Usual Disclaimers Apply. Written Purely For Fun
Rated: NC17 for Language and Adult Content
Warning: Strong language, as necessary.
Author’s Note: If you prefer strictly canon stories…this isn’t one of them. This story has kicked around in various styles and formats in my mind since Johnny Madrid Lancer first blazed across my television screen in 1968. I put it aside as my real life world progressed only to have rediscovered Lancer in the summer of 2008 which reignited my interest once again.
I pay homage to all the wonderful Lancer fans who have created and continue writing their stories of the brothers’ adventures, as well as the wonderful websites for sharing their times and talents to make this an incredibly rewarding and fun way to spend my free time. You all have inspired me to listen to my own inner “Johnny” muse and put my thoughts down, as well as develop great friendships around the globe! Thank you!!!
I tell my story now for the sheer pleasure of sharing it with other Lancer fans. For those of you Scott girls, he’s very much a part of my story, as (of course!) is Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa. New characters are of my own devise, borrowing many names from my ancestors, along with a sprinkling or two of family historical stories that amuse me and fit well into my storyline.
Imagination and story-telling are wonderful methods to enrich our lives, taking us to different times and places in the past, the present and in the future. With stating this Lancer Ladies and Readers I set the time-line of my story a few years later than the original years projected in the TV series. The primary purpose was to fit as closely as possible to historical references in my story, where I had to stretch a teensy-weensy bit, like the Lancer writers did on occasion.
One example springing to mind is the mention of Jack Slade in “The Kid”, (the notorious and possibly the first celebrity American Gunslinger**) died (actually was hung on March 10, 1864 in Virginia City, Montana, by a Vigilante posse from Nevada City, Montana after a two-day drinking binge**) well before the early 1870s of the Lancer series, thus making it absolutely impossible for “The Kid” to hired Slade to avenge his father’s death. Guess the writers never imagine after all these years the Internet would make it possible for anyone to come along checking their “facts!”
I found a quote that was made by an “old-timer” back in 1913 to his family that pertains to the Jack Slade story too amusing not to share, “History is merely a lie agreed upon.” But this is enough about old Joseph Alfred “Jack” Slade – onto my story.
After the opening Prelude, my story picks up shortly after the closing events of “His Moral Fiber”, with a few references made to events that occurred in that story. The brothers ages are Scott, twenty-five and Johnny, nineteen, to fit accordingly to my purposes, TV Lancer producers, writers and directors be damned for not being more clear about dates, times and ages of the characters!
**From Death of a Gunfighter: The Quest for Jack Slade, the West’s Most Elusive Legend, by journalist Dan Rottenberg.
Word count: 73,457
Prelude – January, 1873
Murdoch Lancer had never given it a passing thought that the Western branch office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco would literally stumble upon any mention of Victoria, his third wife during the agency’s investigation of the whereabouts of his son, Johnny. There was no need for him to disclose his third failed marriage to the agency, ending in a divorce mid-June, 1860; he was only concerned about his sons…his heirs to his vast holdings that were under constant threat by Day Pardee and his band of vicious miscreants.
Murdoch had hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to find Scott in Boston and Johnny, God only knew where to locate that boy! The agents were to dangle Murdoch’s offer of one thousand dollars for an hour-long meeting along with all their travel expenses paid to meet with him at Lancer, his ranch near Morro Coyo. Murdoch had no intention to divulge to his sons or admit to himself that he needed their assistance to maintain his hold on his vast 100,000 acre ranch from the sadistic land pirates’ senseless and brutal on-slaughter as they made attempt after attempt to wrestle control of his land, HIS LAND. He didn’t know if they would come or if they did come if he could convince them to remain and fight for their inheritance alongside of him and his loyal hands that remained by his side.
Murdoch held the conviction that his sons would come if and only if the payoff was great enough to pique their interest…and just maybe out of morbid curiosity to meet their father, never truly knowing the man, due to circumstances beyond Murdoch’s control. Those circumstances drove Murdoch’s will and stubborn pride to demand total control in every aspect of his property; he became a singular possessive driven man who ruled those around him with an iron fist, demanding respect and loyalty.
The Pinkerton Agency did not disclose their discovery of Victoria since it wasn’t relevant to their case. Their client had made his stipulations crystal clear – find Scott and Johnny Lancer, make them his offer, do not take “no” as their answer and get them to Morro Coyo as soon as possible. As such the information was filed away as superfluous to their current investigations and simply forgotten.
Scott Garrett Lancer was relatively easy to locate, having lived the majority of his twenty-five years with his maternal grandfather, one Harlan Garrett. Of the Boston Garretts, stiff upper-lipped blue-bloods of the East Coast residing on Beacon Hill in a lavish, ornate mansion befitting the Garretts’ lofty position in life. There were servants to attend to his every need, the best education possible, food, entertainment, every material things Scott’s heart could desire. His only regret was the feeling of denunciation from his own father, never realizing the true story of the whys and therefore that he grew-up under his grandfather’s supervision and not his father’s.
Scott, seeking an adventure, a distraction, a change of pace was bored with the society life of Boston, after his service to his country during the Civil War, enduring a year’s imprisonment in a Confederate prison camp one slight step above his perception of what Hell must be like. He had run the gambit of the beautiful but petty, mean-spirited society woman, moving from one insignificant flirtation to another, dropping those that wished to tie him into the vows of matrimony.
Furthermore, Scott was thoroughly disenchanted with the prospects of entering into business with his grandfather as an accountant; too boring was his fervent belief. The opportunity to travel to California to meet his father was a chance too good to pass by, no matter the protests given to him by Harlan hour after hour until he finally escaped his ranting, grateful to depart on a westbound train. Scott’s cross-country journey would prove to be enlightening in more ways than he could have possibility imagined as he kept his mind and eyes open to the remarkable exciting new world destiny that was revealing itself to him with each turn of the train’s wheels, chugging further and further into the great American west.
Johnny Madrid Lancer on the other hand had been more difficult to locate, having been absconded at the tender age of two, by his mother, Maria in the middle of the night from the Lancer ranch along with her gambler lover. She was seeking to escape the tedium of life as a rancher’s wife, too far away from the excitement and draw of the night life that she craved. She was akin to a moth being drawn to the flame, only to meet its untimely death. Maria needed to dance, sing and twirl her brightly colored full skirts to the fast-paced mariachi music that made her heart race, her soul to feel free and feet tap in time to the beat. Consequences and Murdoch Lancer be damned, she wanted to live and breathe, with no thought to her son’s future or her own when she finally did get burned by the flames.
Johnny and his mother drifted from one border town to the next as his mother first made excuses why they continually moved, having been abandoned by her gambler lover, she many times would take another lover, sometimes without one lover’s “protection”, other times they ran from a jealous or vicious disposition man, but Maria was never without a man for long. Maria in no way provided a stable environment for her young impressible son, never put roots down long enough for Johnny to make friends or attend school with any degree of regularity, but despite their life style Johnny loved his mother. However, young Johnny grew-up tough and he grew-up fast, learning his life lessons the hard way, he learned to depend upon no one but himself, trusted no one but himself. Smaller than most boys his age, Johnny learned to be fast, how to protect himself in a fight, he was a tough scrapper, and as a result of being constantly picked-on he in turn would defend smaller, weaker boys from bullies, all lessons the boy carried with him as he grew-up into the fast, scrappy street-wise gunslinger.
Eventually one of the Pinkerton agents located Johnny, just in the nick of time; thereby avoiding a Mexican firing squad whose Captain was determined to make an example of the infamous Johnny Madrid, pistolero, who hired his gun out to make his living, typically fighting for the underdog, the oppressed masses. In this case, the villagers of a small, poor village that needed his assistance to free themselves from the inhumane treatment of the abusive Rurales hell-bent on draining the villagers of every peso they had as they managed to eke out their meager existence on their arid land.
No doubt, Johnny Madrid was good at his trade; very good at this trade, his only downfall was despite his harsh upbringing and the evil he witnessed when his mother was murdered by one of his many step-fathers, down deep inside he was a good man, a very good man. His heart of gold might have reached the end of his road in the Mexican village where he fought side by side with the farmers for their revolution, had it not been for the well-timed intervention by the Pinkerton agent who bought his freedom. Johnny promptly returned the favor by saving his life as the Rurales decided they wanted all of the Pinkerton agent’s greenbacks, as the Rurales began shooting at the pair, Johnny swiftly outgunned them, throwing himself on a frightened horse to make his blazing escape in the hot sun towards his destiny.
Johnny made his trek from the dirt poor villages of Mexico to the vastly wealthier state of California. His thoughts were simple once he got to the house his father built, take the money, listen for the stipulated hour and then put a bullet in Murdoch Lancer’s heart, if he could find one in the cold, heartless bastard that had shown him and his mother the keys to the road.
Two sons, with vastly dissimilar upbringings, lifestyles and point of views, both on life-changing journeys to meet the man who had sired them, both completely unaware of the other’s existence, believing to be the only son and only child of a man that both had reason to detest but yet both were ready, willing and curious enough to at least give him the benefit of hearing him out for his allotted hour. Perhaps during the time he would answer their private questions that had given them both nothing but turmoil their entire lives as to why they had been abandoned by this man.
Two sons with the twist of fate traveled to their father’s home, wanting and expecting answers, two sons with so much in common, yet two sons with so many differences seeking their destinies in California.
We all know the rest of the Lancer canon story…but what we don’t know is this part of their story…which begins within a few months after the failed land grab by Day Pardee and his gang of notorious land pirates. Enough time for Murdoch, Scott, Johnny and Teresa to have grown accustomed to each other, enough time to build their bounds of relationships and the ties that bind together a strong foundation of family unity…until new forces are to be reckoned with! This is that story.
Chapter One – March, 1873 – San Francisco
Mid-morning one of the associate Pinkerton agents was occupied relocating the voluminous case files on the Lancer sons, to the storage area for closed cases. Johnny’s was especially cumbersome and bulky the agent griped to himself. Shifting the sliding folders, he adjusted his hold as he watched with a bored expression one solitary newspaper clipping flutter to the hard-wood floor. Muttering a soft “damn it”, he bent down to retrieve the paper, taking a longer look at the clipping that featured the photo of a striking-looking woman wearing extremely lavish and stylish riding clothes with a cameo brooch pinned at the neck, drop earrings, a small riding bonnet perched with a jaunty tilt on top of her massive head of hair, holding a slightly raised riding crop, almost a greeting to an unknown admirer, perhaps approaching her.
The clipping was the obituary notice of Victoria Alexandra (‘nee Flynn) Lancer’s passing. The notice referred to her having been a prominent, gifted local artist but a well-known socialite in the Bay area having been a most admired hostess with her elaborate, elegant parties, enjoying the companionship of the most well-known members of the high society elite. What caught the agent’s eye was the closing paragraph about her being the “former wife of Murdoch Angus Lancer of Morro Coyo and the mother of twelve-year-old twins, Jesse Mackenzie and Jace Morgan Lancer.” That’s when it dawned on him the magnitude of the article, which was dated, January 15th, 1873 as he dropped the folders to the floor regardless of the mess it made.
“Holy Shit!” shouted Guinn Ward, “Will ya take a look at this John! Murdoch Lancer has two more sons somewhere here in San Francisco; at least they were this last January! Did you know anything about them?”
John Hereford looked up from his desk and turned pale as he grabbed the clipping from Guinn’s extended hand to quickly read it over once – then a second time more slowly to see if there was any reference to where these Lancer boys could possibly be living and with whom. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed as he looked from the article to Guinn and Miss Betsey Patterson who had joined them. “I had no idea. Mr. Lancer never mentioned this wife or having any other children. I wonder why he didn’t say a word about them.”
He shook his head in amazement at the follies of people and looked at his staff as he pondered over the agency’s obligations to their client. “We’ve better look into this to see what we can find out, maybe Mr. Lancer has his reasons for not mentioning these boys to us….maybe he and his wife had some type of arrangement or understanding.” John looked at his staff, “Guinn, get down to the newspaper office and see if you can learn anything from the beat reporter who handles the obits. Check with that high social reporter, Eliza Redding and get names of Mrs. Lancer’s high flaunting social acquaintances, friends, neighbors or anyone else she might have known, someone’s got to know her story, looks like she lived up on Nob Hill from the references in this obit.
“Miss Patterson, see if you can’t find the priest at the St. James Catholic Church who handled the service. Find out what he knows about these kids. We better locate them before we do anything else. I’m heading over to Mt. Calvary Cemetery to check with the caretaker – see if these kids have been visiting their mother’s gravesite at all,” John issued his orders to his team of detectives.
“Yes, sir!” said the agents as they grabbed their gear, heading out to attend to their respective assignments.
“Report back here in two hours,” he shouted out after them as they all rushed to their destinations. “No one wire Murdoch Lancer with this information until we can confirm anything about these boys, who they are, who they belong to and who’s taking care of them! Got it?”
“Yes, sir, replied the agents as they rushed out the door to their locations. John grabbed the reins of his horse from the hitching rail, as did Guinn, while Miss Patterson hailed a hansom cab at the corner.
“Nope, ain’t laid eyes on ‘em during my shift but then I don’t come in until noon when I start digging so maybe they visit before I git here or they come when I’m clear across on the other side of the cemetery”, said the dirty-looking caretaker as he spit out a stream of brown tobacco juice between his stained front teeth. “You want me to keep an eye out for ‘em? Boys about twelve? A pair of ‘em ya say?”
“That would be a good man; I’ll make it worth your while if you spot them. Follow them to wherever they go, but don’t let them spot you. Here’s an advance of $20 for your troubles and my business card,” said John as he handed the old man his card along with a gold piece. “Led me to them and there will be more than that gold piece.”
“You betcha, ain’t no trouble, I’ll keep my eyes out for ‘em,” said the caretaker as his eyes bugged out at the gold piece offered that he quickly pocketed, looking around warily to make certain no one was observing the transaction. His worries were for naught, as only the somber looking tombstones, the gentle breeze swaying the tree boughs of the weeping willows and the tall stately pines, filled with chirping birds, and an occasional grey squirrel scrambling from hidey hole to tree trunk surrounded the pair.
Leaving no stone not turned in his investigation, John stopped at the cemetery office to speak with the diminutive grey-haired clerk with a strict, no nonsense attitude, first refused to divulge any information. John reached inside his coat pocket and withdrew his wallet, handing her a crisp $20 banknote, she flipped her nimble fingers through the stiff file cards, withdrawing one card. Looking at the card she told John that the contact for Mrs. Lancer was her attorney, James S. Ferguson with an address near the Embarcadero. He set off to see if he could locate Mr. James S. Ferguson to see what he knew about this mystery.
Meanwhile, Guinn was tracking down his lead, checking with the obit type-setter who had no more information than what was in the article. “Sorry, I get information passed onto me from the editor. Check with him, he might know more than me.”
Eliza Redding was slightly more helpful, “Oh that poor Mrs. Lancer and her children, what a shame for them to lose their mother at such a tender young age. Oh, those poor sweet dear children. Mrs. Lancer received much praise and was sought after for her exceptional oil paintings of our majestic coastal scenery and hillsides filled with breath-taking colorful wildflowers. What a shame,” she said as she shook her head back and forth with a gloomy look across her broad face.
“Ma’am, if you could perhaps recall any contact of Mrs. Lancer, maybe an agent, a lawyer or even one of her society friends who can help me locate these children, I’d be much obliged.” Playing on her female sympathies he added, “I’m sure, you being the fine woman that I know you must be, you would want their father to raise them instead of strangers, wouldn’t you?” cajoled Guinn as he attempted to get her to divulge to him something useful in his investigation as to the whereabouts of the Lancer children.
Eliza blushed brightly at his compliment, now more than eager to help Guinn said, “Let me think, if I recollect correctly, Mrs. Lancer’s work was shown under the name of “VA” Flynn at the City Art Gallery. Yes, I remember how she signed her paintings with the V and A commingled, adding an elegant flourish to “Flynn”, it is an extremely artistic, unique signature. You know she was absolutely THE social butterfly, escorted to all the formal galas by many eager, handsome, important gentlemen. I’ll bet if you were to check with any of the local gentry or perhaps the artistic crowd they could give you detailed specifics,” she stated as she beamed with self-importance for possessing more knowledge than the type-setter had. “You must appreciate, how I can not reveal any of my sources names less they never forgive me. I would be out of a job reporting all their comings and goings.”
“Yes ma’am, thank you for your assistance, your secret is safe with me, ma’am. I solemnly swear not to mention your name to anyone, ma’am,” said Guinn as he tipped his bowler hat to Eliza Redding. He hurried off to the City Art Gallery, where he spoke with the curator of the establishment who told him the name of Mrs. Lancer attorney, was one James S. Ferguson, his office down near the Embarcadero. Guinn set out to locate the office, consulting the time on his watch; he had to hurry to get back in the allocated two-hour window.
At that same moment in time, Miss Patterson was interviewing Father Kelly at St. James, “Father any information you have about the whereabouts of Mrs. Lancer’s offspring would be greatly appreciated by our client, their father, Father.”
“Well, Miss Patterson, I would love to help you but since the funeral I haven’t seen either child. I know they were going to stay for the time being with their mother’s attorney, I believe his name is Robert…no…let me think…Craig…no, that’s not right either. Give me a second to think this over, I’m sure in your line of work you too meet a fair number of people and sometimes get names crossed with faces,” said Father Kelly as he noticed Miss Patterson was holding in her breathe in anticipation of the correct name.
Father Kelly stood up, pacing back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back as he mediated over the name. Raising one hand high in the air, he said, “It’s James S. Ferguson! I knew I would get the name right, Miss Patterson! I believe his office is somewhere near the Embarcadero.”
She was surprised that the spry little priest hadn’t shout “Glory Hallelujah” when he remembered the name. She somehow stayed composed not shouting out her own relief at getting a name along with the bonus of a location. “Thank you Father for your assistance!” said Miss Patterson as she quickly rose from the hard wooden pew to leave, stopped to shake his hand briefly, making the sign of the cross with a quick curtsey in front of the altar, she made a beeline to the waiting hansom cab, as fast as her pump heels and long skirt would allow. She checked her watch fob at her shoulder and saw that time was growing short. Should she risk being late in order to track down the attorney? “Do you know where the office of the attorney, James S. Ferguson, is driver?” she asked her cabbie.
He turned to grin at her and told her, “Toby’s me name Miss, and in answer to your question I know exactly where his office is would be. Do you want to go there?”
“As swiftly as possible.”
“Hold on to your hat Miss, I’ll take a shortcut,” he told her as he slapped the lines on the horses’ rumps to get them moving at a fast clip. She fell back against the upholstery back of the cab and did indeed grab her hat to prevent it from flying off her head as Toby drove the hansom cab around the hills at a brisk pace, somehow avoiding hitting anyone or anything during the highly exciting ride through the congested streets. Toby pulled to a sharp stop directly in front of the Law Office of James S. Ferguson.
“’Er, you are Miss, safe and sound! ‘er, let me help you down. Do you wish for me to wait here for you?” said the smiling cabbie as he reached out his hand to help the slightly out of breath lady down.
Miss Patterson first adjusted her hat back on top of her head and said, “Yes, that would be grand of you Toby. My you certainly know your way around the streets of San Francisco. That was quite a ride!” Miss Patterson was alighting from the cab with the assistance of Toby when she heard her name.
Looking up she saw Guinn Ward AND John Hereford pull up on their horses alongside her cab. “Well, it looks like we’re all have tracked the same lead in this investigation!” she said to both men as they gathered on the sidewalk by Mr. Ferguson’s door. The trio briefed each other with their information and how they were pointed to Mr. Ferguson as their contact person.
“Let me handle this portion of the investigation, you two keep your eyes and ears open, canvass the office for anything that might be of interest,” said John. “I hope Mr. Ferguson is a sensible attorney, not one of those college-educated whippersnappers from back East who thinks he knows what’s in the best interest of these kids,” he said as he adjusted his vest and buttoned his jacket up smartly.
John led the way into the office, where the trio was greeted by a matronly appearing woman at the front desk. “Good afternoon gentlemen and Miss, how may I assist you?” she asked, looking up at the group expectedly.
“Good afternoon ma’am is Mr. Ferguson available?” asked John.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked sounding a bit more brusquely than her original greeting as she fumbled through an appointment notebook, looking for anything jotted down that would explain the reason for this group’s gathering at her desk.
“Do I need one ma’am?” replied John tensely as he withdrew his business card, which announced him as the Chief Investigator for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency – West Coast Division and handled it to her. “My associates and I are investigating a delicate situation on the behalf of a prominent person.”
“This is most impressive Mr. Hereford. Please, give me a moment, to check with Mr. Ferguson. If he is available to see you,” she said looking apprehensively at the card, she hastily rose from behind her desk and pointed to the comfortable looking chairs and said, “Please be seated while I announce you to my husband.”
“Your husband is Mr. Ferguson?” John said. “Mrs. Ferguson, how fortuitous for us, my associates and I will be interested in speaking with you as well regarding our investigation.”
“Amanda, what’s going on out there? Do you need me?” called out a deep voice from the inner office doorway, where stood a tall man with jet black hair with the noted exception of his graying temples, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, he noticed the visitors in the waiting area, rolled his sleeves down and adjusted his tie which was disheveled and loose at his neck.
“James, this gentleman is Mr. Hereford, the Chief Investigator for the Pinkertons along with his associates. I’m sorry I didn’t get your names,” she said as she looked at the other two with a question in her tone of voice.
“Forgive my bad manners; this is Guinn Ward and Miss Betsey Patterson, said John as he shook Mr. Ferguson’s extended hand. Introductions were made all around and Mr. Ferguson directed them all into his office, indicating chairs for them to settle down in.
“May I offer you refreshments?” said Mrs. Ferguson, more relaxed with the presence of her husband. “Hot coffee? Tea perhaps?”
John smiled at the woman but shook his head no, “Thank you Mrs. Ferguson, what I would like to do is ask some questions that I believe you and your husband can aid in our investigation.”
Mr. Ferguson had folded his hands across his chest, leaned back in his chair and inquired with a slight look of trepidation appearing on his face, “How can we possibly assist the Pinkertons, Mr. Hereford?”
“Well, it’s a long story but I’ll come right to the point Mr. Ferguson. The Pinkertons were hired by Murdoch Lancer of Morro Coyo to locate his sons, Scott and Johnny to meet with him. This was accomplished a few months back and as I understand both sons are now full partners with their father in his extensive cattle empire. Today Mr. Ward was closing the files on our investigation when a news clipping was spotted that mentioned Mrs. Victoria Lancer’s passing in January. This article indicated that she was the former wife of Murdoch Lancer, and that there are children involved bearing the Lancer surname,” reported John.
“I see, Mr. Hereford. So your primary curiosity would be about the children?” asked Mr. Ferguson, his courtroom demeanor now in place as he did not give any indication that he knew anything of Murdoch Lancer, Victoria Lancer or the children.
John had looked at the lawyer and his wife for their reactions, noticing Mrs. Ferguson shift in body position and a look of alarm crossed her face so he proceeded by directly asking, “Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson will you tell us if Jace and Jesse Lancer are indeed the children of Murdoch Lancer?” This he said as he pulled the newspaper obituary with the circled sentence of Victoria’s marriage and the children from his inside jacket pocket. He placed the clipping in the center of Mr. Ferguson’s desk. Mr. Hereford listened with keen interest at the sharp intake of air by Mrs. Ferguson, noticing as she placed her hand to the center of her chest.
Remaining silent John Hereford waited patiently as the Fergusons exchanged troubled glances. Mr. Ferguson sigh deeply before he spoke, “Yes, Mr. Hereford, Jesse and Jace certainly are the children of Murdoch and Victoria Lancer, the latter formerly of Morro Coyo. While Mrs. Lancer was living, she made it unmistakably clear that she did not want or welcome any involvement or contact with Murdoch Lancer whatsoever for either herself or the children.”
Mr. Ferguson stood up from behind his desk, clasping his hands behind his back and continued, “She decided not to disclose during their divorce proceedings that she was expecting a baby. I didn’t even know until the divorce was over and done with that she was pregnant. Only thing was, Victoria didn’t realize that she was carrying twins until their birth. She remained steadfast in her resolution to raise the children without financial support from Mr. Lancer nor would she inform him of their birth.”
“Her reasons were her own and I am afraid have gone to the grave with her. But you must appreciate that there are specific matters that I can not divulge due to client-attorney privileges which doing so would place my reputation in jeopardy. Nor will I ever speak improperly of Victoria who was a dear, good friend to my wife, as well as many of our mutual acquaintances and, of course, myself,” concluded Mr. Ferguson.
Mrs. Ferguson spoke up at this point, “Victoria was an excellent mother and performed her duties as a mother with an immense sense of responsibility. She loved those children with all her heart and soul. She made certain they didn’t want for anything…anything at all,” she said dabbing at her eyes as she looked up sadly at the visitors.
