The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Ros

 

 

Fortune

CHAPTER ONE

Fortune… if it ever had been a fortunate town, its luck had changed a long time ago. There was nothing much to warrant the name in the unprepossessing little backwater community now. The main street was the sum total of its existence. There was a saloon, a general store and a bank, the sheriff’s office and a few small – but tidy – little houses before the livery stable at the far end of town.

The stage didn’t stop in Fortune any more and, if there were any rooms for rent, they must be at the saloon because there was no hotel.

But Scott Lancer didn’t really care. A bed was all he needed… a bed and a drink. He’d been eating dust on the trail for two long, hot days and this was the first chance he’d had to find himself somewhere to sleep other than the hard baked earth.

He’d stopped early. By rights, he could probably have made it on to Corona and found himself a hotel room, but he was just too damned tired to care. He was well ahead of schedule too. That recollection niggled at his brain while he finished off the last of his beer.

He put the glass mug down on the bar and turned to take another good look around him. There wasn’t much to see. He was the saloon’s only customer and the only person he could see besides the barkeep was the man across the street sweeping dust out of his store. Otherwise, there was no one and nothing to see in Fortune.

He tipped his hat a little more towards the back of his blond head and leaned back against the bar, resting his elbows on the counter behind him and smiling a smile that hinted at his wry sense of humor.

“Not the busiest little place I’ve been in,” he commented to the barkeep, in a voice that resonated with something more cultured than most of the man’s customers. “Is it always like this, or am I just here during your dry spell?”

“Gets busy come payday at the ranch,” the barkeep told him indifferently, wiping down the counter as he picked up the empty glass. “Ain’t much else for them boys to spend their wages on.”

“No, don’t suppose there is,” Scott agreed.

“Get ya another, Mr. Lancer?”

The hope in the man’s voice was palpable and Scott was ever a man to help out a fellow human being. He looked idly over his shoulder and answered. “Sure… why not, and Scott’s just fine.”

Turning around to the bar again, he fished out twenty-five cents and slapped it cheerfully on the counter. He’d already rented a room for the night, but he hadn’t made it that far yet. Quenching his thirst had seemed like a good idea to start with, so he’d leaned his rifle against the bar and slammed his saddle bags on the counter beside him.

He eyed them casually, noting they were heavy with dust, then he looked down at his own clothes and realized just how filthy he was.

If there was one thing Scott Lancer did not like, it was being filthy. He looked up with a sudden gleam in his eye.

“I don’t suppose there’s somewhere around here that a man could get a bath, is there?” he asked as he watched the man pour his beer into the glass.

The man finished and turned back, cheerfully putting the glass on the counter in front of Scott.

“I’ve got a washroom out back,” he said, wiping away a drop of beer that had spilled. “If you’ve got a dollar, I’ll fill ‘er up with nice hot water for ya.”

“Sir,” Scott answered with a grin. “If you can add some soap and a towel to that, I will not only hand over a dollar but be forever in your debt.”

“Deal,” the barkeep agreed and hung the towel on a hook behind the bar, spreading it out to dry.

Scott looked around him casually and noticed that he was in what had to be the cleanest saloon he’d ever been in. The mirror he was looking into, extending the full length of the bar, positively gleamed. There wasn’t so much as a smudged fingerprint on it. And the supplies of bottles, mugs and glasses had not a speck of dust anywhere.

He watched with interest as the man straightened a bottle before putting Scott’s money into his cash drawer.

Such was his fascination that he didn’t even notice the newcomer to the saloon until he was almost at his side. He looked around to find a tall, dark haired man approaching and stopping casually beside him… and there was no missing the shining star on the man’s chest.

It gleamed almost as much as the whisky glasses.

“I’ll get that bath ready for ya,” the barkeep said. “You need anything ‘fore I go, Sheriff?”

“No, I’m just fine, Harry,” the sheriff answered and the barkeep headed out the back way, fastidiously moving a chair into its right place as he passed.

Scott smiled and continued to sip his beer, coolly ignoring the scrutiny of the man beside him until he’d finished. Then he put down the empty glass and turned his head to face the sheriff.

He deliberately returned the man’s scrutiny, looking him up and down carefully, his eyes twinkling with mischief. The sheriff wasn’t much older than himself. He was a little taller, but not much. He was lean and muscular and his moustache was neatly trimmed. The man’s eyes were narrowed a little as he waited for Scott to finish looking him over.

“Something I can do for you, Sheriff?” Scott asked calmly, the twinkle in his eyes turning into a gleam.

“Thought I’d just pass the time of day,” the sheriff told him amiably. “Got business in town?”

“No, Sheriff,” Scott replied, just as cheerfully. “I’m just passing through, on my way home. I thought I’d take advantage of a clean bed and a nice hot bath. I got sick of trail dust.”

“Well, you’ll get ‘em both here,” the sheriff said, grinning. “Harry keeps as clean a place as I’ve ever seen.”

Scott smiled. “Yes, I’ve noticed.”

“So, where’s home?”

“A ranch up near Morro Coyo,” Scott told him, still unconcerned and determined not to have any trouble while he was here. He could get that anytime back home.

“Morro Coyo? Up in the San Joaquin Valley? You’re a ways from home then.”

Scott nodded and sighed. “I’m looking forward to getting back. The whole trip was a waste of time in the end.”

Once again, that niggling doubt shoved its way into his mind. Would Murdoch take his opinion of that bull seriously? He’d listened carefully to his father’s advice on what to look for and had taken notice of Johnny’s pointers too. He had his own experience to fall back on now as well. He’d been at the ranch for a couple of years and he had a pretty good idea of what they wanted. The animal simply hadn’t been what they needed to strengthen the Lancer herd.

“Long trip, hey?”

“Yes, down to El Cajon, checking out a bull that wasn’t as good as we’d been led to believe. So, I’m going home empty handed anyway.”

“That’s quite a ways all right. Reckon there’s nothin’ worse’n wasting your time like that. Guess you’re tired an’ hungry after that ride. You’ll be headin’ out first thing in the morning, I guess… after you’ve had that good night’s sleep… you bein’ in a hurry to get home an’ all.”

Scott stood up straight and tipped his hat even further back on his head, eyeing the sheriff with interest. “I don’t like being any of those things. I’m staying over night and heading home tomorrow to explain to my father why I did NOT buy his precious bull. I don’t plan to stay any longer than necessary in your town. I don’t plan to make any trouble for you, and if you have any more questions, why don’t you just come right out and ask them?”

The sheriff smiled and his eyes twinkled merrily. “Nope, reckon that about covers it, Mister…”

Scott shook his head, still annoyed. “Lancer… Scott Lancer.”

“Tom Logan,” the sheriff answered, extending his hand.

Scott looked at it for a moment and then sighed and accepted it.

“We have a nice quiet little town here, Mr. Lancer,” the man told Scott. “It’s my job to keep it that way.”

Scott nodded. “Sounds fair, and you can make it Scott. Do you interview every newcomer this way?”

“Don’t hardly get many, but yes.”

“It is kind of out of the way,” Scott agreed.

“Suits us that way,” Logan replied.

Wheels rumbling far too fast down the street and the sound of a brake groaning at being forced too hard against them caught the attention of both men. Scott followed the sheriff’s gaze out of the window and onto the street to where a wagon pulled up with a jolt in front of the general store across the road.

“Damn that Gil Turner. He always drives his wagon too fast down that street,” the sheriff complained. “One o’ theses days he’s gonna either run someone down or break an axle pullin’ on that brake so hard.”

Scott wasn’t concerned about the boy or the wagon. His eyes were fixed on the vision beside the boy. An eye-catching, dark haired young beauty, dressed in a pale lemon dress with pretty white lace trimming, and with a bonnet to match. She was berating the young man beside her in the wagon and then helped herself down before the boy could get down to help her.

The boy tied off the reins and then dropped deftly to the ground. Once he stood beside the wagon though, Scott realized that ‘boy’ was an inaccurate description. He was no boy at all, but a tall, dark haired young man of twenty-two or three. There was a marked resemblance between them and Scott guessed that they were brother and sister.

The brother stomped gracelessly around the back of the wagon to where the girl was standing waiting for him. With no attempt at disguising his bad temper, he took the girl’s arm and led her towards the bank. Scott got an even better look at the young lady as she strolled on her brother’s arm towards the building opposite him. She lost nothing in the closer view either.

Her hair wasn’t tied back but hung silkily down her back in ripples of dark brown. He wished he was close enough to see the color of her eyes, but the delicate blush on her cheeks and the fine shape of her nose was enough to captivate him even from here.

“You can take your eyes off that one,” the sheriff said from beside him. Scott dragged his eyes away from the girl to find Logan grinning broadly at him.

“She’s certainly lovely,” Scott admitted, slightly embarrassed.

“Oh yeah… prettiest little gal hereabouts,” the sheriff told him. “An’ she’s got a pa and three big brothers to watch out for her. Reckon it’ll be a cold day in hell when a man gets past them Turner boys to get near her.”

“Protective?” Scott asked with a wry grin.

“Yeah, an’ you don’t wanta mess with ‘em,” Logan advised him. “Gil, out there with her, he’s the youngest, an’ the smallest… an’ he’s a bit of a hothead. Fancies himself with a gun.”

Scott smiled secretly to himself. “Does he? Well, I’ll make sure I don’t get in his way. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m leaving in the morning.” He glanced out of the window for a last glimpse of the girl as she and her brother turned into the bank. “Kind of a shame though.”

“There’s plenty of young fellas hereabouts would agree with ya,” Logan told him. “But her pa owns the biggest spread in these parts. I reckon he an’ Miz Turner have a real good marriage in mind for Miss Emily.”

Scott wasn’t surprised. If the rancher was wealthy and ambitious, he probably wasn’t looking for his daughter to marry the first cowboy who came along. On the other hand…

“And will the girl have any say in that? It sounds a bit merciless to me.”

“Oh, Miss Emily will likely have a say all right,” Logan said with a light laugh. “That little gal knows her own mind. Keeps those brothers of hers on their toes.”

Scott grinned and leaned back against the bar again. Outside, the street was quiet now that the Turner girl and her brother had gone. Even the shopkeeper with his broom had gone inside, so there was nothing moving.

The sheriff turned around and lounged back against the bar beside him. “So, is your pa likely to kick up some dust over this bull?” he asked cheerfully. The smile seemed genuine to Scott. The man appeared to have accepted him for what he was – a stranger passing through… and harmless. Now he just seemed to want to make idle conversation.

Scott figured that there wasn’t much else for him to do. In a town this size, if it really was always this quiet, the man probably didn’t have a whole lot to keep him busy.

“He’ll just have to take my word for it,” Scott told him firmly. “It was fat and a lot older than we’d been told. That rancher was mad as hell that I didn’t buy it. He seemed to think we were under some sort of obligation. Why he even threatened to sue us! But I wasn’t going home with an animal that was certainly not what we want.”

He realized he was being defensive when the man was only being curious. “Sorry, Sheriff. I guess it’s just me. This is the first time Murdoch has trusted me with something like this.”

Logan smiled warmly. “An’ you’re goin’ back empty handed. Yep, always tough that first time round. You just stand your ground an’ your ol’ man will probably fold.”

Scott nearly choked at the thought of Murdoch ‘folding’ in the face of a good argument, but he let it go.

“Got much of a spread?” the sheriff continued.

“It’s enough for us,” Scott told him evasively, never one to brag about the hundred thousand acres that made up Lancer, though his personal pride in it rivaled both his father’s and his brother’s.

They both looked up suddenly. They heard the horses long before they saw them coming into town. The unmistakable noise of galloping hoofs rattled the glasses on the shelves behind them as the horses came closer.

Logan stood up straight. Gone was the lazy, all too nosy hayseed. In his place was a wary lawman, alert to the possibility… the probability of trouble. He strode to the batwing doors of the saloon, just as four horses pulled up hard across the street.

Scott raced over to stand beside him, also aware that there was trouble brewing and careful not to be in the way of any bullets that might start flying.

Dust rose and cloaked the riders, while the horses whinnied nervously and shied in all directions when the men leaped from their saddles to the ground. In the melee of the moment, it was obvious what their intent was. All four wore bandanas tied over the lower half of their faces and their hats were pulled down almost to their eyes.

Three had guns drawn while the fourth, a mere boy of sixteen or seventeen, took their reins and pulled the horses into a bunch.

The three spread out around the bank, looking up and down the street nervously, then one stayed outside watching the street while the remaining two ran into the bank.

“Dammit!” Logan cursed. He started for the street, but Scott pulled him back quickly.

“Are you that anxious to die?” Scott hissed at him. “The minute you step out there, you’re dead!”

“It’s my job to go out there, Lancer,” the sheriff told him with dignity.

Scott looked at him for a moment. The sheriff was determined. “All right, I know that,” Scott agreed reluctantly. “But at least let me give you an edge. Wait a minute while I go out the back and down the alley. I can cover you from there.”

“No, I can’t ask you to do that.”

Scott smiled wryly. “You didn’t. Give me a minute.”

Without another word, Scott ran out the back way. He was drawing his pistol when he almost charged into the barkeep as he hurried back in.

“What the hell’s goin’ on?” Harry demanded anxiously.

“The bank is being held up,” Scott told him quickly. “I’m going down the alley to give the sheriff some back up.”

The barkeep leaped into action, taking Scott by surprise. He pulled off his apron and ran back inside. “I’ve got me a shotgun behind the bar. I’ll go get it.”

Scott nodded and ran. He turned the corner and dashed up the alley, concerned that Logan wouldn’t wait for him… or that he wouldn’t have time to wait.

He stepped around boxes and a garbage pail and finally reached the end of the alley. There he stopped, catching his breath quickly as he cautiously looked out towards the bank and then back at the doorway of the saloon.

One of the batwings pushed slowly and deliberately forward and Logan stepped carefully out, his gun in his hand.

“Hold it right there, Sheriff,” the man at the bank door ordered him. His voice was rough and husky, muted by the bandana that covered his mouth. “Don’t wanta have to kill ya.”

The sheriff stopped on the sidewalk. “Take it easy, Mister,” he said. He stood straight, still holding the gun. “Don’t want anyone getting hurt here. Just drop the gun an’ step aside, real easy.”

The outlaw laughed, though the boy holding the horses was watching Logan. His eyes were wide with fear and he looked quickly from Logan to his partner and back again.

“Seems like you can’t count, Mister Sheriff!” the outlaw sneered. “There’s four of us an’ only one o’ you.”

“That you know of, Mister,” the sheriff told him with a smile.

The man looked as if his confidence had been shaken. Keeping his gun aimed at the sheriff, he risked a quick glance up and then down the street. The boy holding the horses looked downright scared now.

“Hank…?” the boy began anxiously.

“Shut up, kid,” the outlaw growled at him.

The horses sensed the boy’s fear. One of them pulled back hard and the others followed suit, whinnying and snorting as they shied away from him. The boy was almost pulled off his feet, but he somehow managed to get control of them again.

A situation that looked like it would be a standoff soon turned into a desperate state of affairs. From behind the outlaw, a glimpse of yellow skirt appeared in the doorway of the bank.

Scott drew in his breath as the girl was pushed and shoved through the door, a shield for one of the robbers inside. He was almost completely hidden behind her, his gun at her head, as she stepped reluctantly into the sunlight.

Her bonnet was gone and her hair was tangled as he grabbed her head and pushed her forward, then he wrapped his arm around her waist and held her tight.

The fourth man was right behind them, carrying two saddlebags that bulged with what could only be money. His pistol was held ready for whatever came at him.

Scott could see his eyes from where he stood. They were dark and mean, narrowed malevolently at the sheriff.

Scott looked over towards the sheriff and saw the fury on the man’s face. He was confident that, as yet, his own position was unnoticed, but there was little he could do with the girl in the middle of it.

“Drop the gun, Sheriff,” the robber holding the girl yelled at Logan. “Now, or the girl’s dead.”

“That girl gets hurt an’ you don’t even know what kinda trouble you’ll bring on yourself,” Logan told him angrily. “Let her go. There’s no need to hurt a woman.”

Scott turned back to look at the girl. He caught her eyes. She was frightened, but there was something else there. He knew she’d seen him and he thought she seemed to take comfort from his being there.

She started to sob and the man holding her moved his hand from her waist to cover her mouth with an angry, “Shut up!”

Apparently, he didn’t think he had anything to worry about from a terrified little girl in lemon and lace, but he was wrong. Suddenly, she kicked back at his shin, connecting with a vicious blow while biting his hand hard at the same time. The man yelped loudly and released her unconsciously as he grasped his leg and hopped around in pain.

The man behind him fired towards the sheriff, missing him but sending splinters flying from the post beside Logan. Logan fired back and caught the man in the chest. He fell with a loud groan that terrified the boy holding the horses. He lost what nerve he’d had and let go of the reins. The horses broke loose.

Pandemonium ensued. The outlaw still standing outside the door to the bank fired off two rounds towards the saloon, but the sheriff had dived to the ground and rolled so that both rounds missed him clean. The horses reared and bolted, heading straight for where the girl stood fighting off the man who had been holding her as he tried to regain control of his human shield.

Scott didn’t think about what he should do. Instinctively, he ran out into the melee and took her assailant out with his first and only shot. He threw himself at the girl and pushed her, and himself, out of the path of the racing horses. As he hit the ground beside her, he heard their hoofs pound past them, the ground shaking beneath him and the smell of dirt and horseflesh heavy in the air as they bolted down the street.

Another shot was fired. He heard the roar of the shotgun from the saloon almost simultaneously and felt his body slammed by the impact of a bullet in his left side.

It hurt like hell, but he held the girl close and covered her with his own body to keep her from being hit. Another bullet whizzed past him and he turned his head to see the boy who had lost the horses suddenly had a gun in his own hand. That was the only bullet the kid got a chance to fire. A shot from the sidewalk where Logan was crouched hit the kid and he dropped like a stone.

Silence.

Scott watched the dust slowly drift down to settle back onto the street with a sort of disjointed interest. The horses were gone. The shooting had stopped. He wondered idly if the sheriff had made it, and hoped that he had.

His side burned as if he’d been stabbed with a hot poker. Underneath him, the girl suddenly began to squirm and the movement sent screaming shouts of agony through him.

She pushed him off and he landed heavily on his back, gasping quickly and biting back the tears of pain that stung his eyes. He watched while she looked around nervously. Slowly she sat up and, ridiculously, pushed her tangled hair back off her face. It seemed so incongruous that he couldn’t help himself. He smiled.

The girl smiled back at him. “I don’t know how I can ever thank you,” she told him, her voice shaking a little. “If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way…”

Scott shook his head. He managed to lift his hand to his side and touched the wound. When he looked at his fingers, a single drop of blood fell onto his shirt. He didn’t think he could do much more than that, but he found his voice. “It was nothing…” he whispered and the sky began to spin overhead.

She was suddenly leaning over him. “Oh no, you’re hurt…” she gasped. Her face was smudged with dirt and the blush had left her cheeks so that she was pale with shock, but she was still the prettiest girl he’d seen in a long time. Green… her eyes were green…

All of a sudden, she turned around and shouted, “Someone help me… he’s been shot!”

Her words were like an explosion in his head. He gasped at the noise and gulped in a breath of air… then the world collapsed in on him. He felt himself slide into the darkness and was glad of the relief.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Emily’s fingers trembled as she undid the buttons of the man’s shirt and pulled it aside to look at the bullet wound. Blood was seeping from it steadily, spreading across his body and running down his side to soak into the shirt.

“Please… help me…” she cried out again. She turned at the sound of running footsteps behind her and found that the sheriff was already at her side. He pulled off his bandana and handed it to her.

“Put this onto it an’ press it down real hard, Miss Emily. He’s out cold so you won’t hurt him none,” he told her hastily. “Is anyone hurt inside the bank?”

It was like a lightning bolt striking. Her face paled and she gasped. “Gil… Oh, dear heavens, everything happened so fast… I forgot…” She was stricken with guilt. How could she have forgotten that her brother was lying in there, pistol whipped by one of the bank robbers? She didn’t know if he was alive or dead!

The sheriff put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, ma’am. I’ll go check on him. You stay here with Lancer.”

“L… Lancer? Is that his name?” she asked awkwardly. The man had saved her life… his blood was all over her hands… and she didn’t even know what to call him.

“Scott Lancer, that’s his name,” the sheriff told her quickly. “I’ve got to go make sure Gil’s okay an’ that these fellas ain’t gonna do any more harm. You stay with him. Harry’s gone for Joe Hatcher.”

Knowing that Hatcher was on his way eased her mind somewhat. He wasn’t a doctor, just the nearest thing they had to one here. There wasn’t a doctor for fifty miles and even if they sent for him would take the better part of a day and another one to get him back here.

Fortune hadn’t had a doctor for years, but Joe Hatcher knew about fixing people up.

She pressed harder on the wound as blood continued to ooze from it. Then she looked from him to the bank, past the bodies that littered and bloodied the street. Gil was hurt too, and she was torn between staying put and helping the man who had saved her life – who might bleed to death if she left him – and going to the side of her brother lying on the floor of the bank.

Gil, why did he always have to push? He had to try to jump that bank robber and escalate everything out of control. He’d never stood a chance against the two armed men, but his temper had gotten the better of him yet again.

A flush of anger rose when she thought about Gil’s macho stupidity, but it softened when she pictured him on the floor, unconscious.

People began to emerge from the stores and houses and spill into the street. Mr. Andrews, from the general store, was the first to arrive. He walked over to join her and kneeled by her side.

“Saw the whole thing, Miss Emily,” he said, awed. “Bravest thing I ever saw.”

“He’s hurt, Mr. Andrews,” she answered sadly. Tears welled in her eyes and she forced them back ruthlessly. This was not the time for tears.

“Joe’ll tend to him,” Andrews assured her.  “You were real lucky this young fella was here. Ran right out and saved you.”

“Brave thing to do,” Mrs. Andrews agreed, suddenly appearing behind her husband.

There seemed to be more and more people around her. They closed in for a better look and she began to feel claustrophobic. All their talk and murmurings fused into one and buzzed in her ears.

“Will someone please tell me how Gil is?” she asked anxiously, tears threatening again.

“Good heavens, child,” Mrs. Andrews gasped. “Was he in the bank? Barney, go check on the boy, right now.”

The little group around them parted as Barney Andrews rose to his feet and pushed his way through. Joe Hatcher used the same means to get to her side and knelt down where Barney had been a moment before.

“All right, everyone get back a little an’ let us have some air,” he demanded as he squatted beside Emily. He turned to the girl sympathetically. “Let’s have a look at him, Miss Emily.”

“I can’t seem to stop the bleeding, no matter how hard I press down,” she told him worriedly.

“Could be something’s hurt inside, then,” he told her. He gently moved her hand away and lifted the blood-soaked bandana away from the wound in Scott’s side.

Emily had been raised with three brothers on a ranch where accidents were common enough, but the sight of so much blood welling in the hole in Scott’s side was almost too much for her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to clear her head, but the coppery smell of the blood mixed with the still settling acrid odor of gunpowder didn’t help.

Hatcher lifted Scott and rolled him carefully onto his side, evincing a groan from the still unconscious man.

“Bullet’s gone clean through,” he told her.

“That’s good, right?” the girl asked hopefully.

“It means I don’t have to go diggin’ the bullet out,” he said. “That’s good for him. Means there’s two wounds though. That’s two chances of infection gettin’ in.”

He rolled him onto his back again and tuned to the bag he’d brought with him. He opened it and pulled out some clean rags to replace the bandana and to put on the wound at the back. “Someone get some water for me,” he called out and pressed his hand firmly to the wound.

“How is he?” a voice asked from behind them. Emily turned at the sheriff’s voice and jumped to her feet at the sight of her brother by his side.

Gil looked pale and shaken, and he held his hand to the back of his head, but he was alive and on his feet. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.

“Gil, you’re okay!” she sobbed onto his chest.

The young man looked embarrassed. “Come on, Sis, let go,” he whispered to her, trying his best to untangle himself from her grip. “I just got a little tap on the head.”

“When I saw you fall, I thought…” she sobbed.

“Well, I’m okay,” he assured her, a little too firmly. “So this is the guy who saved you?”

“Yes,” she told him, breaking free at last and turning back to Scott. “He ran right out and pushed me out of the way. Then he covered me so that I wouldn’t get hit. But he’s terribly hurt.”

“Joe?” the sheriff asked. “How bad is he?”

“Bad enough,” Joe Hatcher answered. “That bleedin’s got to be stopped. We need to get him outa the street so I can clean him up an’ get him bandaged.”

“Bring him into the saloon,” Harry suggested. “I’ll give you a hand.”

“Me too,” Barney Andrews volunteered. “Least we can do for the fella.”

“All right, pick him up real gentle then,” Hatcher told them. “Harry, I’m gonna need some real hot water, too.”

“Sure, I have some already boiled. I was gettin’ him a bath.”

 “Bath won’t help him none, now, I reckon,” Hatcher said negligently. He looked over at the sheriff. “What about those other fellas, Tom?”

Logan shook his head. “They don’t need patchin’ up – just burying.”

*

Gil Turner sat with his kid sister at one of the tables in the saloon. Under any other circumstances, he would never have permitted her in here, but she wanted to be near the stranger and he couldn’t fault her for that. His hand covered hers comfortingly, while Joe Hatcher tended to the man stretched out on top of the bar.

Hatcher was being helped by Tom Logan while Andrews and Harry looked on, but it seemed like they’d been at it for hours.

Emily had told him the whole story of what had happened out there in the street while he was unconscious in the bank. He was fully aware of how much danger she’d been in, in the hands of an outlaw and with all those bullets flying around her. He felt another surge of gratitude to Scott Lancer, and rage at his own foolhardiness. Lancer had done what he himself should have been there to do.

Gil knew he’d been stupid to lose his temper and try to take that outlaw. He was furious with himself. He should have been there to look out for Emmie.

And, if being angry with himself wasn’t enough; Pa, Glen and Gene were sure going to give it to him when they heard.

“Well, that’s about as much as I can do for now,” Hatcher said at last. “The bleedin’s stopped, but he lost an awful lot.”

“He’s already paid for a room upstairs,” Harry told him. “He can stay there long as he needs. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

Hatcher shook his head. “That’s good of ya, Harry, but he’s going to need twenty-four hour nursin’. Stayin’ here is fine if we can organize some folks to help watch him.”

“I can help,” Logan volunteered.

“Me an’ the missus will gladly help,” Andrews added. “You can count us in.”

“Won’t be hard to find people to help,” Logan suggested. “Everyone saw what he did for Miss Emily.”

“We’ll take him back with us,” Gil said quietly, but decisively, from the table. All eyes turned towards him in surprise. “Can he travel that far, Joe?”

Emily was stunned. Gil wasn’t usually so hospitable. But he just nodded to her.

“If we pad up the wagon real good, he could go that far,” Joe replied after considering the idea. “You sure about this?”

“Yes,” Gil answered confidently. “Pa won’t mind. It’s cause of Lancer that we still have Emmie.”

“All right, I’ll go with ya to the ranch,” Joe continued. “Just in case he starts bleedin’ again on the way.”

*

Emily sat in the back of the wagon, next to Scott Lancer. That was the name Sheriff Logan had told her. Scott hadn’t woken since he’d lost consciousness in the street beside her.

She pulled the blanket over him higher, up to his throat, then she pulled a little piece of straw from his hair. They’d loaded the wagon with as much straw as they could before putting him in the back. Joe had warned them to drive nice and slowly as well. Any jolting could start the wound bleeding again.

Looking at him now, she thought he was awfully good looking. That blond hair of his was ruffled and untidy, but his features were finely cut and masculine. The few words that he’d said to her had rung with a deep resonance and an accent that hadn’t sounded like any of the men she knew.

His face was much paler now than when she’d first seen him. Joe said it was because of the amount of blood he’d lost, and she was well aware of how much that was. She’d managed to wash her hands clean, but her dress was still covered in his blood.

“How’s he doing, Emmie?” Gil asked from the driver’s seat, glancing back over his shoulder towards her.

“He hasn’t come to, Gil. But the bleeding hasn’t started again.”

“Well, that’s good news,” Joe commented from his horse beside them. Tom Logan rode on the other side of the wagon, determined to be there when Gil and Emily had to explain about the stranger to their parents.

Vic Turner didn’t take all that kindly to strangers. He was a good man… a tough man who had raised three tough young sons. His daughter he had mostly left to his wife, Anne. She was a whole different matter – a beautiful cultured lady from a good family in San Francisco.

“Not far now to go now, Sis,” Gil told her. “We’ll make it before dark.”

She sighed gratefully. It wasn’t usually a long way home, but today it seemed to take forever. The steady clomping of the horses had become more and more monotonous as they made their way slowly back home.

Just as they finally caught sight of the gates of the Rocking T, Emily heard a moan from the man beside her. It was very slight, but his breathing had changed too. It was harsher, like he was making an effort to come round.

Instinctively, she put her hand lightly on his shoulder. He moaned again and turned his head towards her. He sighed heavily, then drew in a quick breath. His eyelids twitched, then fluttered and lifted, opening eyes of gray blue that stared at her as he gasped again in pain.

“Shhhh…” she whispered. “It’s all right. You’re safe, Mr. Lancer.”

The confusion and pain in his eyes reached out and took hold of her heart, then squeezed it hard. She caught her breath and took his hand in hers. “We’ll be home soon. We’ll get you into a nice comfortable bed and get you well. Just rest now.”

Emily wasn’t sure that he understood her, but his eyes closed and his breathing settled back into the quiet rhythm from before. She kept hold of his hand, taking her own comfort from it.

She suddenly realized that the wagon had come to a stop.

“Gil, what the devil’s going on?” she heard Gene call out. “And where’s Emmie?”

“I’m here, Gene,” she answered. “I’m fine.”

Gene was beside the wagon in a flash. “Emily, what’s going on?” he demanded in his ‘big brother’ tone. Then he saw Scott lying next to her. “Who’s that?”

“It’s a long story, Gene,” Gil told him for her. “Let’s get him inside first, then we’ll tell you all everything.”

“Gil? Where’s your sister?” her father yelled from the doorway.

Emily realized that, in the fading light, they couldn’t see her in the back of the wagon. She released Scott’s hand and stood up so they could.

“I’m right here, Pa,” she assured him, then her mother appeared at his side. “And I’m fine, really Mama. But we have a badly hurt man here. We have to help him.”

“Good grief, girl,” her father exploded. “What have you brought home this time?”

“Not her, Pa,” Gil told him firmly. “This was my idea. It was the right thing to do.”

He tied off the reins and stepped down from the wagon to stand before his father. Vic Turner was a domineering man and his youngest son was usually daunted by him, but he stood his ground this time.

“The fella saved Emily’s life, Pa,” Gil told him. “He took a bullet doin’ it. Least we can do is look after him till he’s back on his feet.”

“What happened?” Turner demanded.

But his wife put her hand gently on his arm. “I think we can get the details later, dear. We should get the poor man into bed and taken care of first.”

Her placid voice worked the miracle on their father that it always did. Emily was always surprised by how easily she could turn his head.

“All right. Gene, you and Gil get him inside,” Turner said reluctantly. “Just how bad is he hurt anyway?”

Joe Hatcher answered this time. “He took a bullet in his side an’ it went clean through, Vic. Lost a lot o’ blood though.”

Emily watched as her two brothers came over to lift Scott out of the wagon. “Be careful how you handle him,” she insisted. “He woke up for a minute a little while ago. Don’t hurt him.”

“Emmie, get down from that wagon and stay out of the way,” her mother said firmly. She walked over to stand beside the wagon and waited for Emily to do as she was told.

Emily sighed and slipped down to the ground with no grace and her temper just held in. “Mama, he’s hurt because of me. What else can I do but look out for him?”

Standing beside her daughter, Anne Turner finally got a good look at her daughter’s appearance. Her hair was still tangled, despite efforts to bring it back into place, but her dress was soaked with bloodstains.

She gasped and her eyes widened. “Emily, are you sure you’re not hurt?”

“Not a scratch, Mama,” Emily assured her. “But it would have been a different thing if he hadn’t helped me.”

Mrs. Turner pulled her daughter into her arms lovingly. “Thank God,” she whispered, then turned back to her sons. “Boys, be gentle with him. Take him to the guest room and get him settled. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Yes, Mother,” the boys said, in unison. Gil jumped into the back of the wagon and eased Scott to the end, where Gene took hold of his legs. Gil slipped his arms under Scott’s shoulders and got a good grip on him, then they lifted him gently down and carried him into the house.

Scott didn’t wake at all, and Emily was relieved that he hadn’t moaned either. The sooner they had him in a bed, the better.

“All right,” Vic Turner called, as if marshalling his troops. “I want everyone inside so I can get to the bottom of this. That means you too, Logan… and you, Hatcher… I want to know what’s going on, right now.”

*

Emily walked into the bedroom and watched as Joe Hatcher checked Scott over. He was still unconscious and paler than ever, but she was relieved that he hadn’t woken while they pushed and shoved him into the bed.

Gil and Gene had stripped him of his pants and boots and pulled the blankets over him. Joe pulled them aside to check the bandaging and nodded, pleased, when he saw that there was very little blood staining them.

“Looks like them stitches are holdin’,” he said at last. He felt Scott’s forehead and frowned, and then he turned back to face Mrs. Turner. “Might be he’s in for a fever though. He’s a touch warmer than I like.”

“Will he be all right, Mr. Hatcher?” Emily asked anxiously, attracting a look of suspicion from her mother.

“Like I said before, Miss Emily, he’s gonna need watchin’ day an’ night. If he don’t get a fever out of it, he’ll be fine in a week or so. Otherwise…”

“We’ll look after him, won’t we, Mother?” she answered, smiling confidently.

“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Turner replied, squeezing her daughter’s hand comfortingly. “But you must remember, Emily, he might be your knight in shining armor at the moment, but he’s just like any other cowboy and he’ll leave when he’s strong enough. Don’t make more of this than you should.”

Emily’s eyes wandered back to her savior in the bed, the memory of those pain-filled eyes staring back at her clamped tight on her heart, and she smiled. “No, of course not, Mother.”

*

“What’s going on?” he asked as he walked in the back way. Glen Turner was the second, but biggest of the Turner boys. He was tall, fair and the girls in town thought he was the best catch in the county.

He walked over to stand beside his father, an echo of what Vic Turner must have looked like in his youth. Nowadays, Vic’s hair was tinged with gray at the sides and his hairline had risen higher than it used to be. His moustache, thick but neatly trimmed, was peppered with gray as well, but physically, he was as fit as his twenty-five year old son beside him.

Standing side by side, Vic and Glen Turner were a powerful duo. There weren’t many men who could face them and not feel overwhelmed. Gil and Gene were big strapping boys as well, but neither had the presence of Glen or their father.

And in that room particularly. It had high ceilings with huge beams that had been cut and carved and polished. A stone fireplace big enough to heat most people’s entire house took up the majority of one wall and immaculately polished and dusted furnishings around the room were testament to the taste of the mistress of the house.

Tom Logan waited for someone to answer, hoping he wouldn’t have to start the proceedings himself. But it appeared that no one was willing to go first, so he cleared his throat and began.

“There was a hold up in town this afternoon,” he said, keeping his voice firm and level. His pride wouldn’t let him be cowed by anyone, not even Vic and Glen Turner both facing him down. “Four men rode in an’ tried to rob the bank.”

“Tried?” Vic asked.

“’Tried’ is what I said, Vic,” Logan told him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Emily and her mother come into the room. She stood quietly to one side with Mrs. Turner’s arm wrapped around her waist supportively.

Anne Turner… now there was a woman any man would be proud to have on his arm. Tall, dark haired and green eyed, her eyebrows always seemed to be lifted questioningly. Her hair had little of the gray her husband’s had and was pulled back without so much as a strand out of place. Her dress was tasteful and chaste, with small pearl earrings and a cameo brooch all the adornment she needed to give her elegance.

Logan took his eyes off the woman and went back to his story. “Two of ‘em went into the bank an’ two others stayed outside. I was in the saloon with that fella in your guest room. He went out the back an’ down the alley to cover me.”

“That was good of him,” Gene commented, then caught a glare from his father for interrupting.

Logan continued. “Next thing, the outlaws came out with Miss Emily in front of ‘em as cover. She kicked the one holdin’ her and Scott ran out to pull her away. Things got kind of crazy then… their horses bolted an’ headed for Miss Emily an’ Scott… there was a lot o’ shootin’. Scott kept Miss Emily covered till it was all over…”

“And he got shot doing it, Pa,” Emily said firmly. “If it hadn’t been for him…”

Turner’s eyes narrowed. “And where were you, Gil?” he asked his youngest son. The tone almost froze Logan, but Gil merely kicked the toe of his boot on the floor then looked up at his father.

“I got myself pistol whipped in the bank, Pa,” he told Vic. “I was out cold.”

Glen Turner grinned. “Well, that was kinda stupid, Gil,” he said, not unkindly. “Did you try to take ‘em all on, like usual?”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“You should have held your temper and kept an eye on your sister!” Vic said angrily. “When are you going to learn to rein in that hot head of yours?”

“Sorry, Pa…”

“Sorry would have been just fine if it had been your sister who’d got shot, wouldn’t it?”

“No Sir, I don’t guess it would have,” Gil admitted, his head dropped.

“Well, you’re right about one thing,” Vic told him. “The least we can do is look after this man till he’s well enough to ride.” He looked back at Logan. “Do you know anything about him at all?”

“We talked some before the trouble started. He’s from up north, in the San Joaquin Valley. His pa has a ranch up there, near Morro Coyo. His name’s Lancer… Scott Lancer.”

Vic Turner frowned. “Lancer? From up Morro Coyo way?”

“That’s right.”

“You know him, Pa?” Gene asked curiously.

“I met Murdoch Lancer at a Cattlemen’s Association dinner in Sacramento a few years ago,” Vic told him.

“Murdoch, that’s what he called his old man,” Logan said.

“Who is he, Pa?” Glen asked, his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Murdoch Lancer runs a spread near Morro Coyo,” he told them, glancing towards his wife. “’Lancer’ is what it’s called. Takes up most of the San Joaquin… one of the biggest ranches in the state,” he said significantly.

Logan glanced from Vic Turner to his wife and caught the gleam in her eye. He thought back to his conversation with Scott Lancer before the shooting had started. Yes, a real good marriage is what these two had in mind for Miss Emily, and it looked like they’d finally found themselves a candidate.

He wondered what her brothers would think of the idea. Hell, he wondered what the candidate would think of it!

 

CHAPTER THREE

“Well, Sam?” Murdoch asked as the doctor came down the stairs and into the Great Room.

“He’s fine to go back to work tomorrow, Murdoch,” Sam answered with a smile, walking over to join his friend. Of course, if he’d said anything else, he was sure that the dark haired young man behind him would have had something to say about it. Johnny had tired of his bed a week ago and he’d been driving them mad trying to escape ever since.

Johnny finished tucking his shirt into his pants and threw himself into one of the armchairs, grinning happily. “Told ya, Murdoch. Don’t know why everyone is fussing.”

“The ‘fussing’, young man, is because you were laid up with that Influenza for a couple of weeks,” his father pointed out firmly.

Murdoch handed the doctor a glass of brandy, but did not offer one to his son. “You’re still on buttermilk, Johnny,” he said, grinning. He looked the boy over.

It was good to see his son back on his feet. He still looked a little pale, and he’d lost at least ten pounds during those weeks of fevered coughing. He had yet to put most of it back on, so his clothes hung a little loosely on him.

He’d given them a scare when he’d come home that day four weeks ago with a high fever and coughing his heart up. He’d been up at the line shack for a couple of days on his own, but made it back to the hacienda on his own when he’d realized he was it trouble.

They’d put him to bed and listened in dismay when Sam had declared it to be Influenza. The fever rose and had raged for three days, and the coughing had drained what energy he did have, threatening to worsen into pneumonia. The whole ranch held its breath till the fever broke.

Scott had put off leaving for El Cajon until he was sure that his brother was on the mend. He waited until Johnny was out of danger and awake before finally agreeing to go. Murdoch knew he’d be pleased when he got back. Johnny looked a whole lot better now, if a little too thin.

Maria and Teresa were already trying to outdo each other in tempting his appetite. From the moment Sam said he could eat normal food again, both were determined to put that weight back on him.

“Thank you, Murdoch,” Sam said, taking the glass. He turned back to Johnny and took a more serious note. “Just remember what I said, Johnny. If you get tired, rest. No one is going to think less of you for taking it easy after what you’ve been through.”

“Sure, Sam,” Johnny answered patronizingly. Sam shook his head and looked at Murdoch.

“See that he takes things easy for a while, Murdoch,” he told him, sighing.

“You can count on it,” Murdoch told him. “And Scott should be home in a few days to keep an eye on him, too.”

“Come on, you two. It ain’t like I’m still sick or anything,” Johnny protested.

“Just don’t do too much,” Sam answered firmly. “I’m serious about this, Johnny. I don’t want to get called out in the middle of the night because you’ve brought on a relapse.”

Johnny nodded solemnly. “Okay, I’ll take it easy,” he said, then saw the disbelieving looks on their faces and looked hurt. “Honest, I’ll take a siesta at noon if you want.”

“I think we’ve made our point, Sam,” Murdoch said with a grin.

*

Scott lay quietly in the bed throughout most of the night. Emily had insisted on taking the first watch, having done as her mother had ordered and cleaned up first. Her pointed, “You look a fright, Emily. Surely, you don’t want him to see you like that if he wakes up!” had been enough to send her to her room to wash and change.

She’d checked his temperature regularly and was very much afraid that Joe Hatcher might be right. He was too warm… and it seemed to be getting worse.

By the time Glen had come in to take her place, she was getting concerned. She poured some water into a basin and brought it and the washcloth to the nightstand by the bed.

“Make sure you bathe his face, Glen,” she’d told him. “He’s getting a fever.”

“Yeah, all right, Sis,” Glen answered nonchalantly, and took over for her.

“And call me if you think he’s getting worse,” she insisted.

Glen watched his little sister leave and took a look at the man in the bed. It was only too obvious that he’d made quite an impression on her, but Glen would want to know a lot more about him before he took to the idea of Emmie hooking up with him.

When Gene took over from him four hours later, the fever was slightly higher, and Scott still hadn’t stirred.

“Think he’ll make it, Glen?” Gene had asked quietly.

“Oh, I reckon. If that fever don’t get too high,” he told his brother. Then he grinned. “Don’t let him die on your watch or Emmie will have your head.”

Gene scowled. “She stuck on him?”

“Reckon she is.”

“Well, I don’t know that I like that,” Gene said hesitantly. “We don’t know much about him.”

“Yeah,” Glen agreed. “I want to know some more about him before it gets too far. I guess it’s not surprising she thinks he’s a hero though.”

“We owe him for that.”

“I reckon we do,” Glen said frowning. “Don’t think that means he can walk off with our Emmie though.”

“No, you’re right about that.”

“Did you look in on Gil?”

“Yeah, I checked on him. He took a good knock on the head, but he’ll learn from it. Young fool’s got a real headache, but he’s okay.”

“Should’ve been him looking after Emmie, not some stranger,” Glen said angrily.

“The kid’s got a temper, but he’ll grow out of it,” Gene answered patiently, then looked mischievously into his brother’s eyes. “You were the same at his age, as I recall.”

Glen clipped his ‘big’ brother over the head and grinned, then left to get some sleep.

By morning, Emily tiptoed back into the room to find her mother sitting with Scott, wringing out the washcloth and returning it to his brow.

“How is he?” Emily whispered.

“There’s not much point in whispering, child,” Anne Turner told her calmly. “He’s not likely to hear you at the moment. That fever is starting to take hold.”

Emily stood beside the bed and looked at his face. It was no longer pale and drawn. His cheeks were flushed and a frown creased his brow.

“Do you think he’s in pain, Mother?” she asked anxiously.

“Well, he’s unconscious, so we have no way of knowing, but more than likely he is I suppose,” her mother answered. “Are you going to sit with him for a while?”

Emily nodded and walked over to stand beside the bed. She flicked a damp lock of his hair from his forehead and felt how hot he was.

“Then make sure you get him to drink some water if he wakes up,” Mrs. Turner told her. “He’s lost a lot of blood and the fever is taking a lot out of him, so we have to get some fluids back into him.”

“Yes, Mother,” she said, sighing.

Anne Turner watched the dreamy expression on Emily’s face as she stared down at Scott and she seemed to make a decision. She stood up and led her daughter over to a chair by the window. Then she carried the one she’d been sitting on by the bed and sat down opposite her.

“Emily, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you to be here with him.”

Emily was stunned. “Why not? I can look after him. I know I can.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can. What I’m afraid of is that you’re letting yourself get too attached to him.”

Emily sighed and glanced back to the bed. “Well, he is very handsome…”

“Emmie, you don’t know anything about him.”

“I know he’s a good man,” Emily insisted, then smiled mischievously. “And Pa thinks he’s rich, so he has no objections.”

“No, your Pa only thinks he might be suitable. We haven’t met him yet,” Anne Turner told her. “If he really is Murdoch Lancer’s son, he might be wealthy, but you still don’t know anything about him.”

“He’s a good man, I just know it,” she repeated. “And he has the most beautiful eyes…”

“Has he?” Anne asked, smiling warmly. It was the first time her girl had ever noticed a man’s eyes, and she sympathized with her, remembering her own first love. Of course, she’d been lucky enough to have married her own, and was still happy with him. “I haven’t seen them yet, but I admit, he is good looking and it was brave of him to save you like that.”

“You should have seen him, Mother,” Emily gushed. “And when I tried to thank him, all he said was that it was nothing, even though he was hurt…”

“He sounds wonderful, Emmie,” she said, sighing and taking Emily’s hands in hers. “Darling, right now, he’s your hero. That’s perfectly understandable, but you can’t build a relationship on it. When he wakes up, maybe then you can get to know him, but you have to take it slowly.”

Emily shook her head determinedly. “I know all I need to know.”

“Really?” Anne sat up straight and let Emily’s hands drop. It was time to point out a few facts. “Does he drink too much? He was in a saloon in the middle of the afternoon.”

“No, I’m sure he doesn’t.”

“All right,” Anne said, letting that argument go. But she wasn’t giving up. She persisted resolutely. “Rich young men with good looks and too much time on their hands can be vain… rakes…”

“Mother!” Emily gasped, shocked at her mother’s choice of words.

“Do you know that he isn’t?”

“Oh, he isn’t… I’m sure…”

“Emily, what I’m saying is that you don’t know anything about him. You can’t let yourself fall in love with a man who has barely spoken to you.” She held her hand up to Emily’s protests and sighed. “Do you even know if he’s married?”

Emily felt the world fall out from under her feet. He couldn’t be married… could he? She was sure that he wasn’t any of the things her mother had suggested, but she had no way of knowing if he had a wife and children back home waiting for him. He was certainly old enough to have married years ago.

