifted into a deep, drugged sleep.

 

***

Johnny awoke some time later. He lay very still, eyes closed, listening, trying to remember where he was. The lack of the constant motion of the Pullman car and the silence told him he was no longer on the train. //Mr. Garret has been dead for two months.// He threw the covers off and leaped to his feet, regretting the movement instantly. He clutched at his arm, damning the heavy cast that imprisoned the pain. His ribs joined the symphony of discomfort and he groaned in misery as he sat back down on the edge of the bed.

The door leading to Sam’s room opened slowly and Sam stuck his head in. “Is it safe?”

Johnny should have been mad. Sam had fought dirty last night, drugging his water. Most times he would have been. But the sleep had cleared his head. “Maybe...”

Sam produced a tray with two plates covered with white napkins. “I had breakfast brought up. I didn’t know if you would feel like eating in the restaurant downstairs.”

Johnny feigned annoyance. “In that case, come on in.”

Sam silently went about placing the dishes on the small round table in the corner of the room and disappeared back into his room. He returned with another tray with two cups and a porcelain coffee pot.

Johnny slipped into a chair and watched Sam pull the napkin off with a flourish. Scrambled eggs, toast and a small tumbler of honey filled the plate.

“Where’s the steak?” he asked, disgruntled. “I’ve had nothin’ but eggs and oatmeal for longer than I can remember.”

“Maybe tonight.”

Johnny nodded, knowing “maybe” most likely meant no, and reluctantly took a taste. It was good, but it lacked Maria’s special touch. The thought of Maria brought back memories of home, of sitting around the breakfast table, Scott grinning like a fool over Johnny’s inability to eat anything but oatmeal after a brawl in the Green River saloon. He hadn’t realized how important those moments were until it hit him that he might lose the chance of ever making more memories. He took a couple more bites and put his fork down. His stomach was a mass of knots.

“You have to eat, Johnny.”

Johnny pushed the bowl away from him. “Don’t feel much like it right now.”

Sam nodded, not saying anything until he poured another cup of coffee for both of them.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“About what?” Johnny’s voce was harsher than he intended. “That Scott made a fool of me? That I trusted him?”

“And now you feel betrayed.”

“I don’t know what I feel. I want to believe. My gut tells me that Scott is my brother. But everywhere I turn…what do you do when the facts say one thing and your heart says another?”

“I think you trust your instincts.”

“I wanna believe, Sam.”

“Then do what you can to prove that you’re right.”

Johnny adjusted the sling supporting his arm and grimaced.

“You should rest today,” Sam cautioned. “It was a long trip getting here.”

Johnny shook his head. “Don’t have time for that.”

Sam sighed heavily. “Something tells me I’m not going to like what you have in mind for today.”

“Answers, Sam. I need answers. First, I got to know if Garrett is really dead. Then I need to get inside that house. There’s got to be something there that will prove that Scott is Scott.”

“Johnny, they are not going to just welcome you in with open arms.”

“There’s other ways of getting in.”

“Now you’re talking about breaking and entering. That, my friend, could land you in jail.”

“Not if I’m not caught. Scott told me that everyone goes out on Sundays. The staff goes home or to church. Only the old man and his servant stay behind. Scott used to hate Sundays. They were long and boring and he was expected to stay in his room out of the way.” Johnny shook his head sadly. “I may have had it rough growing up, but at least I had a life.”

“Johnny,” Sam said softly. “Being Devil’s advocate here, what if you can’t find anything to substantiate Scott’s claim, what then?”

Johnny stood up slowly. “I ain’t there yet, am I? I’m going for a walk.”

“I’ll get my coat and be right with you.”

“No, Sam. I need some time to think. I’ll be all right. Everyone knows this hotel. If I get lost I’ll find my way back. Meantime, you think of what you’re going to say to keep Garrett’s servant busy while I have a look around inside.”

“What?”

Johnny smiled cheekily. “You’re my, what is the word Scott uses…accomplice”

 

***

Johnny stopped at the desk occupying the back wall of the lobby and asked directions to King’s Chapel Burying Ground.

The clerk gave Johnny a disapproving look as he unabashedly appraised the bolero jacket, the left side draped over the cumbersome cast, and the line of silver conchos running down the outside of his leather pants.

“Would you like me to hail you a cab, Sir?” The “Sir” seemed to come out strained.

Johnny shook his head. “I’ll walk.”

Stepping outside, Johnny was surprised to find the streets much quieter than yesterday. Though he didn’t remember a lot about his trip back from Garrett’s, he had noted the chaos of too many wagons and cabs filling the streets. Now he could see tracks traveling down the center of the street where horse drawn cars, looking very much like train cars, carried a dozen or more passengers. It seemed as if there were more people in the town of Boston than in all of California.

He made his way down School Street. Even though the weather held the sharpness of fall, he felt sweat trickle down his back and dampen his face. Was he ready to see what awaited him in the cemetery? If Garrett really was dead, what then?

Johnny didn’t have time to mull over the question before he came upon a distinctive granite building. The desk clerk had described it perfectly with its six columns in front and second story bell tower. He slowly walked past the church to the cemetery, knowing with each step he came closer to finding answers he might not be ready to accept. Fenced off by a stone and iron picket fence, he passed through the archway leading to the sacred grounds. Rows of small stone markers were intermixed with larger gravestones dating back hundreds of years. This was Boston’s history. He had seen cemeteries like this in Mexico, hundreds of years of history inscribed in stone.

As he walked along the narrow paths, worn by visitors over the years, he came upon a row of newer stones. His heart beat faster as he read each name, and suddenly froze before a finely polished, black ebony headstone. IN MEMORY OF  HARLAN BERNARD GARRETT. AUGUST 13, 1807 –AUGUST 22,1870.  LOVING FATHER TO CATHERINE GARRETT LANCER. LOVING GRANDFATHER TO SCOTT GARRETT LANCER. MAY HE REST IN GOD’S ARMS.

“No,” he breathed. He felt the ground sag beneath him. Beside Garrett, another gravestone proclaimed to be the last resting place of Scott’s mother: Catherine Garrett Lancer. Was this a glimpse of the grandfather Scott loved so? A place he had given Scott to grieve for the mother he never knew?

He could not deny the truth now. //Mr. Garrett died two months ago// The voice that would not leave his head taunted him. The servant was right. With a growing disbelief, Johnny had to admit that Garrett was dead.

Turning away from the graves, Johnny silently walked out of the cemetery. What should he do? Send Scott a telegram? If he was truly Scott, the news would be devastating. If he was, as Murdoch feared, an imposter, it could put Murdoch in danger.

When would he get the answers he wanted…needed? Until now, all he had was more questions.

 

***

“We have to tell Scott. He has a right to know.” Sam poured a second cup of coffee for Johnny as he sat on the edge of the bed, looking as tired and defeated as Sam had ever seen him.

“I don’t know. Those letters he said he got from Garrett. A dead man doesn’t write from the grave.”

“So you aren’t sure anymore?” Sam prodded.

“He is Scott!” Johnny said sharply - too sharply. Was he trying to convince Sam or himself? With a softer voice he added, “I’m not giving up on him.”

Sam dragged a chair over to the bed sitting down heavily. “But what can we do?”

“We get inside Garrett’s house and prove Scott is Harlan Garrett’s real grandson. That he’s Murdoch’s son and my brother. I can’t believe Scott could have lied like that.”

“And just how do you propose to get inside the Garrett mansion? This is Boston, Johnny, not Green River.”

Johnny walked to the closet and brought over his traveling bag, rummaging in it awkwardly with his right hand, finally bringing out the suit Murdoch had insisted he bring. “Can you make me look like one of them men from Boston?”

Sam raised a quizzical eyebrow. “A shave and a few inches cut off that mop you call hair…maybe.”

Johnny shook his head emphatically. “You stay away from my hair. I saw some men with hair longer than mine. Besides, I don’t plan on meeting anyone, just don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb.”

Sam nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. But first I want you to get some rest. You won’t do Scott any good if you collapse from exhaustion.”

Johnny sighed heavily. “I know. I’ll rest. Could you send the telegram for me, Sam? I know you’ll know what to say. Maybe you should send it to Murdoch. But I don’t know how he’ll react. He was hanging on by a thread when we left. I don’t know what he will do.”

“They have to know.”

Johnny lay back on the bed. He only wanted things back the way they were.

“I’ll be back in awhile. You rest now.”

Johnny nodded. Things were going from bad to worse.

 

***

Chapter Twelve

“You God damn son of a bitch! Who the hell are you?”

Scott had barely closed the front door when Murdoch came barreling toward him, his face frozen in anger, grabbing him under the arms and lifting him off his feet. He was driven back against the wall, Murdoch’s face just inches from his.

“Who are you?”  Murdoch demanded again, pinning Scott’s shoulders with his huge hands.

“What are you talking about?” Scott gasped, his breath ripped from his lungs by both the impact with the wall and the shock of Murdoch’s sudden attack. He had never seen his father so out of control. And to have that anger aimed at him…

Scott’s knees nearly buckled when Murdoch released his grip. He watched in a daze as Murdoch ripped a letter from his shirt pocket and threw it at him. It fluttered to the ground, finally resting next to his boot.

“You tell me,” Murdoch growled.

With a shaky hand, Scott leaned down and picked up the letter. As he opened it he saw the Pinkerton Agency logo on the top right corner and began to read.

Disbelief turned to anger. “You can’t take this seriously!” Scott shouted. “You really believe…?”

Murdoch’s face turned darker as he pulled a telegram from his left shirt pocket. He flung it at Scott and waited, breathing hard while Scott picked it up.

Scott opened the telegram. He felt like he had been sucker punched. The words blinded him, the paper they were written on nearly singeing his hands.

“No,” he breathed.

“Two months!” Murdoch shouted. “He’s been dead for two months. How could you still be getting letters from a dead man?”

Scott couldn’t answer. He had received a letter two weeks ago. It had surprised him at the time. Most of his grandfather’s correspondence was polite and succinct. A few lines about Boston, about the business and a plea that he return home where he belonged. But this time his words had been threatening…demanding. He was to return to Boston or forfeit any claim to the Garrett estate. He would lose everything. Angry at the attempted blackmail, he had thrown his entire grandfather’s letters into the fire.

Scott shook his head. “I received a letter from Grandfather just two weeks ago.”

Scott’s answer seemed to only enrage Murdoch further. “How! From a ghost?  How long were you going to play out this charade of yours? What did you think you would gain by it? Take over Lancer?”

Scott looked at Murdoch, for the first time realizing what his father was saying. “You can’t believe…”

“What else am I to think?  I trust Sam.”

“Sam?” Scott looked at the bottom of the telegram. Sam Jenkins. “Johnny and Sam are in Boston?”

Murdoch nodded. “Johnny was determined to prove that you were who you say you are, and Sam wouldn’t let him travel alone.”

“He shouldn’t have stepped foot off this ranch in his condition.”

“There was no stopping him. You know your bro….” The word seemed to freeze in Murdoch’s throat.

Scott crumpled the Pinkerton letter in his hand and threw on the floor. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to pack.”

“Where are you going?” Murdoch demanded.

“Why would you care? You want me out of this house.”

“Scott.” For the first time Murdoch didn’t seem as certain as he had been when Scott first entered. “Don’t…”

“Don’t what? Don’t go? If I’m the imposter you think I am, then you should be happy that I’m going.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

Scott took a step closer to Murdoch, his own anger vying his father’s. “Think about this. You just did what my Grandfather’s pleading and threats could not do. You just convinced me that I don’t belong here. I’m catching the next train back east. Hopefully Johnny will still be there and I can assure him that I am, and always have been, Scott Lancer.”

Scott brushed past a stunned Murdoch Lancer. Never in his wildest dreams could Scott have foreseen something like this. He reached the stairs and took them two at a time. He couldn’t get out of this house fast enough.

 

***

Scott grabbed one of the traveling bags he had used on his trip out here and threw it on the bed. He never thought when he first stepped foot on Lancer land that he would be staying. Now he couldn’t believe he was going. This was his home. He loved it here. He loved his family and the hard work and, above all else, his friendship with Johnny. It had been a hard road at first, trying to figure out the enigma that was his brother. And even though Johnny was still a mystery at times, he couldn’t think of life without him in it.

Now what would happen? Suddenly the impact of his grandfather’s death hit him and he sagged against the bed, covering his face with his hands. It shouldn’t have been like this. He had hated him so much the past two weeks. If he had only read the letter more closely, had thought to scrutinize the words more. Would he have found that it hadn’t been sent by his grandfather? He would never know because in his anger he had burned the letter. All the letters. He had nothing left here of the man who had raised him. Who had loved him in his own selfish way. But in truth, it didn’t matter anymore. This was no longer his home. He had plenty of memories to surround him in Boston.

Taking a deep breath he retuned to his job of packing. Once he was settled in Boston he would send money for someone to pack up the rest of his belongings and ship them back east.

He grabbed the traveling bag and made one more stop before leaving the room. Pulling the top drawer of his dresser open, he rummaged beneath his clothes until he found a small leather wallet. Clasping it in his hand, he squeezed it once then headed for the door.

 

***

He found Murdoch where he could always find him, sitting behind his desk.

Scott’s footsteps brought a tired set of eyes up to look at him. The old man had aged over the past two weeks, but now it seemed he had aged another ten years in the last half hour.

“You should wait until Johnny returns,” Murdoch said softly, as if he knew his words were falling on deaf ears.

Scott shook his head. “I don’t stay where I don’t belong. If…if Johnny leaves before I can get to Boston, tell him I’ll write him.”

Murdoch raked his fingers through his grey hair. “What am I supposed to think?” he asked. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Trust me,” Scott answered simply as he tossed the wallet onto Murdoch’s desk.

“What’s this?”

Scott sighed deeply. “A thousand dollars listening money. According to you, it’s not mine.”

“Scott…”

“I’ll send for the rest of my things when I get settled, and I’ll leave my horse in town. You can send someone to pick him up tomorrow.”

Murdoch stood up slowly. “Don’t go, Scott. We can figure this out, somehow.”

Scott smiled ironically. “Johnny said that one day you would say something that you could never take back. We both figured it would be Johnny you would say it to. Seems we were both wrong. Say goodbye to Teresa and Maria for me. I’ll talk to Jelly and Cipriano on my way out.”

“Scott…”

“I’ll stop in Arthur’s office before the stage arrives tomorrow morning and have my name taken off the deed. And Murdoch, just so you know…” Scott damned the hitch he heard in his voice. “I am your son.” He turned and walked out of the great room, the heavy front door closing behind him. 

 

***

Sam straightened his coat and cleared his throat before knocking on Garrett’s front door. News of Harlan’s death had devastated Johnny and rocked his resolve. But not for long. Johnny was determined to prove what he knew to be fact: the man he called Brother was the real Scott Lancer.

When Johnny first explained his plan for getting inside the Garrett mansion, Sam had vetoed it immediately. But Sam knew, with or without his help, Johnny would get into the house somehow. And the plan did have merit.

So now, he waited as Harlan’s man servant answered the door.

“Yes? Can I help you?”  The man was near Sam’s age, tall and dressed in a three piece black suit. His voice was deep and refined and ever so proper. Sam had to wonder what Johnny’s reaction had been.

Sam smiled pleasantly. “Dr. Samuel Jenkins. I met Harlan a few years ago. He said to be sure to stop by if I was ever in Boston.”

The butler looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, Sir. Mr. Garrett passed away two months ago.”

Sam reached out suddenly, looking for something to support himself, the shock appearing too much for the old doctor.

“Sir! Can I be of assistance?” Harlan’s man servant asked, alarmed by Sam’s reaction.

Sam patted his chest. “I just need to rest for a minute,” he panted, struggling to grab the doorman’s arm. “I don’t mean to be a bother, but I need to rest. Bad heart you know. Just for a few minutes.”

The doorman looked back into the house nervously, then helped Sam in, guiding him to the front parlor.

 

***

Johnny wore the black suit Murdoch had insisted he take, and was thankful for his father’s forethought. With the black sling replacing the white one, he blended in with the gentlemen walking along Beacon Street. When he reached the Garrett Mansion grounds he surreptitiously stepped off the paved walkway and disappeared, unnoticed, behind a tree.

He made his way around the back of the mansion, crouching low. The weight of his cast made it hard to balance, but he was able to keep close to the ground. He tried opening four windows at the back of the house before he found one unlocked. Peering as best he could into the room, he decided it looked empty. He carefully raised the window, finding it harder than he thought with one hand, and slipped inside.

A huge four poster bed dominated the room, with a satin bedspread nearly the same color as the flowery wallpaper. He didn’t think anyone could crowd more furniture into a room if they tried.

The room looked too clean, too cold to be anything but a guest room. As quietly as he could, he made his way across the room, thankful for the thick carpeting dampening his footsteps, and opened the door slowly. He could hear Sam and someone else talking down the hall and he quickly went in the opposite direction. His heart was in his throat as he carefully opened each door along the hall, looking for Harlan’s office. Scott had once said he was never allowed, as a boy, to enter his grandfather’s office.

Johnny was sure he remembered Scott saying that Harlan’s office was on the first floor. He was at the fifth door, the sound of Sam’ voice still following him down the hall, when he opened it onto a room lined with books and a desk that would put Murdoch’s massive desk to shame. He slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Several windows lined the side wall, but thankfully it looked out on a wide expanse of trees and grass instead of the street.

Now that he was inside, he didn’t know what he was looking for. It was painfully clear that Harlan had not been in this room for sometime. There was no paper work on the desk, and only a hint of the smell of fine cigar smoke and expensive bourbon lingered in the walls and furniture. Scott had told him once how different Murdoch’s desk was from his grandfather’s. Murdoch’s desk was clean and organized compared to Harlan’s.

Johnny carefully opened each drawer, finding them all empty. It seemed that someone had stripped the room of anything that was Harlan Garrett. Whoever was running Garrett Enterprises now was not doing it from this office.

Swearing silently in disgust, he carefully opened the door and headed for the stairs leading to the second level. He had to find Scott’s room. He could still hear Sam talking. They had agreed that it would be dangerous for either of them to stay more than half an hour in the house, and Johnny’s time was dwindling away too quickly.

He made for the stairs, praying that none of the steps creaked beneath his weight. The second floor hallway was long and wide. He tried to remember if Scott had ever mentioned what room he was in. He couldn’t remember. He found two more guests rooms then opened the door to a room he knew instantly was Scott’s. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him. Scott’s cavalry hat and holster hung on the wall. Johnny walked around the room, picking up figures, some made of pewter, and others of crystal and wood, mementos of a privileged life. Yet Johnny knew none of this meant anything to Scott anymore. His life and his heart were in Lancer. 

Bookshelves lined one wall. He opened the closet door and found more clothes hanging inside than all the clothes at Baldemero’s store. Suits and frilled shirts hung next to plaid pants and heavy woolen sweaters. He saw only a few empty hangers. Why would Scott travel all the way to Europe and not take his best clothes? Johnny remembered the tales Murdoch told of his trip across the sea from Inverness. The way he had watched and wished he could join the first class passengers, with their fancy clothes and fancier food. Scott would be one of those first class passengers. It seemed more likely that his brother had packed for a trip out west, knowing that most of these clothes would be useless out there.

Reluctantly turning away from the closet, he moved over to the writing desk in the corner of the room. A quill and inkwell sat next to a sheaf of writing paper. A book on western saddles sat on the corner, a bookmark saving the last page read. Why would Scott be reading a book about western saddles if he was headed for Europe? Johnny rifled through the envelopes and letters in the top drawer, some addressed to him in a masculine writing style. Still others held the unmistakable touch of a woman’s hand. Then he saw it. What he had been hoping to find. A train schedule from Boston to Sacramento. He picked it up, studying the underlined times. Scott had been planning this trip. Why else would he have a train schedule if he wasn’t traveling out west?

Afraid that someone might destroy the evidence, and yet not wanting to take it from Scott’s room, Johnny opened the bottom desk drawer and lifted several newspapers his brother had saved. Beneath them, to Johnny’s surprise, he found a framed picture of Scott standing next to General Sheridan: The same picture that sat on the bureau in Scott’s room at Lancer. There was no denying now who Scott was.

He needed to get word to Murdoch before he said something to Scott. It had been a mistake to send that telegram about Scott’s grandfather before coming here. Johnny said a silent prayer that his father would find the strength to keep quiet just a little longer. It would only be a matter of days before this was all cleared up. Questions of who and why would have to be answered. But Scott’s identity would no longer be in doubt.

Thrilled to have found something to prove Scott’s case, Johnny was anxious to get downstairs and out of the house before he was seen. If Sam hadn’t already left, he would any minute. Turning toward the door, his cumbersome cast caught the edge of the bureau. He gasped in pain and surprise, then froze as he saw the stained glass shade of an oil lamp totter on the chimney. The whole lamp tipped over, crashing to the floor.

The sound was enough to wake the dead. Johnny looked around for a place to hide, knowing that someone would be up to investigate any minute. The closet would be the first place a person would check. Taking a chance, he carefully opened the door. The sound of raised voices neared as Garrett’s man servant raced up the stairs.

 

***

Chapter Thirteen

“Weatherly, Sir, just call me Weatherly.”

Sam nodded, sipping tea from a fine bone china teacup. He suspected that one cup and saucer would cost him a month’s wages. Weatherly had brought out the silver tea service and set it down on the highly polished mahogany coffee table that sat between two expensive but uncomfortable sofas.

At first Weatherly had been reluctant to invite a stranger into the house, but Sam’s act had convinced the servant that Sam might die at the front door, and that would never do. However it wasn’t long before they fell into comfortable conversation. If not for Johnny skulking around the house, Sam would have actually enjoyed himself.

Sam set his tea cup down and Weatherly immediately refilled it.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Sam said. “This must be a hard time for you.”

“I admit that I enjoy your company, Dr. Jenkins. Except for the cleaning ladies who come in once a day for a few hours, I am quite alone here.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “I thought Harlan had a grandson. In fact I’m sure of it. I remember him speaking highly of him. Expected him to take over the business one day.”

“That was Mr. Garrett’s plan from the time young Master Scott was in diapers. It was a dream of his. Mr. Garrett hired only the best teachers and governesses as the boy grew up. In fact, there was a time when it looked like Mr. Scott would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. But the war lured Mr. Scott away. When he came back, things were never quite the same. Mr. Garrett hoped the boy would stay on. But…”

Sam nonchalantly picked up a scone and nibbled at it, his heart beating at the prospect of learning more about Scott. He wished Johnny were here to hear this.

“The war can change a man.”

Weatherly nodded. “Mr. Scott was a prisoner of war, held in Libby for over a year. His condition was appalling when he finally returned to us. Once he was healed and regained the weight he had lost, Mr. Garrett assumed he would return to the life he had led before the war. But there was something different about Mr. Scott. I could never put my finger on it. Perhaps a wanderlust that he had never had before.”

“He would not be the first to find it hard to go back to the same life he led before the war. But I guess with Harlan’s death he will have to take over the company, for a short time at least. It must have been a terrible shock to learn that his grandfather was gone.”

Weatherly looked down at his hands clasped in his lap. “Mr. Scott doesn’t know. We have been unable to contact him.”

Sam felt his pulse quicken.

“Where is he?”

Weatherly sighed deeply. “Mr. Garrett said …”

A crash from upstairs froze both of them.

Weatherly jumped to his feet. “There shouldn’t be anyone else in the house.”

Sam stood also, his heart beating in his throat. That crash was more than likely a blunder on Johnny’s part. He knew the boy was not up to this. But when Johnny had an idea in his head, nothing or no one could change his mind. They had agreed that thirty minutes was all the time they could spend in the house before he was spotted. It seemed that he was about ten minutes short.

“No one else is in the house?” Sam asked.

“No one.”

“You shouldn’t go up there alone,” Sam cautioned. “Let me go with you.”

Weatherly brushed him off. “No. You stay here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

To Sam’s dismay, he saw Weatherly open a drawer in the writing table to the side of the archway that led to the stairs, and draw out a derringer. Sam knew all too well that a bullet was a bullet, no matter what gun it was fired from.

As Weatherly disappeared from the parlor, Sam began a quick survey of the room. If wealth and influence were measured by possessions, then Harlan Garret was indeed a wealthy man. Everything spoke of a man’s influence, not unlike Lancer. But where the Lancer great room was comfortable but functional, this room was overcrowded with furniture and expensive cut crystal lamps, lace curtains that puddled on the floor beneath the windows and rich green velour drapes. Above the large fireplace two gold framed paintings hung on the wall. The likeness of Harlan Garrett was astoundingly lifelike. Though he had never met the man, he felt as if he knew him, that he could see the austere business man Scott had often spoke of. If there was a kind side to Harlan Garrett the painting failed to show it. The second painting was of Catherine Lancer. Sam had first met Scott’s mother after a long hard journey from Boston to Morro Coyo first by ship around Cape Horn, then by stagecoach from San Francisco. And even then she had been the most beautiful woman he had ever met. He often wondered how Murdoch Lancer had swept her off her feet. The artist had captured the brush of a smile on her lips.

As Sam studied the paintings he felt that there was something odd about them. Then he realized it was the placement over the fireplace. They weren’t centered. As he looked closer he could see the faint outline on the wall where another painting had hung. Curious, he walked over to the fireplace and looked at the wall more closely. There was a definite outline of another painting. As he turned to get a better look at the room he caught sight of the edge of a gold frame hidden behind a liquor cabinet to the left of the fireplace. It seemed to be exactly like the two frames hanging on the wall. Carefully, he slid the frame from in back of the cabinet and caught his breath. It was of Scott. He was a few years younger, his complexion lighter and his hair darker…but there was no doubt that it was Scott Lancer he was looking at. His hand trembled as he realized he had found the proof that Scott was the real and true Scott Lancer.

He carefully slid the painting back behind the liquor cabinet and quickly returned to the sofa. He hoped his excitement wouldn’t show on his face. He couldn’t wait to tell Johnny that he had proof.

The sound of Weatherly walking back down the stairs gave Sam time to school his expression.

“Did you find anything?” he asked innocently, as Weatherly walked back into the parlor.

“A lamp was knocked off the bureau in Mr. Scott’s room. I can’t explain how. I found no one up there, or any evidence that someone had been there. It may have been the cook’s cat. I told her to take the beastly thing with her, but it appears that she didn’t. I hate cats. Would you like another cup of tea while I clean up the spilt oil? I told the cleaning ladies to make sure all the lamps were filled. If they had followed orders then the cat could not have knocked it off. ”

Sam stood up slowly, trying to act nonchalant. He really wanted to race out of this house and back to the hotel.  “Thank you, Weatherly, but I have an appointment this afternoon. And thank you again for your hospitality.”

Weatherly held out his hand. “It was a pleasure, Sir.” He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “If you have time, before you leave, I would enjoy another visit. A proper lunch perhaps.”

Sam shook his hand. “I would like that Weatherly.” And Sam realized that he truly meant it.

 

***

Johnny slowly and painfully uncurled himself from his hiding place. He had hugged the corner in the last bedroom for the past hour, scrunched behind a daybed with enough pillows for every bed at Lancer. Every time he was ready to leave his corner of safety, the old servant would walk the hallway, searching for something. He doubted the man was looking for an intruder; he was too relaxed for that. But he was looking for something.

Finally he heard the distant sounds of pots and pan being moved around in the kitchen downstairs and Johnny knew it was now or never. His ribs burned and his arm ached, but it was worth it. He had found the evidence to prove to himself and to everyone that Scott was exactly who he said he was…his brother. Johnny felt a niggling of guilt at having doubted Scott, even for a second. But mounting evidence that Scott was an imposter had come at him like a Gatling gun. He hardly had time to breathe before something new appeared.

Easing himself past the bedroom door, Johnny held his breath as he slowly and silently climbed back down the stairs. If it had not been for his arm being in the sling, he could have climbed out one of the upstairs windows. He made it to the room he had first entered and carefully lifted the window. He again thanked his good luck that the window casing was used often and slid effortlessly up for him to climb out.

Once outside, he straightened his black suit and causally made his way back to the sidewalk. He couldn’t wait to tell Sam what he had found.

The sky had clouded over while he was inside Garrett’s house and now he heard the distant sound of thunder. If his luck was still holding, he would make it back to Parker House before the rains hit. He knew he should take one of the cabs moving up and down the busy street, but he hated that closed in feeling.

Finally he made it to the hotel and slowly headed up the stairs to his room. He could only imagine how worried Sam was.

Worry could not begin to describe the look on Sam’s face when Johnny opened the door.

“Good God, man.” Sam flung the door open. “Where have you been? I expected to see you here when I got back from Garrett’s.”

“Sorry, Sam,” Johnny sighed as he carefully eased himself into an inviting chair. “Harlan’s servant kept searching the upstairs. Don’t think he was looking for me…but I couldn’t get back down the stairs.”

Sam took a deep breath then chuckled. “He was looking for the cook’s cat. It seems she left it behind and it knocked a lamp over.”

Johnny smiled. “Cat’s can be clumsy sometimes.”

Sam quickly pulled a bottle of medicinal whiskey from his medical bag and poured Johnny a glass.

“Here, drink this. I have some news to tell you.”

Johnny’s eyes sparkled. “Me too, Sam.”

“While Weatherly, Harlan’s servant, was upstairs looking for a ‘stray cat’, I had a look around the parlor. I noticed there was a painting missing above the fireplace. Johnny, I found the missing painting. It was of Scott. Our Scott! Why they hid it or why they are trying to prove that he is an imposter I have no idea. But I do know for a fact that the real Scott Lancer is back home with Murdoch.”

Johnny nodded. “I found a picture in Scott’s room. The same picture he has in his room at Lancer. And a train schedule for Green River.” Johnny suddenly froze. “Sam, we have to get word to Murdoch that we have proof.”

“I’ll send a telegram immediately. There’s no telling what reaction your father might have had finding out that Harlan is dead. I just hope he didn’t say anything that he will live to regret.”

“He’s got enough of those to last him a lifetime already.”

Sam grabbed his coat. “You get some rest. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

Johnny raised his glass. “I wish I could see his reaction.”

Sam closed the door leaving Johnny to think over what they had just found. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like Scott was an imposter. But why? And was it just a coincidence that Harlan Garrett had been killed? Who had given the Pinkertons the wrong information? He held no love for the Pinks, and they didn’t always get their facts right, but this wasn’t just misinformation, this was outright lies. Johnny laid his head back against the seat back, more tired than he was willing to admit. His eyes began to close of their own accord.

 

***

Johnny wasn’t sure how long he had been sleeping when a knock at the door startled him awake. He knew Sam wouldn’t knock. Grabbing the gun that sat on the small table next to his chair, he slipped it into his sling before clumsily pushing himself out of the chair. He walked stiffly to the door. The long walk to Garrett’s house, then the even longer wait secreted behind the daybed had taken its toll.

He opened the door slowly to find a young man dressed in the same jacket as the man behind the desk.

“Mr. Lancer, a message for you.”

“Thank you,” Johnny said, confused as to who would send him a message to him. Sam was the only one who knew he was here, and Sam wouldn’t need to send him a message. The young man stood with his hand still extended waiting for something. “Thank you,” Johnny said again and closed the door but not before he saw the look of disgust on the young man’s face. He would never understand these people with all their rules and regulations.

Returning to the chair he sat down, taking his gun out of his sling and adjusting the cast so it didn’t anger his ribs anymore than they already were. Only then did he struggle to open the small envelope with his good hand and pull the note out with his teeth. He couldn’t wait to get this damn cast off.

The note simply read: ‘Things are never what they seem. Meet me at the Long Wharf as soon as possible.’

Johnny studied the note. It could be a trap. But could he pass up the chance that someone could tell him what was going on here? He left the note on the small table for Sam to find when he returned, then slipped his gun back into his sling before heaving himself out of the chair. Hopefully Sam would find the note and meet him down at the wharf before he had to head back here. He could make it there, but he was not all that certain he had the strength to make it back on his own.

Stopping for directions at the front desk, Johnny received a sneer before the measly little man told him how to reach the wharf. How Johnny longed to be back at Lancer.

Outside the smell of rain was heavy in the air. The clouds had moved in and looked ready to open up any second. Sam was going to be furious with him for going out in the rain. Following directions, he walked down School Street to Washington Street then turned on State Street. The first raindrop hit his cheek and he knew he would be wet before too long.

His steps slowing as exhaustion drained his energy, Johnny found himself at the wharf. Huge warehouses, some as long as the main street of Morro Coyo, stood cold and neglected in the gray drizzle. Johnny felt a chill run down his back, not just from the cold rain, but at a feeling that he was somewhere he shouldn’t be. Especially alone. Damn it. Why didn’t he wait for Sam?

The sound of the water lapping at the piers increased as a steady raw wind grew stronger. Two clipper ships sat anchored, sails lowered and gangplanks stretching from ship to wharf. He saw a handful of men loading supplies onto the ships.