“I’m sure she did Mrs. Ferguson, however, can either of you tell me why the children have not been brought to Mr. Lancer’s attention, as the surviving parent to raise them?” questioned John. “Under the circumstances, isn’t it his legal right to know about his children? Wouldn’t the law deem it to be Mr. Lancer’s moral and financial obligations to provide for their well-being and a home? After all he is their father, thereby their closest blood relative, along with Mr. Lancer’s two older sons.”
“Mrs. Lancer left an abundant estate that provides for anything and everything the children will ever want or need including their formal education. Both will inherit a large trust fund when they reach their majority. She was quite the astute businesswoman and her inventory of artwork has been selling at record prices. As the executor for her estate, both my wife and I had taken care of the twins’ well-being,” stated Mr. Ferguson.
“That’s all well and good Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, meaning no disrespect to either of you, but again they have a father who at this time knows nothing of them. Of course, I can not speak for Mr. Lancer, but knowing the trials and tribulations he went through to make contact with his older sons, I know I can speak with the utmost conviction that not only will he want to know of the twins’ existence. He will insist that they are with him on his ranch to raise them,” said Mr. Hereford looking evenly at both the Fergusons. “He is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to him and his children. I insist that you immediately take us to where they are staying.”
The Pinkertons took note of the distressed glances at the other on the faces of both Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson. “Is there something wrong?” pressed John. “You do know where the Lancer children are, don’t you? Are they in your custody or someone else’s? Where are they? Answer me Mr. Ferguson!”
Mr. Ferguson cleared his throat, while Mrs. Ferguson openly sobbed in her handkerchief, “Those poor sweet children,” she cried, shaking her head back and forth.
“Whatever is the matter?” What’s going on here?” said Miss Patterson as she jumped to her feet. She looked sharply at the older couple, hearing John clear his throat she became embarrassed at her impulsive outburst, sat back down quietly, and folded her hands in her lap all the while staring intently at the older couple.
“Well, if you must press the issue…the children have runaway. We don’t know where they’ve gone off to. This isn’t the first time since their mother’s passing, they ran off before but we were able to retrieve them promptly as they returned back to their home. But this time they’re been gone for almost an entire week and we don’t know where else to look for them,” said Mr. Ferguson with a forlorn look upon his face.
He continued, “We’ve tried everywhere, their friends and schoolmates, the places they liked to visit, their home, their tree house at their home, the docks, the parks, the zoo, everywhere but to no avail. I guess the only thing we didn’t do is contact your office for help but as I said Victoria had her reasons for remaining quiet all these years, not wanting to alert Mr. Lancer. She was well aware of his efforts to locate his second son by enlisting the aid of the Pinkertons and how absorbed he became with those efforts. Everyone in her circle knew about her former marriage and took great care not to reveal information about the children to Murdoch Lancer, not that anyone in her circle of friends had occasion to socialize with the man.”
“You don’t know where they are? Been gone for almost a week?” John repeated looking at his associates and back to the older couple. “Where were they last seen? What were they wearing? Did you check the hospitals? The local authorities? The port authorities? Orphanages? Churches? God forbid…the morgue? Could they have been kidnapped? Have you received a ransom demand?”
“We have checked everywhere, leaving nothing to chance in our quest to find them. I am now in the process of drafting a newspaper advertisement offering a substantial reward for information leading to their whereabouts when you came in. Believe me, Mr. Hereford, my wife and I are at our wit’s end, having done everything we can think of to find them. We knew they were still distraught over the passing of their mother, being the only parent they have known, even if she was exceptionally indulgent to their every whim,” stated Mr. Ferguson, “Especially this past year and a half.”
He continued, “She allowed them to be taken under the wings of certain Wild West Show characters when their show was in town about a year or so ago. Victoria permitted them to travel with the show for several months until she took sick, despite my misgivings in the complete matter. She thought the experience would be life-altering for them to travel and see the country, perhaps not realizing her life was slowly ebbing away. It was horrible sending a telegram to have the twins escorted back home to be near their mother while she lingered. If you think for one minute that we’re not sick with worry sir, then you are without a doubt mistaken,” Mr. Ferguson stated as his voice was filled with raw emotion.
“I don’t know what I’ll do first when they’re found, hug them tightly or turn them over my knee for putting us through this torment!” exclaimed Mr. Ferguson as he banged his fist down on the top of his desk.
John looked thoughtfully at him and said, “Ferguson, you now can count on the assistance of the Pinkerton Agency. No matter what we always get our man…well in this case…children. Do you have any recent photos of them? That would be beneficial for us to at least have an idea of what they look like. You mentioned that they had spent time with a Wild West Show, which one? Have you checked with the lead person to see if the twins have somehow managed to make their way to the show?” John was firing off questions so quickly, neither of the Fergusons had a chance to answer one before another question was thrown their direction.
“Mr. Hereford, slow down. Allow me to answer one question at a time,” replied the haggard-looking attorney, as he drew out his handkerchief to wipe his brow. “Well, Amanda, now we know what a police suspect must feel like when being interrogated by the local authorities,” he said to Amanda who had continued to softly sob into her own handkerchief.
“No, we don’t have any recent photos, there are photos taken when they were smaller back at their home. I can give you descriptions of them. Will that help?” asked Mrs. Ferguson as she looked over at her husband. “Victoria may have some recent sketches of them at her home as well.”
“It would be the foundation for the entire investigation. Miss Patterson why don’t you take Mrs. Ferguson to the other room and get the details from her, while Guinn and I go over other items regarding the Lancer children and what provisions were made for their welfare in their mother’s will,” said John. “I’m certain Murdoch Lancer will want to know anything pertinent to the care and custody of his children.”
“Come on Mrs. Ferguson, let’s get some tea brewing to help calm your nerves down, and mine too,” said Betsey as she assisted the older lady to the other room.
Mr. Ferguson looked back to John and Guinn and said, “I’ve already sent a wire to both Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley alerting them to the particulars. The show is preparing for a European tour soon and currently performing in Denver, as they head back East. Neither one of them has any current information to offer but promised to wire if Jesse and Jace appear on their doorstep. Mrs. Ferguson and I don’t believe they have run off to join the show. Through God knows they are not only well-educated in the disciplines of the Wild West entertainment business but have displayed propensities to be drawn to those adventurous, colorful characters prominently displayed on those cheap dime novels.”
In the other room, Mrs. Ferguson sat down back at her desk, while Miss Patterson looked around for the tea kettle. “It’s in the backroom, sweetie,” said the older woman. “I can’t believe the twins did this on their own accord! Someone one had to assist them. Oh my, you don’t think they could have been kidnapped?” she asked. “That would explain why there’s no trace of them!”
Miss Patterson rushed back to her side and gently patting her hand, “Calm down Mrs. Ferguson. Have you or your husband received a ransom demand?”
“No, but what if something happened and we don’t find them?”
Miss Patterson tried to soothe the distraught woman’s nerves by reassuring her, “Mrs. Ferguson, please remain calm that’s the best course to take so you can recollect even the most minuscule detail. You never know what will be the tipping point in resolving the case. You heard Mr. Hereford; your description of the twins will be the best aid towards finding them.”
“Oh my dear, of course, you’re right. Where do you want me to begin?” asked Mrs. Ferguson.
“At the beginning, of course, now I’ll ask questions and you say whatever first comes to mind, this will be the best way for me to get a clear idea of what they look like, what they were wearing, if they took anything with them, money, clothes, favorites items, anything that is missing from their home,” said Miss Patterson.
Chapter Two – San Francisco
Meanwhile, John and Guinn were gathering facts from Mr. Ferguson, once they got the address of where Victoria and the children had resided, John sent Guinn off to handle two things. First he wrote a wire to be sent to Murdoch Lancer, which read-
Urgent – Discovered today former wife, Victoria died in January – gave birth to your twin sons December 12, 1860 in San Francisco. Stop. Met family lawyer – considerable trust estate for children. Stop. Jesse and Jace ran away week ago. Stop. Begun search. Stop. Advise any stipulations. Stop. Waiting further instructions. Stop.
John Hereford, Chief Investigator, Pinkertons, San Francisco
Secondly he instructed Guinn to take Mr. Ferguson with him to the residence and perform a thorough search of the property, checking for secret hiding places, evidence of forced entry, unlocked doors or windows, missing items of value, possible activity in the house that could indicate any comings and goings of the children or persons unknown. Guinn and Mr. Ferguson were out the door off to the telegram office, just down the street.
John and Miss Patterson would head to the local authorities to speak with the Chief of Constables and to post the description of the missing children, when Miss Paterson had gotten enough information from Mrs. Ferguson. John went to join the two ladies in the outer office to see how far Miss Patterson had progressed with her interviewing of the older lady. He noticed that Mrs. Ferguson was still very much troubled as her hands trembled while she drank the hot tea given to her by Miss Patterson.
“Mrs. Ferguson, please, we need your help here. Compose yourself, gather your thoughts and concentrate on what you remember,” said Miss Patterson while John looked on, his notepad open and ready for jotting down anything useful.
“We had a pleasant dinner that evening before the twins went to bed. They didn’t say or do anything to make me think they were distraught or planning on leaving. The past few weeks had been what you could call normal; they had been catching up on missed school lessons with a tutor and had been attending classes again. Their friends were in and out, they rode their horses on the weekends during the day and we had taken them to theatrical performances. In fact, Jessie was finally compliant with the living arrangement which was a pleasant change in her demeanor since her mother’s death,” said Mrs. Ferguson as she sipped her tea slowly.
John and Miss Patterson exchanged startled looks exclaiming in harmony, “HER?”
This made Mrs. Ferguson look up from her tea to them in surprise. “Why yes, Jessie is a girl, I thought you knew that. Oh my! How would you? You thought she was a boy.” she stated.
“I guess we really didn’t discuss them as individuals, more as a matched set. Truth be told Jessie has always been allowed to run around with her brother and his friends rather than be schooled in the ways of the gentler sex. Victoria preferred her daughter develop an independent sense of self-worth like her own, believing strongly in women being equal to men. Incredibly odd way of thinking if you ask me my opinion,” continued Mrs. Ferguson. “But then again, Victoria was a successful businesswoman in her own right without a spouse dictating his orders to her or controlling her interests, business or personal.”
John and Miss Patterson both drew up chairs to sit adjacent to Mrs. Ferguson and to be on eye level as they continued to process the fact of one of the Lancer twins was a girl. “Mrs. Ferguson, can you please gave me a full description of what they look like?” asked John with raised pen.
“Certainly, they stand about 5 foot maybe 4 or 5 inches. Jessie is only slightly taller than Jace. Both have beautiful strikingly sapphire eyes, just like their mother’s, auburn hair with copper tones when the sunlight grazes across their tresses. Jessie normally has her hair pulled back in a long single braid or in a ponytail. Jace’s hair is a bit on the longish style, with curly locks at the back of his neck. Their complexion is fair unless they have spent time in the sun – both tend to tan fairly easily without burning despite the lightness of their skin tones.”
“They both favor wearing those dungarees with brightly colored cowboy shirts. They started dressing like that after spending time at that Wild West show, Victoria took them to be outfitted with boots, fancy belt buckles, cowboy hats, and fringed buckskin jackets, whatever they needed to look the part of cowboys she got it for them.”
“Come to think about it I don’t remember seeing Jessie in a dress after the twins began spending their free time at the Wild West show. Personally I was shocked to learn they were taken under the wings of those rowdy people, learning the ways of the Wild West, indeed. I even saw both of them practicing lassoing, and something they called a “quick draw” with stick guns in the back of their home one day. Well I told Victoria that I didn’t believe it was proper or fitting for Jessie to be behaving in that manner,” Mrs. Ferguson stated.
“What did Mrs. Lancer have to say to that?” asked Miss Patterson.
“She just laughed and told me that Jessie wouldn’t be anyone’s push over as she matured. Nor would she let herself be ordered about by anyone without standing her ground,” replied the older lady, looking lost in thought.
John looked up from his scribbling and commented, “Sounds to me as Mrs. Lancer might have been more than a bit too indulgent with those kids. It’s my experience you have to guide children as to what direction is expected, not the other way around. I guarantee that their father won’t be a push-over.”
Mrs. Ferguson pulled herself up straighter in her chair and said, “Victoria did what she thought was best, maybe it wasn’t conventional to your way of thinking or even mine. She had her reasons and was proud of her children’s spirited ways, their accomplishments, their abilities and their talents. Don’t get me wrong, they are polite, well-behaved children, quite accomplished having received an excellent education and are good-natured but independently minded children that will and do look out for the other.”
“This is all fine and dandy Mrs. Ferguson. I’m not here to judge what type of mother Mrs. Lancer was or wasn’t. I know Mr. Lancer is going to want them found and brought to him. Answer me this, where do you truly believe they have gotten too?” asked John. “Surely, you must have some type of gut feeling?”
“I wish I knew…but I don’t know. All my instincts tell me they are still here in San Francisco; perhaps they are being concealed by their friends. Don’t you think if we knew my husband and I would have brought them back home?” she said and began crying again. “We both love them as if they were our own children and only want what’s best for them.”
“Mrs. Ferguson, don’t worry, we will find them. I would like to suggest that you return to your home and stay there until we get back in touch with you. I want you to be there in case they do return during the day for food, money, or clothing, anything at all. I will assign agents to observe your home day and night so don’t be concerned about getting a message to me if they do show up or even with keeping the twins contained. Please just go home and stay there, an agent will be there before the day is out,” said John. “Your husband should continue coming here to his office and go about his daily routine. There will be another agent posted in this area as well to keep an eye out for the children. I can assure you that we will not rest until they are found, safe and sound.”
Guinn and Mr. Ferguson having sent off the telegram returned to the office and were met outside by John and Miss Patterson. “Guinn, you already sent the wire?” asked John.
“Yes boss, it’s done, we came back for our horses to head over to the house, something else you need?” asked Guinn.
“Mrs. Ferguson gave us the descriptions. The latest turn of events, is that Jessie Lancer is a girl not a boy. More than likely is dressed like a boy by the sounds of her preference of clothing,” said John as he filled Guinn in on the twins’ description.
“A girl? Holy Mother of God,” said Guinn. “You want me to send another wire to Mr. Lancer? Let him know?”
“No, you know how Murdoch Lancer is about wasting money unnecessarily on telegrams. Let’s wait until we hear back from him first. Perhaps we’ll have more to report, like they have been found safe and sound,” replied John. “Go ahead and carry on with your instructions. I’m going back to headquarters to put plans into motion. Your replacement will be sent over without delay to maintain watch of the residence. I want you back to the office for further directives as soon as Agent Murphy arrives. Miss Patterson, you head to the police station to post an alert there, as soon as you’re finished report back to the office.
“Mr. Ferguson, I have already instructed your wife to go home and stay there until further notice. Agents will be assigned to observe both your home and your office day and night to watch for the children or for any possible ransom demand. If they are in San Francisco we will know within a few days’ time, perhaps even by this time tomorrow,” said John.
John was at his best when it came to thinking quickly on his feet and not only formulating his action plan but implementing it immediately without reservation that it was the surest course to follow. He was one of the best, if not THE best Pinkerton man on the force, not to be out-smarted by outlaws, thieves, flim-flam con men and certainly not by twelve-year old children. In his heart, soul and mind he knew the Pinkertons would locate them quickly.
“As you wish Mr. Hereford, but please remember should you track down the children as their legally appointed guardian it will be my duty to accompany them to Morro Coyo. It will be necessary for me to meet their father to established the required chain of custody with him,” said Mr. Ferguson as he extended his hand to Mr. Hereford to seal their gentlemen’s agreement.
“Let’s find them first and then we’ll go from there. I can’t hold you back from making the trip. You make certain all the paperwork is prepared. I want the transfer to go smoothly once we’re in Morro Coyo with those twins,” said John as he pulled a cigar from his pocket, struck a match and inhaled the heavy smoke that burned Mr. Ferguson’s eyes.
Chapter Three – The Lancer Ranch
“What’s the matter Murdoch, ya looked like you’ve seen a ghost,” asked Johnny as he walked inside the Lancer hacienda’s Great Room, first pausing to remove his gunbelt and hang it on the front door tree in compliance with the tune-caller’s house rule. Johnny detested rules in general but this rule he loathed most of all, feeling positively buck-naked without his customary gunbelt strapped low and tight across his hips, even inside the comfort of his home. But his father was firm in his resolve in the matter, discussion closed.
Johnny and Murdoch had butted heads over several of his rules, going round and round in recent weeks. Johnny had learned a painful lesson that his father wasn’t going to back down on his rules having only recently recovered from a “discussion” in the barn with Murdoch’s belt doing the talking, the previous week. Johnny was trying his best to be a good son, sometimes it was easier said than done for him but he wanted Murdoch to be proud of him, despite their many differences of opinions.
Murdoch, on the other hand, was determined to provide the necessary guidance to his youngest son having had to resort to a good ol’ fashion butt blistering when Johnny had pushed too far. It had worked so far as the two were on solid ground with Johnny realizing just how far he could push before getting Murdoch’s goat. And Johnny did have his big brother watching his back, offering cautionary pearls of wisdom to help keep him more or less on the straight and narrow.
Scott followed closely behind Johnny. Examining their father’s faded appearance he asked, “Sir, are you okay? You’re looking quite pale. May I pour you a drink?”
Murdoch was seated behind his oversized oak desk with a look of total disbelief on his face, “Huh what did you say boys? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come in. I received a wire from the Pinkertons that has knocked me for a loop,” he said, indicating the opened telegram on the top of his desk.
“What’s wrong Sir? Is Johnny still in trouble over his last visit to Morro Coyo?” asked Scott, grinning at Johnny, reaching out with an elbow to his brother’s ribs. “Or is Mayor Higgs trying to pin something else on Johnny?”
“Nah, Boston, more likely he found out that Harlan switched ya with an impostor baby at birth,” quip Johnny. “I knew ya didn’t favor Murdoch with all that yeller hair of yours. Now me and him we’re both stubborn as the day is long, with tempers ta match, there ain’t no denying the family ‘semblances ‘tween us. Madre de Dios! Harlan ain’t comin’ for a visit, is he?”
Murdoch looked up at his sons, shaking his head no. “Boys, this isn’t about either of you. It’s about a part of my past I haven’t thought about in years. A part of my past that I didn’t know existed.” He glanced up from his desk to look at his sons and then back to the telegram with the shocking news he had just read.
Johnny and Scott exchanged worried glances at each other, wondering what this was all about. Something had put their father into a pucker. Even though they had only been together as a reunited family for a brief amount of time, the boys realized that Murdoch was indisputably distressed by the contents of the wire.
“Scott, Johnny, please sit down. This has been a shocking revelation to me, as I expect will be to you as well. I must tell you something first that happened quite some time ago in my past before I disclose the contents of this telegram.”
The boys exchanged uneasy looks a second time before turning their complete attention to Murdoch as they took their seats across from their father, shifting uneasy in the oversized chairs designed for comfort. It appeared neither brother was looking any too comfortable waiting for their father to resume. Murdoch’s face was etched with emotional strain as he sat staring perplexed at his sons before speaking.
“Come on Murdoch; don’t keep us waitin’ any longer. What the hell is wrong?” asked Johnny as he started feeling more than uneasy, he was getting edgy. His gut was twitching with the feeling he got when he knew to be on the lookout for unexpected troubles.
“Johnny, after your mother took you away, you know I searched for years and never found a trace of either of you? I thought perhaps she was deceased and maybe you as well. Not that I wanted to consider either scenario could possibly be true. Well, son, people do move on with their lives.”
Murdoch paused before continuing, making full eye contact with Johnny, “Under the laws of marital desertion in California, I had the marriage legally declared null and void in order to marry again.” He counted under his breathe to gauge the reaction he knew was coming, not making it to two.
“Ya did what??” shouted Johnny, looking at his father as his temper rose. Scott reached his hand to his arm to assure him that he was there for him and to settle him back down while Johnny glared with full Madrid measure back at their father. “Let me get this straight, ya married again after the law said my mother’s marriage to ya was how’s that again “null and void”?”
“Murdoch, just how many more marriages have you had that we don’t know about,” asked Scott as calmly, coolly and directly as humanly possible from the unpredicted revelation. “Just where exactly is this wife? Why isn’t she here at Lancer?”
“Slow down boys, I know this is a shock. You really didn’t need to know about this marriage, which is why I didn’t mention it to either of you. Just for the record, this was and will remain my final attempt at marriage. It seems not to be in the cards for me to find a woman willing to live out here in the middle of nowhere. Making a go of martial happiness alongside me. Trust me, I have no intention of ever marrying again,” said Murdoch as he checked over the contents of the message to make certain he had read it correctly…he had, shaking his head at the astonishment.
Murdoch rubbed his forehead and continued, “My third wife, Victoria Alexandra Flynn, was much younger than me, probably in hindsight too young. But then there’s no fool like an old fool, so I’ve been told. Not only was Victoria exceedingly vivacious and attractive, she was madly opinionated and fiercely independent. It must have been Victoria’s Irish charisma and her captivating smile that bewitched me into thinking our marriage could…would work. In the early days it seemed possible. Victoria excelled at oil paintings and had professed to love the scenery here on Lancer, wanting to capture it all on canvas.”
Murdoch paused looking at his sons before continuing. “Look around boys, many of the paintings that decorate the walls are her works, I couldn’t bear to part with them. All too soon it seemed to me, Victoria became bored with the “dullness and the harshness” of ranch life. Especially after the long cold winter we endured in 1860, it was one of the worst winters in these parts. Victoria made plans to return to her home in San Francisco wanting to fulfill her “destiny” as she foresaw it, by becoming a successful artist not a mere painter of local scenery. We divorced in the summer of 1860. I never saw her again…that’s been close to thirteen years ago,” Murdoch recounted the story of his doomed marriage.
“So why the shocked look? She’s not planning on returning here to visit with you, is she, Sir?” asked Scott as he sipped his own glass of Murdoch’s finest sipping whiskey. Handing Johnny a refill of his drink.
“Yeah, Murdoch, you’re not plannin’ on introducin’ us ta a step-mama are ya?” smirked Johnny looking more settled after he downed his second glass of tequila grinning at his brother with his now familiar quick wink when he was at ease with his surroundings or environment.
Murdoch looked at his sons and said to Scott, “I’ll take that drink now Scott. In answer to your questions…it would be a divine miracle if she did come back to visit. She passed away in January.” He paused as Scott handed him a drink of scotch, downed it in one quick gulp and handed his tumbler back to Scott for a refill. “I received word that I have two additional sons that were previously unknown to me. Which means you have younger siblings.”
Scott and Johnny looked at each other then back to their father; both looked confused, as if they hadn’t heard correctly. “Come again Murdoch,” said Johnny softly, his eyes wide-opened.
“Boys, you heard me right alright. I have twin sons to be precise, currently missing from their guardians having run off a week ago, according to John Hereford’s wire. Here read it yourselves,” said Murdoch as he handed over the telegram that had been delivered to him by the town errand boy, Tommy Perkins. Johnny jumped up, grabbed for it first and held onto it as Scott stood alongside him reading out loud over his shoulder.
“Jesse and Jace, twelve years old, running around on their own in San Francisco?” queried Scott in disbelief. “What is it with my younger brothers that make them strike out on their own instead of staying put and out of trouble?” he asked.
Johnny looked up at him, grinning said, “Ya jokin’ Scott? Ya do know that you’re in the west, land of opportunity, rough and tough spirits of people willin’ ta give up the safety and security of homes just ta see what’s on the other side of that yonder hill. Isn’t that a reason ya came out west havin’ that same common desire?”
Scott shrugged his shoulders, “Johnny, I’m not twelve years old, I’m a grown man able to fend for myself. I know you had an unconventional life growing up, is this typical for every young boy in the west?”
“Nah Scott, it’s just somethin’ we don’t hold back on doin’ if we need ta take care of ourselves, then we just do,” said Johnny with a note of pride in his voice “Unless those with the name of Lancer are just more free-spirited.”
Johnny asked, “Murdoch, do ya want Scott and me ta go ta San Francisco and help out with the search ta find our little brothers?”
Murdoch walked over to his liquor cabinet and refilled his drink for a third time, “No Johnny not yet. We just don’t have enough information. Having gone through this process in locating you, I would rather let the Pinkertons do what they do best and find the boys. I would expect that they have a fairly good game plan put together. More than likely dropped a wide net over the city by now.”
He paused to drink, slower this time, “I’ll prepare a reply that Scott can take into town, since you’re still not going anywhere near Morro Coyo for the time being, young man.” The color had been restored to his face as he was regaining his own composure from the shock. “Scott, you’ll need to wire a bank draft advance as well.”