Looking back over her shoulder at him, she wondered. He was so handsome and, if he really was rich like Pa said, then it stood to reason that some woman had snapped him up already.

*

Scott felt himself being lifted and moved around… hands touched his skin and lit a fire around his side. He gasped and opened his eyes. Heat… heat and pain… He heard someone moaning and instinctively knew it was himself.

He couldn’t stand the hand near his side any longer and he reached over and grabbed it, trying to pull it off him and make the hurt go away.

“Easy, son,” a rough voice said calmly, taking his hand and easing it back to his side. “So, you’re awake are ya? Well, I know it hurts, but these bandages need changin’.”

Scott opened his eyes and tried to focus, but the man at his side was little more that a blur. He did know that it wasn’t Sam Jenkins. He knew the doctor’s voice too well, and that was not it.

“Miz Turner, can you pour some o’ that water into a glass and get it down him while he’s awake?” the man said.

The urgency in his voice was confusing to Scott’s clouded mind. Something had happened to him, but he couldn’t remember anything. He looked away from the man and tried his best to focus on the room, but it was all strange to him. It wasn’t his own room… so where was he? Who were these people? The only thing he was sure of was that he wasn’t sure of anything.

There wasn’t really enough time to think about it before someone lifted his head and he felt the cool taste of water against his lips. He opened his mouth and swallowed it eagerly, letting it ease down his parched throat.

After the first mouthful, he gulped a second, but someone crooned, “Take it slowly, Scott,” and he slowed up a little.

Scott didn’t know the woman. He was certain of that. As his eyes cleared a little, he realized that she was probably close to fifty, but beautiful. Her voice was soft and cultured as she spoke to him again.

“That’s much better, dear,” she said, letting him have some more. “You have a fever and you need to drink plenty of water – just not all at once.” She smiled then, and it lit her face.

Fever… he didn’t need anyone to tell him that. He felt like he was burning up. He took another sip of the water, but only just managed to swallow it. He was tired already.

“Where am I?” he asked and was surprised by the hoarse sound of his own voice.

“The Rocking T ranch, just outside of Fortune,” She told him quietly. “My name is Anne Turner.”

“Scott…” he tried to say but his voice gave out with his strength. He lay breathing heavily, straining to keep his eyes open.

“Scott Lancer,” she answered. “Yes, I know.”

She started to blur as his eyes failed to focus. Then someone touched the wound in his side and pain erupted like a volcanic blast. It took his breath away and he heard himself yell.

Darkness called again and he slipped into its arms, away from the pain and the searing heat.

*

 Johnny sat down on the sofa and leaned his head against the back, stifling a yawn. His first full day working and he had to admit, if only to himself, that he was looking forward to his bed tonight.

He looked towards Murdoch and watched him for a moment. Murdoch was sitting at his desk staring at some paper in front of him and frowning.

“Somethin’ wrong?” Johnny asked when he could contain his curiosity no longer.

Murdoch looked up. He seemed surprised that Johnny was even there. “Sorry, Johnny, I didn’t hear you come in. How was your day?”

“Fine, I took it easy just like Sam wanted,” Johnny told him. “You can ask Cipriano if you don’t believe me.” He glowered at his father. “I didn’t need a nursemaid, Murdoch.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did,” Murdoch answered distractedly, and Johnny wondered again what had so much of his attention.

“What’s wrong, Murdoch?”

“I’m not sure there’s anything wrong, Son.”

Murdoch pushed the chair back and got to his feet, strolling over to the fireplace to stand in front of Johnny. “I got this wire today,” he said, waving a piece of paper in the air. “It’s from Jim Carey in El Cajon. It seems that Scott didn’t buy that bull after all and Carey’s threatening to sue Lancer for breach of contract.”

Johnny sat up, his weariness forgotten. “Can he do that?”

“No,” Murdoch answered definitively, dismissing the idea out of hand. “There was never a contract, not even a verbal one. I just told him we’d take a look at it.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Johnny asked. He was sure there was something bothering Murdoch. A hint of a suspicion occurred to him and he went to his brother’s defense. “If Scott didn’t buy it, he must have had a good reason. You trusted his judgment, remember?”

“I’m not worried about the bull, Johnny,” Murdoch told him, sighing. “I do trust Scott’s opinion. I wouldn’t have sent him all that way if I didn’t. Besides I told him what to look for and so did you.”

“Then what is it?”

Murdoch leaned back against the wall. “Scott wired from El Cajon before he started back for home. He didn’t say that he hadn’t bought the bull, just that he was on his way and would wire again from Corona. I assumed that the bull was slowing him down.”

“How long ago?” Johnny asked, a tingle of fear running down his spine. “How long since he left El Cajon, Murdoch?”

“Three days.”

Three days… Johnny considered it. It wasn’t so much. Johnny knew that part of Southern California pretty well. He’d traveled it a lot during his Madrid days and figured it would take a couple of days if he was taking things nice and easy.

And it was likely that he was. He and his horse had traveled all that way, only to turn around again and head home empty-handed. They’d both be tired.

 It only made Scott a day late, but…

“Could be all kinds of reasons for him being late,” he suggested, trying to believe it himself. “Could be he ran into some bad weather, or his horse coulda gone lame…”

“I know,” Murdoch agreed. “I’ve been thinking this through ever since I got the wire from Carey this afternoon. I’m well aware that there are lots of things that could have delayed Scott.”

Johnny stared at his father. He didn’t look any more convinced that he felt himself. There was an unnerving feeling of trouble suddenly in the air.

“But you’ve still got an itch you can’t scratch, right?”

Johnny knew just how his father felt. There would be a dozen explanations for Scott’s being late, all of them reasonable and logical… and perfectly harmless. Yet something ‘felt’ wrong.

Murdoch sighed. “We’re probably worried over nothing at all. He may simply have gotten in after the telegraph office closed. Most likely, we’ll hear from him tomorrow.”

“Yeah, most likely,” Johnny agreed doubtfully. If there was one reliable man in the world, it was Scott Lancer. And that worried Johnny.

“I could ride down there… meet up with him…” Johnny suggested hopefully. “He’d appreciate the company.”

“No, that’s out of the question,” Murdoch answered firmly. “You’re not up to a ride like that yet and you know it.”

“Murdoch…”

“No,” Murdoch told him determinedly. “It’s too far. Today was your first day back at work and look at you – you’re exhausted. And don’t try to tell me otherwise.”

“So, we just sit here and wait?” Johnny demanded, his anger beginning to rise. “What if he IS in trouble?”

Murdoch lowered his head in thought before looking back to Johnny. “We have no reason to think he is, but if we don’t hear from him tomorrow, I’ll go myself.”

“If we don’t hear from him tomorrow, we’ll both go,” Johnny corrected him. “You’re not up to a ride like that any more’n I am, not with that back of yours.”

Johnny knew his father was right. They had no real reason to worry, yet. But that niggling tingle ran down his spine again.

On the other hand, Murdoch was frustratingly right about another thing. Johnny was exhausted and he knew it. One day in the saddle, riding fence lines and taking things real easy, and he could barely keep his eyes open now. He hated the feeling, but there was little he could do about it.

As if to confirm it, he coughed hoarsely and had to catch his breath. He lowered his head, not wanting to see the ‘I told you so’ look that he was sure would be in his father’s eyes.

“Well, I’m gonna get cleaned up for dinner,” he said reluctantly. “Think I’ll have an early night.”

He got to his feet and suddenly found his father’s huge hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about John.”

“Yeah, I know. Boston’s probably stuck on the road with a lame horse is all,” Johnny answered him. Part of him knew it was likely to be true, but a tiny corner of his mind was still nervous.

*

“There’s infection in that exit wound, Miz Turner,” Joe Hatcher told her when he’d finished putting the clean bandage on Scott. “That’s what’s causin’ the fever, I reckon.”

“What do you suggest?” she asked him.

He went to his bag and pulled out a small ointment bottle. “This salve might do the trick,” he answered. “I put some on both wounds ‘fore I put the new bandages on him. You’ll have to change them twice a day, bathe the wounds with some salt water an’ then put some o’ that salve on ‘em. Keep washin’ him down like you been doin’ an’ get water into him any time he wakes up.”

Anne Turner nodded, taking note of the instructions. She glanced at the young man, now flushed with an unnatural shine on his cheeks. “He was in a lot of pain when he woke,” she said quietly.

“Yep,” Hatcher agreed. “You got any laudanum in the house, Ma’am?”

“Yes.”

“Well, keep it handy, but try not to give it to him till that fever breaks. An’ not too much at once, just small doses… enough to ease the pain is all.”

“Very well,” she answered, sighing. Those gray eyes of his haunted her, so filled with pain. She knew what her daughter had seen in them now.

“I can come back tomorrow, Ma’am,” Hatcher told her. “But if that fever gets much higher, he’ll likely get delirious. You’ll have to make sure he don’t toss ‘round too much and break them wounds open. Last thing he needs is to lose any more blood.”

She nodded once more. “We’ll look after him, Joe,” she assured him. “We owe him… and we Turners pay our debts.”

*

Johnny woke sweating. He didn’t remember much of the dream that had shaken him so badly, but he felt a strange foreboding. He threw back the covers and walked over to the dresser, poured some water into the basin and scooped his hands into it. He splashed it over his face and the cold water jarred his shattered nerves before easing him into a feeling of calm.

Finally, he ran his wet hands through his unruly mop of dark hair and stared at his reflection in the mirror. In the gray light of the pre-dawn hour, he barely recognized the face looking back at him. He was pale… too pale. He still looked gaunt from the loss of so much weight and it gave him a haunted look.

Sighing, he rubbed away the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes and let his mind drift along unfamiliar territory.

All he could remember of the dream that had woken him was the sound of Scott’s voice calling his name. There’d been a sense of urgency about it.

Johnny Lancer did not believe in premonitions any more than Johnny Madrid did, but he couldn’t fight back the awful feeling that something was wrong.

He told himself that he had gone to bed thinking that Scott might be in trouble, worrying about his brother despite his own common sense telling him that it was too soon to be concerned. It was only natural that he would dream of Scott under the circumstances. There was nothing supernatural about it… just an overactive imagination.

Walking over to the window, he peered out into the shadows. There could be so many reasons why Scott was late, all of them reasonable… probable even. Yet he couldn’t shake the bad feeling he had over it. It started with a small crevice of his mind rejecting the logic and it grew until his spine tingled… and his mind was made up.

He stared out of the window at the early morning. The sun was nearly ready to rise. Soon the ranch would be alive again.

In another hour it would be daylight… and too late.

Hastily, he went back to the dresser and pulled open one of the drawers. He grabbed a clean shirt to wear, then threw two more onto the bed.
 

CHAPTER FOUR

Johnny avoided the road for the day. Instead, he rode the hillsides and through woods that he knew like the back of his hand.

He knew Murdoch would send someone after him and, having made up his mind to do this, he had no intention of being dragged back home like a runaway kid. Sam would be angry too, but there was no helping it. He was sure Scott was in trouble and he wasn’t going to sit around waiting for word.

Once he got far enough, he’d rejoin the road. Scott would stick to the roads all the way if he could and Johnny knew that he would be less likely to miss him if he traveled them too.

He thought about what would be Murdoch’s reaction to the letter he’d left. He hadn’t just run out without laying plans this time. He wanted to know if Murdoch got word of Scott.

So he’d told Murdoch that he would stop only in towns where there was a telegraph office and would wire from every stop. He’d asked Murdoch to just wire ahead to the next town if he heard from Scott.

To his dismay, however, was the knowledge that his father had been right in telling him he wasn’t up to this trip.

Johnny was tired by noon, but he kept on. He’d have to take it slow and easy, but he wasn’t going back. That troubling tingle in his spine that something was wrong had soon gone though, but it had escalated into just plain worry.

By the time he’d gotten Barranca saddled and sneaked out into the shadows of the yard, he’d convinced himself that Scott had to be in trouble. Scott was just too reliable not to keep to an arranged plan.

Johnny had been surprised that he’d been able to make good his escape without being caught. With his spurs in his hand to keep them quiet, he’d crept through the house and into the barn, even managing to slip past without disturbing that damned gander of Jelly’s – quite a coup!

By mid afternoon, Johnny figured he had gone about as far as he could for one day. His head ached from the sun. He’d been out of action for weeks and it was telling. His body was letting him down already.

Traveling at this pace, both to avoid detection and to keep from tiring too quickly, he hadn’t gone anywhere near the distance he’d have liked. He rode into Tulare and was relieved to see a hotel as well as a telegraph office.

He decided it would be better to stop now and rest up rather than to press on any further. He needed to stay fit, in case Scott needed him.

He took a room at the hotel, deposited Barranca at the livery stable and then made his way to the telegraph office. He’d stay true to his word and keep in touch with Murdoch this time.

“Howdy,” Johnny said cheerfully as he entered the telegraph office. “Don’t reckon you’ve got anythin’ here for Johnny Lancer, do you?”

“No, Sir,” the young man behind the counter answered with certainty. He looked up and Johnny thought that he was kind of young to be in a position of such trust, only about seventeen years old. But there was a look of intelligence in the boy’s eyes that raised Johnny’s confidence in him.

“Then I’d like to send this,” Johnny told him, pushing a piece of paper across the counter. He’d kept it short and hoped there would be an answer before he left in the morning.

The boy read the words aloud. “’In Tulare. Bakersfield tomorrow. Any news? Johnny.’ That right, Mister?”

“That’s it. Send it to Murdoch Lancer at Spanish Wells,” he told the boy and paid him.

With any luck, Murdoch had heard from Scott already and he could just turn around and go back home. If that was the case, he’d be more than happy to sit and listen to the lecture he’d be bound to get from all of them, including Sam. As long as he knew that Scott was safe and back in touch with them.

But he’d already come to believe that there wouldn’t have be any word from Scott.

“Surely, Mr. Lancer,” the boy answered and set about tapping out the wire.

Johnny waited until he was done, then added, “If there’s any reply, I’ve got a room at the hotel. Can you send someone over with it?”

“Yep, sure can, Sir.”

“Thanks,” Johnny told him and turned to leave. Before he even got to the doorway, the telegraph began tapping again. He went to step out of the door, but the telegrapher stopped him.

“Mr. Lancer,” the boy called out to him. “It’s for you.”

Johnny stopped and turned back in surprise. “For me?”

But the boy didn’t answer. He was busy writing as he listened to the tapping of the telegraph. When it finally stopped, he looked up again.

“It says, ‘Nothing yet. Wait for me. Be in Tulare tomorrow afternoon. Are you okay? Murdoch.”

Johnny grinned. To have gotten such an immediate answer, Murdoch must have been hovering around the telegraph office waiting for his wire. He could picture his father pacing and growling, and he was glad that he wouldn’t be within reach of his father’s hands when he read the reply he was about to get back.

Johnny’s mind was made up already. He picked up pen and paper, and wrote quickly. ‘I’m fine. Not wasting another day. Wire me at Bakersfield if any news.’

He slid it across the counter to the young man and paid him. Looking it over and then tapping it off, the boy smiled and put the money away.

“You expecting another answer, Mr. Lancer?” he asked.

Johnny smiled ruefully. “Nothing he can send over the wires,” he answered, and the boy laughed. “Anywhere a man can get a decent meal around here?”

“Sure, there’s a diner just the other side of the hotel,” the boy replied. “If there is a reply, I’ll send it to you there, if you like.”

“Thanks.” Johnny tipped his hat back a little and walked out into the street. Things would be real interesting at home right now. Murdoch would not be happy with him.

*

Mrs. Turner opened the door and peeked into the room. Scott was lying quietly in the bed, but Gil was not sitting with him as he was supposed to be. She stepped into the room that they had all come to think of now as ‘Scott’s Room’, annoyed with her youngest son.

“Gil Turner, what are you doing?” she asked as she found him at the end of the bed.

Her son looked up guiltily, but didn’t stop rifling through the saddle bags.

“Searchin’ his bags,” he told his mother, pulling out a clean shirt that was still remarkably neatly folded and throwing it onto the bed.

Anne Turner sighed heavily. “Yes, that much I can see for myself, Gil. Why are you searching his bags?”

“Thought he might have somethin’ on him that would tell us if he really is Murdoch Lancer’s son,” Gil explained, delving into the depths of the bag and finding nothing of more interest than a comb and shaving gear.

Despite not liking his methods, Anne was definitely in favor of getting that piece of information. He’d said he was Scott Lancer, but they had no way of knowing it for fact until he woke up to talk to them.

It had occurred to her that someone might be getting worried about the young man’s disappearance. She knew how she would feel if it was one of her sons who was missing and her heart went out to his family.

She fingered the shirt that Gil had tossed onto the bed beside the bags. “That’s good quality material,” she said distractedly. It wasn’t the plain cotton shirt that most cowboys wore.

“Here’s something,” Gil said triumphantly. He pulled out a small black billfold and opened it.

With a small twinge of guilt, Anne looked over her son’s shoulder as he pulled out a letter of credit.

“It’s signed by Murdoch Lancer,” Gil told her with a satisfied smile, then retrieved another piece of paper from the billfold. “An’ there’s a note with it to introduce his son, Scott Lancer. Guess that says it all, Mother.”

“Yes, indeed it does,” she told him. “We’d better get word to Mr. Lancer that his son is alive.”

“What d’ya mean?”

“Oh, Gil, his father is probably worried sick at not having heard from him,” she said with feeling. “You can ride up to Corona in the morning and send a wire to let him know that Scott is here.”

Gil did not look impressed. “Corona?  But that’s nearly a half day’s ride.”

“There’s nowhere closer with a telegraph office, dear.”

“Well, yeah, I know that, but Pa won’t like me being gone all day,” the young man protested. “There’s chores to be done.”

“Yes, and I’m sure I can talk your father into letting you off them for one day,” she assured him with a smile. “Your brothers won’t mind sharing your load of the work for one day.”

She put her hand on his arm tenderly. “Do you think you can avoid trouble for that long?” she teased him.

“Ma!” Gil sounded wounded.

She smiled warmly. “I’m sorry, dear,” she said gently, kissing his cheek. “I’m sure I can trust you for one day.”

*

Emily entered ‘Scott’s room’ quietly and was surprised to find her mother sitting with him again.

“It’s all right, Emmie, come on in.”

“How is he?” the girl asked anxiously.

“Well, that fever just won’t give in,” Anne Turner replied, putting her hand to his forehead to check it again.

Earlier, she’d been worried that Emily was becoming attached to a man who might be quite wrong for her but, as the long morning had worn on with the fever steadily climbing and his pulse getting faster, she was now becoming more concerned that the young man might not survive at all. It would break Emily’s heart.

And, if she was honest, she’d be sorry to see the young man pass herself. He was certainly attractive, and might well be just the man for Emily. She would like the chance to get to know him and come to her own conclusions.

“Has he woken at all, Mother?”

“Not since that one time when Joe was changing his bandages.” Anne looked up at her daughter’s face and noted the sadness there. She took Emily’s hand and patted it reassuringly, then smiled. “You were right,” she said. “He does have nice eyes.”

Anne was pleased to see a little smile in reply.

“He does, doesn’t he?” Emily bubbled. But it was only a brief respite. The smile faded. “He’s not going to die, is he?”

Anne sighed. “Not if we can help it, Emmie.”

Scott turned his head towards them and mumbled something indiscernible. Emily frowned and sat down on the edge of the bed. Forgetting her mother’s presence, she took his hand in hers and was surprised by the heat in it.

His eyes opened and he frowned at her.  She could see the confusion in them.

“Teresa?” she distinctly heard him ask. His breathing was ragged as he forced the word out and he panted heavily from the effort, but she was certain that he’d called her by another woman’s name.

She glanced quickly behind her and knew that her mother had heard it too. Who was Teresa – His wife perhaps? She was sure that it must be what her mother was thinking.

“Shhh… don’t try to talk, Scott. You need to rest.”

Anne poured a small amount of water into a glass and passed it to her daughter. “Try to get him to drink it,” she whispered. She could see that he wasn’t fully aware of who they were or what was happening around him, but he might be conscious enough to swallow the water. They had to make the most of the opportunity to get some fluids into him.

Emily took the glass and raised Scott’s head gently. “Drink this for me, Scott,” she urged him quietly, putting the glass to his lips and tilting it just enough to let him drink.

He sipped it and waited for a moment to catch his breath before taking some more. Emily smiled and whispered encouragement, but he took only those two sips before turning away in exhaustion.

“Thanks…” he managed to say. “So… tired…”

His eyes caught Emily’s for just an instant before his lids dropped down. She lowered him back to the pillows.

“Do you think it’s enough?” Emily asked her mother.

“Every little bit helps, Emily,” Anne told her evasively. She knew they needed to break the fever quickly, before it took too much out of him.

*

By evening, Emily was sitting with him alone. She’d had dinner and would sit with him for a few hours before Gil took over for her. Gil was taking an early ‘shift’ at watching Scott so that he could get a good night’s sleep before heading for Corona in the morning.

Now that they knew for certain that Scott was the son of Murdoch Lancer, her father had been more than happy to release Gil from his work to send the wire. He wasn’t at all displeased that he had such a wealthy landowner’s son in their house, with his only daughter nursing him.

Emily thought her mother still had reservations. She blamed them on that one word that Scott had said earlier… ‘Teresa’…

Emily sat in the chair by the bed, changing the wet compress to try to keep him cool, wiping down his face and neck with another cloth. Joe had stopped by late in the afternoon to change the bandages and check on ‘his patient’. He’d told them that the whole town was buzzing with the tale of her rescue from the bandits.

Not to mention the fact that he and the sheriff had foiled the robbery. The whole town had their savings in that bank. It would have been disastrous had the outlaws gotten away with it.

As he had carefully applied more of his salve to Scott’s wounds, he’d added that the townspeople were praying for the young man’s recovery.

Scott had not come to when the bandages were changed this time. He’d shown no sign of waking since that moment when he had opened his eyes and called for ‘Teresa’.

The name worried her. It meant that there must be another woman in his life and Emily’s stomach churned at the thought. Ever since her mother had brought forward the idea that he might be married, the thought had stayed with her, teasing her.

She put the cloth back into the bowl of water and put her hands demurely in her lap, watching him… noting every feature of his face from the strong point of his jaw to his aquiline nose. Even asleep, his eyes held her… intrigued her. His lashes lay softly against the dark shadows under his eyes – shadows that reflected the devastation of his illness.

His brows were knitted with pain and his blond hair was darkened with dampness, matted to his forehead.

Emily leaned forward and moved the damp locks from his face, then she combed her fingers tenderly through his hair.

‘Teresa’… she dared not think too hard about who she was.

*

Sometime around three in the morning, Gene Turner noticed that Scott was sweating heavily. He hurried down the hall to his parents’ room, knocked and told his mother that the fever looked like it had broken.

Anne ignored Vic’s grumbling at being woken in the middle of the night, hurriedly threw on a robe and followed her son back to Scott’s room.

Scott was covered in sweat. The sheets were soaked through already and the bandage around his waist was wet as well.

“Gene, get Glen in here quickly. We have to get Scott out of that bed so we can get him dried off and into fresh sheets. We’ll have to change those bandages too.”

“Sure, Mother,” her son answered quickly and darted out of the door, disappearing down the hall to his brother’s room.

Anne took the damp towel and wiped the sweat from Scott’s face, neck and shoulders. “So, you’re planning on sticking around here after all, are you, Scott Lancer?” she whispered gently as she worked. “I owe you a lot. My girl is alive thanks to you. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let you hurt her. You’d better be good enough for her.”

Now, it seemed that she might get the chance to find out if he was the right man for her Emily.

He didn’t answer, but she hadn’t expected him to. The fever might have broken, but his breathing was still heavy and rasping. She put her fingers to his wrist and felt his pulse. It was weak… very weak. And it was too fast.

She sighed. He’d turned a corner all right, but he still had a long way to go.

First, they had to get him out of those wet bed clothes before his caught a chill. Pneumonia was the last thing he needed now.

*

Anne was still with Scott as dawn broke. Gil came in just after sunrise to say goodbye before heading out for Corona.

“Gene said he was doing better,” he said quietly, looking at Scott’s still slightly flushed face. He didn’t look all that much better, though he was sweating.

“The fever broke early this morning,” his mother told him. “I’m hoping he’ll come around soon.”

Gil nodded, pleased by the news. “So, what should I say in this wire you want me to send to his father?” he asked.

“Just that he’s wounded and we’re looking after him. Tell him that Scott is welcome to remain here until he’s fully recovered. Address it to Murdoch Lancer, Lancer Ranch, Morro Coyo.”

“Okay. So, do you think they’ll come for him?”

“Oh, I suppose that’s more than likely,” she answered, smiling. She looked up into her young son’s face. “I certainly would if it was one of my boys.”

“Yeah, guess you would,” he replied, a little hesitantly.

“I want you to wait in Corona for a while, Gil,” she told him. “See if there’s an answer. Of course, there might not be one if the ranch is a long way out of town. If you don’t hear back before you have to come home you’d best pay extra and have the telegraph office send someone down here if there is one.”

“Okay, Mother,” Gil nodded. The idea of loafing around Corona for the day appealed to him. There was a real good saloon there, with this one pretty dancehall girl that he remembered fondly. “I’ll be back in time for supper.”

“See that you are, dear,” she admonished him. “And don’t get into any mischief while you’re there.”

He winked at her and kissed her on the cheek.

With that, the boy left and she sat quietly watching Scott. He was sweating less now and his temperature had dropped to a safer level, but she kept up the compresses and wiped his face. For the most part, the flush of fever had faded and he was left looking pale and exhausted.

The room was so quiet that the first murmur from him took her completely by surprise. His breathing became heavier and strained. Slowly, the murmur turned to a moan and his eyelids rose and then closed again.

“Scott… wake up, Scott,” Anne urged him gently. She put her hand to his shoulder and nudged him ever so slightly. “Come on, Scott, open your eyes for me.”

Scott heard the voice, soft and sympathetic, but it beckoned him into a world full of pain… a world he didn’t want to go back to yet.

He felt incredibly tired. Just lifting his eyelids seemed like too much effort and he lay back and sighed.

“Come on, Scott,” the voice persisted. “Wake up now.”

It was a pleasant voice and he was sure he’d heard it somewhere before. He couldn’t place where or when, but he thought that he knew it.

He opened his eyes, but they fell closed again. It took a few attempts to get them to stay open, but he finally managed it.

The woman slowly came into focus, but he had no idea who she was. He frowned, but couldn’t seem to find his voice to ask her.

“Hello, there,” she said quietly, her eyes warm and welcoming.

He looked into her face, feeling that he should know her. “Who…?” he whispered. He couldn’t find the strength to ask more.

“I’m Anne Turner.”

Confusion clouded his mind. “Do… do I know you?” he finally managed to ask. His eyes drifted around the room. It seemed comfortable enough, but he didn’t recognize it. It certainly wasn’t his own room at home.

His head felt heavy and muddled. Where was he? Something had obviously happened to him, but his mind was so gummed up that he just couldn’t figure out what.

“No, I don’t expect you to remember the little bit of conversation we had,” she told him, smiling reassuringly. There was an elegance in her voice that matched her face. “But you saved my daughter the other day, in a bank robbery.”

“Bank… robbery?” he asked, confused.

Suddenly, images began to surface and flicker through his mind like pages being turned randomly in a book. There was a man… a sheriff… a wagon and a pretty girl… the girl walking slowly into the street with a man holding her.

“Lemon and lace,” he whispered as the image of the girl floated through his head.

Anne smiled at his strange description of her daughter.

Then he frowned again as something else she had said sank in. “Days?”

“You were shot, Scott,” she explained gently. “You’ve had a high fever, but it’s over now. You just need to rest and get well.”

“Days? How many?”

“It happened three days ago. You’ve been very sick, but the worst is over now.”

“Three days!” he gasped. He tried feebly to lift his head off the pillow, determined to get up, but his body just wouldn’t answer him. “They’ll be worried…”

“Your family?” she asked. “Don’t worry, my son has gone to Corona to wire your father that you’re here. Your father is Murdoch Lancer, isn’t he? From the Lancer Ranch at Morro Coyo?”

He nodded a little, relieved that they would know. He felt so tired. The battle to stay awake was fast becoming just too hard.

“Yes, they’ll be worried…”

“It’s all right. They’ll have the wire tonight,” she assured him. “Then they won’t be worried about you.”

He relaxed and the darkness began to call. He felt his head being lifted from the pillow and a glass put to his lips. Cool, refreshing water trickled into his mouth and he swallowed it eagerly.

“Thanks,” he murmured and closed his eyes, slipping back into the darkness.

*

Johnny slept soundly in the hotel bed, disturbed only now and then by the persistent cough that still hung on from his illness. He’d been dead tired after the long ride.

With a decent meal and a soft mattress beneath him, he was asleep soon after dark, but he was up at first light, ready to start out again. He’d had the forethought to pay for the room and Barranca’s stabling in advance, telling both the hotel clerk and the liveryman that he intended to get away early.

So, with Barranca saddled and eager to get going, and with no further need to avoid the roads or his father, Johnny expected to make better time today. Bakersfield would be a good place to stop. The booming town was bound to have both a telegraph office and a good hotel to stay in.

And hopefully, there would be word there from Murdoch.

He wasn’t worried about hurrying at this stage. Whatever had happened to Scott, it had happened before he reached Corona. Otherwise, Murdoch would have heard from him there. No, Johnny would concentrate his search on the area between Corona and El Cajon. Somewhere in that vast area, his brother was in trouble.
 

CHAPTER FIVE

Gil Turner rode his big bay gelding down the main street of Corona around eleven in the morning. He was hot and dusty, and he was tired. And he’d been doing a lot of thinking on the way there.

He was the youngest of the three Turner brothers. Glen was the next youngest, but he was five years older than Gil and he had always been a big, strapping lad. He’d always played kind of rough…

The result was that Glen and Gene had had little time for their kid brother when they were growing up. Gil had been closer in age to his little sister, Emily, and it had been only natural that they had spent more time together. They had always been best friends more than brother and sister.

He felt very protective towards her, maybe even more so than his older brothers, or even his Pa, did. But he knew that he had failed her badly that day in Fortune. His temper had gotten the better of him, again, and she could have been killed because of it. His father hadn’t had to say anything about it, he knew that he had been responsible for Emily and had let her down.

Gil felt the need to make up for it and he thought he’d found a way to do it. He’d seen how taken she was with Scott Lancer. Lancer was the first man to really take her fancy and Gil wanted her to have a chance to win him.

Oh, she’d had playful crushes on young fellows when she was growing up, but there had never been anything serious. And none of them had ever been up to the high standards set by his parents. They wanted more for Emily than some ordinary cowhand, and so did he… so did Gene and Glen.

Scott Lancer was eligible. He came from a wealthy family. The Lancer name swung a lot of weight in the right circles according to his father. Stuck in Fortune, a tiny, out of the way part of the world, this might be the only chance Emily would ever have for the ‘good marriage’ they all wanted for her. And the fact that she was taken with him was a bonus. Gil was sure that Scott would take to Emily too. It wasn’t just his pride in his sister that made him aware that she was a pretty little thing.

Emily was the prettiest girl in the county. She had men, young and old, looking admiringly at her wherever she went. Gil knew the two of them just needed some time to get to know one another and the rest was just the natural way of things. Scott Lancer was bound to fall in love with Emily.

But, when Scott Lancer’s father got word of where he was, then he’d come for him… take him home.

By Gil’s calculations, it would be about four days’ ride from Morro Coyo to Fortune. That didn’t give Emily and her boyfriend much time to get to know each other.

Damn! It just wasn’t fair.

Gil looked for the telegraph office and dismounted outside. He tied his horse to the hitching rail and tipped his hat back on his head while he looked at the building.  Finally, he sighed and stepped up onto the boardwalk. He walked through the door, his mind still turning over the unfairness of it all.

*

Scott woke again a few hours later. The sun streamed thought the window so he knew it was still daylight, but what time it was… he had no idea.  He looked around the room and found it almost recognizable now – the dresser with the small mirror over it… the lace curtains at the window and the small table beside it. There was a lamp on the table, small but elegant. The whole room was neat and comfortable.

But he lay quietly thinking that something was missing. He knew what it was. It wasn’t home.

Then he became aware of someone in the room with him. He turned his head and found himself in the presence of an angel. She was a younger version of the lady who’d woken him this morning, but he knew this face immediately.

“Lemon and lace…” he whispered, before he could stop himself.

“Pardon?” she asked, smiling.

“Nothing… sorry,” he answered, embarrassed that his thoughts had manifested themselves in words.

“Oh please, don’t be sorry,” she said to him. He watched her pick up a glass of water and then lean over him to lift his head off the pillow to allow him to drink from it. “Here, you should drink some now that you’re awake.” Then she smiled again and her eyes twinkled. “You ARE awake this time, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I think so,” he answered with a weak grin.

“Good,” she said cheerfully. “It’s time you were. Now drink up.”

When he’d finished, she lowered his head again. He looked into her eyes – bright, green eyes… as green as the sea and deep enough to drown in.

“Thanks,” he said quietly. “I know you, don’t I?”

“I’m Emily Turner,” she told him with a lovely musical voice. “You rescued me.”

“Oh… yes… the bank robbery,” he sighed, memories gushing in. He shifted slightly in the bed and the movement set off a fire in his side that took his breath away, literally.

He gasped aloud and held his breath waiting for the pain to subside. But it didn’t ease off. He found her hand on his and he grabbed it, holding tightly while he rode through his torment.

Finally, it relented; sinking to a throbbing ache instead and he opened his eyes and breathed again.

She held another glass to his lips and he sipped it, pulling back quickly from the bitter taste.

“It’s all right. I know it tastes awful, but it will ease the pain,” she reassured him. “It’s only laudanum.”

“I know what it is,” he answered. He panted heavily, exhausted, and thought about refusing it. He’d slept long enough. But the pain in his side was intolerable, so he finished it. She gave him another glass of water to wash down the taste.

Another thought came into his head. “My family… do they know… know where I am?”

“We weren’t really sure who to notify until yesterday,” she answered, lowering her head a little. “I’m sorry, but my brother Gil went through your saddle bags looking for some sort of identification. I hope you don’t mind.”

Scott shook his head, still fighting the pain in his side and trying to keep his breathing even.

“He’s gone to Corona today to wire your father,” she continued.

Scott sighed heavily. “Thank you. They’ll be worried.”

She stared at him anxiously and he noticed. “What is it?” he asked.

She blushed hotly. “I’m sorry. I… I just wondered…”

“What?”

She dropped her eyes, still blushing. “You called me ‘Teresa’.”

Scott smiled wanly. “Teresa’s my father’s ward,” he told her. “She’s like my little sister, I suppose.”

“Oh,” she laughed. “I thought she might have been your wife.”

Scott stared at her. “Wife? No… I’m not married.” He answered absently as he closed his eyes again for a moment, then opened them and smiled at her. “No, Teresa usually looks after us when we’re hurt. You have dark hair, like hers. I must have…”

 She smiled back at him. “You had a fever. It’s all right.”

 “I’m sorry, but… just where am I?” Scott asked.

“The Rocking T Ranch, just outside of Fortune,” she explained. “We brought you here right after the robbery. It was the least we could do after you saved my life. I don’t know how I can ever thank you.”

Scott shook his head. “No need, but thank you,” he said quietly. “You’ve been very kind.”

“Scott…” she stopped and blushed again. “I’m sorry. It is all right to call you ‘Scott’, isn’t it?”

“Of course.”

She smiled again. He liked that smile. It lit up her eyes. That blush was pretty to see in her cheeks, too. She had the prettiest face he’d seen in a long time and the pink in her cheeks only made her more appealing.

“I feel as though I know you, but I don’t suppose I do, really,” she told him. “Mother keeps reminding me of that.”

“Is she the lady I keep waking up to find sitting there?”

“Yes, but we’ve all taken turns sitting with you, even my brothers,” she explained. “You’ll meet them later. You gave us quite a scare, so you should get some rest now.”

He knew she was right. He was terribly tired, but the pain had eased now; he assumed because of the laudanum.

Scott closed his eyes for what he thought would only be a moment, but he found it hard to open them again. When he did, he found the girl still sitting with him. He wasn’t sure how much time had gone by, but he suspected that it had been more than a few minutes. Time seemed to be somehow disconnected for him at the moment.

She leaned forward and took his hand. Her palm was soft and soothing against his. “Get some sleep, Scott,” she whispered. “When you wake up, we’ll get you some broth and start putting some meat back on your bones. We’ll have you back on your feet in no time.”

He smiled and relaxed into the pillow, letting himself slip into a comfortable sleep.

*

Johnny had a room at a hotel at Bakersfield by late afternoon. He’d already been to the telegraph office and found no word from Murdoch with news of Scott.

He’d sent his own wire to let Murdoch know that he’d arrived safely and where to reach him tomorrow. Then he’d gone for a drink and a meal before returning to his hotel room to think… well, actually, to worry.

Worry was about all he had at this point. Scott was now overdue by three days. It was past being just ‘not like him’. Something HAD happened to him. It was the only answer now.

Johnny clung to the belief that his brother was still alive. Whatever had happened, Scott was NOT dead. He told himself that he would have known… he would have sensed if Scott was gone.

Surely he’d know. The world wouldn’t be the same without his brother.

*

The Turner family had just sat down to dinner when Gil walked in – dusty, tired and hungry. Anne watched him and sighed. ‘Bounced in’ was probably the more appropriate description of his entrance. Gil’s soul was still very young. It was one of the things that kept him dearest to her heart. Her older boys were so mature, but Gil still needed her.

“Said I’d be home for dinner,” he announced with a grin and sat down. “An’ here I am.”

“So you are,” Anne replied with a hint of sarcasm. “Might I suggest that you clean up before joining us at the table?”

“Aw, come on, Mother,” he grumbled. “I’m hungry. I just rode all the way from Corona.”

“Gil, do as your mother says,” Vic Turner said firmly, and there was no arguing with his tone. All of the boys knew it. “Did you get any answer to that wire?”

“No, Sir,” the boy answered. “I waited ‘round long as I could.”

“Bet I know where, too,” Glen commented, nudging his little brother with his elbow.

Gil glared at him, but ignored the remark. “I told ‘em to send the answer on to us here if it comes,” he continued. “Paid ‘em a little extra.”

“Good,” his father said, nodding approvingly. “Now, go and get cleaned up and join us for dinner.”

“Yes, Sir,” he said and reluctantly left the room.

When he came back to join them, Gil looked around the table as he sat down.

“Where’s Emmie?” he asked.

“She’s with her boyfriend,” Glen answered with a laugh.

Anne looked up quickly and took him to task. “That will be enough of that sort of talk, Glen Turner. The man is a guest in this house and we owe him.”

“Mind your mouth, boy,” Vic added aggressively.

“Well, it’s what you’re hopin’ for, isn’t it?” Glen asked sulkily.

“We don’t know enough about him, Glen,” Anne persisted. “There’s no reason to be thinking that way.”

“I don’t know, Mother,” Gil said quietly. “Seems like Emmie likes him a whole lot.”

“Emily can like him as much as she wants to,” Vic told them all. “But, until I know more about him, there’s nothing to discuss.”

Gene decided it was time to change the subject. “I wonder what brought him down this way in the first place.”

Gil looked up. “I know that. He was on a buyin’ trip for Lancer,” he answered. “Tom Logan was talkin’ to him before the shootin’ started. He says Scott was down El Cajon way, lookin’ at a breedin’ bull. He didn’t buy it an’ the rancher was real mean about it. Reckons Scott told him that the old guy even threatened him.”

Vic Turner harrumphed at this news. “A man has a right to buy or not.”

“Apparently, Scott was worried how his Pa would take the news that he didn’t buy it, but he reckoned it wasn’t what they wanted.”

“Well, at least he knows his own mind,” Vic told them.

“He’s quite the hero in town,” Gene told them. “He didn’t just save Emmie. Tom would likely have been killed too, and most of the town would’ve been close to bankrupt with the money gone.”

“That’s true enough,” Vic agreed. “Not many young fellas would throw in with the sheriff like that. Says a lot for him.”

“How is he now, Mother?” Gil asked. “Has he woken up?”

“Yes, he’s been awake on and off through the day,” she told him, sipping from an elegant water glass. She insisted on keeping dinner as civilized as possible, even after all these years. It wasn’t always easy, with a husband like Vic and three rough and ready sons, but she was stronger than she looked.

“Well, that’s good anyway,” Gil noted. “You reckon he’s gonna be all right?”

“Yes, he’ll be fine,” she assured him. “We just need to build his strength up a little for his trip home. I’m sure Mr. Lancer will come for him as soon as he can.”

Gil nodded. “Yeah, soon as he hears.”

*

Anne stood in the doorway to Scott’s room, watching her daughter spoon feeding Scott with broth.

He’d slept through most of yesterday and today, helped along by the laudanum they had given him for the pain. They’d woken him to get him to drink water and take a little broth, but otherwise felt it best to let him rest.

Anne was surprised that there had been no word from Murdoch Lancer. It had been two days since Gil had sent the wire and still nothing. It occurred to her that perhaps not every parent was as concerned with their children as she was, but she thought that the man would at least acknowledge the message telling him that his son was hurt.

She listened unashamedly as Emily and Scott talked quietly. Mostly, it was Emily doing the talking, Scott being still too exhausted and weak to keep up much of his end of the conversation.

No, it was his voice that intrigued her. His accent… the words he chose and how he pronounced them… they pointed to a young man with considerable education and manners. She’d tried to instill good habits of speech in her own children, but felt that she had failed miserably.

Gene and Emily spoke well and were suitably mannered. They had both been eager for knowledge and she had taught them all she could. Her dream had once been to send Gene to college. The boy was clever enough to be anything he wanted to be. Money had never been the issue, there was more than enough from her own inheritance and the profit from the ranch was not inconsiderable, but Vic had vetoed it, telling her that the boy had more than enough education to run the ranch.

Vic’s influence had been heavier on Glen and Gil and she had had to accept that they were forever their father’s sons. She loved Vic dearly but, in this one thing, they were miles apart.

Emily suddenly noticed her. “Mother, come in,” she called lightly. “Scott’s been asking to meet you.”

Anne smiled as she strolled in. “Hello, Scott,” she said as she reached the bed. “We’ve actually met once or twice already, but I’m not surprised that you don’t remember.”

Scott was propped up by pillows, still pale but smiling. He did remember the lady, though not very well. There were snatches of memories of the last couple of days, but nothing he could nail down.

She was certainly a handsome woman. Emily’s mother was tall, with dark hair and green eyes like her daughter. Her hair was pulled back into a carefully styled chignon and her dark blue dress was tastefully decorated with only a cameo. She walked with grace and dignity and Scott thought it was easy to see where Emily Turner had gotten her looks from.

“I remember a little, Mrs. Turner,” he told her, smiling. Then he sighed. “But things are still rather fuzzy. I’m afraid I’ve been a lot of trouble to you and your family.”

“Not at all,” she assured him, taking a seat in the vacant chair. Her daughter seemed to prefer to sit on the edge of the bed, rather inappropriately now that they young man was awake. “Though you did give us a fright. You’re quite welcome to stay as long as you need to get well.”

“Thank you.” He smiled and told her, “I heal surprisingly fast.”

“I’m sure you do, Scott,” she answered with a laugh. “But there’s no need to rush it.”

“Emily said you’d sent word to Murdoch,” he said quietly. “To my father…” He was beginning to tire.

“That’s right. Gil rode up to Corona the day before yesterday and sent word. He waited for a reply, but there wasn’t one.”

“The ranch is more than an hour from town,” he explained. “They might not have gotten the answer back in time for your son to get it.”

“Yes, that’s what we thought. Gil arranged to have someone bring it here when it comes.”

Scott frowned. “And there’s been nothing yet?” He was surprised by that. Murdoch would surely have sent word back as to whether he was coming or not. They would have been worried by now.

“No, not yet,” she replied. “But it’s a long ride from Corona. I’m sure we’ll hear something tomorrow.”

She changed the subject, to take his mind off the lack of news from his father. “I’m curious, Scott,” she told him candidly. “You don’t sound like a born and raised Californian.”

Scott smiled in return. It wasn’t the first time his New England accent had been queried. “No, I was raised and educated in Boston,” he explained briefly. He was too tired to go into his whole life history, and one question inevitably led to another. 

“Boston? But I thought Murdoch Lancer had owned that ranch for years.”

“It’s complicated,” Scott told her evasively. “But I was raised by my Grandfather, after my mother died.”

“I see. And you went to school there?” she asked.

“Yes, school and college,” he answered, leaning back heavily into the pillows.

Anne’s eyebrows lifted with interest, her attention was caught. “College? Which one?”

“Harvard,” he answered with a sigh. He was tiring more and more. Ever since he’d woken up yesterday morning, it seemed like all he did was sleep. It didn’t take a genius to realize that he’d been hurt badly this time, and he knew he’d had a fever for a couple of days. It was frustrating, but he understood that it was going to take more than a few days to get back on his feet.

He had a feeling he would be imposing on the Turner family for a while, unless Murdoch and Johnny turned up, of course.

He was worried about Johnny. Johnny had been getting well when Scott left. Scott wouldn’t have gone otherwise. But Johnny had a habit of trying to do things for himself far too soon, and there was a chance that he’d had a relapse that Scott didn’t know about. Maybe that was why Murdoch hadn’t answered yet. Did he have his hands full, with one son sick at home, without having another wounded, miles away?

Even if he hadn’t fallen sick again, Johnny wouldn’t be fit enough to make the long ride, so it would more than likely be Murdoch alone. God, Johnny had been sick this time. He’d come close to pneumonia, according to Sam. He’d coughed so much that he could barely breathe at times.

Still, it was unsettling that they hadn’t had word from Murdoch yet. Murdoch must have been worried when he didn’t hear him at Corona.

“Really? Harvard,” Anne Turner remarked with surprise. “That’s a very good school. It’s not every young man out here who is lucky enough to claim such a good education.”

“I told you he wasn’t an ordinary cowboy, Mother,” Emily said gaily.

Mrs. Turner smiled. “So you did, Emily. But I think he is one very tired cowboy right now. Perhaps we should let him get some sleep.”

*

It was late afternoon when Johnny rode into Corona. Four days on the trail had taken a lot out of him. He was exhausted… and that damned cough set in on him every night when he tried to get some sleep.

He made his usual arrangements. It was habit now. Seek out a decent bed for the night, then arrange stabling for Barranca and head straight for the telegraph office. But tomorrow would be different. If there was still no word from Scott at the telegraph office, he had to start asking questions now.

Somewhere between here and El Cajon, Scott had disappeared. There was no escaping that fact now. How was he going to find him?

He left the telegraph office with a wire from Murdoch. When the operator had told him that there was a wire for him, his hopes had soared, but reading it had been a let down. It was only to tell him that they had still had no word and to ask if he was all right himself.

Johnny had replied with his usual assurances that he hadn’t suffered a relapse and was in Corona safely. He would start making enquiries about Scott immediately.

