The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Terri

 

 

Changes

Chapter One

“Johnny!”

Johnny hesitated for a moment, and then continued down the hall and climbed the stairs.  He heard his father yelling for him again and decided to ignore him.  He really wasn't in the mood to talk to his father, and he knew that if he stopped and tried to talk to him now, it would just make matters worse.

He hated the arguing that had seemed to pervade the hacienda lately; he was tired and wanted at least one night of quiet. He continued on and stepped tiredly into his room and quietly shut the door.

He walked over to the window and leaned against the sill, looking out at the deceptively peaceful scene below.  It looked so calm and relaxing, but the whole ranch seemed to be in turmoil lately.  The hands knew that the owners weren't exactly in agreement, and the tension had even the most easy going of them testy and unsure of just what the future would hold.  Even the stock seemed to have picked up the mood of the men that worked them.  Johnny would swear that the horses were harder to break and the cattle were definitely ornerier than usual.

After watching the calming scene for a few moments longer, he sighed and undid the buckle of his gun belt and hung it on the bedpost.  Plopping down on the bed he scrunched up the pillow and with a sigh that bordered on a groan, lay back and tried to go to sleep.  After tossing and turning for several hours he finally gave up and sat in the chair by the bed, looking out over the ranch until almost dawn.

It had only been a year or so ago that he had finally allowed himself to start thinking about it as his ranch; for a long time the arguments with his rigid father had made him uncertain about his future here.  But finally the arguments had settled down to a tolerable level, and he became comfortable with the ranch and his family.  But events of the last several months had made him start to rethink his place at Lancer once again. He sighed.  He had made up his mind a long time ago that he would never leave.  Johnny Madrid had faded into the background, and Johnny Lancer's place was on this ranch.  No, he wouldn't leave, but he was at a loss as to just what he WOULD do.

The next morning he awoke to the customary quick knock that his brother always gave the door on his own way down to breakfast.  Getting up at dawn had been difficult for the gunfighter in the beginning, and Scott had taken to giving Johnny a wake up call to try to keep him out of trouble with the Old Man.  Johnny snorted.  He might not have spent a lot of time arguing with Murdoch about the hour he got up, but he had sure made up for it by arguing with him about just about everything else.

Johnny dragged his body out of bed and sleepily got dressed.  He looked in the mirror and rubbed his whiskers, then decided that the cows really didn't care anyway.  He tucked in his shirt and ran his hand through his hair in a vain attempt to tame the unruly mop.  He finally gave up and yanked open the door, steeling himself for the arguments that he knew were waiting for him down below.

Scott looked up as Johnny slid into the chair across from him, and he took in his brother's disheveled appearance.  Scott snuck a glance at his father to see if he had noticed, but so far Murdoch hadn't even looked up.  A second later he did, and Scott caught the scowl that graced his father's features as he studied his younger son's appearance.

In an attempt to head off the explosion, Scott turned toward his father,  “So have you given any more thought about the idea I had?”

Murdoch looked up, confused for a moment or two, and then answered his son.  “I haven't had time.  We can discuss it later.”

Scott felt his temper start to rise.  “It's a good idea, and if we're going to try it, we should do it now!”

Murdoch slammed down his fist on the table.  “I told you, we'd discuss it later.  NOW is not the time!”

“It's NEVER the time! When are you going to start at least listening to Johnny and I about matters concerning this ranch?”

“I DO listen to you, but I've had a lot more experience than both of you combined, and I'LL decide IF and WHEN we're going to try something new!”

“So in the meantime, we'll just sit around and watch this ranch stagnate as all of the smart ranchers are stepping into the future.  Don't you understand, change is NECCESARY to just stay even.”

“I've been running this ranch since before you were born!  I built it up from NOTHING with my own two hands!  How DARE you tell me how to run it!  And in case you don't remember, I'm the one who calls the tune around here, and THAT'S FINAL!”  Murdoch threw his napkin down on the table and stalked out of the room.

Scott looked at his brother, who hadn't said a word.  In fact, he hadn't even looked up.  Scott watched Johnny with irritation.  “Don't you have anything to say?”

Johnny put his fork down beside his empty plate.  “No, Scott, I don't.  I fight with the Old Man enough.  I don't need ta go lookin' for fights, besides it was the first meal I made it through in quite a while.”  He gave Scott a crooked smile. “Thanks.”

Scott looked ruefully down at his own unfinished meal.  “You're welcome, I guess.  But tonight, YOU get to fight with him so I can eat dinner.”  He pushed the plate away and grabbed his hat.  “Come on, brother, let's get to work.  We've got to make sure the Old Man's ranch makes money SOMEHOW.” 




Chapter Two

Scott rode his horse up onto the ridge and looked down into the small valley where his brother was working.  Even though he was several miles from the nearest building and in a part of the ranch that was deserted this time of the year, he still glanced around to make sure no one was watching.  When he didn't see anyone, he reined his horse down the incline.  Johnny saw the trail of dust and looked up in alarm, and then relaxed as he recognized his brother.  He ducked under the rail and walked toward him.

“Hey, Scott.”

Scott rode up to the corral and dismounted, tying Charlie to the new fence.  “How's it going?”

Johnny looked over the stock in the corral then took off his hat and swiped his face with it.  “Fine,   I guess.  A little slower than I had hoped.”

Scott nodded in commiseration.  “If you could work at breaking them full time it would be a lot quicker,” he agreed.

“Breaking horses full time?  That'll be the day.  Murdoch can't see past his precious cows.  He's blind ta everything else.”

Scott nodded.  “I know.  That dam and windmill system I have worked out would be a godsend to this ranch during the dry season, and all he can think about is the initial cost.”  Scott started pacing.  “That man has absolutely NO foresight, and his stubborn refusal to modernize and diversify is going to be the downfall of this ranch,” he raged.  “He needs to wake up and start keeping up with the times, or we'll lose everything.  WE'LL lose everything.”  He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

Johnny smiled at his brother.  “Quit getting' yourself worked up, brother; you're startin' ta sound like Murdoch.” 

“Sorry.”

Johnny smiled.  “As long as ya don't start actin' like him you'll be OK.  But the first sign you're turning into the Old Man, I'm gonna shoot ya.”

Scott glared at his brother for a moment, and then finally smiled back.  “See what he does to me?”  He shook his head.  “How can one man be so blind?”

Johnny shook his head slowly.  “I think he's scared.”

Scott calmed down and looked at his brother thoughtfully. “Scared?  Of what?”

Johnny shrugged.  “I don't know for sure.  Of change maybe. Of takin' the chance of things goin' wrong and losin' everything.  He figures he's not only survived all these years, but he's built up a mighty big empire.  A spread he has every right ta be proud of, and I think he's afraid of messin' with success.”

Scott looked at his brother in amazement.  “Brother, I think you might just be right.  Just when did you get so smart?”

Johnny punched him in the arm.  “”I've ALWAYS been smart.  But if I was any smarter I could think of some way ta let us try out ideas.  Besides, I've gotta give you a chance ta defend your reputation, so think of somethin' or I'm gonna have ta stop tellin' the boys in the saloon how smart YOU are.”

“Well, I can't have that, can I?  I guess I'll just have to think of something.” He grinned at his brother.  “We'll convince him to try our ideas somehow instead of sneaking around behind his back.”

“Maybe we could tie him up and not turn him loose until he agreed.”  Johnny suggested, only half kidding.

Scott shook his head, wondering briefly if Johnny would really go through with that idea if he said he agreed.  “We have to get his attention somehow, force him to see that we're right.”

“Well if ya come up with somethin' be sure and let me in on it.”

“Don't worry, brother, you'll be the first to know.”  He looked at the pen full of Palominos.  “You should make a tidy profit on that bunch.”

“I hope so.” Johnny cocked his head and looked at his brother.  “What about that irrigation system? Are ya gonna try it out?”

Scott shook his head.  “I don't know, Johnny.  Breaking horses on the sly is one thing.  To build that system I'd need supplies and men.  I don't think I could get it done without Murdoch finding out.”

“You could try.  And besides, you told me you wouldn't have to put in the dam yet.  You could start with a few windmills and some irrigation ditches, and that wouldn't be near as much work.”

Scott looked at his brother thoughtfully.  “I guess. But I'd still have to get some of the men to help me.  There's no way I could do it myself.”

“So pull some of the men of the fence line and buy some supplies next time you're in town.”

“Murdoch would have a fit if he found out.”

Johnny shrugged.  “So what?  Ta tell you the truth, I ain't that worried anymore about what the Old Man thinks.  Not when it comes ta keepin' this ranch afloat.  If we think that somethin' will help the ranch, then I figure it's our duty ta carry through with it. If the Old Man was thinkin' straight, he'd agree with us.  You know he'd have our hides if we knew somethin' would hurt Lancer and we stood by and let it happen.  Well I figure this falls under the same category.  And besides, what's he gonna do?  Fire us?”

Scott nodded.  “I guess.”  He stared at his brother.  “But I have the feeling that it won't be real pleasant here the next few months.”

Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief.  “Scott, it hasn't been real pleasant lately anyway.  I doubt if it can get any worse.”




Chapter Three

Murdoch sat at his desk, poring over the same books he had been looking at all morning.  But no matter how many times he looked at them, they kept telling him the same thing.  The ranch was in trouble.  The last several years had put a severe financial hardship on the ranch, and the beef prices had been unnaturally low. 

The cost of hiring the Pinkertons to find Johnny had helped deplete the ranch's ready cash, as had the thousand dollars ‘listening money' he had given each of the boys.  But the main reason for the ranch's recent lack of cash flow had been Pardee.

The land pirate had rustled hundreds of head of beef, and stolen some of his best brood mares and stallions.  What he couldn't steal, he had destroyed.Hundreds of head of stock had been shot and left to rot, fences torn down and line shacks and fields burned.It had cost Murdoch a fortune just to keep the ranch operating after Pardee's defeat.  He hadn't told the boys just how serious things were, because at first he was afraid they'd pack up and leave if they knew just how bad off the ranch was. 

Later, he knew they wouldn't leave, and a part of him wanted to confess to everything.  He thought that together they would stand a good chance of coming up with a plan.  In the end, though, it was easier to continue the lie.  Luckily, the financial health of the ranch had steadily improved since the boys had been home, and they had money to keep up on the bills and buy necessary supplies.  There was even money for the occasional splurge, just to keep up appearances. His sons hadn't suspected a thing.

He laughed to himself when he realized the boys thought he was a hopeless skinflint, but he had to admit he had acted like one.  It was better for them to think he was a miser and to be able to gradually get Lancer back in the black than for them to find out he had been lying to them all this time.

With a sigh, he slammed the book shut and put his forehead down in his hands.  All he had needed was one more season, and the ranch would be well on its way toward making some big money. One more season and he would be the prosperous rancher that everyone assumed he was.But this damn drought had ruined everything.  If they didn't get rain soon, there was no way the land could support the number of cattle the ranch owned. 

He shook his head.  He COULDN'T sell now.  Most of the smaller ranches in the state had already given up and sold their stock to keep them from dying of thirst or starvation.  The ranchers had panicked and dumped the cattle at any price, causing the market to plummet.  If he sold now, he would get almost nothing for the cattle and it would mean the end of the ranch.  He would have no money to buy more stock, and no other means to make money.  He'd have to sell out; that is if he could even find a buyer in these hard times.

On the other hand, if he could somehow wait it out until next season, the cattle prices should skyrocket.  Most ranchers had sold all of their cattle, including their breeding stock.  By next year, cattle would be in short supply, and the large herds he had would sell for enough to get back on his feet and even put some money away.  Murdoch shook his head.  He had no choice; he HAD to wait it out.  The rain would come soon.He refused to accept the alternative.

He opened the books once more and stared at the contents, hoping it would tell him the way out of this mess.



That evening at dinner, the boys were quiet.  They didn't bring up the subject of the changes they wanted to make, and for that Murdoch was grateful.  He was tired of the constant arguing, and he was getting angry at their determination to change things.  Even if he'd had the money to complete the projects that they had been harping about, he wouldn't squander it on some untried ideas.  He would put it back into the cattle and build up the herds.  That's how he had made money in the past, and that was how he would make it in the future.  That is, if there WAS a future.

He looked over at Scott, who had spent the day checking the water supplies in the various pastures.  “How do the pastures look?”

Scott shrugged.  “How do you think?  The ponds are down almost another foot.  The only water source that doesn't seem to be in danger is the lake, but it's too high up to do us much good.  The cattle can't trek back and forth there every day, and there's not much grass around it.  The other pastures still have graze, at least so far, but the grasses are starting to die from lack of water.  It's just a matter of time before we start losing cattle, and in big numbers.”

Murdoch balled up his fist and stuck the table.  “It will rain; it HAS too!” 

“What if it doesn't?”  Scott asked.

Murdoch sighed.  “It will.  And if it doesn't, I'll think of something.  I REFUSE to lose this ranch.”

Scott looked at Johnny, who shrugged.  They were both tired and hot, and didn't feel like getting into an argument with their father about the ranch again tonight.  Scott got up from his chair and threw his napkin on the table.  “I think I'll turn in early.  I'm going into Spanish Wells tomorrow.”

“For what?” His father demanded.

Scott glanced at his brother.  “I have to pick up a few supplies.”

Murdoch looked at his son worriedly.  “All right, but don't buy anything that isn't absolutely necessary.  I don't know how long this drought will last and we might need every cent we have left.”

Scott nodded.  “I'll get away with as little as possible.”

Murdoch nodded and relaxed.  Maybe he was getting through to his sons after all.

Across the table, Johnny shot Scott a knowing grin.



Chapter Four  

Murdoch looked up at the sky and cursed silently.  Hotter than Hades, and not a cloud in sight.  He could almost feel the water being sapped from the earth, leaving it dry and barren.  He looked out over the pasture and cursed once more.  The little remaining vegetation was brown and dry and dead.  Not much for a steer to survive on, let alone get fat.

He had ridden out to the east pasture earlier, and the devastation there had prompted him to check the south pasture. Those two pastures were the only two that held cattle.He knew that the North and west pastures would be in worse shape; he didn't even bother going near them. They hadn't held any stock for several months, ever since the drought had started getting bad.

The North Pasture had graze, but there was no water anywhere near there for the cattle to drink, which rendered that pasture useless except in extremely wet seasons.  The west pasture was in pretty much the same shape.  Both pastures could only be used when there had been abundant rainfall to fill in the numerous shallow ponds, something that hadn't happened in quite some time.

Instead, the cattle were bunched in the South and east sections, where there was some remaining water and the grass was the best, but they were rapidly depleting the graze in both remaining fields.

Murdoch figured it would be less than two weeks before the grass ran out and the cattle began to starve to death.  He had to make a decision, and make it now.  If he waited and did nothing, the stock would die if the rains didn't come in a week or so.  On the other hand, if he bought feed, he would use up all of the ranch's working capital.  He would have to sell off some of the stock to even pay the hands.  And the cattle might die anyway.  If the rains held off for another month or so, the waterholes would go dry.

Either way, it was a gamble.  If he made the wrong choice, it would be the end of Lancer, but even with the right choice, he would need some luck to come out ahead.  He glanced back up at the sky in frustration, willing the clouds to come, but it was still a brilliant blue.  He stared at it for a few minutes, and then made his decision.  He would ride into Green River and use the little money he had left to order enough feed to keep the cattle alive for another week.  The feed would take a while to get here, but he had the feeling he would need it.  He shot another look at the sky, only this time, he prayed.



Johnny rode over to where Scott was working on the irrigation system in the north pasture.  Scott had gotten most of the ditches dug in the last couple of weeks, and was working on a windmill to help hurry the water along and increase the acreage that could be watered.  He had put the windmill in a low spot of the pasture that would hopefully form a natural pond without any more excavation.

Johnny pulled up next to the windmill and jumped off of Barranca.  “How's it coming?”

Scott wiped a dirty hand across his face.  “It's coming.  I was having some trouble with some of the parts, but I think I've got it pretty well fixed.  It should be up and running in a week or so.”

Johnny looked around at the irrigation ditches, which spread like a spider web across the barren pasture.  “I sure hope it works.”  He shook his head.  “I know that Bart uses a windmill to grind corn, but I never heard of anybody usin' one ta move water.”

Scott nodded.  “The Dutch use them that way all of the time. They use dikes and windmills to control the water.If they didn't, most of their land wouldn't be usable.”

“Well, this pasture sure isn't usable; it's too dry.  There's nothin for the stock to drink.  Even if you can manage ta get a good-sized pond in here it would help.  The irrigation ditches are just a bonus.”

“Well, with any luck, we'll have both.  That lake is full of water and just sitting up there doing us no good at all.  It's time we started using it.”

“Well, if we don't come up with somethin', we're gonna start losin' cattle real quick, because it sure ain't gonna rain for a while.  Worse yet, if you can't make it work, Murdoch will NEVER let us try anything new.  It's all up to you, brother.”

Scott grinned.  “Thanks.  Nothing like putting the pressure on.”

Johnny looked at his brother worriedly.  “It WILL work, won't it, Scott?”

“It'll work.”

Scott glanced at his brother.  “Speaking of pressure, how're you coming with those horses?”

Johnny grinned.  “Piece of cake.”

“They're all broke?”

Johnny smiled.  “They're broke and on their way to the Stockton auction.  I sent them up there with Dave from the Bar T.  He was takin' some horses up there and he said he'd take care of it for me.”

“How much do you think you'll get?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Depends on the market.  I'm hoping for at least twelve dollars a head for the hundred and ten head.”

Scott grinned.  “Not bad for two month's work.”

“Yeah, and if I coulda worked on ‘em full time, I could have gotten done in half a that.”

Scott sighed.  “Maybe next time.”

Johnny snorted.  “Yeah, right. If there is a next time and Murdoch doesn't shoot us both, which, by the way, is all up to you.”  He punched Scott in the arm.  “Come on brother, you've worked enough today; let's go have dinner.”

“When should we tell Murdoch?”

Johnny shrugged and pointed at the windmill.  “I don't know about you, but I'd feel a WHOLE lot better tellin' him about it AFTER I know this thing works and AFTER I have the money in my hand from those horses.”

Scott nodded.  “Sometimes you're not as dumb as you look.”

Johnny grabbed his brother in a headlock.  “And sometimes you're not as much as a dandy as you look.  Now come on, let's go eat.  I'm starvin'.”

“So am I.  I just hope Murdoch's in a good mood tonight, because I plan on eating dinner.”

“Well, we haven't been arguing with him, so what could he POSSIBLY be mad about?”

Scott nodded.  “I guess you're right; he has nothing to be upset about.  It looks like we'll have a peaceful supper for a change.”




Chapter Five

The first thing Scott and Johnny noticed as they walked into the Hacienda was the silence.  It had been silent for the last week or so, since Teresa had left for a trip to visit Audra Barkley.  She had left in a decidedly foul mood, and wasn't planning on coming back until the end of summer.

The supper table hadn't been peaceful in the days before she left, but this time it was Teresa who was trying Murdoch's patience and incurring his wrath.  There had been a huge fight between Teresa and their father about his promise to take her to Europe, but Murdoch hadn't given in, and Teresa had finally had to settle for the trip to Stockton.

The boys were a little unsettled by the argument, as Teresa usually didn't argue with their father, and Murdoch usually gave Teresa pretty much anything she wanted.  When Scott and Johnny had cautiously suggested that he HAD promised her the trip, Murdoch had almost gotten violent.  Something was bothering him, that's for sure, and the boys figured it was the drought.  It was hitting everybody hard.

Johnny led the way into the Great Room and looked around cautiously until he finally spied his father sitting at his customary place at the massive desk.  Johnny relaxed and looked at Scott, who shrugged his shoulders. 

“Murdoch?”

When their father didn't answer, they boys walked over to the desk. Murdoch was sitting motionless, gazing out over his land, and didn't turn around.

“Murdoch?  Is everything OK?”

“No, it's not OK.”

Both Scott and Johnny approached the desk.  “What's wrong?”

“Do you know what I did today, BOYS?”  Murdoch asked in a flat voice.

Johnny and Scott glanced at each other in confusion at their father's odd behavior.  Finally Johnny answered.  “No, what?”

“I went into Green River to order feed for the cattle.  I figured it was the only thing that MIGHT save this ranch.  If it doesn't rain, the cattle will start dying of starvation within two weeks.  We're gong to have to supplement the graze if they're going to have any hope of surviving.”

He whirled the chair around and stared at his two sons as his voice rose appreciably.  “Do you know what I found out when I got there?”

The boys shook their heads as Murdoch continued.  “I found out that SOMEONE from this ranch had written a substantial check to the lumber mill for a lot of supplies that I not only didn't order but knew NOTHING about.”

Scott glanced at their father.  “That was me.”  His chin came up.  “I purchased supplies to build a windmill and an irrigation system for the ...”

Murdoch bolted to his feet.  “NO!  What you DID was destroy this ranch's last hope of surviving this drought!  You bought supplies after I expressly forbid it, and you took the last of the money out of the bank to do it.”

“The last of the money?”  Johnny asked in confusion.

“YES!  THE LAST OF THE MONEY!  Congratulations, Lancer is now broke!”

Scott glanced at his brother, more confused than he was.  “I don't understand.  We should have plenty of money in the savings account.”

“WHAT savings account?” 

“The savings account that you kept telling us you were putting money into!”  Scott replied sarcastically.

Murdoch suddenly dropped his head and sat back down in his chair.  He put his head in his hands and sat for a few moments, while Johnny and Scott exchanged glances.  Finally, he raised his head, and with a soft voice, started to explain.

“There is no money in the savings account.  I used the money to pay off some old bills and to make expenses in the months when we didn't show a profit.  When you came home Lancer was basically broke.  I've been struggling ever since to get it back on track.  The ranch was almost in the black; it WOULD have been if it hadn't have been for this damn drought.”

Johnny stared at his father.  “Are you tellin' me that all this time, for over two years, you've been lyin' to us?  That you didn't think enough of us to tell us what was going on?”

Murdoch shook his head in resignation.  “That's not the reason.  After you came home, things started going better.  I thought I could get us back on our feet without worrying you.”

Scott snorted.  “No, Sir, I don't think you trusted us.”

Murdoch's head shot up.  “That's not true!”

“Yes it is,” Johnny said softly.  “If you trusted us you would have told us what was going on.”  Johnny shook his head in disbelief.  “All those arguments when you were mad at me for not tellin' you things about my past; things that you have no business knowin', and YOU were keepin' secrets from us?  Important secrets that we had EVERY RIGHT to know!” 

“Johnny's right, as part owners of this ranch, we have a moral AND LEGAL right to know about the finances.  If this were a corporation, you could go to jail for what you did,” Scott said angrily.