“Well, Boston, looks as if I won’t be the younger brother anymore. Pretty soon ya’ll have two others ya can boss around ta your heart’s content, if they let ya get away with it,” joked Johnny. “Betcha they’ll be double trouble since I remember all the trouble I got in at twelve. Whoo-wee… Murdoch ya’ll probably be spending a lot of time out in the barn iffin’ these two are like I was.”
Murdoch laughed long and hard before saying to Johnny, “Was? Seems to me, Johnny my boy, that you still know how to get yourself into trouble. Let’s all hope that neither Jace nor Jesse will cause as much calamity as you did in town meeting up with your drinking buddies. I hope I will not have to spend all my time in the barn, tanning hides around here.”
Scott grabbed his brother in a headlock, asking him, “Tell me Johnny, do you go LOOKING for trouble?”
Johnny grinned sheepishly at his father, pulling his head out of Scott’s grasp as he took their ribbing, said, “No, Scott, trouble pretty much knows where ta find me. And ya know something, Murdoch, yer very funny when ya want ta be.”
Scott laughed, saying, “Johnny, no matter what, you’ll always be my little brother. But it will be interesting having two additional younger brothers under my feet! How much more trouble can they possibly be? You’ll be here to help out with the job of now being an older and wiser brother, with up close and special knowledge of how our father adjusts any errant sons’ behavior. This should be interesting all the way around.”
“You’re very funny yourself, Boston,” replied Johnny.
Murdoch smiled as his sons and then sat back down at his desk to draft his reply-
“Proceed with utmost haste. Stop. Wiring bank draft of advance. Stop. Keep me posted. Stop. Want boys home at Lancer. Stop.”
He next pulled out the Lancer account ledger to write a bank draft for the funds and placed both inside an envelope which he handed to Scott. “First thing in the morning, Scott, take this into town and take care of this business. Wait for an answer, I have faith that John Hereford will have an update for us late morning or early afternoon. He is very good at what he does. Check with Maria and Teresa, see if they may need supplies picked up while you’re waiting.”
“Yes Sir,” said Scott. “I’ll take this upstairs to my room for safe keeping for now. Johnny, I’m going to head out to the bath house and wash off all this trail dust from rounding up those steers today. Will you be joining me in the adjacent tub so we can organize a strategy for the morning?”
Johnny looked at him and said, “Brother, why do ya always use all them fancy college words when less works just fine? What’s ta plan, Boston? Ya ride into Morro Coyo, get the money wire from the bank, get the wire sent off and wait for an answer and come back – there’s your plan. I’ll go get water heatin’ if ya’ll grab a change of clothes for me while you’re upstairs.”
“Murdoch, can ya tell little Miss Teresa ta keep her nose out of the bath house? One of these days she’ll catch us naked as jaybirds if she don’t start knockin’ and waitin’ before walkin’ in on us. Ya haven’t told her there’s more of us Lancer boys on the way yet did ya?” asked Johnny.
“No, not yet. You were the first, after me, to hear the news. Johnny, I’ll let her know to stay away. Just don’t be lolly-gagging out there. Supper is…”
“At six! We know, don’t we Scott?” said Johnny, finishing off Murdoch’s sentence. “At least ya got us house-broke and hog-tied ta a schedule sorta. Be interestin’ ta see how much work ya’ll have ta do with my little brothers,” laughed Johnny at the stern look appearing on his father’s face.
“Get moving young man, you already know that you’re not too big for me to take you, in those fancy britches of yours, out to the barn to finish this discussion with you, in or out of them,” said Murdoch, as he pointed towards the bathhouse, with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes that Scott couldn’t see from his position at the base of the stairs leading to the second floor.
Johnny sighed, looking back at him, while Scott held his breath again; honestly he wasn’t looking forward to knowing his brother got himself into a fix again so soon. He wondered how many sessions it might take when he noticed that Johnny’s eyes were crinkling up in the corners, and it seemed instead of holding his temper in check, he was trying to contain a laugh from bursting out. Scott smiled with relief.
Johnny grinned as he replied, “Reckon I do Murdoch. I ain’t lookin’ for any more of those discussions from ya.” Johnny reached back and gave his dusty butt a quick rub as he recalled how his recent barn discussion with Murdoch had ended. “Once was more than enough for me, thank ya kindly.”
Murdoch said, “Don’t need to as long as you don’t give me a reason to make good on it. Remember Johnny, there are always consequences to be paid by rule breakers when I call the tune around here. Even if the Lancer boys are multiplying. I’m still the tune caller at Lancer.”
Johnny wisely decided not to play any games with Murdoch, instead he looked directly at his father and give him a quick nod of his head in agreement along with a softly spoken, “Yessir, Pa.” He turned to look at Scott who had been standing with one foot on the base of the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms and winked at him, “Well, Boston stop ya dawdlin’ or ya’ll be the one makin’ us late ta dinner. I’ll make ya face the old man’s consequences instead of me if ya make us late. Git a move on will ya?”
Murdoch turned his back so neither one of his sons could see the big smile play across his face at his son’s light-hearted bantering to his older brother and thought, “Ahh…nothing like sons to keep a man young-at-heart and on his toes.” He returned to his desk to contemplate why he was so unlucky in love, rich in sons but unable to find that one true lasting love to make a man’s life fully complete.
Johnny had been heating water, filling the two wooden tubs inside the bathhouse and was just finishing up when Scott came in with their change of clothes.
“What do ya make of all this, Scott?” asked Johnny, as he removed his dirty clothes, dropping them on the floor in a pile, while his older brother carefully folded his own dirty clothes and placed them neatly inside the laundry basket by the entryway.
Johnny had sunk down into the water and was leaning back relaxing and waiting for his brother’s thoughts, “I don’t know what to think, Johnny. I guess if you or I were in Murdoch’s shoes, errr boots and your first wife had died, a second wife would make sense…but a third??? At least we can be grateful they all weren’t at the same time that would have made us Mormons. I hear they have quite a number of wives and children.”
Scott stopped talking for a moment and glazed over at Johnny, who had his eyes closed, leaning back enjoying the soothingly comfort of the water. “Ahhh, Johnny, you do know about men and women…I mean…I assume that you have been…”
“Just get it said, Boston,” said Johnny as he opened his deep sapphire eyes to stare at Scott, who was obviously struggling to find the right words to say to his little brother. “Are ya askin’ me if I’ve been with a woman?”
Scott let out a deep breath and said, “Well damn it, Johnny, yes. I mean it’s not easy for me to ask you such a personal question, especially if it’s none of my business.”
Johnny laughed at his brother’s dilemma, “Scott, in case ya already forgot, this is the west not your fancy ol’ Boston. Here younguns grow up knowin’ what goes on between men and women, where babies come from and how they got there ta begin with. I see how ya act when the first pretty little thing comes sashayin’ down the boardwalk in Morro Coyo. Ya tip your hat, offer ta carry her packages and hold onto her hand if she lets ya, doin’ your little courtship dance. Ya just need to be careful that ya not the one gettin’ caught unless ya really want too.”
“Ta answer your question, Scott, yeah I’ve had my share of female comfort. Just didn’t see any reason ta marry any of them, guess that’s one difference between me and the ol’ man. Hell, I know my mama and him had ta get married since they had celebrated the honeymoon before the marriage. I doubt that happened with Murdoch and your mother and if my arithmetic is correct our new brothers’ mama made him hold out until a ring was on her finger.”
Scott looked at Johnny, “Glad to hear I don’t need to give you a “birds and bees” talk, sounds like you’ve got everything under control. Only cautionary piece of big brother advice I will offer you is to be careful none of your ladies has an angry father or jealous husband waiting in the wings to catch you together at the most inopportune time.”
Johnny snorted, throwing a wet washrag at his brother’s face, “Don’t tell me that happened ta ya!”
Scott threw the rag back, admitting, “Couple of times brother, couple of times,” as he dipped his head under the water to rinse out the soap suds.
“Come on, Scott, time’s awastin’ and ya know Murdoch gets that glint in his eyes that makes me think his belly is painin’ him something fierce when I’m late for dinner. Get a move on will ya?” said Johnny as he stood up, dripping and shaking water from his sinewy, well-muscled tanned limbs and from his jet black-blue hair that brushed the lower part of his neck before grabbing a towel to briskly rub himself dry. All the while he kept his guard up for Teresa heading their direction. Johnny thought about her maddening habit of barging in on either one of them without thinking anything about it. Well, one day she would if she caught either one of them without their pants on. He grinned wickedly thinking, “Maybe that’s what her plan is…”
Scott hurried, drying his long limbs that were turning golden brown from his hours in the sunlight after enduring a few bad sunburns acclimating to the warm temperatures and long hours of light in the California sunshine. He laughed aloud as he thought about his younger brother, who had a tendency of stripping naked, jumping into one of the ponds on Lancer to cool off from their never-ending ranch duties. He wasn’t quite adjusted to Johnny’s displays of public nudity, being much more cautious about throwing off his clothes in board daylight. The first few times Scott was downright embarrassed at his brother’s boldness but he was learning to adapt and join in as his skin tone attested to this by his now all-over golden tan. He grinned wickedly thinking how his grandfather would have a fit if he knew his little Scotty had become somewhat of an exhibitionist.
“Will ya get your head back here Boston? Don’t know what you’re thinkin’ about but I’m hungry and ready ta head ta dinner,” said Johnny as he finished buttoning up his brightly colored red shirt, tucking it inside his clean pants.
“Okay, okay. I’m hurrying…one would think you weren’t getting fed regularly around here. I don’t know how you can eat as much as you do brother and not gain any weight!” said Scott as he finished pulling on his clothes. He ran a comb through his damp hair to smooth it down. “Here, Johnny, try using this on your hair instead of your fingers, it works better.”
“Thanks. Now are ya comin’?” asked Johnny as he dragged the comb through his thick dark hair, smoothing down his locks.
The brothers reached the dinner table, just as Murdoch was checking his watch. “Ahhh, here are my sons, right on time too.” Maria and Teresa were just walking to the massive dining table to place the evening meal down with the beef roast directly in front of Murdoch to crave. “Smells wonderful ladies, as usual. Thank you.”
Scott held out the chair for Teresa and she gave him a big smile to show her appreciation at his well-honed manners. “Thank you, Scott, it’s always nice to be treated like a lady around a ranch filled with men.”
Johnny looked over at Scott and mumbled, “Sooner or later there’ll be a couple more “men” around here to be cookin’ for.”
Teresa looked over at him, to Scott and finally to Murdoch before she said, “Pardon? What did you say Johnny?”
“JOHNNY!” bellowed Murdoch. “I haven’t mentioned anything to Teresa, yet.”
“Murdoch, what’s going on?” asked Teresa looking confused. “Does it have anything to do with the telegram that came this afternoon? Has something happened?” She was beginning to get upset.
“Nothing for you to be worried about Teresa, I hope that soon we will have two additions to the Lancer clan coming to live here on the ranch,” replied Murdoch as he patted her hand gently.
“Murdoch, you’re talking in riddles…whose is coming to live here?” she asked. “And when and why?
Murdoch cleared his throat and picked up the craving knife to keep his hands busy, while he talked. “That telegram came from the Pinkertons in San Francisco, informing me that my last wife, Victoria, after we were divorced gave birth to twin boys. I knew nothing about this until this afternoon. The boys have run away from their guardians and the Pinkertons are looking for them. Scott will be sending a message and bank draft tomorrow morning. We hope to hear some good news that they boys have been found soon.”
“Now who’s ready to eat?” asked Murdoch as he passed the meat plate to Scott.
Teresa had been sitting quietly listening to what her guardian had to say and she looked surprised but cheerful. “Murdoch this is wonderful news! The house will be filled with the sound of voices and to think all boys! Twins! Tell me more…whatever you know. What are their names? How old are they? Where’s their mother now? Will she be coming here? It will be great to have another woman around the house…”
Murdoch answered her questions as best he could as the meal progressed, the family excitedly talked about the news; which room to put the boys in – their own or together; wondering what they looked like; if they favored their mother or Murdoch; if they had been attending school; if they knew anything about horses. But Murdoch’s main thought was how well they would adjust to a totally different live style than living in a big city. He was deeply concerned as to how the loss of their mother at their young age would affect them. He knew he needed to have a long talk with Johnny about this topic, hoping Johnny would be able to reach out to his young sons and help forge a common bond between the brothers.
“How ironic…all my sons have the shared experiences of losing their mothers young and not growing up here on Lancer. Well, at least with these two I can fix the latter sooner than I did with Scott or Johnny,” thought Murdoch to himself as he looked around the table, sipping his glass of merlot. Johnny happened to looked over, catching eyes with Murdoch; he raised his own glass in a silent salute to his father, along with a wry grin, almost to say “Ya sly old dog!”
The next morning Johnny and Scott were up with the rooster’s crowing. The brothers stumbled downstairs to the warm smells of coffee brewing; frying ham steaks and hash brown potatoes. They found their father already up was, finishing his breakfast alongside Cipriano. “Ah, about time you two joined us!” said Murdoch. “Scott, we were just going over your duties for the day, they need to be reassigned to some of the other hands. Boys, sit down, have your breakfasts. Scott, I want you to take a wagon into town today and pick up additional fencing materials; we have fence lines down along the north ridge from this week’s downpours that need mending. The current supplies have been allocated to Johnny for the south gully.”
“Sure, Murdoch, I’ll pick-up the supplies,” said Scott as he took a long sip of his hot black coffee. “Teresa and Maria if you need anything, give me your list.”
“Oh boy, is that a chocolate cake I smell baking?” asked Johnny as he poured sweet maple syrup over his ham steak.
“Leave it to you brother to pick out chocolate over everything else cooking in this kitchen,” mumbled Scott as he drank his coffee, trying to clear his head from the liquid liberations he had consumed before, during and after dinner, as the men sat up longer than usual last night talking about the changes coming to Lancer. He knew that Murdoch was counting on him and Johnny to help Jace and Jesse get through the tough spots. To think just a few short months ago, he didn’t have a clue about even having one brother – now there were two more on the way.
“What’s the cake for Teresa,” asked Johnny as he continued to eat his syrup-laced breakfast.
Teresa rolled her eyes at his eagerness of anything chocolate, “It’s tonight’s dessert if and only if Scott promises to go over to the dress shop and pick up some items I need. I wrote down a list of items last night while you men were talking,” she pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of her apron and handed it to Scott.
Scott read the paper and groaned, “Ohhh! Teresa, you’re sneaky! That’s what you are! If you wanted to sweet-talk me into getting these items you should have baked me an apple pie, it’s Johnny who likes your chocolate cake better than me…not that it’s not first-rate. But I have to call this out and out bribery.”
Teresa smiled, “What was that Murdoch told you on your first day here, “nothing for nothing”, you want pie I’ll bake one just for you tomorrow if you’ll bring me every last item on my list.”
“Heartless wench that’s what you are,” said Scott, clearly not happy to be outmaneuvered by this mere slip of a girl, who despite being extremely annoying and now sneaky, was the best baker in the entire San Joaquin valley.
“What’s on the list that’s got you so riled up brother?” asked Johnny as he tried to snatch it from Scott’s hands, but he held tightly to the list.
“Women’s things, that’s all. It’s bad enough to have to sit around and wait while she tries this or that on, now she’s got me fetching her things,” Scott said as he folded the paper and tucked it inside his jacket pocket away from Johnny’s prying eyes and hands. Teresa smiled sweetly at him while he glared over at her. “One thing I’m glad is that since we’re adding on to the family – at least it’s with male reinforcements – there’s one too many females around here.”
Teresa stomped her foot at him, saying, “You had better be nice to me, Scott Lancer! Unless you want to start baking your own desserts from now on!! This may be the last thing I’ll ever bake and I’ll make sure Maria won’t be fooled with any of your proper Bostonian sweet talking.”
“Si, Senor Scott, finish your breakfast. Take care of your Papa and Senorita Teresa errands or else I use this wooden spoon,” said Maria waving her large cooking spoon around in the air.
“Okay, okay ladies. I surrender! I know when to give-up! Teresa, I’ll take care of your errands,” laughed Scott as he held up his hands in surrender under the threats of losing his pie and getting his rear struck with Marie’s wooden spoon. She had made plenty of swipes at Johnny, landing several when he helped himself to extra sweets when he thought Marie wasn’t looking, making Scott laugh at the thwacking sound and Johnny’s yelp of, “Madre de Dios!”
Now it was Murdoch, Johnny and Cipriano turn to laugh at Scott in his predicament with the ladies. “Scott, in case your own apple pie isn’t incentive enough, be home in time for dinner, regardless if you hear back from the Pinkertons. No sense missing out on Teresa’s chocolate cake and giving Johnny the opportunity to have your portion. Make no decisions without my authority in this matter. Understood?” stated Murdoch locking eyes with his son.
“You call the tune, Sir,” replied Scott dutifully.
“’Course he understands, Murdoch. Didn’t he go ta one of them fancy colleges back east? Let’s hope it weren’t for nothing,” said Johnny, giving his father his smile, showing off his pearly white teeth. “Hey, Scott, daylight’s burning, time ta saddle-up and ride on, just watch out for any of them females waltzing around carrying any of those fuc… parasols – those things sure can cause a man a lot of dread and misery.”
“I’ll take your pearls of wisdom to heart, little brother.” Scott smiled as he recalled why his brother was not joining him on his trip into Morro Coyo. He grinned as Johnny stopped mid-stride from swearing in front of Teresa and Maria and more importantly, Murdoch, who was well aware of the near slip-up by his young son, arching his eyebrows in the manner that Johnny knew to drop it.
“And if ya happen ta see that Arabella Higgs and her friend Becca, tell ‘em I hope they’ve learned ta watch where they’re a walkin’ and a jawin’.” Johnny grinned.
“I’ll be sure to give them your regards if they just happen to be in Morro Coyo today as well as your regrets for not being able to bump into them. Since there’s no dance tonight that I know of, I should be safe from any ill-conceived attempts on their part to destroy what’s left of the town,” Scott jested to his brother.
“Johnny…Scott…” cautioned Murdoch. “That reminds me though; Johnny did you finish your letters of apology to the young ladies?”
“Not yet, I needed Scott ta help me with some of them fancy words, maybe tonight,” mumbled Johnny as he realized he could get himself back into trouble real quick if he didn’t get those letters written.
“Tonight it is, brother,” said Scott as he finished his breakfast and he and Johnny walked out to the stable to start their day’s assignments. Johnny would be heading out to the south gully to continue with the never-ending fence mending and hole-digging to lengthen the fence line. Big brother would spend the day in town, running a few easy errands, enjoying a nice cold beer or two and maybe some poker.
Scott rigged up the wagon with two of their work horses, climbed in and gave his brother a quick wave, slapped the lines to get the horses moving, while Johnny looked forlornly after him said, “Bye, Scott.”
Scott drove off towards town with his thoughts processing the latest news. ”Well, life here has been anything but dull, run of the mill or routine. Wonder when those two rapscallions, his newly discovered little brothers would be located? And when they would be brought to Lancer? I hope they won’t be “double trouble” as Johnny said last night. We don’t need that much excitement.”
Johnny saddled Barranca and got his work crew headed out to the south gully where they had a full day of work ahead of them. “Stupid cows! If only they would stop tearin’ up fencin’ ta eat grass on the other side, I’d be happy with less work around here for me ta do! Wonder what it will be like once Jesse and Jace arrive? I know just what they’re must be thinkin’ about, losin’ their mother and all. It’ll be great havin’ little brothers so’s I can do some bossin’ round here for a change. Maybe even the three of us can gang up on ol’ Boston once in awhile,” he grinned remembering some pranks he could show his little brothers.
Murdoch sat drinking one more cup of strong, black coffee, mulling over his former wife and her reason for withholding the birth of his children from him. “I’ll never understand the minds of women. Being mad at me is one thing but to not tell me I had twin sons is quite another! Especially after not knowing where Johnny was for all those missing years and not able to get Scott back from the clutches of his grandfather. Victoria knew how much I wanted children. How could she have done this?” Murdoch had no answers and found none staring at him from the bottom of his coffee cup. He let out a big sigh and said, “Teresa, I’ll be at my desk for the day.”
Teresa with her big brown eyes watched Murdoch walk away, thinking to herself, “JUST GREAT! MORE BOYS! Is that all he can produce? Just what I need two more boys to be picking up after, washing more filthy clothes, two more hungry mouths to feed! When will it end???” She shook her head as she cleared the breakfast dishes, looking over at the pile of dirty laundry waiting by the door. “AHHHHH!!”
Chapter Four – On the Road to Los Angeles
In the interim, Jessie and Jace Lancer were busy avoiding contact with any bothersome adults who might question them as to why they weren’t in school. They steered clear of any sheriffs, constables or marshals who might be searching for them, stayed well away from any well-meaning busy bodies wanting to take care of them. It was most important to get to where they would feel welcomed by the only people they believed would care for them how they wanted, which was they didn’t want anyone’s pity. They wanted to be able to pull their own weight in an environment they felt suited them best, where they felt good about themselves and had fun.
They didn’t run away because they had not been well care for by the Fergusons and their mother’s society friends…they had been. They didn’t run away because they didn’t love their hometown…they did. They didn’t run away because they weren’t loved…they were. They ran away because they were tired of all the sad looks, the well-meaning comments, the constant reminders of places and things they had done with their mother, the “tisk-tisking of you ‘poor motherless children’, the inability to grieve for their mother without other people fussing over them every time they were sad. They ran away because they could not tolerate being in San Francisco any longer knowing they would never ever have their mother back.
Jessie being the elder of the two by ten whole minutes was the decision-maker of the pair, possessing a keen mind along with a fiery, independent disposition, just like her mother. Jace on the other hand was the easy-going, relaxed twin bearing an analytical mind; together they were a force to be reckoned with as they looked out for each other. Jessie was considered the brains while Jace the brawn when it came to physical situations but both would reverse the roles if appropriate for the circumstances. Since their mother’s passing, both felt suffocated by the constant attention they had endured. As orphans they felt they had to depend upon only themselves to carry-on with their lives in a matter they believed their mother would approve of – by living freely and making their own decisions, be they right or wrong…they were their decisions to be made.
No longer did the twins want to live in the city where only poignant memories remained of their happier days. Everywhere the pair went they were reminded of the fun-times and laughter with their mother, who lived her life to the fullest, she taught them to reach for the stars and make their wishes come true. That was what they were doing, when they made their plans to strike out on their own.
Jessie ever vigilant in making their plans had prepared them for their journey. She had made certain they had plenty of available money by returning to the family home and selling items to local shops and stores that hadn’t asked any questions about the property. She had close to two thousand dollars tucked away that she carried half in one boot, while Jace had the other half in one of his, a trick they had learned from their Wild West friends. Plenty she thought to take them where they wanted to be until they could start earning their own way.
Jace had been in charge of finding their best means of transportation, be it passage on a ship bound for New York, or overland by stagecoach and train, he was to determine the fastest, cheapest and easier method for them to travel to join up with their friends in the East.
Jessie had decided that they needed a letter written to use in the event anyone did wonder and question them as to why they were wandering around on their own. Dressed up as a boy, at one of the local parks, she found an elderly person, who was down on his luck and who was more than eager to write a letter stating the children were on their way to their grandparents’ home in New York after the passing of their mother. She paid him for his assistance, which she hoped he would use to better his own life, get a decent meal or two and not spend it all on whiskey or beer, but then that was up to him she thought as she tucked the letter between the top of her jeans and shirt, pressing it tightly against her warm skin.
When they left the home of the Fergusons, neither one gave much thought to how it would make the older couple feel, their minds were made up. They knew where they were headed and how they were going to get there. They had said their good-byes to their unsuspecting friends and had made a final visit to their mother’s resting place, leaving a bouquet of flowers picked from the Fergusons’ garden. They had packed extra clothes, food, boot knives and their own pistols given to them as parting gifts by their cowboy friends, Pawnee Bill and Cowboy Kid from the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. They were ready and anxious to make it on their own by reaching their friends at the Wild West show before it left the country for their scheduled European tour.
The twins waited until the couple had gone off to Mr. Ferguson’s office. They knew this would give them a full-day’s head start before anyone would realize they were missing. Not leaving a note was Jesse’s plan from the get-go, “No, Jace, no tipping them off. What if they come home for lunch? That cuts our head-start in half if they figure out we’re gone. We can send them a letter when we join the Wild West Show before leaving for Europe. We’ll make our apologies then.”
“’kay Jesse, let’s get going. We need to be in Los Angeles within a week to catch the train to Denver in time to make another connection if we need to, otherwise we may have to wait another week for one,” said Jace as he pulled out from his pocket the train schedule he had ripped out from the local newspaper. The trains out of San Francisco bypassed Denver completely, heading north instead to avoid the mountain passes, making it necessary for them to travel south to catch a train north.