The sound of a horse and buggy echoed in the distance and Johnny turned to watch a black horse and closed carriage appear out of the drizzle.

He reached into his sling, his hand on his gun. The carriage pulled to a stop beside him and the door opened. A middle aged woman, wearing a white dress and black apron, her black hair pulled back in a severe bun, leaned close to the door. “Mr. Lancer?”

Johnny nodded.

“Please, hurry,” she urged. “It isn’t safe for you here.”

The sound of another carriage echoed in the drizzle. Johnny looked from the woman to the second horse and carriage appearing in the gloom.

“You sent the note?”

“No! They set up a trap for you. Get in before it’s too late.”

Climbing into the carriage, he didn’t have time to sit before the carriage was in motion. He lost his balance and fell head first against the cushioned bench seat, driving his arm into the back of the seat. He couldn’t stop the grunt of pain before surprisingly strong hands pulled him up and helped him to sit down, the carriage still bucking wildly as it raced down the slippery Boston streets.

“Who are you?” Johnny gasped. The pain in his arm and ribs throbbed so loudly he could barely hear the woman’s answer.

“I was Mr. Garrett’s head housekeeper.”

Johnny drew in a deep breath, flinching at the pain in his chest, but he needed to clear his head.

“What’s going on here?”

The carriage swayed as the driver cut a corner too close and the coach nearly rolled over. Johnny and the woman were thrown against the left side of the carriage.

“Who’s after us?” Johnny barked, trying to right himself in the jostling coach, his heavy cast making it impossible to keep himself steady.

“You have to warn Mr. Scott. He is in great danger. They want him dead. And you too.”

“Who?” Johnny demanded. “Who and why?”

“Mr. Garrett wanted…”  Bullets suddenly pierced the walls of the carriage and the woman gasped and fell forward, blood spreading across the back of her white dress.

 

***

Chapter Fourteen

More bullets plowed through the back of the carriage, whizzing by him. Johnny felt the red hot pain creasing his right side. The coach teetered on two wheels again as it careened around another sharp turn, throwing him against the door. The impact of his weight was too much for the lock and the door swung open. A cold blast of rain whipped air shocked him as he was flung from the carriage, weightless for just a moment, before he slammed into the ground. His arm and chest exploded in pain before his head hit the ground and he knew no more.

 

***

Sam cursed silently as he read the note Johnny had left behind. The boy was in no condition to be off on his own. He had already overdone it as it was today. And this note smelled of a trap. Grabbing his coat, he headed down to the lobby.

“I am not in the habit of reading ‘guest’s’ messages,” the desk clerk said a little too indignantly, the word guest said a little too loudly.

Sam leaned forward and whispered, “You may not know my name here in Boston, but they do in San Francisco. It’s Dr. Samuel Jenkins. And some of my patients travel several times a year to Boston and New York. In fact they recommended this hotel very highly. I guess they will be surprised to find that the son of one of the largest cattle ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley was treated so abysmally just because his skin was a little darker than yours.”

Sam enjoyed the play of emotions crossing the clerk’s face. “I’m sorry, Sir, I mean Dr. Jenkins.”

Sam leaned over the counter a little further. “Now, who delivered the note?”

“One of the boys who used to work at the Garrett house before Mr. Garrett had his accident.”

“Do you know where I can find this boy if I need to talk to him?”

“On the street somewhere, I suspect. At least that’s the way he looked. Most of the ‘Good’ homes in Boston have a full, loyal staff. There is hardly ever a need for extra help. If the boy didn’t have family or friends to take him in then…”

Sam had heard all he could stand. “If Johnny returns before I get back, tell him to stay put.”

“Yes, Sir. I will do that.”

Sam nodded and turned toward the door. Even in the lobby he could hear the rain pelting the buildings outside. If Johnny was out in that his cast would be ruined. His arm had not been stabilized long enough to go without the cast. Why couldn’t the boy wait?

Once outside, he hailed a cab and ordered the driver to head toward The Long Wharf. It wasn’t long before he saw the old dilapidated warehouses and beyond them ships anchored at the pier. Where was Johnny? Had he met the person who sent the message? Had he learned any answers to the puzzle?

The driver slowed to a stop. “Where to now, Mister?”

Sam squinted, trying to see through the sheet of rain. “I was to meet a friend here, but I don’t see him.”

“That’s no surprise. The constables cleared this whole dock out an hour ago. Some lady got shot in the back. Bullet went clean through her carriage. They’re looking for a man who was seen running from the carriage after she was shot. Riff raff down here, nothing but riff raff.”

Sam felt a chill run down his spine. “Who was the lady? Not the best place for a lady to be.”

“You telling me? She must have been daft being down here.”

“Does anyone know who she is?”

“Sure. One of the constables recognized her right away. She used to work as the head cook at Harlan Garrett’s house until he died and the staff was dismissed.”

Sam sighed. Now what, Johnny?

 

***

 Scott vacillated between anger and heart numbing despair. In a matter of moments he had lost two of the most important people in his life - his father and his grandfather.

He pulled his horse to a slower trot. He didn’t want to get to town too fast. There was nothing there for him but a lonely hotel room and his thoughts.

He tried to make sense of it all. His grandfather dead for two months; his own identity stolen. Who would have done this? Who was behind this conspiracy to destroy everything he had worked so hard for here at Lancer? If Harlan Garrett were not dead, then Scott would have no qualms about laying the blame right at his grandfather’s feet. It was the type of psychological warfare the old man used in his business dealings. Hit hard and hit fast, his grandfather always said. Get them off balance, keep them off balance. Make them question every move they made. Make them afraid to make a decision. Then strike. Harlan Garrett had toppled companies like they were dominos.

Had he now toppled Murdoch Lancer’s world? What if Murdoch was the target and he and Johnny were just collateral damage?

 

***

Scott reached Green River just as dusk overtook the town. Stores were closing and lamps were lit inside homes. The smell of food cooking drifted on the smoke from stovepipes. He headed for the saloon for a room and a drink, maybe two. It felt funny walking through the swinging doors without Johnny by his side. They had made it a Saturday night ritual to ride into town to play poker and drink. Johnny’s preference was tequila. Scott had yet to acquire a taste for the stuff. He still preferred whiskey. Though at times it was questionable if what they served in the saloon was really whiskey

He paid for his room and dropped his saddles bags and valise on the sagging, but clean bed, before returning to the saloon for something to eat and drink. He automatically headed for a back table, realizing that he had adopted Johnny’s habit of always sitting with his back to the wall. He couldn’t imagine living a life where he could never let his guard down, knowing that the next man through the door could be the man who was just a split second faster.

The bartender appeared at his table with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

“I’m guessing Johnny will be along any minute. I ran out of tequila a few days ago and a new shipment won’t be here for another week.”

Scott pushed one glass back toward the bartender and filled the one sitting in front of him. “Johnny’s out of town for a few weeks. You’ll have plenty of time to get the shipment in.”

The bartender sighed with relief. “Good. I like to take special care of my good customers. I can always count on you and Johnny to treat the ladies right. Wish there were more like you boys around.”

Scott threw back the whiskey and felt it burn down his throat and land with a thud in his stomach. He had not eaten since breakfast and drinking on an empty stomach was not a good idea. But the bartender’s words had hit hard. The life he had here was no longer his. The weekends playing poker with Johnny were in the past. Boardroom meetings and stuffy Men’s Clubs would be his form of entertainment. He hadn’t known until he came here just how much he detested that life.

He had been truly happy here. After the initial settling in, finding a common ground with both Murdoch and Johnny, he had been happier than he could ever remember. At last he was part of a family, not just a member of a family.

He poured another drink and threw it back. Damn it. Murdoch’s sudden attack had hurt more than a gang beating in some back alley. It was so sudden. He had known there was something wrong. And now he could see all the signs: Murdoch’s sudden coldness, his abrupt temper. If only his father had said something.

And what about Johnny? Scott threw back another drink, the whiskey going down easier with each pass. He suspected Johnny hadn’t known about it for long. His brother had seemed as confused as he was. Then why didn’t he wait? Damn it, when would his brother learn that he didn’t have to protect him from all the hurts in the world?

Exactly what did Johnny know that he didn’t? The two telegrams Murdoch had bushwhacked him with had very little information.  It must have been damning if he traveled all the way to Boston. The sudden realization that it was Johnny who discovered that his grandfather had died sent a shiver down his spine. Whatever conspiracy was afoot, Johnny may have landed right in the middle of it.

Damn it to hell! He should have been on that train with Johnny, not Sam. He should have known about Grandfather’s death weeks ago. Murdoch should have come to him and confronted him with the facts, the facts he was fed so easily. He grabbed the bottle and poured another drink, throwing it back. Damn, he shouldn’t be sitting in a saloon alone drinking cheap whiskey. He should be home, his home, with his father and his brother. Scott suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. That was never to be again. The good days at Lancer were in the past now. The good times…

“Not like you to drink alone.”

Scott looked up, surprised to see Val pulling out a chair and sitting down.

“Sheriff. Shouldn’t you be out checking the town for ne'er–do–wells?” he asked sarcastically.

Val either didn’t notice the sarcasm or he ignored it. “Ne’er do who’s?” Val slipped his hat off and tossed it on the empty table next to them. “No wonder Johnny complains about you using them fancy back east words.”

“Well, he won’t be complaining anymore.” Scott raised his empty glass for the bartender to see. “Another glass for the sheriff, it appears he’s staying awhile.”

Val scratched at his whiskered chin. “What’s got your tail all in a knot? That brother of yours taking off for Chicago? Never thought Johnny would make it past the Mississippi. Hates traveling ya know.”

“Of course I know,” Scott snapped. “Only he isn’t in Chicago. He and Sam are in Boston.” Scott heard the bitterness in his voice and wished he could take the words back. He wasn’t mad at Johnny. He was hurt that he was left in the dark.

“What the hell are they doin’ in Boston. And without you?”

Scott grabbed the bottle and poured Val a glass before turning the bottle to refill his glass.

“I’d go easy on that stuff, Scott. Before ya know it, it’ll turn around and bite ya in the ass.”

Scott just snorted and grinned. “Salute”

“Look, Scott, I know it ain’t none of my business,” Val ventured. “But what the hell is going on back at Lancer? I saw Johnny a couple a times after he was hurt and he seemed fine…not that being hurt is fine, you know what I mean. But Murdoch…now I know he don’t like me all that much, but he was down right rude. He nearly took my head off, for nothing.”

Scott nodded. Everyone seemed to get a taste of Murdoch’s temper. Except Johnny. He still felt too guilty over Johnny’s accident to show his temper around his youngest son. Scott sat forward, his elbows on the table. “It seems that trust is a high commodity and Murdoch is too cheap to pay the price.”

“Sounds like you and the old man had a falling out. Anything to do with Johnny going to Boston?”

“That’s none of your business, Sheriff.”

Val shrugged. “I saw ya come in here with your saddle bags. You planning on going somewhere -like Boston maybe?”

Scott felt the floor lurch beneath him and knew that last glass of whiskey had gone straight to his head. “Not that it’s any business of yours. But yes. I’m taking the stage to Sacramento in the morning then catching the train.”

“Good idea. I can just see ole Johnny trying to fit in with them proper eastern folk. I’d pay anything to be a fly on the wall listening to him trying ta talk to your granddaddy.”

“That would be rather hard,” Scott suddenly vented, exasperated with Val now. “Seeing that my grandfather has been dead for two months.”

Val’s mouth dropped open. “Sorry, Scott. I didn’t know.”

“Neither did I.” Scott noticed he had begun slurring his words. This was not like him.

“Excuse me, Gentlemen.” Arnie Haskell wove his way through the tables in the now crowded saloon. When had that happened, Scott wondered. He had been so wrapped up in his own miserable world that he hadn’t noticed the time go by. “Mr. Lancer.”

Arnie handed Scott a telegram. “This just came for your father. I was going to have my boy ride out to Lancer with it. But I hate sending the young’n all that way in the dark. Then Mary Evens said she saw you come in here. Maybe you could give it to him when you go home tonight. I’d be much obliged.”

Arnie was gone before Scott could answer.

Scott took the note and opened it. To his surprise, he couldn’t stop the letters from shifting.

Scott reluctantly handed the telegram to Val. “Would you mind?” he asked. “I seem to be a bit inebriated.”

“Yer what?”

“Drunk,” Scott slurred. “I’m drunk.”

Val grinned. “You sure are.”

Scott watched as two Val’s opened the telegram and frowned at the message. “It don’t make much sense,” he said. “It’s from Sam. Says…‘We have proof. Scott is Scott.’ That’s all it says.”

“It’s enough.” Scott swayed to his feet, holding on to the table for support. How could a few glasses of whiskey render him so incapacitated? But he was still cognizant enough to know that Murdoch needed to see that telegram as soon as possible. He only wished he had the time to deliver the message himself. To see his father’s reaction when he realized what he had, so carelessly, thrown away.

“Val.” Scott grabbed Val’s sleeve. “Murdoch needs to see this tonight. Can you get it to him?”

Val nodded. “I’ll ride out as soon as I get you up to your room.”

Scott looked at the almost empty bottle of whisky and knew he would regret it in the morning. He let Val guide him up the stairs and into his room before collapsing on the bed, fully clothed. If Johnny ever found out about this…

 

***

Val made his way back downstairs. It was still a mystery what was going on with the Lancers. Johnny’s trip to Boston was the biggest mystery of all. Maybe he’d get some answers from Murdoch when he delivered the telegram.

The sound of gunshots down near the livery suddenly grabbed Val’s attention. He slipped the telegram into his pocket and drew his gun. It was not going to be the quiet night he had hoped for.

 

***

Scott woke with a pounding headache and a mouth that felt like it was filled with cotton. The bright sun streaming in the window hurt his eyes and he rolled over with a groan. Why did he think he could drown his troubles in whiskey? He knew better. Now he would spend half the day on a stagecoach and the rest on a train with a hangover.

Sighing heavily, he crawled out of bed and washed his face with water from a basin that sat on a washstand near the door. The water revived him somewhat and he quickly changed his clothes and went downstairs for a cup of hot coffee. He wanted to see Arthur before the stage came. Not only to take his name off the Lancer deed, but to ask questions. As Murdoch’s lawyer he hoped Arthur could make some sense of it all.

The coffee was surprisingly good and helped the headache some, but only time would take care of his roiling stomach.

It was later than he thought as he headed across the street to Arthur’s office, hoping the lawyer was in this morning. He knew he should have stayed and asked Murdoch more questions. But he was so angry and hurt he could not have spent another moment in that house. It was hard to reconcile with the thought that he would never be returning.

He opened the door, with its small plaque with the name and title Arthur Bell: Lawyer, written in gold lettering. The reception room was small with two chairs sitting on either side of a window. Agnes Stine sat behind her desk, watching as Scott walked in. She looked startled at first, then nervously smiled and looked back down at the file she was writing in. “Mr. Lancer. I didn’t expect you this morning. Do you have an appointment with Mr. Bell?”

“No. But I’m sure he’ll see me.”

Mrs. Stine looked up, her thin lips drooping at the corners. “Mr. Bell is a very busy man. He only sees clients when they have an appointment. I could make one for you…” She pulled a calendar toward her and made a show of looking from page to page… “Say next Tuesday…”

“I’ll see him now,” Scott said, the softness in his voice more alarming than if he had shouted. Without another word he walked past Mrs. Stine and opened the door into Arthur Bell’s office.

While the outer reception room was small, Arthur Bell’s office was large and well furnished with a highly expensive maple wood desk. Paintings and diplomas hung from the walls.

“Scott!” Arthur jumped to his feet. “What…what are you doing here?”

Scott strolled over to a chair facing the desk and slowly sat down. One of the best moments in his life had happened here when he and Johnny had signed their names to the Lancer deed. Now he was having it removed.

Scott cleared his throat. “I had a talk with Murdoch yesterday,” Scott said. “He told me some surprising things. Like I am not who I think I am.”

Arthur turned red first then a ghastly white. “I…I only passed on the information the Pinkerton Agency sent me. I have been Murdoch’s lawyer for years, and a good friend for longer. What would you have me do?”

“Made sure the information was correct before you passed it on. A letter to the Pinkerton Agency.”

Scott watched Arthur open a drawer in his desk, his hand shaking as he placed a file on top of the desk.

“I did write them. And sent them telegrams and also sent telegrams to your…ah…to Mr. Garrett. The telegrams from the Pinkerton Agency confirmed that their information was correct. I never got a response from Mr. Garrett.”

Scott sat forward. “I don’t know what is going on here. Or who is behind this. I am Scott Garrett Lancer. Murdoch Lancer is my father and Johnny Lancer is my brother. Nothing the Pinkerton Agency says can change that. If someone had come to me, had asked me…but no…”

“Murdoch didn’t want to believe it. But in face of all the evidence…”

“What evidence?”

“Here.” Arthur turned the file around so Scott could read along. “There were witnesses who saw you boarding the Cimbria merchant ship for England, a week before the Pinkertons delivered Murdoch’s invitation to come out west to Lancer.”

Scott’s heart skipped a beat. “Someone made a mistake. Thought they saw me.”

Arthur shook his head. “The Pinkertons found your name on the ship’s passenger list. Someone by the name of Scott Lancer boarded that ship.”

“Who would create such an elaborate ruse? I had made plans to sail to England then onto France, but that was before I received Murdoch’s invitation. It was a hard invitation to ignore.”

“When we couldn’t get an answer from your grandfather...”

Scott stood up suddenly; the enormity of the subterfuge involved in discrediting him was mind boggling. Someone had planned this out very carefully.

“You didn’t hear from my grandfather because he’s been dead for two months.”

“What?”

“He’s been dead for two months and no one informed me. I don’t know what is going on back east, only that Johnny and Sam are there. And…” he slapped the file closed. “They have proof that I am who I say I am.”

“That’s wonderful, Scott. Have you told your father?”

Scott shook his head. “I’m waiting for the stage to Sacramento then I’m going on to Boston by train. I didn’t have time. But I gave the telegram to Val and he said he’d get it to Murdoch last night. To tell you the truth, I expected to see him here this morning.”

Arthur raised his head and Scott knew he had heard the approaching stage. “There are a lot of reasons that could explain why your father didn’t make it in time.”

Scott snorted. “Name one.”

Arthur obviously couldn’t come up with an answer and Scott stood up. “When you see him tell him that I’m sorry things worked out the way they did. We had a real chance to become a family.”

Arthur reached out and laid a gentle hand on Scott’s arm. “Scott, don’t judge your father too harshly. I had a hand in making him doubt your identity. He tried his best to wait until he had proof. He didn’t want to believe he had been deceived. There was just so much evidence. Please, take that into consideration when you have solved this mystery. Murdoch waited a long time for you and Johnny to return. To lose you now would kill him.”

“Some things can’t be reversed, no matter how much you want them to be.”

“Just try to keep an open mind, and an open heart.”

“It’s too late for that. I’ve made my decision. I want my name taken off the deed. I don’t belong here. I should have known.  I never did.”

“But Scott, you have proof now.”

“I would rather have had Murdoch’s trust than someone else’s proof. He should have stood by me.”

“Take time to think…”

Scott walked toward the door. “Get the papers ready and send them to me in Boston. I’ll give them to my attorney there. It was nice knowing you, Arthur. I’ll send a telegram when I reach Boston.”

“Be careful,” Arthur cautioned. “Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to erase your identity, don’t let them erase you.”

Scott closed the door behind him and passed Mrs. Stine without a word. He was just able to collect his saddle bags and traveling bag from the hotel in time to board the stage. So many things were happening at once. He just hoped Johnny was safe in Boston.

 

 

***

Arthur Bell left his office soon after the stage departed. He couldn’t help but believe Scott Lancer. There were too many things that just didn’t add up. And he had pushed Murdoch into believing that Scott was indeed an imposter. He only hoped that one day Murdoch and his two sons would reunite so he could tell them how sorry he was.

For now there was nothing he could do. He spotted the sheriff coming out of his office. Even from across the street he could see the bruising on Val Crawford’s face. He didn’t live in town so he never knew what went on during the night.

“Sheriff,” he called.

When Val heard his name called he reluctantly crossed the street. As the sheriff got closer, Arthur could see one eye swollen and a split lip.

“Rough night?” Arthur asked.

Val grinned. “You might have a client or two in my jail.”

Arthur chuckled. “Just let me know. Tell me, how did Murdoch take the news? I would have thought he would be in town at first light this morning.”

“What news?”

“The telegram Scott asked you to give Murdoch.”

Val suddenly tapped his shirt pocket and Andrew knew immediately what had happened. When would luck be on the Lancer’s side?

 

***

Chapter Fifteen

Murdoch heard soft footsteps approach his desk and knew he owed Teresa an explanation. But how could he tell her that the man she had taken into her heart, the man she trusted to be her older brother, was an imposter?

Scott’s parting words…“I am Scott Lancer,” echoed in his mind. Scott was so surprised by the accusation. So hurt by the revelation that Harlan Garrett was dead. Murdoch had a growing feeling that he had made a terrible mistake.

“Where did Scott go in such a hurry?” Teresa asked. She stood next to the desk now, her arms folded around her waist. Murdoch knew that stance. It was the one where Teresa would accept nothing but the truth. She may have been young in years… but she was wise in life.

“He’s going back to Boston,” Murdoch answered. The words sounded so final. But he had no one to blame but himself. He had handled everything so badly.

“Why? He didn’t say anything. Scott would never leave without saying goodbye.”

“It was a sudden decision.”

Teresa stared Murdoch down and he suddenly felt so old and so tired. He couldn’t do this any more. He couldn’t keep the secrets that had haunted him since Arthur first gave him the letter from the Pinkertons.

Murdoch collapsed back in his chair, closing his eyes to ward off the inevitable. “Teresa, would you mind asking Maria, Cipriano and Jelly to meet us in the garden in half an hour?”

He heard Teresa’s voice tremble. “Yes, of course. But Murdoch, what…?”

Murdoch looked up at her, praying that she would not hate him when he told her what he had done. “I’ll tell you all at the same time.”

Teresa nodded and headed back into the kitchen. They all had the right to know.

 

***

Murdoch walked toward the garden as if he were a condemned man. He was about to shatter the love and friendship these four people held for Scott. And what if he was wrong? Would they ever forgive him? He knew Scott never would.

He found Teresa, Maria, Jelly and Cipriano standing apprehensively by the bench near the bed of roses Teresa tended to so lovingly. He held up his hand when he saw them all ready to pounce on him and motioned the two ladies to sit down.

How could standing before these people be so hard? He ran a one hundred thousand acre ranch, was president of the Cattle Growers Association, yet he couldn’t find the words to talk to his own family and friends.  “I…I  received a report from the Pinkerton Agency that said…” Now as Murdoch tried to explain the unexplainable, he found it hard to believe it himself. But the evidence was damning. What other conclusion could he come too? “A week before Scott met with the Pinkerton agent with my invitation to come here, a man boarded a ship bound for Europe. Everything points to that man being Scott Garrett Lancer.”

Teresa looked at him in confusion.  “That couldn’t be. Scott came here. He came home.”

Murdoch shook his head. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. Everything points to the man who we thought was Scott being an imposter”

“No!” Maria wrapped her arm around Teresa and pulled her closer, her eyes flashing at Murdoch. “It can not be so. Scott is your son. Just as Juanito is your son. You deny him also?”

“I’m sorry, Maria. I can only go by the facts, and Scott’s inability to prove who he is.”

“Did ya ask him?” Jelly spat. “Did ya give him a chance before you threw him out?”

“I didn’t throw him out. We had words, and he left.”

“I kin just bet ya had words. Did ya think that maybe HE was telling the truth?”

“I’ve done nothing but think,” Murdoch shot back. He didn’t need these accusing eyes on him. He felt guilty enough. He wanted them to understand what it had been like. The long days and even longer nights wondering, worrying. Seeing Scott slip further and further away as he rebuffed him at every turn, but too afraid to ask him the question that hung between them.

“And Johnny? He didn’t believe it, did he?” Jelly asked. “Not fer one minute. Because he trusts his brother.”

“No,” Murdoch admitted. “He didn’t go to Chicago with Sam. They both went to Boston to confront Harlan. He never answered any of my telegrams.”

“But…” Teresa began.

“Harlan Garrett is dead.” He hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that. He wanted to break it to them gently, not punched in the gut like he was. “He’s been dead for two months. Do you think if Scott were really who he said he was, that he would not know about this grandfather’s death? And those letters he said he received from Harlan…did you ever see them? Even one?”

Teresa looked startled. “But that doesn’t mean…”

“There were just too many questions.”

“Pardon, Senor Lancer.” Cipriano removed his hat and crushed it against his chest nervously. “But you are a fool. You let facts on a piece of paper, written by strangers, destroy your trust in your son.”

“What are ya goin’ to do about it?” Jelly demanded, jutting his bearded chin out.

Murdoch looked into each face, imploring them for an answer. “What can I do?”

Teresa rushed over to him, wrapping her arms around his huge chest. “Go after him. You tell him that you don’t care what the Pinkertons say. You love him and want him back. We want him back. He’s your son, Murdoch. I know he is.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“It is if you love your hijo,” Maria said. “Do you love him, Senor?”

Murdoch nodded yes. He did love him. He was the son he had waited a lifetime to have stand at his side. To have both his sons standing at his side, this ranch their legacy.

“He’ll never believe me…he…”

The sound of an approaching horse drew their attention to the courtyard. Val climbed out of the saddle, stretching his back as he headed for the front door.

“Over here,” Murdoch called, and Val hurried toward the garden, his hand outstretched with a telegram.

“It don’t make much sense,” Val said as Murdoch took the note. “But Mr. Bell said it was real important.”

“Thanks, Sheriff,” Murdoch mumbled as he opened the note.

“Dear, God…” he breathed, his legs nearly buckling beneath him.

“What is it?” Teresa cried.

“It’s from Sam. He and Johnny have found proof that…proof that Scott is my son. What have I done?”

“Better question is - what are ya gonna do about it?” Jelly asked.

“What can I do? Scott will never forgive me for doubting him.”

Jelly stepped forward. “You can put yer pride in yer back pocket where it belongs and go after him. You’ll never live with yerself if ya don’t.”

Murdoch turned to Val. “When you get back to town would you buy a ticket for me on the morning stage to Sacramento, and ask Arthur Bell to arrange passage on the train to Boston.” 

“You’re going to Boston too?”

Murdoch nodded. “Jelly and Cipriano can take care of things here. I have to bring both my sons home.”

 

***

It had been dark for hours as Sam handed the cab driver a hefty tip and stepped out of the carriage. He had spent hours searching the city for Johnny, returning frequently to the hotel to see if his wayward patient had returned while he was out looking. Wet and cold after leaving the comfort of the cab to talk to as many people as he could, he was still left with more questions than answers. He had spoken to the constables, not saying more than he had to. Someone had been shooting at the cab Johnny was in; whether the bullets were meant for him or the woman who was shot, he didn’t know. And until he did, he didn’t want to jeopardize Johnny’s safety anymore than it already was.

As of now, Johnny was a subject of suspicion. He was with the woman when she was killed, and he had disappeared.

He walked through the lobby, looking toward the front desk, and the clerk shook his head. He actually looked as if he were concerned over Johnny missing. Sam doubted it very much though. It was Johnny, the son of a rich ranch owner, who concerned him.

Fishing his hotel key from his pocket, Sam was surprised when the doorknob turned without the need of a key. He felt a moment of relief; Johnny must have slipped by the clerk downstairs. But his stomach dropped when he saw, by the light of an already lit lantern, that his clothes were strewn across the floor. Even the contents of his medical bag lay scattered across the room.

Thinking twice before stepping inside, Sam thought it better that the hotel staff, and then the constables, didn’t know about this. For all he knew, Johnny was in hiding and to cast more attention on him would be the last thing he needed.

Moving as silently as he could, he walked over to Johnny’s adjoining room and listened at the door. Someone was moving around in there. He knew it wasn’t Johnny. Johnny was quieter than that.

Hoping that they were through with his room, Sam opened the door leading into the hallway just far enough so he could see. He waited, the sweat beading on his forehead, his old bones cramping in his frozen pose…then he heard Johnny’s outer door open and close. Two men walked by. They wore three piece suits and bowler hats and a distinctive bulge under their right arms. Shoulder holsters. That most likely meant they were not lawmen.

A shiver went down Sam’s spine. There was more to this than they had ever imagined. He hurriedly packed a few essentials in a tote bag and picked up the contents of his medical bag. There was a back way out of the hotel; Johnny had found it within minutes of their arrival. Johnny always looked for a quick exit incase it was needed. For the first time Sam realized why Johnny couldn’t rest until he knew every entrance and exit to a new building. As Sam reached the exit he thanked Johnny profoundly. With tote bag and medical bag in hand, Sam snuck out the back door and down the stairs to a narrow alley. He just had to find a place to stay where he was safe until he could find Johnny.

 

***

Sam was lost in thought as he walked down the streets. The rain had stopped for awhile and now it was starting to sprinkle again. It would not be long before it was again a sure and proper rain. The weather was not on his mind, however. It was Johnny. Where was he? Was he hurt? Worse…? No,  he would not go there. Johnny was a survivor. But where was he?

The truth of the matter was, Sam could do little to help him right now. He couldn’t send a telegram to Murdoch. Whoever ransacked their rooms would be waiting for him at the telegraph office. Where could he go?  If he checked into another hotel he would be no more than a prisoner there, afraid to leave for fear of being spotted. No, he needed an ally. Someone who could ask questions and not be noticed.

As he walked down the paved sidewalk, he realized he was headed toward Beacon Street. It was the only place he knew for sure…and Weatherly was the only person he knew by name. But he was Harlan Garrett’s man servant. He would be loyal to Garrett in death as well as life. Could he trust him?

He needed help. Someone’s help. The rain began to fall again, cold and heavy. If Johnny was out in this with his cast, he would be in a miserable state. Somehow he had to find him. And that meant trusting someone.

 

***

Sam knocked at the door, knowing he might be making the biggest mistake of his long life, but he had no choice. He had learned to trust his instincts about people. And even though Weatherly had not been completely honest with him, he didn’t think he had really told a lie, just failed to tell the whole story. Sam hoped he would get the whole story from the old servant this time.

Sam could see the light of a candle move through the window on the other side of the door and watched the door open slowly. He couldn’t remember a more astonished look as Weatherly saw him standing on the doorstep, his hair hanging limply over his face, dripping onto his soggy clothes.

“Dr. Jenkins! What on earth are you doing here?”

“I need your help, Weatherly. Scott needs your help.”

Weatherly peered over Sam’s shoulder into the darkness before hustling him into the warmth of the house.

“What is going on?” Weatherly demanded. “Why are you on foot on a night like this?”

Sam wiped at the water dripping down his face and Weatherly was suddenly doing the job he had done for years, taking care of others.

“Come into the parlor, I have a warm fire going. And I will get you some dry clothes and a towel. Does a hot toddy sound good?”

Sam could not keep the smile from his face. “It sounds wonderful, Weatherly. And then we must talk.”

“Yes, Sir. Of course. I will be back in a moment.”

Sam stood in the doorway to the parlor and looked at the roaring fire. He hoped Johnny was warm wherever he was. He should have left a note with the desk clerk at the hotel, just in case Johnny returned later in the night. But in his heart he knew Johnny would not trust the hotel, not when he was connected with the death of a woman. How had this mushroomed so out of control?

“Here you are, Sir.” Placing a set of clothes on the back of one of the sofas, Weatherly gently pushed Sam into the parlor. “They belonged to Mr. Garrett. You two are…were about the same size. Get changed and I will make that hot toddy.”

Sam could not help but feel guilty. All this and where was Johnny? And Scott? Was he on a train headed this way already? And Murdoch…what of Murdoch? This was a nightmare for everyone, and he could see no light at the end of the tunnel.

 

***

Sam sipped the hot toddy and allowed it to warm his throat and then his insides. He was dressed in an expensive pair of woolen pants and a soft silk shirt. Weatherly had also provided him with a pair of warm socks and slippers. If he had felt guilty before, he felt absolutely horrible now.

Weatherly sat down on the opposite sofa and sipped his own hot toddy. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you, Sir.”

“This is your house, Weatherly. It is I who is joining you.”

Weatherly raised an eyebrow as if to refute Sam’s words, then another thought came to mind. “What in heavens name brought you here at his hour in weather like this? Are you in trouble?”

Sam nodded. “I think I am.” He leaned forward. “I’m sorry about your cook. You must have been close working side by side for so many years.”

“My cook? I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. “No one told you?”

“Told me what? If you have something to say, please say it, Dr. Jenkins.”

“Mr. Garrett’s cook was killed down at the wharf late this afternoon.”