Murdoch's face hardened.  “Are you threatening me?”

Scott closed his eyes.  “Of course not.  But what you did is inexcusable.”

Murdoch once more shot to his feet.  “And what YOU did was inexcusable!  If it weren't for your frivolous spending which I EXPRESSLY forbade, we wouldn't be in this mess right now!”

“FRIVOLOUS?”  Scott shouted.  “I was TRYING to save this ranch!”

“Maybe you did,” Johnny said quietly.

Both Murdoch and Scott whirled toward him as Johnny continued.  “You've almost got that windmill workin'.  If we can get water to the north pasture, it's big enough to hold all of the cattle for at least a month or two before the graze runs out. That would give us time to get water to at least one more pasture, and the cattle could last until next year, even if it didn't rain for a while.”

Scott looked at his father, who shook his head.  “You're forgetting something.  We don't have any money to buy more equipment or supplies, and we will STILL have to supplement the food until the pasture starts to green up again.  We could sell off some of our stock, but that takes time, and we just don't have any time left.  If we were to do that, we would have to start NOW!  It's too late.”

Johnny smiled and reached into his shirt pocket.  “Dave came by when Scott and I were on our way home and gave me the money for those horses I broke.I got eighteen dollars a head for ‘em.  That's almost two thousand dollars, more than enough for the building supplies AND the feed.”

“What horses?”  Murdoch asked.

“The horses YOU expressly forbade me from breaking.” 




Chapter Six

Murdoch stared first at Johnny and then turned his attention back to Scott.  “You said the irrigation system should be done in a couple of days.”  At Scott's nod, Murdoch continued.  “And what if it doesn't work?”

Scott shook his head vigorously.  “It WILL work.”

“You don't know that for sure.”

“I do.”  Johnny shot as his brother looked at him gratefully.

Murdoch shook his head at his elder son.  “If we're going to move the cattle, we have to do it NOW!  We can't wait, or they'll be too weak to make the trek.  If we start to move them, there's no turning back, and if we move those cattle to the North pasture and your contraption doesn't work, they'll be too weak to move back.  They'll all die.”

“Scott said it'll work, and I believe him,” Johnny challenged.  “Besides, even if we supplement their feed, if we leave ‘em where they are, they'll be dead in a couple of weeks anyway.  Those water holes are drying up fast.”

Murdoch shook his head.  “It could rain.”

“No!  It couldn't'!  Take a look outside!”Johnny exploded.  “I'm not going to sit around and wait for the cattle to die when I could be doin' somethin' about it!  I'm gonna take MY third of that herd and drive ‘em over to the north pasture.  Now do ya want me ta take YOUR cattle too?”

Murdoch looked at his son furiously.  “It's MY decision, Johnny!  Not yours and not Scott's.  MINE!  And if I decide those cattle are going to stay put, then that's what will happen.”

Johnny met his father's gaze.  “Wanna bet?” He asked softly.

Scott knew that both his father and brother were on the verge of saying things that could never be taken back.  He stepped between the two before the argument could escalate any further and destroy the family.  “Sir, Johnny and I feel strongly about this, and we are going to move our two thirds of the herd to the north pasture, with or without your permission.  Now, do you want us to move all of the cattle or not?”

Murdoch stood and stared back and forth between the boys but finally gave in.  “All right, do what you want, but if this doesn't work…..”

“If this doesn't work, nothin' would have.”  Johnny spat before turning on his heel and stalking out.



Murdoch sat in his chair, looking out at his beloved ranch.  The rain was creating a quagmire in the yard, and he was delighted.  It had been over a year since the last rain had fallen, and the ground had taken quite a bit of moisture before giving up and turning into mud.

In two months time, they would be able to round up the cattle and drive them to market.  Lancer was virtually the only large ranch in the whole valley that had managed to keep their stock and have healthy steers to sell.  The drought had been widespread; in the whole state there were only a handful of ranches that had survived.

Murdoch dropped his head.  The only reason Lancer had come out intact was because of his sons.  If they had listened to him and not flaunted his authority, they would have lost everything.He had been so angry when he found out they had disobeyed him that he had come close to physical violence, and he was in no mood to try any of their plans.

In the end, however, it really hadn't mattered what he thought.  He had been overruled.  He ground his teeth as he remembered Johnny's softly spoken warning, and Murdoch had every reason to believe it wasn't an idle threat.  First Johnny, and then Scott had stated their intentions of moving the herd, and at last Murdoch had acquiesced.  He knew that if he didn't, he would lose his sons forever, and that scared him more than the thought of losing the ranch.

He had given in, but he still hadn't agreed.He had expected catastrophe, but instead he had seen a miracle.  They had lost a few weakened head in the move, but the windmill and irrigation system had worked perfectly, turning the barren and useless North pasture into an oasis.  They hadn't even needed to supplement the graze, because after the water had arrived, the grass had sprung up like magic.

By the time the graze started getting scarce in the north area, Scott had the west pasture in shape to hold the steers.They had moved the cattle once more, and they had remained there ever since.  There was still graze available, and Murdoch realized that with this system, Lancer could easily support twice the head of stock that it had been running.They would make a fortune.

He shook his head.  How could he have been so wrong?  His instincts had guided him well before, but he certainly had made the wrong call on this one, and it had come close to ruining them all.  The shock of finding out that he had been wrong had shaken him to his core.  He had been so sure that he was doing the right thing, and he had been mistaken all along.  If they had lost the ranch, there was only one person he could have blamed, himself.

As much as it had hurt and infuriated him at the time, the boys had been right to challenge him, and he was proud of them.  Since that day in the Great Room when Johnny had handed over the money, the balance of power had shifted.  He no longer called the tune.  He realized the boys were what this ranch needed to bring it back to its former glory, and he was ashamed that it had taken so long for him to realize that truth.

Now the only question was, where was his place in all of this?  He knew that even though they had a lot to learn and would have to make their own mistakes, his sons were more than capable of running the ranch without him, and they had his unconditional trust.  He thought that maybe it was time to let them see what they could do without him.  As he turned the last several months over in his mind, he decided that now would be a perfect time to make good on his promise to Teresa and take her to Europe.  And he just might not be in a hurry to get back; he had always wanted to travel, but the responsibilities at Lancer had prevented it.Now he no longer had that excuse.  As he thought about it, he knew he should be happy that he would finally get the chance to relax, but for some reason he wasn't.




Chapter Seven

Scott sat in the Great Room, going over the books.  Since Murdoch had left, it seemed as if that's all he did anymore.  He still couldn't quite figure out why their father had decided to leave.  Johnny had laughed and said that Murdoch was mad because their plans had worked out better than his, and that Murdoch was running away from home.  Scott thought that observation just might have some truth in it.He did know that both he and Johnny missed Murdoch, and even though his brother hid it behind jokes and smart comments, Johnny was upset about his father leaving.  In spite of the fights his brother and father had had regularly, Scott knew how much it meant to Johnny to have his father back in his life. 

Scott shook his head and tried to concentrate.  They had managed to sell all of their surplus cattle for a huge profit, and Lancer was no longer on the verge of bankruptcy.  However, they had a long way to go, and money would still have to be watched carefully.  There were several projects Scott was eager to try, but they couldn't afford to make a mistake or commit to more than one at a time.The problem was deciding just which changes would be the most beneficial and cost effective.

Scott had decided that harvesting some of the lumber on the ranch might be a good way to supplement Lancer's income.  The trees, like the water, were just sitting there, and lumber was in great demand in the nearby cities.  Most of the building supplies had to be imported from quite a ways away, and the shipping costs drove the price of wood sky high.  Because they were closer to the market, Lancer could beat the competition's prices and still make a huge profit.  And there was no danger of depleting the resource.  Lancer had thousands of acres of heavily wooded tracts just waiting to be harvested. 

In the hills above the ranch were large forests of redwood, one of the most sought after timbers for building.  They would just have to buy the equipment needed to fell the trees and make some sort of waterway from the lake to get the trees to the river below.  From there they could be floated to one of the nearby mills, or better yet, maybe Lancer should invest in their own mill.  That way there would be even more profit.  Scott sighed.  He'd have to do some research and find out which way would be the most cost effective.  

Scott shut the books and looked longingly out the window.  He wondered if Murdoch had felt the same way he did.  He no longer had time to work outdoors, instead he spent all of his time trying to figure out how to keep the ranch running and making a profit.  He envied Johnny, who was doing much the same work as he had done before their father abdicated.  He hoped Johnny appreciated the sacrifice he was making.



Johnny wiped his brow with his hat and looked down the hill at the herd of cattle being moved into a new pasture.  It seemed like since Murdoch had run away that's all he did anymore; oversee just about every aspect of running the ranch. Johnny had never particularly liked cows, and the time he'd spent at Lancer had reinforced that.  They had to be just about the dumbest animals around.  They could find more ways to get hurt and in trouble than any other creature alive. 

Johnny knew they had to keep raising the cattle, but he thought they just might be able to diversify.  He had made pretty good money on the wild horses he'd managed to catch and break, but the darn cows took up most of his time.  He no longer had the freedom to take a day off here and there in order to find and catch the horses.  What they needed to do was to invest in some good breeding stock and use at least one of the pastures to run some top quality horses in. Gradually they could cut back on the cattle and focus primarily on raising and selling good working horses.

It would take quite a bit of money to get started, but he knew they could make money if they did it right, and Johnny knew that was where his heart lay.  He remembered a few ranches down in Mexico that still had some horses of Andalusian blood.  He could go down and get some stock, and maybe some top quality Palominos and Quarter horses.  He would soon have working horses that would be in demand everywhere.

A wrangler shouting at him brought his mind back to the present.  Johnny looked down and saw the herd starting to mill around the small river they were supposed to be crossing.  Something had evidently startled the cattle, and they were attempting to turn away from the water and getting more agitated with each second.Johnny urged Barranca down the hill toward the herd, cursing the stupid cattle the whole way.If he didn't stop them now, they would spook and be spread out over the whole darn ranch within a few minutes, and the whole day would be wasted.

He charged into the cattle from behind. Swatting their rumps with his hat and yelling at the other wranglers to do the same.  Finally the herd was started across the water, and Johnny turned toward the nearest cowboy, who had been in charge of the move.

“What the hell's the matter with you?  Didn't you see them start to turn?  Why didn't you stop them?”

The cowboy hung his head.  “I guess I was thinkin' of somethin' else for a minute.  By the time I saw what was happenin' they was already turnin'.”

“The only thing you're getting' paid to think about is your job.  And if ya want to keep it, you'd better start concentrating and quit makin' stupid mistakes, is that clear?”

The cowboy dropped his head.  “Yes, sir.”

Johnny turned and rode off, but not before he heard one of the cowboy's friends commiserate with him.  “I thought Johnny was always on our side, but he's startin' ta yell just like his old man.  Guess power will do that ta somebody.”

Johnny spurred Barranca on without looking back.  He hated being the one who always had to be the bad guy with the men, but somebody had to keep them in line. He sure hoped Scott appreciated his sacrifice.




Chapter Eight

Johnny walked into the Great Room, slapping his hat on his leg to get some of the dust off right before he entered.  When Teresa had been here he had been watched like a hawk and sent back out to wash up if there was even a hair out of place, but he had gotten a little sloppy lately.  He didn't like being dirty, but sometimes he was too hungry to take time to wash up completely before supper, and tonight was one of those nights.

He looked over at the desk when he came in, and realized that it still gave him a jolt to see Scott sitting there instead of Murdoch.  Sometimes, the way his brother sat made him almost look like the Old Man.  Johnny shook his head and wondered if his father had any intention of coming back to the ranch.  He had been uncharacteristically vague when he and Teresa had left, and the few letters they had gotten since had been full of chatty stories from Teresa but precious little personal news from Murdoch.

According to Teresa, they had visited England and Ireland, and were working their way toward Scotland. Johnny knew that if his father were interested in visiting any of those places, it would be where he had been born and grew up.  Johnny knew that Murdoch had relatives in Scotland; a brother and a sister, and he figured his father would be delighted to visit them.  However he couldn't quite visualize Murdoch getting excited about the other places they had gone.

Johnny knew that he was at least partially to blame for his father's leaving.  He hadn't exactly been the easiest person to get along with, and after his and Scott's plans with the windmill and the horses had worked out so well, Johnny had been more than a little arrogant.  He had more or less stopped taking everything his father had said as gospel, and instead had questioned almost every decision.

He realized Scott had been almost as bad, insisting on double- checking the books and questioning Murdoch about every expense and outlay.  He didn't know exactly why they had done it, and looking back, he was ashamed at the way they had acted.  He thought that maybe part of him wanted to get back at the Old Man for all of the times Murdoch had questioned him and made him feel like his opinion wasn't important.  He never thought he would be that petty, but he realized that's just what he had done, and he thought that Scott might have had a similar reason.

One thing was for sure; it was a lot more peaceful at Lancer since Murdoch had left.  He and Scott got along well, and hardly ever argued.  The supper table was no longer a war zone, and he didn't feel the constant worry that somehow he had screwed up.  It was actually surprising to him just how many fewer mistakes he made because he wasn't trying so hard.  He was starting to get the hang of running the ranch, and the men were looking to him more and more to come up with solutions.  He never thought he'd admit it, but he actually sort of enjoyed trying to solve the problems.

Johnny walked over to the bar and poured himself a shot of tequila before plopping down on the couch.“How're the finances?”

Scott nodded his head distractedly.  “All right.  We still have to be careful, though.”  He looked up at his brother.  “I thought we might try to supplement the ranch's income by doing some logging.”

Johnny's eyes narrowed.  “Logging?”

“Yes.  We have a lot of Redwood trees up on the hill by the lake.  They're not doing us any good, and we can cut them down and make a tidy profit.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I don't know nothin' about logging, and I don't know anybody around here that does.”

Scott shrugged.  “Then we'll have to hire somebody.” 

Johnny looked worried.  “How're we gonna get the timber to the mill?”

Scott smiled.  “I have it all figured out.  We'll make a water chute to carry the logs down the hill to the river.  From there, we can get them to just about any of the towns around here.  But actually, I thought it might be better to build our own mill. Avoid the middleman.”

“Sounds expensive.”

“It will be at first, but we should make a hefty profit back in a fairly short time.”

Johnny nodded reluctantly.  “All right, I guess we can try it, at least.  By the way, I thought I might make a trip down to Mexico in a few weeks, after the round-up.”

Scott's head came up.  “What for?”

Johnny shrugged.  “I thought I'd go down and see about getting' some breeedin' stock down there.  I want to get goin' with the horses, and it's the only place I know where I might be able to get some pure Andalusian blood without breakin' us.”

Scott stared at his brother.  “Johnny, we don't have the money to buy any breeding stock right now.”

“We have the money to build your chute and timber mill,” Johnny challenged.

Scott nodded his head.  “Yes, and both of those investments will turn a profit in an extremely short period of time, which is what we need right now.  What about your horses?  How long before you can expect to even break even on them?”

“I'M LOOKIN' to the FUTURE!  We need somethin' beside those darn steers ta make a go at this!”

“THAT'S why I decided to go into logging.  It will supplement the income with very little work on our part.  Trees don't have to be fed or watched.”

Johnny got very still.  “YOU decided?”

“Yes, I decided.  It's the only logical choice right now.  Maybe next year we can get started in the horse business, when we have a little more working capital.”

Johnny snorted.  “Now where have I heard that before?”

Scott shook his head in frustration.  “Johnny, I'm just trying to keep this ranch afloat, and do what will make the most money right now.  Don't you understand that?”

“Yeah, I understand.  I understand that you're startin' ta turn into Murdoch.  Well let me tell you somethin'.  I may have had ta listen to the Old Man, but I DON'T have ta listen to you, and I'll do what I damn well like!”  He turned and strode out the door, slamming it hard enough to make the windows rattle.




Chapter Nine

Scott jumped up from his chair and went after his brother.  He found him standing by the corral, staring out at the horses.  Scott felt a twinge of guilt seeing him there; it was where his brother usually ended up after a fight with their father.  He slowed down as he approached, and thought about just how he was going to handle this.  He knew Johnny felt strongly about his ideas, but so did he, and they only had the money for one project.  He would just have to try to get Johnny to understand, but he had no intention of changing his mind just because Johnny might get his feelings hurt.  Scott knew that the lumber project was the smart thing to do, and hopefully he would be able to convince his brother of that fact without a war.  He shook his head as he wondered if his father ever had the same thoughts concerning his hot-tempered brother.

“Johnny.”

Johnny continued staring out over the corral but didn't respond.

“Johnny.”

With a sigh, Johnny turned toward his brother and looked him in the eye.  “What?”

Scott took a deep breath.  “I don't think you've given my idea a chance.  If you thought about it, I'm sure you would agree that it's the right thing to do.”

Johnny shrugged.  “Maybe.  But so is getting' a good herd of workin' horses.”

Scott shook his head in frustration.  “But we can't afford to do both.  And any profit that the horses might make will be a long way down the road.  For a good long while, there will only be expense.  Right now, Lancer needs to get ahead financially.  We need to have enough money put away to be able to ride out any storm.  THEN we can do some investing.”

“Uh huh.”  Johnny turned back toward the corral.

“Johnny, it's the ONLY thing that makes sense!”

Johnny whirled back toward his brother.  “Maybe in your mind, but not in mine.  We HAVE enough money right now to last awhile.  We don't have ta do anything different than what we've been doin'.  Cattle prices are still up, and we have plenty of beef ta sell come spring.  That loggin' project of yours is gonna take money too, and that's a one-time shot.” 

Scott shrugged.  “Not necessarily.”

Johnny's eyes narrowed.  “What do you mean?  We can't cut down that many trees without makin' Lancer look like a desert.”

“I don't plan on cutting down a lot.  But I've been reading some articles, and if only select trees are taken, the lumber can be harvested almost indefinitely on a piece of land the size of Lancer, without any ill effects.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I don't like the idea of cuttin' down those trees.  I've seen what loggers can do to a piece of land, and it ain't pretty.”

“Johnny, I told you, we'll only let them harvest certain trees.  Not enough to make a difference.  If it's done correctly, the landscape won't look any different, in fact, it can be good for the land.  It will get rid of some of the old and diseased trees and make room for more growth.”

“And what if it ain't done correctly?”

"It will be.  I have no intention of hiring anyone without references.”

Johnny nodded his head.  “So we're still buttin' heads.  I want ta buy those horses and you want to cut down the trees.”

Scott took a deep breath to try to hold in his temper.  He was definitely starting to sympathize with his father.  Johnny must be the most stubborn man he'd ever met.  “I THOUGHT I had proven to you that logging is the way to go,” Scott ground out.

“Nope.  I still think we need ta buy those horses.  Even if we don't make a profit on them for a while, the ranch will still benefit.  The hands will have decent mounts and won't have ta work near as hard ta work the cattle.  We'll even have fewer injuries.  A lot of the accidents that happen are because the horse messed up.  The grade horses we have now just can't do the job as well as the horses I plan on bringin' in.”

“There STILL isn't an opportunity for profit.”

Johnny's voice rose. “If things get bad, we can sell off a few.  In the meantime, I can train and sell a couple as top cuttin' horses.  There's always a demand for those, and some of the ranches that KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOIN' are ALWAYS lookin for good new stock!”

“I think the horses we have are more than adequate!” Scott shot back.

Johnny's hands went to his hips.  “That's because you never have ta work!  All you do is sit in that big old house and push a pencil around all day!  If ya had ta get off your backside and chase cows once in a while, you'd be singin' a different tune!”

Scott took a step forward.  “And if you'd READ once in a while and keep up on current events, you'd KNOW that the logging is the right choice!”

“I don't have TIME ta read!  I'm too busy trying ta work cattle on the sorry excuses for horses that Lancer has.”

“And I'M too busy trying to get this ranch out of the mess it was in and come up with money for YOUR salary!”

Johnny took a step closer to his brother.  “Oh, and I guess the money you get for your weekly poker game doesn't count, right?  I mean that's somethin' that ya couldn't live without.”

“At least I bring money back most of the time. It's better than spending it at the saloon!  Why don't you save some of that money, and in a couple of months you could buy all the horses you want, and it wouldn't cost Lancer a thing!”

“Same goes for you!  If you're such a great gambler, then we shouldn't have ta worry about money.  You should be able ta win us all we need for both projects!”

“I don't need to.  I plan on using the money we have and get started on building a chute for the trees.”

“Wanna bet?”

Scott got in Johnny's face.  “Don't you try that with me!  You're not going to intimidate me.”

“I ain't tryin' ta intimidate ya.  I'm tellin' you we're not gonna do things your way just ‘cause you say so.”

“Talking to you is like talking to a wall.  I've already given suitable reasons to try the logging project.  If you chose not to listen, I can't help it.  But I'm NOT going to give up a good idea because you're too stubborn to listen!”

“And I ain't gonna give up MY IDEA ‘cause you don't have ta ride those sorry excuses for crow bait that we got!”

“Are you including Barranca in that assessment?”

Johnny's fist flew out before he could stop it, and a moment later, the fight was on.




Chapter Ten

Scott bent over the water trough and rinsed his face and hair.  As his hand moved over his face, he winced several times; he figured he had at least one black eye, but hopefully Johnny had one as well.  He snuck a peak at his brother, and was satisfied to see him limping off toward the house.  Scott splashed some more water on his face and then grabbed his shirt.  A quick glance at it convinced him that he might as well put it straight into the rag pile.  Even if Teresa were here, the shirt was a lost cause. 

He tossed the shirt toward the barn and after shaking the water from his hair he walked to the house.  He had hoped to get to the bar ahead of his brother, but Johnny was already pouring a glass when Scott came in.  Johnny threw back the shot, wincing slightly at the movement, and then turned and walked up the stairs.  Scott heard his brother's door slam shut, and with a sigh he walked over and took his turn at the liquor cabinet.

Scott took his glass over to the desk and sat down in the big overstuffed chair.  He sighed as he sat down and took a healthy swig of the expensive brandy.  He laid his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes, wondering how things had gotten so out of hand.



The next morning, Johnny noticed his brother was still sitting in his customary spot at the desk.  Scott had apparently fallen asleep there the night before, and his soft snores could be heard over the loud ticking of the clock.  Johnny debated on whether to wake him up, but decided they could wait until this evening to talk.  Johnny was already almost an hour late and there was a lot of work to do this morning.

He quickly saddled Barranca, his anger resurfacing as he remembered his brother's comment about his horse.  The palomino was one of the best horses in the valley; what they needed was more like him.  He was certainly better than that stubborn mule Scott rode.  Johnny snorted; like master like horse.