The pair saddled up their solid black Irish Draught horses, Skylark and Blackjack, loaded their gear and headed directly south of their home towards Los Angeles. Neither one looked back as they rode along at a leisurely, steady pace, nothing exciting to draw attention to the pair of “boys” out taking a early morning ride on their horses. Jessie had braided her long hair and tucked it up under her cowboy hat, looked identical to her brother.
The pair rode relaxed in their saddles on their horses, given to them in an attempt to console the grieving twins within a month’s time of their mother’s passing, by the Fergusons, with their mother’s funds left for their care and needs. The blacks were a rare pair of matching horses, a breed new to America with solid black coats and blue eyes; they were perfect for the twins. Useful in their escape from their hometown, however, the twins planned on selling them once they reached Los Angeles for the additional money to fund their living and travel expenses.
By the end of the day, they had traveled as far south as San Jose, where their found a suitable camp site for the night, near water and long sweet grasses for their horses, by an area enclosed by rocky terrain to keep night stalking predators at bay. Yes, it was fortunate both were quick students of the lessons taught by Wild Bill, Annie Oakley and the other performers in the show. Despite their youth, Jessie and Jace were not afraid to be on their own; perhaps because they were young they didn’t realize the folly, how imprudent their plans were or how quickly things could deteriorate, becoming dangerous or life-threatening. For the time-being the twins took comfort by building a fire to brighten and cast off warmth to their campsite under the cooling night sky and cook their meal from a rabbit Jace snared.
As they lay under their saddle blankets, snuggled close to each other for warmth, security as well as for comfort, Jessie looked up into the night sky and asked, “Jace do you imagine that mother is up there watching over us tonight?”
Jace rolled to his side to face his sister, “I don’t know, it’s a nice thought to think one of those twinkling stars is her watching over us. I think she would be proud to know that we’re all grown-up now and able to fend for ourselves. I sure do miss hearing her singing to herself while she painted, don’t you?”
Jessie turned on her side to face her brother and said, “That was when she was her happiest, having a brush in her hand, her songs were filled with such joy. I hope she can paint up there in Heaven among all those angels in white. There better be more colors up there than just white – don’t need anything but a canvas if that’s the only choice,” she said. “Mother would be so bored if that was the case. I don’t want to think of her being bored. Maybe she’ll be too busy watching out over us to be bored,” the young girl reasoned with both herself and her brother.
“We’d better get some shut-eye so we can start out early tomorrow. Good-night Jess,” he said turning to lie on his back.
‘Night Jace,” she said back and continued to stare up at the stars, watching them twinkle and seeing ever so often a star shoot across the night sky. “Wow, those travel pretty fast,” she said to herself, finally drifting off to sleep between the night air and the star-grazing.
The next morning, the pair continued towards their destination, hoping that the Fergusons thought they had gone to stay with friends, giving them additional time to travel further away. Even though they had spent time with their mutual friends before departing, neither Jace nor Jessie had revealed their secret to their friends, believing this strengthen their chances of having a clean break with no loose ends.
She reasoned that if their friends knew nothing they wouldn’t be put in the position of telling lies or even possibly slip and give anything away accidentally. In essence there wasn’t a living soul with the exception of the street person who had any knowledge of their possible whereabouts and the way Jessie figured he didn’t even know enough to help anyone if he had a mind too. It was like they had just up and vanished from the face of the earth, well at least from San Francisco.
They rode on until they came to the dusty, small town of Santa Cruz, where they stopped for the night. They were both exhausted from the two lengthy days in the saddle, dusty and sorely in need of a good night’s sleep from sleeping on the hard ground the previous night. They didn’t realize just how grubby being a “cowboy” really was; it was quite different than being a show performer in the Wild West Show. They tied their horses up to the nearest hitching post and got down to walk off some of their stiffness in their legs and rear ends.
“Do you suppose we could get a decent meal over there at that hotel dining room,” asked Jace. His stomach had been growling for the past several hours and he wanted nothing more than a hearty hot meal to fill it up along with a big cold glass of milk, especially if they also had some home-baked apple pie. His mouth began watering as he thought of the fine meals Mrs. Ferguson’s cook, Sophie, had made this past week and felt bad for the moment they weren’t there for tonight’s meal.
Jessie looked over at her brother and said, “You and your stomach! I can’t get over how much food you need to eat in one day! But now that you mention it I guess I am kinda hungry too. Let’s go see if they have anything we’ll enjoy, Jace.”
Off they went to the hotel to get their supper. They stopped just outside the doorway and tried brushing away as much of the trail dust as possible before entering the establishment. The hotel clerk barely registered their entrance, looking as bored as one human being could possibly look.
They ventured into the dining room, checking to see if anyone else was having their evening meal. The place was quiet as only one other table had any customers, a young couple, speaking softly and holding hands. “Come on in, young’uns, pick a table, any one will do, we’re not exactly overflowing with customers at the moment,” said a woman as she carried a tray of food to the young couple. “Just you two?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Jace, taking off his hat. Jessie opted to keep her hat perched on her head.
They sat down at a table near the window to look out at the setting sun which was painting the sky all shades of red, gold and orange colors as it continued it’s evening descent behind the mountains and the soft glowing light of the slight crescent moon began appearing low in the early night sky.
“Sure is pretty, all those colors, huh Jace? Bet Mother would have loved painting those blends,” said Jessie with a far-off look in her eyes.
Jace was preoccupied with reviewing their dinner selections from a small menu card the server had brought over. “Not much to choose from Jess…just fried chicken or beef stew. Either interests you?”
“Chicken will be okay I guess,” she answered as she continuing looking at the setting sun.
Their server came back to take their order she asked where their parents were. She was surprised to learn from Jace that they were orphans traveling to their grandparents back East on their own. “Don’t worry ma’am we have enough money to pay for our meals,” said Jace thinking she might not get them food and he was really hungry.
“Aren’t you two a bit young to be traveling around on your own?” she asked.
“We’re okay….we have each other to watch over the other. We’ll be in Los Angeles in a few days and before you know it heading east onboard one of those trains that will take us to our grandparents. For now we just need a decent hot meal and a good night’s rest before we continue on,” answered Jace. For which he received a swift kick under the table from Jessie for his troubles as the woman walked away.
“Owww! What did you do that for?” asked Jace as he reached under the table to rub his leg where she kicked him.
“Jace, stop blabbing about our business, she doesn’t need to know anything. The less we have to explain to anybody the better our chances are succeeding getting to New York. We don’t need strangers snooping into our business,” she ordered her brother.
“Okay, okay, just don’t kick me again,” he said as he looked at her with a grimace on his face. “Those are boots on your feet and not bedroom slippers, Jess!”
“Better to make a sharper impression upon you…we don’t want anyone interfering with our plans, do we Jace?” she said as she gave him her best “big sister” stare.
He looked back at her, with a pair of somber looking eyes, “No, we don’t, but I still wish we didn’t have to leave our home behind.”
“Don’t you fret Jace, one day we’ll return…you know as well as I that while we’re minors we have nothing to say about anything. At least Mother made certain that everything was taken care of for us and when we reach the age of twenty-one we can claim our inheritance and do whatever we want, no one to stop us. Until that time at least we can be with our friends and travel the world. Just think of all the places we’ll get to visit and the sites we’ll get to see! It will be a grand adventure!” Jessie said with enthusiasm as she got a far away look in her eyes.
Jace got caught up in her excitement and said, “Yeah maybe we’ll get to ride an elephant or a camel! That would be something to write to our friends about!”
Jessie shook her head no at him, “You know we can’t do that…if they tell their families it will get back to Mr. Ferguson and he would know where we were. Then he would have us sent back home and we would be in trouble for having left them high and dry. No Jace, we’re on our own until we’re 21. We can’t even tell Buffalo Bill or Annie anything else other than Mother died and we struck out on our own accord. You remember how they were highly impressed at how quickly we caught onto the shooting and riding tricks and wanted us in their show. They’ll be our new family from now on.”
“Okay Jesse, I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when we show up in New York to join the show. After we eat, I’ll go get the horses stabled for the night and you get us a room. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Not that last night wasn’t fun, it just looks like a storm is moving inwards and that won’t be fun – getting soaked to the skin. Maybe we better get some rain slickers while we’re here too just in case it does rain,” said Jace.
“Now you’re thinking, Jace! That’s an excellent idea. I’ll check over at the dry goods store for them,” Jessie said happy that her brother was back on track with their plans. “No going back now, Jace, full speed ahead, on to our new destinies.” The twins raised their water glasses to toast their plans. They enjoyed their hot meal, ran their errands and turned in for a good night’s sleep, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the rain gently falling on the roof over their room.
The next day dawned with a loud clap of thunder, followed by a bright flash of lighting racing across the ominously dark grey skyline. Looking out their hotel window, the twins saw how during the night the storm had turned the dirt street below into a mess of muck with deep puddles that man, wagons and horses were struggling to negotiate their way through.
“Now what will we do?” asked Jace.
Jessie rubbed the sleep from her eyes and said, “Let’s get dressed and have breakfast. Maybe the sun will come out soon and start drying the ground.” Just then they heard long, rolling thunder rumbling in from the west and saw bright lighting strikes in the distance. “Damn it all to hell in a hand basket, Jace! Looks like it’s gonna be a bad storm, we’ll have to ride it out here instead of getting into a jam on the road. Shit! Damn it! Hell’s Bells!”
Jace looked at his sister, raising his eyebrows at her cursing and said, “Good thing it’s just me hearing your blue language. You know Mother wouldn’t approve of it, Jess. This storm could create a problem for making the train. If we miss it there won’t be another one for a week. Unless there’s one that connects somewhere down the line, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Sorry about swearing Jace, you know I don’t mean anything by it, it just makes the point sound more dramatic when it’s accented by curse words. Well, there’s nothing we can do about the storm right now,” she glumly responded as she looked at the pouring rain and watched the antics of the townspeople trying to go about their business, as they were getting boots and shoes sucked off their feet by the muddy conditions. Some enterprising men were busy laying planks down in the muck crossing the street. As one plank was put down, another plank was passed from the back of the assembled line of helpers to the front of the line forming a narrow walkway suitable for one person to pass at a time.
She continued, “May as well dress and have breakfast, we’ll need to be careful about our money and not spend too much. If we get stuck here tonight, we better sneak into the stables and stay there instead of paying for another night in the hotel,” she told her brother as her quick mind formulated “what if” scenarios, playing them out in her head and calculating how much they could spend to reach their destination. “Plus, it will be less suspicious – we can’t stay any place too long drawing attention to traveling by ourselves.”
The twins dressed, gathered up their belongings and headed downstairs to the dining room where they found the same server from the previous night. “You two aren’t planning on going out in that storm?” she asked.
“No ma’am…not if we can help it, we aren’t,” answered Jace. “For now all we’re interested in is breakfast.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. This storm looks like it will be around for awhile and you too could get swept away in a mud slide, best to stay dry, outta of Mother Nature’s mighty rage today. What do you want to eat?” she asked the twins.
“How about crepes?” Jessie asked.
“Crepes…never heard of them…what are those?”
Jace looked up from the menu card and said, “Jesse…I believe the closest to crepes they have are the flapjacks…see that’s on the menu.”
“Oh…guess so…we’ll have those, please,” she told the woman. “And English Breakfast tea.”
“Honey, we don’t have that either…hot coffee or cold milk,” she said.
“Coffee then, with two sugar lumps, Jace, you want milk, right,” Jessie stated rather than questioned her brother, she already knew what his choice would be, and she did not like milk and never drank it. Breakfast finished, they paid their check and picked up their gear, threw on their rain slickers, and headed to the stable to check on their horses.
The stable was cool and damp from the amount of rain that had fallen and still coming down fast and furious from the heavy dark clouds hanging over the town. The twins shook out their rain slickers and hung them up on pegs to dry, then walked over to their horses to check on them. The horses nickered their greeting as the twins gave them oats, nickering as their coats were brushed as the twins were biding their time and had nothing else to do with their time while the storm raged over their heads.
They finished brushing down Blackjack and Skylark until their coats gleamed from their attention; they even checked their shoes for pebbles before they climbed up into the hayloft and sank down into the fresh, clean hay with their backs against the stable wall to revisit their plans. Jessie had grabbed the saddle blankets from the railing below and threw one across their legs, the other she rolled up and put it behind their backs to ward-off the dampness from seeping into their clothes and chilling their bones.
If and only if the rain stopped soon, they might be able to get back on track depending upon how wide the rains had fallen and how quickly the road to Los Angles could be traversed. Sitting side by side listening to the rain, with the smells of the hay and horses, the twins dozed off into a peaceful sleep, not realizing they were within a day’s ride to their father’s vast ranch, where he and their two half-brothers were living, currently unknown to the other.
Several hours later, Jessie stirred herself awake and stretched her arms high above her head, listening to the sounds of the rainstorm still coming down. She looked over at her sleeping brother and decided to let him sleep since they wouldn’t be able to go anywhere just yet from the sounds of the storm. “Guess, we don’t have a choice, gonna have to ride the storm out for another night! Damn…damn…damn!” she thought as she shifted herself into a more comfortable position and readjusted the blanket over their legs.
While she sat there contemplating their bad luck with the storm, she thought about how great it would be when they finally reached their friends. She enjoyed the time she and her brother had spent with the show, and the great fun they had learning how to ride like the wind while performing tricks. She especially loved learning from Annie Oakley how to shoot the targets and spent hours mastering the tricks she was taught. Jace liked to dress-up and play the role of the Indians attacking the settlers during one part of the show. He thought it was comical putting on the war paint along with a long black wig, dressing up in buckskin and raising his one arm saying “How” to anyone passing by.
“Yep, it will be well worth any storm to see our friends again, so you better stop the rain soon as we have places to go and people to see,” she said, shaking her fist up towards the window and the sky.
Jace woke up in time to see and hear his sister and asked, “Just who are you taking to?”
She smiled at him and said, “Anyone who can do anything about making the rain stop. Don’t suppose you have any pull with the man upstairs do you?”
“Ahhh, Jess, you know better than that, how about we get something to eat? What time is it getting to be?”
“Don’t really know, if I were to guess it’s probably around noon…maybe a little later,” she stood up and brushed the hay from the back of her jeans, reaching down gave Jace a hand to pull him up. “Come on Jace, let’s head over to the dry goods store and get some supplies. I would prefer we not spend too much more time in the diner if we can help it. I think we’ll spend the night up here and try to leave first thing in the morning.”
“Sounds good to me,” replied Jace as he too brushed off the hay from the back of his jeans, yawning widely. “Maybe we can get some rock candy or some licorice for the trip. You know how I love something sweet to nibble on.”
Jessie smiled brightly at her little brother, shaking her head in agreement, “Yeah I know you and that big old sweet tooth of yours! I’m surprised your teeth haven’t rotted away with all that jawing you do on candy.”
As they walked around the store, they each made their selections; Jessie spied a copy of a dime novel that looked interesting to her, “The Fastest Draw in the West – Johnny Madrid”. She picked up the novel and added it to their supplies…at least she and Jace would have something interesting to read while they waited for the storm to cease.
“Come on brother, you know ma and pa are waiting on these here supplies, best not keep them waiting any longer,” Jessie said as she turned and grinned at her brother.
“Oh yeah, our pa has a temper something fierce. He’s likely to tan our hides if we don’t get back soon,” replied Jace, looking very sincere as the store keeper glanced over at him, counting out change to his brother.
“Where are your folks?” asked the little man looking over the pair. This was their second trip to his store and some of the items they purchased didn’t seem to be something a parent would have asked for or wanted to spend hard-earned money on…like candy and dime novels.
Jessie looked at the man and said, “Oh they’re over at the hotel taking care of our baby sister, who’s been sick. We’re just passing through, on our way to San Jose. Well, we better get going; our ma doesn’t like us talking much to strangers.” She picked up their bag of items and she and Jace headed out the door, towards the hotel. Once they got to the end of the street, they walked around the back of the barbershop and doubled back to the stable, with mud sucking on their boots, they stepped as lightly as possible until they got back inside and climbed up to the hayloft again before either one burst out laughing!
“That was interesting! Hope he doesn’t go looking for Pa, Ma and baby sister,” giggled Jessie.
“Here, have an apple and some beef jerky. Let’s settle back, hope for the end of the bad weather and read all about Johnny Madrid,” she said as she took a bite out of her apple and opened the dime novel.
Chapter Five – San Francisco
“Well now what, John? We’ve searched the Nob Hill home, Mr. Ferguson mentioned that there are several items missing – nothing too expensive from the list he drew up, couple silver platters, a few sketches of their mother’s, and some crystal and china pieces. Looks like those kids had been planning this for awhile and secured finances for traveling. We’re dealing with bright, resourceful kids. None of their friends admit to knowing anything about their intentions. It seems these twins are pretty tight and quite possibly didn’t share this secret with anyone but each other. From what Miss Patterson and I have determined none of their friends seem to be lying or for that matter telling tales about them,” said Guinn Ward as he sat at his desk finishing up his report from the Pinkertons’ on-going investigation. “That Rory Peterson friend of theirs did slip-up by mentioning that the twins have their own secret language they use with each other when they don’t want anyone else to know what they are saying.”
John looked over at the pair of his agents and shook his head, “We need to get the runners out on the street with these fliers. Pass them around where those Lancer twins were known to frequent. I want you and Miss Patterson to begin interviewing the locals; offer cash incentives to see if that will shake anyone’s memory or start any tongues wagging.”
Miss Patterson was very keen on doing more field work and remarked, “Mr. Hereford, would you like for us to go different directions to cover more ground on our own? I could cover the park and zoo while Mr. Ward checks down by the docks. If that’s alright with you?”
“Excellent suggestion, Miss Patterson! Make certain you have your firearm available and don’t flash any cash than absolutely necessary,” warned John.
Miss Patterson nodded her understanding, smiled and replied, “Gentlemen, never underestimate the resourcefulness of a woman. I think when we find these two you’ll see that it’s Jessie running the show with Jace tagging along literally, figuratively and physically for the ride.”
Both men looked at Miss Patterson with looks of amazement on their faces at her remarks, never ceasing to be amused by her declarations of the power and wits of women. She was a remarkable young woman, determined to make it as a Pinkerton agent, in spite of her fairer sex in a man’s world. Guinn seriously thought she needed to find herself a protector, someone she could marry and take care of her.
“Off you go then, Miss Patterson and Mr. Ward. Report back when you’ve completed your assignments. I will be heading out to interview the stable keeper where their horses were kept and to drop off a notice to be printed in tomorrow’s paper,” said John Hereford, as he grabbed his bowler hat from the rack and followed his agents out the door.
Guinn and John conversed briefly at the doorway, watching Miss Patterson hail a hansom cab. “Are you planning on updating Murdoch Lancer about the investigation today?” asked Guinn.
“I’ll send him a progress report at the end of this week unless we have better news to report sooner. I’d rather not wire him without good news. After everything he went through, as well as our offices to track down that one son of his, he’d rather hear something certain than conjecture on our part. That doesn’t make us look too effective in our work. I am however, confident that with all the runners out, the fliers posted and having the newspaper published a notice someone will come forward with the lead we need to get a handle of the whereabouts of those kids,” said John, striking a match to light his cigar.
“Bring me back some good news, Guinn,” he said as he walked with purpose towards his horse, removed the reins from the post and mounted-up. Guinn did the same and gave him a nod as he turned his horse towards the wharf.
Miss Patterson armed with fliers, as well as her small handgun and cash arrived at the park nearest the Lancer’s home. She walked up and down the boulevard stopping couples, nannies with their charges in tow and anyone else that she spied to make inquiries into what they may have seen of the twins. It was a long and unrewarding morning; her feet were getting sore from her pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, having to adjust her steps to match businessmen’s longer and faster stride and she was getting frustrated with not turning up anything of significance to aid in her investigation.
Her fatigue set in along with aching feet that didn’t want to move another step made her cease her pacing. Miss Patterson sat dejectedly on one of the park benches, tempted to remove her button-high shoes that she thought were very impractical for this type of investigative work. The soles of her feet were burning!
While she sat and rested, she closed her eyes and was on the verge of dozing off when she sensed that she was being scrutinized by someone nearby. She kept her eye lids almost close, with just the slimness of slits to see if she was correct and by golly there was an elderly man, apparently down on his luck, watching her from another park bench. She didn’t realize that she was holding her breath until suddenly he was standing directly in front of her!
“Miss, are you awake?” the old man asked her.
“Yes, I am. What is it? What do you want?” Miss Patterson said, opening her eyes fully and looking up at the man, who was perhaps sixty years of age. It was hard to tell, his hair was longer than most men wore theirs and was streaked with grey throughout, his clothes were well-worn, clean looking but patched in places. He held his hat in his hands, which were wrinkled and brown from long hours in the sunlight.
He looked down at her and asked, “Do you mind if I sit down and join you? I couldn’t help but overhear your questions to passing strangers and I may be able to offer my assistance,” he said.
This made Miss Patterson sit up straighter herself, and she gestured to the open spot on the bench, “Please, Mr..er..Mr.”
“Name’s Prosser, just call me Prosser or Pross no need to stand on high society manners with me, Miss,” he said as he sat down next to her.
“Okay, Prosser, I’m Miss Paterson. If you overheard my questions then you must realize that I am an investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. What can you tell me about my quest for these missing twins?”
“Don’t reckon I know nothing about any missing twins, but I was asked by a young lad to write a letter for him. It seemed to me that was important that he have it written with an adult’s hand-writing,” he said as he scratched his chin.
Miss Patterson sat up straighter when she heard this news and excitedly asked, “Do you remember when this was?”
“Maybe a week or so ago…give or take a day or two. I don’t keep track of time much anymore these days since it serves no purpose to me. I just go where I please and when I want to nowadays,” said Prosser.
“Well, Prosser, what else can you tell me? Do you remember what this boy looked like? What did he want you to write in the letter? Do you remember what he was wearing? This is important. I’ll be happy to pay you for your time and trouble,” she said as she opened her purse and took out her notepad and pencil to write down everything Prosser said.
Prosser said, “Well, he said that he and his younger brother thought they might need a letter to explain why they were traveling on their on, as they were orphans trying to get to their grandparents somewhere back East. I think he thought the letter would help keep them out of trouble if someone asked them anything about them being on their own.”
Miss Patterson was furiously writing down his comments on her notepad, ‘Anything else? Did he act nervous? Did you see the brother or anyone else standing nearby? Was his appearance dirty or clean?”
“Whoa! Slow down Miss Patterson; give an old man a chance to think things over. Let me tell you what I recall and maybe that will answer all your questions. Give me a moment or two to respond to the questions you just asked. Hmmmm….well, he brought along paper and a pen for me to write the letter just as he told me what he wanted it to say. He paid me twenty dollars for my trouble,” he replied. “Oh and the paper was a fine quality, had a distinct marking on it, looked like the letter V with the letter A right alongside, with stylish loops and swirls decorating and underlining the letters, it was pretty fancy. Never saw anything like that before.”
Prosser continued with his recollections, “No, he didn’t act nervous or jumpy, wasn’t looking over his shoulder, seemed very calm, matter-of-factly about the whole thing. I didn’t look around for anyone else. He wore clean clothes, had on a cowboy hat and boots, most of his things looked brand new. The boots were broken in though; I noticed them because of the jiggling sounds from his spurs – silver spurs he wore – probably worth some money. He seemed out of place with his manner of dress for this part of San Francisco, but then so am I.”
Miss Patterson jumped to her feet at this news and said, excitement overflowing from her voice, “Prosser, can you please come back to my office with me? I want you to meet the Chief and tell him exactly everything you told me but first let’s drive around for a bit. Perhaps you’ll recall some additional details about your encounter with this boy.” She prompted him with a pair of deep green eyes that she used to her advantage as she smiled ever so coyly at the man.
He smiled at her, stood up and offered a bow, saying, “At your service Miss Patterson. My social calendar is quite open for pretty girls with beautiful green eyes and sweet smiles. Allow me to escort you to your office.” Prosser offered the crook of his arm for her to hold onto, having noticed that her shoes were bothering her before she sat down but now she was practically pulling on him to walk faster.
The pair reached the park entrance where he hailed a passing hansom cab and helped her up into it. She was overcome with joy at her luck, being able to bring back their first solid lead in the investigation of finding the missing Lancer twins.
As they rode, Prosser told her that the bill the lad had given him was brand new, like he had just gotten it from fresh from the bank. He also remembered that the boy used his left hand to give him the paper and pencil that was folded in the right-side of his jacket pocket. He pulled the twenty dollar bill from his left jean pocket that was the only bill he produced. And when the letter was completed the boy quickly read it before placing in between his pants and shirt – it was almost as if he was checking Prosser’s handiwork to make certain it was written correctly. Prosser laughed as he finished and looked at Miss Patterson, “Imagine that! Me, a former teacher having my work critique by that young whippersnapper!”