“Heddy? No. You must be mistaken.” Sam watched Weatherly’s face drain of color. “Not Heddy. What would she be doing down by the wharf? She knows as well as anyone what a dangerous place that can be. Especially for a woman. How was she killed?”

Sam hesitated. “She was riding in a carriage that was under attack. She was shot in the back,” he finally said.

The hot toddy in Weatherly’s hand slipped from his paralyzed fingers and hit the floor, the china mug shattering into pieces. He rubbed absently at the wet spot on his knee where the hot liquid had burned him. “Shot…but why? Who?”

“Weatherly, she was with Johnny Lancer, Scott’s half brother from California. He came here to unravel a mystery, but it seems it goes much deeper than anyone had thought.”

“Johnny?”

“You know him?”

“Not in person, of course. But I know how much Mr. Garrett despised him. How he thought it was the ex-gunfighter who was keeping his grandson away from him.”

Sam thought his heart would stop. At last, he was hearing the truth. Garrett had received letters from Scott. And Scott had received letters from his grandfather.

He picked his next words carefully. “Weatherly, Murdoch Lancer received a report from the Pinkerton Detective agency that said Scott was an imposter. That the real Scott Lancer had left for Europe a week before the man who claimed to be Scott received the invitation from Murdoch to come to California.”

“An imposter? Heavens, no. Mr. Scott decided to go out west instead. It infuriated Mr. Garrett to no end. It was an embarrassment to him. To have his grandson leave him in favor of a father he had never met, to a wasteland like California.. He wouldn’t have it. Mr. Garrett was a powerful man. He could make almost anything happen. But he could not control his grandson. So he started telling everyone that Mr. Scott had gone to Europe. Everyone believed him. Those who didn’t were persuaded to.”

“That is why you lied to me when I first came to the door?”

“Yes. It was my duty to follow Mr. Garrett’s wishes, alive or dead. But,” Weatherly shook his head sadly. “I will not follow his orders if it will hurt others. Especially Mr. Scott.”

Sam followed the rim of his mug with his finger, lost in thought. “What do you think your cook had to tell Johnny that was so important that it cost her her life?”

Weatherly shook his head. “I don’t know, Sir. But I am determined to find out. I was very fond of Heddy. Her killer, or killers, will not go unpunished.”

 

Chapter Sixteen

The sound was muffled at first - wood grating against iron and then the splash of water. Johnny let the sound linger in his mind, searching for something to explain the rhythmic song in his head.

He was cold -as cold as he could ever remember. His teeth chattered so violently he thought he might crack a tooth. His arm ached, his ribs throbbed with every breath he took and a new hot fiery pain slashed at his side.

He tried not to moan but he could not keep the hiss of pain from escaping his lips.

“Hang on there,” a voice called from the darkness. “We’ll have you warm in no time.”

Johnny had no reason to believe the voice. Yet he felt compelled to trust the thick accent, so familiar and yet so different.

“You’ll be safe with us, Son. Don’t you worry.”

Dios, his head hurt, too. Where was he? What had happened? The answer teased him…sitting there just beyond his recollection.

The sound continued. Wood against iron. Splash. Wood against iron. Splash. The cadence was somehow calming as his world rocked and bobbed in the darkness. Somewhere in the distance he heard the most forlorn sound he could ever remember hearing. He likened it to the cry of a lonely animal calling for its mate. He felt sorry for the animal when there was no return call.

He didn’t know how long it took for his mind to begin to clear. Gradually Johnny was aware of more things. He was wrapped tightly in blankets, so tightly that he couldn’t move his arms or his legs. Cold air stung his face and made his nose run.

He forced his eyes open. A panorama of sparkling stars hung above him. If not for the blankets confining his arms he could have reached up and grabbed one. Then a light, as bright as any he had ever seen, swept across the sky and disappeared.

“Don’t be alarmed, Son, it’s just the lighthouse. You’ll be staying there for awhile until you get back on your feet.”

Johnny saw the outline of someone sitting above him, leaning back and forth, the cadence of the sound matching his movements. Johnny tried to figure it out, but couldn’t, and sleep lured him back into her warm safe womb.

 

***

Scott looked out the window as dusk fell over the land. The train ride was long and monotonous, and left him with nothing to do but think. And as the time dragged on, he began to remember when Murdoch had first started to act nervous…no apprehensive. If only he had asked one simple question. Was he Scott Lancer? He tried to put himself in his father’s shoes. The evidence Arthur had showed him was damning. Anyone would have questioned his identity with reports like that. But if he had known, he could have refuted those claims. Instead words were said that could never be taken back, Johnny and Sam were in Boston, and…dear God…Grandfather was dead.

What hurt most, more than Murdoch not trusting him, was Johnny. Was he, too, afraid he would find answers he didn’t want to hear? The thought that Johnny didn’t trust him was a bitter pill to swallow.

Settling back against his seat, he watched the porters walk down the aisle, lighting the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. As they swayed to the rhythm of the train, Scott closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.

 

***

Murdoch lay in his bed looking up at the ceiling. Sleep would not visit him tonight. He had done the unforgivable. He had lost trust in his son. What was he to think? Scott was a stranger when he first laid eyes on him. Unlike Johnny, who had come with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon, but with a scar oh his thumb giving physical proof of who he was, Scott just appeared. Was he right to not question him? But he had blended so effortlessly into the family. To be honest, he was the bulwark between him and Johnny.

In so many ways he knew less about his Eastern bred son than he did the infamous Johnny Madrid. But he had never realized it.

A lone coyote howled in the distance and Murdoch waited for the return call. None came. For the first time since he had found Johnny, his precious two year old son, gone, he felt a tear run down his cheek.

 

***

Johnny awoke confused and disoriented. The pain that had lessened for a short time had returned with a vengeance, making it hard to think. He didn’t know if he was living a dream or just a part of one. He forced himself to listen, to try to make sense of it all. Gone was the soothing rhythm. Now the water crashed thunderously from every direction. He opened his eyes to see the panorama of stars replaced by rolling fog, cold and wet on his bare face. The back of a man, nearly hidden in the fog, walked before him, a lantern casting muted light in the swirling clouds. He realized he was lying on a stretcher that swayed and jerked as two men made their way through the murky night. The mournful sound of the foghorn blared above him and he cringed as it reverberated in his pounding head. He must have made a sound because the bearer of the stretcher turned his head to look down at him.

“Easy there, Johnny, we’re almost there.” When had he told anyone his name? It didn’t matter anyway now. For some reason he trusted that voice and his eyes slid shut again.

 

***

Something tapped at Johnny’s lips and warm sweet tea slid down his throat, easing the deep chill. How long had it been since he was warm? Chaotic memories of what had happened flashed across his mind…the wild ride in the careening carriage, shots fired, a woman slumping to the floor of the carriage, a great whoosh of cold rain and wind and then nothing. “Scott is in great danger…” Her words echoed in his ear.

Johnny’s eyes snapped open and he lunged forward trying to sit up. The new pain in his side ripped through him like a knife and he fell back onto the pillows, gasping for air.

“Easy, Johnny. You don’t want to ruin all the work I put into sewing you up.”

There was easiness to the voice and Johnny turned his head to follow the sound. Blinking to clear his vision, he saw a stranger sitting in a chair next to his bed. He looked to be in his fifties, but it was hard to tell beneath the carefully groomed salt and pepper beard. Gray hair poked out from beneath an old seamen’s cap. The deep wrinkles across his forehead and around his eyes told Johnny this was no Boston businessman; this was a man who had fought the harsh elements.

“Where am I?” Johnny croaked, looking around and taking in his surroundings. He was lying on a cot next to a roaring fireplace. He still felt cold, way down deep in his bones, but the fire, warm blankets and hot tea were making inroads on the chill. The room was comfortable in size. Nothing like the great room at Lancer, but there was a settled feel to it. He liked it. And he liked the man who smiled down at him.

“You’re on Little Brewster Island, about nine miles off shore from Long Wharf. Thomas Bates at your service. My assistant Edward Gorham and I man the lighthouse here. Ever seen a lighthouse, Son?”

Johnny shook his head, regretting it instantly when his world spun and his skull pounded. He must have hit his head when he was thrown from the carriage.

“When you’re back on you’re feet I’ll give you the grand tour. Meantime, how are you feeling?”

Johnny shifted a bit on the cot, his side protesting. He must have grimaced because Thomas laid a cautionary hand on his shoulder.

“That bullet sliced a nasty furrow through your side. You lost some blood. Nothing a little rest won’t cure though. But that cast on your arm was a soggy mess. I had to take it off and bind your arm to your chest. Might not be too comfortable but it’ll have to do until we can get you to a proper doctor. For now, I want you to stay here next to the fire. You were near frozen to the bone when I found you. Maybe tomorrow we can get you upstairs in a more comfortable bed.”

Johnny panicked. “No, I can’t stay here. I’ve got to get back to the hotel. Sam’ll be worried. If they came after me, he could be next. Damn, I should’a waited for him. I should’a waited.”

“Sam?”

“Sam Jenkins. He’s a friend from Morro Coyo. They could be after him next.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions. He’s probably still waiting for you at the hotel.”

“I hope so. I left the note....”  Johnny looked up at Thomas. “The woman…?” The burden of guilt suddenly weighed heavy on Johnny’s chest. He couldn’t remember anything after he was thrown from the carriage. Everything before that was now crystal clear. The picture of Scott he found in his brother’s room, the mysterious note to meet someone down at the wharf. It had been a foolish move on his part, one he knew might end in disaster. But, anything that could lead him to the answers he sought was worth the risk. But not this. Not the death of an innocent woman.

Warm eyes turned cold as Thomas bowed his head. “Heddy. She was a fine lady. None better in my book. She was head housekeeper at Garrett’s place until she and almost all the staff were fired without warning.”

“She said the note wasn’t hers. That it was a trap.”

“Sounds like Heddy. She was one headstrong woman. If she thought you were in trouble she’d move heaven and earth to help you.”

“It still doesn’t explain why she would risk her life for a complete stranger.”

No answer came right away. Instead Thomas stood up and grabbed a pipe from the fireplace mantel. He shook the used tobacco from the bowl into the fire and opened an ornately carved box, filling the pipe with fresh tobacco. Johnny didn’t interrupt him as he tapped the tobacco down and struck a match. He knew, from studying Murdoch, that there was more to the routine of filling a pipe and drawing on it until the tobacco burned just right. It was a time to think, a time to make decisions. A time to find the right words.

Blowing a wreath of smoke around his face, Thomas finally said, “You weren’t a complete stranger, Johnny. She knew who you were. She knew you were Scott’s half brother. And since you were here without Scott, it meant that he didn’t know what was going on yet.”

“He didn’t even know his grandfather was dead,” Johnny said vehemently. “He found out when I sent him that damn telegram. Now he’ll most likely be on his way.”

Thomas nodded. “If I know Scott Garrett he’s already on the train.”

“Lancer. He goes by Lancer know. You know my brother?”

“He spent a long weekend here when he was just a boy. He came with Heddy for the day, and just like now, a storm came up out of nowhere and we couldn’t get off the island. Scott had a wonderful time. That boy loved adventure. He got precious little of it at that mausoleum of a house. Old Man Garrett tried to have me arrested for kidnapping. Heddy put a stop to that. But Scott was never allowed to return. When he got older he was more interested in Harvard and his friends. But Heddy said he often talked about it.”

“He still likes adventure. He’s turned into a damn good cowboy.”

Thomas smiled, satisfied. “I’m glad. Scott wasn’t made for boardrooms and stuffy offices.”

Johnny was glad too. He never thought he would ever have a father let alone a brother. Now both were in danger of being torn away from him.

“How did she know where to find me?”

“There wasn’t much that went on that Heddy didn’t know about. In Garrett’s house or any of the other fancy houses in Boston. Downstairs gossip, she called it. Staff got together and talked. She said once if anyone knew what she knew she’d not be long for this world. We laughed at the time. I’m not laughing anymore.

“She must have heard something. I know she couldn’t live with herself if she let Scott’s brother walk into a trap.”

“She was crazy coming looking for me. She…” Johnny closed his eyes, the memory of her ushering him into the carriage, risking her life to save his. It wasn’t right.

Thomas leaned forward. “It’s not your fault, Son. Heddy was just being Heddy. She knew something was wrong for months. She always thought there was something odd the way young Scott left. He had planned a trip to Europe then suddenly changed his mind. Wanted to go out west. Then just as suddenly, Old Man Garrett said his grandson had sailed for Europe.

“A couple of weeks before he died she said he started acting suspicious. He would lock himself in his office for hours on end, not letting anyone in. And when he came out he looked pale and nervous. Something was going on.”

Johnny laid his arm over his forehead, trying to stop the pounding. Was Heddy dead because of him or because of what she knew? And how many other people knew? Johnny suddenly lifted his arm. “How many people knew I was here?”

“Heddy and Weatherly, old man Garrett’s head servant. He and Heddy were close. Real close if you know what I mean. He told her he thought you were ready to pass out when he told you Garrett was dead. Then you showed up at King's Chapel Burying Ground. She knew it was you. Who else would be interested in Garrett’s last resting place? He wasn’t exactly the most beloved man in Boston.  And you’ve got to admit, you don’t really fit in.”

Johnny chafed at the remark, then realized there was no malice behind it. His darker skin and blue eyes were a contrast to most in Boston, and he couldn’t quite get the walk down yet. Riding a horse all his life and carrying a six gun on his hip left him with a swagger he could not hide.

“Thomas, she said Scott was in danger. Do you know what she meant?”

“No, Son, I’m sorry I don’t. When the weather clears I’ll have a talk with a few of her friends. They may know something. Meantime, you rest. You won’t do Scott or your friend any good if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Rest was not an option. There had to be a way to get to Sam. He pushed himself up on his right elbow, trying not to show the pain it caused him, and noticed for the first time that he was buck naked.

“My clothes,” he barked.

“You were soaking wet. They’re drying in the kitchen. I found you laying under a tree this morning a few miles from the wharf. It meant you were out there all night. Amazing you didn’t die of exposure. Now lie back down. There’s no place to go anyway.”

“How did you know where to find me?” Johnny eased himself back down, angry that his clothes were gone and he wasn’t in any shape to demand them back.

Thomas puffed on his pipe, taking his time again. “Heddy had a lot of friends, people who lived in the shadows of the rich, high society. While the authorities waited until dawn to look for you, they searched throughout the night. They found you at daybreak.

When I got to the pier this morning, the wharf was crowded with police. They were questioning everyone. That’s when I learned that Heddy had been shot.” Thomas turned his face away and Johnny felt sorry for him. It was hard to lose a good friend. Thomas seemed to compose himself and looked back down at Johnny. “When they described the man they were looking for I knew it was you right away. Hector, Garrett’s old gardener, told me where to find you. Good thing too, you wouldn’t have made it much longer out there.”

“The driver? He could tell them what happened.” Johnny said hopefully.

“Maybe, if he stayed around. But no one knows where he is.”

Johnny sighed in disgust. “I thought I could help Scott. But all I’ve done is make matters worse.”

“I doubt Scott will see it that way. Now you try and get some sleep.”

“Thomas.” Johnny looked up at him, knowing he was safe here, but also knowing he had to get to Sam to warn him. “I can’t stay here. I have to get word to Sam.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny. There’s a storm headed our way, I can tell by the surf. It’s not safe to put a boat in these waters. I’m sorry.”

“I can’t leave Sam alone. If he can’t stay at the hotel, he’ll have nowhere to go. You’ve got to get me back to the wharf.”

“Johnny it’s a way of life here on Little Brewster Island. When the sea gets rough we are stuck here. Unless you think you can swim nine miles in rough seas, with your arm tied down…”

Johnny turned away and closed his eyes. He knew it was a mistake to let Sam come along. If anything happened to him. He would get to him somehow….even if it meant swimming.

 

***

Chapter Seventeen

For three days Scott had done nothing but stare out the window at the passing scenery, his mind traveling down different roads, all leading to Murdoch’s betrayal or his grandfather’s death. With each new thought, he dove deeper into the murky waters of self doubt. Could he have seen this coming? Were there tell- tale signs that he had missed in his grandfather’s letters? He hadn’t seen any, but then he was not looking for them either.

He had been content in his life at Lancer. Possibly for the first time in his life, he had been truly happy. That was why Murdoch’s words, his acceptance of the Pinkerton report and his silence, hurt so much.

He went over his meeting with Arthur Hill. To be fair, the evidence suggesting that he was an imposter was overwhelming. If he had read the Pinkerton report, substantiated by his grandfather’s silence, he might have thought the same thing. Scott couldn’t begin to guess the anger and pain Murdoch must have felt. But, damn it! He should have said something, and so should Johnny. But, what would he, Scott Lancer, do if the tables were turned and it was not himself in question, but Johnny? Would he confront Johnny immediately, demand to have answers? Or would he have wanted to spare his brother the hurt of knowing he was not trusted, worse even, feared? The more he thought about it, in all honesty, he didn’t know what he would have done.

The whistle blew and the train began to decrease speed. They were nearing Omaha where he would change trains. The thought of solid, steady ground beneath his feet sounded like heaven. He would get a meal in a real restaurant, find a bookstore and get something to read. The sudden thought that his grandfather would never again send him the newest books and magazines months before they appeared in the stores in California hit him hard. He had waited with great expectation for the packages to arrive. Johnny would complain that he wouldn’t see his brother again until he had finished his grandfather’s newest offering.

How could his grandfather have been dead for two months and he not know it? He didn’t remember reading the date on the last letter. The contents had been too inflammatory. Even for Harlan Garrett, the words had seemed harsher than usual. Was the letter actually from his grandfather, or had someone else written it? Was there a plot to drive a bitter wedge between him and Murdoch Lancer? If it had been planned, then it had worked to perfection. And if it was a plan, then by who, and for what purpose? Hopefully the answers awaited him in Boston, along with his brother.

The train slowed to a crawl as it pulled into Omaha. A loud hiss and a plume of white steam billowed around the outside of his car. Grabbing his one traveling bag he eased into the line of fellow passengers and made his way off the train. The sun glinted on the Missouri River as it flowed lazily by, a refreshing sight after being cramped in the train car.

He had visited Omaha on his trip to California, and then too, he had only seen the few stores around the station. Like most towns since the railroad came in, enterprising businessmen had flocked to open stores near the hub of passengers. There was a lot of money in train travel. Scott smiled to himself as he tapped the money belt around his waist, hidden beneath his clothes. It was also a place where a man could lose everything he owned in the blink of an eye.

Scott had four hours until he boarded the next train, too long to just sit around and not long enough to investigate the city properly. He found the same restaurant he had dined at last time, an overly expensive café, but the food was good and the portions would keep a man full for hours.

The smell of real food reminded him that he had done little more than snack the past three days. At this rate he would be worth nothing emotionally and physically by the time he reached Boston.

Sitting at a table by the back wall, he ordered steak and potatoes. Steak wasn’t served often at his grandfather’s dinner table. Seafood and French cuisine were the staple. He’d been so glad when the French chef had cooked a disastrous meal for an important business dinner one night and his grandfather had fired him on the spot. Cook Heddy had brought a welcome change to the menu and also let him sneak into the kitchen at times to talk or even on a rare occasion, help her cook.

As Scott sat at his table, he realized that he felt uncomfortable being alone. It had never bothered him in Boston. In fact, he looked forward to the times when he could escape the rigid formality set forth by his grandfather at the dinner table. But Lancer had changed all that. Meals were a time to socialize and plan. It was seldom that he ate alone, and on the rare occasions he did, he missed his family.

His family: How he missed them now. His world had been turned upside down and he felt it would never be right again.

The thoughts burned a hole in his stomach and Scott suddenly lost his appetite. He pushed his half eaten steak aside and called for the bill. After paying for his meal, he headed for the bookstore down the street that he remembered visiting the last time he was here.

The building looked the same and as he walked in, even the same bell jingled above the door. He felt comforted by the smell of old leather bindings and freshly printed books. There were only two customers in the store; a young woman with a small boy in tow and a man dressed in a business suit. An elderly clerk stood behind the counter, his eyes at half mast. Had he always been so attentive to his surroundings? Or was this another thing that he had unknowingly acquired from his brother? The bookstore no longer seemed as inviting, but he had two hours to browse and he was determined to have a good time while he was there.

The woman and child had left half way through his search. He looked toward the door when he heard the bell above the doorway jingle again and two more women walked in. Mother and daughter he assumed, though the daughter appeared older then him. Just as well, if she had been young and pretty he might have been forced to introduce himself, and he really didn’t have time to socialize. The sudden reminder of the life he was returning to, with all its formalities and expectations, soured his stomach. It was a lifestyle so far removed from the way of life he had come to love at Lancer. Up before dawn, sometimes not returning home until after dark, so tired he could barely get a cold sandwich down before dragging himself upstairs to bed. At the busiest times, he didn’t get a chance to take a bath for days. But he had never felt so alive. With Johnny at his side, he felt a part of something so right. Life had been good. He saw a future there that he had not seen in Boston. A legacy he would be proud to leave a wife and children someday.

Now he was headed back to a place he didn’t want to be. But he had nowhere else. His home at Lancer was no longer his. Pushing back the thoughts, he continued his exploration.

A title caught his eye on the top shelf, near the back of the store, and he stretched up to grab it.

“Nice and easy now.” Scott heard the hushed command a second before he felt a gun barrel pressed against his ribs.

“If you don’t want anyone hurt in here, you’ll step outside with me.”

Scott glanced sideways to see a man nearly as tall as himself looking around the store hastily to see if anyone had noticed the encounter. He wore a sailor’s pea coat and knitted cap, an outfit seen often in harbor towns like Boston and New York. But how had he entered the store without the bell ringing? The answer came a moment later when Scott saw the door open just far enough for a hand to snake in and hold the bell before silently opening the door the rest of the way.

Scott lowered his arm and nodded. He would not put the rest of the patrons of the store in danger. The gun stayed against his ribs until he was outside and the man holding the door open, similarly dressed, joined them discreetly, herding him toward the alleyway between the bookstore and the telegraph office. 

“What’s this about?” Scott demanded when they were out of earshot of the main street. “If you want money, you have accosted the wrong man.”

“Shut up, Lancer.”

Scott nearly stumbled at the mention of his name. This was not just some fly-by-night robbery. Someone was deliberately targeting him.

“What’s this about?” Scott demanded again. A cold wind buffeted him from the waters off the river. He had the dreadful feeling he knew where his escorts were taking him.

“I said shut up!”

The butt of the gun struck the back of his head and Scott collapsed to the ground.

“Damn it, Sutter,” one of his captors complained. “Now we got to drag him the rest of the way.”

“Quit bellyaching. We’re being paid good money to see that Lancer disappears.”

Scott’s arms were pulled behind him and bound, then his ankles. He couldn’t fight them off, even if he had the power and it didn’t feel like his head was an anvil being struck by a sledgehammer. He felt himself lifted and then suddenly he was in the air and falling. Gasping in surprise, he hit the river with a jolt as hard as being thrown from a bucking horse. He sank rapidly beneath the surface, the cold water pouring into his mouth. Something heavy was tied to his ankles and he plunged deeper into the water. Fear and panic gripped him. He worked desperately at the ropes around his wrists but they just grew tighter. He tried holding his breath, but the instinct to breathe was overpowering and he sucked in a lungful of water, choking him, making him draw in more water.  He continued to sink deeper, his lungs on fire. Then suddenly the pain was gone. He was floating in a warm nothingness. Memories came to mind. Good memories; the days he was happiest. And Lancer was foremost in his mind. Johnny and Murdoch, Teresa and Jelly. His own death seemed inconsequential compared to the knowledge that his family would never know what had happened to him. The tragedy of it all was that he would never know if they knew he really was Scott Lancer.  He felt the warmth and he let it take him away. His only regret was that he didn’t know if Johnny still trusted him.

 

***

Johnny pulled the heavy coat Thomas had lent him tighter across his chest, awkwardly buttoning it closed with his right hand. His left arm was still bound to his chest, so tightly that it was hard to breathe at times. But Johnny knew if he wanted a working arm again he would have to endure the discomfort, at least until he could get back to the mainland and find Sam with his bucket of heavy plaster. His side still ached from the bullet furrow. Sometimes those kinds of bullet wounds hurt more than the ones that went clean through. Every move he made pulled on healing flesh. He shivered and pulled the collar of the coat up around his ears.

Even though the rain had moved on, the strong gale force winds blowing off the Atlantic were bitterly cold. Grey waves pounded against the cliffs, sounding like cannons buffeting the rocks, filling the air with a fine mist of salt water.

“When will this weather let up?” Johnny yelled over the cacophony of wind and surf. This was his first time outside, and he was stunned by the remoteness of the island. No bigger than two acres, he could see nothing but churning waves marching toward the small chunk of isolated land in every direction.

“Hard to say,” Thomas shouted back. “It could blow itself out in a day or last a week.”

“I can’t wait a week! I’ve got to get back to Sam. He probably thinks I’m dead by now.”

Thomas grabbed Johnny’s good arm when he stumbled on the uneven ground and almost lost his footing. His legs still felt shaky. The small amount of blood Thomas had said he lost when he first came to turned out to be quite a lot, and with his body still recuperating from his initial injury back at Lancer, he was finding it harder to bounce back than he usually did. Or maybe he was just getting older. That thought brought a twitch of a smile to his face despite the circumstances. Imagine, Johnny Madrid worrying about getting older.

“We’d best get back,” Thomas shouted, most of his words swept away by the wind. “It’s too dangerous out here.”

Johnny tore his arm loose and strode purposefully toward the water. “I’m getting back to Boston one way or the other,” he yelled back.

He was frozen to the bone by the time he made it to the edge of the cliffs. The sight before him took his breath away, and sent chills down his spine even the cold weather couldn’t match. The cliffs were sheer fifty foot drops to the crashing waves below.

 

“You were only semi- conscious when we hauled you up to the island.” Thomas was beside him again. He pointed to the dingy sitting on the ground lashed to a wooden beam. A sway arm jetted out over the open water with a block and tackle swinging wildly in the wind. “The only way to get on and off this island is that hoist. I’m sorry, Johnny, that boat would be kindling in two seconds if you tried to lower it into that water. Until the weather eases up, we are all stuck here.”

Johnny had faced too many enemies in his lifetime not to recognize one that he could not beat. Turning away from the churning waves he slowly made his way back toward Thomas’ house. But the wind seemed determined to prove how powerful it was, and how inconsequential Johnny Lancer was. A gust nearly knocked him to his knees before Thomas’ strong arms wrapped around his waist and hauled him in another direction.

“It’s time I introduced you to the Lady,” Thomas called. They were nearly beneath the towering lighthouse before Johnny realized it, and despite the weather, Thomas took time to pat the white bricks. “She’s like a mistress at times. Warm and inviting one minute and cold and hard as ice the next. But above all, if you take good care of her, she’ll do the same for you. Come on, its time you two met.”

The wooden door flung open and Edward Gorham wrestled with it to keep it from slamming open all the way.

“I wondered when you’d come a calling. I saw ya walking around out there like it was a spring day. You both wake up without the good sense God gave ya?” Johnny had met Gorham just long enough to exchange names yesterday. He and Thomas manned the lighthouse year around. Johnny couldn’t see how anyone could stand being on this damn rock for even a day let alone a year. He needed wide open spaces where he could ride Barranca until they were both exhausted.

“And a good morning to you, too.” Thomas laughed “I thought it was time that Johnny met the Lady.”

“Good idea since he’ll be stuck with the two of us ‘til this storm blows itself out. Take off your coats and sit down. I was just frying up a rasher of bacon for myself. How many eggs can you eat, boy?”

Johnny shook his head. “I’m not hungry, but thanks anyway.”

Edward chuckled. He was about the same height as Thomas, but broader, and bested Thomas by a good twenty pounds. His blue eyes and open smile seemed out of place on the hardened, weather worn face. Another time, another place, Johnny would have taken time to get to know the man, but now his only thought was getting off this island and back to Sam. And Scott. He was sure Scott was on a train headed to Boston by now. His brother could be headed straight into a trap.

Edward threw several more rashers of bacon into the skillet and waved a fork at Johnny. “You’ve got to eat, boy. You’re thin as a rail as it is.”

Thomas took his jacket off and threw it over the back of a nearby chair. “Better listen to him, Johnny. You’re not going to get your strength back until you start eating.”

Johnny begrudgingly admitted the two men were right and unbuttoned his jacket, throwing it on top of Thomas’.  He would do no one any good if he was too weak to hold his own.

“There ya go, you do have some sense. How do you like your eggs, Johnny?”

“Cooked.”

Edward laughed and grabbed a couple of mugs and filled them with steaming hot coffee. “Warm your insides while I ‘cook’ your eggs.”

Johnny accepted the coffee and began looking around the large circular room. It was bigger than he expected. A sofa and two easy chairs sat to the left of the free standing cook stove. Everything sat away from the curving walls.  A small dining table with two chairs sat close enough to the stove to take advantage of its heat. To the right were two bunks with end tables and another set of easy chairs. Paintings of past lighthouse keepers hung from the wall. Thomas and Edwards were at the end of the long line of portraits.

“This has been home for a lot of men over the years. Some have brought their wives and children with them. My wife and two daughters will be coming in a few months.”

“You’ve got an understanding wife if she’s willing to live here.”

Thomas smiled, dragging a third chair up to the table. “She married a lighthouse keeper. She knew what she was getting into. It’s not always an easy life, but it is the only thing that truly makes me happy.”

“I live here,” Edward added. “Thomas has the house. But there are times when the weather is too fierce to take the chance, and he bunks down here. A few years back, a storm hit. Waves reached the top of the look out. But throughout it all, the glass never broke and the light never went out. The Lady kept us both safe and warm, right Thomas?”

“She’s been standing watch for over a hundred years, I expect she’ll still be here another hundred. But I hope we never see another storm like that for a long long time.”

“When your feeling stronger we’ll take you up top. Its a hundred and two feet about sea lever and the flashing light can be seen twenty seven miles out into the Atlantic.”

Johnny whistled. “That’s a long way.”

Edward chuckled. “And ninety-two steps up the spiral staircase.”

Thomas’s voice turned sober. “There are treacherous rocks out there. They can rip the bottom of a boat out before the Captain has time to blink. We still lose a ship now and then.”

Johnny noticed the heavy port windows, too thick to see out of, but allowing some light into the room. The ceiling was low, maybe seven feet and the spiral staircase had a trap door at ceiling level to keep the heat from rising up the tower.

Edward set plates filled high with bacon and eggs on the table. “Come and get it while it’s still hot,” he called.

Johnny had to admit he was hungrier than he thought when he saw the food before him.

They ate in silence, the sound of the wind buffeting the tower and the rumble of the waves crashing against the cliffs shaking the floor beneath his feet. He wondered if the whole island would soon lose the battle against the raging sea. Finally Johnny had to admit he was full and pushed his plate aside. He had managed to eat one egg and a couple of pieces of bacon.

Neither Thomas nor Edward said a word and continued to eat until their plates were empty.

Thomas drew his pipe out of his shirt pocket and started filling it. “Johnny’s anxious to get off the island. Find out who sent that note to him.”

Edward looked up. “I was thinking about that myself. Old Timmy Pearl, he delivers coal to all the highfaluting houses in Boston, he said that he’d heard there was a reward out for someone else from California. Madrid I think the name was.”

Johnny stiffened. “Johnny Madrid,” he said softly.

“Yeah,” Edward nodded. “You heard of him? He’s supposed to be some kind of famous gunfighter. I’ve read about them. They’re supposed to be cold as ice. Must be to take money for killing a man.”

“Them books don’t always get it right,” Johnny said slowly.

“You know him then?” Edward asked incredulously.

Johnny nodded.

“You think he’s here in Boston?” Thomas asked as he sucked on his pipe until he had it burning to his satisfaction.

“Maybe.” Johnny stood up and crossed the room to one of the small port windows. He wished he could see out the thick glass. He felt the room closing in around him. He had to get off this island. Johnny turned back toward the table. “But who would know he was coming?” Johnny suddenly looked up. “You sure old man Harlan is dead? He knew Scott knew Madrid.”

Thomas set his pipe in a holder on the table, suddenly distracted. “Scott knew Johnny Madrid? How? I mean why would Scott know a man like that?”

“Scott knew a lot of men. And never judged them before he knew them first. What about Garrett? Could he still be alive?”

Edward shook his head. “I saw him in the casket myself before the burial. He was dead all right, and not looking so pretty. It wasn’t Garrett who sent the note.”

“I’ve got to get back to town.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny. There just isn’t any way,” Thomas tried to console him. “As soon as the weather clears enough I’ll take you back.”