He caught up with the work crew out in the south pasture and joined them in fixing the fenceline.  He planned on moving the herd back into this pasture following the roundup.  It had been empty for long enough that the grass was coming in thick and lush, and there was always plenty of water in this section of land, even without Scott's windmills.  The fence had to be checked and some of the streams had to be cleared before they brought the cattle in, however, and Johnny was working frantically trying to make sure it was all done in time.

They had been working for almost three hours when they ran out of wire.  Johnny marched over to the wagon to make sure there was none hiding, and then turned on the crew foreman.  “Why isn't there enough wire?  Do you realize how much time we'll lose ‘cause you didn't load enough this morning?  

The foreman dropped his head, and Johnny continued.  “I made it perfectly plain that we had ta get this section done by today, and now we won't get it finished ‘till tomorrow.  I'm dockin' you a day's pay, and count yourself lucky you still got a job!” 

Johnny turned around and glared at the men standing around watching.  “Don't just stand there, get down in that gully and start cleanin' out that mess.  I want that gully cleaned out TODAY and I don't care if ya have ta finish in the dark.  Now get busy!  I'm gonna go check the other crew and make sure they're not makin as much of a mess of things as you are.”Johnny stalked over to Barranca and swung up on the horse's back.  Without a backward glance, he kicked the horse into a lope and headed for the opposite side of the pasture.

The foreman glared at his boss.  “I thought we was home free when the old man left.  MISTER Johnny Lancer is worse than his Old Man.  At least Murdoch used ta listen to us once in a while.”

“Yeah, Johnny don't listen ta nobody anymore.”

“Today was the worst.”

“He's been in a bad mood all day,” one of the workers volunteered.

“Something's sure eaten' him, that's for sure.”

“Well, whatever it is that he's got stuck in his craw, I wish he'd just spit it out, ‘cause I'm tired of getting' my tail chewed.”

Several of the cowboys nodded in agreement.  “We just might haft go someplace else if this keeps up.”

The foreman chuckled.  “Johnny just might have a hard time running' this ranch and getting' all of that important work done if there wasn't anyone ta boss around.”

“Well, if SOMETHIN' doesn't change pretty soon, I ain't gonna stay.  The Bar T is hiring'.”

With a sigh, the foreman turned around.  “Well, for now we still work for Lancer and we still got work ta do.  You heard him, we ain't quittin' until it's done, so let's get movin'.”



Johnny rode toward the Lancer arch, anxious to get out of the saddle.  He was pretty sore from the fight with Scott the day before, but he had no intention of letting his brother know about his discomfort.  He was more than a little upset with himself for throwing the first punch, but he had lost his temper when Scott made the crack about Barranca. 

He had stayed awake for most of the night, thinking about what his brother had said, and he had finally admitted to himself that Scott did have some good points.  It was just that he wanted those horses real bad.  He felt like he had waited forever, and when Murdoch had left he figured he's get a chance to make good on his dream.  When Scott had turned into Murdoch right in front of his eyes, Johnny had felt betrayed.  He was going to talk to Scott tonight and see if there wasn't some way of coming up with a compromise.



Scott finally got up from the desk and walked to the window that took in the view.  He knew now why his father had stood so often at the window looking out.  The scenery had a calming effect, and he was definitely in need of calming right now.He had gone over the previous day in his mind and was convinced he hadn't been exactly fair.  He knew how much Johnny wanted that stock, and Scott had to admit, it was a good idea.

Scott had ridden enough bad horses since he had arrived to know that Johnny wasn't exaggerating when he said they needed better horses desperately.  Personally, Scott would rather raise horses than cattle any day; he deeply loved and respected horses.  It was just that he thought the lumber operation was what they needed to do right now to ensure that Lancer stayed in the black.

Scott sighed.  He knew he was right, but he supposed Johnny felt he was right, too.  One thing was for sure; if they didn't mend their differences, Lancer WOULD fall apart and there would be nothing left when their father came back.  If nothing else, Scott's pride insisted that the ranch be in better shape upon Murdoch's return than when he had left, and in his mind, the only thing that would accomplish that in the length of time they had was the logging operation.

With a sigh, he sat down in his chair.  Maybe there was some way he and Johnny could come to a compromise.  It sure wouldn't hurt to try.  He would talk to Johnny as soon as he got back, and he would apologize for that crack about Barranca.  After all, Johnny hadn't made any snide remarks about Charlie.




Chapter Eleven

The next several weeks went by, and the boys had called a civilized truce.  They had finally come to an agreement about what would be done, and although neither one was totally happy with the results, they both agreed that it was a fair compromise.

Johnny had decided to stay until after round up before going ahead with his plan, but Scott had dug right into the logging project.  Johnny saw numerous strangers coming and going, and all of their focus was on the hills behind the hacienda. Johnny glanced up at the familiar tree-studded slopes, and felt a pang of unease.  It would be strange to see the hillside without the usual thick grove of trees. 

Scott had been assured that new trees would grow to replace the old ones, but Johnny figured it would take some time before it looked the same, if it ever did.  Scott had wanted to leave the trees immediately in back of the house alone, but unfortunately, that was where the best timber was, and it was also where it was the easiest to harvest. The experts he had hired promised him a large sum of money for the right to cut the timber, and reluctantly, he had given the ok to start the following week.

Scott had diverted some of the hands from their normal duties in order to work on the chute, but he had agreed to forsake the building of the mill so that Johnny could buy some horses.  In his mind, Johnny could picture the horses he was going to try to produce, a mix of the Andalusian and Quarter Horse, with an emphasis on endurance and handiness.  Johnny smiled to himself.  And a good Palomino color wouldn't hurt anything, either.  He planned on heading for Mexico right after the round-up, and wasn't even going to come back to the hacienda before leaving.

He couldn't wait to get those horses back to the ranch and start focusing on horses instead of those darn cows.  If it were up to him, he would get rid of the cattle completely, but he knew that would probably be a mistake.  As much as he hated them, they were a fairly reliable source of income, and as Scott had pointed out, the horses wouldn't be showing a profit for quite a while.

He raised his eyes back up to the hills and wondered how the timber project would work.  He knew that Murdoch had been approached in the past from people who were eager to log on Lancer land, and his father had always turned them down flat.  That worried him just a little bit, but he also knew that if they had listened to their father, they wouldn't even have a ranch right now.  Progress and change were inevitable.



Scott looked out of the Great Room window and watched as the men from the logging company set up their tents and buildings on the ridge in back of the house.  The chute was finally done, and the cutting would begin in the next week or so.  He and Johnny would be gone on the round up while the logging company felled the trees, so Scott had discussed the plan at length with the logging company until he was satisfied with the bargain.Only trees of a certain size were to be harvested, ensuring that new growth would be fairly rapid.

The only thing that Scott was unhappy with was the fact that the logging company would be getting almost forty cents on every dollar to cut the trees and manage them until they were delivered to the mill.  The mill would take another thirty cents, leaving Lancer with only a thirty percent profit.  He should never have let Johnny talk him into waiting to build the mill.  If he had hired men directly and built a mill, their expected profit margin would be much higher.He shook his head.  With the profit from this first bunch of trees, he would insist they expand Lancer's interest in the next logging project.

He shifted his gaze to where his brother was working by the corral.  Johnny had already started to get ready for the new additions by building extra stalls and paddocks.  The new stock was too important to risk having them run free; they would be kept in barns and watched carefully.  Scott felt a moment's unease about the money that had been spent on the new barns, but he knew that his brother would manage to make a profit on the horses, even though it might take a while.  There was no hurrying mother nature, and it would take some time before they had any appreciable stock to sell.  In the meantime, Johnny planned on breaking and selling the wild horses that abounded on the ranch.  Hopefully, that would pay for the additional expense of the buildings and feed for the horses.

There was no doubt about it; things were going to change.  He hoped that by the time Murdoch got back, his father would see a huge improvement in the ranch.  He still felt guilty about the way he and Johnny had treated Murdoch before he left.  They had more or less ignored his orders and done things the way they thought they should be handled.  Everything had worked out all right, and Scott thought that that fact had made his father decide to leave for a while.  They hadn't meant to make him feel unneeded, but he realized that was just what they had done.

He would make sure both he and Johnny were more careful of their father's feelings when he came back.  Murdoch's business sense was definitely needed, as well has his political power.  Murdoch was still a force to be reckoned with, and his expertise would always be needed.  Scott just hoped that their father would finally admit that changes needed to be made, and would no longer stand in the way of progress.



Murdoch looked out over the rolling hills of his homeland and felt a pang of homesickness for Lancer.  He hoped the boys were doing all right and couldn't help but worry about what was going on while he was gone.  He trusted his sons and knew they would never do anything to hurt the ranch, but he also knew they didn't have the experience and knowledge that they thought they did.  He had learned a lot of lessons the hard way, and he knew that his sons would have to do the same.  He just hoped the ranch would survive the process.




Chapter Twelve  

Johnny turned Barranca toward the stubborn steer and sat deep in his saddle as the powerful horse shot after the darting animal.  The steer tried to turn away from the herd, but the savvy cowpony headed him off.  After snaking in and out of the shrubbery for several minutes without being able to lose the stubborn cowpony, the animal finally gave up and headed back toward the herd, with the palomino still right on its tail.  Johnny gave the steer's rump a swat with his hat and sent him bawling back among its own kind.

Johnny took his hat and swiped his face with it, then shoved it securely back on his head.He got out his canteen and took a swallow, never taking his eyes off of the milling cattle.  When he felt Barranca's muscles bunch, he had a split second to tighten his knees before his horse took off after another steer that Johnny hadn't even seen start to make a move.  Johnny once more let his horse have his head, and the Palomino reached the cow a split second after it made its break.  The horse darted back and forth, cutting off the cow at every turn.  Finally the cow gave up and allowed itself to be guided back to the herd and Johnny once more relaxed.  He reached down and patted the golden neck.

“Good boy, Barranca.  You sure make this job a lot easier.”  Johnny smiled.  Pretty soon, they would have a lot of cowponies of Barranca's caliber.  He would make sure they had the top working stock around, and maybe then he could forget about fighting those stupid cows.  He looked over to where Scott was working and smiled.  Scott was hazing a steer back toward the herd, but Charlie just wasn't cow savvy like Barranca, and the two of them were making a lot more work for themselves than was necessary.  Charlie was just as stubborn as his owner however, and they tenaciously stuck with the cow until it was finally reunited with the herd.

Scott had picked Charlie out of a bunch that Murdoch had purchased in Stockton, and Johnny had to admit he was a fine looking animal.  The problem was, he had a little too much Thoroughbred blood in him.  He was the fastest horse on the ranch, but he didn't have much cow sense, and his long legs prevented him from turning as quickly as a cow pony needed to turn.  Still, the horse was game, and Scott's riding ability made up for a lot.  Johnny's musings were once more interrupted as Barranca shot out after a wayward steer, and he went back to work.



Three days later, Johnny dismounted by the chuck wagon for the last time and limped over to the remuda.  He turned his horse loose with the rest of the stock and then made his way slowly back to where the cook was serving up supper.  He sat down on an empty rock across from his brother.  Scott looked over at Johnny and grinned.  “Rough day?”

Johnny glared at Scott, who had somehow managed to stay clean.  He couldn't figure out how somebody who worked as hard as Scott did could still look clean and neat at the end of the day.  Johnny shifted, trying to make the rock more comfortable, but without success.  Scott grinned again, and Johnny contemplated shooting him.  Maybe then he wouldn't look so neat.

“That was a real pretty dive you took this afternoon, brother.”  Scott observed.  “Too bad there wasn't any water around.”

Johnny glared toward the big bay he had just turned loose.  “Damn horse doesn't know a rabbit from a steer.”  He looked back at his brother.  “I tell ya, Scott, it'll be pure heaven ta get some good horses ta work.  Why when I get that new stock, herdin' cattle won't even be work anymore.  It'll be pure joy.”

Scott snorted.  “Then I hope you won't mind if I leave all of the fun to you.  Right now, I would be happy if I never saw another cow for the rest of my life.”  He looked thoughtfully at the herd.“Except of course, as a steak on my dinner plate.”

Johnny grinned.  “Now I wouldn't want ta be accused of havin' all of the fun and depriving you from your share, so you'll just have ta keep comin along on these fun trips.”

Scott sighed.  “Thanks, brother.  You're all heart.”

Johnny stretched and then grimaced.  “I'm gonna be takin' off tomorrow mornin'.  You've got plenty of wranglers ta get the herd the last couple of miles.”

Scott nodded.  “All right.  When do you think you'll be back?”

Johnny shrugged.  “I don't know.  Probably a month or so.  If it's any longer, I'll let ya know.”

Scott looked at his brother.  “Why don't you let me know you're alive once in a while, too?

“OK.”

“Are you going to write a check for the stock?”

Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief.  “Scott, most of the ranchers down there haven't even heard of checks.  I got some money out of the bank before the round-up.”

Scott sat up straight.  “You mean to tell me you've been carting around that kind of money all this time?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Sure, why not?”

Scott shook his head.  “That's an awful lot of money to be carrying around.  I hope you don't get robbed before you get to buy those horses.”

Johnny snorted.  “I ain't stupid.  Nobody will know I have it.”

Scott looked at his brother dubiously.  “I guess.  Just BE CAREFUL.  I don't want to have to explain to Murdoch how I lost my little brother.”

Johnny grinned.  “That WOULD be pretty careless of you, wouldn't it?”

Scott reached over and swatted Johnny on the arm.  “I'm turning in.  I'll see you in the morning.”

Johnny nodded and looked once more toward the remuda, visualizing all the new stock that would soon be taking the place of the grade horses they were using now.  He couldn't wait.





Chapter Thirteen  

Johnny took off for Mexico the next morning.  He could hardly keep from singing he was so happy.  He was finally going to get the chance to do what he had always wanted to do and to prove that his ideas would work.  For as far back as he could remember he had enjoyed working with horses; he had an affinity with them that couldn't be denied.  When he had been on his own he had oftentimes dreamed of owning a horse ranch and spending his time training horses.

He had never thought it possible, and he had scolded himself on numerous occasions for being so unrealistic; he was a gunfighter, and nothing could change that fact.  Instead, he had taken an enormous amount of time training and taking care of each horse that he had owned while he was on the trail; it was a way to connect with them and realize as much of the dream as he thought he'd ever get to live.

When he had first come to Lancer and his father had told them that he had the finest palomino horses in the valley, he thought his heart would stop.  It was one of the main reasons he had stayed, that and Scott.  It wasn't until later he found that almost all of the horses were gone; some stolen by Pardee, some sold to help with expenses, and the rest turned loose in the hopes Pardee wouldn't kill them.

He had gone after a few of the herds since then, and while there were still some good horses among them, the blood had been pretty much diluted by the wild stock.  They needed to re- introduce some of the good blood back into the existing herds before it was too late, but that was just another subject that Murdoch wouldn't discuss.  Even though he now knew why, at the time it had angered and hurt him to have his father shoot down his idea out of hand.

There were a few good horses left, however, and Barranca was one of them.  He had seen him that first day, and knew that he had to have him.  He had spent a lot of time with the Palomino while he was recovering from Pardee's bullet, and while he was unable to ride he had been able to teach him a lot of things he'd never had the patience to teach his horses before.  When he was finally recovered enough to ride, Sam and Murdoch had made sure that he didn't do any hard work for quite a while.  It was the perfect opportunity to finish Barranca's schooling, something Johnny had never had time to do with any of the other horses he had owned.  He had taken his time and done it right, and was rewarded with a beautifully schooled mount.  He had never regretted choosing Barranca; the palomino was the best horse he'd ever ridden, and he'd had several fine horses in his life, he'd made sure of that. 

He remembered back to the horse he'd had right before he'd come to Lancer.  A lump formed in his throat as he recalled Diablo. Up until Barranca, he had been the best horse he had ever owned.  He had gotten him from an elderly man down in Hidalgo Del Parral for a job that he had done.

The peasant had been desperate and had promised Johnny everything except his firstborn if Johnny would just help him take care of a local bully that had been harassing the man and his family.  After asking around, Johnny had taken the job and disposed of the bully, but when it had come time to collect, the money he had been promised had disappeared.  Johnny had resigned himself to the fact he had been suckered into doing another case of charity work when the man had led the black out from a nearby barn.  Johnny's eyes had lit up as he stared at the animal and an instant connection had been made. 

The peasant explained that the black was unbroken, and as mean as the devil; hence the name.  It hadn't mattered to Johnny; he had fallen for the animal already.  After making sure the horse wasn't stolen, he had spent the next two weeks working and training the black, and had been amazed at the horse's capacity to learn.  The peasant had explained he had gotten the horse from a nearby rancho that bred fine horses.  The black had wounded several men and the owner was going to shoot it, but the peasant loved horses and had worked for two months for the owner of the rancho in order to be able to bring the black home.  He had never been successful in riding him, but the horse had gradually become tame enough to lead.

The rancher had told the peasant that the horse had been born in Spain, and had come from a famous riding school.  The horse had been imported as a colt, along with numerous others, but had turned mean and had never been trained.  It hadn't mattered to Johnny, he treated the colt like he had all of the others, and within a week it was following him around like a puppy.

He and Diablo had been together for two years before they had unwillingly parted company, and Johnny had sworn to himself he'd never get attached to another horse.  Johnny smiled wryly.  Of course, when he'd made that promise things hadn't looked too hopeful that he'd ever even SEE another horse; he had been in that hell- hole of a Mexican prison awaiting execution. 

He just hoped that whoever had gotten the black after Johnny had been captured was taking good care of him.  He had hoped it had been an officer, he knew that some of them treated their horses like kings. On the other hand, maybe that wouldn't have been a good idea.He snorted; if he knew Diablo, he'd dump anyone that tried to force him do something he didn't want to do.  Johnny just hoped that temper of his hadn't gotten his compadre shot.

With a sigh he turned his thoughts back to other things.  He planned on going down to Hidalgo and finding that ranch.  With any luck he could get some horses from the same bloodline as Diablo.  He grinned to himself, he wasn't sure what color would be produced if he bred the black or pure white horses from Spain to Palominos, but it would be interesting to find out.




Chapter Fourteen

Scott sat at the massive desk and stared out the window at the hills behind the estancia.  He had been mesmerized by the sight all morning and had been unable to tear himself away.  Maria had brought coffee and some food, but Scott's stomach felt like it might rebel at any time, and he had left the food untouched.

They had gotten back from the round- up late last night, and Scott had dragged himself into the house and fallen into bed without eating or even washing up.  As he had pulled his dusty boots off and uncharacteristically kicked them out of his way, he had grimaced to himself; he felt grimy and gritty and he doubted whether he could sleep in such a state.  Going to bed without washing up was a first for him, but he was just too darn tired to do anything else.  He had thought briefly about getting up and washing off so he could fall asleep, but while he was trying to make up his mind his exhaustion had won out and he had fallen over on the pillow

He had awakened late in the morning and after making a half-hearted attempt at making himself look presentable, he had gone downstairs for breakfast.  He was going to take a long hot relaxing bath as soon as he had eaten, and heaven help anyone that tried to stop him.  When he walked into the breakfast room, Cipriano had been sitting at the table talking quietly to Maria, and they had both sent him unfathomable looks.

He was still too tired to play games and had done his best to ignore the two.  At this point all he wanted to do was get through breakfast and start in on his bath, but even though he had the feeling he'd regret it, something in their expressions told him he'd better hear just what it was they had to say.He had finally given up and set his fork down.  He looked at the Segundo and sighed.  “Something on your mind?”

Cipriano had swallowed convulsively and he shot a look at Maria, who looked away.  “Have you looked outside, Senor?”  The Segundo asked in a trembling voice.

A ripple of unease swept through Scott as he shook his head.  “No.  Should I?”

Cipriano shook his head sadly.  “I don't think so, Senor.”

Scott had bolted up from the table and dashed out the back door, his eyes going automatically to the hillside behind the house.  He had stood in shock as he took in the sight, and had remained there for a long time, unable to move.  He had hardly felt Cipriano when the foreman had grabbed him by the arm and guided him inside, away from the horror.

The Segundo had led Scott to the couch, out of sight of the devastation outside, and poured Scott a large glass of brandy.  He had set the bottle down in front of him and forced the glass into Scott's hand.  Scott had swallowed automatically, never tasting the expensive liquor and then blindly poured himself some more.  He remembered turning to Cipriano and telling him to find the man in charge of the logging crew, and when the Segundo had left, Scott had taken the brandy and stumbled to Murdoch's desk, where he threw back the curtains, unable to take his eyes off of the slope. 

Since then Scott had been sitting at the desk, facing the window, looking at the devastated hillside.  It looked like some giant had tromped back and forth, destroying everything in his path.  The lush vegetation and towering trees were all gone, replaced by an angry wound that seemed to scream at him for justice.

The underbrush and bushes were trampled where the horses and men had gone back and forth, pulling and pushing the large redwoods toward the chute.  Scott could pick out the places on the slope where the trees had been cut into pieces. Bits of wood and debris lay scattered around, reminding Scott of the scene of a wolf kill, where only bones and a few pieces of scrap would be left.

Scott snorted; even a wolf kill was cleaner than this, and at least a wolf kill served some purpose.  This was murder, pure and simple.  The only word that came into his mind to describe it was obscene.  The gash left by the ravages of the lumberman was obscenely bare and naked when compared to the lush vegetation just a short ways away.

As he thought about the deal he had made, he realized that even if Cipriano was successful in bringing the lumberman back, the chances of ever collecting anything from the lumber company was slight.  The deal had been made verbally, without a written contract, as many of the deals were made out here.  When he had first come to Lancer, he had been aghast at Murdoch's acceptance of verbal contracts, but since then, he had fallen into the same habit.  They had shaken hands, and that was it.  But the worst part of it was, the lumberman hadn't broken even that verbal contract, at least not technically.  Scott had spent enough time around his grandfather to know that was what a judge would go by, that technicality.

After all, Scott hadn't specified just HOW the remaining trees would be left.  After studying the devastation all morning, Scott realized that the lumber company had done exactly what they said they would do.  They had only taken the trees of a certain size, and had left the rest.  As far as Scott could tell, the trees that were supposed to remain were still there, but they were tilted at crazy angles, and most were lying on their sides where falling larger trees had forced them to the ground.  There was no way they could survive.  The only thing that might survive was some of the scrubby pines and underbrush; junk plants.

It would take years for the slope to gain back even a fraction of its former beauty, if it ever did.  Scott felt sick.  He had never imagined anything like this happening.  What in the world would he tell Murdoch?  Scott snorted.  He might not have to worry about it; when Johnny came home, his brother just might shoot him.  Hell, he just might shoot himself.  He tipped back the last of the bottle and drained it.