Miss Patterson looked over at him across from her seat in the cab and asked, “Prosser, at any point in the conversation did you get the impression that this young man could actually have been a young girl posing as a boy?”
He looked over at her with a questioning glance and say, “No. Are you suggesting that boy was a girl?”
“Yes, I am. You see the missing twins are brother and sister, not brother and brother. And if this boy mentioned a brother either there’s another pair of twins out and about, which hardly seems likely. My guess is that Jessie is posing as a boy, which makes more sense to me. Especially if she and her brother are traveling by themselves back east somewhere,” said Miss Patterson with her index finger pressing against her lips as she mulled this thought over in her mind. “Think hard, Prosser, since you told me you were an educator, you have been around children, did your young friend have the mannerisms of a young man or a young lady “acting” a role.”
Prosser smacked his hand to his forehead, “Miss Patterson, I remember thinking that the boy had to be younger than that fifteen years he claimed to be since there was no noticeable Adam’s apple at his neck. His or her throat was as smooth as yours is, my dear. I guess I was bamboozled by a mere slip of a girl, wasn’t I?”
Miss Patterson reached across and placed her hand over his and said, “Prosser, you have given the Pinkertons more information to go on than you can possibly realize. Quite frankly, I’m relieved to know that Jessie is posing as a boy, it can only help keep her safer if she and her brother are truly making their way east. I’ll let you in on a little secret…just between us….the Pinkertons were all under the impression that Jessie was a boy until we were set straight by their guardians.”
He smiled back at her and told her, ”My dear Miss Patterson thank you for making an old man feel useful again.”
“Believe me Prosser, it has been my pleasure! But I still have one more task for you. I would like for you to give a full description of what she was wearing, down to those spurs. Also her facial features, height, weight, etc. to our artist to draw a likeness of her to get out, now that we have a general idea of what they may be up to and quite possibly an excellent lead on where they’re heading. I can not thank you enough Prosser!”
Later that afternoon when Guinn Ward and John Hereford returned to the office, they were greeted by Miss Patterson, who excitedly filled them in on her encounter with Prosser and what progress had been made thus far. “Excellent news, Miss Patterson, I am extremely pleased with this turn of events,” said Mr. Hereford.
“Guinn, find out preciously where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is now and where they’re heading. This seems to be the most reasonable place those kids are headed for. Miss Patterson I want you head to the train depot and get all the train schedules for destinations to the east, especially Denver, Chicago, New York and Boston. Plus see if they have the schedules for train departing from other depots within several days’ distances from here. Those kids took off on their horses but which way is still a mystery,” continued John.
“I’ll prepare a wire to be sent to our other offices to have them keep an eye out for our quarry. Oh, Miss Patterson, good work,” said John, as he gave her a hand a quick shake. “Where is this Prosser fellow? I would like to meet him myself and personally thank him for his assistance.”
“He’s still in with Mr. Roy giving him the details for the drawing of Jessie to be circulated,” she responded.
“Very good, well off with you again, see what else you can bring back. Tonight I’m taking you, Guinn and Prosser over to Delmonico’s for a steak dinner, my treat.”
John watched his agents depart the office on their new assignments and picked up a pen, wrote out two wires. The first to be sent to the Pinkerton offices in Denver, Chicago, New York, Boston and Los Angeles to alert each office’s runners to get word out to the officials at train, coach and stables for the runaways, giving them a general description, along with their names. This telegram read-
“Alert – runaway twins – Jessie (girl, dressed as boy) Jace (boy) – twelve years old – on matching black horses – traveling east – very resourceful – anticipate traveling by rail – alert train, coach, liveries and ships lines – children of Murdoch Lancer – wire immediately if seen – detain.”
Chief Investigator John Hereford, San Francisco Branch
The second wire was to update Murdoch Lancer on their progress – it read-
“Solid lead in general whereabouts of twins – departed San Francisco. Stop. Alerted Pinkerton branches to post lookouts by rail, coach, ships and stables. Stop. Anticipate more news in two days’ time. Stop”
He picked up his bowler hat and walked down the street to the telegraph office and had the wires sent off immediately. Next he took a hansom cab to Mr. Ferguson’s office to fill him in on the progress made.
“Mrs. Ferguson will be relieved to know what has taken place,” said Mr. Ferguson. “Did you happen to send a wire off to Buffalo Bill?”
“No, not yet, we’re checking where the show is currently playing. Where the show is headed next – this will help us determine possible overland routes the twins could be taking as well as how much time can be allocated for the travels by either party. Don’t you worry Mr. Ferguson, those two will be found soon now,” said John Hereford.
“Just remember, I will need to be involved with the delivery of them to their father so that I can officially sign off as guardian and transfer them to their father’s care legally in the eyes of the court.
John stated, “I understand completely, but again, let’s first find and retrieve them. Might I suggest that you and Mrs. Ferguson will see that their belongings are packed up and ready to be shipped to the Lancer ranch? Perhaps they will feel more at home in a strange place with their new family if their possessions were there with them. Might help make the transition more acceptable to them and like they were wanted.”
“Not a bad suggestion, Mr. Hereford, coming from a man who has very little experience with raising children,” remarked Mr. Ferguson.
“I’m only saying what makes sense to me. One doesn’t need to have children to remember what it was like to be a child, think like one, react like one. I’m certain they felt it was an adventure as well as pretty damn exciting being around those Wild West performers rather than with an older couple not too likely to be interested in the draw of the show and living the life of nomads – traveling from place to place,” replied Mr. Hereford.
“Living on a working ranch should be excitement enough for them when we get them there. I know that their father is the practical type of man who will give them appropriate guidance. He will not indulge their every whim or the manner in which they were accustomed to by their mother; I can assure you of this. Not that there was anything wrong with that,” said John Hereford quickly to diffuse the lawyer from erupting at the perceived criticism of the late Mrs. Lancer’s style of child rearing. “In my business dealings with Murdoch Lancer, there is no doubt in my mind, he’s the one who is in complete charge and calling the tune. I expect those kids will come to find this out.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Ferguson to the matter.
Chapter Six – Morro Coyo and the Lancer Ranch
It was late afternoon and Scott, having run all his errands, was sitting back enjoying a nice cold beer at the Red Dog saloon, when Tommy rushed in with a message in his hand, yelling excitedly, “It’s here Mr. Lancer! It’s here!”
“Tommy, Mr. Lancer is back at the ranch, I’m Scott remember,” he said as he took the telegram from the boy’s hand and gave him a silver dollar for his troubles.
The boy grinned and said, “Gee thanks Miste…Scott for the dollar! Do you want to send a reply?
“No, not yet, Mr. Lancer needs to read this before any return message is sent. I’ll be back probably tomorrow and I’ll be sure to look you up, Tommy,” said Scott as he drained his beer mug and stood up, stretching out his long limbs. He tucked the message into his shirt pocket picked up his hat, put it on and drew his arm around Tommy’s shoulders and the pair walked out the bat wing doors. “See you later Tommy,” said Scott as he untied the hitched team and climbed up to the wagon seat to hurry on back to Lancer.
Johnny and the work crew had finished up their fence repairs for the day and were packing up the tools when Johnny heard a wagon coming down the road. Johnny untied Barranca from the tree he was tied to and vaulted into the saddle. With his shirt hanging open, his bare well-chiseled chest moistened and glistening from his manual labors in the hot sun, and his hat hanging down his back by the stampede strings gave out a sharp, piercing whistle to draw Scott’s attention as he gave chase to the wagon disappearing down the road towards home.
“Hey, Scott, pull up there will ya,” yelled Johnny as he pulled up alongside the wagon. “Ya get an answer from the Pinks?”
“Whoa there fellas,” yelled Scott as he pulled on the reins and slowed the team down. Johnny jumped down from Barranca, tied him to the back of the wagon and climbed in alongside his brother. Scott looked his brother over and stated the obvious, “Looks like you put in a long hard day, little brother, and could do with a bath from the smell of things.”
“Yeah? Well how many beers did ya get ta enjoy while I was breakin’ my back?” asked Johnny, licking his lips in pretend appreciation of the brew he had missed out on consuming.
Scott grinned and said, “Oh I don’t know, lost count after five…no maybe it was six?”
Johnny gave him a playful shove and laughing said, “Get outta here! Five or six? You’d still be settin’ thar on your ass, not able ta get up if ya had that many! Did ya hear anything about my little brothers?”
“Don’t you mean “our” little brothers, little brother?” Scott grinned right back at Johnny.
Johnny heartily guffawed at his brother’s quip, “Yeah, ‘kay…our little brothers, Boston.”
Scott tapped his shirt pocket, “Got a telegram right here.”
“Well, what’s in it? Have they been found?” asked Johnny excitedly.
“That I don’t know, Johnny. The message is addressed to Murdoch; we’ll have to wait for him to share the news with us.”
“Ahhhh, come on Scott, open it up and read it,” Johnny said looking intently at his brother.
Scott grinned at him, “Now, Johnny, you know as well as I do that Murdoch would have my hide for breaking the seal and reading this first. I’m not the impetuous son. You will not find me out in the barn for one of Murdoch’s father and son discussions. No siree! That ship has long since sailed, I much prefer to enjoy my meals seated at the table like a civilized person rather than eating standing up, and unlike someone else I know.”
“Awwwww, Scott, you just don’t appreciate takin’ chances. Maybe ‘tween our little brothers and me will be able to change ya mind,” pouted Johnny as he crossed his arms against his chest and put his boots up against the wagon’s front edge, spurs jingling as the motion from the swaging and rocking wagon jostled them.
“Hopefully, they will take after me and have more sense, once they realize they have other family members who want them around,” replied Scott as he slapped the lines to move along at a faster clip.
Johnny leaned back against the seat and pulled his hat down low over his eyes and pretended not to listen to Scott anymore, as he began snoring!
“You’re not fooling me, I know you and know that you heard me, little brother,” said a grinning Scott.
Johnny snored louder but said under his breath, “Chicken.”
“Okay, Johnny, here’s the deal I’ll make with you. You go ahead. Open the telegram. Read it but don’t tell me one single word that’s inside. That way when Murdoch asks who opened it, you can tell him the truth while I’ll be enjoying a nice soak in the tub, sipping a glass of cool wine as you explain yourself out in the barn.”
“Ya made your point, Boston. Guess we’ll wait until the ol’ man tells us what’s inside,” grumbled Johnny. “Don’t suppose ya can get these two nags ta step a bit more livelily, do ya? Want me ta take over?”
“Now you want to go faster? Brother, hold onto your hat,” chuckled Scott. He slapped the lines down harder and the horses increased their pace, slowing down when Scott pulled them up before the Lancer arch, leaving a wide trail of dust in their wake, outside the archway.
Johnny never looking up from his slouched position, good-naturedly complained, “’bout damn time ya got us home! Ya drive like the McGinnis spinsters on their way ta church with that ol’ bag of bones of theirs pulling their buggy.”
“Oh really? Well pardon me, Johnny, but we’re here now and that’s what counts. Whoa fellas,” he pulled the horses to a stop near the barn and Johnny jumped out of the wagon. He unhitched Barranca from the wagon and took him into his stall to take care of him while Scott began unhitching the team.
Murdoch seeing his sons from the French windows got up and hurried outside to join them. “Scott! Johnny! Do you have news?”
“Yes sir, I have a message,” said Scott as he pulled it out of his pocket while Johnny left Barranca to the stable hands to finish his care and joined his father and brother.
“Let’s go inside and see what we have here,” said Murdoch as he took the telegram from Scott.
Once inside, Murdoch sat behind his desk, opening the wire he read the contents out loud to his sons, as Teresa joined them in the Great Room.
“Solid lead in general whereabouts of twins – departed San Francisco. Stop. Alerted Pinkerton branches to post lookouts by rail, coach, ships and stables. Stop. Anticipate more news in two days’ time. Stop”
“That’s it?” asked Johnny. “All they know is “general whereabouts? Murdoch, how about it if Scott and I go help instead of just sittin’ here doin’ nothin’?”
Murdoch studied the contents of the telegram again before he responded, “Johnny, now you know what it was like for me when I would get bits and pieces of your whereabouts. Its hard standing by waiting for news isn’t it?
“No, Johnny, I need you and your brother here. The Pinkertons know what they’re doing. The good thing is there are two Lancers together helping each other, if they have half the gumption their mother had and any of mine, they’ll be okay sticking together. Obviously we’re dealing with clever boys that were prepared for their journey. I’d like to think this anyway,” said Murdoch looking reflectively at his sons. “It makes it easier believing they’re okay while at the same time it scares the hell out of me too.”
Scott had gotten up to prepare drinks, handing them out to Murdoch and Johnny, “Sir, is there anything we can do besides wait?”
Murdoch sipped his scotch and looked out the French window at the beautiful scenery before he answered, “Scott, waiting is always the hardest part…waiting for the birth of you two…waiting for you boys to come back home to Lancer…waiting for you boys to recover from your latest injuries…waiting for you to come back from a trip or a cattle drive. Wait is a hard word. But boys…all we can do for the moment is wait and hold tight to the belief that we’ll soon be seeing and meeting your brothers…my sons…these two boys…soon. We have to hold tight onto this belief and continue with what needs to be done in our daily lives. You know as well as I do that there’s a whole ranch out there that still needs running.”
Johnny jumped up from his chair and began pacing, “Murdoch, I don’t know that I can just sit around and wait. I’m used ta movin’ from place ta place and takin’ the bull by the horns and gettin’ on with the business at hand. I sure don’t mind goin’ out and helpin’ those Pinks get the job done.”
Murdoch turned from the view to look at his son, “Johnny I’m counting on you to help me the most when your brothers get here. You’re closest in age to them; you had similar experiences with losing your mother around their age. You have a wonderful sense of young people and how to interact with them.
“I know you want to go out and help but please, Son, stay here at least until we get the next update from the Pinkertons. I need both my sons and you too Teresa surrounding me right now. I think if we start planning for their arrival, get their rooms ready, make plans for a social, those things along with the daily business of running this ranch, the time will go by and before we know it they’ll be here,” said Murdoch as he walked alongside Johnny.
“Can I count on you all?” asked Murdoch as he placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“Sure, Murdoch, we’re here for you,” said Scott.
Teresa wiped tears from her eyes, as she said, “Okay Murdoch, I’ll get their rooms ready tomorrow.”
Johnny looked up at his father and said, “Yeah okay ol’ man, I’m here for ya and my little brothers too. Hope they do get here soon, I never have been any good at waitin’.”
“That we all do, Johnny my boy, we all do,” said Murdoch with a tight smile on his face as he gripped Johnny’s shoulder. He remembered how much time he had lost with these sons and how happy he was to have them home on Lancer where they belonged. Scott came alongside his father and brother forming a family circle of unity as they were each lost in thoughts of the changes taking place in their world.
Chapter Seven – On the Road to Los Angeles
The twins woke early the following morning to no rain and the formation of a beautiful sunrise in the east after spending the night in the hayloft. They had devoured their dime novel about Johnny Madrid, having a meal of beef jerky and apples. Jace stuck his head over the floor of the hay loft to see if the stable owner had come in yet. All was quiet so he and Jessie gathered their things and climbed down the ladder. They put their items away in their saddlebags and decided to get a hot breakfast over at the hotel before heading down the road.
“Well look who the wind blew in! You two must be hungry, didn’t see you last night and figured you took off for parts unknown,” said the lady who ran the dining room.
Jessie smiled and said, “No, ma’am, we want another one of your hot breakfasts before heading out. Gotta hurry though, we want to make up for lost time from yesterday’s rainstorm. And we be much obliged if we could get some sandwiches for the road.”
“Sure honey, I’ll pack you up a good meal. Which direction did you say you’re heading?” she asked.
Jessie gave her brother a warning look and answered, “We’re heading to San Francisco, its closer and we can catch a train there. Never know how many more rainy days there’ll be since its springtime.”
The lady looked at the kids and said, “No, you’re right about that, you just never know about the rainy season. I’ll be back with your breakfasts before you know it.”
“Why did you tell her San Francisco Jess? You know I told her Los Angeles the other day,” whispered Jace as he gave her a strange look.
She smiled and whispered back, “Don’t look at me that way Jace, I know you did. I just decided to throw her off our trail if anyone comes looking for us. We need to put some distance between us and this little town so brother don’t dawdle when the food gets here. We need to eat and run this morning.”
“Okay Jesse, it will be good to see the last of this town anyway.”
The twins enjoyed their hot breakfast, thanked the lady as they paid their bill and waved good-bye to the woman. Sam, the hotel manager walked over to her and said, “Those kids seem to be in a big hurry to get on the road. You don’t think they’re runaways do you?”
“I don’t know what to think about them, the girl is awfully protective of the boy. I imagine they’ve got their reasons for doing whatever they’re doing. Just say a prayer that they make it safe and sound to wherever they’re headed, keep out of harm’s way and trouble.”
“Girl? What the hell’s the matter with you woman? Those were both boys! You need to go get yourself some spectacles, Dolly!”
Dolly gave Sam a look, started to open her mouth to retort, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to argue with him. For as long as she knew Sam, he hadn’t ever truly listened to her; there was no way he would believe her even if hell froze over. She picked up the dirty dishes from the table, wiped it down and tossed him her secret womanly smile, the one that drove him crazy whenever she did that. Humming a little tune to herself, she walked off to the kitchen, “Men! There’s no point in trying to make that bull-headed, stubborn, cantankerous old fool see the light of day! I’d do better talking to that wall!”
Jace and Jessie headed back to the stable and found the stable manager so they paid their bill and got their horses saddled and ready to ride off. “You two watch yourselves out on the trail. After all that rain there’s bound to be soft spots and ruts from wagons that got covered over that you don’t want one of your horses to catch a hoof and pull up lame. Ya hear me?”
Jace looked at the man and said, “Yes, sir, we’ll be careful. Thank you kindly for the advice.”
“I just don’t want to learn that anything happened to you or those horses of yours, never did see any as fine as those two are and a matched pair,” said the man. “You wouldn’t be interested in selling them, would you?”
“No sir we’re not, we couldn’t bear to part with our horses. And sir, we’ll be fine, thank you for your concern,” stated Jesse. “Let’s go brother, daylight’s burning and looks to be a beautiful day for a ride.”
The stable manager watched the pair ride out as he counted the money they paid for the stabling and care of their horses….ten dollars. He wondered where kids that young got that kind of money along with those beautiful black horses and tack. “Gotta be some parents pretty steamed at them and whatever they’re up to,” he thought as he shook his head over the foolishness of youth.
The pair rode in relative silence for the most part, each lost in their own thoughts, as well as keeping their eyes on the ground for any soft patches along the road out of town. They headed due south and rode throughout the morning at a steady pace, stopping only when necessity called for quick stops.
“Hey, Jesse, I’m getting hungry! Do you suppose we can find a spot to stop for a break and have some food?”
“Just thinking the same thoughts myself, ’bout time we took a break, rested the horses and stretched our legs. Let’s see if we can find a river or pond somewhere nearby to give the horses a drink,” she replied.
The two soon found a suitable spot adjacent to a river bank where they tied off their horses and lay down along the bank to splash some of the cold clear water on their faces and sipped to quench their thirst. Jessie pulled out the sandwiches, along with some dill pickles and homemade oatmeal cookies.
“Look Jace! That nice lady made us a feast! These sandwiches are big enough to fill even your stomach!” she laughed passing him one. She took a bite out of her sandwich and found that it was ham with a cranberry jelly spread on the bread – very tasty and quite a surprise.
“This is great, Jesse; we’ll have to remember to add the jelly from now on, makes it taste even better than just plain old butter. Well, I suppose by now the Fergusons have figured out that we’re not in San Francisco any longer. Do you suppose they’ll figure out where we’re headed?”
Jessie finished off her last bite of the sandwich while thinking over her brother’s question. “Well, I suppose they could if they really thought we headed out of town. I’m hoping they think some of our friends hid us away; expect for the missing horses, that’s the only hitch to that plan. That and the rain delay. We shouldn’t spend too much more time here. When you’re done with your lunch can you refill the canteens with fresh water? I’ll make sure Skylark and Blackjack get a nice refreshing drink themselves. I hope we make it at least another 30 or so miles before the end of the day…the way I figure we’ve got at least six more days of riding after today to make it on time to catch that train.”
For the next three days, the twins spent traveling further and further south towards their destination and their destiny, not truly realizing or comprehending that their leaving had caused the Fergusons great concerns and worries. The travels were fairly uneventful, except on the third day Jace’s horse, Blackjack, had lost a shoe which meant they had to stop at another small town to have that repaired, delaying them the better part of the day. The twins took turns riding and walking to not overburden Skylark and were relieved to find that the first town they came to had a blacksmith.
While Blackjack was being shod the twins sat outside the hotel rocking in rocking chairs, drinking tall cold glasses of lemonade and munching on shortbread cookies. “What you think, Jesse, should we take a break and spent the night here? I wouldn’t mind having a nice warm bath and sleeping in a bed tonight instead of the hard ground. What about you?”
“Sounds like a little bit of heaven to me. Let’s see that map of yours and get our bearings before we make a final decision,” she answered. As tired as she was, she wasn’t going to admit that to her brother, she would press on if they had to in order to make it on time. They still had their horses to sell, along with their tack, so she realized that time was of the essence and not something they could afford to toss away just too spent the night in a bed rather than continue on their journey.
Jace pulled out his map and they put their heads together tracing their travels and saw that they had made it to Los Alamos. They were still a good 80-90 miles away from their destination and realized that they were not going to make their first choice of trains after all. Since both twins were exhausted as well as they had pushed their horses for the past three days it was mutually agreed that it made better sense to take it easy for the day, enjoy a hot meal, a hot bath and a soft bed for the night.
The next day the twins were refreshed and raring to go, their horses nickered their greeting to the pair as they saddled them up to continue their travels down the trail. Since they knew they were not going to make their train they decided not to press either themselves or their horses but instead rode at a more relaxed pace reaching the town of Santa Barbara where for the first time in days they got to see their beloved Pacific Ocean as they rode down alongside the beach front, letting the ocean waters caress their horses’ hooves and legs, as they rode into the ocean almost up to their horses’ chests as they got wet from the splashing waves and high steps of their horses. They frolicked along the water, laughing like the children they were, carefree to the upset they had left behind in San Francisco and also very unaware that the Fergusons had been paid a visit by the Pinkertons, who were now actively in search of them.
“Let’s spend the night here on the beach, Jesse. We can use that grove over there for the horses and we can build a campfire over there. There’s plenty of driftwood that we can use. I’ll try and catch a fresh fish or two, while you can dig for clams,” Jace said with the most enthusiasm he had exhibited in days being rejuvenated by the fresh sea air.
Jessie with glowing color in her cheeks from the racing up and down the beach on Skylark quickly agreed that it would be grand to spend time by the ocean front since she realized that they would shortly be leaving it behind them. The pair continued racing up and down the beach front until they were tired. They reached their small grove and tied off their horses, quickly removing their saddles and gear. Jace went off in search of a suitable pole, while Jessie gathered rocks to build a fire circle and pit before she gathered dry driftwood. She next ran along the water front to see if she could find any clams or crabs that had come in with the late afternoon tide, using their frying pan to collect what she found.
Jace came back with two ocean perch to round out their fresh seafood meal. While Jessie got the fire started, Jace cleaned the fish. Soon the smells of fresh fish frying, cracking firewood, with the sounds of the oceans had a calming effect on the twins as they realized that this part of their journey was almost over. They had made it from San Francisco on horseback with relatively minor delays and soon would be in Los Angeles on board a train taking them to their friends and their new life.
As they ate their meal, Jessie and Jace watched the ever-changing scenery of the ocean front, as passing dolphins jumped high into the air to fall back to the surface with a resounding slap, they saw a pod of whales swim out in the distance and watched the seagulls flying high over head to dive down to the surface of the water as they grabbed their evening meal. The sun began its slow descent downwards to the ocean; it was a huge, bright orb of flashing oranges and reds tones.
Both twins together as one recited “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night, sailor’s delight”, as they remembered their mother reciting that same quote on another visit to this ocean, only it was back in San Francisco along the impressive, majestic bay where the three of them had spent the day, picnicking, playing and painting. They both not only realized that she was indeed right there alongside them guiding them on their journey to their new life but they felt her presence.
It was a magical moment in time where one wants to hold tight to it forever, and it brought a renewed sense of peace and tranquility to the twins as they watched the sun sink into the ocean, sitting by their crackling fire. They felt as if they had received a special message from their mother, hearing the constant presence of the waves coming into shore. Sleeping under the clearest night sky where thousands and thousands of stars glimmered and twinkled high in the night sky, even the sand comforted their bodies, akin to hugging them in their sandy embrace while they peacefully slept.