He stood on the boardwalk and looked around the street, wondering what his best chance of a lead would be. His first inclination was that all sorts of information could be found in the saloons. There was no doubt that news traveled faster through them than anywhere else.

But then he noticed that the sheriff’s office was still open. If something had happened to Scott in Corona, the sheriff was likely to know about it. He pulled his hat up onto his head and settled it comfortably before stepping off the boardwalk and crossing the road to the sheriff’s office.

The door was open wide, so he knocked on the door jamb and waited for the sheriff to look up. The man was in his fifties, thin and bearded. The star on his chest shone from polishing, but there was a small dent in one edge of it. Johnny wondered whether the badge had saved this man’s life, or whether it had been taken off the body of a predecessor whom it had not been able to save.

“Can I help you, Son?” the sheriff asked, looking up from his paperwork with a pen still in his hand.

“Name’s Lancer, Sheriff,” Johnny told him as he walked into the room. He pushed his hat back off his head and let it hang by the stampede strings. “Johnny Lancer. I’m looking for my brother, Scott, and wondered if you might know anything.”

The sheriff put down the pen and reached over the desk to offer his hand. “Josh Temple,” he introduced himself. “What makes you think your brother is round here?”

“He was headed home from El Cajon,” Johnny explained, taking Temple’s hand and shaking it. “Said he was headed for Corona and would wire us from there.”

“How long ago?”

“He shoulda wired us five days ago, by our reckonin’,” Johnny told him. The words echoed in around the room. Five days…

 

CHAPTER SIX

“Five days?” the sheriff repeated. “Guess that makes him missing all right. If he’s usually reliable, that is.”

“He is,” Johnny answered tersely.

“You got no idea what might have happened? Was he carrying money?”

“Nope, just a letter of credit.”

“Well, you’d better tell me some more then,” Temple said with a sigh. “Take a seat an’ start at the start.”

Johnny pulled over a chair and sat down across the desk from him, relieved that the man was taking him seriously.

“We’ve got a ranch up near Morro Coyo, in the San Joaquin Valley… my father, my brother an’ me…” Johnny began, leaning back in the chair and trying to make himself comfortable. It wasn’t easy. This wasn’t Val Crawford’s office and he wasn’t prone to trusting a sheriff that he didn’t know. But circumstances forced him into it, this time.

The sheriff nodded. “Yeah, I know it. You’d be Murdoch Lancer’s boy then?”

“That’s right. My brother, Scott, left a couple of weeks ago to take a look at a bull down El Cajon way. He was keepin’ in touch with Murdoch all along. I was kind of out of it at the time… laid up, but the last Murdoch heard of him was when he was leavin’ El Cajon. Said he was goin’ to wire us again when he got here to Corona.”

The sheriff slowly and deliberately got to his feet. He was a tall man once he stood up. He wandered over to the stove and picked up the coffee pot sitting on it. “You want one?” he asked. He held the pot up towards Johnny while he picked up a cup from a bench against the wall.

Johnny looked over at him, tense but satisfied that the man had listened to him. “Thanks,” he answered and took the cup from Temple as the man came back to sit on the edge of the desk, right next to Johnny.

With one foot on the floor and the other swinging in midair, the sheriff took a sip of his own coffee and frowned.

“Seems to me that you got a right to be worried,” Temple told him seriously. “Your brother’s the ‘reliable’ sort, you say?”

“More than most,” Johnny assured him, staring into the cup of coffee and thinking of Scott. He sighed and took a sip, then shook his head at the taste.

Temple grinned. “Sorry, shoulda warned ya that I make god awful coffee.”

Johnny smiled. “I shoulda known. Val Crawford, he’s sheriff in Green River… he makes the worst coffee known to man.”

This time Temple laughed. “Well, now let’s think on your problem. You didn’t hear from your brother since El Cajon?” he asked, and Johnny shook his head. “That’s a lot of territory to cover. You got any reason to think he got to Corona?”

“Nope.”

“I don’t have any prisoners right now,” the sheriff assured him. “An’ there ain’t been much in the way o’ trouble in town for nearly a month. Don’t think he got this far, or I woulda known about it.”

“That’s why I thought I’d try you first,” Johnny explained with a heavy sigh. “Have you heard of any trouble anywhere ‘round?”

“Nope, things have been pretty peaceful in my territory,” Temple said, and smiled. “Just the way I like it.”

The sheriff took a sip of his coffee then lifted his head and frowned. “You know, there was some excitement down in Fortune last week…”

“Fortune? Isn’t that south of here?” Johnny asked, trying to quell any excitement he felt at the prospect of something to consider.

“Yeah, you know it?”

“Never been there, but I did some traveling ‘round this way when I was a kid,” Johnny explained evasively.

The sheriff smirked. “When you were a kid, huh?” he asked, looking at Johnny and seeing a young man in his early twenties. ‘Kid’ probably didn’t seem like it was all that long ago.

“It was a while back,” Johnny told him, smiling.

“Yeah,” the sheriff answered disbelievingly.

“What about this ‘excitement’ in Fortune?”

“Well, I did hear of an attempted bank robbery down there,” Temple said, scratching his head diffidently. “The way I heard it, it came to nothin’. The outlaws were all killed before they could make it outa town.”

“When?” Johnny asked quickly. “When was it?”

“Not sure,” the sheriff admitted. He frowned again, then picked up his hat. “Come with me, Son. Let’s go see the man who told me ‘bout it.”

Johnny put the cup of coffee on the desk and stood up, following the sheriff out of the door and falling into step with him as they crossed the street to the saloon.

Johnny let the sheriff walk in first, then stopped at the batwing doors and peered over, adjusting his eyes to the light and taking note of who was there and what they were doing. It was a habit of long standing.

Satisfied, he walked in and joined the sheriff at the bar.

“Charlie, you were tellin’ me about that robbery down in Fortune the other day,” Temple started. “You happen to know when it happened?”

The barkeep scratched his head and frowned. “Yeah, reckon it was Friday last,” he finally said. “Why?”

“What else did you hear?” the sheriff asked, ignoring the question.

“A cowhand came through here the other day an’ told me ‘bout it, Josh,” Charlie told him. “He was real excited about it. Said there was four of ‘em… rode in bold as brass and pulled guns on the teller. Didn’t get ‘em nowhere. Seems like the whole town pulled together with the sheriff and the whole lot of ‘em was wiped out.”

“Was anyone else hurt?” Johnny asked, hardly daring to hear the answer. “I mean besides the gunmen?” He didn’t want his brother to be hurt, but he couldn’t believe there was another answer. And last Friday was the day when Scott should have been in Corona, at least by their calculations.

“I heard that Vic Turner’s youngest boy got a crack over the head,” the barkeep replied. “You know the one I mean, Josh… that young hothead, Gil Turner? He an’ his sister were in the bank. Seems one of the robbers tried to use her as a hostage.” The man grinned. “Not a good idea if you was to ask me.”

“She wasn’t hurt?” Temple asked.

“Nope. Some young fella ran out an’ got her away from the outlaw,” Charlie continued. “Come to think of it, Hank said that he got hurt too.”

Johnny caught his breath. “How bad? Who was he?”

The barkeep shrugged. “Don’t know. Stranger in town.”

“Scott…” Johnny said, under his breath. The sheriff looked at him.

“Don’t go jumpin’ to conclusions yet.”

“How bad was the stranger hurt?” Johnny asked urgently.

Charlie was surprised by the question. He’d been cheerfully telling the story to everyone he met, but most were interested in the Turner kids, not the stranger. Vic Turner pulled a lot of weight, even this far north of Fortune, and the fact that they damned near killed his son and tried to kidnap his daughter was big news around here.

“I don’t know,” Charlie answered candidly. “Heard he was shot, but that’s all. Don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”

Johnny turned for the door, but the sheriff grabbed his arm. He flinched and stopped. When he turned back to the sheriff, his eyes narrowed but he managed to keep Madrid firmly back and under control. There weren’t many men who could get away with grabbing him like that, but he’d taken a liking to Josh Temple and let it slide.

“Just hold on, Son,” the sheriff said, not unkindly. “Could be this fella is your brother… could be he ain’t. Either way, there’s nothin’ you can do today. Fortune is nearly a half day’s ride from here. You won’t get there before dark.”

Johnny shook the hand off his arm. He scowled, but he knew the man was right.

“’Sides,” the man continued, looking Johnny over from head to foot. “Looks to me like you could use a good night’s sleep. You look done in.”

Johnny sighed heavily and dropped his head. All his hopes that the effects of his illness weren’t showing were dashed by those words. He was tired… bone tired… and every now and then he’d found himself swaying in the saddle today. He wasn’t ready to admit that he was still not fit enough to be doing this, though.

“Yeah… all right,” he conceded reluctantly. “I’d better send a wire to Murdoch that I might have a lead on where Scott is, too.”

“I wouldn’t get his hopes up too much,” Temple reminded him. “Could be anyone.”

“I know…” Johnny acknowledged. “But I’ve got a feeling…”

*

“If that’s laudanum,” Scott said dejectedly, “You can forget it.”

“Why?” Gene asked. “You don’t have anything to prove, Scott. You need it for the pain.”

“I’m not trying to prove anything, Gene,” Scott insisted. “I’m just tired of sleeping all day. I don’t want any more. I can’t even keep track of what day it is.”

One by one, Scott had met all three of the Turner brothers. He liked Gene a lot. He was easier to talk to than Glen or Gil. Gil was still young and wild, like Johnny… but with a hotter temper. He seemed like a nice kid, but Scott knew that he was impatient to be out of the sickroom whenever it was his turn to watch him.

He’d only met Glen once and he’d been surprised by the size of the man. He was sure that Murdoch would have given him only an inch or two and he was just as broad. Glen’s interests apparently lay mostly with the running of the ranch and anything else was unimportant. He was not a man for small talk and he seemed to be watching through the window the whole time that he had sat with Scott.

Gene, on the other hand, was happy to talk about just about anything. He was an entertaining conversationalist, much more to Scott’s taste and pleasant to be around.

Gene looked at the determination on Scott’s face and decided against arguing. It was his choice, after all, so he poured the laudanum back into the small brown bottle and set the bottle aside. “All right, if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure,” Scott told him firmly. He closed his eyes for a moment, closing out the world while he tried to think. He was worried. “Is there any word from Murdoch?” he finally asked, opening his eyes and watching Gene Turner’s face.

Turner looked so uncomfortable that Scott guessed the answer before he confirmed it.

“No, not yet.”

“I don’t understand it,” Scott said, frowning. “He should have answered by now.”

“There’ll be a good reason for it. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about,” Gene assured him. “Something probably just came up.”

That was what had Scott worried… the something that might have come up…

“What’s wrong?” Gene asked, obviously noticing the worry on Scott’s face. “Why’s it bothering you so much?”

“It’s not like him,” Scott explained anxiously. “The only thing I can think of that might be distracting him is Johnny.”

“Johnny?”

“My brother,” Scott told him, sighing deeply. “He was sick when I left… real sick. I thought he was getting better and the doctor assured me that he was on the mend, but…”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Gene said, though his face wasn’t very reassuring.

“He’s as stubborn as a mule,” Scott added, a hint of irritation in his voice. If that stupid brother of his had done anything to bring that influenza back on, he’d murder him. “If he tried to rush things, he could easily have had a relapse. The doctor was worried about pneumonia…”

“Brothers!” Gene said, smiling. “They’re all the same. I know you’re worried, but he’s probably just fine. Is he older or younger?”

“Younger.”

“That explains it. As one older brother to another, I worry about Gil and Glen all the time, but it’s usually a wasted effort. Gil just rushes from one disaster to another and Glen isn’t much better.” He offered Scott a glass of water and held it out until Scott shakily took it from him. “Sorry it’s not something stronger,” he added, grinning.

“Yeah, a drink would be good about now.” Scott drank the water and handed it back, thanking him a little distractedly.

Gene sat down in the vacant chair by the bed.

“You know, you don’t have to sit with me any more,” Scott told him. He was beginning to tire so he leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes.

Gene grinned again. “My sister would be real upset if you up and died on us now.”

Scott opened his eyes and looked at the man. He wasn’t quite sure where he stood with the brothers in relation to Emily. He knew they were grateful for his help in getting her away from the gunman, but he still had the sheriff’s warning in mind. “She’s a sweet girl,” he answered, tentatively.

“Oh yeah, and she’s a pretty kid. She looks a lot like Mother did at her age. There’s a real nice portrait of mother in her bedroom.” Gene caught Scott watching him and laughed. “Worried about the big brothers?” he asked.

Scott smiled hesitantly. “Well, the sheriff did say… I mean…”

“Oh, don’t worry. We do look out for her. You can count on that,” Gene assured him, meeting his eyes. “Wouldn’t want anyone to hurt her.” His mood lightened. “But I guess you’ve already proved yourself… unless there are skeletons in your closet?”

“No, none that I can think of,” Scott told him, smiling.

“Don’t drink or beat on women?” Gene asked, obviously only partly joking.

He didn’t fool Scott. There was an ‘I want to know now’ look in Emily’s brother’s eyes. He couldn’t help but think of what he and Johnny would be asking if Teresa was in Emily’s place.

“I don’t drink any more than the next man,” he assured Gene with a smile. “And I don’t condone hurting women... or children or small animals…”

Gene laughed. “I like you, Lancer. I think I would even if you hadn’t saved Emily’s life.”

“I wish you’d all forget about that,” Scott told him, self-consciously. “It wasn’t anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in the circumstances. She looked… I don’t know… fragile…”

Gene smiled at that. “Fragile, huh? Not a word I’d generally use where Emily’s concerned. She can outride and outshoot a lot of the men around here, some of ‘em with one hand tied behind her back. But, from what I hear, she was in real trouble that day. So, you’ll forgive me for being grateful.”

Scott nodded, accepting that he would feel the same way if it had been Teresa.

Gene smiled and a twinkle of mischief glowed in his eyes. “I think I should warn you, though. Little sister Emily has a stubborn streak. She likes to get what she wants.”

The warning had a slightly ominous, though light-hearted tone and Scott smiled back at him. If he was what she wanted, and he was pretty certain that it was what Gene was hinting at, did that scare him? He wasn’t sure how he felt about it but, somehow, he didn’t feel the urge to jump ship and run for his life. He wasn’t totally averse to the idea.

“Maybe so,” he said casually. “But that cuts both ways. You haven’t met ‘stubborn’ until you’ve met a Lancer, Gene.”

*

Johnny rode into Fortune earlier than he thought he would. The sun had been barely up when he left Corona and he and Barranca had made good time. He’d sent word to Murdoch yesterday that he thought he might have a lead on Scott and was heading for Fortune to check it out, but he’d been careful not to get their hopes up too much.

He’d left Corona with high hopes, except for the worrying information that the stranger in Fortune had been hurt. The barkeep just hadn’t known enough about him and what had happened to him. His interest had been with the girl. Apparently she was from a wealthy family in the area.

By the time Johnny finally reached Fortune, his high hopes had dissolved into fears and doubts.

He slowed to a walk as he entered town and carefully scanned everything around him. It was a matter of habit… a survival tactic that he had just never shaken.

The town was small, but neat and clean. As he traveled south towards the border, he knew the towns like this one became less and less common – there was none of the wildness or the poverty here that could be found in the border towns. Still, he couldn’t see any reason why anyone would have ascribed the name ‘Fortune’ to it.

He was keenly aware of the attention he was attracting as well – some from behind doors and windows, some openly from the street. The shopkeeper with his broom had been sweeping the same spot for a couple of minutes while watching his progress down the street.

Two ladies with baskets full of shopping stopped and watched him ride down the street, whispering to each other as he passed.

He sighed heavily, wondering how many of them had recognized him for who he was… or who he had been… Well, he didn’t see it as a problem. He hadn’t seen anyone that he needed to be worried about. He didn’t discount any of them… he never did, but he wasn’t ready to go on the defensive yet.

Johnny stopped outside the sheriff’s office. It seemed like the best place to start and he intended to make himself known right from the beginning. He figured the sheriff would at least have the name of the stranger who had helped him out in the bank robbery.

He tied Barranca to the hitching rail and patted the horse’s neck fondly, then wiped his hand on his trousers. He lifted his hat and ran his hand through his hair. It was damp with sweat even at this early time of the day, then he resettled his hat comfortably on his head and stepped onto the boardwalk.

The door to the sheriff’s office was closed, so he knocked firmly and waited. There was no answer and he tried again, hopefully, but to no avail. Turning around and facing the town, Johnny decided on the next best port of call – the saloon.

It seemed like the obvious choice. Barkeeps were usually the first to hear most of the town gossip and rumors and it was just possible that Scott had taken a room there since there was no hotel in town.

He untied Barranca’s reins and led him across the street before tying him again to a hitching rail outside the saloon and walking to the door. He stopped at the batwing doors and peered into the room, letting his eyes adjust to the light and look around.

There was only the barkeep and one customer, sitting alone at a table with a beer and there was nothing about the man to raise any hackles, so Johnny pushed the doors open and strolled in.

He leaned his elbows lazily on the counter and waited for the barkeep to come to him. It took a while. The man seemed to be studiously avoiding him and trying to catch the attention of the saloon’s other patron.

But Johnny just waited. He didn’t want trouble.

“Howdy,” Johnny said amiably when the man finally came over.

“Howdy, Mister,” the man replied, watching Johnny warily.

“The sheriff’s not in. You got any idea where I can find him or when he’ll be back?”

The barkeep shook his head and said, “No, Sir.”

Johnny began to feel uncomfortable. Either the man was just plain rude to strangers, or he had some reason to be worried about Johnny. Whatever it was, Johnny determined not to put the man off any further.

“All right, maybe you can help me then,” he said calmly. “I hear you had some excitement last week.”

The barkeep nodded. He pulled a cloth from a hook behind the counter and began polishing the top of the bar. Johnny watched him, aware that there wasn’t so much as a speck of dust needing to be wiped away.

“Yes, Sir,” the man finally said. “We had us a bank robbery. Sheriff Logan stopped ‘em cold.”

“I heard there was a stranger here,” Johnny continued hopefully. “I’m hopin’ it was my brother. I’m lookin’ for him. His name is Scott Lancer.”

He was unprepared for the look of suspicion he got from the barkeep. The man looked up and seemed to look him over. Johnny noticed him glance past him towards the other customer in the saloon as the man got to his feet and put his hat on, then casually walked out into the street.

Johnny didn’t miss it. Nor did he miss the overtly laid-back way the man walked out. He turned just long enough to see the man step into the street and head for the general store and he sighed.

Despite the bad feeling he had about the situation, Johnny tried to ignore it and pushed the barkeep for information. “Was there a stranger here that day?”

“Yes, Sir, there was,” the man confirmed, but he sounded nervous all of a sudden.

This time Johnny drew in a breath and forced himself to be patient. He gathered his thoughts. “Did he tell you his name? Was it Lancer…? Scott Lancer?”

The barkeep shook his head. “Can’t say I ever heard of him…”

“He’s my brother. He’s missing,” Johnny told him, doing his best not to sound desperate. “My name is Johnny Lancer.”

“Sorry, Mr… Mr. Lancer,” the barkeep answered. “Don’t recognize the name at all.”

“What happened to the stranger?”

“He left.”

Johnny was irritated now. He ducked his head and leaned further over the bar, tapping one foot lightly against the foot rail. He suspected that he knew the reason for the man’s nervousness. He’d considered the possibility as he got further and further south. He was getting close to the border and he’d spent a lot of time in that area… a while back. But he’d never been in Fortune. He was sure of that.

He sighed heavily and looked up to stare the man in the eyes. “I heard that he was hurt.”

This time, the barkeep shrugged and feigned indifference. Johnny knew it wasn’t genuine by the bead of sweat on the man’s forehead. “If he was, he was only grazed. He up and left right after the shootin’ stopped. Don’t know who he was.”

“That seems a shame… not even gettin’ a chance to say thanks or anything.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” the man answered, brightening a little. “Real shame. Lots o’ folks in town woulda liked to have shaken his hand.”

Johnny frowned. “He didn’t even stay long enough to shake hands? Seems kinda rude,” he said doubtfully.

“I guess he was just in a hurry…” the barkeep finished lamely.

Johnny clasped his hands on the bar, gripping them together tightly and wishing he could belt this man in the face and force the truth out of him. He knew he was being lied to. What he wanted to know was why!

He looked down at his hands and stared at them for a minute.

“You want a drink, Mr. M… Lancer?” the barkeep asked.

Johnny slowly looked up into the man’s face. He’d heard the slip… and the barkeep’s face was white. He was shaking and stepped back against the wall, away from Johnny.

Johnny stared at him. His fears were confirmed with that small slip. This man had recognized him. There was every likelihood that the other one had too, so it would soon be all over town. His experience was that that sort of news went through a town like this quicker than a fire.

Without knowing it, Johnny’s stare had turned to ice and the barkeep literally froze against the wall.

“Tequila…” was all Johnny said coolly, and the barkeep nodded furiously.

“Yes… yes, Sir…” he stuttered and peeled himself off the wall to get the drink. It looked like he hardly dared to turn his back on Johnny.

Sadly, Johnny dropped his gaze and considered his hands again. He had to forget about it. He had to concentrate on his self-imposed mission.

He had to find Scott.
 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Harvey Jackson’s heart was pounding in his chest as he stepped into the street. He could feel Madrid’s cold eyes boring into his back and he walked slowly and steadily, trying to remain calm.

My God… Madrid was in Fortune! He’d hardly been heard of in the last couple of years, but Harvey knew him by sight. He’d seen him in action once, gunning down a man in the street back in San Diego. Well, there’d been no doubt that the other man had drawn first, so it had been legal, but the fellow hadn’t stood a chance against Madrid. Madrid was fast as lightning.

Harvey had seen Madrid other times too. It had been a while back, when Harvey had been drifting from ranch to ranch looking for work, a few years ago. That was before he’d landed that job with the Rocking T. He liked the Turners and he’d stayed there. Vic Turner was a good boss and his family were good people.

The barkeep, Harry, had recognized him too. Harvey was sure of it. He’d seen the fear in the man’s eyes while he’d been forced to serve the pistolero. Then he’d noticed that Harry was trying to catch his eye and he’d realized that he wanted him to spread the word around town.

He’d heard some of what Madrid had asked Harry. He was looking for Scott Lancer. Well, he wasn’t going to find him… not in this town…

He walked across the road to the general store.

“Hey, Josiah,” he called, quickly and quietly when he got inside the door and out of sight of the saloon. He ducked behind the door and looked across the street, worried that Madrid might have followed him. “Did you see who rode into town?”

“I saw a stranger. Didn’t like the look of him much – why?”

“He’s Johnny Madrid!” Harvey told him, feeling important that he was the one to break the news.

“Madrid? The gunfighter?” the shopkeeper exclaimed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, saw him shoot it out with Carl Freeman some years back – in San Diego.” Harvey was satisfied that Madrid was still at the saloon. He walked over to the counter so he could talk more easily to Andrews. “It’s him all right.”

“Freeman? I remember hearing ‘bout him,” Josiah Andrews recalled. “He was supposed to be good.”

Harvey nodded. “Yeah, he was… but Madrid was pure genius with his gun that day. Freeman didn’t even clear leather.”

Andrews ran his hand up and down the side of his face, considering the news. “What d’ya suppose a man like him is doin’ here in Fortune?”

Jackson’s eyes brimmed with excitement. “I can tell ya that. He’s here lookin’ for Scott Lancer!”

“What?”

“Yeah, heard him askin’ Harry if he’s seen him,” Jackson continued. “He’s over at the saloon right now, askin’ all about the bank hold up. Seems he heard of it an’ thinks maybe the stranger who helped Logan is Lancer.”

“Did Harry tell him anything?”

“Nope, told him that he didn’t know any Scott Lancer an’ that the stranger from the hold up just up an’ rode outa town. He caught my eye an’ I come runnin’ over here to tell ya. Don’t reckon Harry’s gonna tell him anythin’, but we gotta get the word ‘round before someone else does.”

The shopkeeper was appalled. “What the hell would he want with Scott Lancer?”

“Josiah, he’s a hired gun,” Harvey said impatiently. “What do you think he wants with him?”

“Yeah, I know that, but who would want a man like Scott Lancer dead?”

“Don’t know ‘bout that,” Harvey told him, scratching his chin as he thought about it. “But I do know that’s who he’s looking for.”

Josiah Andrews took a deep breath and stood up to his full height of five feet four inches. He puffed out his chest and scowled. “Well, he’s not finding him in this town! You go tell the Turners. I’ll get word ‘round town for everyone to keep their mouths shut.”

*

Gil Turner saw the rider coming in a cloud of dust. He was in a hurry…

He and Glen reined in and stopped, waiting for the rider to reach them. When he was finally close enough to see clearly, they recognized Harvey Jackson, a man who had worked for them for a couple of years now.

“Hey Glen… Gil… I’ve got news…” the man spluttered out quickly as he pulled his horse to a hard stop, still panting from the hard riding. He pulled off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “From town…”

Glen glowered at him He had no patience with dramatics and he had work to get done. Gossip wasn’t high on his list of his priorities. “What is it?” he growled.

“I’ve been in town… picking up the mail for you pa,” Harvey told them. “John Madrid is there.”

“Madrid?” Gil exclaimed, his sudden excitement showing though. “Did you see him?”

“Sure, I saw him. He was in the saloon askin’ questions…” Jackson paused for effect, then continued. “Lots o’ questions… ’bout Scott Lancer…”

“About Scott?” Gil exclaimed.

“What sort of questions?” Glen asked, while Gil stared at Jackson.

“Oh... like… What was the name of the stranger who helped out with the bank robbery? An’ was he hurt? He even asked if the stranger’s name was Scott Lancer.”

“He named him?” Glen asked, frowning now.

“Yeah, he asked for him by name, right there in the saloon.”

Gil turned to his brother and they exchanged worried looks. It was Gil who finally broke the silence. He turned back to Jackson.

“Are you sure it was Madrid?” he asked.

“Oh yeah… I’ve seen him here an’ there over the years. Saw him in action in San Diego once. It was a couple of years back now. I was…”

“What would Madrid want with Scott?” Gil asked his brother, ignoring the man’s story.

“I dunno…” Glen answered, frowning as he considered the news. “Someone must have hired him.”

Gil’s eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Bet it’s that rancher down El Cajon that hired him. Tom Logan said that Scott told him he was real upset that he didn’t buy that bull.”

Glen frowned, uncertain. “”You don’t kill a man over a bull!” He said, disbelieving. “That’s crazy!”

“He just might be crazy. Scott told Tom that he threatened him.”

“Well, I don’t guess it matters much who sent Madrid, anyway. The trouble is that he’s here,” Glen told him. He looked back to Harvey and scowled, knowing the man as the gossip that he was. “You are sure it’s him? If you ain’t seen him in a few years…”

“Oh it’s him. Harry knew him too,” Jackson continued, once he realized that they weren’t going to listen to his tale of the gunfight. “He was scared half to death if you ask me. Madrid was in the saloon askin’ him questions ‘bout the robbery, but Harry caught my eye an’ I left an’ told Josiah Andrews. He said he’d spread the word ‘round town so’s no one would say nothin’.”

“Did Harry tell him anything?” Gil asked anxiously.

“No Sir, not a word. Pretended like he didn’t know who the stranger had been an’ told him that he left town right after the shootin’ stopped.”

“What’s Sheriff Logan doing about it?” Glen demanded.

“Logan’s outa town today,” Harvey explained. “I heard he’s out at Jake Travis’s place, checkin’ on that rustlin’ old Jake’s been complainin’ about. He’s due back tonight.”

“Oh, that’s just great!” Gil exploded. He turned to his brother again. “You go tell Pa what’s goin’ on. I’m goin’ to town, before someone in there opens their mouth an’ tells him where Scott is.”

“Josiah’s spreadin’ the word ‘round town to say nothin’,” Harvey told him quickly. “He ain’t gonna find out nothin’ in Fortune, that’s for sure.”

“Not until he puts a gun to someone’s head… then they’ll tell him!” Gil reminded him.

Harvey had to admit that he was probably right. The people of Fortune would protect Scott Lancer all they could. They owed him and they all knew it… but would they die for him? Harvey had to admit it wasn’t likely.

“Yeah, guess so…” the cowboy admitted reluctantly.

“Harvey, go on back with that mail and keep your mouth shut about this for now. I’m goin’ into town with Gil an’ we don’t want them worryin’ needlessly.”

Gil’s eyes fired and he turned fast in the saddle to face his brother. “There’s no need for you to go! I can look after myself.”

“Not if you’re thinkin’ of takin’ on Madrid,” Glen answered. He was too well aware of Gil’s temper to let him go alone and he knew that Gil had a high opinion of himself with a gun. It worried him, just as it did Gene. The kid practiced constantly, but it was against tin cans. Gil had never faced a man in the street. He’d never even seen a gunfight… “Madrid’s a professional, Gil. That’s not something to take lightly.”

“An’ I can tell you how good he is,” Harvey Jackson agreed. “He’s faster than anything I’ve ever seen, before or since.”

“I can look after myself!” Gil repeated, puffing out his chest and glaring, first at his brother and then at Jackson.

“Not against someone like Madrid, you can’t?” Glen told him angrily.

“You don’t have much faith in me, do you, Glen?” Gil protested. “Well, I might not be as big as you are, but this kind of makes up for it.” He patted the gun at his side.

“Oh, you’re good with a gun,” Glen replied snidely. “Well, ain’t you the tough guy? You’re not goin’ alone, Gil. I ain’t goin’ to be the one to help the family bury you, just ‘cause you’re fool enough to overrate yourself.”

He turned back to Harvey Jackson. “Now you go do what I told you,” he said firmly. “An’ nothin’ bout this to Pa.”

Jackson nodded, not fool enough to go against Glen Turner in that mood. He kicked the horse and rode off out of their sight, leaving two brothers still at odds.

“You shouldn’t have said that in front of him, Glen,” Gil seethed.

“Then use your damned brains! You think Madrid is still alive with his reputation if he’s not good? Damnit, Kid, he’s good an’ I’m not lettin’ you go in there to get yourself killed by the first gunman that comes along.”

“He’s not gettin’ to Scott!” Gil argued. “Even if we didn’t owe him, Emily’s real sweet on him an’…”

“I didn’t say he was,” Glen cut in quickly. “I got no intention of lettin’ him kill him, anymore than I have of lettin’ him kill you.”

*

Johnny led Barranca down to the livery stable. He’d made up his mind to stay the night. Scott was here somewhere. He knew it, despite the lack of information he’d been faced with so far.

He paid for a night’s stabling and found himself faced with the same fear from this man that he had gotten all over town. The liveryman shook so much that even Barranca became restless in his presence.

Johnny introduced himself as Johnny Lancer, just as he had been doing all day, but it had no effect on him. Like all the people in Fortune, the liveryman knew he was Madrid.

“Didn’t see nothin’,” the man said succinctly when Johnny asked him about the bank robbery.

“Missed all the excitement, huh?” Johnny asked doubtfully. “Seems a shame to miss all that in a small town like this. You mustn’t get much action ‘round here.”

“Not so much, I guess,” he agreed warily.

“You didn’t see the stranger at all?”

The liveryman shook his head vehemently. “No Sir, he was gone when I got there.”

“Just fought it out with the bank robbers, rescued the girl and rode off into the sunset?” Johnny asked sarcastically.

“Yes, Sir.”

Johnny pulled his hat off his head and looked down at it, straightening the brim casually with his fingers as he tried to figure another way to approach the problem.

Finally, he looked up and straight at the man. He tried to keep a rein on his temper and stay friendly, but every time he’d heard this story he’d become more frustrated. Now, his patience was sorely tried and he could feel Madrid fighting to come out and try his luck.

“So the girl didn’t even get a chance to say thanks?” he asked at last.

This time, Johnny caught a glimpse of what looked like panic in the man’s eyes. The mention of the girl had brought some reaction anyway. “Maybe she got his name?” he added, pursuing the idea.

“No… No… she didn’t,” the man insisted, shaking his head. “No one did.”

“You know, maybe if I could talk to her, she could describe him to me,” Johnny suggested. “I’d know if it was my brother…”

“Wouldn’t do that if I was you, Mister,” the liveryman told him, shaking his head again. “They don’t take kindly to strangers.”

Johnny sighed. He was getting nowhere and he was tired. His body was exhausted after more than four days of riding, but he wasn’t sure that sleep would come easy tonight. Scott was here, but he just couldn’t break through the veil of secrecy that the town had built around either Scott or the girl.

It was still only mid-afternoon, but he could feel his chest starting to tighten in that now familiar way that told him the coughing would begin again soon. He figured it would be best to go get a room at the saloon before it hit him. This town knew who he was and he didn’t figure on showing them that he was sick.

He handed over the reins to the man. “Give him some extra oats. He’s done some hard traveling over the last few days.”

“Yes, Sir,” the man replied, nodding his head. Johnny was tempted into a smile by the thought that that head was likely to fall off one day with all the nodding and shaking it did.

“He’s a fine lookin’ animal, Mr. M… Lancer, Sir.”

Johnny sighed heavily in dismay at the slip, but tried to ignore it. “Yes,” he said lightly. “He’s a good friend, too, so look after him for me. When will the sheriff be back?”

The liveryman frowned at him. “Why? You gonna talk to him too?”

“I plan to. He might be able to tell me if it was Scott who was here that day.”

The man looked dubious, and more than a little confused. “Something strange about that?” Johnny asked irritably.

On cue, the liveryman’s head shook again. “No, Sir, guess not. Just didn’t think you’d…” he stopped and his eyes widened when he realized that he was saying too much.

“You didn’t figure Johnny Madrid would want anything to do with the sheriff – that it?” Johnny asked him. His eyes had gone cold as he glared at the man. His patience was fast running out. “Listen to me,” Johnny said harshly, his tension boiling over. “I don’t care who you think I am, or what you think I’m doing here… My brother is missing and I plan to find him… savvy?”

The now familiar nodding of the man’s head showed that he did.

“So, when’s he likely to be back?”

“Sometime this afternoon, I guess. ‘Less he finds some sign o’ the rustlers he went lookin’ for. He might go after them and Lord knows when he’ll be back then.”

“Thanks,” with a lack of sincerity that brimmed with the aggravation inside him. He turned and headed up the street towards the saloon where he’d started this odyssey of frustration.

He was no fool. He knew he was being lied to. The good people of Fortune weren’t very good at it either. Right from the barkeep to the shopkeeper and even the sweet little old lady he’d asked in the street and now the liveryman. None of them remembered anything about the stranger who had helped save their town and who, by the account he’d heard in Corona, had rescued the daughter of a prominent rancher. It made no sense, unless…

The knowledge that he had been recognized from the start gave him something to ponder on. He’d told everyone he’d asked that Scott was his brother, but he’d also seen their reactions – just plain disbelief. It was getting more and more likely that they were hiding Scott from him.

That worried him. Scott didn’t need hiding. If he was in town somewhere, he’d soon tell them that Johnny actually WAS his brother and he had nothing to fear from him. The fact that Johnny had found out nothing meant that either the stranger hadn’t been Scott… or that he was hurt and unable to speak up…

*

“Hey, Lenny,” Gil called to the liveryman as he rode into town. The man was still standing near the corral, holding the reins of the prettiest palomino Gil had seen in a long time.

“Howdy, Gil… hey there, Glen,” the Lenny replied sullenly. “Glad to see you boys in town.”

Glen and Gil pulled their horses to a stop next to him but didn’t dismount. “What’s up?” Glen asked, suspecting that he knew the answer to the question already.

“You know who’s in town?” the liveryman asked, frowning.

“Yeah, we heard,” Glen told him.

“Well, he was just here. Left his horse with me,” he said, nodding towards the palomino. “So I guess he’s plannin’ on stayin’ the night.”

“Did he ask you anythin’?” Gil asked.

“Yeah, tried to tell me that he’s Scott Lancer’s brother…” he stopped and looked uncomfortably at the brothers.

“And?” Glen demanded, seeing that he hadn’t finished.

Lenny took a deep breath. “He asked ‘bout Miss Emily… wanted to know if she might know where Lancer is…”

“Did he?” Gil asked, his anger glaringly obvious on his face. “Which way did he go?”

“Headed off towards the saloon. Saw him stop over to the sheriff’s office. He wants to talk to him.”

Gil turned to his brother, his face red with fury. “You can come or not, Glen… but I’m gonna have a word with Madrid…”

*

Johnny made his way first to the sheriff’s office to check that he wasn’t back yet. He knocked, but there was still no sign of him so he crossed the road to go into the saloon. He didn’t get there.

They grabbed him as he walked past the alley. Before he knew it, two huge arms were wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his side. The man had the grip of a grizzly bear.

Johnny struggled ineffectually against the hold, kicking back with his spurs to try to find something fleshy to connect with. His hat fell to the ground as he tried to break free.

It was all to no avail. The harder he fought, the tighter that hold became. With his chest heaving against the grip and the effort, Johnny quit struggling - panting and biding his time instead. He silently cursed himself. He’d been so concerned about Scott that his instincts had been submerged and had let him down.

“Get his gun, Gil!” the man holding him growled. Johnny hadn’t even been aware of a second person’s presence until then, but he felt the gun being pulled from his holster.

“I’m not looking for trouble,” Johnny told them, forcing the words to sound calm.

“We know what you’re lookin’ for,” the man holding him snapped back angrily. “Or who…”

“An’ you’re not gonna find him,” the second man added. He stepped in front of Johnny so that he finally got to see one of his assailants.

‘Man’ was hardly an apt description of him. He looked like little more than a boy, tall and dark-haired. Though not much younger than Johnny was himself, he was still fresh-faced and looked adolescent, despite the gun he had in his hand.

The gun was cocked and pointed at Johnny, while Johnny’s own gun hung loosely from the boy’s other hand.

The young man tossed Johnny’s gun aside and it landed a few feet away with a thud and a spray of dust, but the cocked gun in his hand remained steadily in place.

“So, you’re the great Johnny Madrid?” he asked snidely, and the artlessness about him disappeared. “You sure don’t look so ‘great’ to me.”

Johnny let his breath steady. He’d stopped fighting the man who was holding him, hoping he’d relax his grip. It hadn’t worked so far and Johnny glared at the one captor he could see.

“I’m looking for my brother,” he said firmly, gritting his teeth to keep his temper in check. “I’m not looking for trouble from you or anyone else. I just want to find Scott.”

“Brother, hey?” the young man called Gil answered sarcastically. He grinned maliciously and looked past Johnny to the man holding him. “What do you reckon, Glen? See the family resemblance?”

Johnny’s eyes lit up hopefully. For the first time all day, someone had finally admitted that Scott was here, or had been. He knew the kid hadn’t meant to give anything away, but his words had confirmed that he knew Scott.

“Where is he?” Johnny demanded desperately. “Take me to him.”

“Oh, yeah… sure!” Gil answered, grinning. “That’s just what we came here for. We’ll show you to him so you can put a bullet in him.”

“I’m not here to kill him…”

“Who sent you, Madrid?” ‘Glen’ asked angrily and Johnny knew that he was wasting his breath trying to convince these two.

“No one sent me,” he told them, trying to hold in his temper. “We got worried ‘bout him at home is all.”

The grip on him tightened and Johnny gasped for breath. His lungs felt as though they were being crushed by the weight of those massive arms around him.

“Liar!” the ‘bear’ snarled, almost lifting Johnny clear of the ground as he squeezed harder. “Murdoch Lancer knows where his son is. He’s got no reason to send anyone lookin’ for him… an’ he damned well wouldn’t send you… everyone here in town knows you’re Madrid!”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t,” Johnny told him icily. It was getting hard to breathe. “But…”

Gil stepped in close enough to push his gun into Johnny’s face. “Make up your mind then – Madrid or Lancer?” the young man hissed at him. “You oughta keep your story straight. Ain’t that right, Glen?”

“Don’t reckon this guy could lie straight in bed,” Glen replied and laughed.

Johnny felt the bear hug around him weaken infinitesimally. Quietly, Johnny drew in short breaths to try to ease his burning lungs.

He did nothing to let the man suspect that he’d noticed the lessening of his hold. Instead, he dropped his head so that they couldn’t see his eyes. He thought hard, desperate for a way out of the fix he’d let himself get into.

Without looking up, he recited… again… “I’m looking for my brother.” His voice held a laid-back monotone that would have sounded a warning to those who knew him well. They would have recognized it as the dangerous sign that it was.

“Sure,” the young man in front of him said. “Scott’s from back east, Madrid… he’s a real fine educated man. You tryin’ to tell us that he’s got himself a half-breed greaser gunslinger for a brother? What sort of idiots do you take us for?”

Johnny’s head came up slowly until his eyes met Gil’s. He saw the kid stiffen and he smiled a smile that held more ice than warmth.

“All you gotta do is ask him,” he said, quietly and coolly.

The grip relaxed a little more and Johnny took his chance. He threw himself backwards, hard and fast, knocking the ‘bear’ off balance. He got his arms free as the big man fell to the ground behind him and he kicked out viciously at the man in front of him in an effort to knock the gun out of his hand. Then he dived sideways towards where his gun lay in the dirt, not far away… but he didn’t reach it.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Johnny heard the shot just before he landed on the ground next to his gun. He felt the thud and a fiery pain low in his shoulder. He gasped and grabbed his shoulder, dully aware of sounds around him… voices arguing angrily… but it no longer mattered.

 Johnny closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing, but the coughing started and sent waves of pain crashing through his body. His mind clouded, then he let go and slid gratefully into the darkness.

*

“You young fool!” Glen ranted at his brother. “He wasn’t armed!”

“He… he was goin’ for his gun!” Gil answered, shaking all over. He still held his own smoking Colt in his hand, but it hung slackly. “I… I didn’t mean to… It just happened! It was all so fast… Honest, Glen… I didn’t mean to kill him. Glen… I ain’t never killed anyone…”

 Glen had reached Johnny’s side and was kneeling in the dirt beside him. He placed his fingers on Johnny’s throat and sat back to think. “You haven’t killed anyone yet,” he said bluntly.

 Gil looked relieved. “You mean he’s alive?”

 “Yeah, he’s alive,” Glen told him skeptically. “But he’s not too good.” He looked up at his brother and shook his head. “He didn’t have a gun, Gil…”

 “I know, but… he was goin’ for it, Glen…”

 Glen made his decision and jumped to his feet. He ran around Johnny, picked the pistol up out of the dirt and put it in Johnny’s hand, closing his fingers around it.

 Then he ran to Gil’s side and took him by the shoulders. Gil was still looking at Johnny, unable to take his eyes from the blood spilling on the ground and barely able to think.

 Glen shook him. “Listen to me!” he demanded frantically. “Gil, he drew on you… do you understand? We were talking with him an’ he drew on you!”

 Gil’s eyes were glazed when he finally turned them on his brother. “It was an accident… I didn’t mean to…” he muttered blankly.

 Glen shook him again, more violently. “Gil, you have to get control of yourself. You shot an unarmed man… you could hang if they find out.”

 Gil Turner blinked as Glen’s words sank into his brain, but he still didn’t answer.

 “Listen to me…” Glen said quickly. “He drew on you an’ you shot him in self-defense.”

 “Glen, no one’s gonna believe I out-drew Madrid!”

 “We’ll tell ‘em you got lucky an’ out-drew him… do you understand me?”

 Finally, Gil nodded, coming to his senses and realizing just how serious his position was. Everything had happened so fast. When Madrid broke free of Glen, Gil was shocked. Glen was so strong… it should never have been possible. But he had broken free… and he’d lashed out with his foot before he dived sideways.

 Gil’s gun hand had been jolted and he’d pulled the trigger instinctively… he hadn’t meant to shoot him…

 His mind was spinning so much that he had trouble grasping what his brother was saying, but he understood  clearly enough what he’d said about hanging. He understood that all too well.

 “Yeah… I understand, Glen…” he murmured.

 He was barely in time. Harry Beldon came running around the corner from the saloon with Josiah Andrews not far behind him.

 “What happened?” Harry asked quickly. “I heard a shot…”

 He caught sight of Johnny lying on the ground behind the Turner brothers. He was lying on his side with his gun still in his hand, his face turned away from them and the ground beneath him darkening with blood.

 “Madrid! It’s Madrid!” he exclaimed.

 “He drew on me,” Gil said shakily. He suddenly became aware of the gun in his own hand and shoved it back into his holster. “I… I shot him…”

 Harry stared at Gil Turner. His eyes widened as he realized what the boy was saying. “You out-drew Johnny Madrid?”

 Gil’s jaw dropped. It hadn’t occurred to him that they would see it that way but, before he could confirm or deny anything, Harry turned to Josiah Andrews and gasped his news. “Did you hear that? Gil out-drew Johnny Madrid?” he yelled excitedly. “Look… it’s Madrid!”

 It was all happening too quickly to stop. Andrews stopped beside Harry and then Mrs. Andrews arrived from the store, and Lenny - from the livery. A fast growing group of townsfolk had soon gathered, whispering and gasping. It was like a boulder rolling downhill – gaining speed and rapidly getting out of control.

 He looked anxiously around for Glen and found him beside him. Madrid lay where he had fallen and hadn’t moved at all. Gil looked for help from his brother, but the glimmer of a smirk on Glen’s face told him that he was wasting his time. Glen’s sense of humor had been sparked. He was seeing the funny side of a situation that appalled his brother.

 “What’s going on here?” an authoritative voice called from behind the crowd. “Let me through.”

 The small crowd parted immediately and Tom Logan pushed his way through. He stopped in front of Gil and Glen, then looked past them to where Johnny was lying on the ground.

“Someone want to tell me what happened?” he asked stolidly.

 Gil opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked to Glen for help.

 “Madrid drew on Gil,” Glen said coolly. “Gil had every right to shoot back.”

 “Madrid?” Logan asked, frowning heavily.

 “Johnny Madrid… the pistolero,” Harry told him excitedly. “Gil here out-drew him!”

 Logan’s frown grew deeper. “Are you telling me that’s Johnny Madrid over there?” he asked quickly, nodding his head towards the prone figure on the ground.

 “Sure is,” Harry told him emphatically while Andrews echoed him and Lenny nodded enthusiastically. “I knew him right off… soon as he rode in this morning, I knew he was Madrid. Seen him a few times years ago. Harvey Jackson rocgnized him too.”

 Tom edged past Gil, walked over to where Johnny lay and put his fingers to his throat. He’d expected to find nothing – the man looked like he was long dead - but there was a definite heart beat throbbing under Logan’s fingers.

 “This man’s still alive,” he said quickly, evoking shocked murmurs throughout the on-lookers. “Has anyone sent for Joe Hatcher?”

 “No, we thought he was dead,” Harry said, stunned.

 “Didn’t anyone bother to check?” Logan asked angrily. He was directing his words to the crowd, but he didn’t miss the quick glance that Gil Turner threw his brother’s way.