Johnny angrily headed for the tower stairs and awkwardly pushed open the trap door. The climb was longer than he expected, and his legs nearly gave out a couple of times before he reached the watchtower. Gasping for air against the tight bindings around his chest, Johnny looked out over the raging sea, then back toward land. He could see some of the higher buildings of Boston, only nine miles away, but it might as well have been ninety miles away. He couldn’t get to it. His anger raged. Sam was there, alive or dead he didn’t know. Scott would be there any day, if he hadn’t already arrived. Damn the letter! Damn Murdoch for not saying a thing until it was too late! Damn Harlan Garrett, for Johnny knew he had something to do with this, alive or dead. And damn himself for being so stupid to walk right into a trap.

Johnny laid his forehead against the cold glass. A Mexican prison had never defeated him like this little piece of land.

 

***

Chapter Eighteen

“Nathan Harper, someone will see us!”

Nathan wrapped his arms around Christine and nuzzled his lips against her neck. “You say that every week.” He laughed.

“But…” Christine Willows giggled as Nathan tickled the base of her throat with his tongue.

“We’ve been meeting her every week for a month,” he whispered softly into her ear, remembering the passionate afternoons of lovemaking hidden here beneath an overturned derelict dory sitting near the edge of the water. They had stored blankets, towels and a canteen of water. “Even got the candles in case we fall asleep like we did that one time.”

He saw her eyes glance toward the gash in the side of the dory no bigger than a mailing envelope.

He quickly tucked the top edges of a black handkerchief behind splinters of wood above the gash covering the hole like a curtain. “Now, no one will see us.”

Nathan began undoing Christine’s bodice, his fingers grown accustomed to the small buttons. “Now, come on, we…”

Nathan and Christine froze at the sound of men’s angry voices. There was seldom anyone walking down the alleyway toward the water at this spot on the river. The new stores, frequented by the train passengers, were up the river a few hundred yards. Carefully pulling back the make shift curtain, Nathan saw Jackson Sutter and Marvin Kendal roughly leading a tall blond man past the alleyway onto the sandy shore. The flash of sunlight on the muzzle of a pistol caught his eye. Christine nearly gave them away when she yelped at the sight of Sutter smashing the blond over the head with the butt of his gun then the two of them dragging him toward to the water. They watched in morbid fascination as Sutter tied the man’s hands behind his back and Kendal lashed his ankles, a buggy weight attached to the other end of the rope. Christine grabbed Nathan’s arm, squeezing it in horror as they watched Sutter and Kendal lift the man and toss him into the river.

“My, God, no!” Christine cried softly.

Sutter and Kendal didn’t wait to see their victim sink beneath the surface. They were already running back toward the alley.

Nathan scrambled out from beneath the dory and tugged off his boots.

“Nathan, what are you doing?” Christine crawled out behind him, her blouse still unbuttoned.

“He could still be alive.”

Christine tried to hold him back. “But what if they see you?”

“They won’t.” Nathan whipped his arm free from Christine and dove into the cold Missouri River. It wasn’t deep so close to shore, maybe fifteen feet. But the current was swift and if he didn’t get to the man in time he would be pulled down river. He spotted blond hair lazily floating in the water. Nathan was thankful that he hadn’t gotten to the undressing stage with Christine and still had his belt on with his scabbard and knife attached. He reached the stranger, his body still not settled against the sandy bottom, and quickly cut the rope attached to the buggy weight, dragging him toward the surface. There was no resistance from the blond. He kicked toward the surface, his lungs aching for air. The man was his height but more muscular. He feared for that last moment before he broke the surface, that he would have to let the man go and save himself.

Christine was waiting for him with the blanket already spread out on the sand.

Nathan carried the man out of the water, laying him face down on the blanket, and began slapping him hard on the back, not taking the time to cut away the rope around his wrists.

“Come on, breathe!” he yelled. “Breathe!”

The stranger suddenly jerked and choked as river water and everything else he had eaten that day came up. He wretched and coughed and doubled up in stomach spasms. Nathan quickly cut the rope around the man’s wrists and turned him on his side, rubbing his back in large circles.

“That’s it, Mr. Lancer. Get it all up.”

The man coughed and wheezed and tried to raise himself up on one elbow. “Do you know me?”

“No. I heard Sutter and Kendal call your name. I don’t know who you are or what you did to rile someone that bad, but those two are known thugs around here.”

“I don’t know anyone around here,” the man gasped, flopping down on his back. Nathan knew they had to get him someplace safe and warm.

Nathan grabbed Christine’s arm and pulled her closer. “I’m going to hide him under our boat and get him out of these wet clothes. You go find my uncle and tell him what’s happened. And be sure to bring some dry blankets. Then find my brother and tell him we need to use his place for a day or two.” He looked down at the stranger, his wet hair plastered to his face, his lips trembling from the cold water.” We have to keep him out of sight.”

Christine nodded, quickly buttoning her blouse. “I’ll be right back. But be careful, Nathan. If they come back…”

Nathan didn’t wait for Christine to disappear down the beach before he wrapped the man in the blanket and dragged him to the dory, slipping beneath it and pulling the blond in behind him.

“We’ll be safe here,” he promised as he began to strip the man down. “My uncle is one of the town’s two doctors. The better one in my opinion.”

“You’re taking a big chance helping me,” Lancer croaked before he collapsed back onto the blanket, barely conscious.

Nathan took off the last of the stranger’s clothes and wrapped him in the wet blanket. It was better than the sodden clothes. “I don’t like to see men killed in front of my eyes when there’s something I can do about it. Now you try to get some rest. It takes the body some time to get over a thing like nearly drowning.”

Nathan felt a flash of unbelievable anger at the thought of this man dying. The genuine smile he saw as Lancer’s eyes slid closed and he fell into an exhausted sleep was all Nathan needed to know that this man was not the usual thug Sutter and Kendal went after. And Nathan was bound and determined to find out who and why he was here.

 

***

Scott was aware of a warm fire and the familiar smells of saddle soap and gun oil. Johnny had often spent his evenings in his room working the leather in his holster until it was as smooth as silk. He remembered sitting across from Johnny in his brother’s room, the lamp’s wick turned down so only a soft light bathed the small table sitting in the corner. No words were spoken between them. None were needed. This was a ritual that Johnny had replayed for far too many years. Scott felt honored to be allowed into the personal world that his brother coveted so closely. He’d watched as Johnny’s long fingers broke down the gun effortlessly. Johnny didn’t even look down at the disassembled gun until he began cleaning it. Scott knew that Johnny could break down, clean and reassemble a gun in the time it took most men to simply break the weapon into parts. But this night was not about speed. It was about taking care of a friend who had been at his side, had never let him down. That could not be said for the people in Johnny’s life. Until now. Yet Johnny still needed this comfort from his past.

The smell of coffee pulled Scott from his memories and he realized he was not at Lancer. He hadn’t been for days. It was no longer his home. And Johnny wasn’t there either. He was in Boston looking for answers they should have been looking for together.

“You must be hungry.” The voice was deep and steeped in a drawl that Scott did not recognize. He opened his eyes to find his clothes hanging in front of a roaring fireplace and himself lying on a cot, nestled beneath a ton of blankets.

“Uncle Jed said you’d be hungry when you woke up. If you weren’t, then that meant the water got to your brain.”

Scott had to smile at the statement. “I am starving,” he said, turning over to see who belonged to the voice.

The man certainly didn’t fit the voice. He was short and thin, verging on skinny. His pristinely bald head took Scott by surprise at first. Dark eyebrows suggested that he had had dark hair at one time.

“Good ta hear. My name’s Bradley Harper, but most folks just call me Harp. Nathan said Sutter and Kendal nearly made a ghost of ya. Those two are rough customers. Feel strong enough to sit at the table? Uncle Jed’ll be by in awhile to have another look at ya. You were lucky that Nathan and Christine were…well…you were just lucky they were there.”

Scott nodded. “I don’t remember much, but I hope I have the opportunity to thank him.”

“Oh you will. Nathan comes here most nights for supper. ‘Spect he’ll bring Uncle Jed with him. Here, I got some of Nathan’s clothes.” Harp held up a pair of brown trousers and a white dress shirt. “They should fit ya. Yer about the same size. He only wears these when he’s pretending to court Christine like a gentleman.” A huge smile wrinkled Harp’s forehead and Scott couldn’t keep from laughing himself. “I had ta wash the sand out of your clothes before I hung them up ta dry. They should be dry by tomorrow morning though.”

Scott looked around. The room was large, but every corner seemed filled with clutter. It wasn’t an unkempt house, just one that could use a good reorganizing. Plain white cotton curtains covered the window, letting light in, but making it impossible to see out.

“What time is it?” Scott asked as he began getting dressed in his borrowed clothes. He didn’t miss the faint scent of cheap cologne. It appeared that Nathan went all out when he was pretending to court his Christine.

“Near three. You been here ‘bout two hours. Uncle Jed said you’d sleep awhile. Near drowning makes a man tired.”

Scott stood up slowly, his legs feeling wobbly, and walked over to the rough honed wooden table with bench seats sitting on either side.

“Uncle Jed said ta feed ya something easy cause your throat was gonna be sore and your stomach churned up. So I got some oatmeal with cinnamon on top. Hope you like it that way.”

“It’s my favorite way.” Scott sat down and took a hesitant taste, surprised and glad that it was really quite good. “Maria makes it just like this.”

“Maria yer wife?”

Scott looked up at Harp, astounded he would ask a question like that until he remembered this man knew nothing about him.

His thoughts were diverted by the sound of heavy boots outside the door. He wished now he had his gun. It was still sitting in his traveling bag at the bookstore. Scott wondered if there was a way for him to get his bag and not be traced back here.

The door opened and a man as tall as himself walked in. Every other thing about him was different. He was thin, not as thin as Harp, but close to it. His full head of curly hair was dark brown and hung almost to his eyebrows. An easy smile lit his face when he saw Scott sitting at the table.

“Good to see you up and about, Mr. Lancer.” Nathan crossed the room quickly to shake Scott’s hand. “Nathan Harper. I’m the one who pulled you out of the lake. Me and my girl…well we was taking in the sunshine.” The young man’s face turned beet red.

The man who followed in after him was shorter, and older. His gray hair still streaked with dark brown like the younger Nathan.

“I am in your debt,” Scott said, shaking Nathan’s hand warmly. “It was my good fortune that you were there.”

Nathan coughed discreetly and the older man harrumphed loudly before walking over to the table and extending his own hand. “Dr. Jed Harper, young man. It’s good to see you looking somewhat better. I would like to examine you though, before I leave. Near drowning is nothing to be lax with. And I see that you have eaten some of Harp’s good oatmeal. It’s about the only thing he does cook well. I remember one morning…”

Scott was suddenly unsure if he was really awake, or this was some kind of strange dream. The doctor’s voice droned on. He talked as much as his nephew Harp, and though Nathan had little time to say anything, Scott was sure he would be as talkative when given a chance.

Suddenly there was silence, and Scott realized they were waiting for him to speak. “Thank you,” he said. “I am in all your debts.” Scott ran a hand through his hair, flinching when he hit the knot from the gun butt.

“You’re going to have a sore head for awhile. Lucky those two didn’t crack your skull open.”

“I’d like to return the favor.”

Jed nodded. “I did some checking while you were sleeping. Don’t worry, I was discreet. It was easy really. You just have to know the right people, and in this town, that would be Billy Tyler. He does odd jobs around the train station and anywhere else he can find work. But he always has his eyes and ears open. If he likes you, he can give you a wealth of information. If he doesn’t, then you’d get more blood out of a rock then information out of Billy.”

“And he likes you, Uncle Jed.” Harp grinned.

“That he does, Harp. Ever since I dug that nasty splinter out of his backside. Poor man was too embarrassed to ask for help and was getting weak legged from having to stand all the time.”

Scott groaned silently. He was in a nightmare.

“Anyway, I found out that you had lunch at Lucy’s then went over to the bookstore. I took a walk over there, bought a book I’d had my eye on for awhile and spotted a traveling bag just sitting all by its lonesome in the back corner. Took a peek inside and saw it belonged to Scott Lancer. I know that’s you because of the papers in your wallet. Don’t worry, we didn’t rob ya blind.”

Harp happily held up Scott’s empty money belt. “The money is all right over there.” He pointed to a shelf near the fireplace where Scott’s money was spread out to dry.

“That’s a lot of money for a man to be carrying,” Jed observed.

“I expected to be gone a long time.”

“Has it got anything to do with Sutter and Kendal?”

“The money? No. And if it was, they would have taken it. Someone hired them to get me out of the way. I heard them talking. But I’d like to know who.”

Jed pulled the bench out from beneath the table across from Scott and sat down. “I asked Billy that too.”

“And…?”

“Someone from the westbound train. Got off yesterday, just long enough to look Sutter and Kendal up, then got back on board. And before you ask, he was a well dressed fella, Billy said his shirt had those funny ruffles on them.”

“Billy get a name?”

“Billy doesn’t miss anything. His name was Masters.”

Scott stiffened at the name.

“You know him, Son?”

Scott couldn’t believe it was the Masters he knew. It had to be a coincidence. Jefferson Masters had been his grandfather’s personal groom for years.

“Did Billy say what he looked like?”

“He said he was tall, had a scar along his right cheek. Billy said it looked like he got knifed.”

It was Jefferson. But why? Who sent him? And how would he know he was on the train? Only Arthur Bell knew he was traveling east. He couldn’t believe Arthur had anything to do with this.

He thought he read people better than that. But, did he? Did he really know anyone?  Scott thought he knew Murdoch, that his father trusted him. Not enough as it turned out. And his grandfather. Who was Harlan Garrett? At every turn Scott found he was not the man he thought he was. Scott knew his grandfather could be ruthless in the business world. However, the more he learned, the more he realized that Harlan Garrett treated everyone with the same contempt he did his business associates. Strike the weak and surround yourself with the strong - but, not too strong. Had he become too strong for his grandfather to handle? Scott felt a shiver run down his back. Was this all his grandfather’s doing? And if it was, how could he continue striking from the grave?

“Are you all right?”

Nathan pushed a hot cup of coffee into Scott’s hand. “Drink this,” he ordered.

“Sometimes Uncle Jed says it helps ta talk ‘bout things,” Nathan said, his concern for Scott heavy in his voice.

“I don’t know,” Scott said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I need to be on the eastbound train tomorrow. Can you buy a ticket for me? I’d do it myself but I don’t want to be seen.”

“I’ll buy one first thing in the morning.” Jed tapped Scott’s coffee cup. “Drink up, then I want you to get some more rest. You had quite an ordeal today.”

Scott sipped at the coffee, grimacing at the bitter taste. “Tastes like Johnny’s camp coffee.”

Nathan laughed. “Then I’d say whoever Johnny is, he’s a lousy coffee maker.”

Scott grinned. “Johnny’s my brother. And you’re right, coffee is not his specialty. But if you want good spicy Mexican food only Maria, our cook, is better.”

He suddenly felt light- headed and so very tired. Jed was right. Near drowning did take a lot out of you. He felt hands carefully guide him back to the cot next to the fire. Tomorrow he would be back on the train. And from now on, he wouldn’t let his guard down.

But what of Johnny and Sam? Were they all right? He had been worried about them before, now he was terrified. Whoever was behind this had money and connections. And Johnny was a stranger in a strange land. His younger brother needed him like never before. He just prayed he was in time.

As he drifted toward sleep, Scott saw Johnny sitting comfortably in the saddle, Barranca pawing the ground, anxious to be on their way. How he would love to be riding across Lancer with his brother at his side, not a care in the world.

A dark cloud moved in over the riders as Scott fell into a deep sleep.

 

***

Chapter 19

Something was different. He lay very quietly, eyes closed, breathing slowly and evenly. He listened…The sound of a crackling fire, the steady tick of a clock. Something was missing; something that had been a part of his life for what seemed like forever.

Johnny snapped his eyes open. Gone was the thundering sound of waves pounding the cliffs of the little island. The wind that had whipped at the lighthouse, screaming like a wild witch woman, was silent. Sunlight spilled into the room through the thick windows. The front door stood open, the cool air fighting with the warmth of the fire behind him.

The storm was over. Johnny struggled to sit up, his arm still strapped to his chest, making it difficult to swing his legs over the edge of the cot. But nothing would stop him. At last he had a chance to get off this island, to find Sam and maybe even Scott if his brother had come in on the train. Finally he could find answers to questions that had been haunting him at every turn.

He pushed himself off the cot, making for the open door. The last thing he remembered yesterday was the cold feeling of the window pane at the top of the tower against his cheek, then Thomas and Edward helping him down the stairs. He didn’t remember making the final steps only the hot mug of tea pushed into his hands and the comforting liquid warming his insides. They had slipped him something in the tea. He could tell by the lingering headache and dry mouth. But he couldn’t fault them for it. He wouldn’t have rested without it.

The clear blue sky hurt his eyes as he looked beyond the rocky landscape of Little Brewster Island. The water was calm, the sun sparkling off the gentle waves. He looked around for Thomas or Edward. They weren’t in the lighthouse. He looked toward the hoist and his stomach dropped. The dory was no longer lashed to the boom. He ran toward the cliff, his heart beating. The chain that had lowered the boat to the water dangled three feet above the gentle waves lapping at the rocky cliff. The boat was gone. Had they left him here? Johnny couldn’t believe that. He trusted Thomas.

Disbelief turned to anger. They had promised him. Once the weather cleared - they had promised. Damn it! He knew better than to trust anyone. It always ended in disappointment. He was better off as he was, as he had lived his life. Trust no one, and no one could hurt you. Johnny Madrid learned the lesson well. Why couldn’t Johnny Lancer learn it too?

He rushed toward the house, past the lighthouse, wondering why the Lady saw fit to let this happen. He slipped and tripped over the uneven, rocky terrain, damning the bindings that strapped his arm to his side, keeping him off balance. The cold air bit at his face. He was angry. He’d been lied to - again. His anger grew with each step. His hand dropped to his hip and he cursed. He needed his gun. He needed to be in control again.

Johnny reached the door and swung it open. Thomas stood by the stove, turning around, startled by Johnny’s entrance.

“Where’s the boat!” Johnny demanded. “Where’s Edward?”

Thomas quickly pulled a pot off the hottest part of the stove. “Johnny. I was about to head over to the Lady and wake you.” If Johnny’s entrance startled the man, he didn’t show it. “Come in. Edward left at first light.”

Johnny stepped into the house, slamming the door behind him. “Why? You know I have to get back there.”

“We talked about it last night and decided it was the best way to proceed. We have no idea what’s happening there. You could still be a wanted man. If you are, every Tom Dick and Harry would want you for the reward.”

“Don’t you think that I deserved to have a say in what you decided?”

Thomas pulled a clean mug from a shelf over the stove and poured steaming coffee into it then advanced slowly toward Johnny. “We knew you would be mad, and with good cause, but, Johnny, you are in no shape to be running around the docks. We hoped once you had time to think about it, that you would understand.”

Johnny took the mug and sipped  the coffee. It tasted good, dampening his anger. “That was a lot to assume,” he said, his voice still cold. “Dangerous too. You don’t know me.”

“No, I don’t. But I know Scott. And I know that a man who would go to the lengths you have to help his brother has to have a lot of good in him.”

Johnny shook his head. “I got your friend Heddy killed.”

“She may have been the target all along. She just knew too much. Edward…”

“You two just don’t understand. If Edward asks the wrong person the wrong question… Whoever is behind all this won’t stop at one woman’s death to get what they want.”

“I know. And that is exactly why Edward went ahead first. He can keep out of sight and still ask all the right questions. Better to be armed with a little knowledge than go in defenseless. Look,” Thomas turned back toward the stove cracking some eggs into a hot frying pan. “There’s no use arguing about it now. Edward won’t be back until this afternoon. You might as well relax. Have some breakfast. After you eat you can check out the island. The air may be a bit chilly out there, but after a storm like we had it is the most refreshing air you’ll ever smell.”

Johnny reluctantly took a seat at the table. How had Thomas talked him down so easily? Only Scott could calm him down when he was this mad. Where was the yelling fit, the stomping around like a mad bull? Murdoch would have had him hogtied to a chair by now. Funny, it was easier to fight the raging Murdoch than the easygoing, understanding Thomas.

 

***

Murdoch took the time to stretch his legs before boarding the next train on his long journey to Boston. He’d had nothing but time to think and reflect. All those years he had waited for his boys to return, and in the blink of an eye he had managed to drive his eldest boy out of his life. He wondered if he had lost Johnny too. Would he return to Lancer even if Scott didn’t? He and his youngest son had made headway. But was it enough?

He found a window seat in a relatively empty car. To Murdoch’s relief no one sat beside him or in the facing seat. Stretching his long legs out to rest on the opposite seat he pulled his hat down and glanced out the window at the last passengers hurriedly straggling onto the station platform as the whistle blew and a cloud of steam escaped the underbelly of the train.

Someone caught his eye, and just as the steam obscured his vision, Murdoch thought he saw a familiar blond head in the crowd of well-wishers. He heard hurried steps on the iron stairs outside the car door and waited, not daring to believe what he knew with absolute certainty - that his son was about to walk back into his life.

Murdoch held his breath as the door opened and Scott stepped in. He knew from experience that the interior was too dark to see after the glaring sun from outside. It took Scott a moment to look around to find a seat. His eyes drifted up and down the coach aisle and came to rest on Murdoch.

Murdoch didn’t know what to say. Scott just stood there, grabbing onto the back of a seat as the train jerked and began to pull away from the station. He hefted the traveling bag in his hand a couple of times as if trying to make a decision, then turned on his heels and walked out the door to the next car.

“Scott,” Murdoch called softly as the door closed behind his son. He deserved nothing less. And he knew it. The telegram Val had brought out, what seemed like years ago now, burned in his shirt pocket, as if seeing Scott again had ignited the paper. He had been such a fool. He didn’t have enough fingers and toes or arms and legs to count the mistakes he had made throughout his life. Most of them had to do with his foolish pride. But none were as egregious as the mistakes he’d made with his boys. He had almost lost Johnny several times since his youngest son came home, and now he might have lost Scott forever.

Murdoch stood up slowly, feeling older than Methuselah. He took a breath and blew it out slowly. Pride be damned. He was going to talk to Scott. Even if his boy rejected him, he still had to say the words that stuck in his throat like glue.

 

***

Johnny lounged on the sofa. He had paced the house like a caged animal. Gone outside and walked the island at least three times. Spent some time with the Lady. As crazy as it sounded, it was easy to talk to her. He’d made his way up to the top of the tower again. It was still a strain on his healing body, but nothing like yesterday. With the sky clear he could see for miles. He looked for the dory traveling back from the docks but the only thing he saw were birds swooping down to snatch fish out of the sea, their squawking so different from the quiet pastures of Lancer.

Thomas had served lunch and now Johnny felt his heavy eyelids begin to close. He didn’t fight it. After all, if he was in Mexico it would be siesta time. He let his mind wander. What was Murdoch doing right now? He felt sorry for his father. The old man had been pushed into a corner with no way out. Whatever he did someone was going to be hurt. Johnny prayed that the second telegram that Sam sent would get to his father before he said or did anything that was impossible to take back. Johnny knew what it felt like to be on the bad side of Murdoch Lancer. And when he was, Scott was always there to cushion the blow. But Scott was alone now. His brother had seldom seen life from that side. “Dios!” he muttered. Would life ever return to normal?

 

***

Scott couldn’t believe it. What did Murdoch think? A, “I’m sorry, Son,” and all would be forgiven? It wasn’t that easy. Where was he when the stage left Green River? Where was he when the train left Sacramento? Murdoch had plenty of time to stop him before the train pulled out of the station. Was it that he was too proud to admit he was wrong, or too scared to face him? Scott squeezed the bridge of his nose trying to ward off a burgeoning headache. He couldn’t get that scene out of his mind. The words that had been spoken could never be taken back. Murdoch’s silence as he had left the house. His gut had been wrenched out of him like never before. Was it just Murdoch’s betrayal, or his grandfather’s death? The two combined were too much for him to absorb right now. He needed time. He needed to get his grandfather’s personal and business affairs in order. He needed to see to the house and the servants. They all deserved good positions and he would hold the house open until they found other jobs. At times, the servants were more like family to him then his grandfather. If nothing else, Scott was determined to make it right for them. But his obligations had nothing to do with his father’s failure to make an appearance.

Scott hated the feeling that his life was out of his control. Someone else was holding the reins. Someone had duped the Pinkertons into thinking that he was an imposter. Someone had hired the two thugs to get rid of him in Omaha. The thought that it could be Masters, a man he had known most of his life and respected, seemed impossible. Yet the description was right. But Masters was just a puppet. This was a well thought out plan, the far reaching magnitude of it frightening. The only person Scott could think of with that kind of power and money was his grandfather. Yet he was dead. Wasn’t he?

The sound of the wheels clattering along the tracks grew louder as the door opened and Murdoch slipped into the car. Scott had hoped his father would give him time. He had walked through two cars to get to this one, hopefully giving Murdoch the hint that he wanted to be left alone, at least until he was ready to confront the situation. But it appeared Murdoch didn’t see it that way.

Scott watched as Murdoch held onto the back of the seats, the train swaying as it headed into a series of serpentine turns. He wondered if the half dozen or so other passengers in the car could feel the tension between father and son.

“Scott.” Murdoch’s voice was low and throaty.

Scott turned back to stare out the window. “I thought you would get the idea that I wasn’t in the mood to talk right now.”

“I did. But I have to talk. Do you mind if I sit?”

Scott shrugged. “Your ticket allows you to sit anywhere you like.” He heard the facing seat groan as Murdoch sat down and the thought came to mind that his father’s back must be killing him by now. He pushed the thought aside. He wasn’t ready to worry about Murdoch in any way. Not yet. Not while he was still so angry and hurt.

“I’m surprised I found you,” Murdoch said. “I thought you were a day ahead of me.”

Scott didn’t take his eyes off the view outside. He had been so excited, so apprehensive the last time he saw this view. He had been filled with hope that his father would accept him after so many years. Whether he decided to stay in California or move on, he knew he would not be going back to Boston. That life was behind him. And now, here he was, heading back.

“I was,” Scott answered succinctly. “But I was delayed.”

“Son…”

Scott whipped his head around to stare at Murdoch. “I’m not your son, remember? I’m an imposter.”

Scott could barely hear his father’s voice over the clatter of the train, but the words were filled with sorrow and regret. “I was wrong.”

“What brought you to that epiphany?”

Murdoch looked down at his hands clasped tightly in his lap. “The moment I accused you I knew I was wrong. I just couldn’t find the words to tell you how wrong I was.”

“And now you expect everything to be like it was?”

“No. I know that some words can never be taken back. But I hope that someday we could move on.”

“I’m moving on. Back to Boston. After I get my grandfather’s affairs in line I don’t know where I will go from there. But it won’t be back to Lancer.”

“Please, Scott, I know you’re angry.”

“Angry! You think I’m angry?” Scott didn’t care now that others could hear him. He’d had enough. “Angry doesn’t come close to how I feel! From the first moment in the great room you made it clear that you called the tune. And you never stopped. No matter who it hurt. The great Murdoch Lancer had to be in charge. I thought, no I hoped, that you would change. That after time you would ease up. But you didn’t. Oh there were times when you let me think I was making a contribution to the ranch. But it was still your tune we played.”

“I know I was wrong then. And I knew it. I thought we had made progress. Things were moving smoothly. I thought we were on our way to being a real family.”

“And then another little chink in your smoothly running world sent you on the rampage again.”

“A little chink?” Murdoch asked incredulously. “You think what I went through these past weeks was a little chink? My, God, I had confirmed reports from the Pinkertons that Scott Lancer had sailed to Europe two weeks before he received my note to come to Lancer. I had no proof other than your word that you were Scott Lancer.”

“That should have been enough.”

“You think so? Add the fact that I had no idea what you really looked like. I only remember a five- year -old boy dressed in his Sunday best on his birthday in Boston. I had never picked up a letter from your grandfather, you always seemed to be in town to pick up the mail when it came. You had no letters to show me because you had gotten angry and burned them. I wrote letters, sent telegrams to Boston and got no answers. Then I get the telegram from Johnny and Sam. Your grandfather had been dead for two months. Two months. What was I supposed to think! I promised Johnny I wouldn’t say anything to you until I knew proof positive that you were an imposter. What more proof could I have needed?”

“Johnny knew all along?” The thought stung. Above all else, that hurt the most. How long had he known? Was he part of the subterfuge? Acting confused when he had to be wondering he was living with a stranger. And Teresa. What did she know? Anger seized him. He had been played for a fool by everyone.

“I told him the night before he left. You were still up at the line shack. He wouldn’t believe it. He insisted on going to Boston to prove the Pinkertons wrong. I couldn’t stop him. The only thing I could do was convince him to let Sam go along with him.”

 

“Is that why you’re here? To help Johnny?”

Murdoch looked at him, stunned. “No! I was hoping to catch up with you in Boston. Val didn’t get Sam’s telegram to me until after you left on the stage. I’m sorry, Son. For so many things. I should have listened to my heart…not the Pinkertons.”

Scott felt his world continue to crumble around him. His anger was his last bastion and he hid behind it. Murdoch’s explanation and apology were too little too late.

“Scott.” Murdoch leaned in closer, his hand hesitantly resting atop Scott’s knee. “You have every right to be angry and hurt. And I know you can never completely forgive me. I will never be able to forgive myself. But there is someone out there trying to drive us apart. We need to work together right now. Son…”

Scott shifted his knee and Murdoch’s hand slipped off. “I still need time to think.”

Murdoch nodded. “I understand. I’ll go back to my car. When you want to talk come see me. Just remember.” Murdoch leaned in close to Scott. “I love you, Son. I always have, even if I was too stupid and too afraid to admit it.”

Scott closed his eyes, trying to keep his composure. He waited until he heard the louder clatter of wheels as the door was opened and then closed. He fought back the lump in his throat. Why did his life have to be so complicated?

 

*** 

Johnny stood at the window watching for Edward.

“He’ll be along soon,” Thomas called from one of the back bedrooms. “Here,” he said, bringing out a book. “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It just came out. I think you’ll like it.”

Johnny took the book. “Scott was reading that a couple of months ago. His grandfather sent it to him. Garrett sent him a lot of books.” Johnny looked up. “All this has to be hard on him.”

“I expect so. But he should be here soon.”

Johnny looked back out the window. “Where the hell is Edward? I thought he was supposed to be here early this afternoon.”

“He was. Something must have…Speak of the devil.” Thomas pointed out the window at Edward as he trudged up the slope toward the house.

Opening the door, Edward blew in like the wind outside. “I have news!” he shouted.

Johnny waited.

“First of all, you don’t need to worry about your friend Sam Jenkins anymore. He is safe at Garrett’s mansion.”

“Garrett’s place?” Johnny couldn’t believe it.

“Yeah. He and old man Garrett’s head servant are getting along like they knew each other for years. He knows you’re here too. Got word to him on the sly that you were banged up a bit, but safe. When I told him about the cast he wasn’t too happy. He was giving Weatherly a list of supplies to make a new one when you get there.”

“Sounds like Sam.”

“The authorities aren’t looking for you anymore. They have someone else targeted for the murder. The wrong man, I’m sure, but at least they won’t toss you in jail if they see you.”

“Any news about Scott?”

Edward shook his head. “But Sam is sure he’s on his way. He’s got your bags from the hotel. Said you’d be wanting what’s inside.” Edward handed Johnny a small satchel.

Johnny looked inside to find his extra gun with a box of ammo. The feel of the gun in his hand gave him a sense of relief he hadn’t felt since he stepped off the train.

Thomas looked at the gun then disappeared in his bedroom and reappeared with Johnny’s jury-rigged holster. “We found this under your sling.”

The thought of Sam’s plaster cast on his arm suddenly sounded more appealing. He could once again carry his gun with him at all times. It had been too long. He quickly checked the revolver to see that five bullets sat in their chambers and slipped it beneath his belt.

“Sam is expecting you at first light tomorrow. We’ll leave here about four and get to the docks before sunrise. I have a man with a horse waiting for you. Sorry, a buggy will look too conspicuous that early in the morning. He’ll take you to Garrett’s house. One more thing.” Edward threw a sack to Thomas. “I hope you can cook these cowboy style.”

Thomas drew out a package and opened it to find three huge beef steaks.

“I thought we could send Johnny here off with a full stomach.”

With his gun shoved beneath his belt, news that Sam was safe and the prospect of getting off the island in the morning, Johnny had not felt so unburdened in days. Looking back at Edward as he made himself comfortable he asked, “If the authorities aren’t looking for me anymore, who are they looking for.?”

Edward looked back. “They think that gunfighter from California, Johnny Madrid, did it.”

 

***

Chapter Twenty

It was the darkest part of the night after the moon disappeared from the sky and the sun had not yet breached the horizon. The slow arc of the lighthouse beacon, sweeping back and forth in the direction of the open ocean, left most of the island in blackness.