The next morning, Jessie was up early with the sound of birds chirping. She let Jace sleep while she mounted Skylark, bareback and barefooted to ride one final time along the ocean’s edge, feeling the freedom of the moment and relishing this special time before they pressed onwards. Oh how she loved this ocean and how she would miss seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, tasting its salty flavor on the tip of her tongue whenever she swam in it, touching the foams from the waves as they crashed to the shore and disappeared into the sand, yes, Jessie would miss her ocean so she captured it as much as possible to place it inside her heart and mind’s eye to relive this moment and last night anytime she needed a special place and time to revisit.
She began singing a song that she had heard from somewhere, it reflected this time, this special moment in time-
“Mile upon mile I got no direction.
We’re all playing the same game
We’re all looking for redemption
Just afraid to say the name
So caught up now in pretending
What we’re seeking is the truth
I’m just looking for a happy ending
All I’m looking for is you
It came upon me wave on wave
You’re the reason I’m still here
Am I the one you were sent to save?
It came upon me wave on wave”
(by Pat Green)
And she thought about that happy ending that she and Jace were in search of and she smiled knowing that they were closing in on their quest. Humming the tune to herself she directed Skylark one final time into the ocean before heading back to their camp, kicking up sand as she pulled her horse to a stop.
“Hey, sleepyhead! Time to get up, you already missed a beautiful sunrise as well as a romp along the ocean!” she excitedly exclaimed to her rousing brother as she shook him awake.
He sat up, stretching and yawning, “That’s okay, and it’s enough for me knowing you enjoyed it. I’m hungry; do we have anything to eat?”
“You and that stomach! Are you going through another growing spurt? If you get your lazy bones up perhaps you could catch some more ocean perch to have for breakfast, I’ll see if I can find anything else. I think I saw some orange trees nearby and we still have some rice and coffee,” Jessie said.
Knowing that their time pressure was off for now, the twins took their time making ready for the day and enjoyed their breakfast looking out over the water. Finally, they broke camp and continued on their trek, staying along the coast line for as long as possible.
Chapter Eight – San Francisco
Chief John Hereford was pacing back and forth, wearing out his shoe leather as he tried to put himself into the minds of some especially clever or very lucky twelve-year olds. Main difference between them and him for the moment was, as he paced he chewed on a cigar, worrying it to shreds, spitting out pieces of tobacco. His runners had exhausted their leads in San Francisco and were casting their net further south and east. In the past John had always depended upon his innate sixth sense to not only know but to feel in his bones when things did or didn’t add up. His senses were telling him that these children in question were southbound, but to where?
A wire and been sent to the Great Buffalo Bill at his Buffalo Bill Wild West show, currently in Chicago, making their way across to New York to alert him to the situation and to enact a promise of cooperation in the event the twins did manage to elude the Pinkertons and reach the show. The show had 3 more scheduled stops – Cleveland – Philadelphia and Boston before arriving in New York for a week long tour before they sailed across the ocean to begin an extensive one-year tour throughout Europe, Russia and China. They had posted two Pinkertons at the show to maintain a constant vigil for the Lancer twins.
Furthermore, his office had alerted every office coast-to-coast to be on the look-out for the runaways, fliers with their descriptions had been sent via overland, as well as posting the information in several newspapers. He felt he had left no stone unturned in this investigation but something kept nagging at the back of his mind. He just couldn’t put his finger on what it was….pace as he may…thinking hard and fast with each footstep.
The Fergusons had done as was suggested and packed up the twins belongings which were in crates waiting to be shipped off to their father’s ranch in Morro Coyo. Everything that could be done had been done. So what was bothering him? Was it how two kids could have pulled this stunt off? Where were they right now? Were they in any trouble or just enjoying their sojourn? Did they even realize the worry they were causing? Or was it possible they had met with foul play? Were being held captive until they revealed to their kidnappers who to get in touch with for a ransom? Why was it that was eating away at him? Damn it all! He was thinking so hard his head was pounding but try as he did the thought still eluded him. “Those damn kids,” he growled outloud.
Guinn Ward and Betsey Patterson watched their boss as he paced back and forth, wondering if he would ever stop pacing, honestly Miss Patterson was getting dizzy watching him walk 20 paces, pivot on his heels and retrace those 20 steps over and over. “Hey Chief? What do you say to you and me taking a little road trip? Maybe head on down south to see if we can pick up any trace of those kids? Betcha we do, leastwise it’s a whole lot better than sitting here on our hands and not doing anything.”
John stopped pacing as he mulled over the idea, “You know, Guinn, that’s not a bad idea! Let’s take extra horses to make better time. Go gather your gear. Meet me at the livery stable as soon as possible! Damn those kids!”
“What about me, Chief? Can I go along too?” asked Miss Patterson. “I won’t be any trouble. I’ll keep up with you and Guinn, I promise.”
John looked over at her and studied her face before replying, “Miss Patterson, you have been most instrumental in this investigation. Perhaps you should come along. Your charms and alternative point of view just might come in very handy with locating these two children. Heck, you might even be able to garnish information from reluctant town people who don’t want to get involved. Go gather your gear as well. We’ll be at the stables waiting!”
Miss Patterson jumped to her feet and rushed over to the Chief, grabbing his hand, she started pumping it vigorously, exclaiming that, “You won’t regret your decision! I’ll meet you soon!” She rushed out the door and hailed a cab and was taken to her home where she quickly pulled together things she would need for the field work she was about to embark upon. She was looking forward this opportunity to prove herself to her boss.
Chapter Nine – Morro Coyo and the Lancer Ranch
Scott was trying to wait patiently for a follow-up message, as he sat outside the telegraph office, having long since lost the lure of Morro Coyo, had no errands to run, nothing to retrieve for Teresa, wasn’t in the mood for a beer and was frankly, getting a bit tired of his trek into town waiting for word that wasn’t coming from the Pinkertons. Johnny was right, he too was a man of action and would much rather be off in search of his missing younger brothers than sitting in the hot sun waiting, cooling his boot heels, drumming his fingers against the arms of the rocking chair where he had perched his posterior.
He pulled his hat down over his eyes to block out the blinding sun and stretched his long limbs out; crossing his right boot over his left boot, bored with tapping his fingers, he crossed his arms over his chest, sighed deeply and closed his eyes.
“Yo there Scott! Why don’t ya watch where ya put those big feet of yours?” a craggy voice filled with irritation asked.
Scott slowly lifted his hat off his eyes, as he sat straighter on the low bench, drawing his feet inwards, “Sorry, Val, didn’t see you coming this direction. What brings you into Morro Coyo? Johnny’s not around, if you were wondering.”
“I ain’t. He knows he’s still at the top of my shit list. I came ta see how the repairs have progressed. Make sure that he’s paid off his debts fer the damages from his little fracas, if ya need ta know my business,” groused Val, as he sat down adjacent to Scott. “What are ya doing sittin’ out here in the hot sun, fryin’ your brain if I may be so bold as ta ask ya your business?”
“Waiting on a telegram, what’s it look like?” joshed Scott.
“Gee, I don’t know, thought maybe ya was bein’ lazy and shiftless, leavin’ all your work ta Johnny. Hope he’s sittin’ pretty now, ya know after Murdoch worked things out,” prodded Val.
Scott smiled at the game they were playing and said, “Now, Sheriff, you seem to know Johnny better than most. What do you think?”
“I don’t know anything more than what he or ya tells me, that’s what I think. Ya haven’t answered my question, what are ya doing sittin’ here in the hot sun fer? Are ya tryin’ ta get heat stroke?”
Scott yawned and stretched his long arms over his head, “Nahh, Val, I’m waiting to see if a wire comes from the Pinkertons in San Francisco with the latest news on the whereabouts of my littlest brothers, that’s all.”
“Oh if that’s all, I’ll be on my…ya hold on here a dang minute, Scott Lancer! Ya said your “littlest brothers” as in more than Johnny? Just what in the blue blazes are ya talkin’ about?” Having now gained the full attention of Val, Scott sat there looking like a cat that had swallowed the canary. Whole.
“Come on, Val, let’s get out of the hot sun and I’ll buy you a nice refreshing cold beer while I tell you the latest Lancer news.” He jumped to his feet; pulling Val up, Scott stuck his head inside the telegram office entryway. “I’ll be over at the Red Dog if anything comes for me; send Tommy over if you get any news.”
“Sure thing, Scott,” replied Pete from inside the office.
Val and Scott stepped inside the cool, dark interior of the town’s saloon. Val quickly scanned the room looking for signs of trouble, sensing none he walked to the far corner table and drew out a chair, plopped his battered old hat on the table top and sat down, waiting with an air of expectancy.
Scott took in Val’s demeanor, chuckling to himself, “He’s just like that brother of mine. Well, I guess its part of their innate sense that keeps them from being surprised.” He walked up to the bar, leaned against it making his request, “Sam, two cold beers if you don’t mind.” Beer mugs in hand, Scott joined Val who had stretched out his long, lean limbs, crossing his boots, leaning back in his chair.
“’bout damn time, what took ya so long boy?” groused Val.
“Val, you act like there’s a burr under your saddle. It just took a minute; Sam had to draw the beers.”
“Ahh shucks, Scott, guess it’s the long ride over here in the sizzlin’ sun that’s got me off kilter, sorry boy. What in the hell were ya jawin’ about your “littlest brothers?” Don’t tell me that your pa has been runnin’ around, producin’ more of yas? I jest don’t think I can stand any more Lancer boys winding up in my jail cells bein’ baby-sat until ya pa fetches ‘em out.”
“Well, Val, let’s hope not…after all they’re only twelve years old. I really can’t imagine they can cause that much trouble.”
“They’re…twelve? No shit! Twins?? Dios! Really?
“Honest and true, Val, twins…Jesse and Jace.”
“What’s gotten into your pa? Where’s he been keepin’ these two hid?
Scott hardily laughed with Val. “Val, Johnny and I were trying to figure that one out ourselves. Apparently, and this is straight from Murdoch…he had a third wife. She divorced him, without letting him know she was expecting and it turned out there were two. She was a successful artist and didn’t need any financial support from Murdoch, hence never revealed a word about their sons. She’d died in January. This news came to light via the Pinkertons about the twins a few days ago.”
Val sat there taking it all in, shaking his head back and forth, “Your pa got any more surprises up his sleeves? Or Johnny? Or ya?”
Scott nearly spit out his mouthful of beer before answering, “He doesn’t think so, at least no other marriages not accounted for. I’m fairly certain that none of my dalliances produced any off-spring to date. You would have to check with Johnny about his, but I hope not.”
“How’s Johnny takin’ this?” questioned the grizzled lawman, having been a long time friend and mentor of Johnny he imagine the worst, hoping for the best.
“About as well as one could imagine. Johnny, at first was pissed at Murdoch, thinking he had betrayed his mother by having their marriage dissolved in court in order to marry again. He now seems pretty excited at the prospects of being an “older brother” and having two kid brothers to boss around…errrr…watch over.”
“Gonna be interestin’, Johnny ridin’ herd on a pair of younguns, might be like herdin’ cats,” mulled Val, finishing off his beer. “Hell it jest might keep him out of trouble fer a change, iffinin’ he’s kept busy watchin’ over two baby brothers, keepin’ them in line.”
Scott laughed, “Val, I don’t know about that. Guess you’ll have to wait and see what harbingers Jesse and Jace bring with them to the San Joaquin valley that is if those Pinkertons manage to find them. They managed to run-off and elude their guardians on several occasions, been missing for close to ten days this time.”
“Oh sheeeet….,” drawled Val. “Sounds like Johnny all over again. That boy was the master of disappearing when he wanted ta. He’d just drift in and outta peoples lives wherever the four winds blew. I don’t recall him stayin’ put any where ta long. Bit of a roamin’ gypsy somewhere in that boy’s soul.”
“Mr. Lancer! Mr. Lan…Scott!” cried Tommy rushing through the swinging bat wing doors, waving a message in his hand. “Your telegram’s here!”
“Thanks, Tommy, here you go.” Flipping a dollar to the lad for his troubles, Scott stood up, draining the dregs of his beer with one hand. He slipped the wire inside the waistband of his brown pants, held snug by his belt and gunbelt. “Bye, Val, need to get back with the news.”
“Hey, ain’t ya gonna read it and let me know what’s goin’ on with ‘em boys?”
Scott grinned, “Nope, not unless you want Murdoch to skin me alive…this is his business first. If you’re so interested, why don’t you ride back with me? I suppose Johnny will be glad to see you and Teresa won’t let you leave hungry.”
“Thought ya never ask,” grumbled Val as he finished his beer, sticking his beat-up old hat back on his head he hitched his pants, letting Scott lead the way out of the Red Dog. “Bein’ one of the local lawmen, I should know what’s goin’ on so’s I can keep my eyes open.”
“Without question,” replied Scott as he stepped out into the sunlight. “Follow me to the livery, Charlie inside keeping cool.”
The pair rode back to Lancer in relative silence, since Val generally wasn’t one to share his personal business. Scott was lost in thought anyway, wondering about the contents of this telegram. His choice was that the Pinkertons had located his brothers and that they were on their way to Morro Coyo. It would be a huge relief to know that they were safe, sound and home at Lancer where they belonged. Now if someone had told him a year ago that he would be up to his eyebrows in little brothers he would have thought them crazy…what profound changes had occurred in his world in such a short time span, he mused as he spotted Johnny.
Johnny, stripped to his cut-off long johns was ready to take a running leap into one of the watering holes when he heard, “Yo, brother, don’t jump!”
Teetering on the sloped bank; Johnny tried digging his toes into the earth to stop his forward momentum as he tilted forward, waving his arms to stop. Just a tad too late as he lost his balance with a splash hit the water, face first, creating a large splash. Sputtering and spitting water out his mouth, he grinned foolishly at his brother and Val who sat on their horses laughing at the sight of Johnny.
“Boston, I hope ya got a good reason for that! Here, give me ya hand. Pull me up,” said Johnny extending his hand towards Scott who hadn’t dismounted. “Hey there Val!”
“Hey yourself Johnny,” drawled Val shoulders shaking up and down in amusement.
Scott shifted slightly in his saddle, smirked at his drenched brother, who had a couple strands of stringy weeds hanging from his hair, “Oh no brother, I’m wise to your tricks. I do hope you’re cooled off now. Message came for Murdoch. Get dressed and mount up, we may as well hear the news at the same time.”
Johnny scrambled up the bank, shaking his head side whisking away beads of water, ran his hands through his long hair, pulling the weeds off, and dropping them to the ground. He shucked off his wet cut-offs, dabbed at his glistening body with his shirt, completely unaware that Val and Scott had diverted their attention elsewhere while the boy finished rubbing himself down, slipping into his dirty white socks, pants, boots and now damp shirt, leaving it unbuttoned as he slipped his wet long johns into his saddlebag. He removed his hat from the saddle horn and let it hang on its stampede strings down his back.
Strapping on his gunbelt before mounting Barranca he looked at the other two, “What’s the matter with ya? Ain’t ya got the same equipment I do? Ya two act like ya never seen yourself naked before. Didn’t know I was surrounded by a couple of little ol’ ladies! Well come on, race ya ta the arch!” he yelled as he gave Barranca a click and his head, Johnny took off leaving Val and Scott to catch-up or eat his trail dust with his shirt whipping in the air behind him. He rode for the sheer joy of feeling the wind rush past him, with the thundering power of the galloping horse between his thighs. This was where he felt the most alive!
Pulling up at the Lancer arch he turned to see that Val and Scott hadn’t taken up his challenge, taking their sweet time, he continued into the front yard where Pedro took Barranca from him as Johnny grabbed his saddlebags, “Gracias, amigo.”
“De nada, Senor Juanito.”
“Por favor Pedro, will ya give him some extra oats too? And a good rubdown?”
Johnny entered the cool adobe hacienda, where he removed his gunbelt and hat, greeting Murdoch, “Hey, Murdoch, Scott and Val are headin’ in. Got a telegram.”
“Hello, my son, looks to me like you need a bath,” he chuckled. “Race in again, huh?”
“Yeah, but not through the arch,” he said as he poured himself a drink from the cart. “Drink?”
“Sure, why don’t you go ahead and set them up for Scott and Sheriff Crawford as well. I wonder what brings him out this way today?”
“Don’t know, Murdoch, can’t have anything ta do with me. I ain’t been anywhere but workin’ my ass off here.”
Murdoch looked over the top of his glass at his son and harrumphed just as the front door opened and Scott and Val entered, removing their hats and Scott his gunbelt. Crossing over into the depths of the Great Room, Scott greeted his father, as he pulled out the message handing it over.
“Sir, hope you don’t mind, Val was in town and figured he might be needed.”
“No son not at all. Sheriff Crawford join us in a drink and stay for dinner won’t you?”
“Sure, Mr. Lancer. Scott’s filled me in already, so what’s inside that wire? Good news I hope.”
Johnny handed Val and Scott their drinks, then slid into one of the leather chairs, propping his boots up on top of Murdoch’s desk, mindful his spurs didn’t scratch the surface.
“John, if you don’t mind, remove your boots from my desk and put them on the floor where they belong,” Murdoch patiently directed him as he watched him comply.
“Yessir,” mumbled Johnny, taking another sip of his drink.
Murdoch opened the telegram and read it out loud to the group, including Teresa, who hearing the voices came in from the kitchen, wiping her hands dry on her apron. The latest news was-
“Team traveling coastline south to LA. Stop. Reported sightings in San Jose and Santa Cruz. Stop. Interception anticipated soon. Stop. Wire me care of LA office with directives. Stop.”
“Well, well, well, sounds as if those little dickens are makin’ their way down the coast ta Los Angeles. Chips off the ol’ block…ehh Johnny,” said Val as he stroked his chin. “From San Francisco that’s quite a journey for a pair of younguns ta make.”
“Dios,” said Johnny as he jumped to his feet. “Murdoch, how about Scott and me headin’ out… meet up with the Pinks? We can be there two, three days at the most if we leave first light.”
Murdoch pursed his lips together as he again read the message before answering, “Johnny, how about you heading off to the bath house? Let me think about this first. We can continue this discussion at dinner.”
Johnny looked like he wanted to rebuked his father’s order, realized retreat was a better course of action to take with Scott and Val looking on he gave Murdoch a quick nod and headed for the stairs.
Scott poured another round of drinks, “Sir, you realize of course that Johnny’s right. We can meet up with the agents and bring them home instead of their traveling with strangers they would be with family. Might make the sudden changes in their lives go smoother; help them adjust to new family members by being there to greet them. It was a shock for me to discover that I had a brother and that we had traveled together for at least ten miles not knowing about the other. If anyone can relate to what Jace and Jesse will feel like, it’s Johnny and me.”
“Mr. Lancer, I can ride along as well ta make sure everything is done legal-like, so’s those Pinks don’t think anything odd is goin’ on with the transfer,” added Val as he sipped his drink.
“I can see that I won’t get a moment’s peace around here between the three of you ganging up on me. Sheriff if you’re sure you can spare the time the Lancer family will welcome your assistance in this matter.”
Johnny standing at the base of the stairs grinned at Scott who raised his glass in a silent toast towards him. “John I thought I told you to take a bath, son. What are you doing still standing over there?” questioned Murdoch looking pointedly in his direction.
“I’m goin’…I’m goin’,” grumbled Johnny. “Gee, I hope my little brothers get use ta someone markin’ their time and ridin’ herd on ‘em real quick.”
“Don’t you mean OUR little brothers, little brother?” laughed Scott.
“Ha, ha, Boston,” smirked Johnny as he closed the front door before anyone else could add their two cents worth.
Chapter Ten – Los Angeles and On the Road to Los Angeles
Warning- Some swearing.
Jessie and Jace resuming their trek inland southward towards their destination, leaving behind them the never-ending pitches and swells of the ocean waves, lapping in perpetual motion on to the sandy beaches. They became more cautious and alert as they came into the sights of the large town, assuming that by now the Fergusons had to have alerted authorities of their disappearance but optimistic that the local authorities had more pressing matters to be concerned over than the whereabouts of two kids.
Prior to the twins riding into the hustling, bustling city of Los Angeles, Jessie had made certain that her long hair was braided and secured under her hat. Both “boys” exhibited signs of a long journey, trail dust covered their hats and clothes. Skylark and Blackjack had coats in need of grooming, matching their owners dusty appearance. The twins gave the impression that they were simply two travelers venturing into the “City of Angeles”.
The twins checked over the crowds while searching for the livery stable, the newspaper and the Sheriff offices along with the location of the railroad depot. They were looking around to see if they were drawing any special attention to themselves or if anyone was looking at them with anything more than a passing glance. It was a Saturday afternoon and the streets were filled with hawkers at their stands and push carts, barking their wares to the populace walking to and fro carrying packages, absorbed with their own quests and business matters, paying little if any attention to two grimy riders, despite their young age.
Dismounting in front of the livery stable, Jessie handed her reins over to Jace, “We finally made it! Jace you stable the horses while I check with the newspaper office…see if there’s any news about us in the paper. Then head over to the train station and check the train schedules, it would be nice to catch a train early next week. Watch your back for anything suspicious.”
“Okay, sis, you do likewise. Where do you want to meet-up?”
“Meet me over at the Loomis Hotel in a half hour or so? I sure wouldn’t say no to a bath and a change of clothes before we get something to eat,” she said brushing off some of the dust from her clothes. “You could stand some soap and water too,” she grinned. “Oh Jace, have them give the horses an extra good rubdown and the tack cleaned up, the more “spit and polish” the better the price we’ll get for them.”
She headed over to the newspaper office, entering the small interior; she picked up a copy of the latest paper from the stack on the counter, sliding a penny to the man behind it, left as quickly as she came in. Sitting down on the bench against the building, she thumbed through the paper, skimming the four-pages, reaching the end of the paper with a self-satisfied grin, she got up, tucking the paper under her arm and walked to the hotel.
“I would like a room and a hot bath sent upstairs and my brother will be coming over here shortly, so we’ll need two keys, please.”
“Certainly, Mr. …ahhhh…”
“Flynn,” she replied.
“Well, Mr. Flynn, sign the register and it will be two dollars for the night and two-bits for each bath.”
“Here, we’ll need the room for two nights,” she replied, pulling five single dollars from a pants pocket to pay the clerk. “Keep the rest, I just might want a bath again tomorrow, make sure I get all the dust off.”
The beady-eyed clerk looked him over and said, “Whereabouts you traveled from, Mr. Flynn?”
“Mister, why is that any of your concern?” she asked. “I don’t mean to be rude, but do you ask all your guests their business?”
“No, making small talk is all,” he replied with a slight scowl tracing across his face. “”Your room is at top of the stairs, two doors to the left, 203.”
“Thanks, now about that bath?”
“I’ll send someone up with a tub and hot water directly, Mr. Flynn.”
“Where do you recommend getting a fair and decent meal?”
“There’s a small café, Hayes Diner, at the end of the street. They put out a passable meal. Leastwise, nobody’s complained or gotten sick that I’ve heard about lately.”
“Lately? Sounds intriguing,” Jessie replied as she headed up the stairs with her saddlebag slung over her shoulder.
Jace tied off the horses in separate stalls, removed their gear and hung the saddles on the railings before the stableman had entered the stables.
“Hey, mister I’ve got two horses to be stabled tonight and maybe tomorrow.”
“I see that sonny, those are a couple good-looking blacks, where’s ya get ‘em.”
“They’re not stolen, if that’s what you’re wondering,” replied Jace sticking his chin out at the older man.
“Now hold up there sonny, don’t get your feathers ruffled,” he laughed. “It’s a dollar a day, per horse, up front.”
“Sure, I’ll pay you for one night first and then pay you tomorrow if my brother and I need to keep them here longer than tonight. That okay with you?
“Sure thing boy, as long as I get paid they can stay here as long as ya need. Ya staying at the hotel over yonder?”
“Yep, can you give them a good rubdown and clean-up the gear? Here’s an extra two dollars for your trouble.”
“Sonny, you bet, I’ll take care of ‘em as if they were my own.”
Jace with his hat pulled low, saddlebags over his shoulder headed to the train depot, walking fast and keeping his eyes open for trouble. The stationmaster behind the caged window looked up as he entered, “Help you boy?”
“Yes sir, when’s the next train to Denver?”
“Well that would be the McCloud River Express. It’s scheduled to pull out of here Wednesday next.”
“Wednesday? I thought it was scheduled for Monday, what’s the hold-up?”
“Can’t be helped, track was damaged near Denver from a mudslide. Suppose to be repaired and the Express should pull in here Tuesday night. Do you want a ticket or not?”
“I’ll take two tickets.”
“No sir, one-way.”