Chapter Fifteen

Johnny sat on the hill and looked out over the valley.  He felt like he had ridden over every mile of Mexico, but the trip had been worth it.  Down below were some of the finest horses he'd ever seen.  He had ridden to Hidalgo first, only to find out the rancho that had raised the fine horses had gone broke, and the horses dispersed.  From there he had followed numerous leads to try to find the stock that had been sold, but he had been unsuccessful.  Finally an old stockman had told him about Senor Rodriguez who had a ranch down by San Lucas and was suppose to have a lot of stock with pure Andalusian blood.

The horseman had told Johnny that Senor Rodriguez had some of the finest horses with the purest blood this side of Spain, but that the ranch had fallen on hard times and Rodriguez was willing to sell some stock. 

Johnny had looked at the man skeptically.  “That's a long ride.I'm not gonna ride all that way for one or two head.”

“No senor, Rodriguez has many hundreds of head, more than you would ever want.  And his prices are always low.”

“How low?”

The man shrugged.  “I do not know for sure, but I was told that he asked no more than he could get for ordinary horses.”

“Have you seen the horses with your own eyes?”  Johnny asked skeptically.

The man nodded rapidly.  “Si, Senor.  I saw them almost a year ago.  They were running down in a valley, but I could see them well enough.  There were horses of different ages; mares with foals and also stallions. They all looked like they were in good shape.”

Johnny wanted to make sure the man knew what he was talking about.  “What colors?”

“Mostly gray, Senor, but some young blacks and a few that were already white.”

Johnny nodded to himself.  Most of the Spanish horses he had known were grays; horses that were born black and turned white with age.  He had only seen one horse of pure Spanish blood that had been a different color.  He had been told that the Spanish royalty very seldom let the different colors out of the country.

He had given his new friend a few dollars and left for San Lucas the next morning.  It had taken him nearly two weeks to get here, over some pretty rough terrain. He had finally arrived the night before, and had asked around about Senor Rodriguez and his horses.  No one seemed to know a lot about the man, except that he had a lot of horses for sale, and the horses were supposed to be top quality.

Johnny spent a restless night in town before starting out this morning.When he had asked the stable boy about the horses, he had been told the general location of the herd and Johnny had decided to come out and take a look at them before talking to the rancher.  He didn't want any tricks played on him; this was too important to him.It had taken him another five hours to ride to the ranch, but as he looked down into the valley he decided it was worth it. 

After watching the horses for almost an hour, he turned Barranca and headed toward the ranch house.  He rode into the yard and dismounted, and a young man immediately came out and introduced himself.  “I'm Senor Rodriguez.  Welcome to my Rancho.”

Johnny shook the man's hand. “Thanks, Mind if I bunk down here tonight?”

The man shook his head.  “Of course not.”  He looked at Johnny's rig.  “Are you just passing through?”

Johnny nodded.  “Actually, I'm looking for some horses to buy.  I heard there were some horses around here, but so far I haven't seen anything that impressed me.”

The man's eyes lit up at the mention of horses, and he forgot about the low-slung gun.  “Come inside and have supper.  Maybe I can help you out.”

They sat at a big oak dining table eating their meal, and Rodriguez casually started asking Johnny questions.  “What kind of horses are you looking for?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Good ones.”

“I have some horses.” The man said cautiously.

Johnny appeared unimpressed.  “Oh?”

The man nodded.  “Yes, I have some Andalusians of the purest Spanish blood.”

Johnny shrugged once more.  “Don't know whether I'd be interested in ‘em.  They sound expensive, and I don't have all that much to spend.  I was just lookin' ta get some broodmares so I could start raisin' some good workin' stock.”

The man sat back in his seat, trying to figure out if Johnny was just playing a game, or he was telling the truth.  Finally the man spoke.  “Well, I have some other horses available, too.  They might not cost you as much.”

Johnny sighed.  “Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I'll head back up north before I start lookin'.  Then if I wind up buyin' somethin' I won't have ta drive' em as far.  It's an awful long way to the border.”  He stood up and picked up his hat.  “Thanks for the meal.”

He was almost out of the door, and Johnny was afraid the man wouldn't fall for it, when Rodriguez called out.  “Wait a minute.  If you take enough to make it worth my while, maybe we can come to a deal over those Andalusians.  I am selling my Rancho and will be leaving soon.  I'd like to get rid of the stock before I go.”

Johnny hesitated and appeared to be thinking it over, but inside he was yelling for joy.  He was going to get those horses, but first he had to finish playing the game.  “I don't know.  I don't need too many.  How many would I have ta take?”

The man considered.  “At least a hundred head, mostly mares with a few stallions.”

Johnny stood silently for several moments.  A hundred head would cost him way more than he should spend.  He had only figured on getting around thirty head.  Finally he spoke.  “How much?”

The man thought for a few moments.  “Fifty dollars a head.”

Johnny turned to go.  Scott would shoot him for spending that much, even though it was a steal.  He had planned on having to pay at least a hundred dollars a head.“Too steep.”

“I'll throw in the foals that are on the mares for no charge, but you have to take them all.”

Johnny felt the sweat trickling down his back and hoped Rodriguez didn't see it.  That was the price for ordinary stock up north. He decided he couldn't pass that up, and to heck with Scott.  He turned once again toward Rodriguez.“Thirty-Five a head, with the foals, and you'll have ta round ‘em up for me and help me push ‘em to the border.”

Rodriguez shook his head.  “Forty dollars a head with foals, and I'll round them up and deliver them to the town.  You can find someone there to help you move them to the border.”

Johnny hesitated only an instant before he stuck his hand out.  “Deal.”




Chapter Sixteen

Johnny dug into his shirt and brought out a wad of bills. He counted out three thousand dollars and then bit his lip. “I don't suppose you'd take a check for the rest?”  He asked hopefully.

To Johnny's surprise, the man hesitated, but finally Rodriguez shook his head. “No, but there is a bank in San Lucas.  Maybe you can get some money wired to you.”

Johnny shook his head.  Scott would never go along with it; his brother didn't even know he'd taken as much money with him as he had.  When he found out, he'd probably have Johnny's head, but it was a small price to pay for getting those horses, and if Scott didn't have quite enough to buy all of the equipment he wanted, that was just the breaks.  Scott would probably thank him for it the next time they went on round-up.  Until then, though, his brother wasn't likely to send him any more money.Johnny thought desperately of a way to get the money without involving Scott.

“How about if I don't take all of them?”

Rodriguez shook his head.  “Nope, it's all or nothin'.”

“Wouldn't ya rather sell some of them than lose the whole sale?”

“Nope.”

Johnny sighed in frustration.“Maybe the bank in town would cash my check.” 

Rodriguez shrugged.  “Maybe.”

“Look, I'll be back in a few hours.  Don't sell those horses to anyone else.”

The man nodded.  “I'll give ya ‘till this evening.  If ya don't have the money then, I can't guarantee they'll be here.”

“Thanks so much for the help.”  Johnny said sarcastically as he turned and walked out the door.  He didn't know if the bank would cash his check or not, but he HAD to have those horses.  With a hundred and twenty head, he could sell half of them up north and get the horses he was keeping for free.  The foals were just a bonus.  Lancer would have good horses for years to come, and they would be known for quality horses instead of beef, a situation he wholeheartedly approved of.  IF he could get those horses.

An hour later he pulled Barranca up to the hitching post of the bank and hopped off.  He stepped up onto the sidewalk but hesitated in front of the door.  He took a deep breath, and dusted off of his pants, then reached up and tried to smooth down his hair.  Finally with a resigned sigh, he decided to go in.  He knew they'd laugh him out of the bank, but he had to try. For once in his life, he wished he were as familiar with financial matters as his brother.  Scott could probably march in here and get them to hand over the whole darn bank, while he would be lucky if he somehow didn't manage to get himself arrested.

“May I help you?”  A small man with a smaller moustache approached him cautiously, glancing nervously at the low- slung gun on Johnny's hip.

Johnny nodded just as nervously.  “I need ta get a check cashed.”

The clerk raised his eyebrows in surprise, and Johnny thought, relief.  “Is the check written on this bank?”

Johnny sighed. “No, it's from a bank in Green River, California.”

“The United States?”

Johnny bit back a sarcastic reply, knowing full well he couldn't irritate this man if he was going to have any hope of getting the money.“Yes, The United States.  Is that a problem?”  He asked innocently.

“Do you have the check?”

Johnny reached into his pocket and drew out a blank check that he'd brought along just in case, and handed it to the man.

The clerk looked at Johnny quizzically. “It is blank.”

“Yeah, it's my account.”

The clerk looked at Johnny dubiously and then stared at the names on the check.  “Do you have identification?”

Johnny nodded and produced a paper from his shirt pocket.  The man studied it for several long moments, glancing suspiciously from the check to the man and back to the check.  Johnny had about given up when the man finally nodded reluctantly.

“I will have to wire the bank, senor, to make sure the check is good.  How much money do you want?”

“Eighteen hundred dollars.” 

“That's a lot of money, senor.  I'll see what I can do, but it'll probably be several hours before I know.”

“I have to have it by this afternoon.”

“Like I said, I'll see what I can do.”

Scott rode into Green River and tiredly pulled Charlie to a halt in front of the saloon.  He had been up all night trying to think of a way to lessen the damage to the hillside above the estancia and had come in to talk to one of the neighboring ranchers who had been in a similar circumstance a year or so previously.

Scott knew that if they didn't get trees up there quickly, mudslides would be a real possibility when the rains came.  He had seen the devastating effects of such slides numerous times since coming to California, and he had no intention of letting Lancer fall victim to one.  The devastation wrought by the mudslides he had seen was overwhelming, and the bare hillside at Lancer was right above the house.  He shuddered as he imagined just what kind of destruction a mudslide would cause.  It was possible that they would lose not only the hacienda, but all of the barns and outbuildings as well.

After thinking about it all night and coming up with and then dismissing numerous plans, he finally thought of one that just might work.  First he had to get rid of the remaining timber that was already downed, and then he had to clear the rest of the debris off of the hill.  Finally, he would replant small trees from other areas around the ranch. It would take almost all of their resources to hire enough men to complete the project before the rains came, but it had to be done.  He was just glad that they still had enough in the account to pay for the extra help, because without it, Lancer just might not survive.




Chapter Seventeen

  Johnny sat in the saloon, impatiently waiting for the banker to get an answer back on the check.  He took his watch out every fifteen minutes or so and stared at it, willing it to move faster.  He smiled to himself; he had sat in numerous saloons in dozens of towns waiting for gunfights, and he had never felt the fear he was feeling now.  He knew if he didn't come up with the money soon, he would somehow lose the horses, and right now getting those horses was the most important thing in his life.  That thought made him pull out his watch once more, then shove it roughly back into his pocket when he realized the hands still hadn't moved. 

He wondered what was taking so long, and his imagination ran wild.  He was afraid that the bank would insist on more formal identification and would refuse to give him the check.  He knew he sure would if he worked for a bank; it was too easy to forge documents like those he carried.  He wondered briefly if he should wire Val to vouch for him, but decided he should wait and see what the clerk said first.

Then he worried that maybe Scott had run into some unexpected expenses with the logging project and had to take the rest of the money out of the bank, and that there wouldn't be enough money to cash his check.That was always a possibility, especially when he knew there were frequently unexpected expenses at the ranch.  It would be just his luck to have some catastrophe hit Lancer and leave him with no money in the bank.

He shook his head. Or maybe Murdoch had made a long – distance withdrawal.  Or maybe the telegraph lines were down again.  Or maybe…. …..he sighed.  Any one of a dozen things could have happened to keep him from getting his money.  After an hour, he had convinced himself he would have to get the cash some other way, and wondered somewhat seriously if he could take a few quick jobs and get paid enough to complete the sale.If he let it be known who he was, he was sure he'd get some business, but the problem was, he needed the money NOW.  He sighed.  Besides, he was pretty sure Murdoch wouldn't approve.

Finally, he gave up trying to figure things out and went back over to the bank to get the bad news.  He walked in and the clerk hurried over to him.  “Mr. Lancer?  I was just going to try to find you.  I received a reply, and the bank said they would vouch for the check.  How would you like the money?”

Johnny stared at the man in disbelief for a moment, unable to believe that things had gone right for a change.  Finally he smiled in relief at the clerk.  “Large bills will be fine.” 

The man nodded, and a few minutes later, a very relieved Johnny was on his way out to the ranch, humming to himself.

He rode into the ranch yard, and Rodriguez came out and greeted him.  “Senor Lancer, I see you came back.  Did you get the money?”

“Si. I got it.”Johnny stepped down off of Barranca and took the money out of his shirt.  He counted it out as the rancher watched and then he handed it over.  “Forty eight hundred dollars for one hundred twenty head, plus the foals.”

“Si, that was the agreement.”  Rodriguez stuffed the money into his pocket.

“When will you deliver them into town?”

Rodriguez shrugged.  “In a couple of days.”

Johnny looked at him sharply.  “Why so long?”

“It will take time to catch them, and with so many foals, I don't want to run them too much.  I'm just going to have the men ease them along and let the horses take their time.  It will be better for them.”

Johnny frowned.  He had never heard of anyone worrying too much about coddling a bunch of unbroken horses before.  Rodriguez saw the suspicious look on Johnny's face and hurriedly explained.  “Many of the foals are young, senor.  I'm sure you don't want to lose them in a stampede, which is what would happen if my men ran them.”

Johnny nodded reluctantly. Young foals were often killed in drives, and the rancher was right.  He certainly didn't want to lose any.  “All right.  I'll see you in a couple of days.  In the meantime, I'll see if I can hire some help ta move ‘em up to California.”

Rodriguez nodded and stuck out his hand. “You should have no trouble hiring help in town.  I will see you in a few days, Senor.”

Johnny shook the man's hand and swung up on Barranca.  “Adios.”

Johnny rode into town, trying to figure out what was bothering him.  He felt uneasy for some reason, and he couldn't figure out why.  The transaction was certainly like numerous others; it was a common practice to have a rancher deliver stock after it had been paid for, and Johnny wasn't worried about the man taking off with his money; it would be too hard to hide that many head of horses.  No, there was something else, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what.

Finally he shrugged to himself; he was just getting spooky.  Maybe because he knew he was going to be in BIG trouble with his big brother when he got back.  Scott had agreed to let Johnny spend twenty five hundred dollars on horses, and Johnny had gone slightly over that figure.  Of course, Scott couldn't be TOO mad; Scott had spent a sizeable amount on that chute, and other expenses getting ready for that logging project. 

Johnny had to admit, he was glad now that Scott had insisted they go ahead with it.  The logging deal would replace most of the money that was spent and put the ranch back on good financial terms.  By the time Johnny got back, Scott would probably be in a great mood; gloating to his brother about how much money HIS logging project had earned them.  Johnny smiled.  That was all right.  He'd let his brother rub it in all he liked; Johnny had what he wanted, and heaven help anyone that tried to take those horses away from him.




Chapter Eighteen

Johnny woke up at dawn a few days later. He hadn't slept well all night, because he had been thinking up a million reasons why the horses hadn't arrived yet.  He had been expecting the herd the day before, but they hadn't come in, and there had been no word from the rancher.  By the time he realized that they weren't coming it had been too dark to go out and check to see where they were, but he intended to find out today.  If Rodriguez had foolishly decided to pull a fast one and take the money, he would find out just who he had foolishly tried to cheat, and it wasn't Johnny Lancer.

Johnny had gotten several hands to help him with the drive, and he had been forced to turn away several more.It was a poor town in a poor country, and most men were eager for the chance to make some money. Johnny didn't have much cash with him, but he had told them he would pay them when they had moved the herd safely to Lancer, and they had agreed. He figured he could move the herd with two other men, but he had hired three, just in case.  Scott might complain about wasting money foolishly, but he wasn't the one that had to get the horses home, and Johnny had no intention of losing even one head along the way.

As Johnny ate breakfast at the local cantina, he allowed himself the luxury of daydreaming about those horses.  He hadn't been able to see them very clearly, but he had seen enough to convince him that they were prime stock.  They were well built, and at least most of them had to be purebred Andalusians.  He couldn't wait to get them home and start working a few of them to see just how good they really were.

Johnny frowned as he thought about his wait yesterday.  He had sat around all day waiting to hear from Rodriguez or one of his men, but he hadn't heard a word.  His unease had intensified when he asked the men he had hired about Rodriguez.  They had just shrugged and told him that the rancher had inherited the ranch from his father a year or so previously, and had no idea how to run a ranch.  They had heard Rodriguez was getting ready to leave the country.  Johnny snorted; even if Rodriguez up and left, he couldn't get the horses away that fast, and if the rancher tried, Johnny would find him.  Those horses were coming home with him, one way or the other.

He looked up as a slightly disheveled cowboy peered into the bar from the sidewalk.  “Senor, we have delivered the horses.We didn't think it would be a good idea to try and herd that many horses through town, so they are in a pen in an abandoned ranch, about two miles out.  Follow the road north past the blacksmith's, and you should have no trouble finding them.”

Johnny bolted to his feet, and the cowboy took off.  Johnny smiled to himself; it wasn't an uncommon reaction, although he hadn't thought that anyone here knew who he was.  Evidently he was wrong because that cowboy had taken off like he'd been scalded. Johnny smiled, it didn't matter, nothing mattered except that all of his worries had been in vain.  The horses were his and were going to remain that way.

He stopped by the hotel on the way out to the herd in order to pick up his few belongings, then walked over to the blacksmith's to pick up Barranca and the men that were going to help him move the herd.A half of an hour later he and his new friends were loping out of town.

As Johnny caught sight of the pens, he realized that there were no cowboys watching the herd.  He thought that was a little strange, but he guessed they knew he'd be out here shortly and figured the horses would be fine.

Johnny rode up near the pens and hurriedly dismounted.  He hadn't gotten real close because he didn't want to spook them, but they seemed pretty quiet.  He walked slowly over to the corral and studied the horses.  He couldn't believe his good luck.  The horses all looked like they were purebred, and had more class than just about anything Johnny had seen.  He studied one of the stallions, and decided he couldn't wait to introduce that blood to their stock. 

His eyes roamed around the corral, and he watched as a mare with a young foal turned and nuzzled her colt.  The foal lost his balance and fell, and Johnny felt a moment's panic.  He wondered if the colt had gotten hurt in the drive, but the foal popped right back up, and Johnny relaxed.  Johnny studied the horses closer, and realized the horses sure didn't look like they had been driven.  Rodriguez had said he was just going to ease the horses along, and he had evidently kept his word, because none of the horses had any dried sweat on them.

He wondered how Rodriguez had managed that trick.  Horses used to running wild wouldn't just plod along.  Johnny frowned as he thought about it, and waved his hands and shouted at the horses nearest the fence.  The horses spooked and took off, and Johnny relaxed a bit, but as he watched, two or three of the horses tripped and almost went to their knees.  Johnny bit the inside of his lip worriedly; he was afraid he knew what was wrong.  He had seen a horse or two trip earlier, when they were running at Rodriguez's ranch.  The terrain in the fields the horses had been kept in was exceedingly rough and strewn with rocks.He was afraid the horses had cut up their hooves pretty good on the stony ground.

Johnny tried to look closer, but the horses were obviously getting upset.  He cursed silently.  If the horse's feet really were that bad, he should probably keep them here a day or two and let them heal, but he didn't have any money left for food for them.  He'd have to drive them and let them graze along the way, but the terrain between here and the border was pretty rough.  He'd have to do like Rodriguez and take his time.  He was angry with the rancher for not being completely honest as to the reason he wanted to take it easy moving the horses, but he wasn't completely upset.  The horse's hooves would heal, and despite the inconvenience, when Johnny got them back to Lancer, he'd have all the prime stock he could ever want.




Chapter Nineteen  

Scott stormed into the Great Room and threw his hat and gloves down on the table.  He had just gotten back from a trip to town.  He had gone into Green River that afternoon in order to draw money out to pay the crew.  When he had gone into the bank, he had been informed by the clerk that there was barely enough money to even buy supplies that they needed for the upcoming month, let alone enough to cover the increased payroll. 

 According to Mr. Thomson, the president of the Green River Bank, Johnny had written a check down in Mexico the previous day for eighteen hundred dollars.  The bank in Mexico had wired the Green River bank, and Mr. Thomson had personally vouched for the check.  That had left a grand total of two hundred and forty-five dollars in the Lancer account.

Scott had left the bank in a daze.  He couldn't believe that Johnny had done something so stupid and irresponsible.  Johnny had no right to take that money out of the bank.  Scott knew his brother had no way of knowing that Scott would need it, but Johnny still shouldn't have taken their emergency money.  He didn't think he'd ever been as mad at his brother as long as he'd known him.  In fact, he didn't remember ever being as mad at ANYONE as he was with his brother right now. They had both agreed on how much each one would spend on their projects, and Johnny had flagrantly violated that agreement. 

Scott slammed his fist down on the desk.  EIGHTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!  Scott couldn't believe it.  His brother had already taken three thousand dollars with him, when they had agreed that Johnny would only spend twenty-five hundred on horses.  Scott had been willing to overlook the extra five hundred dollars that Johnny had taken out of the account, but his brother had now taken almost double the agreed upon amount.  Johnny hadn't even wired his brother to ask if it was all right, and he hadn't even let him know after the deed was done. Johnny would have known that Scott would be furious; he had left Scott with a ranch to run and an empty bank account to run it with.

Scott shook his head.  He knew that Johnny had probably run into a bunch of horses that he couldn't pass up, and had just gotten carried away.  He knew his brother probably hadn't meant to put him in or the ranch in a difficult position, but he had.  Scott had already hired extra men to clear the hillside, and they had made fairly good progress, but there was still several weeks' worth of work to do before they could even begin to start planting the trees.  Now he would have to tell them they would have to wait to get paid, and he was sure that at least some of them would quit, and right now he needed every single one. He shook his head angrily; he barely had enough to pay their regular hands, who were all working overtime to get the regular ranch work done.

Scott walked over to the window and yanked the curtain back, gazing once more at the ruined slope.  He HAD to get that hillside planted before the rains came, and time was running out.  He dropped his head and stared unseeingly at the desk.  He should be receiving the check from the lumber company any time, but he had already decided not to cash it.  After the lumbermen left, Scott had contacted their lawyer, and he had advised Scott not to cash the check if he had any intention of trying to sue the company that had ravaged Lancer.  Cashing the check would be an indication that Scott was satisfied with the job the lumbermen had done.

Scott certainly wasn't happy with the results, and he fully intended to sue.  The lawyer said that the chance of winning the case was 50/50 at best, but Scott was going to at least try.  All he had to do was look at that slope and his resolve got stronger.  There was no way what had happened at Lancer was an accident, and Scott was sure that it had happened to others as well. The only way to stop those pirates was to make them pay for the damages they had caused.