 “No… guess we just assumed…”

 Logan lifted his hat and scratched his head. “Well, someone better go get Hatcher,” he sighed heavily. His quiet town was turning into a shooting gallery over the last week, with the robbery and now this.

 “I’ll go get Joe,” Harry volunteered.

He turned and hurried away, while the sheriff crouched beside Johnny, noting the way his fingers were wrapped loosely around the pistol butt. He pulled the gun away and tucked it into his belt, then he rolled Johnny onto his back.

It certainly was Johnny Madrid. Tom Logan had seen him a few times himself in the past. He sure hadn’t expected him to turn up in a place like Fortune. In fact, he was sure that he’d heard Madrid was dead in Mexico.

The bullet had lodged low in Madrid’s shoulder, just above the heart, and he was bleeding heavily. Logan pulled his bandanna off his own neck and clamped it against the wound to staunch the blood.

Madrid had made no sound at all, but his breathing was short and fast. There was a considerable amount of blood pooled on the ground where he’d fallen and a lot more spread across his shirt.

Logan looked up, without taking his hand away from the wound.

“Gil, are you telling me that he drew first? That you out-drew Johnny Madrid?” he asked dubiously.

Gil shrugged his shoulders, more in control of himself now that he’d had a few minutes to calm down. “I guess maybe I got lucky, Tom.”

‘Understatement…’ thought Logan.

“And why did he pull his gun on you?” he asked aloud.

Gil seemed surprised by the question. “Well, he… he…”

“We were arguing with him,” Glen admitted, shifting his feet awkwardly. “We told him that we didn’t know where Lancer is, just like everyone else has. He got real mean… lost his temper and drew on us. Don’t reckon my life would’ve been worth a plugged nickel if Gil hadn’t been as fast as he was.”

The sheriff took a deep breath and took in his story. Cocking his head to one side, he eyed the two brothers. “He was looking for Scott Lancer?”

“Been askin’ all over town,” Andrews called out. “Harvey Jackson told me ‘bout it an’ I got word ‘round town so that no one would say where Scott is.”

“What did he want with him?” Logan asked again, still frowning. He certainly wasn’t used to having gunfighters in town and he had to admit that it was a shock to find out that it was Scott Lancer who he was after.

“You can’t be that dense, Tom,” Glen said sarcastically. “There’s only one reason why a man like that is looking for someone.”

“Scott Lancer didn’t strike me as the kind of man a gunman would be lookin’ for,” Logan retorted, an edge to his voice that Gil certainly didn’t miss.

“We think maybe that rancher down El Cajon way sent Madrid,” he explained. “Scott said the man was plenty mad.”

“He’d have to be crazy,” Logan answered dubiously.

“What does it matter why anyway, Tom?” Josiah Andrews asked sourly. “Surely the point is that he’s here an’ he’s dangerous. He meant to find Scott Lancer and kill him.”

“So he just turned up in Fortune and started asking for Scott Lancer? Doesn’t seem likely. And how did you two come to be here?” Tom Logan asked the Turner brothers crossly.

“Harvey Jackson came to warn us,” Gil told him candidly. “We came into town to make sure that no one has told Madrid where Scott is. We didn’t want trouble…”

“Hmm… but you got it, didn’t you?” Logan answered ironically.

“I was gonna say that we didn’t want trouble at the ranch,” Gil finished hotly. He was glaringly angry now. He’d found his temper and thrown it to the wind.

Logan could see the sense in that. There was Emily and their mother to consider. The Turners wouldn’t have wanted Madrid turning up there and risking them getting hurt.

“I wonder what brought Madrid to Fortune looking for Lancer.”

“He was askin’ ‘round about the robbery. Guess he heard about it somewhere. He’d heard there was a stranger here when it happened an’ wanted to know if it was Scott Lancer,” Josiah Andrews explained. He heard footsteps behind him and glanced back to find Joe Hatcher arriving.

“But no one said anything.” Andrews finished proudly. “That young Lancer fella deserves our help after what he did.”

Andrews stepped aside to let Hatcher through and Harry stopped beside him, still panting from his run down the street to fetch Joe.

Joe Hatcher walked past all of them and knelt beside Johnny. Logan let go of the bandanna he’d been pressing to the wound and stood up to watch Hatcher at work.

Hatcher checked Johnny’s pulse and opened his shirt to look at the wound, then he turned back to the sheriff.

“Well, the wound ain’t so bad,” Hatcher told him. “It didn’t hit anythin’ important, but he’s lost a bit o’ blood an’ the bullet needs to come out.”

“You have to lock him up then, Tom,” Mrs. Andrews insisted. “He’s already tried to kill young Gil and he’s after Scott Lancer. Who knows who’ll be next?”

“I don’t think he’s going to be goin’ after anyone for a while,” Logan replied coolly.

“Maybe not, but he still tried to kill Gil,” Glen pointed out angrily. “Don’t that mean anything?”

“Yes, it does,” Logan admitted with a sigh. He turned and walked towards the crowd. He stopped at the opening of the alley, noticing a hat lying on the ground. He picked it up and looked back to where Madrid laid and frowned.

Well, he’d think about it later. Madrid was bleeding in that alley right now and needed treatment. “All right, Josiah, you and Harry pick him up and get him over to the jail. Joe can work on him there.”

*

          Scott leaned back in the bed, listlessly. He'd slept, on and off, for most of the day. He was finding it hard to keep track of the time, though he sometimes heard the chime of a

clock coming from somewhere in the house.  He had no idea where it was. This room was all he knew of the ranch house so far. Still too weak to get up, he was becoming frustrated

by the tediousness of lying in the bed all day... at least when he was awake enough to realize it.He closed his eyes, weariness starting to creep over him again.

 

"Are you tired, Scott?" the girl asked solicitously. "Would you like me to stop so you can rest?"

 

He opened his eyes on her and shook his head slowly. "No..." he said tiredly. "No, it's fine. I'm enjoying it."

 

"We can leave it and I'll read some more to you later, if you'd prefer," she pointed out, a worried expression marring her brow.

 

"No, really," he insisted. "Go on reading. I'm tired of sleeping all day."

She smiled at him and, despite his lethargy, his eyes lit up with pleasure. Emily Turner – he knew her name well now and he thought it suited her. It was pretty, just like she was – a joy to behold. He was aware that she was attracted to him. He was also well aware that her family heartily approved of such a match. It was perfectly obvious to Scott who had had the handkerchief dropped his way more than once in his time… often enough to see it for what it was and to know what it meant.

The difference, this time, was that he really didn’t mind. Finding a way to escape the ‘tender trap’ was the last thing on his mind.

Emily was lovely to look at and a pleasure to be with. She hadn’t a great education, but she was smart and witty to talk with. He watched her as she read to him. The late afternoon sun glowed on her hair – mahogany brown hair that fell around her shoulders and down her back, held only by a green ribbon tied in a bow on the top of her head.

The sun brought out hints of red in her dark hair… fiery glimmers that sparked and flared as the sunbeams moved infinitesimally lower in the sky.

Her eyes were green and gleamed like emeralds when she smiled and her skin was flawless, though a little tanned from her love of the outdoors.

“You’re staring at me,” she said, blushing prettily. Her voice was as sweet as her face and he smiled.

“Sorry,” he answered. “Do you mind?”

“I can’t concentrate on the book,” she told him. Her eyes dropped from contact with his as her blush deepened to a rosy sheen. “I… I’m not sure where I was up to…”

“’God knows you're welcome to it’,” he told her, recalling the words from Dickens’ Great Expectations. His eyes twinkled with delight. “Our convict seems to be a good man at heart.”

“Oh, yes… I remember,” she said, forcing her attention back onto the page. “Now, if you’ll just stop staring at me…”

His smile widened. “I can’t help it. You look so pretty there in the sun.”

She stared into the book, then tilted her head a little, thinking. Finally, she answered him. “Do I… really?” she asked naively.

“Yes, you do… really,” he assured her.

She kept her face downcast, not meeting his eyes. “I… I don’t… no one ever…”

“Surely you’ve been told that before?” Scott asked her, still smiling. He couldn’t believe that this little angel had gone without compliments.

She slowly smiled. “Mother’s said it of course… that I’m… well…”

“Pretty,” he finished for her, grinning.

She blushed again. “Thank you… But… well… I don’t meet many… young men. I think they’re afraid of my brothers.”

Scott remembered the warning he’d received from the sheriff and thought she was probably right. He’d met Glen Turner, and he was enough to frighten off any young suitor.

Part of him thought that it was a shame, but another part of him was secretly pleased about it. It meant that she was still available.

“Should I be worried about them?” he asked her with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

“Oh, no! They like you,” she insisted. “So do Mother and Papa.”

“Oh, well that’s a relief,” he answered, laughing lightly.

She finally looked up at him and recognized the signs of tiredness on his face. Even with that wonderful smile, his cheeks had paled and his eyelids drooped. “I’ll read some more tonight. You should get some rest before dinner. You look pale.”

Scott was all too aware of how tired he felt and he wasn’t really surprised that it was showing. He did feel ill.

“Dinner…” he sighed, closing his eyes again. “You mean broth again.”

Emily closed the book and put it down on the small bedside table beside her chair. Then she stood up and walked over to the side of the bed. She didn’t answer him. There was no need to… he was asleep.

*

Sheriff Tom Logan followed the awkward procession into his office and watched them carry Johnny Madrid into a cell and put him onto a cot. They were none too careful about it either and he frowned in annoyance.

No matter who his prisoner was, no one was going to be mistreated in his jail.

He stopped to put Madrid’s gunbelt and pistol into his drawer and lock it. He tucked the key into his vest pocket before glancing over his shoulder at the arrival of the Turner brothers. Then he looked up at the sound of yelling coming from the cell.

Logan ran towards the noise and found Madrid with his fist clutching Joe Hatcher’s shirt. He was still lying on the cot, but his left hand had pulled Hatcher down over him.

“Where is he?” Madrid said, his eyes blazing. “Where’s Scott?”

Hatcher looked terrified, while Harry Beldon and Josiah Andrews were trying their best to unclench Madrid’s hand and shouting for Logan, panic-stricken.

The sheriff joined the melee and went into the cell. He pushed Andrews and Beldon aside and then took hold of Johnny’s hand and loosened the grip on Hatcher. He was surprised by the strength of that grip for a man who had a bullet in his shoulder.

Madrid’s eyes turned on Logan and he let go of the shirt. Hatcher jumped back out of the way, panting and shaking, while Johnny’s hand grabbed hold of Logan’s arm.

“Find him… find Scott,” he said, his voice weakening. Then he started coughing uncontrollably. It lasted a minute or more, with Madrid barely able to catch his breath, but when the coughing finally stopped, he panted heavily… breathing in gasps. “Tell him…” Johnny managed to say, his fingers digging into Logan’s forearm. “Tell him I’m here…”

His voice faded and his eyes glazed over. Logan watched Madrid’s battle to stay conscious. The grip on his arm tightened, then weakened and started to break. He stared into Madrid’s eyes and wondered at what he thought he saw there… and at what he thought he heard Madrid say as he lost the battle stay awake.

“Dangerous! That’s what he is,” Andrews growled. “Told you he was…. a killer…”

“Well, he ain’t so damned dangerous now,” Tom Logan told him sullenly. “Joe, can you see to him? Do you need help?”

He turned around and found Hatcher still shaking, half in fright and half in anger. He had a black look on his face.

“You gonna be able to do this?” Logan asked, frowning.

“Yeah, but I ain’t stayin’ alone with him.”

“That’s fair,” Tom told him. He looked towards Andrews and Beldon and they both nodded.

“You stay handy, Tom,” Hatcher insisted. “I want your gun here in case he gets violent again.”

“All right, but I’d say he’s out cold,” Tom replied candidly. “He doesn’t look much like a killer now.”

“Yeah, well it was me he tried to strangle – not you!” Joe hurled at him furiously.

“Cool down, Joe. He wasn’t tryin’ to strangle you,” Logan told him patiently. “But I’ll stick around if it makes you feel better.”

Hatcher glowered at him, then moved over to where Johnny laid and opened the blood soaked shirt. He pulled it back from the wound and poked around a little, getting no reaction from Johnny at all.

Without looking up, he said, “I’ll need hot water and my bag. It’s over there by the cell door.”

Harry passed it through to him and then went to the office to see about the water. By the time he came back with a basin of the steaming water, Johnny’s shirt had been removed completely and Joe had wiped away most of the blood to reveal the hole in his shoulder.

“Thanks Harry,” Joe said, looking up. “Now, you take a hold of his shoulders and Josiah, you take his legs. Hold him down hard, ‘cause he’s liable to buck some, conscious or not. The bullet’s in deep an’ it ain’t gonna be easy to get out.”

And so began the long process of removing the bullet. Hatcher had been right. Madrid did buck – more than once. The first time he threw himself off the cot, he took Harry and Josiah by surprise and Hatcher had snapped furiously for them to hold him tighter.

Madrid groaned and even coughed a few times, but Hatcher ignored it and persevered. Logan watched him dig into the wound brutally, his right knee on Madrid’s chest as he tried for leverage. It took all of twenty minutes, with Madrid tossing his head from side to side and even letting out a loud, agonized moan that shocked those in the room, before the bullet finally surfaced. By that time, Hatcher’s face and Madrid’s were both covered in sweat.

Josiah’s face was white while Harry Beldon’s was a bilious shade of green. Madrid had, long before then, stopped groaning or trying to buck. He laid on the cot, still and pale, breathing in slow rasping gasps.

Joe tossed the bullet into a bowl, wiped away the blood that had surfaced with it and then took needle and thread and stitched the wound closed.

“Harry, lift him up a little so’s I can bandage him up. Sooner I get outa here, the better I’ll like it,” Joe grumped.

“He doesn’t look any too good, Joe,” Harry pointed out.

“Well, he ain’t,” Joe told him harshly. “Don’t know where that coughin’s comin’ from, but it ain’t doin’ him no favors.’

Tom Logan looked at the wound as Hatcher began bandaging him. It was red and angry from the heavy handed treatment. There was bruising starting to show around it already and he was sure there’d be more bruising where Joe’s knee had leaned on his chest.

Madrid looked anything but dangerous to him. He could see how young he was… early twenties maybe… Too young to have the reputation he had, but then, he’d been a kid in Nogales that day. It had been years ago now, but Tom remembered the shock of seeing a teenage boy coolly face down not one, but two, men in the street and take them both down.

The boy had walked away without a scratch and two men with big reputations had been buried in Nogales. Madrid’s reputation had grown that day… he’d become a legend in that part of the world.

Today, he looked like any other sick kid.

“Seems to me you were kinda rough on him, Joe,” Tom pointed out, scowling.

“No more’n I had to be,” Hatcher replied, turning angry eyes on the sheriff.

“Will he make it?” Logan asked, glancing back at the limp form on the cot.

“He’ll make it…” Hatcher answered. “Long enough to be tried for attempted murder an’ hanged.”

Tom made no answer to that. He had plenty of questions that needed answers about that matter and he wasn’t going to express them yet.

“Leastways, Scott Lancer’s safe now…” Harry pointed out. “He sure sounded obsessed with findin’ him.”

“Yeah, I reckon it’s somethin’ personal between ‘em,” Josiah suggested, the color coming back into his cheeks more now. “Wouldn’t have liked to be on the wrong side o’ him…”

“Good thing Gil was so handy with his gun,” Harry agreed. “He mighta taken out both of ‘em. I’ve heard he did that once.”

But Tom said nothing. His mind was busy turning on what Madrid had said to him earlier.

“Find Scott…” he’d said… “tell him I’m here…” and that last word, the one Logan was pretty sure that the others hadn’t heard… “Please…”

 

CHAPTER NINE

Tom Logan sat back in his aged office chair with one foot pushing languidly against the top of the desk. He studied his hands in silence, idly pressing his fingertips against each other while the expression on his face bore out the concentration of his thoughts.

He’d sent the others home. Harry and Josiah had wanted to talk about the great gun battle that they had ‘nearly’ seen but Tom had thanked them for their help and hurried them out. With them gone, Hatcher had scurried off as well. He’d had no intention of staying in that cell alone with Madrid, even if he was unconscious.

But Logan had asked the Turners, Gil and Glen, to stay behind. They stood in front of him now – Glen leaning against the doorjamb with his arms folded across his chest, and Gil standing stoically on the other side of the desk.

Tom pushed back in the chair and rocked it gently. The spring in the stem of the chair creaked as it strained under his weight, the only sound in the room.

It had always creaked like that and Tom had never made any attempt to fix it. He’d gotten so used to it that he found it helped him to think.

And Sheriff Tom Logan had a lot to think about. His quiet little town had turned itself upside down in the few hours he’d been gone today. Shootings were unheard of in Fortune. The most excitement they ever had was the occasional overexcited cowboy out on a spree on payday. In fact, they seldom got visitors at all, and certainly not gunfighters.

Now, in one week, they’d had a bank robbery and a notorious gunfighter in town, with the gunfighter getting himself shot and leaving Tom Logan to sort out the mess.

Johnny Madrid… here in Fortune. It was the last thing he’d ever expected to have to worry about.

There was no doubt at all that he was Johnny Madrid. He’d done some growing since Tom had last seen him – filled out some, but his face was essentially the same.

Tom well remembered that day in Nogales some years back… the day when a skinny teenage boy had made himself a name. And Tom had been there to see it. A cocky young kid had stepped into the street to face two gunmen – both of them older and meaner than he was and both with big reputations in their trade.

He’d been in the saloon when the two men had pushed the kid into the fight. He’d been goaded all right, but Tom had had the impression that the boy was getting just what he was looking for.

Madrid had walked calmly into the street, his eyes as cool as ice… watching and waiting for their move.

Tom had been mesmerized by the speed with which he’d pulled his gun and fired. Both of the gunmen had fallen dead without ever getting off a shot. It had been something to see… something to remember.

And he had remembered. He could still see that gun clearing the holster and Madrid fanning the hammer with lightning speed.

He rocked the chair again, sighing in time with the creak of the spring and lifting his eyes to look surreptitiously at Gill Turner. Gil licked his lips, then looked away towards his brother. When he looked back, there was a bead of sweat on his forehead that threatened to run down the side of his face.

“Tell me what happened,” Logan finally said, without stopping his rocking and turning his attention back to his hands.

“We already told you,” Glen answered belligerently, standing by his doorjamb and straightening up to his full height.

Tom stopped rocking his chair and put both feet on the floor. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned on the desk, looking Glen Turner in the eyes.

“Then tell me again, Glen,” he said firmly. “From the beginning.”

Gil looked at his brother. Glen shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and Gil let him do the talking.

“Harvey Jackson was in town this mornin’ an’ heard Madrid in the saloon. He rode back to the ranch an’ told us that Madrid was in town an’ huntin’ Scott Lancer,” Glen began impatiently.

“And you decided to come into town to see for yourselves…” the sheriff said calmly.

“Yeah… you weren’t around, an’ we weren’t about to wait for him to find out where Scott is an’ come lookin’ for trouble at the ranch,” Gil answered crossly.

Logan nodded. “All right, go on…”

“We were walkin’ down the street an’ bumped into Madrid,” Glen continued. “He asked us about Scott Lancer… said he was lookin’ for him. Well, we both said we didn’t know anyone named Lancer, just like everyone else was doin’. He asked about the robbery then, but we still said we didn’t know anything about Scott. He got real mad an’ shoved me. That’s when he went for his gun. Gil beat him to it, an’ that’s all there is to it.”

“So, you were walking down the street, just minding your own business?” Logan asked.

“Well, we were lookin’ for him,” Glen conceded. “But we didn’t have to look hard. He came to us. Seems he’d been all over town lookin’ for Scott.”

Logan looked down at the desk for a moment, thinking. When he looked back up, he looked at Gil and asked, “And he lost his temper?”

Gil nodded. “Yeah. He got the meanest look in his eyes. I thought we were both dead… right then.”

“And you, Glen, you say he pushed you? Did you fall over?”

“Course not,” he answered angrily. “I just lost my balance a little. He did it to distract me so he could take out Gil.”

“I see,” Logan said negligently. “And that’s when he drew on you, Gil?”

“Yeah, an’ he was quick too,” Gil told him enthusiastically. “I mean… it’s just as well I practice so much. I gotta admit, I think it was mostly luck that I beat him.”

“Luck… yes, I’d say luck had a lot to do with it,” Logan muttered.

“I didn’t say it was all luck!” Gil said crossly.

“No, it was all that practicing as well, I know…” Logan answered patiently, nodding his understanding.

Logan turned his attention back to Glen. “And there was no fight… no scuffle or anything?”

“No…”

“He just asked you about Scott Lancer, then lost his temper and went for his gun?”

“Well, there was more to it than that,” Glen told him. “But basically, yeah, that’s what happened.”

Logan sighed and looked down at the top of his desk. He didn’t want the two of them to see his face just yet.

“The point is… he tried to kill us, Tom,” Glen said angrily. “Gil shot him in self defense. So, if you don’t need us for anything more, we’re headin’ home.”

Tom nodded and kicked back in the chair to get to his feet. “Yeah, get on home now. I’ll come out in the morning to talk to Scott.”

“Why?” Gil demanded.

Logan looked at him in surprise. “Well, he’s tied up in this somehow an’ he’s got a right to know that Madrid’s after him.”

Gil looked at Glen and Logan noticed the slightest hint of a nod of his head. “Well, I guess you’re right…” he answered reluctantly.

With that, the two men walked out of the office and into the late afternoon sun and disappeared from Logan’s sight.

Tom sat down again and tilted the chair back, comfortable with the familiar creak and leaning his head on the back of the chair. He didn’t believe them. He wasn’t sure why, but there it was. There was nothing but his own gut feeling to make him think so, but he was sure of it.

There were things that just didn’t fit… and the most important one was that Gil Turner just wasn’t fast enough to out-draw the man he remembered seeing in Nogales.

Of course, that had been years ago… maybe Madrid had slowed up. It was possible, but it seemed unlikely. With the reputation he’d built up since that day, and the men Logan

had heard he’d faced, he would have been dead a long time before this if he’d gotten slow.

There were also those few words he’d spoken in the cell. The others had thought he sounded obsessed with finding Scott but, to Tom, it had sounded more like desperation than a threat.

He got to his feet slowly and walked into the cell block to check on Madrid. The door to the cell was locked, but it was unnecessary. The man was unconscious and didn’t look like he had stirred since they’d left him.

Joe had assured him that Madrid would be just fine by morning, but he wasn’t convinced. The last thing he needed was to have to nurse the gunfighter back to health. He had a town to run and, right now, there was an uneasiness among the townsfolk that could end up being dangerous.

*

Gil Turner followed his brother out of the door. He slapped his hat onto his head distractedly and walked with Glen down the street towards the livery where they’d left their

horses. Once he was sure that he was well out of hearing of the sheriff's office, he asked his brother, "Do you think he believed us?"

"Why shouldn't he? He's not gonna take the word of someone like Johnny Madrid over ours! Besides, you saw Madrid... he's likely to die anyway."

Gil's face paled at the thought and Glen noticed.

 Glen slapped him on the back reassuringly. "Don't make yourself sick over it, Gil. In Madrid's line o' work it was bound to happen sooner or later."

"I didn't mean to shoot him, Glen," Gil said quietly.

"I know. You said that already. Just keep your head over it an' you'll be fine."

"What do we tell Pa?"

Glen took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think we should tell him the same as we told everyone else."

Gil stopped in his tracks and stared at his brother. "You mean lie to him?"

"It's not exactly lying," Glen told him evasively. "I just think we should keep what happened to ourselves."

Gil wasn't so sure. He'd never told his father anything but the whole truth of everything. But, on thinking about it, he figured Glen knew what he was doing and decided to trust his judgement.

"All right. I guess you're right," he mumbled dubiously and fell into step with Glen.

*

“Have you finished your breakfast?” Emily asked with a smile as she poked her head around the door. 

“Yes, thank you,” Scott replied, sitting up against the pillows behind his back. “And I have to say that poached eggs are a welcome relief from broth.”

“I thought you might appreciate it,” she laughed and walked into the room. “You look much brighter today.”

“I feel a lot better,” he assured her.

“Mother says it might be all right for you to sit in the chair for a while, this morning,” she told him. “Why don’t I help you over to it and you can sit there and talk to me while I change the sheets.”

“I… er… I’m not exactly dressed for a lady’s company…”

She laughed merrily. “Why, Scott Lancer, I do believe you’re blushing,” she told him. She got control of her laughter and sat on the edge of the bed, smiling. “I have three brothers, Scott. I’ve seen men in their underwear before.”

“And I have a kid sister… or nearly… but you’re not her and I’m not your brother,” he told her firmly.

She stood up and went to the dresser, opened the top drawer and reached inside, pulling out a robe. Holding it up, she turned back and showed it to him. “Will this satisfy your sense of decency?”

He laughed. “Nicely, thank you. Toss it over here, Miss Emily.”

Emily took a couple of steps towards the bed and then hurled it gently at him. Even so, reaching for it brought on a wince that didn’t escape her notice. He wanted her to think he was fine, but she wasn’t about to be fooled. More than ever, she was convinced that they had made the right decision last night.

Gil and Glen had come home with the astonishing news that a notorious gunfighter was in town looking for Scott. Her first reaction had been close to panic, but Gil had seen the fear on her face and hastened to tell her that the town had closed ranks around Scott and told the gunman nothing.

Then Glen had told them the incredible story of Gil outdrawing Madrid after the man had tried to kill him. They’d gone on to discuss what to do about telling Scott and had decided that there was no need at the moment. He wasn’t going to be leaving his bed for at least a few days yet.

He was still far too weak and ill to have to face the knowledge that a killer was looking for him. There was nothing he could do about it and the problem was already solved, at least for the time being.

She was still stunned by the whole story. That anyone would put a price on Scott Lancer’s head was hard to believe, but it was even harder to believe that Gil had managed to beat a professional gunman to the draw.

Emily had never really put much store in Gil’s ability with a gun, despite his belief in himself. No matter how many times she had watched him practice, she had never thought he was terribly fast. Yet, he’d proven himself… and against a man with Madrid’s reputation.

She watched as Scott struggled with the robe, too proud to ask for her help. No, they’d made the right decision. They would tell him when he was stronger.

Scott leaned forward and shrugged awkwardly into the robe, then he eased back the covers and pulled it around him. Emily looked on, smiling at his embarrassment.

“Ready?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. She moved to his side but he shook his head.

“I can do it on my own, thanks.”

“No. You’re not ready for that, Scott Lancer.” She put her arm around his back and put her other hand under his arm, helping him steady himself as he got to his feet. It was plain that she’d been right. She could feel him teetering when he stood up.

It was only a few steps to the chair and he made it without any trouble, once she’d given him some time to overcome the dizziness. She helped him get comfortable and threw a blanket over his legs, then stood back to look at him. There was sweat on his forehead from the exertion. She took her handkerchief out of her skirt pocket and wiped the perspiration away gently, smiling at him.

“Thanks,” he whispered, leaning back into the chair and closing his eyes.

“I’ll get you a glass of water,” she told him and went to the table by the bed to pour it. When she came back, his eyes were open and following her as she moved.

He took the glass and drank a little, then eased himself up carefully in the chair. “Guess I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was,” he admitted, sighing heavily.

“You’ve been in that bed for days,” she pointed out sympathetically. “And you’re still getting over the fever and the loss of blood. Of course you’re not very strong yet. It will take some time.”

Emily’s emotions warred within her. She wanted him back on his feet and healthy, but she knew that it would mean he’d be leaving and she hated that thought.

“I know. It’s not the first time I’ve been shot, but I heal quickly,” he told her, smiling.

“Well, not too quickly,” she said hopefully, smiling. “You mustn’t feel you need to rush it. It’s not a chore to have you here, you know.”

“I don’t believe that for a minute, but thanks anyway. You’ve all been more than kind.”

She smiled happily at him. “Nonsense, you take as long as you need to get well.”

“Emily, I think I might take you up on that,” he answered, his eyes full of mischief.

She felt the heat rising in her cheeks again and turned away to the bed, annoyed with herself. Blushing! Of all the silly, schoolgirl nonsense! Emily Turner couldn’t remember the last time she blushed and yet, in Scott’s presence, she seemed to find herself doing it all the time.

Emily turned away and began stripping the bed, anxious that he not see that she was blushing yet again.

“So, you have a sister?” she asked, determined to change the subject.

“That’s right… Teresa… though she’s actually my father’s ward. We tend to think of her as a sister. I have a brother, too… Johnny.”

His voice sounded melancholy at the mention of his brother and she turned back to him while she pulled the cover off the pillow.

“What is it?” she asked gently.

“He was sick when I left,” Scott explained with a sigh. “I wish I knew that he’s okay.”

“How sick was he?”

“Influenza, but I delayed leaving until he was getting over it. I’ve just been wondering if he’s had a relapse and maybe that’s why we haven’t heard from Murdoch.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if your father did answer the wire and that silly boy up in Corona just didn’t deliver it. It’s a half day’s ride from Corona and he might have just kept the money Gil paid him instead of coming here with it.” She pulled the sheets off the bed and rolled them all into a ball on the floor.

“I could get Gil to ride to Corona and check for you, if you like,” she added. “In fact, it might be a good idea.”

Scott looked downcast and she decided to change the subject again. “Tell me about Boston. I’ve been to San Francisco. Is it like that?”

That did bring a smile to his face. “No. San Francisco is brash and young and noisy. Boston is older and not as flashy. It’s green in the summer and white with snow in the winter. There are the theaters and the colleges and picnics on the common, cobbled streets and old, old houses…” he told her wistfully.

“It sounds like you miss it,” she said, smiling at the yearning in his voice.

“Some of it, yes… but I’m a rancher now. I have a family here… and a new life that I enjoy. I wouldn’t go back.”

“I remember meeting Mother’s family in San Francisco,” she said, pulling the clean sheet tight and tucking it under the mattress. “They were so elegant and fashionable. I’m afraid I was something of a ‘country cousin’ to them. They were a little…”

Scott laughed. “Snobbish?” he finished for her, knowing just the sort of people she meant. He’d spent a lifetime with them… and he groaned to think that he had probably been one at one stage.

“I didn’t mean to sound impolite, but yes, that’s the word,” she told him. She pulled up the covers and replaced the pillows on the bed. “But… well, I’m not sure I’d suit the city. It was nice to visit and to see it, but…”

“Emily, with an elegant dress and a pearl necklace, you’d take Boston by storm,” he assured her.

He pulled himself to his feet, wavering just a bit and putting his hand on the edge of the table while he rode the dizziness. Emily still had her back to him, intent on straightening the wrinkles from the bed.

When he was sure the last of the vertigo had passed, Scott took a step towards the bed. He wasn’t expecting his legs to give out. He’d been so sure of himself but, as he took that step, his head swam and he started to fall.

He reached out and caught the end of the bed, but he landed against it with a jolt that sent arrows of pain through his side.

“Scott!” he heard Emily scream. He clung to consciousness, gasping and biting his lip against the pain, squeezing his eyes shut tightly and staving off the black shroud that threatened to close around him.

He became aware of her arm folding firmly around his waist and her hand under his arm, supporting him.

She stayed with him until he had caught his breath and then she helped him back to his feet. With slow steps, she guided him to the bed where he sat down gratefully. His side felt like it was on fire.

“You should have waited for me,” she admonished him, pulling the robe aside to check the wound. “You’re bleeding again. Let’s get you into bed and then I’ll get Mother so we can put on some clean bandages.”

Scott could only nod his agreement and let her ease him back against the pillows and then into the bed. “I’ll be right back,” she told him and hurried from the room, leaving him to fight off the blackness that hung over him.

*

Sheriff Tom Logan had had a rough night. Left alone to keep an eye on his prisoner, he had soon begun to suspect that Madrid was hurt worse than Joe Hatcher had led him to believe.

Madrid continued to remain unconscious and, by the time Logan had made his final check on him before turning in for the night, he’d developed a worrying fever as well as the hacking cough that he’d had earlier.

Logan had spent the night catching snatches of sleep while doing what he could to bring down Madrid’s fever. He’d sat by the cot in the cell with wet compresses and tried his best to get the man to take some water, but it just wasn’t working. Madrid hadn’t stirred all night.

By morning, he was tired, concerned and annoyed. The town didn’t pay him enough to be expecting him to nurse sick prisoners.

He left the office at first light and walked down to Joe’s place to fetch him. The fever was bad enough, but that cough that Madrid had was bad… and getting worse.

Half an hour later, he was watching Joe check over his prisoner again.

“Well, that cough isn’t from the bullet, Tom,” Hatcher finally told him. “He’s got a fever but there ain’t nothin’ unusual about that. All you can do is keep an eye on him an’ try to bring down the fever. I’ve got a tonic that might help with the cough once he’s awake enough to take it, but that’s about all I can do.”

“I can’t stay here all day an’ night with him,” Logan complained. “I’ve got a town to run.”

Hatcher shrugged his shoulders. “Then don’t. It’s up to you.”

“Can you watch him for awhile? I have work to do.”

Hatcher paled. “I got work o’ my own to do, Tom. Just leave him. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Logan scowled at him. “I’m not going to stand by and let him die. I have to have help lookin’ after him,” he told him firmly.

“Tom, with the way this town feels about Scott Lancer, I don’t think you’re gonna have folks knockin’ on your door lookin’ to help this fella. What if he gets loose an’ goes after young Lancer again?”

“Does he look like he’s about to do that?” Tom Logan demanded, furious but knowing that the man was probably right in his thinking. He had the feeling that most of the people of Fortune would be happier if the gunfighter just up and died.

“Might not now, Tom,” Hatcher admitted. “But don’t let him fool ya. If he makes it back on his feet, Johnny Madrid isn’t someone you want to have to take on.”

 

CHAPTER TEN

The sheriff heard the knock on the front door from the cell. He wondered why someone might be wanting him so early in the day and hoped that it didn’t mean trouble. He had enough of that on his hands already.

He pulled the cell door closed behind him and made sure it was locked, more from habit than from need. He took another look at Madrid and shook his head. That man sure wasn’t going anywhere - locked cell or not.

Decisively, he walked back into his office, yawned wearily and strolled over to the door, opening it quickly. He hadn’t known who to expect to find there, but it sure wasn’t who he found.

“Miz Rodriguez, what are you doing here so early?” he asked, stunned. Then he noticed the covered plate she held carefully in front of her.

“I am told that you have Johnny Madrid in your jail,” she said firmly in her rich Spanish accent. “I have brought him something to eat.”

“Well, that’s real good of you, ma’am,” he answered. “But he ain’t exactly up to eatin’ right now.”

She scowled intensely at him. “Do you starve all of your prisoners, Señor Sheriff?” she demanded irritably. “Or only this one?”

“No, I ain’t starvin’ him, ma’am,” Logan responded crossly. After spending most of the night nursing the man, the idea that someone would accuse him of mistreating him was infuriating. “He’s pretty sick and he sure ain’t up to eatin’ anythin’.”

“Sick?” she asked, frowning. “He was shot, no?”

“Yeah, an’ he didn’t seem too bad at first. It’s just a shoulder wound, but I’ve been up half the night with him.”

“He has fever?”

“Yeah, fever… an’ a real bad cough,” Logan told her. “You might just as well take the food home, ma’am. It was a nice thought, but he isn’t goin’ to be wanting breakfast.”

“Señor Hatcher has looked at him?” she asked, an anxious note in her voice.

“Well, yeah, but he didn’t seem to think there’s much we can do except try to break the fever.”

“Huh!” she huffed, and pushed her way past the sheriff.

She took him by surprise – a real little whirlwind. Mara Rodriguez was a petite young woman with long dark hair tied back in a pony tail with a red satin ribbon. She and her husband had come to Fortune from Mexico a few years ago and they had started a small eatery that had proved popular in town.

They now had a small son and a new start in life, and they didn’t say much about their lives before Fortune.

But her eyes sparked at the sheriff as she passed him. She put the plate on his desk and turned back to face him.

“Take me to him,” she demanded.

“Miz Rodriguez, much as I need help with tendin’ to him, I can’t…”

With her hands on her hips, she scowled at him defiantly. “Take me to him, Señor.”

“Ma’am, Madrid is a killer. I can’t let you in there with him,” he told her firmly.

“Sheriff, if he is sick, he needs nursing. Take me to him,” she persisted angrily.

Faced with her fiery stance and with the knowledge in the back of his mind that he couldn’t look after Madrid on his own, he relented and opened the door to the cells.

He led the way and held the door open while she walked past him, then he watched her stop at the door to Madrid’s cell.

Johnny was lying on the cot under the barred window and wrapped tightly in a blanket with a cloth compress still on his forehead. His face was flushed with the fever and he was obviously still unconscious. He certainly looked anything but dangerous at the moment.

“Oh no, Pobrocito!” Mara exclaimed. She turned to Logan, the fire in her eyes reduced to sorrow. “Is there no one to help him?” she asked.

“Only me,” he admitted. “You gotta remember, ma’am, he’s a killer… a pistolero. He came here looking to kill a man who made himself a hero in this town. No one ‘round here wants to help him.”

“Bah! Pistolero?” she said contemptuously. “He is Johnny Madrid… not the devil! Open the door and I will help you care for him.”

Logan shook his head. “Oh no, ma’am, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Do you think he will hurt me?” she snapped angrily. “Look at him! He is so sick he could not hurt even a baby! I will be safe with him.”

Logan thought about it. Her help would certainly go a long way towards solving his problem He couldn’t stay with Madrid all day and all night. Apart from his own need for sleep, he had work to do.

While he deliberated on the wisdom of letting her into the cell, Johnny’s cough took hold of him. It started with a short sharp cough but, within moments, it ran out of control and he threw himself sideways and almost fell off the cot.

Logan’s mind was made up in that instant. He unlocked the cell door and he followed Mara as she ran in and knelt beside the cot, catching Johnny as he fell. He was coughing loudly and fighting for breath. She eased him back onto the cot and then sat on the edge of it herself.

Lifting him forward carefully till his head rested on her shoulder, she rubbed his back in small slow circles, almost as if he were a little child.

It worked. The coughing eased, leaving Johnny panting heavily and gasping for breath. As the attack subsided, Johnny’s head dropped against her shoulder.

Logan could hear her whispering soothing Spanish to him, but Johnny was so deeply unconscious that he doubted that the young man could hear her. All the same, he seemed to be resting much more easily.

Once she was satisfied that the attack was over, Mara whispered, “Que bueno, Pobrocito,” and gently eased him back onto the cot, put her hand to his forehead and turned to face Logan.

“He should not be left alone, Señor Sheriff,” she told him firmly. “His chest is very infected and he should be in a decent bed, not in here.”

Logan nodded. “Yeah, I know, but I’m just one man and I have work to do.”

“Then I will stay with him,” she declared.

“Oh no… I can’t leave you in here alone with a killer!”

“Johnny Madrid will not hurt me,” she told him confidently.

“You don’t know that, ma’am,” the sheriff told her sympathetically. He was well aware that Madrid’s reputation south of the border was different from here.

“I know it,” she replied determinedly. “Even were he not so sick, he would not hurt me.”

“Ma’am, I can’t lock you in a cell with a man… and certainly not with Johnny Madrid!”

“Then leave it unlocked… whatever you like, Señor. But I will not leave him.” She turned away and picked up the cloth that had fallen to the floor. Dunking it into the basin of water on the floor, she wrung it out and replaced it on Johnny’s brow.

Logan watched her and considered his options. She was right. Madrid needed someone with him. He was sick from more than the bullet… that was obvious.

But how could he justify leaving her here with him?

He looked at Madrid again and figured that he wasn’t likely to be very dangerous for a while. With considerable misgivings, he relented. “All right,” he said, sighing. “But I’m leaving the cell door unlocked. If he starts to wake up, you get out of there quickly. You hear me?”

“Si, I hear you,” she replied, nodding but otherwise ignoring him.

“I have to talk to a few people about yesterday. I won’t be gone long.”

“Si, I will be fine, Señor,” she assured him, still not turning around to talk to him. “But I will need some things from you… pillows, another blanket… some more water and a cup to give him some water when he wakes.”

“All right, but Ma’am, you listen up good,” he insisted and she finally turned around to face him. “You just remember what I said… he wakes up – you run for it.”

*

Logan stepped out of his office, squinted into the sunlight and pushed his hat firmly onto his head. He shoved the misgivings he still held about leaving the girl alone with Madrid out of his mind and walked over to the alley where the shooting had taken place yesterday.

Apart from the dark mark on the ground, where Johnny Madrid’s blood had stained the earth, there wasn’t much of anything to show for the drama that had been played out there less than a day before.

Tom Logan was not satisfied with the story he had had from Gil and Glen Turner yesterday. He had seen Madrid draw in the past and Gil Turner more recently. There was no way that Gil was fast enough to take Madrid… not even on his best day or if Johnny Madrid had a broken arm.

He walked over to where the stain remained and tried to picture Madrid lying there. It wasn’t that hard. The mark gave him the location, but his memory held the picture. It didn’t happen every day in Fortune that a gunfighter got himself shot.

He squatted down and looked around, not sure exactly what he was looking for, then he walked back over to where he remembered finding the hat and picking it up.

It had struck him as odd at the time and it still seemed strange. Why was the hat so far from Madrid… and in the opposite direction to the way he had fallen? Both of the Turners had said there was no scuffle before the shooting… no warning at all that Madrid had been about to draw.

Then there was the matter of the gun. The Turner boys had told him that Madrid had gone for his gun and, true enough, it had still been in Madrid’s hand when he got there. But Logan had found Madrid’s fingers curled around the butt of the pistol… all of them. His trigger finger wasn’t anywhere near the trigger… his thumb was even curled firmly with the rest of his fingers. No man held a gun that way if he intended to fire it… and certainly not a gunhawk.

He frowned and sighed, then left the alley with more questions than answers. He was heading for the saloon. It would be open, but no one would be there except Harry at this hour.

He was right. He pushed the batwing doors open and walked in, letting them creak noisily as they flapped to a close behind him.

“Mornin’ Tom,” Harry called as he pulled a chair off a table and set upright on the floor. He moved on to the next chair and repeated the process. “What brings you in here so early in the day? Madrid givin’ you trouble?”

“Only by keepin’ me up all night tryin’ to bring down a fever,” he told Harry.

“Fever?” Harry asked, stopping his work for a moment. “Bad?”

“Yeah, coughin’ bad, too.”

Harry shrugged. “Well, if he’s that sick, he won’t give you no trouble.” He went back to setting up his chairs.

“Did he give you any trouble in here yesterday?” Logan asked him.

“Nope,” Harry answered succinctly, placing the last chair from the last table and wiping off the top of the table. “Came in, cool as you please. Started askin’ about the bank robbery, then he asked about Scott Lancer.”

“He asked for him by name?”

Harry walked over behind the bar and started polishing the top of it. “Yeah, came right out and asked for Scott Lancer. I sure wasn’t tellin’ Johnny Madrid where to find him,” he said, grinning.

“How’d you know he was Madrid anyway?”

“Oh, I knew him right off. Saw him years ago an’ I wasn’t likely to forget him.” Harry seemed to have found something on the bar and began rubbing harder at it.

“Did he threaten you at all?”

“Nope.” Then he grinned. “In fact, he tried to tell me he’s Scott Lancer’s brother an’ he was looking for him.” Harry shook his head. “Can you believe it?”

Tom Logan stopped and stared at him. Harry must have seen the surprise on his face for he looked up and laughed.

“Brother?” Tom asked, stunned.

“Tried the same thing all over town, but we spread the word ‘bout who he was and what he was up to. I gave the nod to Harvey and he went to Josiah. The word went round town then.” He laughed again. “I don’t reckon he’s ever seen Scott Lancer to have thought we’d fall for that story.”

“Harry, did you see any of that gunfight yesterday?” Logan asked, leaning on the bar thoughtfully.

“Nope… heard the shot an’ ran out.” He appeared to be finally satisfied that the mark on the bar was gone. Putting the cloth aside, he gave his full attention to the sheriff. “Got there when it was all over. Poor Gil, he was kinda shook up… shocked like.”

 

“Yes…” Logan answered slowly, thinking. “I’m not surprised.”

*

Tom Logan had a lot on his mind as he crossed the street to the general store. He strolled in, edging past barrels and bolts of cloth and two ladies standing at the counter. He leaned back against the wall, careful not to knock any of the cans off the shelves and patiently waiting for them to finish paying for their purchases before approaching Josiah Andrews.

His wife set about rewinding the bolts of cloth that the ladies had been looking at and putting them back on the shelves behind her.

“Morning Tom,” Andrews greeted him cheerfully.

“Mornin’, Josiah,” he replied.

“Good morning, Sheriff Logan,” Mrs. Andrews added, replacing the last bolt on its shelf and joining her husband behind the counter. “What brings you in?”

“I was hoping you’d have time for a word about yesterday,” Logan explained. “Did either of you see what happened between the Turners and Madrid?”

“No,” they both replied in unison.

“All over when I got there,” Josiah told him. “I heard a shot an’ ran out. Harry was runnin’ out of the saloon. He got there just before me, an’ Henrietta was right behind me.”

Logan nodded, sighing. He’d hoped that he could find someone who had witnessed the gunfight, but it seemed he was out of luck. Whatever had happened in that alley, the only one who could tell him anything more was Johnny Madrid… and he wasn’t saying anything at the moment. Tom wasn’t even sure that he ever would get the chance.

“Did you talk to Madrid at all, yesterday?”

“Sure, he came round askin’ after Scott Lancer. Tried to take me for a fool… saying he was his brother and that he was lookin’ for him ‘cause he was worried about him.”

“You didn’t tell me that, Josiah!” Mrs. Andrews exclaimed.

“Well, it was no matter,” Josiah told her firmly. “Plain to see he’s Mex… even if Harvey hadn’t warned me who he was, I wouldn’t have believed that.”

“Did he make any threats?” Tom asked.

“No, not right out,” Andrews admitted. “But why else would he be looking for him? For heaven’s sake… he’s a gunhawk!”

Tom only nodded and Josiah added defensively, “Anyway, you saw how obsessed he was with finding Mr. Lancer. Even with a bullet in him, it was all he could think of.”

“Yes…” Logan said distractedly. “I saw it.”

“Did he give you any trouble once he woke up?” Andrews asked.

“He hasn’t woken up,” Logan told them bluntly.

“What? Not at all?” Mrs. Andrews asked, surprised.

“No, he’s had a fever all night an’ started coughing early this mornin’. Joe Hatcher doesn’t hold much hope for him.”

“Then Joe’s with him now?” she asked.

Logan shifted his feet uncomfortably. “Joe was too busy to stay with him,” he answered evasively.

“You didn’t leave him alone in that condition, surely?”

This time he knew he had to admit it. “No, ma’am. Miz Rodriguez came by an’ insisted on stayin’ with him.”

“Alone?” she gasped, horrified. “You left her alone with that killer?”

“He’s too sick to be any risk to her or anyone else, Miz Andrews,” Tom told her, trying to convince himself as well.