“That’ll be ten dollars, even.”
Jace paid the stationmaster, folded the tickets and slipped them down inside his boot for safe keeping. Tasks completed he walked back towards the hotel, sensing that he was being watched, he stole a look over his shoulder but didn’t see anyone that he recognized from earlier. He picked up his pace and headed left instead of right, taking him away from the direction of the hotel.
Jace walked a few blocks west, before easing behind a corner looking for anyone that might be tailing him. He waited and watched a good fifteen minutes before he deduced that he was probably just tired from the long trail ride, lack of decent sleep and steady food, not to mention he did smell kind of rancid. He figured his mind was playing tricks on him as he didn’t see anyone take more than a passing glance at him. Looking about, checking all directions he saw that the coast was clear and headed towards the hotel, not realizing that hidden in the shadows someone was indeed spying on him.
Back at the hotel, Jace grinned as he recognized Jessie’s handwriting, had signed the registry using their mother’s maiden name. He asked for his key from the clerk who had his back to the front desk, stuffing some envelopes in a few of the room slots.
The clerk turned, doing a double-take when he saw Jace, “Say, you trying to pull something kid? I already gave you one key.”
“Not me you didn’t, that would have been my brother who checked us in. People always get the two of us mixed up, guess we must look alike. Me? I don’t see it myself. May I have my room key now?”
The clerk handed over the extra key, watching Jace climb the stairs, “Like two peas in a pod, don’t know how he don’t see it.”
Jack softly knocked on the door, inserted the key, cracked the door slightly open, he whispered through the narrow opening, “Jessie, you decent? Can I come in?”
She was behind the screen, relaxing in the tub, “Come in! Close the door. Stay over on that side of the screen, Jace. I think I died and went to heaven. This is the best bath I’ve ever taken. Did you get the tickets?”
“Yeah, but we’re stuck here until Wednesday, if we’re lucky.”
Jace told her the reason for the delay. Hearing her softly swear behind the screen he asked, “What?”
“Get my share of the money out of my saddlebags. Count it and yours while I finish. We weren’t planning on hanging around that long; doing what, twiddling our fingers? I mean by then, the Fergusons may have bloodhounds on our trail. It will be difficult to stay hiding between the shadows forever. I don’t understand how outlaws are so successful with hiding in plain sight.”
“Uhh Jess? I thought I was being watched at the train station. I took off the opposite direction and hid behind a corner to wait for a good fifteen minutes or so, never saw anybody who could have been following me. Could have been me just being tired and hungry, maybe I imagine it?”
“Damn it! Shit! Hell’s bells!” she swore. “Jace, we have got to be especially vigilant! Extra careful! We didn’t come this far only to be caught! I wonder if we can get food sent up to the room instead of going out?”
“Probably not. That downstairs clerk didn’t seem any too friendly to me. One of us will have to go out and take care of the horses. I only paid for one day. Need to go back and ask the stableman if he’s interested or knows someone else interested in buying the horses and tack.”
“Also have to pay for the room for two more days unless we camp-out in the stables. How much cash do we have?”
“Let’s see, you have eight hundred and three dollars left and I’ve got the lion’s share with nine hundred-fifty and some change. We’re okay Jessie, train tickets are paid for, after we sell the horses and gear maybe get another hundred or so, we’ll be fine. We can take turns going out for what we need. Let’s just not be seen together.”
Jessie appeared from behind the screen changed into clean clothes. She fixed her hair into two long braids that she wrapped up inside her hat, tucking a few escaping wisps into place. “Okay, I’ll go downstairs and get your fresh water sent up, see about the possibilities of food being sent up.
I’ll watch for any activity or curious interest in me, by sitting out on the porch rocking in one of those chairs, reading the newspaper. Which there wasn’t a word about us inside of it, so maybe you did imagine someone following you. But to be on the safe side, perhaps you’re right about only one of us venturing out at a time. If there is anyone looking for two together, we’ll out-wit them by dividing and conquering until we’re on the train.”
“Sounds like a workable plan to me, sis. Well go on then, get out of here and get that hot water sent up. I just got a real good whiff of myself – phew! Maybe we better get our clothes washed before we leave. I saw a Chinese laundry down the street. Perhaps we can pick-up another shirt or two at the general store.”
Meanwhile, Johnny, Scott and Val were halfway between Lancer and Los Angeles. Val had stopped in Green River long enough to deputized Clayton Mills to act in his stead and to gather his gear. Scott and Johnny sent a wire to John Hereford in care of the LA Pinkerton office-
“Sons and Sheriff Crawford riding towards LA. Stop. Observe boys only. Stop. Do not detain them unless departing LA. Stop. Sons and Sheriff will explain. Stop.”
Johnny was antsy trying to motivate his companions to quicken their paces, but the older men preferred to measure their horses, conserving their strength for the long trail ride ahead of them.
“Whoa there Johnny, come on, slow down there amigo. It’s to hot ta push the horses iffin’ ya want them ta last the entire ride. We’ll git there just as we plan ta all in good time mind ya without pushin’ the horses,” said Val as he rode alongside Johnny, putting his hand on his friend’s arm to get his attention.
“Easy for ya ta say, Val, they ain’t your little brothers,” groused Johnny as he stared at his friend.
Scott cut in front of Barranca causing Johnny to slow him down to a walk. “Johnny, listen to reason boy. We won’t get there any faster if the horses can’t carry us. Those two aren’t going anywhere except home to Lancer with you, me and Val escorting them. Isn’t that correct, Val?”
“Yep, I reckon we’ll git there day after tomorrow, Monday night or Tuesday at the latest.”
Johnny’s eyes softened and his face relaxed from his tight grimace as the words of his brother and friend sank in. “I just wanna make sure they’re safe, that’s all.”
“Likewise, brother. But seems to me that you’re already given them credit for taking care of themselves. Why the change of heart?”
“Lot of things could go wrong for young boys out there on their own. Things ya don’t want ta think about, that’s all Boston.”
“I know what you mean Johnny. But remember, the Pinkertons are their guardian angels right now. They saved you, didn’t they? For now they’ll do their job by keeping Jesse and Jace safe from harm’s way. They won’t let anything happen to them. Now are you ready? Let’s go meet our little brothers.”
Johnny grinned, “Yeah, let’s go Scott! Come on Val!”
Chapter Eleven – Los Angeles
Warning- Some more swearing…Johnny can’t help it now that Val is around dropping a few of his own!
John Hereford along with Guinn Ward and Betsey Patterson arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon and headed straight to the local office. Brushing off dust and wiping at her face with a dusty handkerchief, Miss Patterson sneezed a few times from the dust motes that drift inside her nose. Miss Patterson was quite relieved to be off her horse and on solid ground. The past three days had been a grueling adventure, but one she was glad to have made, as it gave her the perfect opportunity to show the Chief how durable she was, not some delicate little flower to be taken care of. She ultimately hoped to gain more field work as the result of her efforts with this case.
The trio walked inside the red brick building where a tinkling bell announced their arrival to the staff behind the low room divider with a swinging gate.
“Chief Hereford, I see you and your companions have made it! No worst the wear for your fast journey I take it?” said Agent Joshua Billings, who had risen from behind his desk, extending his hand to shake hands. “A wire arrived yesterday morning from Murdoch Lancer for you. We took the liberty of reading it in case there were additional instructions to follow. Good thing we did too, he only wants us to observe those kids and not pick them up.”
“What? Did he say why?” asked John as he and the agents gathered around a small table to converse.
“Hold on, let me get the message and you can read it for yourself,” replied Agent Billings as he went back to his desk retrieving the telegram.
John read the message to the other agents- “Sons and Sheriff Crawford riding towards LA. Stop. Observe boys only. Stop. Do not detain them unless departing LA. Stop. Sons and Sheriff will explain. Stop. M. Lancer”
“I see. So Agent Billings, have you spotted our young quarry?”
“Yes sir Chief! They arrived yesterday afternoon and boarded their horses at the livery stable on Main Street. They checked in under the names of “V and A Flynn” at the Loomis Hotel and have purchased train tickets for Denver to leave on Wednesday.”
“Do they know they are being watched?”
“I don’t believe so. One of them almost spotted Agent Dylan but Mick backed off in time. Looks like they’re being cautious, I’ve noticed one of them sits on the front porch checking the newspapers thoroughly. We don’t spot them outside the hotel together, except for their arrival. One leaves to fetch food back, and one runs errands, at least we think as far as we can tell they are switching off who leaves and who stays put. So far they’re spending most of their time in their room, playing cards and reading those damn infernal dime novels from what we can ascertain by a few walk-bys of their room and overhearing parts of their conversation.”
“Good…keep up the superb work. Mr. Ward, Miss Patterson and I will freshen up and have our dinner,” replied John. “Did you send Mr. Lancer a wire letting him know they are here and under our watch?”
“No, we decided to wait for you before doing anything else since you’re leading this investigation.”
“Excellent,” he stated. “Guinn take the horses to the livery stable; have them fed and watered, get them stalls instead of putting them in the outside corral, let them rest from the hard ride getting us here in record time. Oh Guinn, make sure their hooves are checked thoroughly. Miss Patterson, check us into the Pico Hotel…get three adjoining rooms over looking the street, if possible. Here this should be enough to pay for the rooms,” he added giving her a twenty dollar bank note. “I’ll draft a message for Mr. Lancer and then let’s meet for dinner in the hotel lobby in say hour and a half, which should be plenty of time for us to recoup from our travels.”
Tuesday afternoon, Jace grinned as he played out his next hand of poker with his sister, beating her full house with his straight flush. He scooped over the winning pot of their commingled funds, “Beat you again, Jessie, poker just isn’t your game today. Is something on your mind?”
“Guess I’m not in the mood. I am, however, tired of being cooped up inside. Maybe we can go out at different times and meet down at that café for dinner tonight to celebrate getting out of this room and Los Angles. I haven’t seen anyone hanging around, paying any attention to me when I’ve been out of this room. Have you?”
“Nope, not since Saturday. Even then my mind could have been playing tricks on me from the journey. How about another hand or two? Give you the opportunity to win some of your money back?” Jace queried.
Jessie gently smiled at her younger brother and sighed, “Sure, let’s play a few more hands, then get ready for dinner. For once I’m hungry before you!”
Long about the same time, Johnny, Scott and Val arrived in Los Angeles, heading to the Main Street livery stable. The liveryman was nowhere to be found, as they stabled their horses, noticing that business was brisk as most of the stalls were already occupied. Scott wrote a note for the liveryman, telling him where they would be staying, the Loomis Hotel and that they would catch-up with him later for payment.
“Let’s get rooms and wash-up before we head over to the Pinkertons’ office and get the latest news,” said Scott, brushing the dirt from his shirt sleeves. Later we can get a real meal from that café. I am hankering for something more substantial than beef jerky, beans and any more of Val’s coffee,” Scott said.
Val raised his eyebrows at his comment about his coffee, “Me and Johnny’ll go talk with ‘em Pinks while ya go get the rooms and clean-up, if that what ya want ta do. Me, I don’t mind the dirt and sure didn’t ride all this way ta take a bath now.”
“Me neither, Boston,” said Johnny. “I wanna find our about our little brothers first. Ain’t plannin’ on goin’ ta no fancy party. I’ll wait and clean-up later.”
“Oh, well pardon me, lead on,” Scott waved his arm with a flourish as Johnny and Val headed out of the stable, looking one direction then the other, reading the names of the businesses on both sides of the wide street. Val flagged down a passing man to ask where the Pinkerton office could be found and the man pointed it out to them before hurrying on his way.
Johnny opened the door to the office and stepped inside, followed by Val and Scott, still slapping away at the fine sandy particulars of dust clinging to his dark blue shirt.
“May I help you?” asked a young petite brunette woman rising to greet the visitors.
Johnny swept his hat from his head and slicked back his unruly hair. He wiped his hand on the only clean spot he could find on his pants before extending his hand in greeting to the woman, “Yes, ma’am, I believe you’re expecting us. I’m Johnny Lancer, my brother Scott Lancer and Sheriff Val Crawford from Green River. We’re here ta meet Chief Hereford about our little brothers,” Johnny said. Both Scott and Val stepped forward to greet the young woman in turn.
“We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Lancer,” she said.
“It’s Johnny, ma’am. Mr. Lancer’s back home in Morro Coyo.”
“Forgive me, Johnny. Where are my manners? I am Betsey Patterson, Agent Betsey Patterson. As I was saying, we were hoping to see you today and well here you are! Please follow me and I’ll take you to meet Chief Hereford and Agent Ward.”
Scott looked more closely at Betsey and with a lingering question inquired, “Excuse me, Miss Patterson, did I hear you correctly? You’re a Pinkerton agent?”
She gave him a smile, “Yes, on both accounts, this way gentleman.”
Val shrugged his shoulders at Johnny; Johnny gave Scott a cheeky grin, winking as the girl turned. Betsey walked towards an office door, sharply rapping her knuckles on the door, she opened the door to announce their arrival. “Chief Hereford, the Lancers are here with Sheriff Crawford.”
“Show them in Miss Patterson. Where’s Agent Ward?” Opening his gold watch, he checked the time, “Still on duty?”
“Yes sir, he should be here in fifteen minutes. I could send someone down to relieve him if you need him here,” stepping aside to allow the others to cross into the interior office.
“No, that won’t be necessary, Miss Patterson. I’m certain Guinn would have sent word to us if anything had developed that we would want to know right away.”
Introductions and greetings completed, Johnny got down to the brass tacks, “Have ya found Jesse and Jace?”
“Why, yes, of course, Johnny. You of all people should know that the Pinkertons always find our man. They’re staying at the Loomis Hotel, Room 203, registered under their mother’s maiden name of Flynn. My agents have respected your father’s instructions. Observing only, not touching. Although I must admit, it’s been difficult to restrain ourselves from grabbing the little dickens and tossing them in the local sheriff’s cell for safe keeping. But as requested by your father we have kept close watch on them, waiting for your arrival. What’s more, they purchased tickets for tomorrow on the 9-00 am McCloud River Express bound for Denver. You have arrived in the nick of time.”
Johnny glared at the Pinkerton chief with his remarks of “tossing them in the sheriff’s cell”, crossing his arms tightly across his chest in his protective gesture. A gesture that Scott had come to recognize to be akin to a rattlesnake shaking its tail in warning of an almost certain strikeout at an unsuspecting victim. Before Scott could raise his eyebrows in warning to Johnny to settle down Val had beaten him to the punch. Val placed his hand onto Johnny’s shoulder, giving him a gentle squeeze, feeling the tension ebb from Johnny’s body.
“Sir,” Scott said, “what method do you recommend to approach them without frightening them half to death? Let’s not forget, we are after all strangers to them. They have no idea they even have other family members. Despite the trouble they have unwittingly created, you must give them credit for making it this far on their own accord. Without incident I hope?”
“Yes, as far as we can ascertain, they have managed to stay out of and away from any trouble on their travels. We have a few reports of sightings along their way, mainly thanks to their distinctive looking horses, but no reported incidents of any problems. As far as how you can best approach them that Scott, it’s up to you, your brother and the Sheriff. We were instructed to find them and keep our eyes on them until you arrived, keeping them off any trains, stagecoaches or boats if necessary. I can assure you that my agents and I will follow your instructions, whatever you decide we will assist however we can.
However, I will warn you that those two have been exceptionally cunning, going about their business in public as separate entities. Even if any of the locals were aware of missing twins, no one would be the wiser as they haven’t been seen as a pair anywhere after they stabled their horses.
We know they sold their horses at the livery stable along with their tack; we know they have been coming and going for food, purchased additional clothing as well as the daily newspapers. They have pretty much remained holed up in their room biding their time until their train arrives,” reported Chief Hereford. “I imagine they are under the impression that by now the Fergusons are searching for them and may have expanded their efforts to other parts of the state.
If you are soliciting my counsel, I believe the best plan of action is to take advantage of their own separation from their twin. Whichever twin is seen out in public first can be quickly rounded up and brought here for safe keeping. Then the other should be easier to persuade to come along knowing that the other one has been secured. Or just wait the other one out until venturing into the open.”
“Ya don’t think one will leave without the other on the train?” asked Val.
Betsey spoke up, “Not probable Sheriff, they think, and act almost as a single unity. They are, as Mr. Lancer, Scott said, to their knowledge the only family they have. I can’t imagine one taking off and leaving the other behind, that’s too implausible.”
“Miss Patterson is correct in her assumptions, gentlemen. Here’s another suggestion, since you’re planning on staying at the same hotel, secured your rooms directly across from them and on either side if they’re available. One of you should be able to hear their activity or the door opening signaling when one of them will be coming out of the room.
I can post my agents downstairs in the lobby and whoever first appears, my agents can secure quickly and hopefully quietly while you gentlemen follow us to our office.”
Johnny turned to Scott, “Scott I don’t like any of this. Why don’t we just go over there, knock on the door and get them here and now? Avoid all of this cra…”
“Extraneous methods,” Scott completed. “I don’t know, Johnny; each strategy is workable but debatable as to the end results. We’re not looking to scare the wits out of them.”
Val had patiently listened to the plans being bantered about without horning in, piped up, “Ah, we could just wait until tomorrow mornin’. We can be waitin’ at the station and get ‘em before they board. Be less complicated with ‘em already havin’ their belongings packed. We’ll have our horses ready in the morning. Now ya just need ta get back their horses and gear, so’s they’re saddled as well as ours, ready for the trip back ta Lancer.”
“Val, you’re a genius!” exclaimed Scott. “Let them have their last night of independence. We’ll wait until tomorrow when we’re rested and ready to tackle two kids hell bent on their plans. Kids who may think they are capable of eluding any would-be pursuers from the sounds of things. We’ll have the element of surprise; they won’t know what happened and won’t have time to react, run off or get on that train. They’ll only have time to be astonished at their sudden changes. Like Emerson said….”
“Dios! Hold it right there Scott! Enough of Emerson…we don’t need no advice from your greenhorn friend! Between the three of us and the Pinks we got enough advice already and enough men and a woman ta boot. Tomorrow we’ll just collect ‘em without any bull-shittin’ around. Then we mosey on back ta Lancer with ‘em,” added Johnny grinning at Val. “Ya know Val, I like how ya think! Some of the time, amigo.”
“Chief Hereford, if you would keep your agents watching over our siblings until tomorrow we would appreciate your assistance. Give us the opportunity to clean up, have a decent meal, purchase supplies for the trip back, secure their horses as well as sleep in a soft bed tonight,” mulled Scott.
“The Pinkertons are here to contribute in whatever capacity you wish,” said Chief Hereford. “We’re happy to assist, that’s our job. Tomorrow my agents will be posted at the train depot by 8-00 am. Miss Patterson and Mr. Ward will be on hand to assist as you need. Unfortunately, now that I’m here in Los Angeles there’s another pressing manner requiring my undivided attention regarding His Honor, Mayor James R. Toberman first thing tomorrow morning. I am confident that I am leaving you with competent agents.”
“Come on fellas, time ta get Lancer business taken care of,” Johnny drawled, giving Miss Patterson another quick tip of his hat, he turned sharply on his boot heels. Standing on the boardwalk waiting for his companions to join him, Johnny stretched his arms over his head, twisting his torso to relax the kinks from sitting in the saddle for the better part of three days.
“Yo, Scott, me and Val will go dicker for our little brothers’ horses and gear, if ya get our rooms, and who knows maybe ya’ll see one of our little brothers,” smirked Johnny as he pushed the brim of his hat back on the crown on his head. “We’ll get the trail supplies and meet ya back at the hotel.”
“You must like saying “our little brothers”, don’t you?” Scott smiled as he tried wrapping his arm around Johnny’s head.
Johnny ducked from his reach, punched him in his shoulder and smirked, “Yeah, it sounds good, ya know?”
“I agree it does sound good. Okay, Johnny, take your time; I’m going to enjoy the chance to have a hot bath. I’ll have your keys waiting for you.”
“What for, Boston? Ya only get dirty all over again come tomorrow’s ride. Makes no sense ta me, all that fussin’ around ya do every single day. Live a little, brother.”
“To each their own, ‘my little brother’, each their own,” smiled Scott.
“There ya go again, ‘my big brother’, more of that Emerson crap, I told ya…,” said Johnny.
“Oh for Pete’s sake will ya two knock it off? I hope the other Lancer boys don’t act like ya two do, nit-pickin’ at each other. Maybe they got better sense than either of ya or put together,” groused Val at the good-humored bickering pair.
“Tomorrow morning Jace, we’re leaving!” Jessie exclaimed excitedly as she jumped up and down on her bed in glee.
Jace watched his sister with amusement, knowing that their confinement had been harder on her than him. He had been content with reading their dime novels, the newspapers, sleeping and playing cards with Jessie. She was the one who craved the outdoors, the hustle and bustle of being active, and excitement just like their mother had been, relentlessly rushing from one activity to another.
“Shouldn’t we make contingency plans, better to be safer than sorrier,” she pointed out.
“Jessie, neither one of us has seen anyone watching us or trailing after us. Don’t you think if someone was, they would have knocked on our door or stopped us in the street? Nothing has been in the newspapers, why I’ll bet the Fergusons think one of our friends has hidden us away. They probably think that we’re still hiding out in San Francisco and at any minute will turn up. Or for all we know, they’re happy to have washed their hands of taking care of us.”
“You don’t really think that…do you? About the Fergusons?”
“Well, you think there would have been something in the newspaper about us missing by now don’t you? I think we’re fine; no one in Los Angeles is looking for us. We’re going out for dinner tonight and not dragging something back here. Let’s get out of this room, get some fresh air, and stretch our legs.”
“Okay,” she agreed as she busied herself with braiding her hair, wrapping, knotting and pinning the braids to the back of her head. “I’d still feel better if you go first. I’ll follow down the back stairs in ten minutes.”
“Whatever makes you happiest. I’ll meet you at that café in twenty minutes then?” Jace asked as he put his own hat on, walking to the door.
Jessie grinned at him in the mirror as she nodded her head in agreement, “See you in twenty minutes, Jace.”
Jace stepped out of the room, and headed down the stairs, passing a tall, blonde haired man, with saddlebags draped over one shoulder, carrying a Winchester rifle. Jace continued down the stairs, cocking his head slightly to notice that the man had stopped at the room across from his, turning the key in the lock, their eyes briefly held as the man gave him a nod and said, “Evening” before opening the door.
Jace looked at him, nodded his own greeting, “That’s a good-looking rifle you have there Mister,” he said before continuing his way down the stairs, figuring that the man had just checked into the hotel, having never seen him around the hotel before.
Stepping outside, Jace crossed the street heading first to the train depot to confirm that the McCloud River Express was indeed on schedule. It would depart in the morning, satisfied with the station master’s affirmative response, he headed to the restaurant. He waited outside for his sister, resting a slim hip and elbow against the hitching post; he nonchalantly studied the comings and goings of the Los Angeles inhabitants. Heeding his sister’s cautionary warnings he was mindful for anyone paying close scrutiny of him. As soon as he saw his sister approaching he ducked into the small café to wait for her.
“See anyone when you left the hotel?” she asked him.
“Nah, only saw a new guest coming up the stairs. He was carrying a fancy Winchester rifle, one of those repeating action that Annie Oakley uses. He’s staying in the room across from ours. What about you?”
“There were two dusty looking cowboys coming up the front stairs when I was heading to the backstairs. I didn’t get a real long look at them, but noticed they both were carrying rifles, couldn’t say for sure but I think one was a Winchester 1873 and the other could have been a Sharps 1866. The taller man was real old and scruffy, looked just like a saddle tramp. But the other from a distance looks just like the drawings on those dime novels of Johnny Madrid, pretty black hair and deep penetrating blue eyes; he has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh really? I thought you said you didn’t get a “real long look at them? What would Johnny Madrid be doing hanging around with a saddle tramp? Maybe sis, you’ve been staring at those drawings too long,” he joked. “Come on let’s order some food, I’m…”
“I know…I know you’re starving!” she laughed. “Me too!”
The two had their first real sit-down hot meal in days, both enjoying steak dinners with hot buttered biscuits, mashed potatoes and green beans, along with peach cobbler. They talked low, occasionally looking out the window to watch the world rolling by. There were people driving all styles and shapes of wagons, people on horseback, some fancy polished carriages and some out leisurely strolling, as the day settled into evening time the traffic slowed down considerable.
Their dinner paid for, the twins turned to leave the small café as new arrivals were coming in. Quick eye contact was made as the two groups jockeyed for position both in and out of the narrow doorway, with some mumbled words of “Sorry”, “Beg pardon.” Jessie’s heart jumped when she and the blue-eyed cowboy exchanged looks; he gave her a brilliant smile, displaying white straight teeth, his smile made her heart skipped a beat, as his twinkling, laughing eyes that seemed to bore into her own eyes that opened wide in recognition.