Without that check, Scott knew that Lancer would be hard pressed to meet their normal expenses, let alone the extra ones caused by his logging disaster.  Even if he sold some more stock, it would take time to round them up and drive them to market.  Lancer would sink before they got any money that way.  The only other recourse he had was to borrow the money from the bank.  He swallowed hard.  If he borrowed the money, and things didn't work out, they could lose the ranch. On the other hand, if that hillside were left the way it was, the first hard rain would bring a mountain of mud down on the hacienda and probably most of the outbuildings, including the new barns.

Scott glared at the picture of his brother that Murdoch kept on his desk.  If Johnny hadn't insisted on going after those horses, they wouldn't be in this mess, and if Johnny hadn't left, he wouldn't have to make a decision on his own that could make or break the ranch.  He sat down and put his head in his hands, like he had watched his father do more times than he could count.  He was beginning to understand just how much pressure his father was under most of the time.  Every decision that was made impacted not only the ranch, but also all of the families that relied on Lancer for their livelihood.  It was an overwhelming responsibility.

He sure wished Murdoch were here.  He couldn't wait until his father got back and would once more take over the reins.  Scott had just about had enough of trying to run this ranch and would like nothing better than to let his father wrestle with this problem while Scott gratefully went back to wrestling steers out of mud holes.




Chapter Twenty

Johnny watched the horses for a few more minutes, and tried to get close enough to get a good look at the horses' hooves, but the animals were just too spooky.  The few times he got close to a horse, he noticed the hooves were fairly long and chipped.  Usually wild horses kept their hooves worn down by the constant moving and running that they did, but this bunch seemed to have led a fairly sedentary life.  Johnny figured that it was because there were no large predators around, and the herd was fairly isolated, but that fact didn't help him.  He had to get these horses home, and soon.

He shook his head, hoping that for once he would have some luck and be able to get the horses home without too many problems.  He walked away from the corral and over to a nearby tree.  He motioned for the men he had hired to come over and join him.  The three men walked over and looked at their boss questioningly.Johnny glanced once more at the horses and then looked at the men.  “It looks like the hooves of those horses are bad.  We're going to have to drive them slowly and let them pick their way along. After we've gone a few miles, and they're roadin' good, I'm gonna go on ahead and find a place to bed them down for the night.  Just keep ‘em movin' slowly, but don't let ‘em graze too much.  I'll make sure there's plenty of grass where we bed ‘em down.”

The men nodded in understanding and then walked to their horses.  Johnny went over to the corral gates and opened them up, then jumped on Barranca.  The horses streamed out of the gates, and the wranglers guided them down the road. Johnny was glad that the road was lined fairly heavily with small trees; the trees would keep the horses from bolting off of the road, and by the time the horses had been driven several miles, they would be much easier to guide. 

As he watched, Johnny saw several of the horses stumble badly, and he cursed under his breath.  He just hoped they wouldn't become so lame he would have to stop and let them heal up.  He didn't have the money to pay the hands for extra time.  He continued watching them and finally sighed.  At least the horses would be easier to drive if their feet hurt.

Johnny tore his eyes away from the horses' hooves and studied the rest of their bodies. They were sure fine animals.  He had dreamed of having horses like this his whole life, and now his dream would come true.  Even the prospect of having to explain to Scott why he had spent the extra money held no terror for him; theses horses were worth it.  Hell, they were even worth a dressing – down by Murdoch.  He could hardly take his eyes off of them, admiring their clean lines and classic conformation.  They would be worth a fortune back in the States, especially if he could train them. He just couldn't figure out why Rodriguez was so willing to get rid of them for such a cheap price. 

As near as he could count, there were seven studs in the bunch, and from the looks of them, they were pure Andalusians.  He couldn't get too close to them, but they seemed to be between the ages of five and ten, and they all had excellent conformation.  The mares were of all ages, but most of them looked fairly young. They had clean legs and bright heads, and most of them appeared to be purebred, and almost half of them had suckling foals at their sides.  There were only a few head with obvious faults or that were well past their prime, and Johnny was well pleased with his deal.

Johnny stayed with the herd for several miles, admiring the horses and only frowning when a horse stumbled.  He noticed that the horses seemed to be stumbling more frequently the further they went, and hoped they wouldn't break down too quickly.  He'd better find a place for them to spend the night that was free of rocks and had some good graze that wasn't too far ahead. He didn't want to push them too far the first night.  He stayed with the horses until he was sure the men would have no problems handling them, and then he waved to the nearest wrangler and spurred Barranca up the road.

Johnny had to go further than he had hoped to find a good spot, but he was well pleased with the pasture he finally found.  There was a natural depression about a mile across right next to a small stream, and it had plenty of grass.  The horses would be content to stay in the pasture and graze, and the mud next to the stream would be soothing on their hooves.  He staked out Barranca and gathered some firewood, then built up a fire and put a pot of coffee on.  He sat next to the fire for about an hour before he started looking up the road.  It was a little early, but he was anxious that everything had gone well, and couldn't help watching.

Two hours later, the sun had started to get low on the horizon, and he was beginning to worry.  He glanced at the sun; there was only an hour or so of daylight left, and even if the wranglers were just walking the horses, they should have been here by now.  Finally he grabbed his saddle and stalked over to Barranca.  He had just untied the horse when the palomino raised his head and looked with interest down the road, whinnying loudly.  A second later, several whinnies sounded from down the road, and Johnny relaxed.

Johnny watched as the horses came into view, and suddenly his gut tightened.  Something was dreadfully wrong.  The horses weren't just limping, most of them were staggering wildly, and some of them were going to their knees.  He froze as he watched them, and one of the wranglers spurred his horse over to Johnny.

“Senor, the horses, they are dying.”




Chapter Twenty-One

“Mr. Lancer, our bank would be happy to give you a loan. All we need is for you to sign some papers.  Just a formality, I assure you.”

Scott nodded; he was still uneasy about doing this without either Johnny's or Murdoch's permission, but he realized that he had no choice. Neither one was available for consultation on the matter, and if he waited until he could ask the two of them, it would probably be too late.  He reached for the papers and read them thoroughly; he was not going to make the same mistake twice.  He swallowed hard as he read the part that put the Lancer ranch up as collateral for the loan, but the banker was quite adamant that none of the other assets would do.  He told Scott that the stock and building were too easily lost or destroyed, and the actual ranch deed was the only thing that would be acceptable.

“Mr. Lancer, did you change your mind?”

Scott shook himself mentally.  He had been woolgathering, and if the truth were known, he had been putting off the inevitable. With a determined motion, he put the contract down on the table and signed his name.

The manager reached over and picked up the paper, perusing it carefully.  Finally, he nodded and put the paper in the desk.  “Do you want the money in cash, or should I put it into your account.”

Scott started to tell the banker to put it into his account, but visions of Johnny coming across another herd of horses flashed across his mind.  “Put half of it in the account, and give me the rest in cash.”

The manager nodded, and picked up the deed.  “If you'll excuse me, I'll be right back.”

Scott nodded his head reluctantly.  He still had serious doubts about how Murdoch and Johnny would react, but they would know he had no choice.  He just hoped no more catastrophes occurred, or the ranch would be in real trouble, if it weren't already.

Several minutes later, the manager came back and handed Scott his bankbook, showing a substantial increase in funds.  He also handed Scott a small sack.  “Are you sure you want this much in cash?”

“Yes!  I don't want to take any more chances that my overeager brother may run across a bargain he can't pass up.”

The manager laughed.  “I never knew Johnny spent that much.  He always seemed to make do with what he had.”

“You, sir, have never seen my brother when it comes to horses!”

The banker laughed again.  “No, I guess I haven't.  Then it's a good thing there wasn't more in the account.”

Scott nodded.  “Agreed.  That's why I'm taking no chances.”

“All right, Mr. Lancer, just be careful on the way home.”

“Don't worry, I will.”

Scott picked up the bag and strolled out onto the sidewalk.  He glanced around, idly wondering if he should ask Val to ride home with him.  It WAS an awful lot of money.  After a moment, though, Scott shook his head.  There was no reason to bother the sheriff.  No one knew he was carrying cash.

Scott breathed a sigh of relief when he passed through the Lancer arch.  Even though he had no real reason to worry, he was still a little nervous carrying that amount of cash.  The way his luck was going, he had visions of being robbed, and he knew he would NEVER be able to explain that to his brother. 

That afternoon, Scott heaved a sigh of relief as he handed out the payroll to the workers.  He had enough money left to make payroll and get supplies for another month or so if he watched expenses.  The hill should be fully planted in that length of time, barring any more problems.  Now if he could only figure out how to stop the rains from coming before the hillside was replanted.



Murdoch walked into the National Bank of Spain.  He was carrying enough money on him for his normal expenses, but he had come across something special that he just had to have.  While he had been over here, he had been thinking a lot about his sons, and realized he hadn't been exactly fair with them.  He needed to make it up to them, but he wasn't sure how.

Last evening, however, he had had an idea.  He and Teresa had been at a performance, and he had realized exactly how he could prove to one of his sons that he was willing to back his dreams.  He had made some inquiries after the show, and had been guided to a large palace near the outskirts of the city.At first he had been laughed at, but when he persisted, they gradually started taking him seriously.  After negotiating for several hours, they finally reached an agreement, but a quick check of his pocketbook told him he would have to wire home for money.

He hoped that the boys were holding things together, but he had faith in their ability to run the ranch.  It was probably in better shape than it had ever been.  He knew he should probably wire the boys to make sure it was all right to take the money, but there wasn't time. A response might take days, and he and Teresa had to leave tomorrow night. The deal needed to be closed tonight if there was any chance of getting his purchase shipped out before they left.

Murdoch was glad he spoke Spanish.  It made explaining what he wanted to the bank clerks much easier.  Even though the dialect was different, they could understand what he was saying.He asked to speak to the manager, and a few moments later, a wire was on its way to Green River, asking for a transfer of funds to the Bank of Spain.

Three hours later, Murdoch had the cash in hand, and he and Teresa were on their way back to the palace.  Teresa was so excited she could hardly contain herself, and even Murdoch felt pleased.  He knew he had done the right thing, even though the cost had been enormous.  His gift would mean a lot to his son.  




Chapter Twenty-Two

Johnny hurried over to the herd of horses, panic starting to take over.  He had too much money invested in this bunch of horseflesh to lose them.  As he approached, the wranglers backed off, and the horses dispersed into the pasture and spread out slightly.  Almost all of the horses were staggering and jerking, with some of them going to their knees, and a few dropping down on their sides.

“What's wrong with them?”  Johnny yelled to no one in particular.

“I do not know, Senor.  They started out by stumbling, and got quickly worse as time went on.”

Johnny looked around in confusion.  “Where are all of the foals?  There are only a few here.”

The man dropped his head.  “Dead, Senor.”

Johnny looked at him in shock.  “Dead?”

“Si, Senor.  The youngest ones went first, but the older ones soon got weaker and they went down, too.”

Johnny looked back at the herd, trying to make sense of what was happening.  “There are some adults missing, too.”

“Si, Senor.  I am sorry.  There was nothing we could do.  They just laid down and died.”

Johnny ran his hand through his hair in frustration.  “WHY?”  Johnny exploded.  “WHAT”S WRONG with them?”

The wrangler shook his head.  “I do not know.”

Johnny walked as close to the horses as he dared, but he couldn't see anything unusual, except the horses were dying.He looked around, and the horses seemed to be getting weaker as he watched.  “Get a rope on one of those horses,” he ordered.  “I want to take a closer look.”

The men quickly roped and hog- tied a young mare that was already down, and Johnny walked up to her, talking softly.He didn't want to stress the mare any more than she already was, but she seemed to be beyond caring.  She shivered slightly, but was tied securely and couldn't do anything to stop him, and didn't try to fight the ropes when he came closer.  Johnny dropped to one knee beside her.  “What's wrong, girl?”

He ran a hand down her trembling neck and lifted up her head. She was sweating profusely and her mucous membranes were pale.  Her breathing was labored, and she groaned as she breathed.  Her eyes were sunken and dull, and she moved her head around listlessly, unable to focus her eyes.Johnny shook his head in confusion as he set her head gently back down on the grass.  “What's wrong?”  He asked again.

Johnny put his fingers under the horse's jaw, feeling for a pulse.  The mare's pulse was racing, and her heart rate was extremely high. He ran his fingers lower, going over the mare's chest and belly, but couldn't find anything out of place, except the mare was badly drawn.  There was no trace of diarrhea, no hardness in the stomach, nothing.  Nothing at all seemed wrong, but the horses were still dying.He worked his way lower, running his hands down her legs and feet.  He picked up a hoof and looked at it, noticing glumly that they weren't in as bad a shape as he had thought. Evidently the stumbling was due to whatever illness these horses had.

As he watched, the mare started trembling violently, and then she gave a groan and relaxed.  She took one more breath, and then went into a convulsion and died.Johnny stared at her in disbelief, and then stumbled to his feet and looked around at the other horses.  They all seemed sick. Almost half of them were down, and the rest were tottering around like old men.  SOMETHING was wrong, but HOW, and WHAT?  Johnny tried to force himself to think, but nothing made sense.

If they had some sort of disease, there should be some signs.  Every disease that Johnny knew of had very specific symptoms, and these horses didn't have the typical signs of any of the diseases that he knew of.Some of the symptoms were similar to a few diseases that he had seen in his day, but nothing that would affect a whole herd.And it was quite clear to him that all of the horses were sick.  But what was causing the illness?  If they didn't have a disease, then what was causing them to die?

Johnny shook his head.  It was almost as if they had been poisoned.  He had seen a few poisoned horses in his time, and the symptoms fitted better than anything else.  But if that were the case, Johnny didn't think that all of the horses would be sick.  Besides, he had seen the horses at Rodriguez's ranch and they had seemed fine then.  They hadn't shown any symptoms when he had first seen them, but Johnny realized now that they had shown symptoms almost immediately after they had been delivered. But how did they get poisoned?  There had been no feed in the pen until Johnny had thrown some in, and Barranca had eaten the same feed, and he wasn't sick.

Maybe he was mistaken.  Maybe the horses weren't sick when the drive had started. Maybe they had eaten something bad on the trail.  Maybe the stumbling was just coincidence.  Maybe.  In frustration, Johnny called one of the wranglers over.“Roberto, did the horses graze along the way?”

Roberto shook his head.  “We let them stop, but they didn't want to eat.  A few of them took a few bites, but that's all.”

Johnny watched as one of the studs sank down on the grass, groaning heavily.  Johnny forced his eyes away.  He loved horses, and watching them suffer like this was tearing him up inside.  The fact that they were the most beautiful horses he had ever seen and that he was going to lose his shirt on the deal made him feel even sicker. 

Finally Johnny walked over to the fire and sat down heavily.  He reached over and blindly poured himself a cup of coffee.  He really needed something stronger, but at this point, he'd take anything he could get.




Chapter Twenty-Three

Scott stood at the desk and looked out at the hillside.  He was just now beginning to not hate that hill.  The men had worked hard to replace as many trees as possible, and had done a good job.  The problem was, he had overlooked one small detail.  Even though the established vegetation was more than capable of withstanding drought, the newly planted vegetation was not.  They had lost the first bunch of trees they had transplanted because they had not received enough of the water that they needed right after planting.

Scott had been torn.  On one hand, he didn't want the rains to come because despite their efforts, he was unsure if the hillside really would be able to withstand a heavy rain.  Visions of mud inundating the hacienda and the barns had been amazingly faithful in popping into his mind.  Those dismal thoughts had even crept into his dreams.  On the other hand, without water, the new trees would die, and for the last month, it had been uncharacteristically dry.  If he could order the weather, he would ask for daily light showers; just enough to keep the new vegetation damp, but he knew it would almost certainly be feast or famine.  He stopped hoping for the right weather and decided to take matters into his own hands.

The men had to replant almost all of the trees, and at first, Scott had the men haul water up the hill by wagon to keep the plants watered.  That method was time consuming and difficult but after reading up on the requirements of the trees, he realized that the watering would have to stay fairly constant for at least the first couple of months.  At that point, Scott had decided to run another irrigation ditch to the top of the hill, with smaller ditches running down.

Luckily, the hill was lower than the mountain lake, and gravity would take the water most of the way, but he still needed materials to run the ditch.Besides that, he had to put in one more windmill to push the water in the direction he needed it. He had used the first amount of cash he had gotten from the loan to pay for the materials and labor for that project.  He had felt a twinge of fear at the expense, but he knew there was more than enough money left in the bank for expenses for the upcoming months. 

A month after the logging disaster, the hill was almost completely planted.  It didn't look the way it had before the loggers had done their damage, and it probably wouldn't for quite some time. But at least the chance of a mudslide was greatly reduced and with any luck it would eventually get back to normal.  The men were now just trying to put in some small shrubs and quick growing vegetation to help hold the soil against any heavy rain that might come.  After this payday, he could let the temporary help go, and the permanent hands could back to concentrating on getting the stock through the rest of the winter.

There had been no more catastrophes, and with any luck, Lancer should be back on its feet soon.  He was even beginning to feel a bit more charitable toward his little brother.  He knew how much Johnny wanted Lancer to get into the horse business, and he guessed he really couldn't blame him for getting carried away.  Still, forty-eight hundred dollars was an awful lot of money.  Those horses had better be damn special or he'd have to have a little talk with his baby brother.

Scott glanced at the big grandfather clock in the hall.  It was time to ride into town and pick up the money for the payroll.  He knew there was enough money to hold the ranch until spring round up, and then they could pay the loan back and get the ranch back on track.  So far, the Lancer stock was surviving the winter better than usual; mostly because of the extra graze brought about by the windmills and irrigation systems.  They should make a tidy profit this year, despite the setbacks.



Two hours later, Scott walked into the bank and greeted the manager with a wave.  Mr. Thomson came over immediately.  “What can I do for you, Mr. Lancer?” 

“I need to make a withdrawal.”

The banker nodded.  “All right.  How much do you need?”

“Enough for payroll.”  Scott shook his head.  “I finally got that hill planted.  This will be the last big payroll, at least until spring round-up.”

Mr. Thomson nodded.  “Big payrolls will eat you alive.”

“Don't I know it.  We should be on track soon, though.  I'm looking forward to a good year.”

“I hope so.  I'd hate for you to have to sell out.”

Scott's eyebrows went up.  “THAT, Mr. Thomson, will never happen.”

The banker grinned.  “I'm glad to hear that.”

Scott filled out a withdrawal slip, signed it, and handed it to Mr. Thomson.  The banker took it and disappeared into the vault. A few moments later, he handed Scott a bag of cash and a slip that told him the balance in the account.  Scott glanced at the slip and froze for a moment.  He re-read it and then he looked up at the banker.“I think you made a mistake,” he said emphatically.

The banker took the slip from Scott's hands and glanced at it, then walked over to a ledger.  A moment later he looked up.  “No, sir, the balance is correct.”

Scott felt the blood drain from his face and he felt a moment's panic.  Then a thought occurred to him and he fought to keep his temper in check.  “When did my BROTHER wire for more money?”

“He didn't, sir.  Actually, the only wire we've had lately is from Mr. Lancer, Senior.”

“MURDOCH sent for money?”  Scott asked in disbelief.

“Yes, sir.  He wired for a fairly substantial sum of money three days ago.  We sent it to him immediately.”  Mr. Thomson looked at Scott uneasily.  “Is there a problem?”

Scott shook his head in resignation, “No, Mr. Thomson, there's no problem.  Why should there be a problem?”  His voice rose.  “There's no problem at all.  I should be able to run the ranch with no money!  After all, who needs money?  What POSSIBLE reason would I have to need MONEY?”  Scott turned and stormed out the door, leaving the banker staring in disbelief at the usually level headed Lancer.




Chapter Twenty-Four

Johnny sat by the campfire, staring blankly into the flames.  The rest of the men were wisely giving him a wide berth; he certainly wasn't in the best of moods.They had started the drive three days ago and roughly half of the horses had already died, and more were sick.  They had only covered a fraction of the ground they should have in this amount of time, and at this rate, they wouldn't make it home before they all starved to death, because he was completely out of money and their supplies were already getting low.  It sure wasn't going the way he had planned. 

As important as the money was, however, it wasn't bothering Johnny as much as the horrible suffering the animals were going through.  He loved and admired horses; for a long time they had been his only friends, the only ones he could trust. To stand by helplessly as they died was eating him up inside and he felt guilty that he couldn't come  up with a solution to the problem.  Johnny tried to block out the agonized wheezing coming from the nearby horses, but was totally unsuccessful.  Johnny shook his head; only two of the studs were left, and almost all of the foals had died.

Johnny sighed and absent-mindedly scraped the fire with a stick.  His initial rage had gradually turned into perplexed resignation.  His first reaction was to head back to that ranch and let Rodriguez meet Johnny Madrid, but that thought quickly faded.  As much as he would enjoy confronting Rodriguez, he knew it wouldn't be the smart thing to do.  He didn't want to leave the horses that for the length of time it would take to get to the ranch and back, and besides, Rodriguez was pretty insistent that he was leaving the country right after the sale.  No, Johnny was stuck with the problem, and he wouldn't even be able to get the satisfaction of scaring the guy to death before he beat him up.

Ever since the horses had become sick, Johnny had thought about the symptoms and possible causes almost continually.  It was even getting into bed with him at night, but he was still no closer to solving the problem.  He thought he knew almost every illness a horse could get, but this just didn't make any sense.  He had gone over and over the symptoms in his head, but they just didn't match any disease that Johnny knew of, at least nothing that could strike a whole herd at the same time.

In frustration, Johnny shoved the stick into the fire, and it broke with a sharp crack.  Johnny threw the pieces into the fire and shook his head.  It STILL seemed to be acting more like a poison, but that didn't make sense, either.  Even though he had seen a horse or to stumble when he had first seen them in the pasture, they sure hadn't seemed sick, and they sure hadn't been dying.  The horses had been all right before the drive; it wasn't until the horses were on the road that they started dropping like flies.  If it was poison, he sure didn't know what they could be getting into.

Johnny shook his head once more.  He thought he might go crazy before he figured the mystery out, if he ever did.  He thought that these horses just might be the death of him, one way or the other.  He'd either have a stroke over the horse's health, or his brother would kill him for spending the ranch money on a bunch of dead horses.  Either way, it wouldn't be pretty.

He had a bigger worry, however, than his imminent demise.  Assuming that any of the horses survived the drive, he wasn't sure he should be taking them back to the ranch.  If what they had WAS contagious, he certainly didn't want to expose the ranch horses to it.  As horrific as it had been for him to watch these horses die, the thought of Barranca dropping down like these horses made him feel sick, and he was continually checking his compadre for any symptoms.  He had almost had a stroke yesterday when Barranca had stumbled over a rock.  All he knew was that somehow he would have to find out just what was killing the horses, and soon.