It didn’t work. She untied her apron and pulled it off, tossing it angrily onto the counter in front of him.

“Oh!” she grunted in disgust with him, and then she stormed out of the store and down the street towards the sheriff’s office.

Logan walked to the door and watched her striding down the sidewalk.

“No stopping that woman when she’s in that mood, Tom,” a voice beside him said.

He turned his head to find the shopkeeper beside him, then he looked back and saw her open his office door and storm inside. No, there was no stopping Henrietta Andrews in that mood.

*

Mara heard the striding tread of footsteps coming into the office and assumed it was the sheriff. She paid no attention to it. All her focus was on Johnny. She’d pulled the blanket off him soon after the sheriff left. The fever had continued to rise and the blanket was sealing the heat in, but it was the coughing that worried her more.

His chest was congested, though she doubted that it was from the bullet wound. And, worse, as he coughed and tossed, the wound in his shoulder had begun to bleed again.

The sheriff had produced a couple of old flat pillows that she had tucked behind Johnny to prop him up as much as she could. It was little enough, but seemed to be helping him to breathe.

She kept the cloth cool and wet, and she wiped his face and chest down constantly, whispering in Spanish to try to calm him.

“Calma,” she murmured, wiping his forehead. “Calma, Pobrocito…”

He tossed his head away from the cloth.

“Shhh… tengo con calma,” she persisted gently.

“What in the world do you think you’re doing, Mara?” came a voice from behind her.

She spun around quickly. It wasn’t Sheriff Logan.

“Mrs. Andrews, what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see that you don’t get killed… or worse!” Henrietta told her firmly. “Tom Logan should be horsewhipped… leaving you with that killer.”

“I talked him into it,” Mara answered quietly.  “And Señor Madrid will not hurt me.”

“Don’t be a fool, girl,” Henrietta persisted. “He’s only here in town because he plans to kill someone. Get out of there – right now!”

“Please, do not shout, Hetty,” Mara answered calmly. “You’re upsetting him.”

Sure enough, Johnny’s head tossed from side to side while he panted heavily.

“Then get out of there!” Henrietta insisted.

Mara got to her feet and moved aside to afford the woman a better view of Johnny. “Look at him, Hetty. Does he look like he can do me any harm?”

Hetty Andrews did look at him… the flushed sheen of his skin… the persistent ragged cough… and the bloodied bandage around his chest and shoulder.

“There is no one else to help him, Hetty,” Mara told her. “I could not leave him and still consider myself to be a Christian.”

“Joe Hatcher will see to him…”

“Señor Hatcher was here early this morning and will do nothing to help him. He wants nothing to do with him,” Mara said bluntly.

“It’s not safe to be alone in there with that man, Mara. What will your husband say?”

Mara smiled. “He will say I am doing the right thing, I know.”

There were more footsteps outside and Tom Logan walked in to stand beside Hetty Andrews. But before anyone could say anything more, Johnny’s eyes flew open.

Mara took a step backwards in surprise, then she gasped at the sight of the vivid blue eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling. She had known they would be blue… she’d seen them before. Besides, back home in Mexico, Johnny Madrid was known for those blue eyes… gringo eyes.

But, now, they glowed with an unnatural brightness brought on by the fever.

She straightened her back and stepped back to where she’d been and went to sit down on the cot beside him.

“No, ma’am, don’t… get back from him!” Logan called, pushing open the cell door and barging in to get to her side.

“It’s not locked?” Mrs. Andrews exclaimed.

“No,” Logan shouted over his shoulder. He reached out and caught Mara by one arm and she turned on him so quickly that her ponytail slashed through the air and hit him in the face. Her eyes were fiery embers and she glared at him.

“Let me go, Sheriff,” she demanded.

Logan was so startled by the depth of her anger that he almost did just that. But his sense of duty overcame his shock and he held his grip on her arm.

“Scott…” Johnny murmured, softly, but clearly enough for them all to hear him.

All three stopped in shock and stared at him.

His eyes didn’t seem to be focused and he coughed, less harshly than before, but enough to take his breath away for a moment.

“Scott…” he said again, clearly and a little louder than before. “Where’s Scott…?”

He turned his head and his eyes caught and locked on the sheriff’s eyes. “Have to find him…” he said, forcing the words out. Closing his eyes again, he stopped to catch his breath and coughed lightly, then they fluttered open again and he continued. “Have to… to…”

Johnny’s strength was failing him but no one could take their eyes off him, held in the drama of his attempts to reach out to them.

“Have to… find… Scott…”

With that, his eyes slid closed and he drifted back into unconsciousness, leaving all three spectators lost for words.

*

Mara turned back to Logan after a short pause. The fire had left her eyes and she was no longer angry.

“Let me go to him, Sheriff,” she said sadly and he dropped his hand from her arm without another word.

He heard a soft tread behind him and looked back to see Mrs. Andrews walking slowly into the cell. Her face showed her shock, but there seemed to be something more there… was it actually concern?

“Josiah told me that he was obsessed with finding and killing Scott Lancer,” she said,quietly thinking. “But, that didn’t sound like obsession to me.” She looked the sheriff in the eye and added, “It was more like… like…”

Logan nodded. “I know. It was more like desperation.”

“Yes, desperation is the right word,” she agreed, frowning.

“Pobrocito,” Mara whispered softly, sitting down on the side of the cot. “Shhh… everything will be all right.” She picked up the cloth and went back to work trying to bring down his temperature.

“He sounded the same yesterday,” Tom told them. “He practically pleaded with me.”

“Is it possible that he’s not Johnny Madrid?” Henrietta asked. “Maybe Harry was wrong.”

“No, he’s Madrid all right. I recognized him myself,” Logan answered, shaking his head. “I think Mara does too. Isn’t that right, ma’am?”

Without turning away from Johnny, she nodded. “Si. He is Johnny Madrid. But he is not a heartless killer as you all think. Where I come from, this man is honored.”

Henrietta scowled at her words, not understanding, but Tom Logan was well aware that while Madrid was feared north of the border, he was a hero in some parts of Mexico. He’d never understood that himself. He didn’t know the reasons behind it.

“Why would he say he’s Scott’s brother, then?” Henrietta asked, confusion written on her face.

Mara sighed. “Why should he not be?” she asked them, gently wiping Johnny’s face with the cloth. She turned her head and shrugged her shoulders. “His blood is mixed. His father… he was gringo.”

Logan and Mrs. Andrews stared at each other in surprise. It had never occurred to Logan, though he’d known that Madrid was only half-Mexican.

After thinking for a moment, Tom Logan announced quietly, “If you ladies don’t mind watching him for me, I think I’ll go have that talk with Scott Lancer.”
 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

It wasn’t a long ride to the Turner ranch, but it was late in the morning when he got to the front of the ranch house. One of the hands appeared to take his horse as he dismounted.

He’d left Madrid in the care of both Miz Rodriguez and Hetty Andrews. It was Hetty’s change of heart that had taken him by surprise. After being so vocal in chastising him for leaving Mara with Madrid, she had become very practical in terms of looking after him… to the point of bringing pillows and other supplies from the store.

Josiah’s protests could be heard up and down the main street, but they fell on deaf ears with Hetty. In his own words, ‘there’s no stopping that woman when she’s in that mood.’ And, indeed, there had not been.

So he had left the two ladies to tend to his prisoner and set out to talk to Scott Lancer.

On his way there, Tom Logan had given the whole thing some thought. If Madrid, and there was no doubt in his mind that the man in that cell was Johnny Madrid, had pulled a gun on Gil Turner, then he would stay in jail. Gil had no reason to worry on that score. Even if, by some strange circumstance, he was actually Scott’s brother, he had attempted murder by pulling his gun first.

Logan had no proof that either of the Turner brothers was lying about what had happened in the alley. He had his suspicions, but that was all.

But there was still the matter of why Madrid had come to Fortune looking for Scott. He’d claimed to be Lancer’s brother to everyone he had met and, unlikely as it was, at least that question could be answered easily. He had only to ask Scott.

He walked towards the door and was met by Anne Turner when he got there. Her style and elegance never failed to impress him and he took off his hat with respect.

“Why, Sheriff Logan, how nice to see you again. Won’t you come in out of that hot sun? We have some cool lemonade made up.” She was always courteous and he smiled with pleasure.

Tom dusted himself off as much as he could and then stomped his boots to remove any dirt before tracking it into the house. He ran his hand through his hair and slipped inside behind her. He did it all without thinking and, when he realized what he was doing, he accepted his fussing as perfectly normal. Anne Turner affected everyone that way.

She led him into the spacious drawing room and set him in one of the comfortable armchairs, seating herself opposite him. The room was several degrees cooler than outside, but he felt self-conscious, spinning his hat between his fingers.

Emily Turner came in from the hallway, a younger fresher version of her mother. She glided over to her mother’s side.

“Emily, you’re just in time,” Anne said as she approached her. “I’m sure the sheriff is thirsty. It’s terribly hot out there and such a dusty ride from town. Would you get the lemonade, please?”

“Of course,’ the girl answered, smiling. She walked through the room and out into the kitchen with just as much grace as her mother.

“Now,” Anne said firmly, her hands clasped in front of her in a show of feminine strength. “What brings you here, Tom? Yesterday’s events, I suppose?”

“Yes, it’s about yesterday,” Tom told her. “I need to talk to Scott.”

“Scott? I thought you would be wanting to talk to my sons,” she replied with a look of surprise.

“I talked to them all I need for now,” he assured her. “But Madrid was looking for Scott and…”

Anne looked down at her hands for a moment, stopping him and creating a certain amount of tension in the room.

“While I realize that that man… the… the gunfighter… was looking for Scott, I think it’s unnecessary to disturb him with that sort of news yet. Scott is still very weak, Tom.”

“I don’t intend to disturb him with a lot o’ questions just now, Ma’am,” Tom told her. “But there’s a question that needs answering an’ it won’t take long.”

“What sort of question?”

“Madrid was claiming to be Scott Lancer’s brother.”

Anne stared at him for a long moment, then burst out laughing. “His brother? You can’t be serious? Isn’t the man a gunfighter?”

“Yes, but he made no threats against Scott. He told everyone he asked that he was Scott’s brother and he was looking for him.”

Anne threw her hands up in the air. “That’s ridiculous! It was obviously an attempt to get people to trust him and give him answers.”

Tom nodded. “Possibly, but I’m not so sure. I need to ask Scott,” he said firmly.

“Ask Scott what?” Emily asked, returning to the room with a tray in her hands, carrying a jug of lemonade and three glasses.

“Tom wants to ask Scott if this gunfighter who was looking for him is his brother,” Anne told her sarcastically.

Emily put the tray down on a table and glared at him. “You must be joking, Sheriff Logan! Surely, there’s no need for Scott to know that someone is trying to kill him when he’s still so weak. Hasn’t he been through enough?”

“I only want to ask him if Madrid is his brother,” Tom insisted.

“You don’t need to ask him any such thing,” Emily said crossly. “How could he be? Glen told me he’s Mexican!”

“Madrid’s half Mexican,” Tom told them. “It’s possible…”

Anne scowled angrily at him and drew herself up defensively. “Scott Lancer is an educated young man of good breeding and excellent manners. His father is a wealthy, respected rancher,” she answered haughtily. “To suggest a relationship between Scott and this… this killer… is insulting.”

“I just need a yes or no answer from Scott, Ma’am,” he told her, determined not to be intimidated by the woman.

“I will not have a guest in my home insulted!”

“I need to talk to him,” Tom persisted.

“Well, you’re not talking to him today!” Emily informed him furiously. “He’s asleep.”

“Then you’ll have to wake him.”

The girl glared at Tom but he met the fire in her eyes without flinching.

“For your information, Sheriff, Scott is still very weak. We allowed him out of bed for the first time today but he took a fall. His wound opened and he was in so much pain that we gave him a sleeping draft.”

“He’s not likely to wake for hours, yet,” Mrs. Turner finished for her daughter. Suddenly, she smiled… but it was a smile of triumph. “I can take you to him of course, and you’re welcome to stay until then, but it won’t be for most of the day.”

Tom looked from one of them to the other, not sure whether to believe them.

“How long ago did this happen?” he asked, annoyed.

“About an hour ago. He’ll probably sleep until this evening,” Emily answered petulantly. “Besides, you’re wasting your time and you’ll upset Scott unnecessarily.”

“She’s right, Tom,” Anne added. “I don’t see how you can ask him about this Madrid character without letting him know that the man has been hired to kill him.”

“He claimed to be Scott’s brother and here in Fortune because he and his family were worried about him. I can’t just ignore that. I have to talk to Scott.”

“Well, that makes his lie all the more preposterous,” Anne said firmly, returning her hands to their position clasped in front of her. “Scott’s family is well aware of where he is.”

Tom frowned. “What?”

“Once we were sure that Scott was Murdoch Lancer’s son, we sent Gil to Corona to wire Mr. Lancer with news of his son.”

“You sent word?”

“Of course, we sent word. We couldn’t leave them wondering where the poor young man was,” she explained huffily.

“So you see,” Emily continued angrily. “Scott’s family might come for him to take him home, but they have no reason to be looking for him. They’re well aware of where he is.”

“Exactly,” Anne stated firmly. She turned back to Emily. “Pour the lemonade please, Emily.”

She glanced at the sheriff and seemed convinced that he could see the foolishness of Madrid’s outrageous claim. “Will you stay to lunch, Tom?” she asked amiably.

“No,” he sighed. “No thanks, Ma’am.” He hadn’t given up on the idea of talking to Scott about it. He knew he had to ask at least that one question. But if Scott wasn’t likely to wake until tonight, it would have to wait until tomorrow. “I have to get back to the jail. Thanks just the same, Miz Turner. I’ll have to come by tomorrow to talk to Scott.”

She shook her head in frustration. “I see no reason to rush.” She dismissed the idea out of hand. “This man, Madrid, tried to kill my son and he planned to kill Scott. I’m sure he’ll admit the whole thing, now that you have the facts to lay before him.”

“Oh, he’s not likely to tell me anything much,” Tom told her, accepting a glass from Emily with a smile and a thank you. “He’s still unconscious and has a high fever. Might not even make it.”

Anne frowned heavily. “Glen told me that Gil only shot him in the shoulder!” she exclaimed.

“That’s right, he did. But it went deep and took some getting out. Looks like he might have been sick before he got here too. He’s coughin’ up a storm.” Tom took a sip of the lemonade and swallowed it. It felt good going down after being out in the dust and heat.  “That might explain how Gil managed to get the drop on him too.”

“I beg your pardon, Sheriff?” Emily demanded. “Gil out-drew him!”

She sounded proud of her brother, and something about that bothered the sheriff. He said nothing in answer to her and she took still more offence.

“Are you saying that Gil isn’t fast enough to take Johnny Madrid?” she asked him, affronted.

Tom took another swallow of the lemonade before answering her. “No offence, Miss Emily, but I’ve seen Johnny Madrid draw. He’s not just good… he’s very good… maybe the best there is.”

“Well, obviously not… since Gil was fast enough to beat him,” she told him sarcastically.

“That’s quite enough, Emily,” Anne Turner said firmly. Tom noticed that she didn’t look at all comfortable with the conversation.

“Well, he’ll have to be,” Tom answered.

“What do you mean?” Anne asked, frowning.

Tom swallowed the last of the lemonade and put the glass down on the table. He spun the hat in his hand and realized it was time to go. “Because, now, he’s the man who took down Johnny Madrid. That’s going to be quite a reputation to live up to once the word spreads, Ma’am. I sure hope he can live with it.”

*

Tom arrived back in Fortune and rode straight to his office. He tied his horse and walked inside to see how Madrid was doing.

What had seemed so easy a question to get answered when he had left was still unanswered. He hadn’t been able to talk to Gil or Glen either but he had nothing to accuse them of at this stage anyway. And he sure wasn’t going to accuse Vic Turner’s sons without proof.

Stepping inside the office, he took off his hat and slapped it onto the hook of the hat stand by the door. Tom was annoyed … no furious… at not being able to talk to Scott Lancer.

He had no reason to think that Scott hadn’t been sleeping in a drugged sleep and unlikely to wake for some time. And the information that Scott’s family had no reason to be searching for him had shaken the sheriff’s emerging conviction that there might be something to Madrid’s claim to being Scott’s brother.

Tom strode over to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee. He sat on the edge of his desk and took a sip of the coffee before looking towards the door to the cells. The door was still open and he sighed heavily then walked inside.

He found both women still with Madrid. They had him propped up with pillows till he was in a half-sitting position. His skin was bright with the sheen of an unbroken fever and his head lolled to one side. His chest was bare except for the bandages and what looked like a mustard plaster, but there appeared to have been no more bleeding as the bandages were clean.

Tom screwed his nose up at the smell of the mustard plaster.

“How’s he doin’?” Tom asked, though he thought it was pretty obvious that he was no better.

“About the same,” Hetty answered from the chair by the side of the cot. Mara leaned over to the floor and wrung out the cloth in the basin of water, then returned it to his forehead.

“Has he come to?”

“No,” Hetty replied. She sighed and looked at Johnny. “Not so you could understand him anyway. He was delirious for a while and kept calling for Scott.” She looked up at Tom. “What did Scott say?”

“I didn’t get to talk to him,” Tom said irritably. “He had a bad turn this morning and they gave him a sleeping draft.”

“Oh dear,” Hetty said sadly.

“Well, if our friend here pulled his gun on Gil Turner, it won’t make much difference anyway,” Tom told her. “He’ll still be under arrest for attempted murder.”

“Do you have any doubt?” she asked, curious.

He shook his head, uncertain of how much to say at this point. “I don’t know… not really. It’s just…”

“It is just that Señor Gil Turner is not fast enough to beat Johnny Madrid,” Mara said with conviction and without turning around.

“Is that right, Tom?” Hetty asked him, surprised.

Tom looked at the floor and scuffed one foot diffidently. He wasn’t prepared to voice his opinions without something to back them up. “Madrid’s one of the best, Ma’am,” was all he finally said. Then he added, “But he was probably not well when he faced up to Gil. That could be the answer.”

Hetty scowled, but she said nothing. “I’d certainly say he was sick or recovering from something when he got shot. That congestion has taken over far too fast.” She got to her feet decisively. “It’s time I talked to Joe Hatcher. I know he has tonics that might help if we can get any into him.”

She straightened her skirt and walked past Tom and out of the cell. He strolled over and sat in the chair she’d vacated. He took another mouthful of the coffee and then put it on the floor, leaned forward and studied the man on the cot.

“Can I get you a coffee, Miz Rodriguez?” he asked at last.

She shook her head and wiped Johnny’s face again. “No, but thank you. Hetty and I took turns to get some rest and something to eat while you were away.” She turned to him and smiled. “I have never slept in a jail cell before.”

He laughed, realizing she meant the other cell. “Something to tell your son one day?”

“I will tell my son that it was in a good cause,” she said proudly.

“Helping Madrid?”

“Si,” she told him firmly, but didn’t elaborate any further. Instead, she went back to her task, wiping his face and chest down, trying to bring down the fever.

The conversation waned as she concentrated on Johnny and Tom considered what he knew and what he suspected.  Both were still lost in thought when Mrs. Andrews came back with Hatcher.

Joe came in ahead of her and she stood in the doorway while he walked over to the cot.

“Don’t look good, does he?” Hatcher said negligently.

“Why don’t you take a look at him then, Joe,” Hetty suggested, crossing her arms and standing behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw the steely expression on her face.

“Sure, but I don’t know what’s wrong with you folks,” he answered crossly. “Seems to me savin’ him only puts Scott Lancer at risk.”

“You’re not suggestin’ that we just let him die, I hope,” Tom said sternly. He got to his feet and grabbed Joe Hatcher by the collar. With a glance in Hetty’s direction, he said quietly to Hetty, “Will you excuse us for a minute?”

She stood aside and let them pass her by. Tom dragged Joe into his office and shoved him into a chair.

“Alright, Joe,” he said gruffly. “Let’s talk about a few things… like I have never lost a prisoner, and I don’t intend to start with Madrid.”

“No one in town would blame you, Tom.”

“I would blame me,” Logan pointed out. “Although, I think I might blame you, too.” He glared at Hatcher. “Would I be justified?”

Hatcher moved uncomfortably in the chair and avoided looking Tom in the eye. “People die from gettin’ shot, Tom. Happens all the time. It’s not my fault if he gets a fever.”

“You’ve done exactly nothing for him, Joe. You were rough on him when you took the bullet out…”

“Hey, that bullet was in deep an’ caught on bone,” Joe told him defensively.

“Regardless, you were about as rough as you could be. And when I called you in here this morning, you just about ignored him… just said there was nothin’ you could do. You didn’t even try.”

“Wasn’t nothin’ I could do for him then, an’ probably ain’t much I can do now,” he answered, belligerently.

“So, you’re not even going to try?”

“I’m not a doctor, Tom. You know that.”

“You’re the closest thing we have to it, Joe. You’d try to help anyone else.”

Hatcher’s head dropped. “He’s a killer, Tom. He only came here to kill a good man… a man I tended to an’ kept alive. No one cares…”

“I care, Joe,” Tom said angrily. “There are no wanted posters on him, an’ he made no threats to Scott Lancer when he was here. He made no threats to anyone.”

“Man like that don’t need to.”

“He told everyone that he’s Scott’s brother,” Tom persevered.

“He pulled a gun on Gil and Glen. If Gil hadn’t been so fast…”

Tom Logan shook his head. “Come on, Joe, think about what you’re sayin’. Do you really think Gil’s that fast?”

Joe frowned and tilted his head a little to one side, staring at the sheriff. “You got somethin’ on your mind?”

“It makes no difference what I think.” Tom Logan strode over to stand in front of him and continued firmly. “If he’s guilty, a judge an’ jury will find him guilty. Until then, he’s my prisoner an’ he gets treated properly. You got that?”

“Yeah,” he answered begrudgingly. “I guess you’re right.”

“You bet your life, I’m right,” Tom said determinedly. “Now get your bag and get in there.”

“Tom, get in here!” Hetty called wildly. “Quickly!”

He didn’t need to be called twice. Logan ran into the other room with the heavy tread of footsteps following him.

Madrid was throwing himself around the cot in a fever-induced delirium, calling Scott’s name. The two women were struggling in vain to hold him down when Tom got there and he ran over to help them.

“Tom, we have to get him to lie still,” Hetty shouted. “He’s going to open that wound again.”

“Get out of the way!” he told them and pushed past them to sit on the side of the cot, his hands forcing down Johnny’s shoulders and holding him steady.

“Take it easy, Madrid,” he said calmly. “Come on, lay down and take it easy…”

Johnny fought him with all the strength he had. “Scott… have to find Scott…” he called out.

Tom Logan took him by the shoulders and shook him roughly. “Johnny, listen to me…” he said loudly and firmly. “Scott is fine. Do you hear me? Scott is just fine…”

The fight went out of Madrid with a suddenness that took all of them by surprise. Tom held tightly to his shoulders and watched as he turned fever-bright eyes on him. Johnny was sweating heavily and panting breathlessly but he kept his eyes on Tom.

“You know where he is?” he asked weakly.

“Yes, he’s fine,” Tom repeated quietly, looking him in the eyes.

“He’s hurt…” Johnny said clearly, then coughed desperately. When he managed to get past the coughing attack, he continued. “He’s hurt… isn’t he?”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, he’s hurt, but not too bad. He just can’t travel yet.” He saw confusion in Madrid’s eyes… looking for reassurance. “I’m telling you the truth, Johnny,” he continued firmly. “Scott’s just fine.”

Johnny’s head dropped back against the pillows and his eyes closed. The effort had taken a lot out of him as he fought hard to breathe. His face, arms and chest were covered in perspiration but he appeared to have accepted Tom at his word. In a moment, he slipped back into unconsciousness.

“All right, Joe,” he said, turning around to find a stunned Joe Hatcher standing behind him. “Get in here and do what you can for him.”

Hatcher stared at Johnny for a long moment, then nodded and walked past the ladies to the cot.

*

“The very suggestion that this man is Scott’s brother is insulting,” Anne Turner said to her sons and daughter. They had gathered in the drawing room before dinner and discussed the sheriff’s visit. “I’m surprised at Tom Logan giving it any credence at all.”

“I don’t know, Mother,” Gene said, pondering. “He told me he has a brother named Johnny.”

“John is one of the most common names there is,” Vic told him. “Your own brother, Gil’s, middle name is John. Even if he has a brother named John, that doesn’t mean a thing. It certainly doesn’t mean that some half-breed Mex gunman is Scott Lancer’s brother. The idea is ridiculous.”

Glen looked over at his younger brother, Gil. “He tried to tell us the same thing, Pa. It was just to try to get information out of us.”

“Is that right, Gil?”

Gil nodded, but said nothing, so Glen continued. “It was when we called him on it that he went for his gun.”

The boy looked up quickly and glared at his brother angrily.

“Gil? Is that how it happened?”

Nervously, Gil looked back at his father. “Yes, Pa… I think so. It’s kind of mixed up…”

“Mixed up? You shot a man and you can’t remember what happened?” Vic demanded.

The boy shrugged his shoulders. “I ain’t never shot anyone before, Pa,” he answered evasively.

“The Lancers have no reason to be looking for him,” Anne persisted. “We sent them word that he’s here.”

“Which they haven’t answered,” Gene pointed out curtly.

“Murdoch Lancer will probably turn up here any day to take him home. I have no intention of letting Tom Logan insult the boy while he’s under my roof,” Vic announced firmly.

“What can it hurt to ask him?”

“I won’t have you upsetting him, Gene,” Emily said angrily. “You’re not to let him know that someone wants him killed.”

Vic Turner shook his head at her. “He’ll have to know sooner or later, girl. For one thing, he’ll want to know that someone hired Madrid.”

“Then we’ll make it later… when he’s stronger.”

“She’s right, Vic,” Anne agreed. “He’s still very ill… certainly not up to hearing that.”

Vic nodded. “All right, but Logan will be back in the morning. You’ll have to come to some arrangement with him. He can be a stubborn man.”

He turned to Anne and Emily. “I want to talk to the boys for a minute, Anne. Why don’t you two go see how Scott’s doin’?”

Anne took Emily by the arm and led her from the room, leaving the brothers alone with their father. He paced across the room silently before turning back to face them.

“Gil, Glen, is there anythin’ you haven’t told me ‘bout that shootin’?” he asked sternly.

“No, Pa!” Glen answered quickly.

Gil was slower to answer, but agreed with Glen. “No, nothin’, Pa,” he said, glancing at his brother for a moment. “Nothin’ at all…”
 

CHAPTER TWELVE

Scott woke to blazing sunlight through the window. He realized, through the fuzzed images in his head, that he’d slept for most of the day. He blinked away the shock of the bright light. His back protested his lying on it for so long and he shifted a little to get more comfortable.

The movement evoked a fire in his side that brought this morning’s events back into his mind with a searing flash. He remembered trying to get back to the bed and falling… the pain in his side… and coming to briefly in bed shortly after, in terrible pain. He did not remember anything much after that.

He closed his eyes again and tried to regain his equilibrium… breathing in and out heavily and deliberately until the pain was back under control.

A quick glance around the room showed Scott that he was alone and he was glad of it. While he appreciated the help that these people were giving him, he really needed to have some time to himself… some time to think.

First and foremost, he was angry with himself for managing to get himself shot. He had no regrets about helping the sheriff that day. No, that was not the point. The point was that he had been looking forward to getting home. He’d been away for too long and the whole trip had been a wasted effort.

He was worried that Murdoch hadn’t answered that wire the Turners had sent. It wasn’t like him. He insisted on responsibility from his sons… had argued with Johnny about it over and over.

Johnny… he’d given them such a scare with that bout of influenza. That thought kept coming to mind. Sam had warned them how close he had come to pneumonia. Was that why Murdoch hadn’t answered yet? Was he so busy with Johnny that it had escaped his attention?

Still, he had no reason to think that Johnny had done anything other than what he had been told to do. No reason… except knowing his brother well enough to suspect that he hadn’t. But Murdoch had assured him, before he left on this trip, that he would keep a close eye on Johnny.

Or hadn’t he gotten the wire at all? It was possible that it had been misdirected since he hadn’t sent it himself. He made himself a mental note to check that with Emily.

He thought back to the day he’d been shot. He pictured Emily, scared witless in the arms of that bank robber. Even before that, she’d caught his eye. The saving grace in all this mess was that he had been shot in the process of getting her out of trouble. After all, it had gotten him this close to her.

The word ‘beautiful’ seemed vastly inadequate in describing Emily Turner. It had taken little more than one meeting to get his attention; and it had taken only a few occasions in her presence to start him thinking about her a whole lot more.

Her voice echoed in his ears, sweet and lyrical. Her eyes gleamed with the radiance of her smile. She was lovely, funny and, if not exactly educated in the same way as he was, she was eager to learn and to see the world.

Of course, Scott was no fool. He was well aware that her family considered him ‘eligible’ for a match with their daughter. They seemed like good, decent people and it didn’t surprise him that they wanted the right kind of husband for their daughter.

 And it didn’t bother him in the same way that it had back in Boston. It was far from the first time that he’d been seen as a ‘catch’. Boston mothers with daughters of marriageable age had seen him as ‘eligible’ all the time and had thrown their girls in his path without compunction. Of course, Boston fathers had been less welcoming and that thought brought a smile to his face.

The thing was, Scott was beginning to see Emily Turner as ‘eligible’ as well, though he saw it less clinically than that. He liked her… liked being with her and liked talking to her.

She came from a ranching family and her mother had added enough polish to her upbringing to ensure that she would easily fit into any company. But, above all, was that smile… and those eyes that caught his breath every time he looked into them.

No, ‘liked’ wasn’t the right word… but was he ‘in love’ with her? He wasn’t really sure. He’d take his time thinking about that, but he was sure of one thing… Emily meant more to him than any girl since Julie.

He wondered what Johnny would think of her. Murdoch would approve. He had no doubt about that. And Teresa would get along with her just fine. But Johnny? He hoped that Johnny would see how much she meant to him. He hoped that he’d like her.

Yes, Johnny’s reaction was important to him.

He frowned for a moment, thinking about it. It would be important to him, but it wouldn’t affect his decision. No, if he was to take that step, it would be his decision to make and his alone.

Of course, there was the flip side of that thinking to consider. The Turners were good, ordinary people. Would they accept Johnny for what he was and not judge him by his past?

He was sure they would… once they got to know him. There was often that initial shock when people found out about his background. He’d seen it often enough. In fact, he’d felt it himself long ago. But getting to know him was usually enough to change their minds.

But there had been exceptions. There were some people who could never get past what he had been… or even what he was… half Mexican.

He’d just have to tell Emily and gauge her reaction.

Scott smiled, realizing for the first time just how important that reaction was to him.

*

“How are you feeling now?” Emily asked as she sat down in the chair beside the bed. She straightened her skirt negligently, brushing out the creases without even knowing she was doing it. Then she looked up to find his eyes on her. He was smiling.

“Much better, thank you,” he answered, still smiling. “It was stupid of me to fall like that. I should have known I wasn’t ready to do so much, so soon.”

“Nonsense,” she assured him. “It was a silly accident… and it hasn’t set you too far back. The bleeding wasn’t too bad and it soon stopped.”

He smiled some more and watched her closely. “I seem to have slept all day. Did you give me something?”

She laughed lightly. “Guilty, I’m afraid. It was a sleeping draught that mother had. You were in a great deal of pain at the time and you needed to get some rest. We thought it best.” She lowered her eyes a little. “Are you angry about it?”

Scott laughed at her, then drew in his breath when his side reminded him that he was still getting over that fall this morning. He held his breath for a moment, until the pain eased off. “No,” he said when he was able. “But I really don’t need it.”

“You did this morning,” she insisted. “You really are stubborn, aren’t you?”

“We Lancers are known for it,” he said with a grin. “You have no idea what it’s like living with my father and my brother. Teresa says that the house just reeks of ‘stubborn’.”

Emily laughed. “And are you the worst?”

“No, that would be Murdoch…my father,” he answered without having to think about it. “He wants things done his way all the time. He ‘calls the tune’ as he puts it.”

“Pa can be like that, too. He and Gene get into lots of arguments because of it,” she told him with a sigh. “Gene’s just the opposite of Pa.”

“That happens. Johnny and Murdoch argue a lot… actually, I guess I do, too. Though I don’t argue with Johnny often, and our arguments don’t last long.”

“You’re fond of him?” she asked, smiling. She got out of the chair and walked over to adjust his pillows so he could sit up a little.

“Thanks,” he said, leaning his head back on the pillows, tiredness beginning to creep over him, despite his long sleep. “Yes, we’ve become close… friends as well as brothers.”

“You make that sound odd. My brothers and I are close. I don’t know what I’d do without them… especially Gil. He and I are close in age and we did everything together.”

She noticed the worn look in his eyes. He’d been so much better this morning… before that fall. Now his face was pale again. She poured a glass of water and held it out for him. “Here, you should drink this.”

Scott thanked her and took it eagerly, his throat dry. When he’d finished it and handed it back, he answered. “It’s a long story, Emily, but Johnny and I didn’t grow up together. We only met a year or so ago when our father sent for us.”

“Really? How is that possible?”

“I grew up in Boston, with my grandfather. My mother had died when I was born. Murdoch remarried a couple of years later and Johnny was born, but his mother… left Murdoch. He grew up very differently from me.”

He stopped and looked at her carefully, meeting her eyes awkwardly. She felt that he had more that he wanted to tell her, but he didn’t seem to be sure enough of her. She sat down on the edge of the bed and took his hand gently. “I’d love to meet him and your father… one day.”

Scott nodded and sighed. “You will,” he told her confidently. “You’ll like Johnny. He’s had it tough all of his life, but he’s more fun to be around than anyone I know. I just hope he’s all right. He was still sick when I left, though he was on the mend. I just wish I could be sure he hasn’t had a relapse.”

“I’m sure he’s just fine, Scott.”

“You haven’t heard from them?” he asked anxiously. “From Murdoch?”

“No, but they’re probably on their way here to take you home,” she said reassuringly.

“Yes, I suppose so, but it’s not like him not to be in touch,” Scott said nervously. He turned away and looked out of the window at the dying afternoon light. “It took Johnny a while to get used to that… keeping in touch when he was away… things like that. Murdoch called him irresponsible and he left once or twice… at the start. He couldn’t handle so much change and so many rules. But, that was then… not now…”

Emily squeezed his hand and wished that his family would get in touch. It did seem a little strange, but she was convinced that it was only that the telegraph office hadn’t sent on the wire when it had arrived. She could see how worried he was.

“I’ll get Gil to ride back to Corona tomorrow and check for you. They might have sent word and it wasn’t passed on,” she told him gently. “The wire is probably sitting there waiting for us.”

“Thanks,” he told her, looking back into her eyes. “Emily, I worry about that brother of mine with good reason. He’s a magnet for trouble… and not of his own making most of the time. He’s trying so hard to live down his past, but it doesn’t always let him.”

“His past?”

He sighed deeply. “Johnny did what it took to survive,” he told her wistfully. “He did what he was good at… and what he was good at was handling his gun. He hired out, Emily. Johnny was a pistolero… a gunhawk… before he came home.”

Emily started and drew her hand back. He hired out? Scott’s brother was a gunfighter? She stared at him in surprise and horror.

“Are you shocked?” Scott asked anxiously. “He really is a good man. He’s not what you’d expect when you think of a gunhawk. If you give him a chance, you’ll like him.”

She fought against the tide of fear that gripped her and caught her breath. “No… no, I’m not shocked… just a little surprised. I certainly didn’t expect it.”

“You’ll like him. I can guarantee it.”

“Yes… yes… I’m sure I will,” she said nervously. “Is he… was he… very good? I mean… I never heard of a gunfighter named Johnny Lancer.”

Scott sighed again. “He didn’t use the name Lancer back then. He called himself ‘Madrid’… ‘Johnny Madrid’.”

*

Emily waited until Scott had eaten the light dinner she brought him. It had been so hard to act normal near him when her head was screaming out to tell Gil about Scott’s brother. She had to tell them quickly… they had to figure out what to do now.

Oh God… her brother had shot Scott’s brother! All their plans… their hopes… But no, there was more to it than that now. She had feelings for Scott… deep feelings. It was more than just a good match now.

She’d sat with him, holding his hand quietly when she saw how exhausted he was and he’d drifted back to sleep soon after finishing the meal.

She hurried out of the room to find her brothers.

She found Glen and Gil with their father in the drawing room and burst in on them. Glen was sitting in an armchair, his legs stretched out in front of him lazily, while Gil sat on the edge of his father’s desk, laughing at whatever joke they had just shared.

Vic leaned back in his chair behind his desk, his pipe in his hand… relaxed for a change. It seemed they were all in good humor from the sounds of laughter she heard as she got to the door.

The laughter stopped when she came into the room. They all looked in her direction and Gil stood up and took a step towards her.

“Emmie, what’s wrong?” Gil asked urgently. “You look like you got a cougar on your tail.”

Faced with her father’s presence, she paused. She had hoped to be able to tell the boys about it first. Vic Turner was an affectionate father, but he was a strict one.

“Spit it out, girl!” Vic Turner said firmly, then returned the pipe calmly to his mouth. He took a puff and kept his eyes on her dauntingly.

“I… I was talking to Scott… just talking… about his family…” she began nervously.

“So?” Glen asked, unconcerned.

“Johnny Madrid is his brother!” she blurted out suddenly.

“What?” Glen straightened rigidly in the armchair.

“It’s true… he told me. Scott, I mean. He told me that Johnny Madrid is his brother.”

“He can’t be…” Gil exclaimed, shocked.

“If he says Madrid is his brother, I’m sure he is,” Vic Turner told him gruffly.

“What are we gonna do?” Gil asked anxiously.

“Do? Why do we have to do anything?” Vic answered. “It’s unfortunate that Scott is tied to such a man, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“I shot him, Pa!” Gil exclaimed in horror. He swung around and faced him.

Vic took a slow puff of his pipe before answering. “He drew on you, Son. You had every right to shoot him. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Gil swung a pale face back towards his brother. “He could die! Tom Logan said he might die.”

Glen didn’t answer him and Emily noticed that he had paled as well.

She walked further into the room and dropped inelegantly onto the couch. “This is terrible. How can we tell Scott?” she asked dejectedly.

Glen suddenly grinned. “Yeah, kinda tough to tell your boyfriend that your brother shot his brother.”

She looked at angrily at him. “Be serious, Glen.”

“Like Pa said, he drew on Gil an’ he had every right to shoot back,” Glen told her calmly. His initial shock seemed to have worn off quickly. He relaxed back into the chair and made himself comfortable.

“But Glen…” Gil started, but Glen Turner swung a scowl at him that silenced him out of hand.

Emily didn’t miss it and neither, it appeared, did their father.

“What, Gil?” Vic asked, frowning.

Gil looked horrified. He turned to his brother for help, but Glen wasn’t saying anything. “It’s just… well, he did tell us who he was… we didn’t believe him.”

Vic’s eyes narrowed as he frowned at his youngest son. “No one else did either, Gil. The man must be used to it. Is that all that’s worrying you?”

“Well, yeah… sure…” Gil answered unconvincingly.

Turner got to his feet with a determined and distinctly unhappy look on his face. He put the pipe down heavily on the top of the desk and then walked around to stand in front of Gil.

“Then why don’t I believe you, Gil? Why do I have the feeling that my son is lying to me?”

“No… no, Pa. I wouldn’t…”

“I wouldn’t have thought any of my boys would lie to me,” he said coldly. “But it seems I was wrong about that.” He turned around quickly and caught Glen off guard. “Isn’t that right, Glen?”

Glen’s jaw dropped in surprise, then he ducked his head silently.

Vic turned back to Gil. “All right,” he said firmly. “From the beginning… what happened yesterday?”

Gil dropped his eyes, unable to maintain contact with his father’s. “Honest Pa, it was like we told you. Harvey Jackson told us that Madrid was in town looking for Scott. We thought… well, we thought the same as everyone thought.”

“That he was hired to kill Scott?” Vic asked.

“Yes… so Glen and I went into town to stop him… get him to back off.”

“Is that so?” Vic asked sarcastically. “How, I wonder?” He turned a cool glance towards Glen who kept his head low, guiltily.

“Go on,” Vic told Gil coldly. “And I want to know exactly what happened… not what you told everyone else.”

“Yes, Sir,” Gil replied quietly. “Well, we tracked him down, heading for the saloon and… and… we jumped him from the alley. Glen grabbed him... he held him while we talked.”

Vic cast a quick glance back over his shoulder at Glen, before looking back at Gil. “Held him, huh?”

Gil nodded. “Yeah, you know… like a bear hug…”

“While you ‘talked’…”

Gil nodded again. “We tried to warn him off.”

Turner glowered at him. “And I’m sure you both frightened the life out of him.”

There was no answer and Turner sighed heavily.

“And just how did he go for his gun if Glen was holding him?” Vic asked suspiciously.

Gil looked towards Glen, as if for help. But he was wasting his time. “He… he didn’t have his gun. I… I took his gun when Glen grabbed him. I tossed it down the alley.”

Emily jumped to her feet, horrified by what she was hearing. “Gil…no!”

“He’s a dangerous man, Emmie!” Gil told her. “What else could we do?”

“Oh yes,” Vic said ironically. “What else could you do?”

“We didn’t mean for anything to happen, Emmie… Pa… honest,” Gil told her. “It all happened so quick. He admitted that he was Madrid… then he said he was Scott’s brother. He wasn’t makin’ any sense. He wouldn’t listen to us. Then he got away from Glen and… and he dived for his gun… he knocked me and my gun went off…”

“Guns don’t just go off, Gil,” Vic said angrily. “You had to have your finger on that trigger.”

Gil lowered his head and nodded. “Yeah, I know…”

Vic strode over to his desk and sat down with a heavy thud. The chair rocked under his weight and he turned away from them all. He sat there, silent, for a minute or two.

When he finally swung the chair around to face them, his eyes were as cold as steel.

“Whose idea was it to lie?” he asked icily.

Neither of his sons spoke up. With a rush of temper, he slammed his fist on the desk. “Whose?”

“It was mine, Pa,” Glen admitted quietly. “We had to… he’d shot an unarmed man.”

“It was an accident, Pa… I swear I didn’t mean to shoot him,” Gil pleaded.

The room went quiet as Vic and Emily began to realize the ramifications of what Gil had said.

Emily watched her father silently seething. He hadn’t moved since that moment when Gil had admitted to the lie.

Finally, Vic Turner sighed heavily and loudly. “All right, Gil… it was an accident. I don’t believe you have it in you to shoot an unarmed man intentionally. But the story you and Glen put up will make it look bad if Madrid comes round and tells Logan his side of what happened.”

He glared across the room at Glen as he finished. “I can guess whose stupid idea that was.”

Glen looked away without a word, concentrating on his hands.

“I’m sure Scott will understand,” Emily said to her father. “We should just tell him and see that his brother gets attention.”

“Don’t be so naïve, girl,” he answered sarcastically. “Would you believe him if it was one of your brothers who’d been shot? I sure wouldn’t.”

“But Gil didn’t mean to shoot him. It was an accident,” she insisted. “They can’t hang him for that!”

“If Madrid tells his side of it… that they were holding him and he wasn’t armed… that he never drew on Gil... then they won’t see it as an accident, girl,” her father told her bluntly. He glared at Glen. “’Specially since they’ve already lied about it.”

“No, maybe she’s right, Pa…” Gil suggested. “Maybe…”

Vic Turner glared angrily at his youngest son. “You’ve done enough. Keep your mouth shut, Gil and ‘maybe’ we can still get you out of this.”

“Anyway,” Glen added firmly, his confidence suddenly back. “If Tom Logan is right and Madrid dies, then no one need ever know.”

“We’d better hope that he’s right, then. We can’t afford for Madrid to come round and talk to him. How bad did Logan say he is?”

“He said he hadn’t come to,” Emily answered. “And that he has a fever and is coughing badly.”

Turner looked out of the window again, thinking. “Glen, I want you to ride into town and bring Joe Hatcher out here. I want to know just how likely this man is to die.”

“Sure, Pa, I’ll leave at first light.”

Vic turned back and scowled at him. “I didn’t say I wanted you to go in the morning. You’ll go tonight. We can’t afford to wait.”

“Come on, Pa,” Glen protested. “No one’s gonna believe Madrid even if he does tell Logan. It’s our word against his. Who’s gonna believe a gunhawk anyway?”

Vic stood up and walked towards him, his face red with anger.

“Glen, sometimes your stupidity astounds even me,” he snarled as he got close to Glen. “His brother is likely to believe him, for a start. And apparently his father is Murdoch Lancer! Do you even begin to understand how much influence that man has in this state? He’s a friend of the Governor! Now, use the few brains God gave you… just for once.”

Glen hung his head contritely. “Yes, Sir.”

“Pa, I only shot him in the shoulder,” Gil insisted. “Joe took the bullet out an’ said he’d be fine. I can’t figure out why he’s dyin’.”

Vic shook his head. “It doesn’t matter… as long as he dies before he can say anything.”

“Pa, he’s Scott’s brother…” Emily reminded him anxiously.

“I know that, Emily,” he said quietly. “It’s a shame, of course…”

“But Pa, I like Scott,” she pleaded with him. “I… I love him, Pa.”

The three men all turned towards her, their expressions all different. Her father looked genuinely sad for her and she remembered the blessing he’d given her when her mother had suggested that Scott might be a good match for her. Men like Scott Lancer just didn’t come into Fortune all that often.

Gil had the grace to appear ashamed of himself, but Glen’s face expressed only his frustration with her.

“Emily, if this man lives to tell anyone what really happened, Gil could hang. Are you ready to take that chance?”

“If his brother dies, even without saying anything… Pa, how can I marry him if Gil has killed his brother?”

“I guess you have a choice to make, Emily…” Glen told her coldly. “Your boyfriend… or your brother?”
 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Sheriff Tom Logan found that, having used Johnny Madrid’s first name to reassure him in his fever-addled state, and having seen Johnny’s reactions to Scott Lancer’s name, his suspicions firmed into convictions. While it was hard to believe that Madrid was actually Scott’s brother, he was sure that he wasn’t here in town looking for Scott with killing in mind.

The man’s responses had been expressions of concern, not malice – the sheriff was certain of it and he was pretty sure that he’d seen the same certainty on the faces of the rest of those present, with the possible exception of Joe Hatcher. He still seemed unsure of Madrid, but he’d stayed and did what he could to help.

When it was close to midnight, Joe Hatcher announced to Tom and the ladies that the fever had broken. He then left instructions for looking after Johnny, gave them a bottle of his tonic to ply Johnny with when he came to and headed home.

Tom watched him leave and wasn’t all that sorry to see him go. The man had been unsympathetic and complained for most of the time that he had been with Madrid.

The sheriff closed the office door with an unintentional thud and walked back to the cell. Both of the women were still there, though they had gone home to their families for a couple of hours earlier in the evening.