Johnny, anxious to get back to the mainland, stood in the frigid air wearing Thomas’s borrowed jacket. He still had reservations as he waited at the cliff’s edge watching Thomas attach the chains to the dory with only the light of his and Edward’s lanterns, motioning for him to climb inside.

“You sure about this?” Johnny asked.

Edward slapped him on the back and laughed. “I’ve done it a hundred times. See over there?” Edward pointed to a string of lights in the distance. “That’s the shore. We row straight for those lights. By the time we get there the sun will almost be up.”

Thomas helped Johnny into the boat, hampered by his arm trussed to his side and the still angry wound across his back. Edward gave him time to settle on the narrow bench seat, then climbed into the dory and nodded to Thomas.

Johnny gasped when Thomas hauled up on the chains and the boat rocked a foot off the ground.

“I’ll expect to see you again, Johnny,” Thomas called as he swung the arm of the hoist out over the water. “And Scott too.”

Johnny Madrid Lancer wasn’t often frightened. But the next three minutes were the longest of his life. The boat swayed in the mild wind and the chains rattled as Johnny held onto the plank seat with his one good hand. At last he felt the thump of the boat hitting the water and the dory began to bob in the gentle waves.

“You do it a few hundred times, and you get used to it,” Edward chuckled as he lowered the oars into the water and started rowing.

“I’ll take a bucking horse any day,” Johnny said. “I got to admit, that was just about the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”

“That was a piece of cake. You should feel it when you get broadsided by a freak wind. Enough to make a man believe in God if he doesn’t already.”

In the shadow of the cliffs Johnny couldn’t see a thing. The pitch blackness surrounded him. He could hear the steady splash of the oars stroking through the water, the soft steady rhythm of Edward’s soft grunts as he rowed away from the island.

Johnny felt a rush of relief when they rowed beyond the cliff’s shadow and he could once again see the light from the Lady sending a beacon of warning out into the open sea.

He tried to settle himself in the boat but he couldn’t relax, not until he saw Sam in person. For four days he hadn’t known if the old doctor was dead or alive. The same people who had lured him into a trap could have targeted Sam too. Johnny would never forgive himself if something had happened to him. The not knowing was the worst.

With his back to the harbor Johnny couldn’t tell how far they were away from land, and he was too unsure of his precarious balance in the boat to turn around,

Enveloped in the deep blackness he could only listen to the gentle waves as they crossed the harbor. Soon he felt a difference, the boat was bobbing on smaller but more erratic waves as the tide shifted beneath their boat.

Edward expertly turned the boat and Johnny could barely make out an old pier, partly listing into the dark waters. “This is the abandoned side of the docks,” Edward whispered, positioning the dory next to the derelict pier and jumping onto the unsteady ramp. “Hobbins is waiting for you at the top of the dock,” he said, as he quickly tied the boat’s rope to an old cleat on the pier. “He’ll take you to Sam.”  Edward held out his hand and helped Johnny out of the bobbing boat. “Sorry I can’t go with you, but it would be hard to explain why I used this old pier. Watch your back and God be with you.”

“Thanks for all your help,” Johnny said, shaking Edward’s hand firmly.

“Be careful, Johnny. If that gunfighter from California was after Heddy, he might still be after you.”

“I doubt it,” Johnny said as he turned to head up the wooden walkway toward the road above. But Johnny Madrid did pose a threat to him. Not the one Edward worried about. If he was recognized as Madrid then he would be dead or in jail. Neither one appealed to him.

“Johnny,” a voice whispered, and a man emerged from the cover of the deep shadows. He held the reins of two horses, their breaths forming puffs of smoke in the cold air. “We don’t have much time ‘till the sun rises.” The man’s face remained in shadows, but Johnny could see he wore the same hat and coat as Thomas.

Johnny quickly mounted awkwardly and settled himself in the unusual saddle. This must be what Scott called an English saddle. Hardly enough leather for a man to settle his rear into. Definitely not a working man’s saddle.

“Name’s Hobbins. Dr. Jenkins is waiting for you. Keep close. We’re going the long way so we can enter the grounds from the back”

No more words were said as Hobbins slowly headed along the dock until they were well beyond the oldest part of the harbor.

Johnny’s arm and back were protesting as Hobbins led them through the darkness, across the Public Gardens that looked so different at night, to a maze of streets before at last he saw Garrett’s mansion silhouetted against the first rays of the sun. A lone candle burned in the window of a room on the first floor.

“That’s the signal that it’s safe.” Hobbins slid off his horse. “We go on foot from here.”

Johnny followed him, keeping low to the ground. They reached the back door and Hobbins knocked three times lightly. The door opened just enough for Johnny to slip in and Hobbins disappeared back into the darkness.

“Johnny!” Sam’s arm slid around Johnny’s good arm.

“Sam…?”

“It’s so good to see you, Boy. Before I knew you were safe at the lighthouse I thought I’d never see you again. Come in next to the fire, you’re as cold as ice.”

Johnny allowed himself to be led through the house and into the den. Garrett’s old servant stood back watching the scene, a smile playing at his stoic face.

“I will get hot tea for Mr. Lancer,” he announced.

“Could you make that hot coffee, strong and black?”

“Of course, Sir.” And Weatherly was gone.

Johnny tried to pull his arm free from Sam’s grip. “Would you let go? I’m fine.”

“I’ll decide that after I’ve had a look at that arm, and your back.”

Johnny couldn’t deny that it felt good to be in Sam’s expert hands again, but before Johnny could say another word, Sam was unbuttoning his jacket, anger, worry and relief playing across his face.

“What were you thinking, Johnny?” Sam demanded. “Any fool could see that note was a trap.”

“I couldn’t take the chance it wasn’t.”

“You could have at least waited until I got back. Do you have any idea how worried I have been about you?”

“I know, Sam. I’ve been worried about you too.” That seemed to take the fire out of Sam.

“Yes, well, let’s get that arm back in a cast where it belongs. Then we can talk. I may have some news you don’t know about yet.”

Johnny looked up expectantly. “What news?”

Weatherly appeared with a tray of coffee cups and a porcelain coffeepot. A stack of biscuits and a small bowl of jam sat to the side.

“I thought you might like something to go with the coffee, Sir.” He set the tray down on the coffee table in front of Johnny and began pouring the steaming coffee. “I must apologize, Sir,” he began. “I was only following orders when I sent you away that day.”

“Orders from a dead man?” Johnny glared up at him.

Weatherly nodded. “I devoted my life to Mr. Garrett. I felt I could be no less devoted to him in death.”

“Then why am I here?”

The old servant lowered his head. “I learned things I could no longer ignore. When Sam came to me asking for my help, I had to make a choice.”

“Come on, Johnny.” Sam handed Johnny a cup of the coffee and a biscuit with jam. “You probably won’t feel much like eating when I get done with your arm. Weatherly, do you have the bed set up?”

“Just as you asked. And the water and plaster are waiting for you.”

Johnny sipped at the coffee. “Why do I get the feeling that I was better off marooned on that island?”

 

***

Scott lifted his head, stiff and sore. Sometime toward early morning he had finally drifted off to sleep in the hard, uncomfortable seat. He remembered watching the train speed through the darkness, streaks of lightning bringing the landscape in startling relief as they traveled through storm after storm. He wondered what the weather would be like when he reached Boston. They would reach New York in the morning, then in another six or seven hours and he would be home. No…not home. There was no home he could call his own now. A temporary place where he could make decisions and arrangements. But not a home.

His thoughts went back to Murdoch, sitting in another car. Had he gotten any more sleep? Most likely not. Scott sighed heavily. He knew he could not leave it as it was. He had to talk with his father before this part of the trip ended.

Deciding what he needed to do, he went in search of a porter.

 

***

Murdoch felt a hand gently tap his shoulder.

“Mr. Lancer? Excuse me, Sir.”

Murdoch looked up at a porter leaning over him. “I’m sorry to wake you, Sir, but better accommodations have been arranged for you.”

“What do you mean?” Murdoch ran his hand down his face, trying to collect his thoughts.

“If you would follow me, Mr. Lancer.” Murdoch saw his traveling bag in the porter’s hand and followed him down the aisle. Four cars later he entered the Pullman cars and the porter opened a door into a room. Scott was seated at the window of the private cabin. 

He nodded.  “I thought it would be easier to talk in private.”

Murdoch lowered his stiff, aching body into the comfortable seat, facing Scott across a small table. Looking out the window he shuddered at the rain. He wondered if he would lose him forever once Scott got back to Boston and took over the reins of his grandfather’s business.

“Will that be all, Sirs?” the porter asked.

“Coffee and something light for breakfast,” Scott ordered. Murdoch had to admit that his son was comfortable with the mantle of authority. He wondered once he got back to Boston and took over the reins of his grandfather’s business, if he would lose him forever.

“I would like to start out with some ground rules.”

Murdoch nodded, waiting.

“First, I have had enough time to think about everything and I can see how difficult this must have been for you. That is not to say that you couldn’t have handled things differently. And don’t think that a few words of apology will be enough to make everything alright again. As of now, I have no intention of returning to Lancer. So don’t ask me to.”

Murdoch sat forward but Scott held up a hand. “Having said that, I am willing to work together to find out who is behind this. I would rather handle it myself, but now that Johnny and Sam are involved, I won’t chance their lives because my feelings were hurt.”

“Scott.” Murdoch looked out the window again, the words he was working so hard to find seemingly elusive. At last he spoke, his voice uncharacteristically soft, almost too soft to be heard over the clatter of the train. “I was wrong, Son. And…” Scott held his objections when his father turned to look back at him. “You are my son. Despite my actions, I always knew that, I was just too much of a coward to find the truth. I have never run away from a fight before, but this one…this one I just couldn’t bear to lose. So I did nothing. I won’t ask you to forgive me, I don’t deserve your forgiveness. But someday, when you feel it’s time, you will always have a place at Lancer. It is your home and your legacy.”

Murdoch’s words did more to anger Scott than soothe him. His father still didn’t understand that a home or a legacy wasn’t what he wanted or needed. It was trust, the trust between a father and a son. Until Murdoch understood that, he could not return. For now, though, he would work with the man. Because Johnny did trust him. Scott cleared his throat.  “I should have been in Boston today, but I was waylaid by two hired killers in Omaha.”

“Scott!”

“I’m alright. I’m only telling you this because it means that someone knew I was on my way to Boston. Only you and a few people at Lancer knew…and Arthur.”

“No,” Murdoch said emphatically. “I won’t believe Arthur had anything to do with this. He’s been a friend for too many years.”

Scott looked up sharply. How could Murdoch be so adamant about his old friend but so willing to believe his own son was an imposter? He didn’t have the time or patience to push for an answer. “Whoever it is has a lot of power to spread such a wide net. I’m afraid Johnny may have run into more than he expected.”

“I have the same feeling. Is there anyone you can think of who could be behind this?”

“Grandfather had a lot of enemies. Too many to count. He destroyed a lot of careers, trampled over a lot of lives. But he’s dead now. This is too elaborate for revenge.  It doesn’t make any sense. Masters, my grandfather’s groom, hired those two men.”

“Why?”

“You don’t think I haven’t asked myself that question a hundred times? Masters taught me to ride. He was a close friend. I can’t believe he would arrange for my death.”

“Scott, forgive me, but…” Scott couldn’t turn away from his father’s eyes. “Are you sure your grandfather is really dead? I mean…”

“I know,” Scott said too loudly. “I know. I have thought about that. But I’m sure.”

“Why?”

“I’ve thought about the last letter I received from him. At the time I thought it was harsher than all the rest. But I dismissed it. I attributed it to a business deal gone wrong, or the ramblings of an old man. He accused me of wasting all the money he spent on my education. He said if he had known that I would go crawling back to my father he never would have paid for Harvard. Grandfather would never say that. No matter what I did with my life, my education was important to him. And he never once mentioned Johnny. All the other letters warned me about trusting my half-breed half-brother. That he would use any trick to keep me at Lancer. He hated Johnny, at times, I thought he hated him more than you.”

“That’s a lot of hate.”

“He was right, you know. The times when I would have walked out, gone back to Boston, I didn’t because of Johnny.”

Murdoch nodded. “I know.” Scott watched the play of emotions on Murdoch’s face, and he knew that the old man really did understand. Why couldn’t he have been more forthcoming when it would have meant something?  Murdoch cleared his throat. “So you think the letter was a forgery?”

“I am almost certain of it now. I wish I had not burned it. There was no reason for me to think at the time that it wasn’t from Grandfather. Besides, I was too angry with him. I believed every word.”

“But why?  Who would want me to think you were an imposter?”

“I don’t know.” Scott banged his hand on the table. “Damn it! I’m tired of this. Someone is playing us like marionettes. They knew you would react just the way you did. That I would get angry and head back to Boston. I bet the only thing they didn’t expect was Johnny traveling to Boston. It was totally out of character for him. Which means he could be in a great deal of trouble.”

“You think someone murdered Harlan?”

“It’s beginning to look like it.”

“What would they gain? Who would take over Garrett Enterprises?”

“Grandfather had business associates, but the business would go to me if Grandfather died.”

“And if you were gone too?”

Scott looked at Murdoch, surprised he had not thought of it before. “I guess it would go to you.”

“I wouldn’t be interested in your grandfather’s money or his business,” Murdoch said defensively.

“I know that. But what if you were gone too?”

“Would it go to Johnny? Even though he is your half- brother?”

Scott nodded. “It’s stated it in my will. If anything happens to you, Johnny would get everything.”

“And if Johnny were gone?” Murdoch asked softly.

Scott ran his hand through his hair. “There are no other heirs. It would go through the courts. It could take years to name the beneficiary. No, it doesn’t make sense. Even Grandfather’s worst enemies would lose if his estate went to the courts.”

“Someone wanted you out of the way. That’s why you weren’t informed about his death. But even if the authorities didn’t contact you, what about his house staff? Most of them practically raised you.”

Scott’s hand froze in midair. “They wouldn’t if they thought I was in Europe. Murdoch, that’s the only explanation. Somehow they all thought I was in Europe instead of at Lancer.”

“That means,” Murdoch began carefully, “that your grandfather must have had a hand in this somehow.”

“No. There has to be another explanation.”

“I’m sorry, Son, you have to face facts. Somehow Harland Garrett was behind at least a part of this conspiracy.”

Scott fell silent. If that were true, then even Grandfather’s death could be a lie. He turned to look out the window again. His world was unraveling before his eyes.

 

***   

Chapter Twenty-One

The eastbound train pulled into the New York station slowly. Amid the clouds of steam, no one saw the two men slip off the last car and disappear into the throng of people milling around the platform.

Scott quickly bypassed the more stylish hansom cabs for a weather- worn cab pulled by an old, but healthy looking horse.

He climbed in behind Murdoch. “Amsterdam Ave,” he ordered the driver and settled back for the thirty block ride to Stable Row. “We’ll make it in half the time by horseback,” Scott said softly. But they both knew time was not their only concern. Whoever had ordered Scott killed might know the attempt had failed and might try again. Hopefully, if anyone was tailing them, they would have heard Scott ask the porter about the status of the Boston bound train.

They rode in silence. The decision not to send a telegram to Boston to alert Weatherly that they were on their way was mutual. The decision not to send a telegram to Green River that Murdoch had found Scott still hung acrimoniously in the air. Whoever had sent the two thugs after Scott had known his destination. Only someone close to Lancer could have known where he was headed. Murdoch still wouldn’t accept the fact the person most likely behind the subterfuge was his old friend Arthur.

The familiar smells of the stables seemed to ease Murdoch a bit as the cab dropped them off in front of the first stable. They hired two horses and were on their way within half an hour. Scott felt a twinge of excitement in his gut. He was going to see his brother again soon. Yet…he could not get past that nagging uncertainty that something terrible had happened.

 

***

“Tea, Sir?”

Johnny awoke sluggishly, the question trailing on the end of a disappearing dream.

“Tea, Sir?”

Johnny wiped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, trying to gather his wits. The laudanum Sam had insisted he take before plastering his arm into the heavy cast had hit him harder than most times - probably from a combination of exhaustion, worry and relief after finally seeing the old doctor, safe and healthy.

With his vision clearing, Johnny saw Weatherly standing over him, a silver tray balanced easily in his right hand.

“Thanks,” Johnny sighed. His head was pounding and his mouth was as dry as a desert. He knew from experience that the only thing that would wash away the cobwebs was a strong cup of black coffee. “I’ll have coffee when I come downstairs.”

“You will drink the tea and stay in bed,” Sam ordered as he entered the room, his patented, no-nonsense look on his face. “I told you yesterday that it will take time for that plaster to harden. If, and I mean if, you behave yourself today, and the cast is set to my liking, I may let you come downstairs tomorrow.”

Johnny gave Sam one of his own ‘patented’ looks, Madrid style. But all it did was elicit a loud chortle. “Don’t try that with me, young man.”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open. He was being scolded like a child. It should have angered him. It would have a few months ago, when everybody was a potential enemy, when pride and his gun were all he had. A small smile came unbidden to his face. Madrid had just lost another round.

“Now,” Sam continued. “I want you to stay put. It was a miracle that you didn’t injure that arm further. Whoever strapped your arm knew what they were doing.”

“Thomas,” Johnny said, “the lighthouse keeper. He’s almost as annoying as you.”

Sam chuckled. “I think I like the man already.”

Johnny raked his fingers though his thick black hair, admitting he couldn’t fight Sam on this. But he couldn’t stop thinking about Scott and what might have happened back at Lancer. “Ah, Sam, we should never have sent that telegram. You know how Murdoch is.”

“I know, my boy, I know. But it’s done. We can only hope the second telegram reached them in time.”

Johnny knew fate didn’t work that way, at least not when he was involved.

Looking up at Weatherly, he remembered what Thomas had said about him and Heddy. “I’m sorry about your friend,” he said. “I don’t know why she got herself involved. But…”

“She always involved herself,” Weatherly answered, a sense of pride in his voice. “She always championed those who needed help.”

“She didn’t even know me.”

“She didn’t need to. She thought of Scott like her own son, and you are his brother. I guess she did what she thought Scott would want.” Picking up the teacup he offered it to Johnny. “I would hate to think that you weren’t grateful enough to listen to Sam’s orders.”

That stung, and Johnny accepted the cup without another word.

Sam grunted. “Maybe I might have to hire you on retainer, Weatherly.”

Johnny ignored Sam and looked back up at Weatherly. “I’m grateful. But she didn’t need to die…not for me.”

Weatherly suddenly looked uncomfortable. “You do know that the authorities are looking for Johnny Madrid.”

“I heard.” Johnny studied Weatherly. Watching for a reaction, he asked, “You know about Madrid?”

Weatherly nodded. “Mr. Garrett mentioned you a time or two.”

It was a simple answer, without condemnation or accusation. Johnny saw a little bit of Scott in the old man and guessed that Weatherly had been more responsible for Scott’s upbringing than his grandfather.

“Anyone else besides you and old man Garrett know Johnny Madrid is Scott’s brother?”

Weatherly smiled knowingly. “Secrets are hard to keep in a house full of servants. Someone always hears something.”

“Is that why all the servants were fired?” Johnny asked.

Sam and Weatherly looked at each other. “I hadn’t thought of that before,” Weatherly said slowly. “But yes, you may have something there. I am the only one left on a permanent station.”

“Who fired them?”

“Mr. Garrett’s business associates. They took over in Mr. Scott’s absence.”

“And they didn’t bother to send Scott a letter or telegram telling him that his grandfather was dead?”

“Good question, Brother.”

Three heads turned at once to see Scott and Murdoch standing in the doorway.

“Scott!” Johnny pushed away Sam’s restraining hand and slipped off the bed, stopping in the center of the room. He was equally surprised to see Murdoch standing there, maybe even more so. “Murdoch?”

Murdoch nodded. “How are you, Son?”

Johnny cradled the heavy cast in his right hand. “I guess that depends. You come to your senses about Scott yet?” Johnny looked from Scott to Murdoch trying to see something in their eyes, on their faces, that would tell him how his brother and father were handling the situation. He could see the strain in their expressions. They had made some kind of agreement, but it wasn’t as father and son.

Murdoch cleared his throat. “You were right, Johnny. I owe both of you an apology. I…

“You don’t owe me nothing, Murdoch. It’s Scott you’ve got to convince.”

“It’s taken care of for now,” Scott said curtly. “But you - What the hell did you think you were doing?" All his anger, all his frustrations came out in one explosion of emotion. “I was worried sick about you and it looks like I had good cause. What possessed you to take a trip like this? Were you so unsure about who I was that you had to come here to prove it? Did you find the proof you needed? Am I the real Scott Lancer?”

Johnny looked away. “I never needed proof, Scott,” he said in his soft drawl. “But others did.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me?”

“And say what?” Johnny worried a thread on the blanket. “Hey, Brother, are you really Scott Lancer, or are you some imposter out to make our three-way partnership turn into one?”

“No. You could have told me the truth. We would have figured it out together.”

Johnny nodded, looking up sheepishly at Scott. “I know. Lo siento.”

Scott reached out and backhanded Johnny gently across the cheek. “Just never do it again. Okay?”

“Okay.” Johnny felt profound sadness for both Scott and Murdoch. They were both hurting, and no potion from Jelly or medicine from Sam would heal them.

Johnny looked toward the window where Weatherly stood, his old shoulders erect, his head held high, the epitome of the good loyal servant. Scott followed his gaze and smiled.

“It’s good to see you Weatherly.”

“Sir. Welcome home. I’m sorry it is under such terrible circumstances. If it eases your mind, I can tell you, your grandfather was taken swiftly. He did not linger or suffer.”

Scott nodded. “Thank you, Weatherly, that’s good to hear. But why didn’t you write or send a telegram?”

“I’m sorry, Sir. But I was under the impression that you had been notified.”

“And when I didn’t reply?” The tension in the air was suddenly palpable. “Did you think that I didn’t care?”

“Of course not, Sir. I was told that you had acknowledged, and were unable to leave your duties at the time. I am sorry that I did not pursue the matter.”

Johnny saw Murdoch reach a tentative hand out to lay it lightly on Scott’s shoulder. To his surprise, his brother made no attempt to dislodge it.

“We have a lot to discuss, Scott,” Murdoch said. “And I won’t let you make the same mistakes I did. We’ll all sit down together and get all the facts. Sam, Johnny’s arm?”

Sam resigned himself with a weary sigh. “It’s probably set enough now for Johnny to move downstairs to the sofa. But no further. Do I make myself clear, young man?”

Johnny couldn’t keep the smirk off his face.

“Very well then,” Weatherly said. “I will prepare the sofa.” Looking back toward Murdoch he bowed just slightly. “I have a room ready for you, Mr. Lancer. And Mr. Scott, your room is ready as well. Welcome home, Sir.”

 

***

Scott left Sam and Murdoch to make sure Johnny went straight to the sofa in the parlor without any detours. It gave him time to look around. The house felt so empty. Even though he had not seen his grandfather all that much - he was either out on business or in his office - knowing that he was really gone left an emptiness in the pit of his stomach.

Even though it was not his fault, Scott felt a profound guilt that he had not been here to pay his last respects to the man he had loved for so many years.

The house was clean and tidy as usual. But oddly, he hadn’t noticed any servants other than Weatherly. It made the mansion seem twice its size. He looked in his bedroom. It was just as he had left it. It was as if his grandfather had expected him to return any day. It plunged the knife of guilt just a little deeper. He closed the door and headed downstairs. His grandfather’s office door was standing ajar. He would never have stood for that. Harlan Garrett always insisted that his office door was closed. No one was allowed in unless invited. Scott had never been invited as a child. Only after joining Garrett Enterprises was he allowed in and then only to discuss business.

Pushing the door open slowly, Scott was shocked to find the room devoid of anything that belonged to his grandfather. The desk was empty. Pictures on the walls had been removed. The bookshelves stood bare. It was as if the man had never existed.

Spinning on his heel he headed for the parlor. Weatherly was setting a tray of sandwiches and tea on the coffee table between Johnny, sitting on the sofa with his legs stretched in from of him, his left arm cushioned on a pillow, and Murdoch and Sam sitting on plush armchairs.

“Why is grandfather’s office empty?” he demanded. “And where is all the staff? Where is Heddy? She would be the first one to greet me.”

Weatherly hung his head. “I’m sorry, Sir. Heddy was…”

“Heddy died trying to warn me,” Johnny blurted out. “She took a bullet in the back for me.”

“You don’t know that for a fact, Johnny,” Sam countered. “We still don’t know if she was the real target.”

“A target?” Scott turned from Johnny back to Weatherly. “I want to know everything,” he said slowly.  “Everything.”

“I am sorry, Sir. I believe Heddy had reservations that Mr. Garrett’s accident was not really an accident.”

Murdoch nodded. “We’ve been wondering the same thing.”

“When she and the rest of the staff were released….”

“Released? Why?  I never gave orders for anyone to be let go.”

“I know, Sir. But Mr. Garrett’s business associates took over in your stead and demanded that all, but myself, be immediately dismissed. And that everything pertaining to Garrett Enterprises be moved to the downtown office.”

“And you didn’t stop them?”

“I am only the servant, Sir, how could I…”

“You’re more than a servant and you know it, Weatherly. You run this house like a drill sergeant. If anyone knew what was going on, you did.” Scott raked his fingers through his hair. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Nor do I, Sir.”

“Scott, sit down,” Johnny said. “There’s more.”

Scott looked helplessly around the room. It felt as if his life were suddenly in limbo.

Sam nodded. “Weatherly, tell Scott about Garrett’s odd behavior before the accident.”

“He was under a great deal of stress. He would go into his office and lock the door. He would even miss his meals. I asked him several times if there was something wrong, but he said it was something he had to take care of.”

“Did you ever find out what it was?” Scott asked.

“No, Sir. The two men who ordered me to dismiss the staff after Mr. Garrett’s passing were also here a few times. They would enter your grandfather’s office and I would hear raised voices.”

“Let me guess, they were also responsible for grandfather’s office.”

“Yes. I believe so.”

“Have you told the authorities any of this?”

“No, Sir. They believe Mr. Garrett was killed in an unfortunate accident. No foul play involved. But they do have a suspect in Heddy’s murder.”

“Who?” Scott demanded.

“Johnny Madrid,” Johnny answered.

“Someone reported seeing Johnny Madrid in town, then near the scene of the crime. Strange thing about it is, the description is one right off a wanted poster.”

Johnny looked up at Weatherly. “How would you know what a wanted poster looked like?”

“Mr. Garrett kept one in his desk. I saw him looking at it several times. The police are looking for a man in his early twenties, dark unkempt hair, dark complexion, blue eyes, wearing a faded pink shirt and leather pants with silver dollars running down the legs.” 

“I never wore my concho pants here. And they aren’t silver dollars.”

“It appears we are being set up, Brother,” Scott said bitterly.

“Everyone is being set up,” Murdoch growled. “First two men try to drown you in the river…”

Johnny sat forward, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Sam. “You okay, Boston?”

“I’m fine. Just a little waterlogged. It looks like we are back to grandfather’s business associates. They would have seen the wanted poster if they were in his office that often. I think I might pay them a visit today and…”

“Wait, Scott,” Johnny said. “Thomas told me that servants from big places like this talked a lot with the men who deliver food and stuff.”

“Yes. And who is Thomas?”

“The lighthouse keeper.”

“Lighthouse keeper? Johnny…”

“It’s a long story. I was stuck on Little Brewster Island during a big storm. Got to meet a nice lady though.”

A smile pulled at the corners of Murdoch’s lips. “I have a feeling there is a lot more to this story.”

Johnny ignored the jibe. “I think we should have a meeting…private…with as many servants and delivery men as we can find.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Weatherly said. “I can make some quick inquiries and have a meeting set up for this evening.”

“Good.” Johnny settled back against the arm of the sofa. “Always better to know what might slither out.”

 

***

It was near midnight when Weatherly led Johnny and Murdoch toward the kitchen. They could hear voices behind the closed door.

“We had a better turnout than expected,” Weatherly said over his shoulder. “Regrettably, no one liked Mr. Garrett, but everyone respected Mr. Scott. And Heddy, well Heddy was loved by just about everyone. Her death has hit us all hard.”

Johnny slowed his pace. “They may not want me in there.” Johnny could face down any gunslinger, but the idea of facing the friends of the woman who had died because of him…

“No one blames you, Johnny. They all know that she was trying to help you. You will pay her more respect by joining us tonight to find out who is behind this.”

Murdoch’s hand slipped around Johnny’s elbow and he didn’t feel the need to push him away. Another bit of Madrid biting the dust.

As they entered the kitchen, a dozen men and women were crowded around Scott and Sam, listening to stories of Heddy and her exploits.

The hinges creaked and everyone turned to watch them enter.

Scott motioned for them to come forward. “This is my father, Murdoch Lancer, and my brother Johnny.”

“We just heard, Sir. We all thought you was in Europe, Mr. Scott. No one told us you were out west with your family.”

“How terrible,” someone else lamented. “That you couldn’t’ a been here for your granddaddy’s service.”

“Who told you I was in Europe?” Scott asked. Johnny could see the hurt and confusion in Scott’s eyes.

“Mr. Garrett himself.”

Johnny saw Scott’s face lose all its color as he asked hesitantly. “Phoebe, are you sure?”

“I worked for your grandfather for most of my life. I watched you grow up. I’m sure, Sir. As sure as I’m standing here.”

There was a chorus of agreement. Johnny could have killed the old man right there and then if he weren’t already dead.

Scott cleared his throat. Johnny watched Murdoch move slowly toward Scott until he was standing by his side. Scott made no attempt to move away. “We asked Weatherly to gather you together tonight because we need answers. And who better to ask?” There was a smattering of laughter. “We think my grandfather may have been murdered. And we think Heddy was killed because she tried to warn Johnny that he was in danger. We hope someone here knows something that might lead us to the answers. Anything that you can remember that doesn’t seem right, speak up. The answer could be right in front of us.”

“The carriage old man Garrett was riding in that day was not his usual,” someone called out. “His had a broken axle. He had to use another carriage.”

“The day before the accident, one of Mr. Garrett’s business partners told Jefferson Masters that he was good with the horses and if he needed a new job he could go work for him.”

“Jefferson Masters paid two men to throw me in the Missouri River three days ago,” Scott said grimly.

“That can’t be, Sir,” someone called. “Jefferson was driving the carriage when Mr. Garrett was killed. He was killed too.”

Scott looked toward Weatherly. “The description fit perfectly. Are you sure?”

“Yes, Sir. He was buried the day after your grandfather.”

“Sir?” A young woman wove her way to the front of the crowd of people. “Don’t know if this helps, but…I was cleaning Mr. Garrett’s office the day before…you know…he had his accident. And I found the waste bin full of burned paper.”

“What kind of paper, Chloe?”

“Business paper. I saw the edge of one…didn’t mean to snoop mind you, but it was just there for the looking.”

“Could you read it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And?”

“It was part of a will. Mr. Garrett’s will.”

 

***   

Chapter Twenty Two

Scott watched the firelight reflect off the amber liquid swirling inside the fine cut crystal tumbler as he contemplated what he had learned last night. The household staff and deliverymen had provided a wealth of information and he couldn’t believe the changes in the short time he had been gone.  He forced himself not to attribute the changes to his leaving, and yet he couldn’t quite shake the guilt. Would Grandfather still be alive now if he had not left? Sadly, he would never know.

He took a sip of the expensive Scotch, remembering the first glass of Scotch he had had here in this very room, when Grandfather had called him a man for the first time. It had been a wonderful moment, one he still kept close to his heart. There were far too few of those good memories. And what had Harlan Garrett’s memories been of his grandson? It surprised and hurt Scott that his grandfather had felt so embarrassed by his decision to travel to California to see his estranged father that he had made up the story of traveling instead to Europe. Why had it been so impossible for his grandfather to understand that he needed to know who his father was and why Murdoch had never attempted to contact him?

“Hey, take it easy!”

Johnny’s voice startled him out of his reverie and he turned to see the petulant look on his brother’s face. A sheet was draped over his shoulders, as Weatherly cut away at the long strands of ebony black hair.

“Sit still, Sir!” Weatherly admonished. “I know what I am doing.”

Scott couldn’t help but chuckle. “Listen to him, Brother. He’s cut my hair for years.”

Johnny gave him a disgusted look. “I remember that haircut you had when I first saw you on the stage. I like a little hair on my head.” A knowing smile came to his lips. “Besides, the ladies like running their fingers through my long hair.”

“They won’t have much of a chance to run their fingers through that long hair of yours if you’re behind bars,” Murdoch said. “The wanted poster describes a man with dark unkempt hair. We can’t change the color, but we can make it look a bit more presentable.”

Johnny sent a razor-edged stare toward Murdoch. “You’re enjoying this too much, old man.”

Even though it was still early in the afternoon, Scott quickly headed for the liquor cabinet and poured both his brother and father a glass of Scotch. He knew from experience how quickly easy their banter could turn into an argument.