Scott read the letter from his lawyer and smiled.  The court date for the lawsuit against the logging company was two weeks from today, and would be heard in Sacramento by the Honorable Clarence P Dixon.  Although the lawyer had cautioned him against being too optimistic, Scott knew that he would win.  The logging company had betrayed the spirit of the contract if not the actual contract, and Scott was sure that he could make the jury see that. Scott planned on getting as many people as possible to testify to their own unfortunate experiences with the company.  The court would HAVE to rule in Lancer's favor.

He looked up at the hillside.  It was still a mockery of the previous lush slope, but it was certainly better than it had been right after the loggers had departed.  The men had worked  hard, and the small trees and shrubs were thriving after the irrigation ditches had been installed.  If the slope held this winter, there was a good chance that in a few years he would at least be able to look at it without getting sick to his stomach.He just prayed it wouldn't be a wet winter.

Scott walked over to the desk and sat down heavily.  He needed help with some of the decisions, not to mention the work, and he hoped Johnny would be home soon. It had already been over a month, and Scott was starting to get a little worried that his brother had run into trouble. He hoped not; Scott didn't have time to go down and rescue him.  

One thing Scott DID know. When his brother did come home, his brother had better have plenty of horses with him.  In order to come  up with enough money for the next payday, some of those horses would have to be sold, no matter how much Johnny wanted to keep them.  It was the only way they could get enough money to survive until the spring roundup.




Chapter Twenty-Five

Johnny checked into the hotel, wanting nothing more than a hot bath and some decent food.  They had been on the trail with those horses for two weeks now, and they only had fifty -five mares left.  All of the studs had died, and all but about twenty of the foals.  Johnny had come close to giving up, and had almost just shot them all and left, but five days ago, he had realized that the remaining horses seemed to be getting stronger.  He hadn't lost any more, and the survivors had started to become livelier.

He was still worried about taking them back to the ranch, because he didn't know if what they had was still contagious, and he wasn't sure he wanted to use them as foundation stock if there was something inherently wrong with them.  He decided to take them to the big horse and cattle auction in Los Angeles.  It wouldn't be out of the way, and with any luck, he could get some of his money back.  He hated to get rid of them, but he wasn't going to take a chance on bringing some unknown malady to Lancer. 

They had driven the horses into a pen over by the auction, and Johnny was happy to note that his horses brought a lot of interest.  The sale was the next day, and he hoped he could at least break even.  The hands had agreed to stay with the herd, and he had used his last dollar to check into the hotel. He figured he'd have at least some money by tomorrow. 

The next day, Johnny was up early, and he sauntered over to the pens.  He checked to make sure the horses were taken care of, and then turned to go.  He thought he'd watch the sale for a while, just to see what kind of prices good horses were bringing in Los Angeles.As he started to walk off, an old Mexican man walked up and put his foot on the bottom rail of the corral, studying the horses intently.  He looked at Johnny.  “Are you going to bid on these horses, senor?”

Johnny decided to play dumb for the moment.  “Maybe.”

Then old man nodded.“They are good horses.”  He pointed to a brand on the flank of one of the older mares.They come from the Lopez ranch, and all of his stock was imported directly from Spain.”

“Do you know anything about this Lopez?”

“Si.  He was a good man.  A good horseman.  He had the finest horses in Mexico.” 

Johnny felt himself grow pale.  “He's dead?”

“Si.  About a year ago.”  The man spat on the ground.  “His son took over.  He cares nothing for horses, he is interested only in money and women and gambling.”

Johnny's heart started beating again.  At least hadn't bought stolen horses. “You seem to know a lot about them.”

“I worked for Senor Lopez for many years.  His son fired me last year.”

“Why?”

“Because I did not agree to the way he was keeping them.”

Johnny looked at the man intently.  “And why is that?”

The man sighed.  “The Lopez ranch was large, but the son began selling off pieces here and there, in order to finance his bad habits.  The trouble was, he sold the wrong parts.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I don't understand.”

Then old man dropped his head and sighed.  “A large portion of the ranch was covered with Alkali Weed.  He started to run the herds in the fields where the Alkali Weed grew.”

Johnny looked perplexed.  He had heard of Alkali Weed, and he knew that Alkali was a deadly poison.  A long time ago, he had been riding through the desert with a man whose horse had eaten some of the weed in the morning, and the horse collapsed and died almost immediately after they had left camp, with the man still on his back.It was the only experience he'd had with that particular poison, but he remembered how fast it had been.  If the horses had eaten it, they should have died in the field, before Johnny ever bought them.  “Wouldn't they all die?”

The man shrugged.  “A lot of them did, but the boy didn't care.  Horses mean nothing to him.  Besides, the horses wouldn't eat a lot of it, they would only nibble on the weed in winter, when other graze was not available, and some horses always survived.”

“The ones that died; didn't it kill them right away?”

“No, especially if the winter wasn't too bad and they had other food also.  It would just make them weak.  A lot of the foals would die; the mothers would pass it to them right through their milk.  But if the horses weren't run or stressed in any way, most of them would pull through.  If they ran…many would die.

“So moving or driving them would probably kill them.”  Johnny said softly. Now he knew, but it didn't make him feel any better.

“Si.”

“What about the ones that survived?  Does the weed do any permanent damage?  Make them weaker or unfit to be bred?”

“No, senor.  Once it is out of their system, the horses are as healthy as you and I.”  

Johnny smiled.  “Thanks, amigo.  You don't know how much you just brightened my day.”

The old man studied Johnny carefully.  “They are your horses, si?”

Johnny nodded his head.  He hadn't intended to admit his mistake, but he didn't feel threatened by this man.  “Si.”

The man turned back toward the corral.  “How many did you lose?”

“Sixty some mares and seven studs.  Lot of foals.”

The old man shook his head.  “The young Senor Lopez should be shot for doing that to good horses.”

Johnny nodded.  “My sentiments exactly.  Maybe he and I will run into each other again some time,” he said wistfully.

The man looked at Johnny sharply and then grinned.  “I was wondering, senor, if you would do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Would you let me purchase a horse from you now?  Without going through the auction?  I am going home, and I would like to bring at least one of the older mares back with me.  I will pay you what the animal would bring in the auction, but I don't want to have to wait until this afternoon.” 

Johnny nodded. The information the old man had given him was worth a mare, and he figured he would take whatever the old man offered.  “All right.  Which one do you want?”

The man pointed at a mare that Johnny guessed was about fourteen or fifteen, and Johnny looked at the man quizzically.  “Ya sure you don't want a younger one?”

“No, senor.  I know that one's bloodline is pure.”

“All right.”  Johnny mounted Barranca and eased into the pen.  Several minutes later, he led the mare out of the corral and handed the rope to the old man.

“She seems awful gentle for a wild horse,” Johnny observed.

The man shook his head.  “Most of these horses have been broken.  The older ones, anyway.  Only the very young ones are still wild.”

Johnny grinned.  This was getting better and better.

The old man reached into his pocket and drew out some bills.  He handed them to Johnny, and Johnny counted them quickly, and then glanced at the man.

‘There's a hundred and fifty dollars here.”

“Si, it is all I can afford, but it is what she would bring at auction.”

Johnny stared at the man, stunned.  Maybe he hadn't made such a bad deal, after all.  He couldn't wait to get back to the ranch; Lancer was in the horse business.




Chapter Twenty-Six

Johnny pushed the now healthy herd up the hill just outside of Spanish Wells.  He would be home in an hour or so, and he couldn't wait.  He had pulled the horses from the auction, and with the exception of the mare that the old man had taken, he had all of the horses he had come into Los Angeles with. 

 As the miles rolled by, he was feeling better and better about his purchase.  Even though he had lost over half of the horses he had started out with, he still had plenty of stock to start a good breeding program with, and the remaining horses were still worth more than he had paid for the whole bunch. He knew his brother would grumble about the money, but Johnny knew the stock he had was worth every penny.

For a while there, he thought that his purchase would be a complete disaster, but according to what the old man had paid him for the mare, and other offers he had received before leaving Los Angeles, he had still gotten a bargain on those horses.  It was just too bad that Rodriguez was probably out of the country by now.  He surely would like to ‘discuss' the transaction with him.

Johnny watched as the horses streamed over the rise. Every day the mares were looking better and better.  Even the remaining foals were starting to fill out and look bright eyed.  Johnny couldn't wait to get them back to the ranch so he could start working them.  He knew that some of the crossbred stock would make great cowponies, and the pure mares would produce the best working horses around, that is if he could find the right studs. Purebred Andalusians weren't quite agile enough for the kind of work that they were needed for at the ranch, but if they were crossed with the right stock, they couldn't be beaten.  The blood would just have to be diluted a little.  Barranca would be perfect to breed to the new mares, and hopefully, some of them would produce palomino foals.

The only thing that bothered him was the loss of the stallions.  He had been hoping that he could breed them to Lancer's existing mares and build up a herd of good even stock, but now he would have to wait until one of the foals grew up, and that would take years.  In the meantime he would have to continue breeding the mares with the stallions they had on the ranch, which in his way of thinking was going backward. What he needed was an Andalusian stallion. Maybe he could sell a mare or two and somehow get his hands on another Andalusian stud, although he didn't know where to start looking.  He had been lucky to find these.

He drove the herd onto Lancer land, and turned toward home, then let his mind wander once more.  When he had purchased all of those horses, he had been worried about where he would put them all.  He certainly didn't want to just turn them loose until they had acclimated, but the new barns and pens just didn't have room for that many head. He thought the new facility just might have room for the stock he had left, however.  Maybe things hadn't worked out too badly after all, although he was still angry about the loss of all that good horseflesh.

Johnny drove the herd up the last hill and he heaved a sigh of relief.  He had managed to get them home, and he had the makings of a fine foundation herd.  As the horses streamed down the hill toward the pens, Johnny looked around, drinking in the sight of his home but he immediately noticed that something was different.  He quickly pulled Barranca up short, the horses forgotten.

The hillside was a mockery of its formerly lush appearance.  There wasn't a tree more than ten feet tall anywhere on the hillside, and even trees of that size were scarce.  Most of the vegetation was short, with tiny trees and shrubs struggling in vain to cover the hillside.  Johnny felt his temper start to boil over as he studied the logging site. Evidently, Scott's logging crew had been about as honest as Rodriguez had been.  He sure hoped Scott had been  better at getting revenge than he had been.

He looked down the hill at the rapidly scattering herd, and spurred Barranca down the hillside.  Cipriano and a few other wranglers were already heading toward the horses and starting to turn them toward the buildings.  Johnny waved at the Segundo.  “Just run them into the pens for now, and let them get used to things.”

“Si, senor.”  Cipriano replied, and headed the mares into one of the large pens. Johnny watched to make sure they didn't need him, and then turned his horse toward the house.  He needed to have a long talk with his older brother about taking people at their word.

Johnny rode up to the hitching rail at the back of the house, and angrily jumped off of his palomino.  He stormed into the house and over to the desk where Scott was seated. Scott sat at the desk, and didn't even bother looking up as his brother began his tirade.

“What the hell happened to that hill?  I can't BELIEVE you let them get away with that.  I hope you plan on doing something about it.”

Scott looked up.  “I already have,” he said flatly.  He tossed a piece of paper at his brother.  “Against the advice of our lawyer, Mr. Bailey, I decided to sue them.  I was so mad, I didn't care what anyone said, and I didn't want them to get away with it.” 

Scott's tone calmed Johnny down some; he knew something more than that hill was wrong.  He glanced at the paper, but it was in legal mumbo-jumbo and he looked quickly back at his brother.  “And?”

“And the Southwestern Lumber and Milling Company is counter suing.  They say that I agreed to let them harvest another forty thousand trees in the next five years.”

Johnny sat down abruptly.  “Forty thousand trees?”  He whispered.  “You didn't, did you?”

Scott rubbed his eyes.  “I told them that if this worked out, we would be calling them back to harvest more trees.  They were the ones that said they could harvest that many trees over five years without damaging the land, but it's going to be my word against theirs.”

Johnny felt sick.  “What does our lawyer say?”

Scott took a drink of scotch that sat in front of him.  “He says that we're going to lose.”




Chapter Twenty-Seven

Johnny stared at his brother in shock.  “How can he be so sure?  You said it was your word against his.”

Scott sighed.“Mr. Bailey found out after I initiated the lawsuit that the logging company is run by a man who is very politically connected, one Mr. Howard Clinton. He said that there have been a dozen or more lawsuits brought against this particular company in the last few years, and every single one of them had more legal grounds to stand on than we do.”

“And they all lost,” Johnny said glumly.

Scott nodded his head.  “They all lost not only the initial suit, but also the counter suit by the logging company.  Most of them wound up going bankrupt.”

“There must be SOMETHING we can do.”

Scott shook his head.  “Bailey said that if Murdoch were here, we MIGHT stand a chance.  Murdoch has some political connections of his own that might be enough to at least even the odds, but he's in Europe, and not coming back anytime soon.  In fact, I'm not even sure where he is at this particular moment.”

“Well then we'll just have to stall until he gets back!”

Scott ran his hands through his hair in frustration.  “We CAN'T!  Mr. Bailey and I already discussed that.  The logging company will push it forward as fast as they can, and we don't have any acceptable reason to ask for a postponement.  We CERTAINLY can't say we want to wait until Murdoch gets back so he can try to pull some political strings!” 

Johnny shook his head.  “Maybe we can talk to the judge.”

Scott snorted.  “The JUDGE happens to be one of Mr. Clinton's best friends.”

“What if we drop the lawsuit and forget about trying to collect damages?  We can pull back and wait until Murdoch gets home, and then we can figure something out.  It would be better than letting them take the rest of the trees.”

Scott shook his head.  “Bailey already contacted their lawyer.  He said Clinton is going ahead with the lawsuit no matter what we do.  I'm afraid it will all be over by the time our father gets back here.”

Scott took a deep pull from the glass in front of him.  Johnny bounced up and poured his own drink, then started pacing around the room.  “There HAS to be a way to win this!”

Scott slammed his fist down on the desk.  “What difference does it make? EVERYTHING'S falling apart.  Some of the men haven't been paid in over a month, I owe everyone in town for supplies and food, and I haven't even been able to keep up with the maintenance of the ranch.  I have no money for everyday expenses, let ALONE a huge lawsuit!”  

Scott dropped his head into his hands.  “We were SO sure of ourselves, so self-righteous about how this ranch should be run, and now we're going to lose it.”

Johnny stopped and stared at his brother.  “It's not like you to give up,” he said quietly.

“What else can I do?”  Scott spat.  “I've been trying to hold this ranch together, but it's awfully hard when there's no money to do it with.”

Johnny dropped his head and sighed.  “I guess that's my fault.”

“Well that surprise withdrawal certainly didn't help matters, but Murdoch's withdrawal hurt more, and my own mistake certainly didn't help. We ALL did things to cause it.”

Johnny's eyes flew to his brother's.  “Murdoch withdrew money?  What for?”

Scott watched as he swirled the liquid around his glass. “I have no idea.  Probably Teresa needed a new wardrobe,” he said bitterly.

“How much?”

“You don't want to know.”

“What about getting a loan to tide us over?”

Scott snorted.  “I already did, and by the way, THAT money has to be paid back in exactly two months, or we lose the ranch, if we even still have it by then.”

Johnny's eyes widened.  “And that money's gone already?”

Scott merely nodded.  “I used it to try to replant that hillside so we wouldn't lose the buildings in a mudslide, and the rest went to whatever it was that Murdoch needed the money for.” 

“You mean THAT'S what the hillside looks like AFTER you fixed it?”

“DON'T YOU BE pointing fingers at me!  That little withdrawal you made certainly didn't help matters!”

Johnny dropped his head and took a deep breath.  “I guess I shouldn't have done it, but I couldn't help it.  They were just what I needed, and they were dirt cheap.”  

Scott nodded in resignation.  “So how many did you get?”

Johnny hesitated.  “Well, I have about fifty mares and twenty foals.”

Scott looked at him sharply. “I though that was about what you had planned on spending for them.  What made it such a good buy?

Johnny thought about lying, but then figured he might as well fess up.  “Well, actually, I bought more, but they didn't all make it home.”

"What happened?”

Johnny shrugged.  “They had been feeding on Alkali weed, and most of them died on the way back to the ranch.”

“How many?”

Johnny dropped his head.  “I lost over sixty mares, seven studs and probably forty foals.”

Scott's mouth dropped open.  He started to say something, and then glanced out the window and caught sight of the hillside.  He promptly shut his mouth with a snap.  He took a sip of his drink before speaking.  “I'd say that neither one of us is the businessman we thought we were.”

Johnny nodded in agreement.  “I guess the Old Man didn't do such a bad job after all.”

“You can say that again.I just wish he were here now.  He might be able to think of a way out of this mess.”  Scott shook his head and his eyes wandered to the corrals where the new stock was being held.  Even from there, Scott could see they were fine animals. 

He shook his head.  “Those horses would have been a good start.  Too bad we won't be able to keep them at the hotel we'll be living in.”

Johnny plopped back down in his chair.  “What makes you think we'll be able to afford a hotel?”




Chapter Twenty- Eight

After staying awake almost all night and trying desperately to think of another way out of their mess, Johnny resignedly rode into town the next morning.  He went directly to the telegraph office and sent a wire to a good friend who lived in Fresno.  Johnny had known Bill for quite a while, and they had been friends even before Johnny had come to Lancer.  Bill wasn't a gunfighter, but he occasionally hired on for certain fights, and Johnny knew he was honest and reliable.He had also worked as a deputy in several towns, and Johnny knew he was one of the few friends he had from those days whom he could trust completely.

Johnny had run into Bill several months after coming to Lancer, and they had both been pleasantly surprised to find the other one had finally managed to settle down before they were killed.Bill had been working for a large ranch near Fresno as a stock buyer, and Johnny had already sold some stock to him over the last year.  They were always real picky, and Johnny knew the ranch in question appreciated fine horses and were always looking to improve their stock.  They also had plenty of money to back them up.  With any luck, Johnny would be able to sell off most of the horses and get enough to tide them over until things got better.  

Johnny hated to get rid of the horses, but Lancer meant more to him than anything, and he knew that someday he would get another chance.  Until then, he and Scott would just have to pull together and get the ranch out of this mess.  It was a matter of pride that they fixed everything before Murdoch got back, and he knew that SOMEHOW between the two of them, they could do it.  They would just have to think things through and outsmart the pencil pushers of the logging company.

Johnny waited impatiently for a reply, but when he finally received an answer, he didn't know whether to be happy or sad.He hung around the saloon for a while in an attempt to feel better about it, and by the time he got back to the ranch, it was almost dark. He walked into the Great Room and found Scott in his familiar seat, poring over legal books.  Johnny shook his head; his brother looked exhausted. Johnny went to the bar and poured each of them a good sized drink.  He took a sip of his and then handed his brother the other glass.

“Come up with anything?”  Johnny asked hopefully.

Scott shook his head and rubbed his eyes with his hands.  “Not a thing.”

Johnny plopped down in a chair and put his feet up on a nearby table.  “Well, we have SOME good news, anyway.”

Scott looked quizzically at his younger brother.  Johnny sighed, and then told Scott about the telegram he had sent.

“Bill wired me back and said that they would buy as many head as we could send ‘em.”

Scott dropped his head.  “I'm sorry, Johnny.”

Johnny shrugged.  “Can't be helped.  We needed ta get some workin' capital, and that was the only way I could think of ta do it.”

Scott nodded.  He knew that was true, but it still hurt him to see Johnny have to sell those horses.  His little brother hadn't had many chances to realize his dreams, and now it looked like there was one more that wouldn't come true.  Scott shook his head, he didn't care WHAT it took, and he'd make sure Johnny got his horses somehow.  

“How many are you going to sell?” 

“All of the young ones.  The older mares won't bring as much because they're too old to be worked, but I figured I could still keep a few of them as brood mares.  It'll take a lot longer, but I figured I'll get the herd I want eventually.  The older ones are all pure Spanish stock, so they'll be more valuable as broodmares.  Bill only wants ridin' horses.”

“When do you have to have them delivered?”

“I told Bill we'd drop ‘em off in a week or so, when we do to Sacramento for the hearing.  Figured it would be better than payin' somebody ta do it, and they're used ta bein' driven.  They won't give us any trouble.”

Scott nodded.  “How much are you getting for them?”

Johnny shrugged.  “He'll tell me what he can give me for ‘em when he sees them.” 

“Johnny...”  Scott said warningly.  “Taking someone's word was how we both got in this mess in the first place.”

Johnny looked his brother in the eyes.  “Yeah, I know.  But Bill's a friend.  He'll give me what they're worth.”

Scott nodded.  “All right.  We'd better make sure everything's taken care of here before we go.  I hate having all of us gone, but I don't see how it can be helped.”

Johnny looked uneasy.  “Maybe I should stay here, just in case.”

“No. We BOTH need to be there.  Maybe between us we can figure out SOMEWAY to win this.”

“Is our lawyer gonna be there?”

Scott nodded.  “At least he will be if we can pay him.  But he already told me he won't be able to do a lot of good.  He says in this type of hearing, the judge hears both sides directly from the parties listed in the actual lawsuit.  The only thing he'll be able to do is to advise us on legal matters.”

“And he can't think of a way out of this mess, either?”

Scott shook his head.  “No.  All he's been saying is ‘I told you so.'”

Johnny snorted.  “I never did like that guy.”

“Neither do I.  IF we get out of this, I plan on advising Murdoch to get a new attorney.”  He looked at his brother hopefully.  “Can you come up with a plan on making them drop the countersuit?”

“Maybe.  Can I take my gun?”  Johnny smirked.  

Instead of the expected retort, Scott looked at his brother dolefully.  “Johnny, at this point if I thought it would let us keep Lancer and we wouldn't get into trouble, I'd say go ahead, in fact, I'd even take mine.”




Chapter Twenty-Nine

Murdoch stared out at the ocean as the ship rose and fell.  The ocean reminded him of Lancer somehow, so vast and powerful.  He had enjoyed the trip to Europe, and he had been glad he could take Teresa, but he was homesick.  He had been homesick for a month now, but had hated making Teresa cut her trip short because of him.  Two weeks ago, however, Teresa had tentatively brought up the subject of going home.  They had been eating at a restaurant and he had made a comment about there not being any tamales in Europe, and Teresa had looked at him with a forlorn expression and told him that she missed Scott and Johnny.  That was enough to make him ask if she wanted to go home, and she had admitted that she did, almost apologetically.  She had been afraid of ruining HIS trip.