He stopped and stood at the open doorway to the cell, leaning against the bars with his arms crossed. He hadn’t bothered closing it or locking it for some time now. His prisoner wasn’t going anywhere. While he appreciated their help and was grateful, he couldn’t let them stay all night. They both looked tired.

“I can watch him tonight,” he said casually. “No need for you ladies to stick around.”

Both of them turned to look at him and he knew he was in for an argument.

“Nonsense! When did you last get any sleep, Tom?” Hetty Andrews asked. “You didn’t get much last night, did you? And you sure haven’t slept today that I’ve seen.” She sat in the chair, watching Mara as she perched on the edge of the cot and wiped sweat from Johnny’s face.

“Don’t matter, Hetty,” he replied, grinning widely at her. “He’s my prisoner so it’s my job.”

 “But Señor Madrid needs to be watched carefully and you cannot do it alone,” Mara argued quietly.

“She’s right, Tom,” Hetty agreed, scowling at him. “You go get some sleep and we’ll all take turns to watch him through the night.”

“Ladies, I think you should go on home,” Tom insisted.

“No, Tom,” Hetty told him flatly.

“I will stay and help, Señor,” Mara stated just as firmly.

“Your husband might have something to say ‘bout that, Miz Rodriguez,” he answered with a smile. “You’ve been here most o’ the day already.”

“No, he will not mind,” she told him, calmly ignoring him.

“You sound awful sure of that, Ma’am,” Tom said, curiously. “What is it about Madrid that has you so all fired determined to save him?”

She reached forward and checked Johnny’s forehead, satisfying herself that the fever was down before answering the sheriff. Finally, she sighed heavily and looked around at Tom. “It is a very long story.”

“Well, we don’t have anywhere to go, Mara,” Hetty replied encouragingly. “I’d like to hear it myself.”

She nodded and looked back at Johnny. She gently brushed aside a damp lock of his hair.

“Very well. I am from a small village in northern Mexico,” she began quietly. “Milagro… The people who live there are poor farmers and tenderos… shopkeepers… They work hard to do their best for their families, but it is a struggle, always. There is a ranchero just outside of the village where many of the villagers work to earn enough to live on. It was owned by Don Alfredo de Leon. He was very rich and very powerful… and he was a tirano. He kept them poor and ran the village as if he owned it and us.”

She shook her head angrily. “If anyone defied him, they were whipped in the plaza… the girls in the village lived in fear of him… he… he took who he wanted…and…”

She stopped for a moment and looked at Hetty, who nodded her understanding and patted Mara’s arm sympathetically. Then Mara turned back to look at Johnny. His breathing seemed less labored now and he was resting quietly so she went on.

“Don Alfredo was an evil man, Señor Logan,” she said, her voice catching. “His word was law. The rurales would do whatever he told them to do. It was not a good life… but the villagers, they are not fighters.” She looked towards Tom Logan, her eyes pleading for him to understand. “These are men with families, Señor Logan. They did not know how to fight back against a man as powerful as Don Alfredo.”

Hetty put her hand gently on the young woman’s shoulder. Mara glanced at her and then took a deep breath.

“Yeah, I know the type,” Tom said rancorously, then let her continue.

“One day, three years ago, Johnny Madrid came into our village. He saw the patron’s men whipping a man who had defied Don Alfredo. The man was old… but it did not matter to them. Señor Madrid stepped into the plaza and stood up to them. He forced them to let the old man go. They were cobardes… cowards. They would not face the gun of Johnny Madrid.”

Tom sighed. “Not many men would…”

“Si, Señor, that is true, but Johnny Madrid did not have to fire a shot. Those cobardes turned and ran away.”

“And that’s why you think so highly of him?” Tom asked.

“Yes, but there is more, Señor,” she answered. “Later that day, the alcalde and some of the men of the village went secretly to Señor Madrid and asked for his help to fight back against Don Alfredo. They told him that they would fight, if he would lead them. We thought he would laugh at us. We had no money to offer him and he would be risking his life for us… but he did not laugh at us. He smiled. Then he said, ‘I am a fool, but I have lived too long already’… and he agreed to help them.”

“He told the men they were too few and not strong enough to face Don Alfredo’s men in battle. There were too many of them and they were brutal men, so he led them on raids instead. He said that we had to ‘hit Don Alfredo where it hurt’… his money. At night, he would lead the men. They turned his horses out of the corral, cut fences… many things. Some of Don Alfredo’s men began to leave. They feared Señor Madrid. So, for a while, we thought we could win. With Johnny Madrid to lead them, the men of our village grew confident… but Don Alfredo called in the rurales…”

She stopped for a moment, gathering her thoughts.

“What happened?” Hetty asked quietly.

“They came into the village with many men and guns. They took three of our men and beat them, then they locked them up…” she finally said. She stopped and looked down at her hands, twisting and wringing them uncomfortably.

“Don Alfredo said they would hang them in the morning… they would be an example to the village. Señor Madrid planned their rescue. He said that, once they were freed, we must get them away… they must leave and not come back. It would not be safe for them to stay. There was a great gun battle, though it was Johnny Madrid who did most of the shooting. Our men tried, but they were not warriors like he was. Oh, he was so atrevido… valiente… but he was hurt… shot… and he was taken by the rurales.”

“Mi marido, Juan… he was one of the three who were to hang.” She sighed. “We hid him and the others until it was safe and then we came here, just as Señor Madrid said we should. He…” Her voice caught on a sob. “I owe Johnny Madrid everything… my husband… mi hijo… If it was not for Señor Madrid, Juan would have been killed. Instead, it was Señor Madrid who was taken by the rurales and sentenced to death. We heard later that he escaped the firing squad. They say that an angel swept down and delivered him from the hands of evil.”

Mara wiped a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand and looked over at Hetty Andrews. “That is why I am here, Hetty. That is why I will not let him die, and Juan will not object… no matter how long it takes.”

She turned back to Johnny and smiled. She reached over and put her hand on his wrist. “You see? He was prepared to die for the people of a little village. He is not an asesino… no ‘cold blooded killer’ as you call him. In Milagro, he is a hero. Without him… I would have lost Juan three years ago.”

*

Emily pushed the door to Scott’s room open, being careful not to make any sound. She peeked in and made sure that he was sleeping soundly, then crept into the room to sit in the chair by the window. There was no light but the silvery strands of moonlight filtering through the pane of glass.

She watched the slow rise and fall of his chest and felt her breath catch. He was so handsome… so good natured. He was everything she had ever wanted to find in a man.

Her mind went back to the day of the robbery. Inside the bank had been a nightmare. Gil had been hit over the head and knocked to the floor, leaving her terrified for his life. Then that man had grabbed her and forced her out the door and into the street.

 

Emily doubted that she had ever been so frightened, or would ever be again.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she’d spotted Scott. She’d seen him crouched in the alley and knowing that he was there seemed to give her the courage to kick the man who held her and try to get loose. She remembered seeing Scott running towards her… shooting the man who was attacking her and then dragging her from the path of the horses.

He’d turned out to be brave and handsome, educated and likeable. What more could a woman ask for? And he came from a good family, just as her parents wanted.

Well, he came from a mostly good family. That Johnny Madrid was his brother had come as a shock. It was still hard to believe.

It made no difference to her though. She had fallen in love with Scott Lancer… she was sure of it, and she was almost sure that he felt something for her too.

Now Gil was in terrible trouble. His very life was at risk and it was because of her.

She looked at Scott and felt tears sting her eyes. In the dim light, she studied the strong line of his jaw… the lay of his cheekbones – accentuated a little by his illness… and the wisps of ash blond hair that lay on his forehead.

His deep voice resonated in her ears and her breath caught at the memory of it.

“Oh, Gil…” she whispered into the stillness of the room and dropped her head into her hands.

*

Emily sat silently in the darkened room for a few more minutes, then she got quietly to her feet and made her way to the door.

She heard a sigh and stopped, looking back to the bed to find Scott’s eyes on her.

“Emily?” he asked sleepily.

“Sh… go back to sleep, Scott.”

He frowned. “Is anything wrong?”

Tears sprang to her eyes, but she wouldn’t let them fall. “No, Scott… everything is fine. Go back to sleep.”

*

Tom Logan took his turn to sit with Johnny in the pre-dawn hours. He’d gotten some much-needed sleep while the ladies had taken their turns.

Henrietta Andrews was now asleep on the cot in the cell next to Johnny’s cell. Tom glanced over at her and grinned mischievously. He was willing to bet that there wasn’t a man or woman in town who would ever have thought to see the ‘forty-ish’ year old matron in a jail cell.

She snuffled and snored lightly in her sleep and the cot creaked as she rolled over to try to get more comfortable. She must have found the right position, for the snoring stopped and silence returned to the room.

Mara had dozed off in the chair beside Johnny. She looked anything but comfortable, but Tom didn’t have the heart to wake her. She’d spent hours with Madrid and he was sure she had to be exhausted. So he’d brought another chair in from his office and sat watching his prisoner.

Johnny laid on the cot, propped up with pillows to make it easier on his breathing. The raucous cough had eased some, replaced by a light intermittent one.

He thought about the story that Mara had told them and tried to reconcile it with what he had heard about Johnny Madrid. He remembered the teenage kid he’d seen in that shootout in Nogales and something she had said rang true. He hadn’t seemed to care whether he lived or died then either. The calm, cool way that Madrid had faced those two that day could have been more than just the cocky confidence he’d always assumed it to be.

Madrid’s reputation, at least on this side of the border, had always been that of a cold-blooded killer… fast and lethal. It didn’t jive with the image that Mara painted of him. But her knowledge was first hand and her fierce defense of him spoke volumes for the truth of the story.

The man on the cot in front of him might not be that same teenage kid, but there was no doubt that he was Johnny Madrid. Had he really changed so much? Mara’s story suggested that the gunfighter had always had some good in him, but it was hard to believe. Gunhawks with reputations as good as Madrid’s was were seldom the warm-hearted kind.

His thoughts disappeared as Madrid groaned and then coughed a couple of times. Tom stood up and went to the jug of water, poured a glassful and sat on the edge of the cot. The blue eyes shuttered open.

“Take it easy, Madrid,” Tom told him gently. “Nice and easy.”

*

‘Madrid…’ the word burst into his mist-clouded mind like a thunderclap.

It forced him back to consciousness that he felt barely ready to face. With consciousness would come pain…

But ‘Madrid…’ why Madrid? He frowned and tried to focus on his surroundings.

Bars…cell bars…

“Here, drink this…”

Johnny looked towards the voice. He didn’t recognize it, but there was something vaguely familiar about it. Unsure whether to trust him, Johnny pulled his head back from the glass the stranger offered.

“Easy, Madrid,” the voice reassured him. “Come on, drink the water.”

Johnny stared at him, noticing the star on the man’s chest. He wished he could think straight… remember how the hell he had gotten here. The only thing he was sure of right now was that he was in trouble.

“Not Madrid…” he said at last and was surprised by how weak he sounded. “Lancer…” He stopped abruptly, caught by the urgent need to cough. The spasm racked him for minutes and left his chest heaving and his throat sore. But it brought out something far worse – a burning pain in his shoulder.

When the coughing finally relented, the sheriff put the glass to his mouth. This time, he accepted the offer and swallowed the water. It felt good going down, easing his parched throat.

“Lancer, hey?” the sheriff asked slowly. “I know you’re Johnny Madrid. I saw you a while back in Nogales. There’s others in town recognized you too.”

Johnny turned his head just enough towards the sheriff to meet his eyes and glared at him. “Not any more. I used to be Madrid… now it’s Lancer.”

With a flash of memory, his reason for being here came back to him. “Scott…” he gasped quickly, pushing himself forward.

“Scott’s just fine,” the sheriff told him, pulling the glass away and holding it in his hand. “You still claim to be his brother, do ya?”

Johnny eased himself back against the pillows and glared at him through half closed eyes.

Tom Logan smiled awkwardly. “You have to admit - there’s not much family resemblance.”

Johnny closed his eyes and fought against the urge to start coughing again. When he could, he spoke again. “Long story,” he said quietly.

“I’ve got nothing better to do right now. Why don’t you tell it to me?”

He opened his eyes again and fought back the angry retort that came to mind. He remembered where he was and sighed. This was no time to aggravate the sheriff, and he was in no condition to do it either. “My mother was Murdoch Lancer’s second wife. It’s as easy as that, I guess.”

“Then you didn’t come here to kill him?”

Sick as he felt, anger boiled in Johnny’s veins. “No, I didn’t come here to kill him! I came here to find him. My brother’s been missing for a week. Wouldn’t you be worried, if it was your brother?”

“But Murdoch Lancer knows where his son is,” Logan told him coldly.

Johnny scowled at him. “What?”

“The Turners told me they wired Murdoch Lancer where Scott is and what had happened.”

“Turners?”

“The folks he’s staying with. Vic Turner has the biggest spread ‘round here. Scott rescued his daughter in the bank robbery so they took him in.”

“When?” he asked, suddenly more aware. “When did they send the wire?”

“A day or so after it happened… days ago.”

“When was this bank robbery?”

“A week ago.”

Johnny shook his head. “No,” he said flatly. “Murdoch doesn’t know. He wired me at Corona and he still hadn’t heard anything then.”

Logan frowned.

“What did you think?” Johnny asked, his voice rasping as his throat went dry from talking. “You think I’m here to kill Scott? Everybody else sure thought so.”

He leaned back heavily on the pillows and this time he couldn’t stop the onslaught of coughing that racked his body. It didn’t last long, but it left him gasping for breath. His shoulder burned and his chest hurt from the clenching of muscles that were already sore.

The sheriff poured another glass of water and held it to Johnny’s lips. Johnny gulped a mouthful and started coughing again. By the time it subsided, he was panting heavily. He felt a cool cloth wiping his face and turned his head back to face the sheriff.

“Do you remember what happened before you got shot?” Logan asked when Johnny seemed to have recovered his breath.

Johnny nodded and drew in a deep breath. “Yeah, I remember.”

“All right, take it slow… but tell me what happened… from the start.”

Johnny took another breath first. He was tiring.

“I got to town an’ went looking for the sheriff…” He glanced at Logan and corrected himself. “For you… then I went to the saloon to see if I could find out anything there.”

He stopped for a moment. “I figured the barkeep recognized me. It was obvious. He was pretty scared, but I didn’t do or say anything to threaten him… just asked after Scott.”

The sheriff nodded. “Go on…”

Johnny sighed and tried to remember it all. “I walked ‘round town, but it was the same everywhere. Word got round who I was an’ they all thought I was here to kill Scott…” He stopped for a moment to get his breath. He could feel another fit of coughing coming on.

When he had rested, he continued. “I knew I wasn’t gettin’ nowhere, so I took Barranca down to the livery an’ then headed back to the saloon to get a room. Figured I’d wait for you there.”

He stopped again, resting long enough to catch his breath once more.

“I was passin’ an alley when someone jumped me… got me in a bear hug… big guy an’ strong as an ox. Second guy was just a kid. He took my gun an’ threw it down the alley, then he held his own gun on me while they tried to get me to admit I was here to kill Scott… wanted to frighten me off, I guess.”

“I know them,” Tom Logan said candidly.

“Yeah, I bet you do,” Johnny answered sourly. “I didn’t like it much an’ took a chance on gettin’ away before they got ‘round to beatin’ me to death. I got loose an’ dived for my gun.”

“And that’s when you were shot? Did you get to the gun?”

Johnny shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I think I knocked the kid as I fell. His gun must have gone off then. The stupid kid had it cocked an’ his finger was on the trigger.”

“You weren’t armed?”

“Nope…” He looked at the sheriff. “That why I’m in here, instead of them? They sayin’ I drew on ‘em?”

“Yeah… the way they tell it, they were just havin’ a nice little ol’ chat with you… you took exception and went for your gun, but Gil outdrew you.”

“Gil?”

“Gil Turner. He and his brother thought they were protecting Scott,” the sheriff explained.

Johnny laughed lightly. “Says he outdrew me, huh?” he asked sarcastically. “Look, I’ve never seen the kid draw so I don’t know how fast he is… but he was so scared he fired when I knocked him. He probably didn’t mean to. He was scared an’ stupid, but I don’t think he was mean.”

The sheriff sat back in his chair and stared at Johnny. “That’s a generous attitude towards someone who put a bullet in you.”

Johnny didn’t answer. He didn’t see any reason to.

Logan leaned back and crossed his arms. “I’ve gotta tell you, you’re not what I expected, Madrid. Mara told us about you, but I wasn’t sure I believed it, till now.”

“Mara?”

The sheriff nodded his head towards the sleeping woman behind him. “She an Miz Hetty have been here lookin’ after you while I couldn’t. She’s one very determined lady an’ she thinks very highly of you. The way she tells it, you were some kind of hero in her village.”

Johnny turned to try to get a good look at her but the effort proved to be too much. He rolled his head back to where he was comfortable.

“What village?”

“Some little place called Milagro.”

Johnny winced at the memories the name evoked.

“You remember it?” the sheriff asked him.

“Yeah… I remember it…” He eyed the sheriff suspiciously, but the man smiled back at him.

“Yeah… Johnny Madrid… the stuff of legends,” the sheriff said sardonically. “She says you were rescued from a firing squad by an angel.”

It forced a laugh from Johnny that brought on yet another spasm of coughing. When it finally subsided, he accepted another glass of water from the sheriff, took a swallow and shook his head.

“Your ‘angel’ was an overweight Pinkerton man with a wad of money an’ the worst Spanish accent you ever heard,” he told him sardonically. “Sent by my ol’ man to talk… bribe… me into goin’ home.” He grinned broadly. “Don’t think either of ‘em could be described as ‘angels’.”

The sheriff gave a short laugh and put the glass of water on the floor.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why help a bunch of peons? There couldn’t have been any money in it.”

“No.”

“Then why?”

Johnny stared at him, looking for any signs of sarcasm, but he couldn’t find it. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes wearily. “Didn’t have anythin’ better to do at the time… an’ de Leon was a bastard.”

Logan looked at him curiously and Johnny met his gaze. “You didn’t mind getting killed in someone else’s war?” the sheriff asked.

Johnny smiled lazily. “Why not? Didn’t see myself growin’ old sittin’ by a cosy fire… not back in those days.”

“And now?”

With a gleam in his eyes and a broader smile, Johnny answered. “Now...? Guess I found me a fireplace.”

The sheriff didn’t say anything… just stared at him for a while. Finally, he nodded and sat back in the chair. “You’re definitely not what I expected, Madrid.”

Drained, Johnny replied quietly. “Lancer…”

“Sorry - Lancer. I’m Tom Logan,” the sheriff replied easily, crossing his arms across his chest and relaxing into the chair.

Johnny was getting too tired to go on. His chest felt heavy and it hurt every time he breathed. His shoulder burned from the aggravation his movements had given it. Overall, he felt lousy, but he was still worried about Scott.

“My brother…?” he asked, almost in a whisper.

 “He helped me out with a bank robbery an’ got himself shot, but he’s doin’ just fine.”

“How bad hurt is he?” Johnny asked anxiously. His voice was barely more than a whisper, he was so exhausted.

“He took a bullet in the side. It went right through. He’s goin’ to be okay.” Tom watched him as he relaxed a little. He grinned. “My guess is that they’re fitting him up for a wedding ring.”

That caught Johnny’s attention and his strength rallied. “Scott’s got himself a girl? Who is she?”

“Emily Turner.”

Johnny scowled. “Turner?”

“Yeah… Turner.”
 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Tom Logan walked through the open doors of the Livery stable and stopped. He blinked to adjust his eyes to the dimmer light, then looked for Lenny.

It was early, not long past daylight, but Lenny was always up with the crows. The sheriff waved his arm and called “Hello”, then waited and watched as the man ambled up to meet him.

“Early start, Tom?” the livery man asked laconically. “You needin’ Buck?”

Logan nodded. “Yeah, I’m heading out to the ‘Rocking T’. I need to talk to Scott Lancer.”

He no longer really ‘needed’ an answer from Scott about Johnny. He believed the man’s tale about being Scott’s brother, and he believed the rest of the story.

He never had thought that Gil Turner was fast enough to take a gunhawk of Madrid’s caliber. He’d seen Gil draw against men before… men who were mostly ranch hands and the like. He was willing to admit that the boy was fast, probably faster than just about anyone around Fortune and maybe even Corona. But he just wasn’t in the same league as Madrid.

Now he had what he thought was the truth. Johnny’s story had the ring of truth to it. It was Glen’s style to jump the man and hold him, and it would be just like Gil to hold a gun on him.

The trouble was, he was going to have to take on Vic Turner. The fact was that the man was wealthy and powerful, the ‘big dog’ in this part of the country. But, more than that, he was a hard man. The prospect of taking in Vic Turner’s pups was daunting, but Tom Logan was determined that he was the man to do it.

“How’s he doin’ anyhow?” Lenny asked, breaking Tom out of his thoughts. He had to think for a moment to remember who Lenny was asking about. Then he remembered… Scott Lancer.

Tom tipped his hat back a little and nodded. “He’s doing just fine from what I hear.”

“Glad to hear it. That was a real good thing he done… helpin’ take down them bandits an’ rescuin’ Miss Emmie like that. Woulda been a real shame if he’d been killed. Whole town owes him.”

“He seemed a good sort of fella,” Tom answered. “Yeah, woulda been a shame.”

“What about the other fella… that gunfighter? You got him locked up good an’ tight, I hope.”

“He’s gonna make it,” Tom told him. “An’ he ain’t goin’ anywhere for a while yet.” Tom stopped and thought for a moment. “You saw him the other day, just before the shooting. Did he threaten you or anything?”

“Nope, can’t say as he did. If I hadn’t known who he was, I wouldn’t have given him a second thought.”

Lenny scratched the back of his head thoughtfully before speaking again.

“Tell ya the truth, I was gonna come see ya, Tom,” he finally said. “Found somethin’ funny this mornin’.”

Tom frowned. “Funny? Like what?”

“Best ya see for yourself. Follow me. I’ll show ya somethin’,” he said and turned around to walk down through the stable.

The sheriff watched him for just a moment, curious, then went after him. Lenny stopped beside a handsome palomino that Tom had never seen before.

“This here is Madrid’s horse, Tom,” Lenny explained. “Real fine animal, ain’t he?”

“Sure, what about it?”

“Well, he’s been kinda feisty. Like to take a chunk outa the horse in the next stall last night, so I moved him. He settled right down when I put him in this stall.”

“Lenny…”

The man held up his hand to silence Tom. “Hear me out, Tom. The bay in the next stall is Mr. Lancer’s horse. I been lookin’ after him since Mr. Lancer was shot… groomin’ him an’ such.”

“Yeah?”

“I know horses an’ I swear those two are used to bein’ together,” Lenny continued. He looked at Tom as if he was waiting for an argument, but he didn’t get it. Tom knew that Lenny wasn’t exaggerating when he said that he knew horses.

With no signs of disbelief from the sheriff, Lenny continued with his story.

“I was brushin’ down the palomino this mornin’ an’ I noticed that he’s wearin’ the same brand as Scott Lancer’s horse.” Lenny walked into the stall, patting the horse’s neck amiably to reassure him, and pointed out the brand. “It’s a circle L an’ I figured it was for Lancer… so when I saw it on Madrid’s horse, well… I remembered him tellin’ everyone that he’s Mr. Lancer’s brother. I didn’t believe him. I mean, word went round town like wildfire what he was up to… we all knew who he is…”

The man looked uncomfortable. “He is Johnny Madrid… ain’t he, Tom?”

Tom nodded and looked at the brand. Then he walked into the stall and checked out the brand on Scott’s horse. They were the same all right, and unusual enough to make a man think twice about it.

It didn’t change his mind because he’d already come to believe Johnny’s story. The brands were just one more confirmation of its truth.

“He’s Madrid all right,” Tom answered. “But he is Scott’s brother. I talked to him a while ago…”

“An’ you believe him?” Lenny asked incredulously. “I mean, he’s Mex… anyone can see that.”

Tom pulled off his hat and wiped his brow, not so much from heat as from thought. “Yeah, I believe him, Lenny. He told me about it, an’ the way he’s actin’… he’s not here to kill Scott. He’s more worried about him than he is about himself. That’s why I’m going to see Scott.”

*

Joe Hatcher was a man with a lot on his mind. He watched Tom Logan ride out of town on that big buckskin gelding of his and then started down the street towards the jail with uncertain steps.

His thoughts turned to last night and his strange late night visit. He’d left the jail late in the evening and had gotten home to find Glen Turner waiting for him. It had been so late that Glen’s temper had been red hot from sitting around waiting for him and he was in no way mollified in finding out that he’d been kept waiting all night by Johnny Madrid.

Glen had then grumpily insisted on Joe saddling up and going home with him to the ranch… and Glen, in that mood, wasn’t a man to argue with. So they’d ridden out to the Rocking T in the middle of the night, with Joe wondering what was so important that it couldn’t have waited until morning.

He’d been even more astounded to find that Vic Turner was up waiting for him when he got there.

The conversation that had ensued was what weighed heavily on his mind now.

Before he knew it, he’d arrived at the sheriff’s office and he stopped. He looked around the street. It was so early that there was no one about yet.

He walked into the sheriff’s office and found Henrietta Andrews sitting with Madrid. The man was still asleep, propped up by pillows. She was reading a book, sitting in the chair beside the cot. She looked less worried than last night, so Joe assumed that Madrid’s condition had improved.

“How’s he doin’?” Joe asked her as he opened the unlocked cell door.

Hetty looked up in surprise. “Much better, Joe. He’s still coughing, but the fever’s down,” she answered. “It’s early for you to be around, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess it is. Thought I’d see how he is,” Joe told her. “Has he woken?”

She shook her head. “No, not that I know of.”

He looked around. “Where’s Miz Rodriguez?”

“Tom and I sent her home. Poor thing, she didn’t get much sleep last night and she’s got a family to consider, but I’d be willing to bet that she’ll be back before long. She’s a determined little soul, that one.”

“Yes, indeed. She sure is.” He glanced at Johnny, noting that he was sleeping peacefully, and then turned back to Hetty. “Why don’t you go on home, too,” he said. “I’m sure ol’ Josiah would appreciate his breakfast.”

She shook her head again. “Thank you, but no. I got some sleep last night.”

“Not as much as I did, Hetty. You go on home an’ I’ll watch him while you’re gone.”

She still looked uncertain so he walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. “Go on. I c’n watch him.”

“Well, just for a little while. I’ll come back once Josiah has the store open,” she relented. She nodded towards Johnny. “He’s been resting easy for quite a while now… might even wake soon. You holler if you need me.”

“I know what to do, Hetty. You go on home an’ see to Josiah and the store. I’ll be just fine with Madrid.”

She got to her feet and walked out of the cell, stopping at the door for one last look to reassure herself before leaving.

Joe took her place in the chair by the cot and studied Johnny’s sleeping form. He looked pale and drawn without the fever… certainly not dangerous.

He hadn’t seemed dangerous yesterday either, when he’d raved in his fever. Joe was now convinced that Madrid was no threat to Scott Lancer. It had come as a shock to hear the concern in Madrid’s voice. It had been much easier to dismiss the man as a cold-blooded killer.

Now it wasn’t so easy. For a start, he looked a whole lot younger than Joe had thought he was. Of course, that didn’t mean much when you remembered that Madrid had been a notorious gunfighter even in his teens.

Johnny Madrid and his reputation had been the talk of the town since the shooting, but the sheriff’s questions had provoked some deeper thinking. There were some who had started to wonder what had happened to make him draw against Gil. He hadn’t threatened anyone else in town that day…

Joe hadn’t been exactly truthful with Hetty. He hadn’t gotten much sleep last night… not after talking to Vic.

Vic had laid out everything for him practically and austerely. It was typical of the man. He was as tough as the best of them, which was why he’d survived when this was little more than wilderness. He’d built up his ranch from nothing and raised a family into the bargain. He wasn’t a man to cross. In fact, Joe was pretty sure that the idea that he might not go along with the Turners’ plan hadn’t even occurred to Vic.

He had been told what was expected of him. There wasn’t much he had to do… at least, that’s the way it had been explained to him. He had little more to do than look the other way.

Gil had been there too, but had had nothing to say. He was unusually quiet for such a cocky kid.

Glen was a different matter altogether. There were many who thought that Vic and his son were alike… cut from the same mould - tough and gritty. But, the truth was, Glen wasn’t just tough… he was mean. He had a mean streak in him that couldn’t be found in any of the rest of the family.

Vic had told Joe, calmly and without emotion, that Madrid was a threat to his sons. He hadn’t gone into details, like how and why, but Joe got the idea well enough. Gil hadn’t outdrawn Madrid at all.

Like the rest of the town, Joe liked Gil Turner. He was a good kid, but with a short fuse that was always going to get him into trouble. Maybe that was what had really happened? Had his temper gotten the better of him?

Gil had sat in the room while his father laid out the plan. He’d looked uncomfortable and miserable, though Glen had seemed very cool about it all, idly sitting on the edge of his father’s desk, swinging one leg in the air and indifferently cleaning his fingernails. He’d looked up only to look into Joe’s eyes and silently reinforce his father’s words.

Yes, it would be dangerous to go up against Glen Turner.

The idea scared Joe. He was the first to admit it. He wasn’t a young man and, even in his prime, he’d never been the heroic type. His head told him that he had to go along with the audacious plan… What was Madrid to him anyway?

He looked again at the young man on the cot and made up his mind.

*

The hacking cough brought Hatcher out of his reverie. It started with just a light cough, but built up till Johnny’s face was red and he was fighting to breathe.

Joe quickly poured a glass of water and moved over to sit on the edge of the cot.

The coughing slowly eased off, leaving him gasping and sweating.

“Here, drink this,” Joe told him, holding the glass out to him. “It’s just water.”

Johnny took it in a shaky hand, panting heavily. He sipped the water and leaned back with his eyes closed while he tried to control his breathing.

“I’ve got somethin’ that might help with that cough,” Joe said and pulled an ominous looking brown glass bottle and a spoon from his bag. He uncorked the bottle and poured some of the liquid onto the spoon, then presented it to Johnny.

Johnny eyed it suspiciously, sniffed at it and pulled back quickly in disgust, making no move to accept it.

“What’s that?” he asked hoarsely.

Joe grinned. “It’s a cure-all tonic. It’s all right. It ain’t poison. It’ll ease that cough you got.”

Joe felt the man’s eyes bore into his soul and seek out something to trust. He must have found it because he eased forward and took the tonic from the spoon.

Putting the spoon back on the floor beside the bottle, Joe had the strange feeling like he’d just gotten some half wild creature to take a step towards him.

Johnny’s face screwed up in distaste. “Dios, that’s awful,” he said quietly, staring at Hatcher. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Joe Hatcher,” Joe told him, moving back to the chair. “I’m about as close as you’ll get to a doctor in these parts.”

“You take the bullet outa my shoulder?”

Joe was suddenly cautious. His mind flashed back to how rough he’d been with Madrid in taking that bullet out. He knew he could have gone easier on him, but he’d been mad. Gil could so easily have been the one lying there.

“Yeah,” he said nervously.

Johnny nodded. “Thanks.”

With an almost audible sigh of relief, Joe leaned back in the chair and made himself more comfortable.

Johnny wiped his mouth with his wrist. “You make that stuff yourself?” he asked sourly.

Joe grinned. “I let folks think so,” he admitted. “But the fact is I bought a case of it from a snake oil salesman last year. Does the trick though. It’ll cure most of your ailments.”

“Or make you forget about them,” Johnny corrected him acidly.

Joe chuckled. “Guess so. You didn’t get that cough from that bullet wound.”

“Nope.” Johnny sighed heavily. “Had the influenza a few weeks ago. The cough’s just been hangin’ on.”

“Yeah, it’ll do that, all right,” Joe told him. “Maybe you shoulda rested up some more from it.”

Johnny sighed again. “No… I had to find…” he looked across at Joe. “You been tending to Scott?”

“Yeah.”

“Is he all right? I mean, the sheriff told me he’s doin’ fine, but…”

The worry in his voice was obvious. “Yeah, he’s okay. Had a fever for a while, but he’s over it an’ restin’ up now. He’ll be back on his feet in no time.”

*

Scott woke early, feeling stronger than he had in days. He finally felt that he was on the road to recovery.

He lay back for a while, watching the shimmering threads of sunlight play across the floor, musing over what he’d be doing if he was at home. At sunup, he was usually awake and dressing, otherwise Johnny would be in his room harassing him good-naturedly. Johnny had a habit of tossing pillows at him if he was still in bed when he got there.

Shifting a little, Scott tested the wound in his side and was pleased to find that, though it still hurt, it was bearable. It was time he got out of this bed and started taking some more literal steps towards making a recovery.

Time… he figured he’d been here around a week. He’d lost track of the days for a while, but he knew he’d been trespassing on the Turners’ hospitality for too long already. They’d shown him kindness and consideration, looked after him far beyond what could be expected. But he knew he had to get back on his feet and head home.

Scott had done some more rational thinking last night. If he’d been here a week, like he thought, then Murdoch and Johnny had had plenty of time to get here since receiving that telegram. And he realized that, even if Johnny had gotten sick again, Murdoch would still have answered by now.

No, whatever the reason, Murdoch had not received the wire. It was the only explanation. Maybe it had been misdirected, sent to the wrong address. Or the lines could be down somewhere. It wasn’t unheard of. It didn’t matter why; he needed to get word to them. They must be worried about him by now.

In fact, he guessed that there was every chance that they had started out to look for him. He didn’t like the idea of Johnny riding so far after being sick, but he knew his brother well enough to know that Johnny wouldn’t let that stop him.

Besides, Johnny could get back on his feet quicker than most men. He’d still been weak when Scott had left Lancer, but that was more than two weeks ago now. Johnny was bound to be back on his feet by now.

He missed them… missed the raillery that had become part of his relationship with Johnny… missed waking to find his brother or Murdoch, or Teresa, sitting by the bed when he was hurt.

On the other hand, there was something to be said for waking to find Emily Turner sitting there. He smiled at that thought. He could get used to waking to her smile every morning.

Scott pondered on that thought and decided that he’d invite Emily and her family to Lancer to meet his own family and then see how things progressed from there. He knew he had feelings for her. He just wasn’t sure how deep they went.

The gently dancing rays of sunlight had gone. The room was in full light now and he made up his mind to make a move towards getting up on his own. Pretty soon Emily would be in here with some breakfast, but he was determined to be up and dressed before she got here.

He pulled himself up and threw back the covers, then swung his legs over the side of the bed. He waited for the wave of dizziness to subside before edging over and putting his feet on the floor.

It took a full minute for the room to spin down to a stop. His stomach lurched sickeningly during that time, but, when the dizziness stopped, so did the nausea. He eased himself onto his feet and stood up, clutching the end of the bed. He wasn’t going to rush it like yesterday and end up back where he’d started.

No, this time he’d take it nice and steady.

He straightened and tested his legs. They felt like jelly for a moment, but firmed and held him. Padding slowly across the room in his bare feet and drawers, he started the search for his clothes.

*

When Tom Logan reached the Rocking T, it was still early. But the sun was already heating the air and preparing for another hot day. He pulled Buck to a stop in the yard and dismounted as Gene Turner came over from the corral to meet him.

“Good to see you, Tom,” he said amiably, extending his hand to shake Tom’s.

Tom pulled his hat off and wiped the sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve. “Gonna be a hot one, Gene,” he said feelingly, then put the hat back on his head.

“Bob, come an’ take care of the sheriff’s horse, will you?” Gene asked one of the men standing by the corral. Then he turned back to Tom. “What brings you out here? Scott again?”

“Yeah… Need to have a word with Scott Lancer… and with your brothers too.”

 Gene frowned. “About Madrid?”

 “Yeah,” was all Tom answered. “Glen an’ Gil around?”

 “No, they left early,” he replied. “But come on inside. Scott seems to be doin’ a whole lot better.”

 Together, they walked into the house where they found Emily and her mother in the drawing room. Both Tom and Gene removed their hats, Gene tossing his onto a chair absently, while Tom held his in his hand by his side.

 Tom had been thinking about how he would approach this ever since he’d left town, but he still hadn’t come up with one plan that was going to be any easier than the rest.

 “Why Tom!” Anne Turner exclaimed. “You’re terribly early.”

 “Like I said yesterday, ma’am, I have to talk to Scott,” he said casually.

 “You don’t still want to ask him about the gunfighter, surely?” Anne asked him crossly.

 “That’s right, Ma’am.”

 Gene sat down in one of the armchairs and crossed his legs easily. “The man has a job to do, Mother. Let him do it,” he suggested calmly.

 “Thanks, Gene,” Tom answered, nodding to him. Then he turned his attention back to Mrs. Turner. “I need to have a word with the boys, too. Do you know where I can find them?”

“Why?” Emily demanded quickly. “They’ve already told you what happened.”

“There are just a few things I need to ask them, Miss Emily,” he explained vaguely.

“Like what?” came a deep voice from the doorway behind them.

Tom turned to look over his shoulder and found Vic Turner standing at the open door. “What sort of questions, Tom? I thought the boys had told you what happened?”

“Howdy, Vic,” Tom said pleasantly. “Yeah, they told me what happened, but I’ve still got a couple of questions for them.”

“You got some reason to doubt my sons?” Vic asked harshly. He walked into the room and threw his hat down on a sideboard at the far end of the room, then he turned around and glared at Logan.

“I didn’t say that, Vic,” Tom answered calmly, then stared back at him. “Is there any reason I should?”

Vic’s face turned thunderous but it was his wife who rounded on Tom.

“Tom Logan, I can’t believe you’d say such a thing!” she snapped at him. “Do you dare to accuse my sons of lying to you?”

Tom sighed heavily. “I haven’t accused them of anythin’, Miz Turner. But I have a couple of things to get straight.”

“There’s nothing to get straight,” Vic said bluntly. “The man tried to kill my son and it’s plain good luck that the boy’s still alive.”

“Good luck and a faster draw,” Gene quipped ironically.

“Gene, you say that as though it’s hard to believe,” Anne chastised him angrily.

“Mother, the man is a professional gunhawk,” Gene answered tartly. “He must have been right off his game to let Gil out-gun him.”

“Shut up, Gene,” Vic ordered. “This is not the time for that sort of talk.”

“Where are the boys, Vic?” Tom asked determinedly.

“This is a ranch, Tom. My sons work for a living.”

“Then, how about you send for them,” Tom suggested. “And, in the meantime, I’ll have a word with Scott Lancer.”

“He’s still too ill to see anyone, Sheriff Logan,” Emily told him quickly. Tom was sure that he heard a hint of nervousness in her voice.

“Nonsense, Emily,” Gene replied. “He was doing fine when I last saw him.”

Emily scowled at him. “He’s not well enough to be bothered with something like this.”

“I really don’t see any need to see him at all,” Anne Turner insisted. “I don’t know what you expect someone like Scott to know about Johnny Madrid.”

“What about Johnny?”

All eyes turned towards the hallway. Scott stood there – pale and wavering a little on his feet, leaning one hand against the wall to support himself.

No one answered him. They were all too surprised to see him there.

“I said, what about Johnny?”
 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

“Scott, what are you doing out here?” Emily gasped and ran to his side. She put her hand under his to help him stand. “You shouldn’t even be out of bed.”

He looked down at her, but didn’t answer. Instead, he turned back to the sheriff. His question still remained unanswered. Why were they talking about Johnny?

“I asked you a question, Sheriff,” he said coldly. “What about Johnny?”

“Johnny Madrid, do you know him?” Tom asked.

“Of course, I know him. He’s my brother,” Scott told him irritably. “And you still haven’t told me what this is about. Where is he?”

“He’s in my jail,” Tom told him blandly. He didn’t seem surprised by Scott’s statement.

“What? Why? What is he doing in jail?” Why was he even in town? Scott could think of only one answer. Johnny was here to find him.

“Scott, this can’t be true!” Anne Turner exclaimed. “He’s a… a…?”

“The word is gunfighter, Mrs. Turner,” Scott told her coolly, without a trace of embarrassment. He didn’t care what anyone said about Johnny. He was proud of his brother, of the fact that he had survived all those years and of the efforts he’d made since coming home to leave that life behind him. “My brother used to be a gunfighter. These days, he’s a rancher.”

“But he’s Mexican! How can he be your brother?”

Scott glared at her. “That’s right. If you want to be precise, he’s my half brother.” He had thought better of Anne Turner. Why was prejudice so ingrained? “Does it make a difference to you? Because it doesn’t make an iota of difference to me.”

She had the grace to blush scarlet, but Scott ignored her and turned back to the sheriff. “Now, why is he in jail?”

“He’s accused of attempted murder,” Tom replied, watching Vic out of the corner of his eye.

“Attempted murder? I don’t believe it,” Scott exclaimed, stunned.

“I’m sorry, Scott but I’m afraid it’s true,” Anne Turner told him sympathetically.

Scott looked at the faces of the people around him. There was sadness on the faces of Anne and Emily Turner; Vic had dropped into his chair and was glaring at him. Gene wouldn’t meet his eyes but the sheriff? It looked more like curiosity on his face.

“And who is he supposed to have tried to murder?” he asked angrily.

“My son,” Vic said harshly. “He drew on Gil… tried to gun him down.”

“Johnny doesn’t draw his gun unless he has a reason,” Scott answered with cold disbelief.  “And never unless someone draws on him first.”

“The way I hear it, he draws whenever someone pays him enough to make it worth his while,” Vic Turner answered snidely.

“That’s all in the past!” Scott snapped back at him, then he turned on the sheriff. “What’s this about?”

Sheriff Logan eyed him closely. “The boy says that he and Glen were just talking to Johnny.”

“That’s ridiculous. Johnny doesn’t shoot without provocation,” Scott answered furiously. “He wouldn’t ‘gun anyone down’. He’s not a murderer. He never has been.”

Tom turned his attention back to Vic Turner. “I want to talk to Gil and Glen, Vic. You can send for them now, or I’ll go get them and talk to them in town.”

“Don’t think you can come here and threaten my boys in their own home, Logan,” Turner answered, all pretence of civility gone. “You’ve heard what happened from the boys already.”

“I’ve got another version from Johnny Lancer, Vic,” Tom told him. “An’ since there weren’t any witnesses to the shooting…”

“Shooting?” Scott interrupted anxiously. “What shooting? Is Johnny all right?”

Tom shook his head. “He was shot,” he said bluntly, then held up his hand as Scott paled and made to ask him more. “He was hit in the shoulder. Didn’t seem too bad at first, but he’s been pretty sick, coughin’ real bad.”

“He was sick when I left home. He shouldn’t have tried a trip like this.”

“Well, he’s doin’ better now. Wasn’t real good for a while, but he’s gonna be okay.”

Scott glared at him. What the sheriff was saying sounded like this hadn’t happened today. “When did this happen?” he asked coldly.

“Two days ago.”

“Two days?” Scott roared. “Why wasn’t I told? How did this happen anyway?”

“Scott, we didn’t know he was your brother,” Anne told him. “How could we?”

Gene stood up and walked across to her, his quiet demeanor shaken. “Maybe because Madrid said he was, Mother. You only had to ask, just like Tom wanted to do in the first place.”

“He told you?” Scott demanded. “He told you he was my brother and you still didn’t tell me?”

“Scott, you were very ill,” Anne replied, gently. “No one took his claims seriously. We thought…”

Scott turned to face her, one hand still against the wall, but balled tightly in fury. “You thought what?”

“We thought he came here to kill you,” Vic told him.

Scott took a step into the room, shaking off Emily’s attempt to support him any further. “Kill me! That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Why would you think that?”

His heart was beating wildly. Johnny had been lying hurt in that jail while no one even bothered to check his story. If they had asked him even one question, he could have told them Johnny would never hurt him.

“He was recognized as soon as he rode into town,” Anne explained patiently. “Everyone thought his story was a ploy to get them to say where you were. They meant well. They were trying to protect you.”

Scott shook his head in disbelief. “And why would you think anyone would hire a gunhawk to kill me?”

“You said that you’d had an argument with some rancher down south…” Vic began.

“An argument, nothing worth killing over,” Scott fumed. “I don’t know how you do business Mr. Turner, but most men don’t hire killers over a disagreement.” He turned back to the sheriff. “Why didn’t I hear about any of this? Why didn’t someone just ask me?”

“I came by yesterday morning, Scott,” Tom told him in a regretful tone of voice. “Unfortunately, you weren’t up to a visit.”

Remembering his fall, Scott acknowledged the truth of this. “I was probably asleep, but no one said anything to me.” Scott was furious. His mind kept turning on the fact that his brother had been in trouble without his knowing.

“Scott, if he had come straight to us, there would have been no problem at all,” Anne suggested. “We wired your father to tell him where you are. There was no reason for anyone to wander all over town asking after you. What were we to think?”

“Perhaps that the wire didn’t get through, since there’s been no answer to it,” he said angrily.  “Or you could have asked me.”

Emily was strangely quiet, staring at her fingers and twisting them relentlessly. Anne noticed.

“Emily, what’s the matter now?” she demanded.

The girl looked up and glanced at Scott first, then at her mother. “Gil… Gil told me that he…”

“He what, Emily? Speak up.” Anne sighed heavily. “What did Gil tell you?”

Emily looked back down at her hands, fidgeting still. “He didn’t send the wire, Mother,” she said quietly. “He wanted Scott to stay a little longer…”

Anne blanched and sat down in the chair nearest her. “He didn’t send it? Not at all?”

Emily shook her head silently.

Scott clamped down on his fury. “When did you find this out?”

Tears sprang to her eyes and she looked towards him. “Just last night. He told me after…” She glanced at her father quickly and then back to Scott. “After we’d talked with Pa.”

“Did you ever intend telling me?” Scott asked bitterly.

“Yes, of course,” she answered quietly.

“When? How long were you going to let my brother rot in jail before you mentioned it to me?”

 “Please, Scott, calm down. You were so sick…” Emily began, taking his arm gently, but he shook it off.

He stopped and looked into her eyes… eyes that he’d come to admire so much over the past week. She’d known about Johnny. He’d told her himself.

She’d said nothing.

“You knew,” he said accusingly. “You knew that Johnny Madrid is my brother. I told you myself. Why didn’t you say something then?”

Anne Turner frowned and looked at her daughter. “Emily? Is that true?”

Emily looked from Scott to her mother, then glanced anxiously towards her father. “I… yes, he told me yesterday.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Anne asked, horrified.

“I…” Emily stammered. Her eyes were on her father, a silent plea sparkling in tears that threatened to fall. “I…” She closed her eyes and dropped her gaze away from her father. “Pa?”

Anne scowled and turned to her husband, suspicion on her face. “Vic, what’s going on?”

Emily dropped her eyes away from Scott’s accusing gaze. “I did tell Pa, right after Scott told me about his brother,” Emily said at last.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Scott demanded. “I had a right to know that my brother is hurt.”