To his surprise, Murdoch said gently, “I’m just relieved to have both of you together again.” He turned his gaze toward Scott. “I hope we can stay together.”

Scott handed his father the drink then turned away. It was an unfair aspiration. Too much had happened. It would take more than just ‘hope’ to regain the trust that had been lost on both sides.

Sam walked into the parlor with a black sling and the holster Jelly had jerry-rigged for Johnny.

“I will deny it to my grave if you say one word to Jelly, but on occasion, he is handy to have around.”

“That he is,” Murdoch said distractedly, still staring at Scott, his voice echoing the pain.

“There now.” Weatherly carefully folded the sheet covering Johnny to avoid spilling the mounds of black hair.

With his hair shortened and expertly trimmed, Scott couldn’t help but think that Johnny looked even younger. “Johnny, you must feel ten pounds lighter.”

Johnny scowled and tentatively reached up to feel his hair. It was still longer than Scott had worn his when he was living here in Boston, but far shorter than Johnny’s usual style. “It feels funny,” Johnny said, picking at the shortened locks.

“It looks good on you, Son,” Murdoch nodded toward a mirror hanging on the wall above the liquor cabinet. “And it will keep you out of jail. Hopefully.”

Everyone watched Johnny approach the mirror cautiously. To Scott’s surprise, his brother studied his reflection in the glass and finally nodded. “It’ll grow out, but for now it’ll do. Thanks, Weatherly.”

“You are welcome, Sir.” Weatherly turned to Scott. “I hope you don’t mind Sir, but I took the liberty of shortening a pair of your grandfather’s trousers just a little for Mr. Johnny.”

Johnny glared at Weatherly. “Would you stop calling me, Mr. Johnny!  And I don’t know if I want anything that belonged to the old man. And,” Johnny added, as an afterthought, “those trousers better not be plaid.”

“I will try, Sir. And I picked a nice charcoal black. I believe it will go nicely with your sling. I also found a pair of shoes that should fit you and a jacket.”

“I ain’t going out there looking like some dandy,” Johnny protested.

Scott raised an eyebrow. “What did Teresa do the second day I was at Lancer?”

Johnny shrugged, the movement looking awkward with his heavy cast.

“She took me to Baldamero’s to buy new clothes. She said I looked like the topping on one of those wedding cakes she saw in her wish book.”

Johnny snickered at that. “You did look pretty.”

“And so will you, little brother, when we drop in on Latchford and Moore.”

“Who are Latchford and Moore?” Johnny asked, turning from the mirror and looking toward Scott. “Friends of your granddaddy’s?”

“You could hardly call them friends, Johnny. They were his business associates. There was no room for friends in Grandfather’s world. Business was his life. He would surround himself with only the upper echelon…the people in power like himself. If they slipped, then he would discard them as quickly as he could.” Scott looked toward Murdoch, “Even marriage was arranged within the elite. My mother…she was spoken for before you arrived on that boat from Inverness. It was an arranged marriage, not for love, but to strengthen their domination in the business world.”

Scott saw Murdoch’s face pale. “She never told me that.”

“Because she didn’t know.” Weatherly said softly, stepping forward. Scott could see the confliction of emotions, his dedication to his former employer vying with the need for truth. Weatherly turned to Murdoch. “Miss Catherine had no idea of her father’s plans. And then you appeared out of nowhere. He tried his very best to dissuade her, but she was in love.” Weatherly looked toward Scott, lowering his eyes to the carpeting. “Your mother knew Mr. Garrett very well, and what lengths he would go to get what he wanted. She promised him, if anything happened to you, that she would never speak to him again. He knew she was serious. Miss Catherine was the only one who ever went against Harlan Garrett’s wishes and won.”

“What lengths would he go to keep his grandson?” Johnny asked, looking from Weatherly to Scott.

The question hung in the air demanding an answer.

“Mr. Garrett was not a man who accepted defeat.”

Scott knew Weatherly was right. Grandfather would do anything to ensure his success.

“Has this all been just an elaborate plan of Grandfather’s to bring me back home? Was he the one to contact the Pinkertons?”

“I believe he was, Sir. He had a plan that, at some point, went terribly wrong. I could see it in his eyes. Mr. Garrett was losing control of the situation.”

All eyes were on Scott, waiting for him to digest Weatherly’s confirmation that his grandfather was behind at least part of this nightmare. Scott knew that his grandfather was capable of doing almost anything to get his way, but he had never thought he would be on the receiving end of one of Harlan Garrett’s schemes.

“Well, I for one, am getting damn tired of chasing my tail. I want answers. Johnny, get dressed. We have business to attend to.”

 

***

Johnny sat beside Scott in the darkened cab that had appeared, seemingly without summons, behind the mansion. It brought back uncomfortable memories of the last time he was in a closed buggy like this. That time Heddy had been shot.

Scott shifted beside him and Johnny saw the glint of a derringer as his brother slipped it from the pocket of his overcoat to his jacket pocket. He checked his own gun hidden inside his sling. While a derringer could kill a man at close range, it held only two rounds. Johnny much preferred his six-shooter.

“How well do you know these two, Latchford and Moore?” Johnny asked. He really didn’t want to know, but the silence in the cab was making him feel uncomfortable. Scott was never an overly talkative man, and most times Johnny appreciated the quiet times between them. But today his brother’s silence filled the cab with an uncomfortable foreboding.

“They were both young apprentices when they joined Garrett Enterprises. That was fifteen years ago. They worked their way up the corporate ladder and became associates.”

“You mean friends?”

“No, just business partners. They would attend social functions, but I don’t believe I ever saw them at the house unless it was on business or a social event hosted by Grandfather.  Though Grandfather owned seventy percent of the company, they each held fifteen percent. In a company as profitable as Garrett Enterprises, that is a lot of money.”

Johnny was doing his own math, and added greed into the equation. “Maybe they wanted more.”

“I’ve thought about that, Johnny. But unless Grandfather signed over his shares to them while he was still alive, they still have only fifteen percent each.”

“Maybe they found a way to change the will.”

“I can’t see how they could do that. Grandfather was very prudent. He would have had an ironclad will. No one could change it.”

“Not even his lawyer?” Johnny asked.

Scott smiled. “Not even his lawyers. He worked with more than one lawyer. They would all have to agree to the forgery, and I don’t see that happening.”

“Somebody doesn’t want you around to get in their way. Me either, it seems.”

The cab came to a stop and Johnny felt the buggy sway as the driver climbed down from his seat and opened the door.

Johnny stepped out of the taxi behind Scott. His laced shoes – ‘Oxfords’  Weatherly had called them - were comfortable, but they lacked the heel he was used to. The pants were pressed and fit like they were made just for him. Weatherly had cut out the left sleeve in the white silk shirt he wore. Only his dark charcoal jacket gave evidence to his cast, draped over his left shoulder hiding most of the black sling. While the clothes felt alien to him, the gun sitting securely in the special holster inside the sling felt comforting.

“I will wait for you under those trees over there, Sir.” The driver pointed to a stand of oak trees fifty yards away.

“Thank you, Jacob.” Scott shed his overcoat and threw it back in the cab. “Are you armed, Jacob?”

“Of course, Sir.”

“Good.”

Scott nodded and turned back to Johnny. “Grandfather’s office is on the ground floor. He hated climbing stairs.”

They stood in the shadow of the back side of a five story gray brick building, its windows reflecting the dark rain swollen clouds as they slowly drifted by. Johnny hated these huge brick buildings, they seemed cold and lifeless. The estancia at home seemed to breathe like a living being. Here everything was dead. He looked around quickly, noting that the weeds were cut down and the bushes trimmed. But he saw no one. It seemed that life only existed on the streets in front of the buildings.

“Shall we go in unannounced?” Scott asked, holding up a key. Johnny saw the moment of hesitation in his brother’s eyes. He couldn’t even comprehend how difficult this was for him. “It’s your place now, ain’t it?”

Scott nodded soberly as he unlocked the door and turned the knob. The smell of beeswax, cigar smoke and printing ink spilled out of the building. Johnny could never live like this, cooped up in this stagnant air all day. He doubted Scott could ever again stand to spend his days here, not after living in the wide open spaces of Lancer.

They stepped in and Scott closed the door silently behind them. A long hallway stood before them opening into a large lobby at the front. Johnny could only see the two wide glass doors and beyond that the busy streets outside. The right hand side of the hallway had three doors. To the left there was only one. Johnny followed Scott down the hall, his hand resting inside his sling. They reached the massive cherry wood double doors, the letters HG carved in each door. There was elaborate scrolling in the trim that framed the doors. Johnny had a feeling that the door alone cost more than the entire Lancer hacienda.

 

***

Scott took a deep breath, squared his shoulders beneath his expensive business suit and turned the knob. The heavy doors opened effortlessly. The room was just as he remembered it, with the rosewood paneling, the thick oriental carpeting, the crystal chandelier and wall sconces. His heart skipped a beat knowing it was not the same. His grandfather was no longer head of the company. He was. Until this very moment he didn’t realize how much he missed the old man. Truculent, abrasive and self-serving, Harlan Garrett had still done did everything he could to raise his grandson. Education was paramount, and Scott had been tutored under the best teachers. He was groomed and primed to take over the business, but not like this. He would have given anything to hear “Scotty, my boy,” just one more time.

He stepped into the reception room with Johnny at his side. The thick carpeting muted the sounds of their footsteps as they walked across the room toward the massive desk sitting toward the back of the room. A man in his mid forties stood up slowly from behind the desk. He was dressed in a three piece black business suit, the points of a stiff black bowtie poking at his jaw line.

“May I help you, Gentlemen?” he asked. “Do you have an appointment with Mr. Latchford or Mr. Moore?”

“I hardly need an appointment in my own office.” Scott said flippantly. “Where is Howard?”

If the secretary understood what Scott had just said, he didn’t show it. Instead he sniffed dismissively. “Mr. Wymark was asked to leave after Mr. Garrett’s untimely death. I am the new secretary. I’m sorry, but both Mr. Latchford and Mr. Moore are out of the office. If you would give me your name and state your business, I will tell them that you called.”

Scott smiled, but there was no humor in it. “My name is Scott Lancer. Scott Garrett Lancer. Harlan Garrett’s grandson. And I believe that is my office.” Scott nodded toward one of the two doors leading to offices behind the desk.

The secretary raised an eyebrow. “I hardly think so, Sir.” Scott watched him casually sit back down behind his desk. “I’m afraid I must insist that you leave immediately.” Scott didn’t see where the derringer came from; it just seemed to appear in the man’s hand. He didn’t see Johnny reach for his gun either, but Johnny’s Colt was cocked and pointed directly at the secretary’s head.

“If you shoot Scott, I’ll shoot you.” Johnny said matter of factly. “If you shoot me, believe me, I will still shoot you. Either way you’re dead.”

 

***

Chapter Twenty Three

Murdoch paced the floor of the parlor like a caged animal. He would reach one end and glower at Sam, then reach the other end and glower at Weatherly.

“I never should have let them go alone,” he barked. “Short hair isn’t enough to disguise Johnny if someone is looking for him. And that damn cast… I never should have let them go.”

“You heard Scott,” Sam said. “You would stick out like a sore thumb around here. Let them do what they have to do. This is Scott’s territory. He knows his way around Boston.”

Weatherly cleared his throat softly. “Sir, if I may be so bold as to say…”

Murdoch swung around on him. “Spit it out, man. If you’ve got something to say, say it. Where I come from, I expect my men to follow orders, but I never expect them to kowtow to me. I don’t need anyone bowing at my feet like Harlan did. Besides, the way I see it, when Scott isn’t around you are in charge.”

A myriad of emotions crossed the old servant’s face, none stronger than a sense of dignity as he pulled back his shoulders and faced Murdoch head on. “I understand that your western ways are more relaxed than our eastern ways, Mr. Lancer. However, I am proud to be a servant in this house. I have been here for more than thirty years. This household, when it was still a household, ran smoothly because of my expertise. You may see my actions and manner of speech as – how did you put it – kowtowing to you, but I am only giving you the respect you deserve as a guest in this house. And I would expect the same courtesy.”

It wasn’t often Murdoch felt himself speechless, but Weatherly had stunned him. A slow smile lifted the corners of Murdoch’s mouth. “I stand corrected,” he said. “What were you about to say before my mouth and my temper got the better of me?”

“Am I dreaming?” Sam asked, staring at Murdoch. “Did you just admit you were wrong? There must be something in this Boston air.”

Weatherly had the good manners not to laugh, but simply said, “I have no clothes here that would fit you, and to be blunt, just passing through that front door would bring unwanted attention to this house. Mr. Scott is very resourceful and I’m sure Mr. Johnny is as well.”

Murdoch returned to pacing. Stopping suddenly, he turned back to Weatherly.

“The man who hired those two in Omaha to get rid of Scott, how could he be there if he was killed along with Garrett?”

“Masters lingered for a few days after the accident, but the doctor was unable to revive him. I attended the burial service myself. I have no doubt that it was Masters in that coffin.”

“Then who was in Omaha?” Sam asked.

“I am sure it would not be hard to find someone with a scar across his cheek,” Weatherly pointed out. “With the right clothes, he could easily pass for Masters if you didn’t know the real Masters.”

“But why go to so much trouble? No one needed to know who hired those two in Omaha. Everything that happened leads straight back here. Why?”

“To point the finger at the most likely suspect,” Sam offered.

Murdoch nodded. “Weatherly.”

“Very good, Mr. Lancer.”

Murdoch spun around, startled at the sight of three men standing in the parlor doorway, all three with guns drawn and pointed towards himself, Sam and Weatherly.

“I’m rather surprised, Mr. Lancer. I didn’t think you would be so perceptive.”

Murdoch saw Weatherly give the spokesmen of the three a disgusted look. “I might have known you were behind this.”

Murdoch caught his mental balance and spoke to Weatherly, not taking his eyes off the three men in the doorway. “You know these men, Weatherly?”

“One of them, Sir.”

“Oh come now, Weatherly, don’t stand on ceremony.” The spokesman smiled broadly. He looked to be in his late forties. He wore an expensive business suit, a black and gray cravat making him look pompous. However there was nothing pompous about the gun he held. Murdoch was sure by the ease with which he handled it that he knew how to use it.   “Conrad Latchford, at your service. To tell you the truth, I never expected you to show up here. I had, of course, expected your son - yes, Scott is your son - to hurry back to see what had happened to his precious grandfather. Your other son, now he was the biggest surprise. I hadn’t counted on him following Scott.”

Latchford looked around the parlor, his eyes resting on Sam. “And you, Doctor, I had not planned on you either. I try to plan for all contingences. That’s why I made sure the man who hired – the help – in Omaha used the name Masters and looked enough like the real Masters to pass if the job was botched somehow and questions were asked. As Mr. Lancer pointed out, it would all trace back to Weatherly.”

“What do you want here, Latchford?” Weatherly asked. “Haven’t you already taken enough from this house?”

“I would hold a civil tongue, Weatherly,” Latchford warned. “I’m the only reason you still have a job here. I could have fired you with the rest of the staff.”

“You had no right to fire the staff.” Weatherly took one step backward, drawing the attention of all three gunmen. Murdoch appreciated the tactical move, giving him time to take a step of his own, separating him further from Sam. But the sound of a gun cocking froze Weatherly. Murdoch watched the other two gunmen step around Latchford into the room. Their business suits were ill fitting, off the rack clothes, compared to Latchford’s tailor-made suit. But there was nothing ill fitting in the way their guns sat comfortably in their hands.

A fourth man appeared in the parlor shaking his head. “No one else here.”

Latchford nodded. “Let’s all sit down then, and wait for the rest of the family. By the way, where are Scott and his brother?”

Murdoch slowly took a seat, searching his mind to come up with a plausible answer; anything but the truth. Weatherly spoke up. “I believe Mr. Scott took his brother to the Common to meet someone.”

“Who?” Latchford demanded.

“I am not privy to all of Mr. Scott’s thoughts.”

Latchford strode quickly across the room, backhanding Weatherly smartly across the cheek. “I asked you a question. Who were they meeting?”

Weatherly wiped the trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know.”

Murdoch leaned forward in his seat. “Scott said he knew where to find someone who could answer his questions. He didn’t say who.”

“All right, I guess we will just have to wait and ask them. Weatherly, where are your manners? Is this the way to treat your guests?”

“Coffee sounds good, Weatherly,” Murdoch said quickly. “And some of those biscuits you made for breakfast.” He saw the glare, then the understanding.

“Very well, Mr. Lancer.”

As Weatherly stood up and walked out of the parlor, Latchford motioned for one of his men to follow the servant.

Murdoch sat back and waited. He prayed Johnny and Scott would not return for a long time.

 

***

Johnny stood silently, his gun pointed at the secretary. Sweat dotted the man’s face. Scott knew Johnny, trusted him implicitly, and yet he too felt the danger emanating from him. Here, again, was Johnny Madrid. Scott had only met Madrid twice before, and each time it left him bewildered that this man and Johnny Lancer were one in the same. He could see terror in the secretary’s eyes. Forcing himself to act casually he nodded toward the man. “Now, Mr…..” Scott made a show of looking on the desk for a nameplate.

“Zachary,” the secretary stuttered.  “Oliver Zachary.”

“Mr. Zachary, I would lower your gun if I were you. My friend here is as dangerous as he looks.”

A slow, spine chilling smile came to Johnny’s face. “Should I demonstrate?”

Zachary looked at the gun as if he was surprised to see it still in his hand. “No! No, please,” he said, quickly lowering the gun as if it were suddenly burning his fingers.

“Lay it on the desk nice and easy and push it over this way,” Scott ordered. Zachary complied and Scott reached forward and picked up the gun, pointing it back at the trembling man.

“A very smart move, Mr. Zachary. Now, as I said before, I am Scott Lancer, Harlan Garrett’s grandson. Therefore, I am your boss.”

Zachary looked as if he was going to faint dead away any second. “You can’t be…”

Johnny slowly cocked his gun, the sound turning Zachary’s pale face whiter. “The man said he was your boss. You got a problem with that?”

“No, Sir,” came the whispered answer.

“Good.” Johnny eased the hammer back. “I didn’t think so.”

Scott dropped Zachary’s derringer into his pocket to free both hands. “All my grandfather’s business documents are missing from his office at his house. I assume they are here.”

Zachary nodded, the sweat now heavy enough to be dripping from his chin. “They are in Mr. Latchford’s…I mean your office, Sir.”

Scott nodded. “I think business is done for the day, Mr. Zachary. If you wouldn’t mind waiting in there.” He motioned to the door on left the desk.

Zachary looked at Johnny, whose gun still pointed directly at his heart. “Yes, Sir.” He stumbled toward the door, the light from the room revealing the inside of a coat closet as he quickly closed it behind him. Scott moved the heavy desk chair over and wedged it beneath the door handle. “There, he won’t be going anywhere for a while.” Crossing to the double doors, he locked both sides and turned back to Johnny. “Let’s have a look at those papers.”

“What if Latchford or Moore have a key?”

“Oh, I’m certain they do. But.” Scott smiled at Johnny, indicating the gun in his hand. “So do you.”

Johnny grinned. “I knew there was a reason why I liked you, Boston.”

It was harder for Scott to open the door leading into his grandfather’s office than he thought it would be. He had spent many hours here, either beside his grandfather’s desk or at the small table and chair set beneath the window overlooking the street. Grandfather had said he didn’t need the distractions of the outside world when he was concentrating on business. Scott always needed the reassurance that the world still existed beyond these four walls.

The sight of the huge cherry wood desk, once buffed to a mirror finish, depressed him more than anything had so far. This had been his grandfather’s domain. The desk, while loaded down with scattered letters and business contracts, had had an order to it that only Harlan Garrett could understand. It suddenly brought back memories of Murdoch’s always tidy desk. Just one more difference between the two men.

The desk now seemed to be perfectly organized. Folders were stacked neatly to the left and the pen and inkstand were to the right. Just like Grandfather’s office at home, the room had been stripped of paintings and anything that personalized it. It felt like Harlan Garrett had never existed.

“You all right, Scott?” Johnny asked gently.

“Yes.” Scott took a deep breath. “Let’s get this over with.” Slipping into the soft leather office chair, he noticed immediately that it was set too low for his legs. He and Harlan Garrett had been very close to the same height. It was just one more painful reminder that his grandfather was no longer here. Pulling a stack of files before him, Scott began to read.

Johnny made a sweep of the room several times, reading the spines of books on the shelves, spinning a large globe in the corner, studying Scott’s bent head as he turned page after page in the files, before boredom finally sent him back into the outer office. He put his ear to the closet door and didn’t hear a thing from inside. He thought for a moment that Zachary might have died from fright. Tapping lightly on the door, he heard a muffled, “Who is it?”

“Just making sure you’re still alive.” Then Johnny thought of a question that had been plaguing him. Sliding the chair away from the door, he turned the knob, drew his gun from the special holster inside his sling and nudged the door open with his foot. The sudden light made Zachary squint.

“Zachary, right?”

Zachary opened his eyes, a little whimper escaping his throat at the sight of the gun aimed at him again. “Don’t shoot me, please.”

Johnny grinned. “I only shoot lily-livered polecats. Are you a polecat, Zachary?”

“No. No, Sir.  I’m just a secretary.”

Johnny snorted ruefully. “Never heard of a secretary before. What do you do here, Zachary?”

“I make appointments for Misters Latchford and Moore. Read and answer correspondence–ah-mail.”

“Then you would know how your bosses got word that Scott was on the train.”

“Yes, Sir. We received a telegram from Green River. A detestably backward little town, I’m sure. The telegraph operator didn’t even know how to spell Mr. Moore’s name correctly.”

Johnny fought back the desire to punch the man in the face. “Then what?” he asked.

“Sir? I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Who hired the two men to drown Scott in the Missouri River?”

Zachary suddenly stiffened. Johnny pulled the hammer back. “Who, Zachary?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Sir.” Zachary looked like he was about to be sick. “I…” The sound of a knock at the door sent a wave of fear over Zachary’s face. Johnny pantomimed for the man to stay quiet. There was a long pause, than another knock. Johnny waited, saw the doorknob jiggle, then the sound of footsteps walking back down the hallway.

At that moment, Scott walked out of Garrett’s office. “Let’s go,” he said brusquely. Johnny couldn’t read his brother’s face. That alone made him know that Scott had found something that worried him.

“What about him?” Johnny asked, nodding toward Zachary.

“Leave him. We can have someone check on him this evening.”

“No, Sir! You can’t leave me in here.”

Scott stepped forward, and in an uncharacteristic show of anger, he grabbed Zachary’s bowtie and jerked the startled man closer. “You are lucky I don’t kill you right here and now,” Scott threatened. “Now stay quiet or I might wait until tomorrow to send someone to let you out.”

Scott pushed the man deeper into the closet and Johnny slammed the door shut, slipping his gun back into his sling and replacing the chair against the door.

“You found something?” Johnny asked, trying to read his brother.

Scott nodded. “Someone was blackmailing Grandfather, threatening to release information that could destroy Garrett Enterprises. His name was linked to fraudulent business deals. I know my grandfather, and I know he was not always above board in his business dealings. But he was never sloppy.”

Scott turned toward the double doors when Johnny reached out and grabbed his arm. “Talk to me, Scott. I know it’s more than just your grandfather’s business. It’s more personal.”

Scott turned back and Johnny’s stomach dropped at the look of betrayal on his brother’s face. “I found a file. It was filled with reports from the Pinkertons from the first day I boarded the train to Lancer.”

“Does that really surprise you?” Johnny asked.

“No. But this does.” Scott pulled an envelope from his vest pocket. “It’s all the information fed to the Pinkertons about my trip to Europe. It…It also contains my death certificate.”

 

***    

Chapter twenty-four

Scott felt as if the walls of the cab were pressing in against him. It was hard to pull a full breath into his lungs. If not for the comforting feel of Johnny’s shoulder pressed up against his, he thought he might have collapsed into the black hole of confusion and betrayal yawing in front of him. With each page he had turned, with each new file he had pulled from the stack atop his grandfather’s desk, he had felt his world unraveling. But none shocked him like the last file.

The death certificate – his death certificate – still resided in his vest pocket. He hadn’t let Johnny read it yet. He couldn’t. The indictment against his grandfather was too great. He couldn’t stand to see the anger on his brother’s face, and even worse, the pity. Dated one month after he left for California, the certificate stated he had died from influenza in Vincennes, France. Would anyone other than Grandfather remember how a twelve-year-old boy had marveled at the city and the Chateau de Vincennes?

Johnny’s arm brushed his as he awkwardly shifted the pages of the file on his lap one handed, bringing Scott out of his reverie.

Johnny whispered softly, “The old man didn’t miss much.”

A sick feeling rooted deeper in the pit of Scott’s stomach. “No, he didn’t.” Johnny could never conceive of the depths his grandfather appeared to have sunk to get his revenge on ungrateful grandson. He nodded at the papers in his brother’s lap. “And it appears that he had someone on the inside. Someone at Lancer was on my grandfather’s payroll.”

“But who?” Several pages slipped off Johnny’s lap before he could save them.

Scott looked down at the scattered papers. “Someone who had access to both inside and outside the house.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Not for Grandfather.” Scott leaned down and picked up one of the pages on the carriage floor, steadying himself as the cab made a sharp turn. “Look at this date.” He held the page, his hand trembling. “That is one day after I first arrived at Lancer. That meant whoever was sending him this information was in place the day I stepped off the stagecoach or while I was still traveling to California.”

“Are you trying to say that someone in the house was giving him information?” Johnny asked, the tone of his voice telling Scott that he had better tread carefully.

“No. But Maria and Teresa have women coming in to help them all the time. A little extra money from my grandfather could be very tempting to one of them.”

“Those women are Maria’s family and friends.”

“Friends and family are one thing, money is another. Grandfather knew how to exploit people for his own benefit. Whoever it was might not have thought a little gossip would do any real harm.”

Johnny fell silent. The sound of the horse’s hooves on cobblestones changed to the dull thud of hooves on dirt. The cab swayed as the coach traveled over the rougher ground. Scott didn’t notice. What had he done? He’d put everyone in danger, both here and at Lancer. He should have known that he could not escape Harlan Garrett’s web of deceit and treachery. From the moment he was born, his grandfather had orchestrated his life. What he could not control, he destroyed.

Johnny broke the silence. “Scott, there had to be more than one. Someone knew about the line shacks and the fence lines. There’s stuff in here,” Johnny scuffed his shoe over the pages still scattered on the floor, “about how the men treated you at first. No woman working in the house would know all that. And how did Garrett get the information? Most of the women working for Maria can barely speak English, and they sure as hell can’t write it. And I’m betting whoever was watching you on the range couldn’t write much better.”

A slow smile worked its way across Scott’s face. “You never cease to amaze me, Brother.”

The cab slowed and then stopped. The door opened and Jacob waited while Scott picked up the scattered pages and folded them back into the envelope before jumping down from the carriage.

“Thank you, Jacob.”

“You’re welcome, Sir. If you need me, I’ll be around.”

Scott nodded, turning to look at the back of the mansion. It sickened him to think that it was now his. He would give anything to go back to the way it was…when he was happy working the long hard days at Lancer, enjoying the company of family in the evening. He feared he would never be that happy again.

 

***  

“Boss, Lancer and that half-breed brother of his are here. They’re coming in from the back.”

Latchford smiled. “Very good, Walt. Jessup, take the good doctor down the hall and make sure he stays quiet.”

“Right, Boss.” Jessup, the shorter of the two gunmen, poked Sam in the arm with the muzzle of his pistol and pointed toward the doorway. “You heard Mr. Latchford. I’d hate to have to put a bullet in the only doctor we have around here. We might need you.” He chuckled at his own joke.

Murdoch nodded for Sam to follow orders. The one thing they didn’t need was gunplay. He watched Sam and Jessup disappear through the doorway.

“Now, for you, Mr. Lancer.” Latchford casually pulled a tie-back from one of the drapes and threw it to Walt. “Tie him up.”

Murdoch didn’t resist. There was no use. And he couldn’t take the chance that Jessup would take it out on Sam. Weatherly stood beside him, his hands already tied behind his back. Latchford motioned for Weatherly to take the chair next to Murdoch. Then they were both quickly gagged.

“Not a move from either of you gentlemen. I would hate to have to kill one of your sons, Lancer. Of course, you know which one is important to me. For the moment at least.”

Sweat trickled down Murdoch’s back and dripped from his brow. His sons were walking into a trap and he could do nothing to warn them. He heard the door open at the back of the house and the sound of footsteps.

 

***

Scott dug into the flowerpot to the left of the back door leading into the kitchen. Heddy had lost her key so often that Weatherly had made her an extra one and hid it in a large potted fern on the porch. After rubbing the dirt off the key on his pants, he showed it to Johnny and inserted it in the lock. He was sure that Heddy and Weatherly both knew the cook was not the only one to use the key. Scott had used it on more than one occasion after a late night tryst. He returned the key to its hiding place and pushed the door open.

It felt so wrong as he entered the kitchen, just an hour away from dinnertime. The room should have been a hive of activity. Heddy should have been ordering her cooks like a drill sergeant. The room should have been filled with the aromas of the night’s fare. Instead it was cold and lifeless. He longed for the smell of spicy food and sweet desserts. He couldn’t help but wonder what Teresa and Maria were cooking tonight. But that was his old life. It would do him no good to linger in the past. He headed toward the door leading into the dining room. From there he knew he would find Murdoch and Sam in the parlor.

Johnny followed Scott silently. They hadn’t said a word since leaving the cab. If anyone knew the value of silence it was Johnny. Scott knew his brother understood that he needed time to put everything he had learned into perspective. Johnny wouldn’t understand the intricacies of high finance. He would be surprised at the ruthless tactics that put gunslingers to shame. Johnny Madrid had killed men. Harlan Garrett had destroyed businesses and families. It was one of the reasons Scott had traveled west. He knew in his heart that he couldn’t stomach the world in which his grandfather lived. And in the end that world had killed him. The “corporate hitmen” were no different than the snipers in Johnny’s world. A shiver went down his spine. While Johnny Madrid didn’t associate himself with snipers, Scott Lancer had almost become one - would have- if he had stayed.

They passed through the dining room and the short hall to the parlor. Scott wasn’t sure if he could ever get over Murdoch’s mistrust of him, but now he knew his father had been manipulated by an expert.

As he turned into the parlor, he was several steps into the room before he realized that Murdoch was sitting in a chair, a gag covering his mouth. He heard a grunt and Johnny fell against him, nearly sending him to the floor. He whipped around, ready to catch his brother before he hit the floor, but a man stood to the right of the door, a gun pointed directly at his heart. Johnny hit the carpet with a groan and stayed there.

Knowing a false move could cost him his life, or the lives of his family, Scott lowered his arms. His military training, gained at such a high cost, came back to him. And so did Johnny’s warnings: Know your surroundings, and above all, know your enemy. He knew Latchford. He had been too young to voice his opinion when his grandfather had decided to sell fifteen percent of Garrett Enterprises to Conrad Latchford and another fifteen percent to Evan Moore. He hadn’t trust them then. Now he knew his instincts were right.

“Scotty.” Latchford grinned. “Welcome home.”

“Not much of a homecoming,” Scott said flatly. Calling him Scotty was like salt in an open wound. And now, knowing what he knew of Harlan Garrett’s actions, it stung even more.

Latchford chuckled, but there was no humor behind those eyes. “I’m afraid that’s your fault, Scotty. You were never supposed to make it this far. It appears I underestimated you.”  Latchford drew a derringer from his pocket and pressed it against the back of Murdoch’s head. “Now, if you don’t want to see your father’s brains splattered across these walls, you’ll do as I say. Hand over your gun to Walt.”

“I don’t have a gun.”

Latchford nodded to Walt. Scott looked back just in time to see Walt kick Johnny hard in the ribs. He heard his brother grunt, but Johnny didn’t move a muscle. He lay just as he had fallen, sprawled face down on the carpeting. Scott’s concern edged a little closer to alarm. He had at first thought Johnny was just playing possum, but now he wasn’t so sure.

Scott snapped his head back around to face Latchford. “There’s no call to hurt Johnny. I told you, I don’t have a gun. I never carried one when I was living here, and I’m not carrying one now.”

“Search him,” Latchford ordered, and Scott stood stone still as Walt patted him down for a hidden gun.

“He’s clean, Boss,” Walt reported.

“And your brother?” Latchford asked. Scott heard the contempt in the word brother, and it took every bit of willpower to keep from lashing back at the man. But now was not the time. “Johnny’s not armed. He couldn’t strap on a gunbelt with that cast, and he wouldn’t let me strap it on for him.”

Latchford signaled Walt and again Walt kicked Johnny hard in the ribs.