Now they were on their way home.  If everything went well, they should be back at Lancer in about two weeks.  He couldn't wait to get home and see his beloved ranch again, and all of the improvements he was certain the boys had made.  He chuckled to himself; they had both been chafing at the bit to take the reins, now he could see just how well they had done.



Scott and Johnny set out for Fresno the next morning, leaving the ranch in the hands of Cipriano.  They both felt a little uncomfortable leaving the Segundo in charge, but as Johnny pointed out to his brother, Cipriano certainly couldn't do worse at managing the ranch than they had.

They took most of the mares that Johnny had purchased with them, leaving only the foals that were old enough to be weaned, and ten older mares.  Not much of a foundation, but at least a start.

The horses were used to being driven, and as Johnny predicted, gave the men no trouble. They arrived in Fresno several days later, and went immediately to the ranch where Johnny's friend worked.  Bill saw the herd approaching, and waved them into a nearby pen.  Johnny and Scott drove the mares into the corral and heaved a sigh of relief.  For once, there had been no trouble. 

Bill stepped up onto the corral rail and looked over the stock.  Johnny watched as his friend stepped up to one of the mares, and by talking softy, managed to get close enough to look in her mouth before she shied away.  He waved his hands, and the mares took off to the other side of the pen, with Bill studying them the whole time.

Johnny grinned.  “What's the matter?  Don't ya trust me?”

Bill grinned back.  “If it was my money, there's no one I would rather have cheat me out of it than you.  But it ain't mine, and I have no intention of losin' this job because I didn't check out the stock before I bought it.  Nothing personal.”

Johnny nodded.  “Go ahead; check ‘em out good.”

After watching the horses for several more minutes, Bill dusted off his hands off on his pants before jumping up on the rail. He watched the horses for another minute or two before he looked over at Johnny.  “Well, they're exactly how you described ‘em.”  He studied Johnny.  “Anything wrong with ‘em?”

Johnny shook his head.  “Nope.”  It was true, since the alkali was out of their system, they had been perfectly healthy.

Bill nodded. “All right, I guess I'll take a chance on you cheatin' me.”  He looked up at Johnny and smiled.

Johnny laughed.  “More like the other way around.  That mare you sold me a few years back just about drove me to drink.”

Bill looked indignant and then spoke to Scott. “That mare was EXACTLY like I described her.  Johnny here asked me if she was broke and if she was sound, and she was both of those things.”

Scott smiled as Johnny snorted.  “That mare had every bad habit known to man, and a few others nobody had ever heard of.”

Bill finally laughed.  “Ya just didn't ask the right questions, Johnny boy.”

Johnny ducked his head and smiled.  “Yeah, I guess.”  He looked at Bill.  “So how much am I gonna lose on this bunch?”

Bill looked out at the mares once more and then looked back at Johnny. 

“There's nothin' wrong with ‘em that you know of?”

Johnny shook his head.  “Nope.  As far as I know they're all healthy and sound.”

“Why are you gettin' rid of ‘em?”

Johnny hesitated for a moment before meeting Bill's eyes.  “I need the money.” 

Bill's eyes widened slightly, but he knew Johnny well enough to know that he wouldn't lie to him.  “All right.  I'll give ya all I can for ‘em.  No sense spendin' valuable time dickering over the price.  I'll tell ya what I can stand ta give ya, and if ya can't take it, no hard feelings, OK?” 

Both Johnny and Scott swallowed hard.  They figured they needed at least two thousand dollars to get Lancer out of any immediate danger, and if they were real lucky, another three thousand would pay off the loan.

Bill broke into their musings.  “How many head ya got?”

“Forty-three.”

Bill looked once more at the herd and did some fast figuring in his head.  He knew what his boss would be willing to spend on prime stock, and what they'd be worth to the ranch as brood mares.  Of course, it was worth a little extra to have a good, even bunch like this and not have to buy them individually.

Johnny could feel the sweat running down his back as he waited for his friend to spit out the price.  He couldn't believe that their whole future depended on what this man would say in the next several seconds.  He glanced over at Scott and knew he was thinking the same thing.

Finally Bill nodded.  “I'll give ya seventy-five hundred for the bunch.  That's the best I can do.”

Johnny felt weak as he looked over at Scott.  He was afraid his brother just might shout, and he didn't want Bill to know how desperate they had been.  “I guess we can stand that.  What do ya say, Scott?”

Scott just nodded dumbly, and Johnny turned back toward his friend.  “Next time, though, I get ta cheat you.”




Chapter Thirty

Neither Johnny nor Scott could contain their delight in selling the horses for such a profit.  Johnny felt a momentary sadness, knowing that he probably could have kept some and they still would have been able to get by, but now they had some cushion in case something went wrong.  For some reason, Johnny didn't feel as badly as he thought he would, and he realized that keeping Lancer safe was much more important to him than the horses had been.  Now he knew how Murdoch felt.  The comments about the ranch that his father had made the first day he and Scott had come home had always rankled Johnny a little bit, but now he not only understood them, he felt the same way. 

After receiving the money, they immediately went to the bank where they wired a good portion of the money to Cipriano.  They had told him before they left that they would at least try to send money, and they had made arrangements at the bank in Green River for their Segundo to pick up the money they sent.  Along with the money, they wired instructions to him on just what to do with it.  Now Cipriano could pay the hands, pay off the bills that were due in town, and buy much need supplies to get the necessary repairs done at the ranch.  With any luck, by the time they arrived back home, Lancer would be in pretty good shape.

Johnny frowned as he thought about the upcoming court battle.  Lancer might be in good shape when they got home, but it certainly wouldn't stay that way for long if Lancer lost the lawsuit.  He shivered as he thought about what would happen if they had to let the logging company harvest forty thousand trees.  They would be living in a barren wasteland.  The runoff from the hills would destroy the pastures and pollute the ponds and streams.  Lancer would be uninhabitable.  Of course, if that happened, neither he nor Scott would be alive to see it.  He had the feeling Murdoch would shoot both of them long before that happened.  That is, if they didn't shoot themselves first.

He and Scott left Fresno in a much better mood. They now had working capital, and they could afford to hire a decent lawyer once they arrived in Sacramento.  They had both agreed not to ask Murdoch's lawyer to represent them, for neither one liked the man very much, and they had the feeling he wouldn't fight very hard, and this was one battle that neither man was willing to lose. 

When they arrived in Sacramento, both men were in high spirits.  They felt like the sale of the horses was turning point for them, and their bad luck was at an end.They checked into a small but very comfortably furnished hotel, and went to find a lawyer that would take their case.

By late that afternoon, both men's moods had taken a decided turn for the worse.  They had visited almost a dozen lawyers, and all of them were polite and eager to take the case.  That is, they were eager until the name of the man that headed the logging company came up.  As soon as the name Howard Clinton was mentioned, the lawyers suddenly had full schedules.

At the last lawyer's office that they visited, Johnny had finally lost his temper, something that Scott had been expecting for the last three lawyers.  Johnny drew his gun and pointed it at the man's nose, then demanded to know why he was so afraid of Clinton.  The man had sputtered and fumed, but he had finally told them.  Scott smiled; sometimes Johnny's tactics DID work, but Scott was still relieved that the lawyer had just thrown them out of his office instead of having them arrested.

Apparently, Clinton owned just about everyone in town.  If he didn't own them directly, he had means of making life extremely difficult for anyone who crossed his path, and he wasn't hesitant to throw his considerable weight around.  Enough people had fought him and had lived to regret it for the rest to know that crossing Clinton wasn't something a wise man did, and apparently, all of the lawyers in town were extremely wise men. It was beginning to look like they should have brought their own lawyer after all.



Murdoch sent a telegram to the boys as soon as he and Teresa arrived in New York.  He though about waiting for a reply, but realized that if Scott and Johnny were busy it could be hours or even the next day before they could respond.  As eager as he was to hear from them and be reassured that everything was all right, he reluctantly told the operator that a reply wasn't required.  He'd just have to wait until he got home to allay his fears.  Murdoch snorted to himself; the boys were more than capable of running the ranch, and he was sure it would be in much better shape than when he left it. It was just that little niggling doubt that prevented him from be totally reassured.  He knew he would probably laugh at himself when he saw that the both the boys and his beloved ranch were fine, but in the meantime he worried.  He couldn't help it.

He made arrangements to have his purchases shipped home, and he and Teresa boarded the train for the last part of their journey. He had offered to take her to different places in the United States, and although she showed intense interest in seeing where Scott grew up in Boston, she had finally decided that she just wanted to get back home.  He had purchased tickets for the most direct route, and if everything went well, they should be home shortly.  He sat back on the comfortable seat in their private compartment and closed his eyes. He was glad that he had been able to keep his promise to Teresa and take her to see Europe, but he had had enough traveling to last him a lifetime.  He was going to go home to Lancer and he was never going to leave again.




Chapter Thirty- One  

Scott and Johnny sat at a table in the restaurant next to the hotel, pretending to eat lunch. The hearing was tomorrow, and both of them were extremely discouraged.  So far, they had not been able to find a single lawyer who was willing to cross Clinton by helping them.  Johnny was all for presenting their side of the argument themselves, but Scott knew that would probably be a fatal decision on their part.  Laymen never quite understood all of the intricacies of the courtroom, and a judge would fast lose patience with anyone who couldn't understand or follow the legalities.

Normally, Scott might consider representing Lancer on his own.  After all, it wasn't a trial, it was a hearing, but too much was riding on the outcome for him to take a chance on committing a stupid blunder, and as the judge was already on Clinton's side, one mistake was probably all it would take to lose any chance they had of winning.

With a sigh, Scott took a sip of wine.  From what he and Johnny had found out today, they wouldn't even need one mistake.  Their chance of winning was almost non-existent.  If the outcome were to be heard and judged by a jury, Scott might win, but as it stood, the judge was going to make the decision, and this judge was obviously in Clinton's pocket.

Scott took one last swallow of his drink and then set his glass down.  He picked up his fork, but he really didn't have much of an appetite, and one look at his brother's plate confirmed that Johnny wasn't very hungry, either.  They had two more lawyers to talk to, but Scott wasn't very hopeful.  As Johnny had pointed out, if the judge was crooked, the best lawyer in the world wouldn't make a difference.

Scott really didn't know what they would do if they lost this case.  He knew it would probably be the beginning of the end for the ranch.  The ranch couldn't survive the devastation wrought by the careless logging of forty thousand trees.  All they could do was to hope that somehow Murdoch could stop the destruction when he returned home, that is, if their father didn't have a heart attack when he saw the hillside.

Finally, both Scott and Johnny gave up pretending to eat and left the restaurant.  Scott just wanted to get the bad news over with so they could go back to the hotel and try to come up with SOMETHING before the next day, but Johnny was still optimistic that they could find someone to help them.  They walked the three blocks to Mr. Blackwell's office and announced themselves to his secretary.  After waiting for almost a half of an hour, they were finally ushered into the lawyer's office.

Both Scott and Johnny were surprised at just how young the man was.  He appeared to be in his teens, but Scott knew he had to be quite a bit older if he was a practicing lawyer.After shaking hands, they all sank down into the plush chairs of the young man's office and Blackwell nodded to the two men.  “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

Trying to hide a sigh, Scott repeated their story one more time.  Every time he related it, he thought he sounded more and more stupid, and he was getting tired of making himself look like an idiot, even if he thought that was exactly what he had been.  Mr. Blackwell listened carefully to their story, and nodded several times in agreement.  “I think I'll be able to help you.”

Scott and Johnny both looked astonished, and he laughed at their expressions.  “What's wrong?  It doesn't appear to be that difficult a case.”  His eyes narrowed.  “Unless perhaps you're not telling me the whole truth.  Let me assure you, gentlemen, if I find out that you have lied to me, you will be on your own.”

Scott shook his head vehemently.  “No, we haven't lied about anything, we were just surprised.  You seem to be the only lawyer in town who is willing to help us.”

Blackwell studied them again.  Why?  Are you unable to pay?”

This time it was Johnny who laughed.  “No, we can pay.  It just seems like no one is thrilled ta be on our side.”

At the questioning look that the lawyer gave them, Scott decided he'd better explain further.  “It seems like our opponent is very well known in this town, and not many men are willing to cross him.  His name is Howard Clinton.” 

At Blackwell's blank look, Scott asked cautiously, “Haven't you heard of him?”

Blackwell shook his head.  “I haven't had the pleasure.  I just moved here from New Orleans two weeks ago.”

Johnny sighed.  “Then maybe you'd better reconsider.  As much as we need you, I have the feeling that opposing Clinton wouldn't be the smartest career move you'd ever make.”

Scott nodded.  “If you defend us, your career here might be over before it even starts.”

Blackwell shrugged.  “There are a lot of other cities to practice law in,” he grinned.  “Now let's figure out how to win this case.”

Blackwell made Scott go over and over every single conversation he had engaged in with the logging company, and every single word that was said by anyone connected with them.  He had Scott write down all of the damage done, the estimated monetary value, and also the incidental damages done to other parts of the ranch.  

Scott and Johnny were beginning to feel a little better about the hearing the next day, but they were still apprehensive.  They explained to Blackwell that they had been told by several of the lawyers that Clinton had Judge Clarence P. Dixon in his pocket.

Blackwell nodded.  “It's very likely, so we'll just have to try to make sure that Judge Dixon doesn't preside.”

“I think Scott here might frown on violence,” Johnny offered.

Blackwell looked at the gunfighter quizzically.  “And you wouldn't?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Nope.”

The lawyer continued to watch the dark haired young man, not sure if he was serious or not.  His eyes were drawn to the holstered gun hanging from the young man's hips.“Tomorrow, whatever you do, don't wear that gun into the courtroom; the bailiff will just make you remove it anyway.  Besides, I think we have a good chance of winning without violence, that is if the judge is the least bit honest.”

“And if he's not?”  Johnny asked.

Blackwell sighed.  “Then you'll lose.”




Chapter Thirty-Two

Neither Scott nor Johnny slept that night.There was too much at stake to even try to fall asleep.  Instead, they talked about Lancer and Murdoch and Teresa.  They talked about anything and everything but the upcoming legal battle, because despite the confidence of the attorney, they both had a bad feeling about it.  They weren't sure if the judge DID have any honesty in him, and if he didn't, they didn't need their lawyer to tell them that they were in big trouble.  They both realized that they desperately needed Murdoch.  They were fairly certain he would come up with a plan.  Their father was pretty shrewd, and he had some strings of his own he could pull.

They went back to the small restaurant and ordered breakfast, but like before, they really weren't hungry.  They were both dreading the upcoming court appearance, but they were both eager to get it over with, too.  It was easier to face a known problem than constantly speculate on what they would do if...

Scott watched as his brother toyed with his food and then looked down at his own untouched plate.He refused to even let his mind dwell on the consequences of what a negative ruling would mean.  They HAD to win.

He wondered if his father had ever done anything half as stupid as what he had done.  He guessed that he hadn't; after all, up until now, Lancer was still pretty much intact.  Scott's grandfather had always said that a man made plenty of mistakes before he became a good businessman, and someone who never made mistakes was too conservative to be the best.  Scott snorted; if the seriousness of this mistake was any indicator, he was destined to be one heck of a businessman.  Too bad he had to lose Lancer in the process.  He mentally shook himself; he had learned during the war that the outcome of a battle wasn't a sure thing until all of the fighting had ceased, and maybe between the two of them, he and Johnny could turn the tide on this particular fight.

Scott could tell that Johnny was nervous and upset this morning, but he wasn't sure if it was because of the upcoming proceedings or because his Colt was safely stored in their hotel room.  He knew that his brother felt much more confident when he was armed, but unfortunately, this wasn't the kind of fight that could be won using Johnny Madrid's methods.  Scott felt a pang of regret; if it were, they wouldn't have to worry.

Scott pretended to eat as he watched the clock's hands creep ever closer to the appointed time.  He noticed his brother was doing the same thing. Finally, Scott could stand it no longer and stood up to leave, his brother jumping to his feet a moment later.  They both headed out the door and toward the courthouse at a brisk pace, preferring to walk in order to release some of their nervous energy.

As they got closer, they saw Mr. Blackwell approaching from the opposite direction, and hurried to intercept him before they entered the building.  The three men shook hands and Blackwell looked at them critically.  He nodded in approval at their attire, and Scott smiled in spite of himself.  His brother had almost bolted when Scott had taken out a long- forgotten suit that Murdoch had made Johnny purchase the last time they were in Sacramento for a Cattlemen's meeting.  Johnny had glared at his brother, but had finally put the suit on, albeit reluctantly.  Scott had to smile at the thought of his brother wearing his usual gaudy attire into a courtroom.

The men walked into the courtroom and were directed to the court of the honorable Clarence P. Dixon.  They were ushered into the room and seated at a table in front of the rail separating the spectators from the participants.  Scott and Johnny had just been seated when the door burst open and several men in expensive suits marched into the room.  All but one of them was carrying a briefcase, and Scott surmised correctly that this must be the renowned Mr. Howard Clinton.  Clinton strode to the table across from the Lancers and sat down, his lawyers scrambling for seats next to him.

Clinton never even looked over at the other table, and appeared to be carrying on business transactions even in the courtroom.  Scott smiled.  The man reminded him of his grandfather, although he wouldn't admit that to Johnny.

Scott looked around, and saw that a few spectators were in the seats, but it was by no means crowded.  He was thankful for that.  If for any reason Johnny was called to the stand, he was sure his brother would be uncomfortable enough without having to worry about gaping curiosity seekers.  Scott looked back at Blackwell, who was watching his competition with a critical eye.  Finally the lawyer turned to Scott.

“He has three lawyers, and all three of them are the best that money can buy.”

Before Scott could reply, a door at the front of the courtroom opened, and the judge swept into the room with an air of importance. The bailiff ordered the court to stand, and the judge immediately took his seat and stared out at the spectators.  He glanced in Scott and Johnny's direction, and scowled forbiddingly, but Scott noticed that the judge managed a smile when he made eye contact with Clinton.  Scott felt his stomach lurch.  They were in deep trouble.

The court reporter stood up and read the suit and the countersuit, and then the judge asked both sides if the wording was correct.  They both agreed, and Scott shivered as he realized again what a loss here today would mean.  He looked hopefully at his lawyer, and Blackwell smiled reassuringly. 

When Dixon called the court to order, Blackwell immediately asked permission to approach the bench, and all of the lawyers converged just below where the judge was seated.  Scott wasn't sure just what Blackwell was asking the judge, but he could tell that whatever it was, it wasn't going over very well with either the judge or the other lawyers.

Scott watched as both sides argued for several minutes, and then finally, the judge pounded his gavel.  “Motion DENIED!”  Blackwell looked stricken as he returned to his seat.  He leaned over and whispered to Scott and Johnny, “I requested a change of judge.  It's a common motion, and almost never denied, but Judge Dixon obviously took exception to the request.  I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that we're going to lose.  You were right; the man isn't the least bit honest, and there's nothing we can do about it.”




Chapter Thirty-Three  

The judge had everyone involved in the lawsuits sworn in, and then he managed one more glare at Blackwell before making an effort to keep his face impassive.  He nodded at Blackwell.  “Your client is suing the Southwestern Lumber and Milling Company, is that correct?

Blackwell stood up.“Correct, your Honor.”

“On what grounds?”

Blackwell hesitated.  “Breach of contract, your Honor.”

The judge managed to look perplexed.  “I understood that there was no contract.”

“There was no WRITTEN contract, but there most definitely was a verbal contract, and that contract was not followed by the defendant.”

“Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we?”The judge growled.  “What proof do you have that the contract was not followed?”

Blackwell sighed.  “Mr. Lancer was very specific about how many trees were to be cut, and how many were to be left intact.  The representative of Southwestern Lumber and Milling agreed to Mr. Lancer's terms, and both parties shook hands on the deal.”

“In what way was the agreement not met?”

Scott noticed the judge had called it an agreement, not a contract, and that worried him.  He knew that the judge was doing his best to downplay that part of the contract.

Mr. Blackwell continued, “When the logging company in question harvested the trees, they not only harvested the trees, but they destroyed most of the other vegetation on the hillside where the logging took place. This was CLEARLY a breach of the contract that had been agreed upon.”

“I believe I will be the judge as to whether this so called contract was breached,” the Judge said sternly.  He looked over to where the representative of the lumber company was seated, alongside Mr. Clinton.  “Is that your recollection of the events?”

The man whom Scott had met and made the agreement with stood up.  “No, your honor.”

Blackwell sensed Scott's rage, and laid a restraining hand on his arm.  “Keep calm.  Don't say anything to rebut him yet, you'll just make the judge more antagonistic.”

With an effort, Scott remained seated and kept his mouth shut as the man continued. 

“Mr. Lancer stated he needed the money very badly, and said he would agree to almost any favorable terms. We agreed that Southwester Lumber Company would harvest approximately five thousand trees that were located on a hill in back of the claimant's house. I pointed out to him that those trees would be difficult to harvest neatly because of their location, but they would bring the most money.  Mr. Lancer at the time didn't seem too concerned about the other trees, and he agreed to the deal.  In fact, he said that he would give us his permission to harvest forty thousand more trees in the next five years if he could get a similar price.  We shook hands, and I left.”

At the table, both Johnny and Scott were fuming, and Blackwell had a difficult time keeping them from standing up and getting into an argument with the opposition, something he was sure that Clinton was hoping for.  He quietly explained once again to both men how important it was to remain calm, no matter what, and eventually they calmed down slightly.

Judge Dixon turned toward Scott.  “Is that what happened?”

“No!”

The judge rapped his gavel.  “I wish to remind you that you are in a court of law.  Please refrain from raising your voice, or I'll have you thrown out.”

With a superhuman effort, Scott managed to grind out, “Sorry, your Honor, but that is most definitely NOT what happened.”

The Judge nodded.  “All right, tell us YOUR version, please, and mind your tongue.  There are women in the courtroom, including my wife, and I will not tolerate any foul language.”

Scott took a deep breath.  “I agreed for Southwest Lumber to harvest those trees because their representative assured me that they would be very easy to reach.  I had read about some unscrupulous logging companies destroying ...” 

“Keep you testimony to what actually occurred that day,” the Judge warned.

Scott took another deep breath, and heard his brother muttering to himself, with Blackwell trying to keep him calm.

Scott continued.  “I was adamant that only trees of a certain size were harvested, and the rest would remain untouched. Instead, almost all of the trees were destroyed. I had told the representative that IF we were satisfied with the project, we would CONSIDER having more trees harvested by them in the future.  He agreed, and we shook hands.”

The judge leaned back in his chair and appraised Scott.  “Why didn't you say anything when you saw that the logging company supposedly wasn't doing what you wanted?'