“Your brother drew on my son,” Vic spat at him.

Scott wheeled around to face him, his expression thunderous. “If my brother had drawn on your son, your son would be dead or nearly dead,” Scott told him coldly.

He turned back to the sheriff and demanded, “Something’s wrong here. What does Johnny say?”

“He tells a whole different story,” the sheriff admitted with annoying calm. “That’s the other reason I’m here.” He turned a cold gaze on Vic Turner. “I’m asking you again where your boys are, Vic. I have to get this thing straightened out.”

“Bah!” Vic snarled. “You can’t expect the man to admit to drawing first!”

“The way he tells it, he didn’t draw at all,” Logan replied. “He says he was jumped, disarmed and shot.”

“No!” Anne cried out. “No, that’s not possible. Gil would never shoot an unarmed man. I won’t believe it.” She turned to her husband, a horrified expression on her face. “Tell them Vic. Gil would never do something like that.”

“You don’t seem surprised, Vic,” Logan pointed out. He was right. Scott noticed that the man had said nothing to the accusation. He was still sitting in his chair, glaring at Scott and the sheriff.

“It’s his word against Glen and Gil,” he said brutally. “And who’s going to believe him? He’s a half breed gunhawk who got outdrawn and is worried about his reputation.”

“Actually, I believe him, Vic,” Logan said succinctly. “I suspected it before he was able to tell me his side of the story this morning. There are a couple of holes in your boys’ stories.”

*

Joe Hatcher watched Johnny lay back into the pillows. He could see that Johnny was eyeing him warily and didn’t blame him one bit. In his position, trust wouldn’t come easy. Joe felt like he was in the presence of a half-tamed tiger, waiting for the cat to spring.

“You’re really worried ‘bout him, ain’t you?” Joe asked, curious.

“Scott? Of course, I am. He’s my brother.”

“You tellin’ me you ain’t Johnny Madrid?” Joe frowned, disbelieving.

Johnny sighed heavily and closed his eyes. The sigh was heavy enough to bring on a sharp cough, but it didn’t persist.

“No,” he said, finally and reluctantly. “I’m Madrid… used to be anyway.”

“Used to be?”

Johnny turned his head towards Joe and those vivid blue eyes opened on him. Joe found himself pulled into their grasp. Those eyes expressed so much that Joe couldn’t break away from them.

“Things are different now,” Johnny said quietly. “It’s a long story, but let’s just say that someone threw me a rope and I grabbed it… both hands. I don’t sell my gun no more.”

Johnny must have caught a glimpse of the skepticism in Hatcher’s face because he smiled. The smile lit up his eyes with something that Joe tried to put a name to – mischief? It didn’t seem likely, but those eyes were totally engaging.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Johnny told him. “It don’t matter to me.”

“We all thought you were here to kill him,” Joe found himself saying. “Scott Lancer is a hero in this town.”

The smile on Johnny’s face broadened. “Scott’s a hero in a lot of towns. It’s kinda nice of you all to protect him like that.” He snorted a half laugh. “Maybe not quite so enthusiastically though,” he added, wincing at the pain the slight movement caused in his shoulder.

There were tiny beads of sweat dotting Johnny’s forehead. Hatcher realized that the conversation was taking a lot out of the man, but his curiosity was still piqued. He leaned over and picked up the jug of water, poured some into the glass and handed it to Madrid.

Johnny took it and drank a few mouthfuls. “Thanks,” he said and leaned back to rest. Then he swallowed another sip.

He looked up at the touch of a cool cloth on his forehead, wiping away the perspiration that had begun to annoy him. It was a physical reminder of his weakened state, as if he needed one, and he resented it. Johnny was all too aware that he was vulnerable at the moment.

He figured he could trust the sheriff. Johnny had taken a liking to the man. He’d asked the right questions and said the right things but, more than that, Johnny had sensed genuineness about him. He’d learned to judge men pretty quickly throughout his life. It was a facet of his survival instinct.

The man with him now was a different story. There was something ambivalent about him and Johnny couldn’t get a grip on whether to trust him or not. Outwardly, Hatcher seemed friendly enough. But that wasn’t enough for Johnny, not in the condition he was in now. He just couldn’t feel comfortable in this man’s presence.

Johnny put his hands on the mattress and tried to edge himself up a little. His shoulder screamed at him, and his head started to spin dizzily. Nausea crept over him and he stopped, trying to hold back the urge to throw up what little he had in his stomach.

Biding his time, he waited for the dizziness to ease off, fighting for control of his body. It wasn’t happening. Instead, the weakness just got worse.

Breathing heavily, he thought that things were about as bad as they could get, but then he started coughing again. This time, the coughing racked his body for minutes on end. It left him gasping, with Hatcher’s arm wrapped around his chest to support him as he leaned forward, fighting for breath. His face was covered in perspiration and Hatcher once again wiped it off with a cool, soft cloth.

The coughing finally stopped and Hatcher presented Johnny with the glass of water again. He tried to take it but his hand shook uncontrollably. His chest heaved and his shoulder burned.

“Take it easy, Son,” Hatcher said, with surprising gentleness. “Breathe in, nice and slow… not too deep or you’ll start up again.”

Johnny felt a tremendous urge to push the man away and didn’t understand why. Hatcher certainly seemed to be trying to help him. What was it about him that created this distrust?

If there was one thing Johnny hated, it was feeling vulnerable, but feeling vulnerable among strangers was his worst nightmare. He knew how weak he was. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to defend himself, especially without his gun.

Johnny had a vague memory of some rough handling when Hatcher had taken the bullet out of him, but that didn’t bother him much. He’d had worse from men who’d had good intentions over the years.

Hatcher eased him back against the pillows. “You okay now, Madrid?” he asked matter-of-factly.

Johnny glared at him. “Not Madrid…” he said and drew another quick breath as he felt the urge to cough started to come over him again.

“Lancer, then,” Hatcher replied, a hint of a smile on his face. “Bet you’re not a man to be crossed when you’re not flat on your back.”

Johnny didn’t answer, just continued to stare coldly at him. He folded his right arm across his chest, holding his chest. It felt like he’d strained a muscle with his coughing and every breath he took was painful, but he had no intention of letting Hatcher know about it.

Joe watched him and wondered what was going through his mind. Those icy blue eyes of Madrid’s were boring holes right through him.

No, not Madrid… Lancer. He accepted that now. This boy was Scott Lancer’s brother and the whole mess should never have happened in the first place. If they’d only checked with Scott, instead of taking things into their own hands all of this could have been avoided.

Of course, no one had ever intended that Madrid… Lancer… would get hurt. That was the last thing they had considered.

His own eyes traveled to the bandage over Lancer’s chest and shoulder. There was a small bloodstain over the wound, so he stood up and leaned over to check it. He lifted it away from the wound and frowned as he studied it. Satisfied that it had already stopped, he pressed it carefully back into place and sat down again.

There were other scars on the boy’s chest and on his arms. Some were years old, others more recent. But they testified to a tough fight for survival. No wonder the boy was so hard.

“You collect bullets or somethin’?” he asked as he made himself comfortable in the chair.

He got little more reaction than a steady frozen sideways glare. “Not much to say, huh?” he continued. “Well, can’t say as I blame ya. We didn’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon for ya.”

Johnny looked away from him and down at the arm wrapped around his chest.

Joe felt the urge to go on. “Gil wouldn’ta meant this to happen, you know,” he told him. He folded his arms and looked down for a moment, thinking. Where had things gotten so far out of control? “He’s a good kid really… just seems to find trouble more’n most.”

That brought a reaction from Johnny. He turned to face Joe and scowled at him. “You hold a gun on a man with your finger on the trigger, you’re either stupid or you mean to kill someone,” he growled at Joe.

“That what happened?”

Johnny turned back to stare at the bars facing him. “He’s saying he out-gunned me, isn’t he?”

Joe nodded. “Yeah,” he admitted. “Leastways, Glen is. Gil doesn’t seem to be sayin’ much at all.”

Johnny sighed. “That’s somethin’ anyhow. I figured the kid was more scared than mean.”

That surprised Joe. He’d figured that Johnny Madrid would want revenge, and real quick. He found he didn’t have anything to add after that.

“What’s the girl like?” Johnny asked suddenly.

“Girl? You mean Miss Emily?”

“I hear Scott’s taken a shine to her.” There was a glint in Johnny’s eyes and a half smile on his lips. It seemed that he found the idea entertaining.

“Prettiest gal in the county,” Joe told him enthusiastically. “Maybe in the whole state. She’s a real looker.”

Johnny leaned back into the pillow and shut his eyes wearily, the smile still lighting his face. “Figures,” he said quietly.

Joe grinned, then stopped and listened. He’d heard the door outside, and boots coming in from the office.

He stood up quickly and turned around.

Glen and Gil Turner stood at the cell’s open door.

*

“I can’t accept that you’d believe this rubbish, Tom Logan,” Anne said furiously. “You’ve known Gil and Glen for years. You must know that neither of them would try to murder anyone.”

“I didn’t say that Gil tried to murder him,” Logan told her calmly. “Johnny said it was an accident. Gil’s gun went off when Johnny broke out of Glen’s hold. He says that he bumped Gil and the gun went off.”

Emily stared at the sheriff. “He said that?” she asked, shock resounding in her voice.

“My sons wouldn’t lie to me,” Anne insisted. “I don’t care what he says, it’s not true.”

Gene stood beside her and shook his head. “Mother, Gil lied about the wire.”

She scowled at him. “That’s different altogether.”

“No, Mother,” he persisted, his temper fraying. “It’s not different.” He looked at his father and then at his sister, a frown on his face. “No, there’s more going on here than you and I know about, Mother. Isn’t that right, Pa?”

Turner picked up his pipe and struck a match. He held it for just a moment, poised over the bowl of the pipe, then he lit the pipe and drew back on it. He didn’t answer his son.

“You know where the boys are, don’t you, Pa?” Gene asked angrily.

Puffing on the pipe, he ignored Gene and looked towards the window. So Gene looked to his sister. “Emily, what are they doing? Where are they?”

She looked away, but Scott could see tears beginning to spill over and run down her cheeks. “Emily,” he said acerbically. “Where are your brothers?”

When she didn’t answer, he walked back to her and took her by the shoulders. “Where are your brothers? What are they going to do?” he demanded, shaking her.

She turned on him, her eyes sparkling with tears and fear. “They’re my brothers!” she shouted at him, verging on hysteria. “Don’t you understand? Gil and Glen are my brothers. I won’t let anything happen to them.”

“And Johnny is my brother!” he shouted back. “He’s done nothing to hurt anyone here. Has he?”

She closed her lips stubbornly.

“Has he?” he shouted angrily, shaking her again. A couple of stray tendrils of hair loosened and fell around her face.

“Scott!” Anne cried out. “Leave her alone!”

But Scott ignored her. This was his brother they had so casually dismissed. He kept his grip on Emily and glared furiously at her.

“No!” Emily finally cried out in distress. “No, he hasn’t, Scott. It was like the sheriff said. But it was an accident. Gil didn’t mean to hurt him. He shouldn’t hang for an accident.”

“What are they going to do?” Scott persisted coldly.

She couldn’t answer him. But he knew the answer. He could see it in her face… in the tears streaming down her face… and he was appalled.

“They’re going to kill Johnny, aren’t they?” he shouted at her, and she dropped her head into her hands and burst into tears.

“Yes,” she answered, barely able to be heard over her sobs. “Yes…” She looked up into his face, tears washing down her cheeks. “Please, Scott. You have to understand. They’re my brothers… I love them…”

Scott dropped his hands from her shoulders. The room was spinning suddenly as he stepped back from her.

“No!” Anne Turner screamed. “Emily, what are you saying?”

Emily’s sobs grew louder. She sniffed back another and turned her red rimmed eyes to her mother. “Pa said they had to… otherwise Gil would hang for shooting an unarmed man.”

Anne swung around to confront her husband. “You sent our sons out to commit murder?” she yelled at him in disgust.

“It’s him or them, Anne,” Vic answered coldly.

“You were always a hard man, Victor, but I never thought you capable of this. They’ll hang!”

“They won’t hang,” he told her calmly. “They’re my sons.”

Scott turned a furious gaze at him. “If my brother dies, they won’t need to hang Gil I’ll kill him myself.”

Tom shook his head. “No point in talking like that, Scott.”

But Scott’s rage was out of control. “Then you’d better hope that your precious Gil is as fast as he pretends. Otherwise, he’ll be a walking dead man.”

Gene faced Scott and demanded, “What do you mean?”

“Once the word spreads that he outdrew Johnny Madrid, how long do you think it will be before every gunfighter within a hundred miles of here comes looking for him? They’ll call him out and he’d better be good.” He took some bitter satisfaction in seeing their horrified reactions and turned to Vic to add, “I don’t think he’ll survive long.”

“Gil’s fast enough…” Emily began.

“Don’t be a fool, Emmie,” Gene shouted at her angrily. “Gil’s not in that class. Scott’s right, he’ll be dead in a month.”

Anne Turner was trembling with rage. “Is that true, Tom? Will they come after him?”

Tom nodded. “I guess so, ma’am. That’s the way those fellas work. Gil’s going to get himself quite a reputation out of this… and he’ll have to defend it.” He stopped and glared at Vic Turner. “That’s if they don’t hang first. Bein’ a Turner doesn’t give them free rein to go killin’ a man in cold blood… not in my town.”

She swung around and faced her husband, her expression one of disgust. “What are they planning to do, Vic?”

All eyes turned on the man, but he merely took another puff of the pipe.

Scott took a step towards him. It was time to shove that damned pipe somewhere…

But Anne got there ahead of him. To everyone’s surprise, she hauled her hand back and struck a blow across Turner’s face that knocked the pipe to the floor. He leapt to his feet and grabbed his wife’s hand in midair.

“So help me, Vic, I’ll kill you myself if they do this,” she snapped at him, undaunted by his black expression and the harsh grip he had on her wrist. “Where are they going?”

“Vic, there’s no need for any of this,” Tom told him, a calm voice in a room full of tension and rage. “Johnny said it was an accident. He’s no threat to Gil. Tell us what the boys are planning to do.”

Turner looked into the eyes of his wife, breathing heavily as his rage began to wane. Slowly, his head lowered and he let go of her wrist. “They’re breaking him out of jail. If he happens to have an accident after that… or just disappears… well, it’s no business of theirs or mine.”

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Johnny watched the two men come into the cell and he knew that he was in trouble.

One of them was big and burly – a mountain of a man. He sauntered rather than walked in and he looked completely at ease. Johnny didn’t know him but he immediately recognized the younger man behind him. It was kind of hard to forget the face of a man who’d put a bullet in you.

So it didn’t take much to guess that the big guy was the man who had grabbed him and held him in that alley.

Unlike his brother, the kid looked distinctly uncomfortable. Johnny guessed that he’d rather be anywhere but where he was. He looked in Johnny’s direction as he came into the cell but, when Johnny looked back at him, he looked down, unable to meet Johnny’s eyes.

The big guy smirked and cheerfully said “Howdy, Joe,” to Hatcher, ignoring Johnny completely. He strolled over to stand at the end of the cot, taking a moment to scrutinize Johnny before dismissing him and turning his attention back to Joe Hatcher.

Hatcher glanced sideways at Johnny for just a moment, an expression of wretchedness on his face, then he got to his feet. “Howdy, Glen… Gil…”

He sounded uncomfortable, but not surprised. His hand rested on the back of the chair, clutching it desperately, as if he needed the support.

Glen Turner looked over again at Johnny. Their eyes locked and Glen grinned, but he couldn’t maintain the eye contact. He looked away and shuffled his feet a couple of times, then looked back at Joe.

“Wasn’t sure I’d find you here, Joe,” Glen said, smiling amiably. “Pa’ll be real pleased to hear you did as we suggested.”

Johnny looked at Hatcher. The man’s head hung down dejectedly and Johnny knew that he’d been right not to trust him. The grip on the back of the chair was getting harder and Hatcher’s knuckles were white from the effort.

Johnny edged his hand towards the pillows while they concentrated on Hatcher. It was instinct rather than thought. There was nothing there – no hidden gun to protect himself with.

Of course it wasn’t there. A moment’s thought and he reminded himself that he was in jail.

It was as if his worst nightmare had come to fruition. He was defenseless and in the hands of someone he didn’t know or trust, with danger walking though the door. He fought against the rising urge to panic and pulled his hand back slowly, watching them.

Glen Turner caught the furtive movement and laughed. “I’m glad to see you’re awake, Madrid,” he said, still smirking. “It’ll make things a whole lot easier for us.”

 

“Wait, Glen,” Joe said quickly. He cleared his throat nervously. “Glen, I’ve been thinking about this.”

Glen swung around on him. “Have you, Joe?” he asked disinterestedly. “I didn’t know you could.”

Joe took the disheartening reply to heart and looked towards Gil, apparently hoping for support. But there was none forthcoming. Johnny thought the kid was probably even more scared than he had been in the alley, if it was possible. His head was lowered and he had himself backed into a corner, out of the way.

“No, Glen,” Joe continued. “You can’t just kill him.”

Glen Turner grinned maliciously. “Now, who said anythin’ about killin’? Joe,” he said coolly. “He’ll just disappear is all… vanish off the face of the earth. No one’s ever gonna know, cos no one will ever find him.”

The menacing tone in Glen’s voice told Johnny that he meant exactly what he said. Johnny looked over at Joe Hatcher again, still unsure what to think of him.

But Joe seemed to have made a decision and found some nerve. He shook his head. “This ain’t right. There’s no need for it.”

Turner scowled sourly at him. “That’s not your decision to make, Joe.”

Joe took a deep breath. “My part in it is,” he said firmly. “I won’t be a part of it.”

“You’ll do as I say, Hatcher. Step aside.”

To Johnny’s surprise, Joe Hatcher stood his ground. His hand still clutched to the back of the chair, Joe stayed put, between Johnny and Glen Turner, saying simply… “No.”

Trust… Johnny couldn’t have been more surprised. The last thing he had expected was that Hatcher would stand up to them. Johnny felt a twinge of guilt at having misread the man.

“If you don’t mind,” Johnny said calmly. “I figure you want me dead. What I’d like to know is why.”

“You can’t be that stupid, Madrid,” Glen answered mockingly. “It’s you or us. I don’t intend to let my brother hang over the likes of you.”

“It’s self defense. That’s what Pa says,” Gil burst out suddenly.

“It’s straight out murder!” Joe told him defiantly.

Glen moved closer to Joe. He stood toe to toe with him and said coldly, “It has to be done. Now get out of the way, Joe.”

Obstinately, Hatcher stepped in front of the cot. Johnny couldn’t see his face any more, but he had seen enough to know that Joe meant what he was saying. Whatever his plans had been when he’d talked to them earlier, he’d obviously had a change of heart.

Hatcher only shook his head and stayed put.

Johnny felt a cold tremor go through the air. He knew something was going to happen and it did. In one fast, fluid movement, unexpected from such a big man, Glen Turner pulled his gun and swung it at Hatcher. He caught Joe across the side of the head and knocked him cold.

Hatcher’s legs crumpled and he fell to the floor with a dull thud, unconscious.

“What did you do that for, Glen?” Gil shouted, running to Hatcher’s side. Johnny could see a thin trickle of blood running down the side of the man’s face and hoped that the blow had stunned him, rather than killing him.

Johnny’s heart was heavy with regret for his mistrust of Hatcher. There weren’t many men in Johnny’s life who would have been prepared to stand there like that, facing Turner defiantly… not for him. He tried to get up, determined to help Hatcher, but he found Turner’s pistol pointing at him.

“Don’t even think it, Madrid,” Glen hissed coldly. “You stay right where you are.”

Gil leaned over Joe and checked him. “He’s breathing, Glen,” he whispered hoarsely.

His brother still stood with his gun in his hand. “Well, good for him,” he said coldly. “Now forget him an’ get Madrid up…real carefully. We have to get out of here before the whole town is around to see what we’re doin’.”

*

 Josiah Andrews was a busy man, busier than he should have been and he blamed it on that gunfighter Tom had locked up in his jail. Henrietta had been spending too much time there for his liking.

Worse, she seemed to have taken a fancy to the prisoner. She’d finally come home for a while this morning, spouting her sympathies for Madrid and her belief that he really was Scott Lancer’s brother after all. Josiah still found that impossible to believe, but he hadn’t argued the point with his wife. Hetty knew her own mind and he’d learned years ago that he shouldn’t argue with her. She wasn’t likely to back down.

He was glad she was home now, for however long it might be. Apparently, Madrid was doing much better and she wasn’t going to have to sit with him all day again. At least, that’s what he hoped. He still thought it was dangerous, especially if the man was getting better. Being around him unconscious was bad enough, but awake? Who knew what could happen.

Henrietta was in the store right now, putting some new stock on the shelves and cleaning up. Josiah had piled up two pails of garbage and headed for the back door to put it in the trash bin that he kept out there. He put a smaller parcel of garbage under his arm and opened the door, cursing under his breath, just as he always did when he was stuck with the more mundane tasks.

He walked down the two steps to the ground and lifted the lid from the garbage pail, emptying the smaller pails into it and replacing the lid. As he turned around to go back in, something caught his eye and he stopped.

Frowning, he looked towards the jail. It was only two doors down from his store and there were three horses tied up out back of it.

Josiah tilted his head, considering the horses and the implications of their being there. Then he hurried back inside to his wife.

“They’re breaking Madrid out!” he called out to Henrietta.

She turned away from the shelves and scowled at him. “What are you talking about?” she demanded impatiently.

“Madrid’s gang is breaking him out of jail,” Josiah told her excitedly. He grabbed the rifle he kept under the counter.

“What gang?” Hetty asked sarcastically. “When did you ever hear of Johnny Madrid having a ‘gang’?”

“Well, someone is over there,” her husband persisted. “There’s three horses tied out back of the jail, and I reckon they aren’t there just for visitin’.”

Henrietta dropped the tin can in her hand onto the counter and walked out to the back door to see for herself. She came back frowning heavily.

“You see, Hetty?” Josiah asked in triumph. “You always gotta see for yourself, don’t ya? Well, I didn’t imagine it. They’re over there breakin’ that gunhawk outa jail!”

“Well, he’s in no condition to ride anywhere,” she told him firmly, untying the apron she was wearing and making for the door. “There’s something strange going on over there.”

“And where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going to see what’s happening,” she answered negligently. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I can tell you that that boy doesn’t have any ‘gang’ to break him out.”

She stormed out of the door with her husband hot on her heels, his rifle in his hands at the ready. She strode down the boardwalk, still in the lead but, at the door to the sheriff’s office, Josiah reached out and pulled on her arm.

“Hetty, you mind me, this time! You let me go in first,” he insisted. “Whoever is in there, they’re not likely to be happy to see you.”

For a moment, she thought of rebelling, but she stopped and let him go through ahead of her. He opened the door slowly and held the rifle in front of him. Hetty poked her head in just behind him and stopped again. They heard the beat of horses’ hooves out back.

“They’ve gone,” she whispered. “We’re too late.”

Josiah pressed on into the office and then nudged the door to the cells open with the end of the gunbarrel, carefully peeking in to make sure no one was still there.

A groan came from the cells.

“Hetty, it’s Joe Hatcher. He’s hurt,” he called out to his wife. She ran in and found Josiah kneeling beside the unconscious man and the cot empty. He turned around. “He’s alive, but he’s had a hell of a knock on the head. Told you Madrid’s friends were up to no good.”

*

Scott found the bright sunlight a shock after a week indoors. The heat of the sun bore down on him as soon as he got outside the door. He stopped for only a moment to adjust to the light, then he hurried after Logan and Gene.

The scene inside had degenerated into a shouting match, one that he had joined in long enough to let them know that he wasn’t finished with them yet. But, right now, the important thing was to get to his brother before those brothers could do anything to him.

“Charlie, bring the sheriff his horse,” Gene yelled as they reached the yard. Gene continued into the barn and to saddle his own horse. Scott followed him into the barn.

“I’m not so sure it’s a good idea for you to come along, Scott,” Gene told Scott, pulling his saddle out of the tack room. “You’re barely out of bed. I don’t think you’re up to the ride.”

Scott stood his ground. “This is my brother we’re talking about, Gene,” he said firmly. “I’m going.”

“You’ll slow us down.”

“If I hold you back, you can ride ahead and I’ll catch up,” Scott assured him. “But I won’t slow you up. Like I said, we’re talking about my brother.”

Gene stopped and looked at him, assessing his condition and obviously thinking.

“All right,” he said quietly. “Guess I’d do the same. But, if you fall behind, I’m not waiting around for you. He might be your brother, but Gil and Glen are mine. I have no intention of letting them do anything stupid.”

“I’m all for it, Gene,” Scott answered.

Gene turned around. “Charlie, saddle a horse for Mr. Lancer,” he called out, then turned back to Scott. “No point in your wasting your strength when there’s someone to do it for you.”

Ten minutes later, all three were on their way. Scott winced visibly when he mounted, but said nothing. Nor did he say anything as they rode towards town. Instead, he concentrated on fighting off the vertigo and nausea that attacked him the moment he was on the animal’s back.

He thanked the heavens for Charlie’s choice of horse for him. It had enough speed to keep up, but was manageable enough to allow Scott to concentrate on staying in the saddle.

The three of them rode hard into town, hoping to get there before the brothers had time to put their plan into action. Each of the three had a stake in stopping it.

 Well, the plan was a bust now. They all knew about it. The problem was that Gil and Glen Turner didn’t know it.

 They reached Fortune in less than the half hour it would normally take and found a small group of people standing around the door to she sheriff’s office. Harry was there, and Len from the livery, as well as several other townspeople talking among themselves.

 Dismounting quickly, Scott stood beside the horse and held the pommel while his stomach settled. He hadn’t stopped even long enough to get a hat or his gun before running after Tom and Gene, back at the ranch. He regretted both. He needed the hat with the sun bearing down on his unprotected head, and he wasn’t convinced that Tom or Gene would shoot if necessary.

 Tom might, but he knew the boys and might hesitate. Gene was their brother and he was damned sure that he’d let Johnny die before them.

 Tom Logan looked over his shoulder at him enquiringly, frowning as Scott caught his breath, still in the saddle. But he didn’t wait for him.

 “What’s going on here?” he demanded angrily of the crowd.

 “Madrid’s gone!” Harry answered quickly. “Just walked out the back way with his men.”

 “What men?” Tom asked impatiently. “Did any of you see what happened?”

 There was a general shaking of heads and a murmur ran through the small crowd, but no one answered. “Then all of you go about your business. You can’t do any good here.”

 “Aren’t you goin’ to get a posse together, Tom?” one man called out.

 “No, I’m not getting a posse together,” Tom replied sarcastically. “The man hasn’t escaped. He doesn’t have any ‘men’ around here to help him, and he’s in no shape to walk, let alone ride a horse. Now go home and let me do my job.”

 The crowd began to disperse, though the mutterings continued. Scott pushed past the last of them then stepped onto the boardwalk and followed Tom and Gene into the office. Being inside was a relief. His head was already beginning to pound.

 He made his way into the cells and came to a halt. Reality hit him hard at the sight of the rumpled cot and the pillows still leaning against the wall. The door was open and there was a chair in the cell. On the floor beside it there was a jug of water and a basin with a cloth in it. It was a sick room with the very barest essentials and, on the floor by the cot, was Johnny’s hat.

 Johnny had lain there, sick and hurt, while he was being tended and cared for in comfort. And why? Because of his reputation? Because of his Mexican heritage? It was wrong and he felt a terrible weight of guilt crushing him.

 He shook off the feeling and tried to focus on the present. There would be time enough later for that. Now, he had to find Johnny, and in time to save him.

 Scott recognized the little man sitting on the cot as Joe Hatcher, but he didn’t know the woman sitting beside him. There was a bandage around his head and she was wiping away a thin trickle of blood from the right side of Hatcher’s face. He’d taken a nasty blow to the head.

 “How long ago did this happen, Joe?” Tom asked quickly.

 Joe shook his head. “Can’t say, Tom… not real sure…”

 “I can answer that, Tom,” the woman answered, wiping away the last of the blood from Joe’s face and turning back to face the sheriff. “No more than half an hour. Josiah and I heard the horses leaving when we got here.”

 “Who was it?” Tom asked Hatcher. Scott didn’t see much reason to ask the question. They all knew the answer.

 Joe looked nervously at Gene before he lowered his head and replied. “It… it was Gil an’ Glen,” he finally said.

 “Gil?” the storekeeper exclaimed. “An’ Glen? You sure?”

 “Yeah, I’m sure,” Hatcher assured him. “I’m sorry, Gene. I just couldn’t do it.”

 “Couldn’t do what?” Gene asked him, surprised.

 “I couldn’t just hand him over… like I was supposed to,” Joe told him, still not looking up at any of them. “I know Vic explained it all and he kind of made it sound like self defense, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t do it. It’s murder, Gene… nothin’ else you can call it.”

 Scott watched as Gene’s face paled to a ghostly shade of white. “Are you telling me that Pa arranged this?”

 “He sent Glen for me last night,” Joe explained. “I was supposed to come an’ take over for the ladies, so that no one got hurt. Then I was to let Gil an’ Glen take him.” He shook his head and looked up to face Gene at last. “I couldn’t be a part of murder, Gene. I don’t care what Vic says any more. I just couldn’t do it.”

 “Joe, where were they taking him?” Tom asked. “You got any idea?”

 “They didn’t say, Tom,” he answered dejectedly. “Just said they’d make him disappear.”

 “Did Vic say anything about it, last night?”

 Joe just shook his head sadly. “No… nothin’.” He looked up at the sheriff. “You gotta find ‘em, Tom. What they’ve got planned is just plain wrong.”

 “I know, Joe,” Tom replied quietly. “Gene, you got any idea where they’ll head?”

 But Gene shook his head. “No.”

 “They’re your brothers, Gene,” Scott insisted grimly. “You must have some idea. Where would they go?”

 “I tell you, I don’t know… they could be headed anywhere. There are lots of places…” He stopped, his face registering an idea.

 “What is it, Gene? What are you thinking?” Tom persisted.

 “The Bluff…” he answered in a distant voice. He turned to Tom. “No one much goes there. It’s too dangerous. There’s nothing but coyotes. A body could lie there for years and not be found.”

 ‘The Bluff’, Scott thought. It sounded ominous. ‘A body could lie there for years…’

 No, not just any ‘body’… his brother!

 Johnny Madrid would simply disappear. Only, he wouldn’t… not if Gene had guessed right. Scott turned, ready to go. If the trio wasn’t far ahead of them, there was still a chance that they could catch up with them before they got a chance to follow through on their plan.

 “Who hit you, Joe?” Tom asked quickly, apparently satisfied with Gene’s answer and in a hurry to be on his way.

 "Didn’t see for sure, but I’m pretty sure it was Glen.”

 Henrietta Andrews dropped the bloodstained cloth into the basin and sighed heavily. “I just can’t believe that Gil would be a part of this,” she said sadly. “I mean, I know he’s a little wild, but he’s not mean, Tom.”

 Gene dropped his head dejectedly. While he was glad that she believed in Gil, there seemed to be an implicit suggestion that she thought Glen was capable of it. He thought about what this would mean. There was little anyone could do now to keep them out of jail. Glen had gone too far by attacking first Madrid and then Joe Hatcher.

 And if his father was involved, he was likely to end up in jail with them. Gene sat down on the chair in despair. His father had a lot to answer for. Gene thought back to how he had watched his father nurture the tough side of Glen, hardening him into the ‘man’ that he wanted him to be.

 Pa had tried to do the same with himself, but Gene knew that he could never be the uncompromising man that Pa wanted him to be. Instead, Pa had lost interest in him and treated him with disdain. Fortunately, Gene had had enough faith in himself, and enough support from his mother, to see what was happening and learn to live with it. It hurt, knowing that his father didn’t respect him, but he had accepted that long ago.

 Gil was still young and foolish, and he craved his father’s respect… Glen’s too. He was following blindly in Glen’s wake, doing what Pa told him he should do.

 But Glen? Was Glen really capable of murder? Gene had always thought of Glen as tough and hardnosed, but he had never thought him capable of anything like this. He’d never have considered Glen as ‘bad’.

 Gene needed to stop him before he went too far.

 “I’m sorry, Joe,” he said somberly. “I’m glad you didn’t go along with it. You should never have been put in that position.”

 Tom strode over to the door of the cell, where Scott was still standing. “We have to get after them, now,” he said angrily. “Hetty, will you see that Joe’s looked after?”

 “Of course,” she said nodding. “You get on after that boy and bring him back safe. He shouldn’t be on his feet, let alone on a horse.”

 “Just how bad is he?” Scott asked anxiously.

 Hetty shook her head. “He’s been in a high fever, Mr. Lancer,” she told him. “Coughing real bad and fighting for breath. He shouldn’t be out of bed.”

 Scott sighed heavily. They all knew what it meant. Johnny wouldn’t be able to defend himself.

 But, more than anyone else there, Scott knew what that would mean to Johnny. He understood how much his brother feared being vulnerable.

 Scott walked further into the cell, past them all, and he picked the hat up off the floor. It looked as though it had been stepped on, possibly while Johnny was struggling with his captors, as Scott knew he would have. He put his hand into the crown and pushed it back into shape, dusting it off carefully.

 Without realizing that he was doing it, he whispered his brother’s name. The others in the room watched him in silence and he looked up to see the sympathy in their faces.

 He cleared his throat and tapped the hat against his leg. “I want to thank you for standing up for Johnny, Mr. Hatcher.”

 “Wish I coulda done more, Scott,” Joe said quietly. “I ain’t no hero, but I couldn’t go along with murder. Just ain’t right.”

 Scott looked down at the floor for a moment, trying to escape the image of his brother here, sick and bleeding, friendless and fighting for his life. “You tried,” he answered. “I thank you for that.”

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 Johnny was clinging desperately to consciousness. His shoulder was throbbing intolerably. He knew, without looking, that it was bleeding again. He could feel the warm trickle of blood oozing down his shoulder. It was annoying, irritating… knowing that it was there and wanting to clap his hand over it to try to stop the bleeding and, perhaps, the pain. But his hands were tied to the pommel.

Strangely, after a while, the pain had become more than a constant companion… it was a friend. While he could feel it, he knew he was alive.

Oh, he’d tried to fight them off at first, but he soon realized that he was fighting a losing battle. He was weak from the fever and Glen Turner was just too big and brawny. So, instead, Johnny had made up his mind to save what strength he had left and look for a chance to escape later.

Now he was afraid that, if the chance did come up, he wouldn’t have the strength to make the most of it. They’d dragged him out of the cell and out the back way to their waiting horses. Between the rough handling that had left his shoulder searing with pain, the dizziness and the nausea it brought on, he’d very nearly thrown up on them when they’d shoved him up onto the horse and tied him to the saddle.

The big one, Glen, had laughed when he’d seen how green Johnny’s face was. He’d guessed Johnny was going to be sick. He’d mockingly called a warning to his brother to watch out or get himself covered in vomit.

It was annihilatingly degrading for Johnny, but he’d mentally made a note of it and added it to the list of things he owed Glen Turner. Just one chance, and Johnny would make him pay for it. Of course, that chance would be hard to find. He was sick, weak and unarmed… his worst nightmare.

They had set out from town, leaving quietly out the back way so that no one would see them. Glen Turner was leading the way, with Johnny riding behind and Gil Turner behind him. Johnny thanked whatever fates had offered him a nice, gentle horse. He could never have managed to control a skittish animal in his condition.

The sun bore down on them as the morning wore on. It left him weaker with every passing minute. Each step his horse took rolled him first one way and then the other and he fought off the nausea and the dizziness that just didn’t give up for a moment.

Then, to add to his discomfort, his cough had started up again. It was a dry, rasping cough and he’d have given just about anything for a mouthful of water to take the edge off it. But he wasn’t getting anything from these brothers.

The cough got worse. It left him barking uncontrollably until he could barely catch his breath.

“Shut him up, Gil,” Glen called back over his shoulder. “Damn, that’s annoying.”

Gil looked towards his canteen and was obviously considering offering Johnny a sip, but Glen had stopped and turned back to see what they were doing. “Gag him, for God’s sake,” he instructed his brother harshly.

“We can’t do that,” Gil insisted. “He might not be able to breathe!”

Anger flushed in Glen’s face. “Dammit, Gil. You’re such a baby. What the hell does it matter if he can’t breathe now, anyway? He ain’t gonna be breathin’ much longer!”

He pulled his bandana from around his neck and rode over to Johnny’s side. Then he pulled it around Johnny’s head, stuffing the foul tasting material into his mouth and tying it tightly.

The smell of Turner’s sweat on the bandana assaulted Johnny’s senses and his stomach rebelled again. He fought for breath and against the urge to cough… and wished that they had just killed him back there in the jail.

*

 “They can’t be too far ahead of us, Sheriff, and Johnny must be slowing them down. Surely, we should have caught up with them by now,” Scott said dejectedly.

 Scott’s head throbbed in the harsh sunlight. His side was sore too, but the wound had had enough time to close and hadn’t re-opened, so far. He was keeping up with Gene and Tom, and was determined to keep pace with them. They’d worked out that they couldn’t be far behind the Turners and Johnny and had hoped to catch up with them long before they got to the bluff.

 They were keeping up a fast pace, but being careful not to take too much out of the horses. Gene had reminded both Tom and himself that there was a steep climb on the path up to the top of the bluff. They’d need to keep their horses fresh enough to take that trail.

 Scott prayed that they would make it in time to stop the execution. That was how Scott saw it – an execution. This was more than just murder. They were dragging a sick, defenseless man on a grueling ride, just to send him to his death. This was so cold blooded that it sent a chill down his spine every time he thought about it.

 He’d demanded that Tom let him have a gun. Both Tom and Gene had been against it, arguing that he might be too quick with the gun with his brother’s life involved, but Scott had won out in the end. The sheriff had pulled open a drawer in his desk and taken out a gun and belt. It was Johnny’s. Scott had strapped it on and then shoved his brother’s hat on his head to keep off the hot sun and, at first, it had seemed surreal… a kind of bond with Johnny. The feeling had passed though. He longed for some kind of connection with Johnny. He wanted to be sure that his brother was still alive.

 But there was nothing. No sensation of ‘knowing’… no ‘feeling’… nothing but hope.

 *

Johnny wasn’t sure that the Turners would ever get a chance to finally kill him. He felt like death already. The morning had gotten hotter and hotter, while Johnny’s condition had progressively worsened. His head lolled forward, his shoulders slumped and his heart was thumping so hard in his chest that he could hear the dull thud of its beating in his ears.

 Strangely, Johnny wasn’t in any pain any more. He knew the wound had opened. The warm ooze of blood had seeped through the bandage and soaked into his shirt. He was losing blood that he could ill afford to lose.

 The wound in his shoulder had ached, then burned and then went numb. As they went further, all of his body started to go numb. The horse lumbered along with an easy rolling gait that didn’t seem to require any guidance. It was following the animal in front of it regardless.

 He had no idea where they were taking him. Why was all too obvious, though. He didn’t know exactly what they had in mind, but it sure wasn’t going to be good for his health.

 He couldn’t feel his hands. The ropes that bound them to the pommel had cut off the circulation. He could barely breathe through the filthy gag and his mouth was so dry that he couldn’t swallow.

 As the interminable ride wore on, he was sick of the sight of Glen Turner’s back swaying lightly in the saddle ahead of him. Johnny let his thoughts turn to his family – Scott, Murdoch, Teresa… and Jelly. He could picture the rolling pastures and the bright shining river that fed the land he’d grown to love. Lancer – from his first view of it, high on the top of the hill overlooking the vast hacienda and its outbuildings, he’d felt the pull of his heritage.

 Murdoch had built the ranch with his sweat and blood. Johnny and Scott had given the same to keep it.

 In all his years of wandering, running and living on the edge, Johnny had never really expected to live a long life. He certainly hadn’t expected to find something like Lancer. He had just about everything he’d ever dreamed of now… home… family. He clung to the image.

 At least he’d found it before his time came. And Johnny was prepared to face the fact that this time he wasn’t likely to get out of trouble. He knew he was too weak to fight either of these men. He was unarmed as well. All he had left was his wits. He’d lived on his wits before and survived but, this time, he could feel his wits deserting him too.

 A trickle of sweat rolled down his back with a tickling sensation that roused him a little. ‘Get it together, Johnny boy. This ain’t over yet.’

 The thought strengthened him. He sat up straighter, arched his back and stretched his muscles as best he could. It awakened a searing pain in his shoulder and he gasped silently.

*

Gil rode behind Madrid. He watched the man slowly weaken in the saddle. Madrid… he’d heard stories of the man for years and never thought he’d come up against him.

Madrid… no, it was Lancer. He knew, now, that this man was Scott’s brother. They’d made a terrible mistake, he and Glen. Now, to fix things, they had to take a man’s life.

Pa had told him that it was ‘him or them’. He’d made it sound like self defense. But Pa said they should make Madrid just disappear. If no one ever found him, then no one could accuse them of any wrong doing.

And, with Madrid dead, no one would be able to testify to the shooting. Oh, there’d be talk… even Pa knew that some people might believe the rumors. But that would be all they were – rumors, talk. There’d be no proof; no one to say in court that he and Glen had jumped Madrid and shot him down unarmed.

Watching Madrid… Lancer… he failed to see the threat he posed. The man was dying in the saddle, slowly succumbing to the heat and the pain and whatever sickness was causing that cough. He looked like a pale caricature of the pistolero so feared by most men.

Then he saw the man’s back straighten suddenly. His head came up and he seemed to come alive again. There was something about it that took Gil’s breath away. The man had to know that he was being led to his death, yet he was facing it with his head held high.

*

Their path had been sloping for some time, gently at first. The good grazing land that surrounded the town and supported the ranches had become drier, and rockier, as they got higher. The country they were in now was little more than wilderness.

As they rode further, the heat of the sun bearing down on his bare head was taking a lot out of him… too much. With the blood he was losing and the cough that he couldn’t control, Johnny didn’t hold a lot of hope of making it all the way to wherever they were taking him.

Now, the path had narrowed and was heading steeply upwards. Johnny leaned forward a little in the saddle to keep his balance. With his hands tied in front of him, he had to use balance and his knees alone to control the horse. The pace they were keeping was grueling. It was testing both his ability and his strength.

For the most part, the horse Johnny was riding was sure footed. Only once did it stumble on some loose gravel on the trail. It had tripped and floundered, but hadn’t fallen. But the sudden lurch had driven the air out of Johnny’s lungs and sent a hot shaft of pain through his shoulder that evinced a gasp from him before he could stop it.

He closed his eyes hard, concentrating on beating the pain… forcing it back. Breathing hard, gulping in air through the dirty bandana in his mouth, Johnny ducked his head and waited for the interminable pain to pass. It left him with the same dull ache that he’d started out with, but it reminded him that he was alive… still alive.

*

“They’re keeping up a better pace than I thought they’d be able to make,” Tom answered. “I thought your brother would have slowed them down more than this.”

“They’re still well ahead of us, aren’t they?” Scott asked anxiously.

“Yeah, I’d say so,” Tom admitted reluctantly. He turned his head to the side and glanced at Scott. “How are you holdin’ up?”

“I’m okay,” Scott assured him. “I’m a little sore, but I’ll keep up.”

“That climb will get kinda rough,” Tom pointed out.

Scott nodded. “If they can get Johnny up there, then I can make it, too. Otherwise, just leave me behind and help my brother.”

Tom nodded. “All right.”

Scott thought about Johnny making it up that trail. From what the storekeeper’s wife had said, Johnny shouldn’t be on his feet, let alone on a horse. He wondered what sort of condition his brother was in by now. It couldn’t be good. Scott was feeling sore and sorry for himself, but his wound was well on the way to healing. Johnny’s wasn’t. It hadn’t had time to close properly yet and was likely to have opened. The sun and the ride would be taking a lot out of him, but losing blood as well…

And Johnny’s condition wasn’t Scott’s only worry. He was relying on the help of two men whose loyalties had to be questioned.

Gene Turner owed no loyalty to Johnny, but everything to his brothers. If it came down to a choice between Johnny and one of his brothers, Scott wasn’t convinced that he could rely on Gene.

Tom Logan was a different matter. The sheriff had lived in Fortune for years. He knew the Turners well, and Vic Turner appeared to wield a lot of power in the county. On the other hand, Johnny was not only a stranger… he was Johnny Madrid.

Logan certainly gave the impression of a man of honor. So far, everything he had said and done had instilled confidence in him. He should be able to trust him to do the right thing when the choice came. But, would he still think that way if the choice came to the Turners and Johnny?

What would he do if faced with having to shoot one, or both, of the Turner brothers? Scott didn’t know.

Scott looked at him closely and decided that he had to know. He asked the question that had been niggling at him since they set out. “Just how far will you go to rescue him?”

The sheriff frowned. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” he answered firmly and without hesitation. He smiled suddenly, taking Scott by surprise. “He’s not what I expected, you know.”

“He has a reputation that gives a lot of people the wrong impression,” Scott said simply.

“Well, he sure has got Miz Rodriquez on his side,” Tom told him with a smile. “She told me a story ‘bout him… somethin’ that happened down in Mexico.”

Scott wondered whether the story would turn out to be fact or fiction, or a mix of the two. So many stories had grown up around Madrid that it was hard to tell sometimes.

“A lot of things happened down in Mexico,” Scott said diffidently.

“Yeah, I guess so, but she thinks he’s a hero.”

Scott smiled. “Johnny wouldn’t agree, but I do. I’ve learned that he did a lot of good things, even while he was gaining a reputation as a killer.”

“I saw him once – years ago. He sure was fast then. Is he still that good?”

 Scott didn’t want to answer the question. Johnny certainly was still ‘that good’, maybe faster. But it wasn’t something they wanted broadcast. Instead, he shrugged. “It’s in the past. He’s a rancher, now. He has a family who cares about him.” He shook his head angrily. “This whole thing is wrong. Not just the Turner brothers, but the whole town. You all judged him without giving him a chance.”

He turned to face Logan again. “Just what did he do in Fortune that warranted any of this? Did he hurt anyone… threaten anyone? Tell me… why?”

The smile disappeared from the sheriff’s face. “I can’t explain it, Scott,” he answered dejectedly. “I know all those folks and they’re good people. I think they really believed they were doing the right thing… protecting you. I don’t think any of them expected anyone to get hurt. They judged your brother by his reputation. I know it was wrong, but it’s what people do. I’m sorry.”

The apology meant little to Scott right now. It came from the wrong person, and sorry wasn’t going to help his brother. What it did do was to give Scott more confidence in the man and what he would be prepared to do to get Johnny out of this mess.

Scott looked down, trying again to come to terms with the Turners’ treachery. He’d liked them all, but Emily? He couldn’t believe that she had betrayed him. It was hard to decide whether he was more angry or hurt, by Emily.