“No!” Scott shouted, and dropped to one knee, gently turning Johnny over onto his back. He felt the pit of his stomach tighten even more. Johnny appeared to be deeply unconscious. His hope that Johnny was just feigning seemed less and less likely. “Forgive me, Johnny,” he whispered under his breath and he drew out Johnny’s Colt from the inside of his sling and handed it to Walt.

“Very good, Scotty.” Latchford eased the gun away from Murdoch’s head. “You were always a smart boy. So, did you and your brother find your friend at the Common?”

Confused at first, Scott saw the almost imperceptible nod from Murdoch.

“Yes,” he answered. “And I was surprised to find out that I have been in Europe all this time.”

Latchford laughed. “That was your grandfather’s idea. Brilliant actually. But he couldn’t have foreseen how he was playing right into our hands”

“I assume you mean you and Moore.”

“It was the moment Evan and I had been waiting for for years. Even when you had gone against his wishes and joined the war effort, your grandfather still had an abiding respect for your courage, as misplaced as he thought it was. But when you left him for Murdoch Lancer, he couldn’t accept that. He was angry and humiliated.”

Scott looked toward the empty space on the wall above the fireplace. “He took my portrait down?”

Latchford shrugged. “You betrayed him, Scotty. He ordered Weatherly to remove it.”

“I don’t understand. His letters were…”

“You were both so gullible. Didn’t you notice there was nothing personal in those letters?”

Scott looked toward Murdoch. He suddenly felt very sick. “Grandfather never sent those letters, did he?” His mind reeled. He’d been so absorbed in his new life at Lancer he had not noticed. Had there been a difference in penmanship? If he had paid more attention would he have noticed a difference?

“Of course he didn’t.” Latchford replied, as if talking to a child. “And he didn’t receive any from you. He felt abandoned, cast off by his only living relative - his Scotty. It hurt him deeply.”

“You intercepted all my letters to Grandfather?”

Latchford sighed dramatically. “You were so lost at first. So unsure of your place at Lancer. So close to giving up and coming home. I’m sure your grandfather would have been very pleased to know that not all was well with you. That you found it so hard and frightening to have a half-breed gunslinger for a brother. He would have known nothing about your life without the reports from his spies. When he learned that you and your brother had found a common ground he became incensed. When he found that you and your father had come to terms with his abandonment he was furious. You hurt him, Scotty. You hurt him deeply.”

“You son of a bitch!” Scott took a step forward and felt Walt shove the gun into his spine.

“Easy, Scotty. You want to hear the rest of it first, don’t you?”

“I know enough.”

“Oh, no, Scotty, my boy. You don’t know the half of it. Come over here and sit down.”

When he hesitated, Walt kicked Johnny viciously in the ribs again. Johnny still didn’t move, only a groan of pain slipped past his lips. Scott realized he had stepped right into their trap and brought Johnny with him. Every wrong move he made Johnny would suffer for. He had no alternative but to obey Latchford. He walked across the parlor to a chair next to Murdoch.

“No, not that one. Here.” Latchford pointed to a chair six feet away from Murdoch. Close enough for Walt to keep an eye on him, Murdoch and Weatherly, but too far for him to get any help from his father. “Now turn around.” Scott arms were pulled behind him and Latchford bound his wrists.

Scott looked toward Murdoch. His father’s face had gone red with anger beneath the gag. He looked toward Weatherly. The old servant sat erect in his chair, his hands behind his back. Was there something he could do? And where was Sam?

Latchford stepped around in front of Scott and smiled. “We might as well have all our guests here. Walt, tell Jessup to bring the good doctor in.”

Scott had hoped that somehow Sam had gotten away, but now even that hope was gone. He watched Walt head for the door. Latchford would be the only one left in the room. It might be his only chance to make a move. But Walt simply stood in the doorway and called out for his partner then stepped back into the parlor, nudging Johnny again with the tip of his boot.

“Leave him alone!” Scott yelled.

“Leave him alone,” Latchford admonished. “You two can have your fun later. Get the good doctor settled.”

Scott watched the man named Jessup push Sam toward the chairs. He noticed Sam’s hands had already been tied behind his back. Scott closed his eyes. Their only hope lay unconscious on the floor.

 

***

Johnny heard every word. Walt’s shove had caught him by surprise, and the heavy cast had unbalanced him. He had hit the floor hard enough to stun him, but when he regained his senses he knew his only hope was to make their captors think that he was not a threat to them. He only wished he could somehow let Scott and Murdoch know that he was all right. But any move might give him away. His gun was gone and Scott had heard enough to tear his heart into pieces. He had to do something. Then he had heard Latchford call for Sam.

He opened his eyes to mere slits. Johnny could see Walt standing in the doorway, close enough for him to kick out at his legs and send the hired gun to the ground. But he would only get a bullet from Latchford for his trouble. Instead he forced himself to stay relaxed, even when Walt drove his boot into his side again. From the feel of it, Walt had cracked a rib, maybe two.

Sam appeared in the doorway, his face ashen. Why had he let Sam tag along with him? His instinct told him not to involve anyone else…but he had let Murdoch and Sam talk him into what he knew was dangerous. Sam was pushed past him and now he could see nothing but empty doorway again.

“Well,” he heard Latchford say, “we are all together now. Just one happy family. You know, it would have been much easier on all of you if my plan had worked from the start. Your brother should have died in that creek removing that stump. Casey cut the rope just enough so it would give when the most pressure was applied to it.”

Johnny hoped no one saw him flinch. Casey Owens was a good hand. He had stood tall and true against Day Pardee, had stayed on after Pardee was beaten. He rode the fence lines by his side and never seemed to tire of the relentless work on a ranch the size of Lancer. He was a quiet man and Johnny had liked him. Murdoch had hired him before he and Scott had arrived and he always seemed a part of the ranch. When had he lost the ability to gauge a man’s worth?

“Casey was supposed to kill Madrid if the rope and tackle didn’t do the job.”

“His name is Lancer,” Scott said. “Johnny Lancer.”

Johnny felt a surge of pride that Scott would defend him, even here and now when their lives were on the line.

“In the end, “Latchford said, “it was only a minor setback. Your brother foolishly stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong.”

“It wasn’t foolish,” Johnny yelled silently. He would do it all over again. Just not make the same foolish mistakes.

“It’s just a shame,” Johnny heard Latchford say contritely, “that you all came here for nothing. Garrett Enterprises is now in our hands.”

 

***  

Chapter twenty – five

Scott hid his surprise. Latchford’s smug delivery of the news left him with a spasm of doubt in the pit of his stomach. Harlan Garrett had been a consummate businessman, and he ran his personal affairs with the same iron fist. His will would be uncontestable. Scott had seen the will himself. Upon his grandfather’s death, seventy percent of Garrett Enterprises went to him.

“I thought you were smarter than that,” Scott scoffed. “If you think killing me will get you Garrett Enterprises, you haven’t read my grandfather’s will.”

“I have actually. The new one, that is.”

Scott felt his throat constrict. Now that doubt was a big hole in the center of his stomach.

“I told you your grandfather was very hurt by your abandonment. Hurt and angry. When Evan and I pointed out that your father and half-brother would inherit Garrett Enterprises if anything happened to you, he became enraged. He would have done anything to keep it out of Lancer hands. He changed his will. I’m afraid, Scotty my boy, you are no longer in your grandfather’s will.”

Scott felt the room shift. He had already lost Lancer…now he was losing Garrett Enterprises.

“We convinced Harlan that the business would be better off with Evan and me in charge. Your leaving made him fall right into our hands.”

“Grandfather’s attorneys would never let him draw up a will like that.”

“He fired two of his attorneys. Mr. Conway saw it our way.” Latchford looked at his three hostages, making sure he had their undivided attention. “Mr. Casey was an invaluable asset. His reports of your growing friendship with your brother incensed your grandfather. The thought of you degrading yourself by publicly calling a half-breed gunslinger your brother was humiliating.” Latchford turned toward Johnny, still lying motionless on the floor. “I can’t say that I blame him.”

“But it was the reports he received from your household help of your growing attachment to your father that inflamed him the most. You walked away from him and the business, wasted all the money he had spent sending you to the best schools, and you couldn’t even take the time to send one letter.” Latchford shook his head sadly. “A hard cross to bear –knowing your grandson was so ungrateful.”

Scott’s mind was reeling. He remembered the first letter he had written to his grandfather, filled with worry and indecision. He had seriously thought of leaving Lancer. He hadn’t felt part of the Lancer world, and he certainly hadn’t expected to find that he had a half-brother who was a gunslinger. The reply had been cold and impersonal, ordering him to return at once. Incensed by his grandfather’s demands, he wrote back that he would give Lancer a year. To think that his grandfather had never received any of his letters, that the words he had read were not Harlan Garrett’s, left him feeling guilty. Grandfather must have been hurt deeply. How long had his grandfather waited to hire someone to spy on him, to steal private conversations between him and his family?

“Who was he getting those reports from?” Scott asked, his voice not betraying his anger or his fear.

Latchford waved a dismissive hand. “Some young woman, Margarita, I think her name was. Luckily she understood enough English to give Mr. Casey a full report. Your grandfather was a conniving old bastard. But he always got what he wanted. Until now.”

Scott remembered the day Margarita had come to the house begging Maria for a job. Maria couldn’t turn her niece away. If she had, would they be here right now? Now Scott knew why she was always around, dusting and straightening the rooms. He glanced over at Murdoch. Scott knew each new revelation was like a knife in his father’s back. But Murdoch didn’t flinch. Just the vein throbbing at his temple told Scott how much this was hurting him.

Looking back at Latchford, he saw the self-satisfied look on his face. Grandfather had always been a cunning businessman. But he was never egotistical. Latchford was egotistical. He would never give up the chance to show just how smart he was - how much smarter he was than the great Harlan Garrett. This was his Achilles heel, and Scott intended to exploit it.

“I’m impressed,” Scott said. “I would never have guessed that Margarita was a spy. I’m even more surprised by Casey. From what I remember, he couldn’t even write his own name. He used an X to sign for his pay.”

“I don’t know how you could stand to be around those barbarians, Scotty. Mr. Casey had to ride into that quaint town of yours, Green River I believe, to report his findings. Once, he couldn’t get to his contact in Green River and sent a telegram. The fool! He could have ruined everything.”

Scott fought to keep his emotions under wraps. He thought of everything his grandfather had ever taught him about controlling the situation. Have patience. Let the other man make the first mistake and then attack. But this was not a fight to take over another company…this was a fight for life. He looked at Murdoch. The pain on his father’s face was not for himself, but for his sons. He looked at Sam, for the first time noticing the dab of blood at the corner of his mouth and the bruising beneath his right eye. Jessup had not been gentle with the old doctor. And Johnny, still lying motionless on the floor. If only Johnny hadn’t tried to take things into his own hands, if he had confided in him about the Pinkerton letter. But Johnny was trying to protect him in the only way he knew how…jump into the melee with both feet.

“It sounds like my grandfather handed you everything on a silver platter,” Scott said. Keep Latchford talking about himself. Let his ego be his undoing.

“I have to admit I am impressed. Not many people could put one over on my grandfather. But I don’t understand. Why go to all the trouble of hiring someone who looked like Masters to arrange my death in Omaha? And why try to kill Johnny? If there was a new will, Johnny couldn’t inherit after my death.”

“Simple. You said I hadn’t learned from the best. But I did. Garrett always said keep your adversary off balance. Don’t give them time to think. With your brother dead, you would be emotionally off balance. Mr. Casey botched the job, but your brother was still injured enough to keep your mind only on him. Impressed?”

Scott shrugged indifferently. “Not really. You took an unnecessary risk. What if Casey had been caught? It would have been traced right back to you.”

Latchford shook his head. “Your grandfather hired him, we didn’t. And Masters’ look-alike was set up to look like Weatherly hired him. Again, keeping you off balance. We made sure the trail would never lead to me or Evan.”

Latchford smiled smugly again. “We had your grandfather off balance too. He didn’t have time to think about you, or his will. He was fighting off predators that wanted his company.”

“And you were the predators.”

“He taught us well.”

“It won’t work, you know,” Scott said. “I’m alive and my death would appear suspect now.”

“Oh, but that is where you are wrong, Scotty. The man using the name Scott Lancer in California was an imposter. Even Murdoch Lancer thought so. And, sad as it makes me feel, Scott Garrett Lancer died of influenza in Italy. Evan is bringing your death certificate to the judge as we speak. As far as the world is concerned, Scotty, you are dead.”

Scott felt the weight of the death certificate in his vest pocket. “I’ve been seen by too many people here. How can I be here and dead in Italy?”

“How many people have seen you, Scotty? You and your brother have been sneaking in and out the back door, keeping out of sight. The servants who gathered here to help you last night…if they say a word they lose their jobs, or worse, and they know it.”

“It still won’t work,” Scott said. “Too many people in Green River know that my father and I followed Johnny and Sam here.”

“Oh, but it will, Scotty. It will. You see, your brother, the infamous Johnny Madrid, killed poor Heddy. There’s a warrant out for his arrest. It’s not surprising that he was shot in the back while trying to escape.”

“No one who knows him will believe that.”

Latchford shrugged. “He’ll still be dead. As for your father and the good doctor – it’s a terrible shame that they happened to wander into the wrong part of town. Many an innocent man has been killed there for something as simple as a warm coat.”

Scott dipped his head to Latchford. “I’m impressed,” he said mockingly. “You thought of everything. Except Evan Moore.”

“Evan?”

“Grandfather always let the lackeys do the dirty work, take the risks, then he would swoop in and take the spoils. Seems to me that the only dangerous thing Evan has done so far is to deliver my death certificate to the courthouse.”

There was just a hint of hesitation in Latchford’s demeanor. But he quickly masked it. “Nice try, Scotty. Your grandfather would be proud of you.”

“The one thing I don’t understand is why you were trying to dissolve the company you planned on taking over. Unless, of course, all the information was coming from you and Moore.” Scott realized as the words came out of his mouth that he had said too much.

Suddenly Latchford’s smile disappeared. “You were in Garrett’s office. That’s the only place you could have found that information.”

Scott smiled. “You’ll find your man Zachary locked in the closet.”

Latchford turned to Walt. “Zachary carried a derringer. Check Scott’s brother again. Scott gave that gun up too easily.”

Scott struggled against the tie that bound his hands behind him. Murdoch looked toward him…take it easy, his eyes warned. Walt hurried across the room. Dropping to one knee, he roughly pulled Johnny’s casted arm out of the sling. The derringer hit the carpet with a dull thud and Scott’s heart sank.

“Well, well, well,” Latchford grinned. “Make sure he isn’t carrying anything else.”

Walt went to work, ripping Johnny’s shirt open, patting down his pant legs, pulling off his boots. A letter opener from the writing desk in the corner of the parlor dropped out. He rolled Johnny onto his stomach, kicking at the cast on his arm so he would lay flat. Scott cringed at the rough treatment. Seemingly satisfied that Johnny was now totally unarmed, Walt stood up and delivered a vicious kick to Johnny’s kidney.

Walt handed Latchford the derringer and held up the letter opener, letting the light from the window reflect off it. “You have to hand it to him, he’s good,” Walt said with admiration. “He’s really good.”

Scott looked toward Murdoch and was surprised to see his father looking intently at Johnny then turning away, the flicker of a smile touching his eyes.

He glanced over at Johnny, catching his breath when he saw his brother slowly walk two fingers across the carpeting. Hope and panic vied for his attention. Johnny was conscious, probably for the entire time. His brother had some kind of plan in mind and he needed a diversion. Scott looked back toward Murdoch. They struck a silent agreement. Murdoch suddenly moaned loudly through the gag and shifted his weight in the chair.

Walt swung around toward Murdoch just as Scott jumped to his feet, ramming his shoulder into Latchford’s chest. They both went down in a heap. Scott dared not look toward Johnny for fear of giving his brother away. Jessup and Walt grabbed his bound arms and dragged him back to the chair.

“Damn it! Tie him to that chair!” Latchford exploded, climbing to his feet.

Walt grabbed the lace table runner that covered the coffee table, sending the teacups and dishes crashing to the floor, and wrapped it around Scott’s chest, tying it off at the back of the chair.

“Now one more move from you and…”

“Boss!” Jessup yelled. “He’s gone!” Latchford spun around. His face turned crimson with rage. The spot where Johnny had been lying was empty.

“Find him!” Latchford turned back to Scott and backhanded him across the cheek. “You’d better hope Jessup finds him, and quick, or your father will be joining your grandfather.”

Scott looked toward Murdoch. Had he just signed his father’s death warrant? The look on Murdoch’s face told him that he expected nothing less from his son. If there was a sacrifice to be made, he was willing to make it to see his sons survive.

 

***

Johnny saw Scott drive his shoulder into Latchford like a raging bull. Scott had given him a minute, maybe less to get out of the parlor. He didn’t want to think what it might cost him. He pushed himself to his knees, wrapping his right arm around his stomach, trying to keep his ribs from grating together. Walt’s kicks had been right on target. He didn’t have time to slide his left arm back into the sling before he dove into the hallway. He almost blacked out, but he pushed past the pain and climbed to his feet, hunched over, dragging his right shoulder along the hallway wall to keep his balance. He passed the first two rooms then barreled into the third, forcing himself to close the door quietly.

Leaning back against the door, he gasped for air, each breath searing his ribs. He had to pull himself together. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to think about what Latchford would do to punish Scott or Murdoch. Damn it, he couldn’t let Latchford win. Opening his eyes, he realized he was in Garrett’s office. Somehow he had to get Walt and Jessup out of the parlor to give Scott and Murdoch a chance. There was little left in the office. A desk, a sofa, a couple of chairs and a fireplace. He looked at the fireplace. A plan came to mind.

Steeling himself against the pain in his ribs and the weight of his arm hanging by his side in the heavy cast, he closed the flue and hurriedly arranged a stack of kindling on the fireplace grate. He found matches on the mantle and set fire to the kindling. He counted the seconds as he waited for the kindling to catch, and then waited until it was fully engulfed before setting three logs in the center of the fire. Instead of the smoke venting up the chimney, it poured out into the room. But it wasn’t enough, Johnny wanted more smoke. He grabbed a pillow from the sofa and a letter opener from the desk. He ripped the pillow open and threw the feathers to the sides of the fire so they would smolder but not smother the flames.

The room quickly filled with thick smoke, the stench from the burning feathers nauseating. His eyes stung and watered until he could barely see anything. He began coughing, his ribs grating with each cough. Staggering through the clouds of smoke, he reached the door and opened it, then watched as the smoke streamed out of the room into the hallway.

He saw Jessup groping his way down the hall toward his hiding place in Garrett’s office, a bandana over his nose and mouth and his gun drawn. Johnny knew he was in no shape to take the man on in physical combat. His ribs were on fire, his back was pounding where Walt had kicked him in the kidney and his left arm was useless. He had no gun and only a letter opener as a weapon. But he did have surprise on his side. He swung the door open wider, letting more smoke billow out of the room. He flattened himself against the right side of the wall and waited. He heard Jessup’s footsteps slow to a stop, then saw the gun first as Jessup cautiously stepped into the room. Johnny swung around with all his strength, hitting Jessup in the face with his cast. Pain radiated down his arm and into his chest, but he could not suppress the smile as he saw Jessup pitch forward like a downed tree.

Pushing Jessup’s feet out of the way, he grabbed the gun that had fallen from Jessup’s hand and closed the door. The smoke would kill the man, but he felt no remorse.  Jessup felt no remorse in killing him now, or his family when Latchford gave the order.

 

Once again armed, Johnny made his way back to the parlor.

 

***

Latchford sniffed at the air. “Smoke!”

Scott nodded imperceptibly to Murdoch. They both knew it was Johnny’s work.

“If your brother thinks a little smoke is going to change the outcome, he’s wrong.”

“It already has. Where is your man Jessup?” Scott asked. Divide and conquer. He had said those very words at Lancer when Pardee was attacking the ranches. Johnny had said later that it was a good idea, just not the right one for Pardee. But it was the right one now.

Smoke continued to fill the hallway and began floating into the parlor. Walt looked around, eyeing the windows. “No,” Latchford cautioned,” if you open a window you’ll have half of Boston in here trying to put the fire out. Go see where it’s coming from. And close the damn door. Keep the smoke out of here.” Latchford handed Johnny’s gun to Walt as he headed for the door, closing it behind him. Scott prayed Johnny was well hidden in the house somewhere.

“I should kill you all right now,” Latchford spat.

“You’re not the type who likes to get his hands dirty,” Scott said. “You’ll wait for the hired help.”

“Don’t push me, Scott. Walt and Jessup will handle your brother, then we’ll see to the rest of you.”

Scott couldn’t keep his own smug smile off his face. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with. Your Walt and Jessup are no match for Johnny Madrid.”

Latchford looked around, suddenly nervous. “Evan will be here any minute, Then we can deal with you and get out of here.”

“Do you really think you have the time?” Scott asked just as a gunshot thundered through the house.

 

***

Chapter Twenty Six

Murdoch’s heart stopped beating. The silence that followed the gunshot was deafening. Dear God, what had he done? How different would it have been if he had trusted Scott, if he had known in his heart that Scott was his boy and disregarded the Pinkerton’s report? But in the deepest part of his soul he had known the truth. That is where he had failed as a man…as a father.

He saw Latchford recover then raise his derringer, aiming it at Scott’s head. “I had hoped to have more time to spend with you, Scotty. I know you never liked me much, Evan either. In many ways, you were a better judge of character than old Harlan.”

Murdoch saw Latchford’s finger tighten on the trigger. He would not let his son die. With a Herculean effort, born of fear and the love for his son, he drove every ounce of strength into his legs and lunged forward. Latchford turned in his direction and he felt the searing pain of a bullet slam into his chest. Dear God, he had made so many mistakes…but this…this last act was not one of them.

 

***

Scott saw the wisp of smoke rise from the derringer, smelled the cordite mixed with the stronger smoke from the hallway. Latchford stood motionless, the gun still aimed at Murdoch. The chair lay on its side, his father still tied to it. A swatch of blood appeared on Murdoch’s chest.

Scott pushed past the shock, choked back the hot bile rising in his throat. Murdoch had made the ultimate sacrifice to give him a minute more time. He had to use it. He had to make his father’s last act mean something.

Latchford was rattled. Scott was pretty sure the man had never seen anyone die, and certainly never at his own hands. “How does it feel?” Scott asked, his voice hiding the painful loss. He looked toward Murdoch. Whatever had happened between him and his father, whatever had torn them apart, was banished to a far corner of his mind. He looked back at Latchford, his voice cold and steady. “To watch a man die at your hands. It makes you sick to your stomach, doesn’t it?”

“Shut up!” Latchford yelled.

“Doesn’t feel so bad when you hire someone to do your dirty work. But it’s another thing when you have to pull the trigger yourself. When you have a man’s blood on your hands.”

Latchford spun around, his derringer pointed at Scott. “I said shut up!”

“It’s all falling apart, isn’t it? You think that gunshot out there was one of your men getting Johnny?  You don’t know Johnny. You turn your nose up at him because he was a gunslinger, but you forgot he was the best. Johnny Madrid. You think your men can take out Johnny Madrid?”

Scott saw the hesitation in Latchford’s eyes.

 

***

Johnny crawled awkwardly down the smoke - filled hallway, the heavy cast on his left arm dragging noisily across the hardwood floor. Jessup was dead. But that still left Walt and the fourth man who was undoubtedly guarding the outside of the mansion. He had to get back to the parlor. He had heard enough, lying there on the parlor floor, to know that both Scott and Murdoch had been set up.

Anger and fear that he could lose his family kept him going when pain and fatigue tried to overwhelm him. He had always been a fighter, had always found a way to survive. This was different. It wasn’t just his life that was in danger, it was Scott and Murdoch and Sam, the people who meant the most to him in his life. Johnny would not return to the lonely existence he had endured for most of his life. He had tasted happiness and he wasn’t about to give it up without one hell of a fight. He kept low to the ground where the smoke was the thinnest.  His ribs grated against each other with every move he made. The smoke irritated his lungs and he began hacking. Dios, Latchford was going to pay for this. And Walt, damn him, he was the cause of the searing pain in his back.

He froze at the sound of a floorboard creaking somewhere ahead of him. He pulled himself into a sitting position, his legs folded against his chest, his back pressed against a closed door. He watched as the smoke billowed around a figure walking cautiously down the hall. There was just enough hazy light shining through the beveled glass front door, illuminating figure in the smoke, for Johnny to recognize Walt. He lifted Jessup’s gun. The sound of the cylinder slowly turning as he cocked the gun made Walt freeze. Squeezing the trigger, Johnny heard a startled gasp, then Walt corkscrewed to the floor. Johnny closed his eyes against the pain, tears running down his cheeks from the smoke. Two down. Now there was just Latchford and the man on the outside.

He let his gun hand fall to the floor. He was nearing that wall of exhaustion when a man either broke through or lost the fight. It seemed he had been standing in front of that wall since the afternoon by the creek. It hadn’t been an accident, nothing that had happened since that afternoon had been an accident or a turn of fate. It had been planned and executed like a game of chess. Scott was the king and everyone else around him were just expendable pawns. 

Walt lay a few feet from him. The same light that had made him a target now caught the slow, ever widening pool of blood staining the floor. Johnny tried to close his mind to the sight, to the smell. His life as Johnny Madrid was supposed to be in the past. But Madrid was the only one who could save them. Suddenly he heard the front door open. He raised his gun and cocked the hammer, then eased it back down. It was most likely the fourth gunman, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was someone off the street checking the house because of the smoke? He couldn’t take the chance of killing an innocent man. Reaching blindly above him, his ribs screaming as he stretched his arm high above his head, he searched for the door handle then turned it. He fell backwards into the room with a loud groan. For a moment, the room was smoke free and he took a deep breath of fresh air, despite his ribs. The air cleared his head and he spun on his butt, lying flat on his back, sticking his head into the hallway just enough to see a short, heavyset man fan the smoke from his face as he walked in. Dressed in a dark brown suit, he carried a walking stick which he didn’t seem to need. Johnny decided this must be Evan Moore.

“Good God!” the man exclaimed as he tripped over one of Walt’s splayed out legs. Johnny watched the man pull a derringer from a hidden holster beneath his expensive suit and head for the parlor. Johnny hurriedly took count. He had Jessup’s Colt. Walt’s gun was still nestled in his dead fingers. Johnny’s own gun was wedged behind Walt’s belt. Latchford had Zachary’s derringer and his own. Now they had Moore’s derringer. A derringer was no match against a Colt. But a bullet was a bullet and would kill him just as dead as a bullet from a six gun. He had to find another diversion, one that would distract Latchford and Moore long enough for him to get back into the parlor. A plan came to mind and he crawled over to Walt, pulled the gun from the man’s hand, and stuffed it in his belt before grabbing his own Colt. Climbing to his feet, he stumbled toward Garrett’s office, knowing he had very little time left before his body could handle no more.

 

***

Scott stared into the barrel of the derringer. Had he pushed Latchford too far? He looked toward Murdoch and felt a numbing loss in his stomach. No matter what had happened, he knew now that his father loved him. Looking beyond Murdoch, he saw Sam looking wide eyed at him. Why had they come here? Why had they let Johnny come here? In the end, they might all die. And for what? The answer was simple. For love.

The parlor door burst open and he recognized Evan Moore as he stepped into the room, derringer in hand.

“What the hell is going on here?” Moore demanded. “There’s a dead man in the hall and where the hell is all this smoke coming from?”

Latchford spun on Moore. “Who’s dead?”

“How the hell do I know? The hallway is full of smoke. I think he was blond. Couldn’t tell for sure. Where’s the fire?”

Scott forced himself not to react. But it sounded like Walt had met Johnny Madrid.

“I don’t know. And I don’t care.” Latchford looked back toward Scott and a smile crawled across his face. “Besides, it will take care of our problems here. Is Scott Garrett Lancer officially dead?”

When no answer came immediately, Scott saw the smile flicker and die, and Latchford looked back at Moore.

“The death certificate wasn’t in Garrett’s office. What did you do with it?” Moore demanded.

“I left it in the file on the desk. Are you sure you didn’t just overlook it?”

“If you’re talking about the file on Harlan and Scott, it’s gone.”

Latchford swung back and charged toward Scott. “You have it!” he yelled, backhanding Scott. “Where is it?”

Scott tasted blood and his cheek pounded, but he forced himself not to let it show. “Your plans falling apart?” he asked, ridicule riding each word. “Johnny’s out there. Walt’s dead. Jessup is probably dead too. You and Evan will be next.”

“Your brother is hurt. Walt saw to that.”

Scott shrugged. “You think that will stop Johnny Madrid? Who do you think started that fire?”

“It doesn’t matter. You and your doctor friend will be just as dead.” There was an ill concealed desperation in Latchford’s demeanor. Something more than the threat of Johnny Madrid.

“Why do you need the certificate if my grandfather wrote me out of his will?” Scott asked, the truth suddenly dawning on him. “He didn’t write me out of the will, did he? No matter how mad or disappointed he was, he wouldn’t do that. He would, however, make it so my father and brother couldn’t inherit in the case of my death. You take over only if I am legally dead.”

Latchford was silent.

“You can’t prove I’m dead without that certificate. You need it. If you shoot me there will be questions. If I die here in the fire, then there will be no proof of my death. Either way, you lose, Latchford. Until you can prove I’m dead, I inherit Garrett Enterprises. You can carry on the business but you will still own only fifteen percent each.”

Latchford turned the derringer toward Sam. “I’ll kill him right now if you don’t tell me where that death certificate is.”

Scott looked at Sam and saw the old man’s eyes flash in defiance. “You will kill him anyway.” If Johnny was too hurt to help, or Jessup had found him, there was nothing he could do to stop the slaughter. Sam knew it.

“You want his blood on your hands?” Moore asked, for the first time addressing Scott.

“It won’t be on my hands. You and your partner are the killers.”

Moore pushed Latchford out of the way, aiming his gun at Scott, his anger turning his pudgy face red. “I’ll shoot one kneecap and then the other if you don’t tell us where that certificate is.”

“Then as soon as you have what you want I’m dead anyway.”

Moore cocked the gun and Scott steeled himself for the pain. But there was not just one gunshot. There were a dozen or more coming from down the hall. Scott struggled at the cord that bound his wrists but couldn’t loosen it. More smoke billowed into the room from the hallway. Latchford whirled around to look at the door as it flew open.

 

***

Johnny ran as fast as he could down the hallway to Garrett’s office, squinting in the thick smoke still billowing from the fireplace. He could barely see Jessup’s body lying on the floor. He grabbed the letter opener off Garrett’s desk, thinking for one silly moment that he should start carrying it instead of his knife, and then the empty throw pillow he had pulled the feathers from and quickly ripped the casing into ten ragged squares. The cast was a burden he didn’t need right now, but he didn’t have time to try to cut it off. He quickly emptied all the bullets from Jessup and Walt’s guns. Awkwardly, he wrapped two bullets into each square of pillow casing and carefully placed each packet into the fire then added more kindling atop them. He hoped the extra time it would take for the fire to eat through the cloth would give him time to get back to the parlor. Throwing Jessup’s useless gun away, he grabbed his own gun that he had stowed behind his belt. Checking, he found five rounds left.

Hacking from the smoke and holding his arm around his chest to cushion his ribs, he made his way out of the room, careful not to trip over Jessup’s body. He had to get back to the parlor before all hell broke loose.

The first two bullets exploded just as he reached the door. He kicked it open as more bullets exploded. He saw Moore with his derringer pointed at Scott’s knee then whirl around at the sound of the door opening. Johnny fired once and Moore dropped the gun, falling to his knees and crying out as he held his right hand.

He aimed his gun at Latchford and ordered, “Drop your gun.”

The gun dropped to the floor just as Scott yelled out. “Johnny! Behind you!”

Johnny spun around. The fourth gunman was raising his gun to fire. Johnny shot first and the man died instantly with a bullet to the heart. Johnny turned back to Latchford. When he saw Murdoch slumped in his seat, with the stain of blood on his shirt, he nearly pumped the rest of his bullets into Latchford. Damn him to hell! He forced himself to pull his eyes away from his father and look toward Scott. He saw the fear and anger in his brother’s eyes. “Untie them all,” he ordered Latchford. The man could barely walk, his legs were shaking so badly. One by one the men were untied. First Weatherly, then Sam. Sam shook his hands to get the circulation back in his fingers then knelt in front of Murdoch. He quickly checked for a pulse.

“He’s alive,” Sam sighed with relief. “We need to get him untied quickly.”

Latchford freed Scott, the venom in his eyes searing a hole in Scott’s back. Scott reached the chair his father was tied to. With Weatherly’s help, they untied Murdoch and then laid him on his back.

“I need clean towels and warm water.” Sam was already ripping Murdoch’s shirt open.