Scott dropped his head, once again anger threatening to take over.  “I wasn't there at the time.”

The Judge looked astonished.  “I would think that someone who was as worried as you say you were about those other trees would at least stay around to watch the process.  It seems very careless of you to leave at that time.”

“I had to go on a cattle drive at the time.”

“Then it seems to me that it is at least partly your fault that you weren't there to monitor the operations.  Even with written contracts, many things are open to interpretation.  With a verbal agreement, that is even more common.”

The Logging Company representative stood up.  “Your Honor, I believe that Mr. Lancer has led you to a false assumption.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, your Honor.  Only five thousand  trees were logged, no more, as the plaintiff suggests.  I have with me a receipt from the milling company where they were processed.” 

The bailiff took a slip of paper and handed it to the Judge.  The Judge read the paper and scowled, “I DO NOT abide by liars in my court.  Mr. Lancer, you are charged with contempt and will be fined one hundred dollars.  If I catch you lying again, I will throw your whole case out. Is that understood?”

“I wasn't lying!”

“Two Hundred.”

Johnny bolted to his feet.  “If you'd just shut your mouth and listen, my brother ain't lyin'.  He never said they had harvested those trees, the logging company destroyed ‘em.”

The Judge began to shake with anger.  “How DARE YOU talk to me that way!  Just who are you?”

“I'm his brother, and I figure I can talk to you anyway I want, since you've already got your mind made up just who's gonna win this case.”

Dixon rapped his gavel so hard that it cracked.  “I am fining YOU another two hundred dollars, and if you can't come up with it, you'll both go to jail.  I don't want ANYONE to accuse me of being unfair, so I will give you my decision in the morning.”  He looked first at Scott and then at Johnny. “If you have any other witnesses, I would advise you to get them, Court ADJOURNED!”  




Chapter Thirty-Four

Scott stormed out of the courtroom, followed closely by Johnny.  Mr. Blackwell hurried after the two men, trying to catch up.  Finally, Scott stopped across the street and sat down under a tree.  Johnny joined him, but remained standing.  He was much too upset to sit.  When Blackwell hurried up a few minutes later, he found himself looking down the barrel of Johnny's Colt.

Blackwell immediately put up his hands.  “Just calm down.”

Johnny sighed and slipped the gun back into its holster.  “Sorry,” he said curtly.

Blackwell nodded. “I hate to bring this up now, but if I don't return with the money for your fines, you'll both have a warrant out for your arrest.”

“He sure went overboard on those fines, didn't he?”  Johnny snorted.

Blackwell shrugged.  “He didn't like what you said about him, especially in front of his wife.  She's always with him in court.  Just make sure you don't lose your temper tomorrow, or he'll fine you again.”

Angrily, Scott ripped his wallet out of his coat pocket and threw it at the lawyer.  “Here, might as well give it all to them.  It looks like they're going to get it anyway.”

Blackwell sighed.  “I know how you feel.”

Scott looked at the lawyer in frustration.  “No, you don't.”

Blackwell opened his mouth to reply and then shut it.  Lancer was right; he didn't know how it would feel to lose just about everything because of a crooked judge.  With a sigh, he reached over and took some money out of Scott's wallet, and then handed it back to him.“Four hundred, I believe.”

Scott nodded, and Blackwell nodded back.  “I don't suppose you have any other witnesses to call?”

Scott snorted.  “Now how can I have witnesses when there was no one else in the room?  No, I don't have anyone else to call, and I don't have any rabbit up my sleeve.”  He looked at the lawyer cynically.  “I don't suppose YOU have any useful ideas.”

Blackwell hung his head and shook it slowly.  “Mr. Lancer, I AM sorry.  I wish there were something I could do, but I'm afraid that no matter what I came up with, it wouldn't be enough.”

“I know,” Scott said in frustration.  “It's not your fault.  You tried; it's just that darn Judge.”

“Maybe I should have a little talk with him,” Johnny said calmly.

Scott spun around and faced his brother.  “No!  Don't you dare even think about it.  It's bad enough that we're going to lose this lawsuit, I DON'T want to have to tell Murdoch you're in prison, too.”

Johnny hung his head.  “It'd be worth it if it saved the ranch.”

Mr. Blackwell shook his head.  “Whatever you do, don't threaten him or harm him in any way.  There's still a chance that even if Dixon rules against you, the ruling can be appealed, but NOT if you try to take matters into your own hands.”

Scott finally nodded in resignation.  “All right, we'll see you in the morning.”

Scott and Johnny walked back toward their hotel, neither one saying much.  They were both feeling guilty about the way things had worked out, and neither one was especially looking forward to telling Murdoch about the ruling.  They weren't even worried anymore about whether he'd be mad at them, because they both knew they deserved it, but they were more worried about what would happen to the ranch.

When they reached the hotel, neither one was ready to go inside.  It was warm outside, and they knew it would be stifling inside the Hotel.

“Wanna go have a drink?”  Johnny asked.

“Might as well.  It would be better than sitting in the room thinking.”

Johnny nodded.  He knew how badly Scott was feeling about this, and wished there was a way to take some of the guilt away from him, but he knew the only thing that would make Scott feel better was a ruling in their favor tomorrow, and Johnny knew that wasn't going to happen.

The two brothers wandered for quite a while, the exercise serving to work off some of their stress and calm them down.  An hour and a half later, they wandered down a street that was lined with expensive looking restaurants.  They hadn't planned on spending a fortune for dinner, but they were hungry enough to follow a very enticing aroma into one of the better looking establishments.

Luckily, they still had on the clothes they had worn to court, because they realized they probably wouldn't have been allowed in if they had worn their usual attire.  As it was, without reservations they had to wait for nearly an hour to be seated. Johnny had wanted to leave and find another restaurant, but Scott talked him into staying, saying that anywhere they went there would probably be a wait.

By the time they were seated, neither Scott nor Johnny cared much what they ordered, as long as it was good and there was plenty of it.  They finally both ordered steak dinners, and some wine to go with it. Johnny picked up his glass of wine and took a sip, when suddenly Scott saw his brother's eyes narrow.

“Well, will ya look at that,” Johnny said softly.

“What?”  Scott asked, as he turned around to see what was so interesting.  In a corner booth he spotted Judge Dixon, who was having dinner with a very attractive lady.

Scott turned back around before Dixon noticed him, and smiled at his brother's disgruntled expression.  Johnny shook his head.  “There goes my dinner.”

Scott shook his head.  “Come on, Johnny.  It's probably the last good meal we'll have for a while.  Just ignore him.”

Johnny shrugged.  “All the restaurants in this darn city, and we have ta pick the one that his Highness brings his wife to.  I tell ya, Scott, our luck's just gotta change sooner or later.”

Scott chuckled.  “Well, if you have any pull, I would be extremely happy if you could make it change now.”

“You and me both, Boston.”

As they ate, Scott noticed that Johnny became quieter and quieter, and his brother kept sneaking glances over toward the corner booth.  Scott became concerned that Johnny was getting ready to start something with the Judge, and finally Scott shook his head.  “Let it go, Johnny.”

Johnny Madrid stood up and locked eyes with his brother.  “No, Scott.” he said thoughtfully.  “We ain't gonna let it go.”




Chapter Thirty-Five

Scott reached up and grabbed Johnny's arm. 

“Let go!” Johnny hissed.  “Pay the bill and meet me outside.”

Surprised, Scott let go of his brother's arm. He had been sure Johnny was getting ready to confront the judge, and Scott knew that would be a horrible mistake. Scott tossed some bills down on the table and followed his brother, who had quickly disappeared.

He found Johnny sitting on a low stone ledge across the street from the restaurant, and he quickly walked over and stood next to him.  “I hope this is important, brother, I wasn't done with my steak.”

Johnny had his head down and didn't reply for a moment, and Scott was concerned.  “What's wrong?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Nothin, I don't think.”

Scott was starting to become irritated.  “What's going on?”

Johnny looked up at his brother, a half smile on his face.  “I think quite a bit.”

Scott put his hands on his hips.  “I'm NOT in the mood for games!”

Johnny laughed. “No, but I think Dixon is.”

“Johnny!”

“Scott, did you happen to look around the courtroom today?”

Scott shook his head in confusion.  “What ARE you talking about?”

“Did you happen to notice the people in the courtroom?”

“NO!  I was a LITTLE busy!”

“Well, ya should have.”

Scott just stopped and stared at his brother, knowing sooner or later Johnny would explain.

“Scott, I ALWAYS notice people.”

Scott nodded.  He knew that was true.  Johnny was the most observant person that he had ever met.  “So?”

“When Dixon made the comment about his wife bein' in the courtroom, I looked around.  I wanted ta see what kind of a lady the old coot was married to.”

“Well, I must say, she was certainly attractive.”

Johnny smiled knowingly.  “No, she wasn't.  She was a prune faced old biddy.  At least that was my guess.” 

“What are you talking about?  I don't think you and I are talking about the same lady.”

“We're not.  The lady he was having dinner with tonight was NOT in the courtroom this afternoon.”

Scott smiled slightly and shook his head.  “I know what you're thinking, little brother, but just because he was having dinner with the lady doesn't mean he's doing anything wrong.  She could be a relative.”

Johnny smiled.  “Like a daughter?”

Scott nodded.  “It's possible.”

Johnny's grin grew wider. “Then we can REALLY get him, because he sure wasn't treatin' her like no relative in that booth.”  

Scott thought about what his brother had said, and a slow smile spread over his face.“That wouldn't exactly be fair play.”

Johnny snorted.  “Guys like Dixon don't understand fair play, but he MIGHT get the point if he thinks we're gonna rat him out.”

Scott shook his head.  “And just how will we do that?  We don't exactly have any proof.  He would just deny it, and then throw us both in jail.”

Johnny shook his head.  “Scott, we ain't gonna say a word.  We won't have to, Dixon will think the worst, because it's something he would do.”

“I don't understand.”

“You just ain't sneaky enough.  Look, all we have to do is ta get his mistress in the courtroom with us, and Dixon's imagination will do the rest.”

Scott put his hands on his hips.  “And just HOW do you propose to do that?”

Johnny slapped his brother on the arm.  “THAT is YOUR problem, brother. You're the smart one.  I came up with the plan.”

Scott slowly shook his head.  “I'm not sure we should be doing this.”

Johnny stared at his brother.  “Look, I don't like playin' dirty, either.  But Dixon isn't exactly lily white himself.  He's askin' for it, and like I said, we won't say a word.”

Scott dropped his head and thought for a while.  Finally, he brought his head up.  “Do you really think it will work?”

“Do we really have a lot to lose?”  Johnny retorted.

“No, I guess not,” Scott sighed.  He looked at his brother slowly.  “And I think I MIGHT have a logical explanation to get the lady into the courtroom.” 

Johnny grinned.  “I knew you weren't as much of a goody-two-shoes as people thought you were.”

“WHO thinks that?”

Johnny laughed.  “I ain't tellin'.”

“Uh huh.  It was PROBABLY you.”

Johnny shrugged and changed the subject.  “If you're gonna try it, we need ta know where the lady lives.  We can't just go up and talk to her in front of the dirty old geezer.”

“You're right, but I'm going by myself.”

“You might need help.”

Scott laughed.  “Believe me, brother, I can handle one beautiful woman all by myself.”

Johnny snorted.  “Well, just don't handle her TOO well.  We need BOTH of you in court tomorrow, and don't forget it.”

“Brother, you have a suspicious mind.”

“Yep.”

“All right, I'm going to hail a cab and follow Dixon.  Hopefully, he won't stay the night.  I'll see you in court tomorrow.”

“Are you SURE you don't want me to go with you?”

Scott shook his head.  “I'll be fine.  Go back to the hotel and get some sleep, and I'll see you tomorrow.”

“All right,” Johnny said dubiously.

Scott clapped his brother on his back.  “Brother, if this works, I'll really owe you one.”

Johnny put his arm around his brother's shoulder.  “If we pull this off, I'll have everything I want.”

“You and me both.”



Johnny looked at his watch worriedly.  His brother hadn't shown up yet, and court was supposed to have started several minutes ago.  The only thing that was saving them so far was the fact that the judge was running late, also.Johnny knew he should have gone with his brother last night.  He had a bad feeling about this, and the fact that the judge was late made him even more nervous.  He hoped that somehow the judge hadn't taken his brother by surprise.  Johnny made up his mind that if Scott didn't show up in a few minutes, he would go and look for him.  He took out his watch and looked one more time, then got to his feet and headed for the door.




Chapter Thirty-Six  

Blackwell immediately jumped to his feet and grabbed Johnny by the arm.  “Where do you think you're going?”

Johnny shrugged away from the lawyer.  “I'm gonna find my brother.”

“If neither one of you are here, the judge will make sure you lose by default.”

“If Scott isn't here, we're gonna lose anyway.”

At that moment, the small door at the front of the courtroom opened, and Judge Dixon swept into the room.  He strode over to the bench and sat down, immediately rapping his gavel and calling the court to order.

Johnny hesitated and then slowly sat back down.  He'd give Scott another few minutes, because he knew if he left now, the judge would rule against them immediately.  He just prayed his brother was all right.

The judge glared at Johnny.  “Well, do you have any more witnesses?”

Johnny shook his head, and Blackwell answered for him.  “No, your honor.”

“In that case, I...”

At that moment, the door in the back of the courtroom opened, and Dixon's mistress walked into the room, followed closely by Scott.  Scott took her by the arm and led her to a seat right in back of where his brother was sitting, and then reached over and spoke to his brother.

The Judge was openly staring at the young woman, and she smiled sweetly in reply.  Dixon tore his gaze off of the lady and turned toward Scott.  Johnny leaned over and whispered in Scott's ear, and Scott smiled and nodded. 

“I believe you asked if I had any more witnesses, your Honor?”  Scott asked innocently.

The judge was no dummy.  He looked at Scott's innocent expression, and at Johnny's smirk, and knew exactly what they had in mind.  Dixon's mind worked frantically.  He glanced quickly over at his wife, who was sitting in ignorant bliss on the other side of the courtroom, and then back to his mistress, who was still smiling at him. 

He thought about his options.  His wife was an impossible woman to live with, but she was also the source of most of his wealth. If she found out about his mistress, she would probably divorce him.  He considered it for a moment, and then a horrible thought crossed his mind.  What if she DIDN'T divorce him?  She would make his life hell for as long as he lived.  No amount of money was worth that. He made an instant decision.

He stared at Scott.“I don't believe any more witnesses need to be called.  I have made my decision.”

Clinton and his lawyers looked smug, and Blackwell jumped to his feet.  “You can't prevent a witness from testifying.”

Dixon banged his gavel.“As I said, I have come to a decision.  “I find FOR the plaintiff and disallow the countersuit by the defendants.”

The lawyers on both sides froze, and Clinton jumped to his feet. “WHAT!”  He bellowed.

Scott reached over and put his arm on the lady's shoulder. The judge watched for a moment, and then reluctantly continued.“And I order the defendants to pay the plaintiffs damages of five....”

Scott whispered to the lady and she smiled back at him and nodded.

“...Ten... thousand dollars.”

Scott smiled and nodded at the judge, and Dixon breathed a sigh of relief, but Clinton was on the verge of violence.  Clinton strode toward the bench and the judge yelled for the bailiff.  The bailiff grabbed Clinton, but couldn't silence him. “How DARE you!  I paid you good money to make sure my company didn't have any problems.  I OWN YOU!”

Scott reached over and grabbed Johnny's arm.  “I think we had better make ourselves scarce, brother.”  He turned toward Blackwell.  “I trust you'll take care of the details?”

The totally flabbergasted lawyer could only nod, and then he turned his attention back to the uproar in the courtroom as the two Lancers scurried out of the door.



Scott and Johnny sat in a bar in the hotel and celebrated.  They both felt like they were on top of the world.  Blackwell had delivered a check made out to the Lancer Ranch for ten thousand dollars, and he still had the original check from the lumber company.  With the money from the sale of the horses, the ranch was in sound financial shape.

“So how did ya get the lady ta come to court?”

Scott shrugged.  “I told her I was a friend of Dixon's.”

“So?”

Scott smiled.  “I told her that he had told me how much she meant to him, and that he wanted to ask her a question.  I told her that he wanted to ask her the question in front of people so she couldn't say no.”

“And she BOUGHT it?  Scott, I'm surprised at you, building up her hopes like that.”

Scott shrugged.  “I didn't say WHAT he wanted to ask her.”

Johnny laughed.  “Brother, I have the feeling that Clinton's public accusations are gonna be the least of the Judge's problems when he doesn't ask that little lady the right question.”

Scott nodded.  “Let's just hope we NEVER land in his courtroom again!” 

“We'd better not let Murdoch know about this.”

Scott snorted.  “He'd probably make us apologize. I think the less Murdoch knows about the last several months, the better.”

“That's fine with me. The less Murdoch knows, the longer we'll live.”

Scott nodded.“Now all we have to do is stop by the bank on the way home and pay off that loan, then hope that Cipriano has managed to do all of the repairs, and we MIGHT survive.”

Scott raised his glass and Johnny grinned at his brother.

“We'll survive only if you can explain that hill.”

“I'm afraid there's no way out of that one.  I don't think he'll accept ANY explanation for destroying those trees.”

“Well, EVERYBODY make mistakes.”

Scott nodded.  “All I can say is it'll be good to have him back  so we don't have to decide what changes to make for a while.  Let HIM make the mistakes and get the gray hairs for a while longer.”

Johnny thought for a moment and then raised his arm and touched his brother's glass with his own.  “I'll drink to that.”

Two days after Scott and Johnny rode under the arch, a buggy carrying Murdoch and Teresa pulled up into the courtyard in the late evening. Teresa jumped down and ran to the two men, embracing them and giving them both kisses on their cheeks.  Murdoch's descent from the buggy was a little slower, but he hugged first Scott and Johnny, and then studied them critically.

“You boys look rested.  You find something to do while I was gone?”

Scott and Johnny glanced at each other and then Scott shook his head.  “No, nothing.”

Murdoch looked at them suspiciously.  “You must have found something.”

Johnny smiled.  “No, Murdoch, we just watched the dust settle.”



Epilogue  

Johnny and Scott walked toward the house, tired after a hard days work, but thankful that their father was back home to pick up the reins.  For some reason, it was a little reassuring to know that someone else was in charge and making the decisions again.  Scott knew that feeling probably wouldn't last, but for now he was content to just follow orders.

Scott glanced over at his brother.  “What do you think it was?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Don't know.  I still think it was probably all of the clothes Teresa bought over in Europe.  Murdoch said she had a field day over there.”

Scott shook his head.  “Those boxes couldn't have been ALL clothes.  There were too many.”

Johnny shrugged again.  He and his brother had seen a wagon arrive from town this afternoon, loaded down with packing crates.  They had been too busy to go investigate, but they were both very curious, and had been taking wild guesses all day as to the contents.  “I guess we'll find out shortly.”

Scott nodded.  “All right, but remember, if it's clothes for Teresa, you owe me ten dollars.”

“And if it's somethin' for Murdoch, You owe ME ten dollars.”

“All right, let's go see.”

Scott walked in first, and went right into the Great Room, where he knew his father would be.  He saw both his father and Teresa standing by the bookshelf with silly grins on their faces.  He looked around in confusion, and then took a closer look at the bookshelf.  He approached it in a daze, and ran his hand over several of the leather bound books.

“I saw them and I had to get them for you,” Murdoch beamed.“It's the complete set of all of the classics.”

Scott turned toward his father in shock.  “There must be two hundred books here.”

“Two hundred forty-eight,” Murdoch replied a little ruefully.

Johnny clapped his brother on the shoulder.  “Don't think this gets you out of playin' chess with me.”

Scott shook his head.  “I hope you'll read some, too.”

Teresa nodded her head.  “They're for you, too Johnny.”

"That's right,” Murdoch agreed.  “There for all of us, not just Scott.”  He looked at his younger son meaningfully.  “I expect you to enjoy them, too.”

Johnny snorted.  “I may read some, but I won't guarantee I'll enjoy ‘em.”

Teresa looked crestfallen.  “But we bought them for both of you.”

Johnny looked at her and sighed.  “I know, and I appreciate it.”  He reached over and kissed the top of her head.  “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna be in the barn.”  He strode over to the door and disappeared outside as Teresa watched in disappointment.

“I hope he's not upset,” she sighed.

“I'm sure he's not upset, but reading books just isn't his idea of a good time.”

Teresa nodded her head glumly and looked at Murdoch.  “I guess you were right.”

Murdoch chuckled.  “Don't worry, darling, no harm done.”

Scott sighed.  “I think I'm going out to the barn, to, or he'll stay out there all night.”

Murdoch nodded.  “Those mares Johnny bought will make mighty fine broodmares for a foundation herd.”

Scott nodded.  “Yes, sire, they will.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find my brother.”



Murdoch watched as his elder son disappeared after Johnny.  The two boys had done a fine job of running the ranch while he was away, although he didn't believe for one minute that nothing had happened.  He still didn't have the whole story on the mares that were now firmly ensconced in his barn, and when he had gone to town earlier, his bankbook showed a balance that was hard to believe.  He had wondered briefly if his sons had taken up train robbery again.

He walked over to the window and looked out.  The hillside needed no explanation, that was for sure.  He had been properly indignant when Scott had first told him how the loggers had hornswaggled him, but in his mind, he'd known the trees would grow back.  After all, he had made the same mistake almost thirty years ago, and by the time the boys arrived home, the slope was as lush as it had been originally.  It would just take time.  Of course, he'd never let the boys in on his secret; he had to think of SOME way to keep the upper hand.

He sat back down at the desk and started to go over the accounts.  So far, he hadn't found any mistakes, but he was sure if he tried hard enough, he could come up with something.  He didn't want his boys to get too cocky.

Scott walked into the cool barn, and as he expected, found Johnny with his head hanging over the rail, watching one of the horses.  Scott shook his head and grinned.  “Barranca's going to start being awfully jealous of all the time you're spending with that new stock.”

Johnny sighed.  “I still spend most of my time with him and you know it.”

Scott came up and put his hand on Johnny's shoulders.  “They sure are beautiful, aren't they?”

Johnny nodded.  “I can't believe Murdoch bought them for me…us.”

Scott chuckled.  Those horses are about as much mine as those books are yours.”

Johnny smiled and turned back to the stall.  “Ya know, I was told that the Spanish royalty never let the color horses out of the country.  How do you think Murdoch managed ta get TWO Palomino Andalusian studs shipped home?”

Scott shook his head.  “I'm sure I don't know, but I DO know that he's a Lancer, and he never gives up.”

Johnny turned and grinned at his brother, and nodded.  “Wonder if we inherited that?” 

 

~ end ~

Want to comment? Email Terri