They reached the base of a hill that rose up out of the flat plain, slowly at first, then steeply towards the top. Gene had slowed for the others to catch up and pointed up to the trail that rose above them.

“The bluff is on the other side. You can’t see it from here. But look, up there,” he called to Scott and Tom as they slowed up beside him. “That’s them.”

Scott squinted against the sun to see the three riders on that trail. Too far away to recognize clearly, he suspected that the middle rider was Johnny. He was hunched over in the saddle.

“Let’s get a move on, then,” Scott said quickly and urged his horse on ahead of the others. The riders ahead of them were getting close to the top. There was no time to lose.

*

The horse ahead of him stopped suddenly. Johnny’s horse came to a jarring halt and he almost fell forward across its neck, his breath knocked out of him. Despite his efforts, Johnny was barely aware of what was going on around him. He looked up quickly, frowned and shook himself.

As he pulled himself up straight and forced the air back into his lungs through the foul tasting bandana that had been shoved into his mouth, he heard the kid pull his horse to a stop beside him.

Glen turned around and leaned one hand easily on his horse’s rump. “Get him down, Gil,” he ordered his brother, then turned back to dismount himself. For such a big man, he landed with a surprising agility.

Gil Turner stepped down from his horse, then walked over and unlashed Johnny’s hands from the pommel. Johnny rubbed his wrists, one after the other, trying to get the circulation back into them. “Get down,” Gil ordered him, stepping back a little to give him room to move, but pulling his gun from his holster to cover Johnny.

Johnny pulled his feet clear of the stirrups, threw one leg over the horse’s back and slid to the ground with more grace than he thought he’d be able to muster. He landed on both feet and somehow managed to stay that way, though his head was swirling dizzily and his knees threatened to buckle under him.

Looking around him, he realized they were on the top of a flat mesa that rose a couple hundred feet above the surrounding landscape. It was dry and desolate up here. It was bare rock except for an occasional mesquite bush that stood out starkly against the barren landscape.

From here, Johnny could see for miles across land that was actually good cattle country. It was even still green in places, where the water still flowed freely. Good grass and plenty of water, not like up here. This was no man’s land … and there was no one in sight. No help was coming this time. He was on his own and he couldn’t see how he’d fight his way out of this one. Even if he was fit, he’d have had trouble taking Glen Turner unarmed but, the way he felt at the moment, it would be a very short battle.

“Gil, hold him while I take the gag off,” Glen ordered his brother as he walked towards them.

Obediently, Gil Turner walked over and looked warily at Johnny before holstering his gun. He pulled Johnny’s arms behind his back, pinning them tightly. Johnny knew there was nothing he could do about it. His legs were barely holding him up, at the moment. They were wobbly and shaking so badly that it was all he could do to stay upright.

Glen Turner stepped in front of him and untied the bandana that was gagging him. Then he pulled it quickly away, leaving Johnny finally able to breathe properly.

Johnny flexed his aching jaw and licked his parched, burnt lips, but there was nothing to wet them with. His mouth was dry. He had been sorely tempted to bite Glen’s fingers as he wrenched the wretched piece of cloth away, but decided it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Besides, if the state of the bandana was anything to go by, it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience.

“Don’t want you bein’ found with a gag in your mouth,” Glen said, grinning malevolently. Then he laughed. “That’s if you’re ever found, Madrid. Only the coyotes and the crows come out this way. Right, Gil?”

“Yeah,” Gil answered uncertainly from behind Johnny.

“The great Johnny Madrid, hey?” Glen remarked mockingly. “You don’t look like much now. I reckon all those stories about you are exaggerated. Probably all just dime novel stories. What do you think, Gil?”

Gil didn’t answer and Glen’s grin subsided a little as Johnny’s eyes turned to ice. Johnny knew what he was doing. He might not be in physical condition to take on the brothers, but he could put that cold look into his eyes at will. He’d used it to intimidate men who were harder than Glen Turner.

“Oh, so there is still some fight left in you?” Glen finally said, laughing. “Better be careful, Gil. He might take us both on.” He looked Johnny up and down. “Think we can fight him off, Gil?”

“Leave him alone, Glen,” Gil said, at last. “Just get it over with.”

“Me?” Glen asked, with mock surprise. “No, Little Brother. This is your mess. You clean it up.”

Johnny heard a sharp intake of breath behind him and felt the grip on his arms loosen. He gathered his strength and shook himself free but stumbled once he was loose. He didn’t quite fall over, but he took a moment to right himself and lost any sort of advantage he might have gained.

“Kid, you’re useless!” Glen snapped angrily. He drew his gun and kept Johnny covered.

There wasn’t much he had to worry about. Johnny’s shoulder seared with pain from the jolt he’d given it when he stumbled. He caught his breath and turned around so that he could see both of them. Glen held the gun steadily and had a hard look on his face. But little brother, Gil, looked scared to death.

“Drag him over to the edge,” Glen hissed at his brother. “Get it done.”

But Gil didn’t move. He shook his head. “I… I don’t think I can,” he finally whispered, hanging his head despondently. “Glen, I gotta agree with Joe. This ain’t right.”

“Right? Who said anything about it having to be ‘right?” Glen roared at him. “It’s what’s gotta be done. You heard Pa.”

“I know, but I can’t just kill a man,” Gil replied. He looked up at his brother, giving Johnny a sidelong glance as well.

“You don’t have any choice.”

“You make all his decisions for him?” Johnny asked Glen. He was stunned by the sound of his voice. It sounded hoarse and little more than a whisper. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard on the urge to cough before continuing. He looked back at Gil. “Do you do all his dirty work for him?”

“Shut up, Madrid?” Glen shouted. “Gil, get it done!”

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Gil looked uneasily at his brother, then back to Madrid. Johnny could see doubt in the boy’s eyes and he was sure that he had hit upon a sore spot.

“Glen, it’s like Joe said. This is murder. We can’t do it.”

“It’s not murder,” Glen growled. “It’s him or us, just like Pa said. That makes it self-defense.”

“Why?” Johnny asked boldly. “Why is it him or me? I’m no threat to him.”

“Your testimony would hang us both, Madrid,” Glen snarled at him. “You think we’re takin’ a chance on you telling anyone what happened in that alley?”

“I’ve already told the sheriff that it was an accident,” Johnny told him firmly.

“It was an accident! I didn’t mean to fire!” Gil exclaimed.

Johnny sighed heavily. “I figured that out for myself, kid. It was damned stupid to hold your finger on the trigger, but I know you didn’t pull it intentionally. I figure I knocked you.”

Gil’s jaw dropped in surprise. Hope sprang into his eyes. “That’s right. That’s just how it happened. Hear that, Glen? We don’t need to do this.”

“Don’t be so stupid, Gil,” Glen snarled back at him. “Of course he says that now. What else do you expect him to say? He’s tryin’ to play with your head. Do you really think he’s that eager to forgive you for puttin’ a bullet in him?”

“He could have told them that I tried to murder him,” Gil reminded him.

“An’ he will when he gets a chance. Don’t be a fool!”

Gil scowled at his brother. “No, this ain’t right.”

Glen shook his head in frustration. “You’re the one who’s been tellin’ everyone that you outdrew Madrid,” he insisted. “You gonna tell them all that you lied?”

Gil shook his head in dismay. “No… an’ it was you who started that, not me.”

“It was you who accepted their drinks and the pats on the back,” Glen told him with a laugh. “You kinda liked bein’ the man who took down Johnny Madrid, didn’t you?”

Johnny watched the kid blush and shuffle his feet uneasily.

Johnny ducked his head for a moment and then raised it again, shaking it sadly. “You’re welcome to the reputation, kid,” he said at length. “I admit, it meant somethin’ to me once. Matter of fact, it was all I cared about an’ I worked damned hard to get it. But now I’d just like to forget it ever happened. You think you can handle all the guns who come lookin’ to take that reputation from you? You’ll have to learn to watch your back, look in every corner of a room before you go into it… an’ you’d better be good, or you won’t last more than a couple of weeks.”

Gil Turner looked uneasy. He glanced at his brother and then back to Johnny.

Glen glared at Johnny viciously. “Don’t think you can talk your way out of this, Madrid! You can get us both hung – that’s all that counts. We can’t take that chance.”

“You do this, kid, an’ you    WILL hang,” Johnny told Gil, then watched the boy blanch and look questioningly back at his older brother.

 “He’s tryin’ to spook you, Gil,” Glen said angrily. “Ignore him. Now grab hold of him and get him over to the edge.”

Gil shook his head firmly. “No… no, Glen. We don’t have to do this. I don’t want any part of killing him.”

Glen grabbed Johnny’s right arm and wrenched him almost off his feet. Then he wrapped one of those big, burly arms around him and pulled him close to the edge of the bluff; and Johnny finally got a good look at what might well be the last thing he would ever see. It was a sheer drop… maybe a hundred feet, or more. There were no ledges, no trees to break his fall… just boulders and jagged rocks waiting at the bottom for him.

It was a yawning canyon, created when some catastrophic upheaval had split the mesa, God only knew how long ago. The other side was just as sheer and just as barren. It was as though a knife had slashed the hill in half. But, over the years, crags had broken off and fallen to the bottom and they lay there like razor sharp teeth.

“Take a real good look at it, Madrid. The Spanish called it ‘Los quijadas del diablo’…” Glen Turner whispered venomously into his ear. “I think it’s appropriate. Like it?”

‘The devil’s jaws’ Johnny thought. Yes, that was an apt description all right.

Survival wasn’t very likely from a fall like that.

“A body could lay there an’ rot… nothin’ but bones after the coyotes an’ the buzzards are finished with you.” There was almost a hint of pleasure in Glen Turner’s voice and Johnny felt a chill run down his spine. “No one will ever find you, Madrid. All that Lancer money and power, an’ what did it get you in the end? Not even a headstone…”

Glen laughed malevolently in Johnny’s ear. His free hand still held his pistol down at his side and Johnny glanced hopefully towards it.

But he knew that he had no chance of breaking free this time or of getting hold of that gun. Turner was too strong, and Johnny’s own condition was too weak. He closed his eyes for a moment and settled his pounding heart. His breaths were already rapid and harsh. He was losing control and he wanted it back.

He was only about a foot away from the edge… too close. Overhead an eagle circled and he watched it glide down to land on a nest on a crag on the opposite cliff. Well, at least there’d be someone to witness the end of Johnny Madrid.

Steadying himself, he swallowed hard and tried not to think about it. He had only one weapon left in his arsenal. His only option was to talk his way out of it. He’d done it before, faced with a kid wanting to draw on him, hunting him for his reputation; with seasoned gunmen facing him in battle; even with men who wanted revenge. Those times, he had often been trying to prevent his opponent from getting killed. This time, it was his own life that was at stake.

“Now get over here, you coward,” Glen roared at his brother. “It’s your job and you’re gonna do it.”

“You haven’t done anythin’ so far, kid,” Johnny said to Gil, forcing himself to sound calm. “Don’t you see? It’s his mess he wants you to clean up, not yours.”

Gil frowned hesitantly.

“It was him who jumped me – not you. You shot me by accident. I already told the sheriff that,” Johnny continued. “It was him who hit Hatcher, too. You’ve got nothin’ to worry about. He does.”

Johnny felt the grip on him tighten viciously, but the boy still hadn’t moved. Suddenly, Glen released him and stepped back away from him.

“Enough talk, Madrid,” Glen hissed. “Gil, shove him over.”

Johnny glared at Turner and decided he had to take a chance. He knew that he was playing a dangerous game now, but it was the only chance he had left. He had to take it.

Besides, there was something that neither of the Turner brothers could see from where they stood.

They had their backs to the trail that wound up the side of the mesa… they couldn’t see the billowing dust that was rising from that trail. He couldn’t tell who or what was there, but he was sure it was horses. Someone was coming up that path… someone who just might be coming to help him out of this mess.

It was a slim hope. There hadn’t been much help forthcoming from the good citizens of Fortune up to now. No one that was, except for his two angels, of course - the two ladies who had tended him so determinedly. He wished he’d been able to thank them before…

He let the thought go and tried to think optimistically.

The sheriff had believed his story. Johnny was certain of it. The man had left early this morning for who knew where, but Johnny held on grimly to the thought that he might have come back in time to come after them.

And, if the sheriff had followed them… if that was him coming up the side of the mesa, then maybe, just maybe, there was still a way out of this. But they weren’t close enough to do him any good yet. He had to stall for long enough to allow the riders to get into a position where they could do more than just watch the Turner brothers murder him. They might hang for killing him, but he’d rather be still around to see the trial himself.

Time… he needed to play for time.

*

Glen glared at Johnny and made a move towards him, but then he stopped and grinned evilly. These brothers were opposites. He had to remember that. While the kid might still have some moral fiber to him, something that he might be able to reach, the older brother was hard and mean. Johnny didn’t see any hope of changing that man’s mind. He would have to be very careful of Glen Turner.

“Gil, you heard me. You know what Pa told us we had to do. We have to get rid of him!” Glen yelled at his brother. “All you have to do is push him.”

“It’s wrong, Glen!” Gil shouted back – not moving.

“Show some backbone, boy!”

The elder Turner was losing patience with his brother. Pretty soon, he was likely take the offensive himself and shove Johnny over that deadly precipice. Aware of the risks, but running out of options, Johnny targeted the boy’s dissemblance.

Johnny frowned at the boy, careful not to let either of them see him glancing towards the spot where he knew the horses would emerge from the trail. “You planning on always doing everything he tells you to do, kid?” he asked coolly. “You’ve got a mind of your own. Use it.”

Gil shook his head uncertainly. “It’s not just Glen. Pa said we have to do this to protect ourselves.”

“And your pa ‘calls the tune’, right?” Johnny grinned. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. So does mine. An’ I do just like he says most of the time. He says the herd needs shiftin’, I do it. He tells me to break horses, I do it. But I make up my own mind when it comes to right an’ wrong. No one can tell me to do something that I know is wrong.”

He could see a hat, then the head and shoulders of a rider emerging at the top of the trail. A little more time… it was all he needed. He prayed that, whoever it was, they had come to help and not just to watch.

“You have to live with your own conscience, Gil,” he said quickly. He had the boy’s attention and he knew it. Gil looked indecisive… wavering. “You have to decide for yourself if this is right or wrong and you have to be sure that you can live with whatever you decide to do. Your conscience is a real hard master, kid – take it from me. I’ve made bad decisions… and they aren’t all easy to live with.”

“He’s stallin’, Gil,” Glen yelled. “Just get it done, or you’ll answer to Pa.”

“You make the wrong decision now, kid,” Johnny persisted. “And it will haunt you till the day you die.”

“Shut up, Madrid!” Glen yelled angrily. He took a step towards Johnny, but his brother reached out and grabbed his arm. Glen turned a surprised expression on Gil.

“No, Glen,” Gil said at last, shaking his head. “No, maybe he is stallin’, but he’s right. This is wrong and I won’t be a part of it.”

“You’re a fool!” Glen shouted furiously. “You’re a weak fool, just like Gene!”

“Gene’s not weak!” Gil argued back at him. “He’s the smartest man I know. He wouldn’t be involved in this. That’s why Pa didn’t send him with us, isn’t it?”

“Pa knows that Gene would let him down in this. That’s why he’s not in it with us. He doesn’t trust or respect him… like he does me,” Glen ranted.

“Is that respect, Gil?” Johnny asked quietly, surreptitiously watching the trail and hoping there was still time. Glen Turned had about reached the end of his tether and would make a move any moment, even if Gil Turner didn’t. Johnny knew that Gil would never be strong enough to stop his much bigger brother. “Maybe that other brother of yours has it right?”

The horse finally reached the top of the mesa and Johnny recognized the sheriff riding it. There was plenty more dust still rising and he guessed that there were more coming. His heart missed a beat as he realized that help had actually reached him. Then a second rider appeared, but Johnny didn’t know him. The third, however, he’d know anywhere – Scott.

Johnny almost laughed out loud with relief, but then he understood that he was still in a bad spot, even with them so close.  He watched the riders and the odd thought occurred to him that Scott was wearing his hat.

Watching his brother riding towards him, a smile lit Johnny’s face. But he could only look Scott’s way for a moment. He couldn’t afford to take his eyes off Glen Turner for long.

Turner heard the sound of hoof beats behind him and looked back over his shoulder but, otherwise, he didn’t move. He still held that gun and now he had it held out in front of him. It was aimed straight at Johnny’s heart.

With the beginnings of relief flowing through him, Johnny felt his body start to weaken. He’d been running on pure adrenaline, on the need to stay alert. But now, his legs began to fail him and his breathing became more labored. A flush of fever coursed through his veins, leaving him suddenly dizzy and wavering.

He fought it off determinedly and forced himself to stay on his feet. He took a quick, nervous glance behind him and swallowed hard. If he should faint now…

“Put the gun down, Glen,” the sheriff ordered, dismounting and standing beside his horse. Johnny hoped he’d stay there. If anyone tried to rush Turner now, he had only to move a few inches and he could push Johnny over that devastating precipice.

But Glen didn’t put his gun down. He didn’t even look around to see who was speaking. He seemed set on his path and saw Johnny as still standing in his way.

“Don’t come any closer, Sheriff,” Glen answered. There was a kind of cold, monotonous tone in his voice that told everyone there that he meant business. He had no intention of letting Johnny get away now.

The second rider, and then Scott, stopped their horses beside the sheriff. Both of them dismounted, cautiously keeping an eye on Johnny and the Turner brothers.

“Glen… Gil, don’t do this,” the stranger pleaded. “There’s no need. We all know what happened. Johnny told the sheriff that it was all a stupid accident. He’s no threat to you. You don’t need to kill him.”

Johnny looked into Glen Turner’s eyes. There was no mistaking what he saw there - hate. Nothing had changed as far as he was concerned. He’d gone too far. Witnesses or not, he had killing on his mind.

*

“Glen, put the gun down,” the sheriff repeated, but held his ground. 

Scott looked carefully at his brother. His first emotion was relief. They’d gotten there in time. Johnny looked awful, but he was alive. But his initial relief was replaced by dismay as he realized just how bad his brother’s condition was. There was blood all down the front of his shirt and his face was ashen. Amazingly, he was still on his feet, but it looked obvious that that state of affairs wasn’t going to last much longer.

Gene put one hand out in front of him and said, slowly and anxiously, “Glen, listen to me. This isn’t necessary. It’s wrong. It’s murder.”

Glen turned his head back to look at Gene. “It’s not murder. It has to be done,” he said coldly. “Do you want Gil to hang? You’ve gotta see that it has to be done. It’s him or us.”

“Gil’s not going to hang,” Tom told him. “We know what happened. It was an accident. Scott’s brother has already told me that he bumped him and the gun went off. Now, put the gun down and let him come back away from that edge, before it’s too late.”

“Glen, you do this and you’ll hang,” Gene pointed out harshly. “Look around you. There are witnesses. You can’t get away with it.”

While Gene and Tom kept Glen’s attention on them, Scott began to edge his way around behind the man towards Johnny. He kept an eye on Turner, wary of spooking him into doing something rash. It would be all too easy for him to shoot, or even push, Johnny.

But his eyes kept turning back to Johnny. Scott could see how weak he was, and he was standing far too close to the edge of the precipice. If he were to drop, Johnny would topple over and plummet to a dreadful death.

“He’s right, Turner,” Johnny said, in little more than a whisper. “It’s not like I’ll never be found now, is it?”

“Please, Glen… I’m begging you, put the gun down. Let him go.” Gene’s voice was shaking with emotion. 

Glen’s eyes were staring straight into Johnny’s. It was unnerving to watch, but Scott knew what Johnny was doing. He was keeping that gun aimed at him to allow Scott to move without being noticed.

Scott managed to get to about three feet from Johnny and finally got a look over the edge. It was appalling, a terrifying split in the hilltop that yawned in front of him. The sheer drop had nothing but rocks and boulders at the bottom. Certain death waited for anyone who went over there.

So far, he had been able to move without Glen Turner noticing what he was doing. But sooner or later he would, and Scott tried to divide his attention carefully between Glen and Johnny. As he got closer, he slowed and edged further… bit by bit.

“Glen, I’ll shoot you if I have to,” Scott heard Tom say from behind him. Tom had his gun in his hand when Scott looked over at him, and the iron in his voice gave Scott confidence in Tom’s decision to carry out his threat. “Now drop your gun an’ step back away from Johnny.”

“For God’s sake, Glen, do like he says!” Panic made Gene’s voice rise to a slightly higher pitch.

Scott watched Turner uneasily. He needed a chance to grab Johnny away from the edge, back to safety, but Turner hadn’t budged and that gun was as steady as ever.

Glen Turner looked surprised. “You’d shoot me… for him?” he asked the sheriff incredulously, still without taking his eyes off Johnny.

“I’m not letting you kill an innocent man,” Logan answered calmly. His voice rang with finality and Scott had to admire his determination. “He hasn’t done anything to you, Glen. Put the gun down.”

“Innocent? Huh! Madrid’s no innocent,” Glen scoffed. “He’s a killer. How do we know he won’t come after us for what happened in town?”

“Who he is, or was, isn’t important, Glen,” Gene told him coldly. “It doesn’t change this from cold-blooded murder.”

“Glen, please, give it up now, before it’s too late,” Gil pleaded with him.

“This isn’t like you, Glen,” Gene insisted. “He’s no threat to you or to Gil.” Gene stopped and then added forcefully. “Let him go. Put the gun down… now!”

Glen finally turned around and focused all of his attention on Gene, so Scott took the opportunity to try to get closer to Johnny. He was almost within arm’s reach of his brother when Glen swung his head back. In a flash of movement, he spun back to face Scott and leveled his gun directly at him. The man’s eyes were narrowed viciously.

Scott stopped, held his breath and watched Turner’s eyes. What he saw there was frightening. He put up one hand, palm out defensively and tried to cool the situation.

“It’s all right, Glen… this is over.” He kept his voice as level as he could. “Just take it easy, Glen,” he continued quietly, with as much calm as he could muster. He was so close to Johnny now that he could almost reach out and touch him, but not quite. He needed to get just a little bit nearer in order to pull Johnny back from the edge of certain death.

Scott steeled himself. “I’m going to bring Johnny away from that edge,” he told Glen, slowly and succinctly. “You can do what you want, but he’s my brother and I’m going to help him.”

Whatever he might have had in mind to do at that point, Glen Turner’s plans changed. Even as Scott looked at him, Glen’s eyes widened suddenly and he froze.

The barrel of Tom Logan’s gun was nudging his right ear.

Logan had moved faster than anyone had expected. “Put it down, right now, Glen,” Logan ordered him coldly. “Or I’ll blow your head clear off your shoulders.”

Turner was as stiff as stone, but he was still pointing the gun at Scott while his face twitched with indecision. But it was only for a moment.

“I’m not saying it again!” Tom said forcefully. Glen made up his mind in that instant. With the cold steel of the sheriff’s gun tickling the skin of his neck, he opened his hand and released his hold on his own gun. It fell to the ground with a dull thud that echoed around them.

Scott didn’t wait to see what any of them did after that. He turned to look towards Johnny, a smile of relief just curling the corner of his lips. Finally, it was over.

But one glance at Johnny stilled the smile in its infancy.

Johnny’s eyes were glazed and his knees were starting to sag. Whatever had been keeping him on his feet until now was weakening. The loss of blood, the prolonged fever on top of his illness… and the strain of the ride here and standing in the sun for so long; all combined to sap the last of his strength.

Before his eyes, Scott saw the collapse coming and dived forward to catch him. Still perilously close to that edge, Johnny turned his face towards Scott and blinked once, their eyes met and, suddenly, his eyelids fluttered rapidly and his eyes rolled back.

“Johnny!” Scott shouted, appalled as he saw his brother sink to the ground. “No!”

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Scott caught his brother’s wrist as he slid to the ground. For just a moment, Scott thought he’d gotten there in time, but Johnny had been just too close to the edge. He toppled over the rim of the mesa, with Scott clutching his arm desperately.

Johnny’s weight pulled Scott to his knees and then to his elbows. Scott clung to his brother’s arm and stretched himself out on the dirt, his head and shoulders hanging over the edge of that perilous drop.

The fall brought Johnny to his senses. Scott saw his eyes open wide with shock, his pupils dilated with something that Scott couldn’t remember ever seeing in them before – sheer terror.

“Johnny, hold on!” Scott screamed at him. Johnny’s hand locked onto his wrist, but Scott could feel it clammy with sweat. Infinitesimally, Scott felt their grip slip. Johnny slid no more than half an inch towards the jagged teeth waiting below, but it wrenched a cry of anguish from him.

Lying on the ground and leaning over the edge, one hand clinging to Johnny’s wrist, he reached down and wrapped his free hand over the other. Johnny closed his eyes and dragged his other arm upwards, the strain of the effort all too obvious on his face but, finally, he wrapped his hand over the top of Scott’s.

“Scott…!” Johnny yelled. His voice rang with unfamiliar panic.

Scott groaned as Johnny dangled, his feet treading in midair as he struggled to find some sort of foothold on the cliff face. He held his breath and desperately hung on. He knew he couldn’t maintain that tenuous hold for long. Johnny was dead weight and Scott knew that he was far from fit himself.

But he held on with every ounce of strength in his body. His shoulder strained against the weight, pulling on muscles until they shrieked at him. But, this was Johnny. He would never let him go… never.

His mind focused on the task. Everything else slipped away. Dimly, he could hear voices behind him, shouting, but the words didn’t mean anything. He didn’t care about them.

Johnny was what he cared about, and he wasn’t going to think about anything else.

“Hold onto me, Johnny! Don’t struggle…”

Johnny’s fight to pull himself back up was only making things harder. He had to calm Johnny, reassure him and ease his panic. “I’ve got you, Brother. Just hold on, I’m not letting you go.”

Johnny looked deep into his eyes and calmed a little. He still pushed his feet towards the wall of the canyon, looking for some sort of toehold, but he wasn’t squirming anywhere near as much.

But there was a problem. Scott had a sound hold of Johnny, at least for the time being, but getting him back to the top was another matter entirely. He closed his eyes and put all his strength into trying to pull Johnny up.

When he opened them again, Johnny had stopped struggling. He was looking straight up into Scott’s eyes. “Be careful, Scott,” he said, with surprising calm. “I don’t want you comin’ with me.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Brother, so shut up and give me a chance to get you up here.”

Scott heaved with all his might and he was sure that he brought him up a few inches or so. He slid himself back a little, away from the edge, keeping the hold on Johnny as taut as he could.

Without turning away from Johnny, as if taking his eyes off his brother would be mean saying goodbye, Scott called to the others. “Help me… someone…”

He was suddenly aware of someone lying on the ground beside him. He could feel the man’s body against his own, side by side. A pair of outstretched arms reached down towards Johnny. Strong hands sought and found Johnny’s arm and gripped him.

He didn’t know who was beside him and he didn’t care. The man was helping and that was all that mattered. Scott refused to take his eyes off Johnny to find out who it was.

Scott felt the easing of the weight on his arms, but held on desperately to the tenuous grip he had on his brother.

“Help me get him up!” Scott ordered and pulled hard on Johnny’s arm again. Between the two of them, Johnny was slowly inched upwards towards the top of the mesa.

Scott could feel the sweat on his own face and saw it rolling down Johnny’s cheeks. The agonizingly slow ground they gained, inch by inch, was becoming more and more encouraging, but Scott could feel his own arms trembling from the effort.

Johnny was slowly getting closer to the edge… closer, and then… at last… Johnny let go one of his hands, then reached over and found firm ground under it. Another giant effort brought Johnny up far enough to be able to lean his elbows on the edge of the cliff.

Scott got to his knees then. Johnny was still teetering on the rim of the bluff and was far from secure yet. While still holding Johnny’s wrist grimly with one hand, he leaned forward, over top of his brother, and grabbed Johnny’s belt.

“Come on, Johnny,” Scott groaned and urged him, as the body beside him followed his lead and grasped the belt as well.

Together, they heaved until Johnny’s shoulders, then his chest came over the edge and he was dragged back onto solid ground. Scott’s helper reached over and took hold of Johnny’s legs and hauled him back onto the mesa, where all three of them stopped and sat, panting for breath.

Scott pulled his brother into his arms and held him frantically. Johnny’s body was trembling all over, his chest heaving, but he didn’t move. He was limp in Scott’s arms.

“It’s all right, Brother,” Scott said quietly into his ear. “I’ve got you now. It’s all over.” He was surprised at the quiver in his voice. It rang with the emotion of the last few hours and the terror of the last few minutes.

It had been so close… so damned close.

Johnny’s breathing was ragged and harsh. He coughed hoarsely a couple of times and then straightened himself a little. He looked up at Scott, his eyes still dazed, but filled with unspoken emotions.

“It’s all over now, Johnny. You’re safe,” Scott assured him. He looked over to thank the man who had helped him, expecting to find Tom Logan there.

It was Gil Turner.

*

 “You?” Scott asked, shocked to find Gil Turner sitting on the ground beside him. The young man was panting heavily from the effort and shaking from the tension.

 "I… I couldn’t…” he started and then stopped to look away. When he looked back, he sighed heavily. “I couldn’t just stand there and watch.”

 Scott was amazed at the turnaround. He clutched Johnny closer to him and nodded. “Thanks, Gil,” he said, his voice trembling. “Thanks…”

 Gil lowered his eyes and stared at the ground.

 Johnny lifted his head and turned it towards Gil Turner. “Thanks, kid,” he said quietly. His breath came in short heaving pants, but his eyes spoke volumes. “I was hopin’ I was right about you.”

 The boy smiled shyly and looked at him. “You were right… what you said,” he whispered. “I guess I do have to be able to live with what I do.”

 A shadow crossed over them and Scott looked up. The sheriff stood there, his gun still covering Glen Turner. Gene stood beside his brother. His face was white from watching the struggle to get Johnny back to solid ground.

 “Good to see you again, Madrid,” Logan said ironically with a broad smile, then corrected himself. “Sorry… Lancer.”

 Johnny smiled wanly back at him then turned around to look at Scott. He frowned. His own hat hung by the stampede string around Scott’s neck.

 “Scott…” he began weakly, stopping to swallow and catch his breath again.

 “What is it, Johnny?” Scott asked him anxiously.

 “Take my hat off.”

 Scott was taken by surprise, but grinned. Holding Johnny firmly with one arm, he reached back with the other hand and pulled the Mexican style hat with its elaborately conched band onto his head, adjusting it carefully. “I don’t know, I thought I gave it some style… some panache.”

 “No, just looks silly,” Johnny told him bluntly.

 Scott laughed lightly. Relief washed over him and left him feeling lightheaded. He pulled the hat off and shoved it onto his brother’s head. “Damn, it’s good to see you, Johnny.”

 “Gotta tell you, Boston,” Johnny answered with a grin. “I feel exactly the same. But, can you do me one last favor?”

 “Sure,” Scott answered quickly, curious. “What is it?”

 “Get me away from that edge,” Johnny told him with a glance towards the drop, still only inches away. “I don’t like heights.”

 With a laugh, Scott scrambled to his feet, carefully allowing Johnny to fall back onto one elbow. As he stood up, he knocked a single tiny pebble and it rolled.

 It didn’t have to move very far, only those few inches. With a miniscule scrape across the ground, the pebble dropped over the edge of the bluff. Scott froze, watching until it was out of sight… falling through the air to the rocks waiting below.

 A shiver went through his body and he closed his eyes to steady himself.

 “Come on, Gil,” he said when he opened them at last. “Let’s get Johnny back away from here.”

 Scott put his hands under his brother’s armpits while Gil took his ankles and the two of them lifted Johnny and moved him several feet further onto solid ground.

 “Thanks, Gil,” he said as they lowered him carefully to the ground. He sat down beside Johnny. “Now, let’s have a look at you, Johnny.”

 Johnny made no attempt to get up. He had no strength left to try anyway. Scott unbuttoned the blood soaked shirt and peeled it away from the bandage, surveying the damage. The blood loss was appalling. 

“It’s bled some,” Johnny told him lightheartedly. Then he coughed, again and again. He was left panting and gasping for breath. Scott put his hand to Johnny’s forehead and schooled himself not to frown at the beginning of fever that he found there.

Johnny moved his head away from Scott’s hand and tried to sit up a little. It was too much for him and he fell back, slamming his fist into the ground in frustration. He ran his eyes over Scott’s face, then down to his chest and frowned.

“They told me someone put a hole in you, too,” he said weakly. “You okay? I mean, I’m glad you made it here… but should you be up?”

“Yes, well, I’m fine. Let’s worry about you right now.”

“Fine huh? You’re as white as a ghost!” Johnny argued.

“That’s from watching you roll off a cliff,” Scott told him with a smile. “Now shut up and let me take a look at you.”

“It ain’t as bad as it looks,” Johnny tried to tell him, but got a glare from Scott that silenced him on that score. Finally, Johnny lifted his hand and took hold of Scott’s forearm. “Just tell me you’re okay, Scott… been worried ‘bout you for days…”

Scott lifted Johnny’s hand from his arm and gripped it hard. “I’m fine. It happened a week ago and, unlike you, I was being looked after properly.”

Johnny nodded, apparently satisfied and a wisp of a smile crossed his lips. “Wasn’t so bad… I had angels to look after me…”

His voice trailed off as he began to lose consciousness. Scott wasn’t quite sure what he’d meant, but that didn’t seem important right now.

Gil was suddenly at Scott’s side again, holding out a canteen to him. “This might help,” he said quietly. He looked down at Johnny guiltily. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I wish I’d never gone along with this.”

“No,” Johnny answered, stopping to sip the water Scott was offering him. His breath was easier and he took another mouthful, relishing its soothing touch. “If you hadn’t been here, I’d be dead.”

Scott pulled his handkerchief out of his back pocket and wet it down thoroughly. He wiped the sweat and dust from Johnny’s face, then rested it on his brother’s forehead to cool it.

 “How is he?” Logan asked, appearing again.

“We have to get him out of here,” Scott told him worriedly. “He needs stitching up and some careful nursing.”

He stood up and glanced over towards Gene and his brother. Glen Turner was mounted, his hands tied to the pommel, his head hung low while his brother talked to him. No, argued with him, seemed more accurate.

“He’s under arrest?” Scott asked and the sheriff nodded.

“Yeah, and I’ll be charging his father too, though I don’t know how far that will get. He’s got lots of friends ‘round Fortune. Might be hard to pick a jury.”

“What about Gil?” Scott asked him.

Tom Logan sighed heavily. “I don’t know. He went along with it all this far.”

“No,” Johnny said weakly. “He was dragged into it. He stood up to be counted when it came down to it.”

“And he did help pull Johnny back up,” Scott added.

Logan nodded. “I’ll give it some thought,” he answered. “Meanwhile, we gotta get your brother here back to town. There’s a couple of ladies who’ll be real upset when they see him. All that hard work they put in, gone to waste.”

“I’d like to meet those ladies,” Scott told him.

Logan smiled and shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe, but I don’t think Glen will want to. They’ll tear the hide off of him. They’ll give Gil what for too.”

*

The ride back had been hard on Johnny. Despite his own weakened condition, Scott had insisted on riding double with his brother and holding him when he lost consciousness, before they were even off the hill.

Gene and Gil had suggested that taking Johnny back to their ranch would be closer, if they rode across country, but Scott would have none of it. He didn’t want Johnny anywhere near the Turners.

Instead, he’d taken him to that room he’d rented at the saloon all that time ago. It seemed like an age now. Well, he’d taken him most of the way. By the time they reached Fortune, Scott’s head hung over top of Johnny’s. He was barely conscious of them pulling Johnny from his arms, but he managed to make sure that his brother was safely in their arms before he lost consciousness and fell forward himself.

He was soon back at Johnny’s side and determined to nurse his brother back to health. Two equally determined ladies had arrived to help him fight for Johnny’s life again and to usher him from the room, every time exhaustion overtook him. Joe Hatcher seemed just as dogged in the efforts that he put into keeping Johnny alive.

Scott didn’t understand why everyone was surprised by that until Joe himself admitted to not doing as much as he could have the first time around. Scott seethed when he heard the admission, but his anger was tempered by the knowledge that Joe had tried to stand up to the Turners and he had to admit that Joe was treating Johnny with exceptional care now.

They all stayed with Scott as Johnny battled through fever and coughing fits to finally come round and get the chance to thank his angels.

Gil had been sent to Corona to wire Murdoch and, this time, he did send it.

Gil Turner hadn’t been charged. It had eventually been left to Johnny to make the decision and, once he had come to, he’d been steadfastly against it. The kid had made mistakes, he told them, urged on and pressured by his father and brother, but he’d made his own decisions in the end – the right ones - and Johnny couldn’t see anything to be gained from sending him to jail.

Glen Turner, however, had remained unrepentant. His father had been charged as well, and was now sitting in the jail with his son, awaiting trial.

Scott sat with Johnny day and night until he was out of danger. The ladies, Mara Rodriguez and Hetty Andrews, tried their best to chase him off to bed but, invariably, they lost out to his stubborn devotion to his brother.

But he did get to hear Mara’s story of Johnny’s visit to Milagro. He knew it was true, if only by the way it ended. He decided that it must have been what had landed Johnny in front of that firing squad, just before the Pinkertons found him.

He smiled at her description of the ‘angel’ that rescued him and wondered what Murdoch would think of that. But, most of all, it was good to know that there were those who thought of Johnny Madrid as more than just a gunhawk.

Four days after his ordeal, Johnny was aware enough to talk to his ‘angels’.

Mara sat on the side of the bed and Henrietta Andrews sat in the chair beside it. She had her hands clasped in her lap primly and Johnny thought she looked a little daunting. He couldn’t imagine why she had been ready to help him.

“I was hopin’ I’d get a chance to thank you two ladies,” he said hesitantly. He looked down at the blanket and fingered the edge nervously. “Without your help…”

“¡Qué va!” Mara replied before he could finish. “Nonsense, Señor Madrid… Señor Lancer.” She added a smile that lit her eyes to her rebuke.

“Mara is quite right, Mr. Lancer,” Hetty added. “Despite what you may think about Fortune, and you certainly have every reason to think it, we are not all fools and hysterics. Most of the people of this town are decent, hard working men and women. They got carried away doing what they thought was right… misguidedly, I’m afraid.”

“They were protectin’ Scott,” he said quietly. “I can’t fault them for that.”

Hetty harrumphed at that. “Well, that’s more than I can say. It got out of hand. There should never have been violence.”

“It’s not the first time,” Johnny told her without looking up. “But, I still wanta thank the both of you. I figure you went against a few of your friends to help me. I appreciate it.”

Mara took his hand and lifted it into hers. “Señor M… Lancer,” she began nervously.

Johnny looked up and smiled. “How about we make things easier an’ just make it ‘Johnny’?” he suggested.

Mara smiled in reply. “Si, much easier, but you do not remember me, do you?”

He sighed heavily. “The sheriff mentioned Milagro,” he told her quietly. “Now that I see you properly… yeah, I remember you. Your husband, I remember him better.”

“Si, Juan, he will come to see you when you are stronger. He wants so much to thank you.”

Johnny all but blushed. “De nada, Señora. I’m glad you made it outa there.”

“Now we have a son, Tomas,” she told him excitedly. “Neither of them would be with me if it were not for you. You do not have to thank me, Señor. You are always welcome at our casa. It is so little…”

Johnny shook his head emphatically. “I wish I coulda done more,” he said quietly. “It was all a waste, anyway. The problem didn’t go away…”

“No, Johnny, you are wrong! Don Alfredo… he died a few months later. His heart, it gave out! His son, Don Sebastian, is the patrôn now and he is a fair man. He treats the peons and the villagers well. My mamacita still lives there and life is much better now. But they also have pride in themselves. They stood up to Don Alfredo, even if they did not win. You gave them that, Johnny. You should be proud.”

*

While Johnny talked with the ladies, Scott had a visitor of his own. She took him by surprise, knocking on his door.

“Emily! What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here alone.”

“Gene’s downstairs waiting for me,” she explained. She sighed lightly. “Are you going to invite me in, or shall we talk in the hallway?”

Reluctantly, he opened the door and beckoned her in. Closing it behind her, he offered her a chair and walked over to the window. He looked out into the street and crossed his arms across his chest, his back to her.

“I’m not sure there’s much to talk about, Emily,” he finally said.

She lowered her head sadly. “I… I wanted to apologize, Scott.”

He made no reply. Her betrayal still stung.

“Scott?” she asked from behind him.

 “I don’t know what you expect me to say, Emily,” he said quietly. “I accept your apology, but…”

“But you can’t forgive me?” she asked. “I wish you could understand why… why I did this. They’re my brothers, Scott. I had to make a choice between my brothers and…”

“And my brother?” he asked, anger suddenly breaking out. “Did it matter that he was an innocent man? That he hadn’t done anything to warrant his execution?”

“Execution?” she exclaimed, shocked by his choice of words. “Oh, Scott, it wasn’t like that.”

He turned around to face her, his face flushed with rage. “Wasn’t it? I don’t know what else you call it when they attack him, accuse him of trying to murder them and then drag him up a mountain to push him off a cliff? Just what do YOU call that, Emily?”
 
She blanched visibly and lowered her head, twisting a handkerchief in her hands anxiously.

“Scott, my father and my brother are in jail because of it,” she whispered. “They’ll have to stand trial. It’s so humiliating for them both. Don’t you think…?”

“What? That that makes up for it? Walk across the hallway and see what MY brother looks like and then ask me that! He nearly died.”

Tears sprang to her eyes. “I didn’t think… it was all a mistake, Scott,” she cried. “No one was supposed to get hurt. We were all trying to protect you. We meant well.”

Scott had heard that all over town. The good citizens of Fortune had made a point of either avoiding him completely, or apologizing profusely, but nearly all over town, those apologies were accompanied by the excuse – ‘we thought we were looking out for you.’

The thought that his brother could have died because of him still brought a terrible feeling of guilt. His conscious mind told him that he’d had nothing to do with it but, deep down, he felt a profound sense of responsibility for it.

“And when Glen and your father decided that Johnny had to die, were you protecting me then?” he demanded.

“No, but wouldn’t you have done the same if it was your brother’s life that was at stake? Wouldn’t you kill for him?”

Scott stopped and looked at her. He shook his head in frustration. “I would kill for him. I have, in fact,” Scott told her. “But that was when he was in physical danger; someone pointing a gun at him. I wouldn’t cold-bloodedly plot to kill an innocent man, even for Johnny.” He stopped and glared at her. “He wouldn’t ask me to.”

She hung her head for a moment, twisting the handkerchief and sniffing back a tear.

“Scott, listen to me,” she pleaded, looking up at him valiantly. “Everything came out all right. Despite what might have happened. Johnny is going to be fine, and Gil is home and safe. Once Glen and Pa are finished with this trial, it will all be over. Pa won’t hold anything against you for having him charged once he’s home and thinks about it.”

He scowled at her. Did she really think that everything could be just forgiven and forgotten?

“You can’t think that Glen and your father will just walk away from that trial, Emily?” he asked, astounded. “They tried to kill Johnny.”

Her expression was one of patience. “Don’t be silly. No one around here will send Pa to prison,” she explained. “Or Glen, either. I don’t think you understand just who my father is.”

Scott shook his head and sighed heavily. “I don’t think you understand what he’s done. I don’t care who he is, he’s going to prison.”

Emily didn’t seem to take it in. She was used to the power and prestige of her family’s wealth and nothing was going to change that.

She stood up and walked over to him, her eyes seeking his. “Scott, I love you. Isn’t there some way that we can come to terms with this?”

His eyes met hers and he gazed into them for a moment, then he turned away. He understood, at last, that she didn’t feel any sense of remorse. She’d betrayed him… and she’d do it again if her best interests were concerned. “And, God help me, I was falling in love with you, Emily,” he whispered. “But, I don’t see that we have anything more to talk about. I think you should go.”

*

Two days later, Murdoch Lancer arrived in Fortune, complete with a buckboard equipped with blankets, pillows and mattress to take his sons home.

 After first seeing Scott and making sure that he was recovering and not forgetting his own injuries while he tended to Johnny, he spent some time with his younger son. Between them, he began to get a picture of what had happened and his anger was something to see.

 He literally stormed the sheriff’s office, with Scott hurrying after him to make sure he let off steam without actually doing something to land himself in the cell beside the Turners.

Tom Logan didn’t know what had hit town when he was faced with Murdoch Lancer’s sheer size and volume. He balked at letting the man see the Turners, but eventually backed down, taking Murdoch’s gun and locking it securely in his drawer.

 Scott watched his father finally quiet down as the sheriff unlocked the door to the cells. The last time he’d been here, Scott had been faced with the reality of Johnny lying there hurt and sick. Now, the image returned for a moment.

It was dashed when Vic Turner turned around from the barred window.

“Well, well… Murdoch Lancer,” he said ironically. “Come to gloat, Murdoch?”

“I’ve come to take my boys home… and to see to it that you both rot in hell,” Murdoch told him with dangerous calm.

Vic smiled. “Enjoy it while you can,” he said triumphantly. “No one will convict me or my son.”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Murdoch answered. “Right?”

Vic Turner only smiled.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Murdoch told him. “In fact, I convinced the court officials in Corona of the same thing on my way down here. They agreed that the charges are serious enough to warrant the trial being held at the county seat in Corona. How many people can you influence up there, Vic?”

Turner’s jaw dropped. His son, Glen, leapt to his feet and grabbed the bars of the cell door. 

“They can’t do that!” Glen shouted. “Can they Pa?”

Murdoch smiled with his victory. “They can and they will,” he said coldly. “And you can think yourselves lucky that it’s not me you have to answer to.”

He turned back to Scott. “Come on, Scott, let’s get out of here. I can smell fear.”

*

Scott sat beside Murdoch on the bench seat of the buckboard. Their horses were tied behind, and Johnny was in the back, leaning heavily on pillows that had been tucked behind him. He’d kicked up a fuss about traveling in the wagon, but the walk down the stairs from his room on the upper floor of the saloon soon showed him how right they were.

“You okay back there?” Scott asked, turning around and leaning back over his brother.

“Yeah, I’m just fine,” Johnny told him tolerantly. “Let’s get outa here.”

Scott turned back and made himself as comfortable on the hard wooden seat as he could. He’d thought about riding beside the wagon, but Murdoch had pointed out that he was still getting over his own injuries and it would be a hard ride.

“It’s a long way home, boys,” Murdoch pointed out with a smile. He picked up the reins and released the brake with his foot. He was about to flick the reins to start off when he noticed where Scott’s eyes had wandered.

The girl was dark haired and lovely, dressed in a fashionable lemon dress that was trimmed with white lace. She was on the arm of a young man who looked enough like her to be her brother.

Murdoch smiled and glanced at Scott. “Someone I should know about, son?” he asked cheerfully.

His son’s reaction surprised him and he wiped the smile off his face.

Scott turned back and looked straight in front of him, pointedly ignoring the girl. “No, Murdoch,” he said quietly but succinctly. “Let’s go home.”

 

~end~
February 2006

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