Johnny felt his world tilt for a moment, then regained his balance. He needed a place to lie down. But not in here, not when his father needed all the help Sam and Scott could offer him. He turned to leave when he felt a hand on his right arm. Scott was by his side, leading him toward a sofa.

“I’m all right, take care of Murdoch,” Johnny growled, trying to whip his arm free. The movement seared through his chest and Scott’s arms were around him, guiding him to the sofa.

“You stay quiet so Sam can work on Murdoch. You hear me?”

Johnny nodded through a haze as thick as the smoke in the hallway. He lay back against the soft cushions of the sofa and watched the room through eyelids that were only at half mast. He heard Sam call out orders to get his medical bag from his room upstairs and collect as many candles and lamps as they could find. Latchford asked if he could tend to Moore’s hand and Scott had nodded his head. Johnny would have let him bleed for everything he had put Scott and his family through.

Sounds ebbed and flowed like the tide. Johnny closed his eyes against the grating pain in his chest. Each inhalation brought more pain, and the hacking cough was nearly more than he could take now. But he wouldn’t let himself slide into the black painless sanctuary of unconsciousness. Until Sam said Murdoch would make it, he couldn’t let himself slip away.

 

***

Scott glanced over at Johnny. The pain and exhaustion was obvious on his brother’s face. But he couldn’t leave Murdoch yet. Why? After everything his father had done, after the things he had said. After the trust had been broken…why was he still huddled over the man, praying that he wouldn’t die? The answer was simple: if Murdoch died, a large part of his heart would go with him. Despite everything, Murdoch loved him. He was willing to give his life up for his son. Would his grandfather have done the same?

 

Finally Sam stitched the wound in Murdoch’s chest closed and applied a bandage. “He was a lucky man. The bullet missed his heart by just a few inches. He lost a lot of blood, but he’s as stubborn as an ox. I’m sure he’s going to live to holler at both of his sons again.”

Scott helped Sam to his feet. Sam turned to Weatherly. “I’ll need more medical supplies from the apothecary, and a nurse to help tend to Murdoch. Would you see to it after we have moved him upstairs to his room?”

There was a strange sadness to Weatherly’s face. Scott felt his blood run cold in his veins.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Scott. I can’t do that.”

“Weatherly?” Scott felt like the floor had sunk beneath him.

The old servant backed up toward the liquor cabinet and opened a drawer, pulling out a Colt. “I’m truly sorry, Mr. Scott. Please join your brother on the sofa. You too, Dr. Jenkins.”

Scott saw Latchford slowly stand up from his peripheral view, his hands coated with Moore’s blood.

He obeyed the order, sitting down next to Johnny. Johnny’s eyes were nearly closed, his breathing labored, but he saw what no one else saw, the almost imperceptible nod of his brother’s head. Johnny was fully aware of everything that was happening in the room.

Sam joined them, sitting on the other side of Johnny.

“I don’t understand,” Scott said, his voice cracking from the last, the ultimate betrayal. Weatherly was like a father to him. He was the one who took him out to play in the snow when he was young, taught him to ride, showed him that there was more to life than business ledgers and teachers who knew nothing about the world outside their textbooks. He was the one who kept a spark of life in the Garrett mansion. Weatherly and Heddy. They were the ones who raised him, who made him the man he was today.

Tears formed in Weatherly’s eyes. “Your grandfather left me with nothing. After thirty-five years of service, he didn’t leave me a penny. What was I supposed to do? I am too old for another household to take me on. I have no money saved. Mr. Garrett always promised me that I would live out my last years in comfort. He lied. He left me with nothing.”

“And you trust these two?”

“It was never supposed to go this far. You were to stay out west with your father. Your brother was never supposed to come here. Dr. Jenkins…I hated lying to him. But I was left with no choice. Harlan Garrett left me with nothing.”

Scott shook his head sadly. “He didn’t take your pride and honor, Weatherly. You gave that away yourself when you decided to work for Latchford and Moore.

 

*** 

Chapter Twenty Seven

Johnny stayed perfectly still, slumped against the sofa - his eyes at half mast, his breathing shallow to help ease the pain in his ribs. But the smoke, even though it was not as thick as it had been, still prickled at his throat, making him hack. Each cough brought black spots before his eyes. Madre de Dios, he knew he was in trouble.

He saw Scott sitting stiff backed, his hands on his knees, the side of one hand just touching Johnny’s knee. Johnny surreptitiously tapped his fingers against Scott’s knee to let him know that he was still with him. The only advantage they had right now was that everyone thought he was out of it. He studied Weatherly. The Colt wavered in his hand, forcing him to use both hands to steady the weapon.

He hadn’t pulled the hammer back yet, giving Johnny hope that they still had time. Johnny shifted his eyes to look over at Latchford and Moore. Moore was standing now, his wounded hand pressed against his chest. The bullet had grazed the top of his hand, and the bleeding had already stopped. He was watching Weatherly, sizing him up, looking for a weak moment when he could attack. Latchford had taken a few steps closer to Weatherly, edging ever closer to the coffee table. Johnny gave the man credit. He had managed to avoid the broken china on the floor.

The smoke drifted lazily through the room, most of it hugging the ceiling and corners. Latchford sniffed and dabbed at the tears in his eyes, looking toward the open door leading to the hallway. Johnny could almost read his mind, see the nervous twitch of one hand, wondering how long they had before the fire reached them. Johnny wished he could tell Scott and Sam that there was no real fire, that the only danger they faced was the smoke. His eyes were drawn to Murdoch. His father lay motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest telling Johnny that he was still alive. But for how long in this smoke?

Sam shifted beside him. Johnny could feel the man’s anger cascading off him. “You sent the note to Johnny?” Sam’s voice was filled with bitter accusation. “You led him into an ambush.”

“No!” Weatherly shook his head. “Mr. Moore sent the note. I was on my way to warn Johnny, but Heddy… she found out somehow. Dear God, I never meant any harm to come to that woman.”

“What did you expect when you fell in with vermin like that?” Sam asked derisively, nodding his head toward Latchford and Moore.

“Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent,” Scott quoted. “They who lie with dogs will rise with fleas.”

Moore sneered at Scott. “I never understood how a man with your education could waste his life playing cowboy in the uncivilized west.”

“You call this civilized?” Scott asked sarcastically before turning back to Weatherly. He leaned forward and Johnny suppressed a groan as the sofa shifted beneath Scott’s weight.  “Think about what you’re doing, Weatherly. My grandfather was a lot of things, but he wasn’t a murderer. And neither are you. If you let them kill us then your hands will be as bloody as theirs.”

Johnny saw Weatherly’s hand tighten around the gun. “Easy, Brother,” Johnny whispered under his breath. There was no telling what the old servant would do. He was scared and confused and held a deadly weapon in his hands. A combination that could get them all killed.

“Do you know for sure my grandfather left you out of his will? Did you see it?”

Weatherly shook his head.

“You didn’t have to see it, did you? You knew all along what was happening. You intercepted all my letters to him; you knew what they were doing from the very start.”

Johnny knew Scott was playing a dangerous game, one that could backfire on him, on them all. He caught movement to his right and saw Latchford take another step closer. He hoped Scott had noticed.

“No, I didn’t,” Weatherly’s voice shook. “All Mr. Garrett’s mail went directly to his office. I thought you had abandoned him. How was I to know?”

Scott’s shoulders sagged. “You could have trusted me, Weatherly. You could have sent me a letter asking why.”

“I was angry and hurt. I never meant for anyone to get hurt.”

“I know. Give me the gun. I’ll make sure the authorities understand the circumstances…”

“You’ll spend the rest of your life in prison,” Moore warned him. “In the eyes of the law you are as guilty as we are.”

“He’s wrong, Weatherly. You don’t have blood on your hands. You didn’t kill Heddy. But you did try to warn Johnny. That will go in your favor.”

“Don’t listen to him, Weatherly. You can have everything you ever wanted. You’ll never have to lick another man’s boots. We can still make this work.” Moore showed his bloody hand. “Johnny Madrid shot me and then his father. He couldn’t have any witnesses so he shot the doctor too. He’s already wanted for killing Heddy. Just give me the gun.”

“You could never live with yourself.” Scott reached his hand out, palm up. “You have to make your decision now, Weatherly, before this house goes up in flames. Give me the gun.”

Johnny saw the fear rising in Weatherly’s eyes. “I don’t want to go to jail.”

“You don’t want to burn to death here either. Just give me the gun. I’ll do everything I can. I promise.”

“God damn it! Shoot them!” Moore yelled. “Shoot them all!”

“They are using you, Weatherly,” Scott warned. “They have been using you all along. Do you think they plan on giving you anything after they get Garrett Enterprises? Do you think they could afford to have someone like you around? You are a liability.”

“Shut up!” Moore yelled again.

“Give me the gun.” Latchford took a step towards Weatherly.

“Stay where you are,” Weatherly ordered, aiming the gun toward Latchford, the Colt shaking in his hands. “Don’t move.”

“Weatherly…” Scott began, but Weatherly swung the gun back toward him. “Please, Mr. Scott, don’t move. I don’t want to shoot you.”

Scott lowered his hand. “And I don’t want to be shot either, but we have to get out of this smoke.”

Johnny let his head loll to the side, staring at Sam, tapping his knee against the old doctor’s knee. They needed a diversion, something to draw Weatherly’s attention from Scott. Sam looked startled when he turned to see Johnny staring at him. Johnny opened his eyes wide and mouthed the word, “Panic!”

A moment seemed like an hour as Johnny waited, praying that Sam understood what he wanted. He rolled his head back, watching Weatherly. The old servant’s thumb began to pull the hammer back.

Sam jumped to his feet. “We’re all going to die in here!” he yelled, hacking at the smoke. “We’ll be trapped!”

Weatherly spun toward the door. Scott lunged for Weatherly, knocking him to the floor. He landed on top of the old servant, reaching for the gun, his fingers curling around the barrel, prying it loose from Weatherly’s grasp. Suddenly Johnny saw Latchford jump over the coffee table, then over Scott and Weatherly. Johnny wanted to shout a warning to Scott but his words were stolen by another fit of coughing. He could only watch as Latchford stomped the heel of his boot down on Scott’s hand. He heard Scott yell in surprise and pain. Latchford reached down and grabbed the gun from Scott’s useless hand and stood up, pulling back the hammer.

“You should have drowned in Omaha like you were supposed to, Scotty, my boy.”  He smiled in victory and his finger moved toward the trigger.

Johnny remembered the letter opener he had slipped inside his cast when he was in Garrett’s office and threw it, praying it would hit the target. Latchford gasp in surprise, his finger pulling the trigger. Time seemed to slow down. Johnny saw the bullet gouge a hole in the carpet inches from Scott’s head. Latchford sank to his knees, stunned to see the letter opener embedded to the hilt in the center of his chest before falling forward, driving it the rest of  the way into his heart.

 

***

Scott’s hand was a mass of excruciating pain. He rolled over onto his back and sat up, tearing his shirt apart and slipping his hand inside for support. He saw Latchford lying motionless beside him. But it was Johnny, lying halfway off the sofa, his heavy cast dangling over the side, threatening to drag him down to the floor that made his heart stop. He made it to Johnny just as Sam did, helping to pull his brother back onto the sofa.

“We have to get Johnny and Murdoch out of this smoke,” Sam ordered, leaning over Johnny, trying to assess his injuries. Johnny was weakly trying to shove him away, telling Sam to take care of Murdoch first.

“I’m the doctor here, and you’ll do as I say. Now lie still.”

Scott looked around quickly. Weatherly still lay on the floor. Moore was cowering in a corner, his hand still nestled against his chest. Scott quickly grabbed Weatherly’s gun from Latchford’s hand awkwardly with his left hand aiming it at Moore. “Don’t move a muscle,” he growled. “I’ll take any excuse to put a bullet in you.”

Sam laid a restraining hand on Scott’s arm. “We have to get Johnny and Murdoch out of this smoke.”

Scott lowered the gun, trying to get his anger under control. He nodded to Sam and rushed toward the door only to have it pushed open from the other side. A half dozen uniformed men stood in the hallway.

The man obviously in charge pushed his way into the room. “Sergeant McGowan, Boston Police. What’s going one here?” he demanded.

Scott turned to run back to Johnny but McGowan grabbed his right arm and pulled it back. Scott almost fell to his knees from the pain.

“I asked you a question. What’s going on in here? Three are two dead men in the hallway.”

Another officer ran in. “There’s another one in a room down the hall. All the smoke’s coming from the fireplace in there.”

“We don’t have time now,” Scott gasped. “We have to get my brother and father out of this smoke. They are both hurt.”

The Sergeant motioned for his men to move in. Scott could hear Sam yelling at the men to take it easy as they lifted Murdoch and carried him out the parlor door.

“Arrest that man!” Evan Moore yelled, pointing at Johnny. “He’s Johnny Madrid. He’s wanted for the murder of Heddy McLore. He killed Latchford and tried to kill me.” He pointed toward Scott. “This man was impersonating Scott lancer. They were trying to take over Harlan Garrett’s Estate.”

Scott saw the look of suspicion as the sergeant took in the full carnage. Latchford lay dead on the floor. Weatherly sat next to him, rocking back and forth as he mumbled something incoherently. Moore’s accusations sounded all too plausible.

“Latchford and Moore had my grandfather, Harlan Garrett, killed,” Scott said defensively.

“Don’t listen to him, Sergeant. He is an imposter. The real Scott Lancer is dead.”

“Shut up, both of you. We’ll straighten this out after we get the wounded to the hospital.”

Sam tried to follow the men carrying Murdoch out of the room but McGowan grabbed his arm.

“What?” Sam tried to wrench his arm away. “I’m Dr. Sam Jenkins. Murdoch Lancer is my patient.”

“They are all in it together,” Moore yelled.

McGowan studied Sam for a long moment. “All right, don’t cuff him, yet. Let him tend to his patients.”

Sam nodded. “Thank you, Sergeant. Be careful when your men move Johnny. He has at least one broken rib and he may have a bruised kidney.”

“They know what they’re doing. Now you.” He turned to Scott, “I’ll let you go to the hospital with your father and brother, they can see to that hand of yours. But consider yourself under arrest.”

Scott nodded his thanks as he watched Johnny feebly try to push the three officers away, but another bout of coughing left him defenseless.

“I understand, Sergeant. I’ll cooperate fully. But that man,” he pointed to Moore, “he is responsible for all of this.”

“Don’t worry, he’s coming with us. We’ll get this all straightened out.”

Scott allowed himself to be led out the door. A wagon had already pulled up and Murdoch was carefully settled onto the cushioned bed. Johnny was propped up against the front of the bed, in back of the driver, to ease his coughing. Sam sat between the two of them. Scott was led to another carriage. Painted black, it had black iron bars across the windows. Moore’s hand had been quickly bandaged and he was pushed into the carriage. An officer climbed in and Scott was told to follow. If not for the officer between them, he might have killed Moore.

 

***

Scott nodded to himself, knowing he had made the right decision in bringing Johnny and Murdoch back to the house. Neither man had been comfortable in the hospital with its smells of sickness and death. He sat in the chair he had pulled over next to Johnny’s bed and watched his brother sleep. Johnny was propped up against a mound of pillows to help him breathe easier. Scott had once again come so close to losing him. Johnny had spent more time than any of them in the thickest part of the smoke, and with a broken rib he couldn’t breathe deeply enough to clear his lungs. Pneumonia had followed. Walt’s vicious kick had also left him with a bruised kidney. It was no longer a source of worry, but still very painful.

His own hand was heavily wrapped and supported in a sling. Luckily Latchford had broken his wrist and not any bones in his hand. It would heal a lot sooner than Johnny or Murdoch’s injuries.

He sat back and closed his eyes. Scott couldn’t help but feel responsible. It was his life that had pulled both Johnny and Murdoch into danger. Scott couldn’t believe it was almost over. He still had nightmares about that first night when both his father and brother had been wheeled into the hospital. Murdoch had nearly succumbed to the bullet wound during those first terrible hours. But Sam had given him a fighting chance and the doctors on staff had pulled him the rest of the way through. He was now sleeping peacefully in the next bedroom with a nurse by his side.

It had taken a week to get the house free of smoke. Much of the downstairs furniture had to be replaced. The curtains and drapes were unsalvageable as was most of the wallpaper. In a way, it was good that so much of what he associated with his grandfather was gone. The pain of what he had done was slow to heal, but without so many memories haunting him, it was easier.

The staff had been asked back. Some had found other employment, but most of them had returned. And the house was getting back to normal, or as normal as it would ever be. This was no longer home to him. He felt drawn back to Lancer. But he wasn’t sure if he had the right to turn away from this house and the business that was now his. He had responsibilities and they had to be addressed. But not now. Not until Johnny and Murdoch were well again.

He smiled as Johnny sighed softly. He was doing much better here. With the nurses Sam hired, they were receiving better care.

There was a soft tap at the door and Sergeant McGowan popped his head around the door. He had spent considerable time going through all the evidence with Scott, taking testimony when Johnny and Murdoch were up to it. He had managed to clear Johnny of Heddy’s murder, although the thought that Johnny was actually Johnny Madrid had given the man pause. Scott decided Sergeant McGowan was fair and honest, and he liked him.

“Come in,” Scott whispered.

McGowan found a chair in the corner and set it down next to Scott’s. “How’s the hand?” he asked.

“It’ll be fine. Sam says I was lucky.”

McGowan nodded toward Johnny. “How’s he doing?”

“Johnny is…”

“Johnny is doing fine,” Johnny said irritably. “I just want to get out of this damn bed.”

“You know Sam’s orders. You are to stay there until he says otherwise.”

Johnny glared at Scott. “My backside hurts when I sit up and my chest hurts when I lay down. I think that means standing on the two feet God gave me is what I should be doing,” he said petulantly.

McGowan looked from Johnny to Scott then back again before he burst out laughing. “Never has there been a better example of two and two adding up to three.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Johnny griped.

“It means, Johnny, that it’s a preposterous idea. And you better stay in that bed or I’ll spend the day with Murdoch and you can spend the day with the nurse,” Scott warned, his attempt at sounding serious lost with a twitch of a smile.

“Is he always this bad a patient?” McGowan laughed.

Scott shook his head. “He’s usually worse than this.”

Johnny grunted, starting a fit of coughing that left him gasping for breath when it finally ended.

“Maybe I should come back later,” McGowan said nervously.

Johnny shook his head. “Stay…” he managed to say.

McGowan settled back in his chair. “I put in a good word for Weatherly. He’ll still have to do some time…He was an accomplice. Only your recommendation is keeping him from doing hard time.”

“Thank you.” Scott looked over at Johnny and saw his brother’s approval. “In many ways he was just as much a pawn as we were.”

McGowan nodded. “I also got word today that the Grand Jury came back with their decision.”

“What’s that?” Johnny asked.

“It’s a jury that decides if there’s enough evidence to bring a defendant to trial.”

“What the hell do they need that for?” Johnny demanded breathlessly.  “Moore is as guilty as sin!”

“Take it easy, Johnny, or we’ll continue this discussion downstairs,” Scott warned.

Johnny nodded, but he wasn’t happy.

“We know that, Johnny,” McGowan said, “but the district attorney wants an ironclad case against Moore. And he got it. They indicted him on murder, kidnapping, blackmail...the list goes on. He and Latchford caused a lot of people a lot of misery. We want everyone to get their due justice. This is the best way to do it. The only thing is…you three will need to be here to testify.”

“When will that be?” Scott asked.

“Five weeks.” He looked toward Johnny. “I ah…I talked to Dr. Jenkins and he doesn’t recommend either you or your father making two cross country trips so close together. I was hoping you would stay here until the trial.”

“Five more weeks?” Johnny shook his head.

“Johnny, Sam isn’t going to let you or Murdoch travel for another couple of weeks anyway. It would only be a few more weeks after that.”

McGowan stood up slowly, patting the edge of the bed. “You have a couple of weeks to think about it, Johnny. But I hope you say yes. Your testimony could go a long way toward getting Moore exactly what he deserves. I’ll be back in a few days.”

Scott watched Johnny lean back against the pillows. He was exhausted, but too proud to let it show in front of McGowan.

“I thought it was all settled,” Johnny groaned. “I thought you got that will all figured out and this place is yours. Everything Moore and Latchford said was lies. Why can’t we just say so in a regular court?”

Johnny’s questions were valid ones. With the file he had found in Latchford’s office the police were able to track every move they had made. Accomplices had been ferreted out. They had found the driver of the coach Johnny had been picked up in and arrested him for kidnapping and the murder of Heddy. The blacksmith who had weakened the two right wheels on his grandfather’s buggy so it would overturn was also arrested for murder. Back in Green River, Arthur Bell’s secretary, Agnes Stine, was arrested. She had been working for Latchford and Moore, allowing Arthur to see only what they wanted him to see. Scott’s identity was no longer in question, in anyone’s eyes, but most importantly in his father’s. The death certificate, however, was still hidden in Scott’s dresser. It was a lie, of course, but he didn’t want to go through the hell it would take to prove it was a fake. For now, he had almost everything back. Almost everything. It would take more time to fully get past the feelings of his father’s mistrust. But he knew now that Murdoch had been just as much a pawn in Latchford and Moore’s scheme as everyone else. His father’s ultimate proof of his love for his son was stopping that bullet.

Scott looked over to see that Johnny had fallen asleep. As he quietly slipped out of his room, he headed next door to Murdoch’s room. They still had a lot to talk about when Murdoch was strong enough. He had to take it slow and easy. It had taken time when they first met. It had taken time to become a family. It would take time again. Murdoch had opened the door, now it was up to him to take the first step inside.

 

The End

Epilogue

Val Crawford walked across the street with a purposeful step, his deputy on his heels. He hated getting highfaluting letters from back east, taking ten words to say what he could say in one…but this time he didn’t mind. This time he would gladly carry out their request. He opened the door to Arthur Bell’s office, and smiled at Agnes Stine. “Mr. Bell in his office?” he asked, knowing he was. He had waited until he saw the lawyer enter the building before heading over.

Agnes gave him an innocuous smile “Yes, but he’s busy at the moment, Sheriff. Would you like to leave a message?”

“No, that’s not what I’d like ta do.” He walked past Agnes’ desk, seeing her face blanch as she looked from him to Deputy Brice, who was standing with arms folded across his chest, barring the door. Val opened the door to Arthur’s private office and stepped in, unannounced. He wasn’t looking forward to telling Bell about Miss Stine but he was going to enjoy - what was the word on that letter from the District Attorney from Boston? Extraditing, yes, he was gonna enjoy seeing her pay for what she had done to the Lancers. And since she needed someone to make sure she got there…Well, he’d always wanted to see them tall ships Scott talked about in the Boston Harbor.

 

***

Scott didn’t know how he’d let himself be talked into this. Johnny had been so exuberant about the excursion that he hadn’t had the heart to tell his brother no. In so many ways, Johnny was still a kid at heart, at last allowing himself to have the fun he was deprived of when he was a child. When they reached the docks, a steam launch was rocking in the waves against the pier. A huge man, with arms the size of tree trunks standing at the helm, nodded to Johnny. To Scott’s surprise, Johnny insisted they all get in, though Johnny himself hesitated for just a moment. Murdoch’s old sea legs came right back to him, but Scott swore Johnny turned a little green as he awkwardly settled himself on one of the bench seats, the cumbersome cast on his left arm dragging him off balance. Sam had promised, before he had left for home, that the cast would come off in another month if he behaved himself. For Johnny, that was a lot to ask. His own smaller cast, from hand to elbow was not as unwieldy as Johnny’s but it was still a nuisance.

The coal burning boat started moving through the water. Everything seemed vaguely familiar to Scott; a long forgotten dream just out of his reach.

He studied Murdoch, facing him on one of the bench seats. His face was still too pale, but his eyes twinkled as the wind whipped at his hair and the harbor water speckled his clothes. Then he looked at Johnny sitting next to him. His brother hated the water. But for some reason he was willing to take this wind tossed ride across Boston Harbor

Scott watched the mainland grow farther away as the boat powered slowly through the churning water. It was almost comical watching Johnny’s eyes shift suspiciously from the smokestack with its thin trail of smoke to the helmsman who stood rock steady in the boat. Then he heard it…above the sound of the engine, above the creak of the boat, above the waves splashing against the sides…he looked over his shoulder and caught his breath. He saw the wind driven waves pounding the cliffs of Little Brewster Island. The boat started to veer toward it. Scott suddenly grinned with realization. The lighthouse Johnny had stayed at after Heddy’s murder. He had mentioned Thomas and Edward. Scott couldn’t believe it.  He was just a boy when he came here. He hadn’t put two and two together. He looked back at Johnny, a smug smile on his brother’s face. “Was this the Lady you were talking about?”

Johnny grinned. “Thought you’d like to meet her again.”

It was like taking a step back in time, though his heart beat a little faster as they transferred to a metal gondola, large enough to hold all three men, and swayed in the growing wind as they were hosted up the side of the cliff. Johnny was mumbling something in Spanish. Scott didn’t have to understand the words to know what his brother was saying. As the basket crested the top of the cliff Scott saw Thomas and Edward turning the winch, their clothes buffeting in the stiff wind.

Memories of the days he had spent here, tending to the lighthouse, all came tumbling back and he wished he could go back to being a kid again, his only worry then had been that his grandfather would find out and order him never to return. Weatherly had been the only one to understand the needs of a young boy, the adventure he craved. In the harsh light of adulthood, the old servant had disappointed him, but he could not turn his back on Weatherly and once he served his six months, he would again be installed in the Garrett household. Though this time in the general staff.

Scott could hardly wait for the gondola to settle onto the rocky island before jumping out and shaking hands fondly with Thomas and Edward.

“It’s good to see you, Lad.” Thomas pulled him into a hug that nearly crushed Scott’s spine. “When Johnny told us that you were his brother, we couldn’t a been happier. You always said you wanted…” Thomas winked at Johnny, “a little brother.”

Johnny’s smirk told Scott everything he had to know about the friendship these three men had developed.

Scott rushed back to steady Murdoch as he climbed out of the gondola. He was still pale and tired easily, but he was getting back to the old Murdoch.

“Thomas, Edward, this is my father, Murdoch Lancer.” Scott felt a tingle of pride as he introduced the huge man to his old friends. Pride…the emotion grounded him, made him feel like his world was slowly coming together again. But there was still more to do, more to say.

“Good to meet you, Sir. We were expecting you. I hope you can eat as much as your two sons, because we have enough to feed an army.”

Murdoch laughed. “Nothing like good old sea air to get a man’s appetite going.”

Scott saw Thomas had suddenly noticed Johnny’s attire. Gone was the Boston suit, replaced by his favored pink, embroidered shirt and leather concho pants. “Meet the real Johnny Lancer,” Scott said. The only concession Johnny had made to the eastern lifestyle was his gunbelt. It sat in a drawer back at the mansion.

Scott saw the recognition in Thomas’s eyes as he took in Johnny’s clothes, his hat hanging down his back by the stampede strings.

“You’re not…” Thomas stuttered.

Johnny’s grin was priceless. “Used to be.”

Scott threaded his good arm through Thomas’s elbow and tapped Edward lightly in the arm with his cast. “It’s a long story, bigger than any of those sea yarns you told me as a kid, but all true.” And they headed toward The Lady, with Johnny and Murdoch following.

 

*** 

Scott sat back enjoying a glass of fine sipping whiskey, as Murdoch called it, and took in friends and family sitting around the table.

“It’s a miracle you all made it out alive,” Thomas said, as silence filled the room at the end of Scott’s account. Scott knew both Johnny and Murdoch had their own experiences, some he was sure they would eventually share, some too private to ever pass their lips.

“I hope the judge gave Moore what he deserved.” Edward broke the silence. “I’ve heard of men getting off with a slap on the wrists with a good enough lawyer working for him.”

“The jury found him guilty,” Johnny said darkly.

Scott nodded. “And the judge gave him the death penalty. Miss Stine was sentenced to five years. Doesn’t make up for all the harm they did. But Moore is paying the ultimate price.”

He set his glass down on the table and looked over at Murdoch. His father was looking at him, his eyes filled with so many emotions that Scott could hardly breathe. They still had so much to talk about. They had treaded so carefully around the most painful questions while both Johnny and Murdoch were recuperating.

“Murdoch, would you like to take a walk?” he asked, and saw the look of surprise and relief on his father’s face.

Johnny nodded. He had been the one who told Scott that father and son had to have a talk, get past the damage that was done.

Walking out into the brisk wind, Scott pulled his jacket tighter around himself. Murdoch turned his face into the wind, closing his eyes as it whipped his hair around. Scott led him around to the far side of the lighthouse where the wind was not quite as strong.

“As always, Johnny sees more than we give him credit for,” Murdoch said. “I’m sure this little trip was not just to look up old friends.”

Scott nodded. “Too many ghosts back at Grandfather’s house…and he…my brother, the one who lived most of his life without family, told me that we couldn’t take this back with us to Lancer.”

“He is too young to be so old.”

Silence settled in between them. Then Murdoch asked hopefully. “Does that mean you are coming home? Back to Lancer”

“It’s not that easy.”

“The hell it’s not!” Murdoch blurted out. “What do I have to do to make you understand how sorry I am for the things I did? For the things I said. For the things I didn’t say?”

Scott asked softly, “When are you going to start forgiving yourself?”

Murdoch looked startled. “What?”

“I said, when are you going to start forgiving yourself? I’ve had enough time and information to know that you were put in an unenviable position. My grandfather was a mastermind when it came to manipulating people. He had everyone believing that I had gone to Europe. Moore and Latchford learned from the best. They fed you only what they wanted you to know. You fell right into their trap. You can’t blame yourself for that.”

“Yes, I can. I should have faced you. Asked you...”

“Yes,” Scott admitted. “You should have. But that’s in the past. And we all made mistakes. I should have stayed at Lancer and fought for my right to be there. Johnny shouldn’t have gone off playing detective. To Boston of all places. We don’t always make the right decisions when we’re thinking with our hearts instead of our heads. But that is behind us…if you’ll let it go.”

Murdoch looked back at the water as if the churning waves were akin to the blood churning in his veins. “It’s not that easy,” he said.

“I never said it was going to be easy. There are plenty of hurt feelings, a lot of guilt that we all have to work through. But we can’t start to heal until we are willing to take a risk.”

Scott held his breath. This moment was crucial. He had already talked to Johnny. For once, it was not Johnny who was fighting the demons of guilt and regret. He had come to terms with what had happened. It was now up to this man standing beside him, a man he had come to love, to take that next step.

“I don’t know if I have the right. A father doesn’t turn his back on his son. He doesn’t…”

“Instead he throws himself in front of his son to stop a bullet. You were willing to die for me. What more can I ask of a father?”

“You can ask that he always be there for you, no matter what. That he believes his heart and not the lies on a piece of paper.” Scott knew Murdoch wasn’t speaking just about him. His father had nearly lost Johnny for the same reason.

“You made a mistake, Murdoch. We all make mistakes. How many mistakes did you make when you were building the ranch?”

Murdoch shook his head.

“Quite a few, I would imagine. Did that stop you? Even when you made the same mistake again - did you turn away? No, you kept fighting. Johnny and I aren’t going to give up. Are you?”

Scott saw Murdoch’s lips tremble. “Will you come back to Lancer?” he asked again.

Scott had thought about it, had thought about almost nothing else since Johnny and Murdoch were out of danger. He had so many responsibilities here in Boston. He had Garrett Enterprises, the house with its staff. He couldn’t turn his back on them. They deserved more than that. But he knew he would never be happy here. Lancer was his home.

He nodded. “In time. When I have fulfilled my obligations. I can’t just walk away. Grandfather hurt too many people.”

“But you will come home.”

Scott smiled. “Yes. I’ll come home. After I’ve sold the house and seen that the staff is taken care of properly. Besides, I can’t leave you and Johnny with all the fun, now can I?

“And the work.”

“Yes, that too.”

Murdoch stood taller than he had in a long time. Scott couldn’t take his eyes off his father’s expressive face. Murdoch took a deep breath and Scott held his. “I love you, Son.”

Scott could only nod.

Murdoch smiled. “Maybe we should tell your brother we haven’t thrown each other over the cliffs.”

Scott felt Murdoch’s strong arm wrap around his shoulders. It felt good. It felt right.

 

*** 

Johnny didn’t have to be told. He stood at the front door, his right shoulder leaning against the doorframe. He saw Scott and Murdoch walking his way and he knew they were a family again. It would be hard leaving here without Scott, but they had talked, and he felt pride in the decision his brother had made. And he would write once a week reminding Scott of what he was missing.

He let out a long breath. Harlan Garrett had nearly destroyed his family. Latchford and Moore had come perilously close to finishing the job. But in the end…In the end, it was the strength of the Lancers who won. Three thousand miles away from home, the Lancers were still a force to be reckoned with.

 

~end~
2008

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