Jessie whispered to Jace as he shut the door, “Didn’t I tell you that he looks like Johnny Madrid?”
“Who him?” Jace said peeking in the window at the seated group. “Oh pooh, I didn’t see any resemblance at all! Jessie, you’re imaging things. Those are just some darn drawings on those dime novels, put there to help make them sell. You know you can’t believe half the stuff written inside of them. Probably some old geezer sitting in a cramped dusty office crammed filled with old newspapers writes those stories. Bet you he’s never been further west than the Mississippi River.”
“No, I am not imaging it. Do you want to go back inside and ask him? I will if you won’t.”
“Nope, we haven’t got time for that. We need to get back to the hotel, pack-up our belongings and be ready for our big day tomorrow. Just think, Jessie, can you imagine the looks on the faces of Wild Bill and Annie Oakley when we show up? Betcha they’ll be pretty impressed with our ingenuity.”
“It’ll be great seeing them and the others once again, but you’re right, we’ve been pretty damn clever. I’ll see you back in the room, Jace. I want to make one final stop at the general stop for something else.”
“That has ta be ‘em, Scott,” Johnny said as they sat down at their table. Johnny looked up; noticing that one of the boys was peering through the window at him. Both looking away quickly when they noticed the other’s interest.
“Indubitably, unless the town is full of runaway twin boys,” agreed Scott nonchalantly, picking up the menu, listed on cardboard. “Johnny, Val, don’t keep looking over at them; you don’t want to spook them do you? Just act natural, not like we’re interested in them in the slightest.”
“They look mighty young ta me, bit on the scrawny size, hell iffen ya want we could go catch ‘em now. Be done with this all pussy footin’ around. Ahh shit, don’t listen ta me. Let’s just stick with our plan. Get a good night’s sleep before dealin’ with ‘em, seein’ as how they’re ya brothers, Johnny, God only knows what we’re in for with ‘em. Leastwise we know who ta look fer in the mornin’,” Val grumbled.
Johnny grinned at his old amigo, slapping him on the back, “Scott is their brother too, Val, they could turn out ta be proper little Bostons. Come on amigo, ya need to eat and drink something to wash away your dreads.”
Scott looked at the pair, “No, you don’t, no drinks. Not until we’re completed our task. Just because our little brothers are “young and scrawny” doesn’t mean that they can’t outwit us, especially if we don’t have clear and concise heads in the morning. You heard the Pinkertons; those two are clever and worthy opponents. I never underestimate my opponents, especially if they happen to be blood relatives.”
“Ease off Boston, nobody’s plannin’ on getting’ rip roarin’ drunk. One teensy, weensy little ol’ drink ta take away the edge, that’s all,” challenged Madrid, Johnny Madrid. “We’ll be on our toes in the mornin’, I promise ya.”
Scott, the unmovable mountain, the commanding officer in charge, the eldest son of another taller unmovable mountain, was the one said larger mountain would hold personally responsible for any screws-up, repeated firmly, “No. No drinks.”
“Fine,” groused Johnny, “But one of these days, Scott, one of these days…”
“Hey, ya two, now both of ya, stop bein’ such porcupines. We’ll celebrate once we git back ta Lancer with your brothers and with ya pa. Hell, he’ll be so busy, wipin’ away tears of joy, he won’t pay much attention ta what we drink or how much,” grinned Val. He shook Johnny and Scott’s arms that were resting on the table, as neither one had been willing to break their eye contact until they both were chuckling over Val’s logic, making him roll his eyes at the two.
Just like that Madrid and the commanding officer personas disappeared as they settled back to order their meals. The trio rehashed their plans for the coming day, intending to be at the train station on alert, by 8-00 am, plenty of time to lay in wait for Jesse and Jace.
Chapter Twelve – All Aboard the McCloud River Express
Warnings- …cussing…cussing and cussing!
“Morning sleepyhead, rise and shine, it’s a beautiful sunny day! Daylight’s burning!” exclaimed Jessie as she shook her brother awake. “Come on time to get up, greet the day. We’ve got a train to catch to go find our destiny!” she grinned.
Jace jerked up in the bed, wiping the sleep from his eyes, “The train, whoo…I had a strange dream last night sis. I hope it’s not an omen of bad luck.”
“Shhhhh! Don’t tell me now. I don’t want anything that could jinx us. Let’s make sure that everything goes accordingly to our plans,” she said, already dressed, raring to go.
Jace stepped behind the screen to get dressed, began fussing, “Jessie, you need to help me with these buttons, I can’t reach ‘em.”
Stepping from behind the screen, Jessie giggled uncontrollably at the transformation of her brother, now garbed in similar fashion to her own, a plain cotton dress that was common place to the mainstream frontier women. Buttoning up the tiny buttons for her brother that ran along the back of the dress she continued laughing. “Get it out of your system, sis; once we leave this room, you better not giggle. At all!”
“Okay, okay, Lucy Harper, you just remember not to utter a single word. Remember you’re blind and mute,” she said as she adjusted the bonnet that would shade his face.
“You’re sure we need to do this?” he asked one more time.
“Well, now what do you think? In case anyone is watching for two boys, or even a boy-girl pairing, they would never think to look for two girls. If that group of strangers that arrived here yesterday saw us as two boys, and if they were out for us, it stands to reason they got a good look at us last night. Besides what other boy besides you is willing to dress up as a girl? Unless it’s in a stage play, so Lucy dear just play pretend and have fun with it.
Of course we have good reason to dress-up. Once we’re safe on the train maybe a couple towns down the rail line, we can change into our other clothes. Be sure the saddlebags are at the bottom of the carpetbag and put those other frilly things on top to hide them, just in case someone snoops in the carpetbag.”
“Now who am I?” she asked her brother, while adjusting her bonnet.
He sighed, “My cousin, Samantha Harper, taking me to a special school in Denver. But I’m not supposed to talk, only use my hands to communicate with you.”
“Perfect! I’ve already heard doors opening and closing this morning. I saw through the peep hole, those three cowboys leave, taking their gear with them. Let’s head upstairs to the top floor, check the stairwell for anybody poking around. Then we’ll take the outside back stairs down from the top floor. If anyone is watching, they’ll see two girls leaving from the top floor exit, not the second floor. They would think we were bailing out on the bill, or going shopping maybe. Here put these on as well,” Jessie said as she handed Jace a pair of dark eyeglasses that while not totally blocking his vision certainly made everything much harder to see clearly.
“Where did you find these?”
“They were in one of our borrowed carpetbags. Just hope that the person they belonged to can get new ones from the money I left behind.”
“That was awfully bold and risky, how did you know our room key would open their door?”
“I just tried it and it worked. Figured most of these rooms would unlock from the same key, saves the hotel from having to get different locks and keys in case some guest takes off with a key. That’s why I put the chair under the door knob, keep strangers out of here at night.”
“Sister, have I told you before that you’re downright sneaky? You’re good at this! I like it!”
“Thanks Jace, ooops Lucy! I listened to all those stories the performers from the Wild West Show told me, some of their stories have been useful so far. Are you ready?”
Jessie’s plan was successful at pulling the wool over the Pinkerton agents’ eyes who were closely watching the front of the hotel for the two “boys”. The “sisters” were able to depart from the rear staircase, carrying carpetbags; they walked behind the hotel, along several other adjoining buildings until they reached the end of that street. They then continued walking the opposite direction of the train depot for two more blocks until it appeared that they were exiting from the Pico Hotel. They crossed the main street, stepped up onto the boardwalk and turned back towards the train depot, “Samantha” and” Lucy” linked arms, allowing “Samantha” to guide “Lucy” as they made their way down the boardwalk.
Meanwhile, at the depot, Johnny was pacing up and down, boots thumping, spurs softly ringing while he surveyed the gathering crowd, watching out for his little brothers. Scott was seated inside the waiting room, eyes glancing to the newspaper, then to the doorway, not in the least focusing on the newsprint, but rather who entered the room. Val gnawed on a toothpick as he leaned coolly against a post outside, watching the people coming into the station from the street. Guinn Ward and Betsey Patterson were seated on an outside bench, each with their heads cocked slightly towards the other “engaged in conversation” but actually scrutinizing the people waiting to board the train.
Samantha and Lucy walked slowly into the waiting room right by Val and the Pinkertons who barely registered the girls. Samantha guided Lucy to an opened bench sitting her down, as she looked around the station. She took note of the three strangers from the hotel, especially the scruffy one who was wearing a badge! She squeezed Lucy’s hand tight to signal that there were indeed suspicious people lurking around, to remain on guard. “Too much coincidence’ was her rumination, knowing her brother was thinking along the same process as she deftly used hand symbols in the palm of his hand to communicate her thought to him.
He leaned his head onto her shoulder to ever so softly whisper, “Something’s going on with those cowboys from the hotel. Today they act like they don’t know each other.” Jessie gently rubbed her hand up and down Jace’s arm as if reassuring the girl that everything was okay.”
Johnny continued his pacing, up and down, staring off to the left, then the right down Main Street, as the train, running late from the day before finally pulled into the station as weary travelers stepped down to the platform. He rushed over to Val, “Seen ‘em yet?”
Scott walked outside and looked each direction up and down, shrugging his shoulders at them.
“I’d told ya we should grab ‘em while the grabbin’ was good, last night,” groused Val. “Here’ ya two stay put, I’ll go check their room, make sure they ain’t lying low. Could be someone scare ‘em off from comin’.”
“You want me ta go along with ya, Val?” Johnny asked.
“The day I cain’t handle those two tadpoles is the day I’ll turn in my badge.”
The waiting train was being stocked with water, coal, firewood and refreshments for the new passengers. The passengers had now grown to a large crowd, milling around the station waiting for the conductor to indicate “All Aboard.” The two girls remained seated taking in the frantic behavior of the trio outside, now down to two, who were approached by another man and a woman, all talking and gesturing in rapid conversation. “Jace, if I didn’t know better, I’d say they were looking for us. Stay here I have another idea. Don’t move and don’t talk to anyone.” Jace squeezed her hand tightly in silent agreement.
Jessie approached a family of five, seated in the waiting room. The mother was busy with three young children, two were clenching tight onto their mother’s skirt, and the youngest she held in her arms. “Excuse me, sir, pardon me, ma’am, could I trouble you for a moment,” Jessie asked the adults. Briefly she explained that she was traveling with her blind mute cousin. They would greatly appreciate it if he and his family would mind terribly escorting them? Going on to explain that this was the first time she and her cousin had ever been on a train trip and they were “quite overwhelmed with the hustling and bustling taking place around them.
“Of course, you sweet child, we would be delighted to have you join us,” said the woman. “I’d welcome the opportunity for female companionship.” And so it was that “Samantha” and “Lucy” joined the Anderson family, neatly slipping by the searching brothers and the Pinkertons to board the train.
Val rushed out of breath, back to Scott and Johnny, he gasped for air, shaking his head, “Their room is empty, no one saw them come downstairs and those dang useless Pinkertons didn’t see a thing either. Dollars to donuts they was sleepin’ on the job.”
“Madre de Dios! Now what Scott, ya got any bright ideas?”
“Just one Johnny, we know they didn’t take off on horseback since we have their horses waiting with ours. There are no other trains today, so stands to reason that they’re on this train. So shall we. You keep looking; I’ll purchase our train tickets. You and me will be the last ones boarding, so we can see if anyone jumps on or off at the last second. Val, get the horses and load them up in the boxcar. I don’t care how much grief the baggage handler gives you. Show him your badge if necessary. You there, Pinkertons are you joining us or staying put?”
“We’re going with you,” said Guinn Ward.
Scott purchased five tickets, along with boarding of their horses, including Jesse’s and Jace’s blacks. Handing tickets to Ward and Miss Patterson, they boarded the train, as Val oversaw the loading of the horses. Val took a ticket from Scott, grumbling, “Well, they’re Johnny’s brothers alright, more troublesome than he was at their age, after all. Ya sure Scott you’re up fer the challenge of two more like Johnny messin’ ‘round in your life?”
“Val, I’m not sure of anything right now, other than we better find them and bring them home to Murdoch. Let him deal with them, just like he did with Johnny,” he grinned at the cankerous man. “Why don’t you head down to the caboose, work your way forward? Johnny and I will start from this end and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle.”
“Any plan what ta do if they ain’t on board?”
“Oh they’re here all right; I feel it in my bones. I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out one little brother. Two more can’t make much difference, now can they?”
“Care ta make a small wager on that Scott? ‘Em bein’ on board and ‘em not makin’ much difference?”
“How about twenty dollars…each? Sounds good to you Val?
“Oh hey, Val? Don’t forget to open all doors, cupboards, and closets, including the water closet, checked under the seats as well; anyplace kids could hide, if they’d a mind to hide.”
Johnny having made one more complete round of the station sauntered alongside his brother, “What’s was that all about, ‘tween ya and Val?”
“Nothing, Johnny, just a small wager that I couldn’t pass up with Val.”
“Bettin’ on them ta be on board ain’t ya?”
“Something like that, little brother, now come on let’s find those two sneaky brats. Called it a premeditation, Johnny, I do believe they’re destined to spend time out in the barn with Murdoch for his notorious discussions, sooner rather than later. Mind you it just that I have this gut feeling.”
“Well,” he drawled, “that’s one good thing about havin’ little brothers, they can take the heat off of me. Save the wear and tear on my ass.”
“Now there’s a bet I’ll take as well Johnny. I’ve got twenty dollars riding that you won’t get any special treatment from Murdoch. Piss him off enough; he’ll use that belt of his on your hide again. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past him to not use it on me, but then I don’t piss him off. I know better than to wave a red flag at a stomping, snorting, soon to charge bull. I told you before; you have to know when to stop pushing him and follow his orders. It’s easy enough, if you want to.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m still getting’ use ta followin’ the ol man’s orders, Boston. I’m kinda old for that type of …”
“Education, little brother?”
“Yeah, Scott. Hell I’ve been on my own for so long.”
“Well, Johnny, seems like Murdoch wanted to get your attention and that was how he figured he’d get you to remember who hands out the orders.”
“Never mine me; we need to find our little brothers, Boston.”
On board “Samantha” and “Lucy” sat with Mrs. Anderson and two of her children, the baby and the youngest. Mr. Anderson sat across the narrow aisle with the oldest child, their son, Matthew, who at five was a ball of energy jumping up and down in his seat, clapping his hands at each whistle and chugging of the train’s engine. “Samantha” smiled at him, hoping that he would tire out soon, or it would be a long trip with all that energy escaping from the boy.
Johnny and Scott stood looking on either side of the front car, looking up and down for any traces of their brothers, jumping on or off at the last second. As the train started its forward motion, they had jumped onto the front car’s platform, stepped inside to begin searching the passengers. They knew they had at least three hours before the next train stop; there was plenty of time to find Jesse and Jace. Walking slowly, they moved through the second passenger car, and the third and final passenger car, joining forces with Val, Guinn Ward and Miss Patterson in the third passenger car, however, the twins were not discovered.
The group assembled at the back of the car in a four-seat unit placing two seats to face two other seats. Val fetched the train’s conductor to alert him to what was going on. They wanted to search the mail car, the baggage car, the caboose and the three boxes cars and received the conductor’s permission to perform their search.
The conductor walked the public aisles, collecting passengers’ tickets, while the others were carrying out the search of the ancillary cars. Having looked at hundreds of faces for many years, the conductor was performing his own investigation, as he collected the tickets. With casual glances he observed the passengers, making small talk as he looked for the missing boys, watching for any overly suspicious behavior, nervous behaviors, prying or shifting eyes from any passenger. Duties performed, he slowly walked back to the last car where the brothers and Val had assembled.
Shaking his head no, the conductor told them, there were no boys’ twins or single in the age range they were seeking. Seeing their glum looks, he added, “They are two young ladies seated in the second car with their father, mother and younger siblings. Pity, one girl is a blind mute, she was using hand gestures to communicate, but only with the other girl, who was translating to the others.”
Johnny looked at Scott; Val looked at Johnny, clearing his throat said, “That seems kinda odd ta me, ya think the parents could communicate with their own daughter. They should be checked out, let’s go talk with ‘em real peaceful like. Johnny, don’t ya go getting’ up on your high horse with ‘em. We don’t know nothin’ yet and we don’t want ta start any trouble fer a nice family with a bunch of young’uns. Ya hear me amigo?”
“Dios, Val, I hear ya. Hell you’re the lawman; ya ask the questions. Scott and me we’ll watch ya back, amigo.”
“’ecuse me, sir, ma’am? I’m Sheriff Val Crawford from Green River, I have a few questions ta ask ya, if ya don’t mind,” he began as the others crowded around the seated family, filling the narrow aisle.
“Oh, hello Sheriff, Joe Anderson, my wife, Mae, pleased to meet you,” said Joe as he stood up to shake hands with Val. “What’s this all about? We’ve been watching all the traipsing up and down the cars. Figure something is afoot. Is there anything to be alarmed about?”
“Good ta meet ya, Mr. Anderson, ma’am,” Val tipped his hat in the direction of Mrs. Anderson, allowing his inspection to linger on the two older daughters whose faces were partially covered by the frilly brims surrounding their bonnets. The two were not looking at him, but instead held their faces staring straight ahead, frozen in place, and they seemed to be holding their collective breath.
“This here is Scott and Johnny Lancer from Morro Coyo, there’s also a couple of Pinkerton agents chasin’ their tails somewhere around here.” Johnny and Scott tipped their hats; following Val’s led, kept their eyes on the two young ladies, who still did not look towards them. Their fingers were rapidly signaling something though.
“Mr. Anderson, ta answer your questions, we’re been up and down this train, searchin’ for two boys, about the same age of these two young ladies, I reckon, near as I can tell what with them bonnets on and all. We were under the impression that the younguns would be on this train headin’ ta Denver. Say ya have a mighty fine lookin’ family. If ya don’t mind me askin’ are these all ya children?”
“Oh forgive my manners! Gentlemen, this is our boy, Matthew, Beth, our daughter and the baby is Samuel. However, these two young ladies are not our children; we only met them at the depot this morning. Allow me to present, Miss Samantha Harper, who in my humble opinion, is a very brave young woman. She is traveling to Denver to take her cousin, Miss Lucy Harper, to one of those specials school for the blind and deaf. She asked if we would be their chaperons on the train. There’s no problem is there with my family and I assisting them, is there?”
“Noooo, noooo problem,” said Val as he looked down at the two young ladies. The young ladies were desperately hoping they could disappear into the floorboards, as they slouched lower and lower in their seats. However, escape was not possible with the aisle filled with four men, all gazing intently at the girls. The young ladies were now nervously swinging their legs back and forth, not aware that the tips of their boots were peeking out from underneath their long skirts with each swing of a leg. Nor did they realize that as they swung their feet the tell-tale tinkling of spurs bells softly played their tune, not typical foot accessories for most young ladies.
“Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, believe me or not, but my gut is tellin’ me that these two are the runaway boys we’re lookin’ for. They’ve been missing for several weeks now. Pinkerton agents have been following their trail from San Francisco ta Los Angeles. Me and Lancer brothers came ta take over from the agents and bring ‘em home ta their pa. We’ll be takin’ ‘em off your hands now, folks. I thank ya and their family thanks ya for all your kind assistance, keepin’ ya eyes on ‘em and out of trouble. We’re much obliged.”
Val reaching down grabbed the two by the scruff of their necks, causing “Lucy’s” dark glasses to fall off in the jostling as he pulled them to their feet, “Let’s go BOYS, ya have some explainin’ ta do. Don’t ya even try whatever thoughts that might have jest crossed ya minds. I ain’t in the mood for any more of your shenanigans.” He ambled down the aisle with his charges held in tight grips leaving the Andersons’ mouths hanging opened in utter surprise, and the other passengers gasping in astonishment.
Johnny and Scott picked up their carpetbags from under their vacated seats, thanked the couple for their help, who nodded in complete surprise. The boys followed Val to the back of the car with his wiggling protesting charges who were attempting to break free of the lawman’s hold on the back of their collars by means of pulling, scratching, twisting, kicking and bucking. Johnny jumped in front of them to open the doors, while Scott pulled them closed. Through the train Val marched the “young ladies” as passengers looked up in shock at the spectacle, however, no passengers got involved in the situation, seeing a sheriff’s badge along with the grim look on the lawman’s face. In the last car, Val firmly deposited the “young ladies” with a solid plop onto the hard wooden seats.
“Now don’t ya jest beat it all? Dressing up like girls! Why I oughta paddle ya behinds, if not for masquerading as girls then for all the troubles ya caused! People chasin’ here and there and everywhere lookin’ for ya! People frettin’ about ya safety! Not ta mention these two drivin’ me plum crazy with all their carryin’ on about findin’ ya before ya left Los Angeles! Your pa should whop ya both real good for all the trouble ya caused!”
“VAL,” shouted Johnny and Scott in unison.
“Mister, what in the hell are you talking about? We don’t have a pa…we’re orphans. You must have us confused with somebody else. But regardless you and your friends have just kidnapped us in front of everyone on this train. Which if I’m not mistaken, isn’t that against the law?” shouted Jessie at Val.
“Yeah, my sister’s right!” shouted Jace.
“BUCKOS, YA LISTEN UP AND YA LISTEN GOOD! I AM THE LAW! For pity’s sake, ya two can knock that sister shit off! Ya don’t have any sister. These two are your older brothers. Ya pa sent us to fetch ya two back ta his ranch near Morro Coyo.”
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU JABBERING ON ABOUT??” yelled the twins in unison, jumping to their feet, “BROTHERS??
“SIT DOWN! SHUT UP! DON’T MOVE!” yelled Val as he towered over the twins. Jace did sit back down, allowing Jessie the pleasure of taking on this loud obnoxious man, knowing she would hold her own against him in any match employing mental capabilities. He was ready to jump to her defense if need be, clenching and unclenching his hands in tight fists, throwing stonily glares at the assembled group.
Jessie did stand her ground yelling back at the lawman, “Mister, have you been smoking any loco weed?” I only have one brother and this is him,” she pointed at Jace. “I repeat WE DO NOT have any PA living above ground anywhere. OUR FATHER is six feet under in a plot in San Francisco, alongside our mother. You’re nothing but a god damn liar, a kidnapper and a bumbling incompetent idiotic excuse for a lawman! On top of all that you dress and smell like a dirty saddle tramp! I shall report you to your superiors and the governor of this state if you do not let us go immediately. Or do we have to enlist the aid of some of these good folks?”
“Hey, ain’t no cause for talkin’ like that,” said Johnny softly, giving Jesse a gentle smile and tender push on her shoulder.
“SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!” Val shouted, jabbing his index finger towards Jesse’s face.
“YOU CAN GO TO HELL!” she yelled at him, swiftly kicking the man in his shin. “In case you didn’t hear me the first time, YOU’RE A GOD DAMN LIAR!”
“This is the last time I’m tellin’ ya nicely ta sit…” Val said between clenched teeth as he rubbed at his shin.
“Val? Val? Come on, let me take over, okay?” placated Scott. Johnny squeezed in between Scott and Val to sit down alongside who he thought was Jesse, reaching up he gently pulled the standing boy to the seat. Truth be told Johnny was confused as to which twin was which, they looked identical. Scott sat next to the other twin. Val remained standing, blocking the aisle, scowling at Jesse, who eyeballed him back, seething at the rumpled looking man, neither breaking their glares at the other, each willing the other to break their eye contact first.
Scott reached over and turned Jesse’s head to face him, “I want you both to listen to me very careful, utt…utt…utt…you’ll speak when you’re told too, not before…no objections, no arguments, manners please, remember your mother must have taught you them. Do you understand?” Johnny saw the twins glance at the other and realized that they had relayed some type of unspoken communication that only they understood, for the moment, they remained silent.
“First, let me introduce myself, I am Scott Lancer. This is my younger brother, Johnny Lancer who happens to be your older brother. We four are indeed brothers. You’ve already met Sheriff Crawford; who has been a good friend of Johnny’s for a long time and now of the Lancer family. I have no idea where the Pinkerton agents who have been following you have gotton to but they discovered your mother and our father’s marriage when they were hired to find Johnny and me. You see, we didn’t grow-up under our father’s roof as children, having only recently come to live with him. That’s a long story for another time.
Jessie and Jace stared at the men as if they had lost what little sense they had but being surrounded they had no other choice for the moment but to listen.
“For now, let’s get back to you two. The Pinkertons learned about your mother’s passing, for which we are all extremely sorry for your lost. Johnny and I both know how you feel, utt…utt…utt…I am not finished speaking…remember you manners please. My mother died a few days after I was born. Johnny’s mother died when he was ten. We do recognize how difficult it has been for you two much better than you can possibly realize at the moment.
Secondly, our father, Murdoch Lancer, sent us to bring you home as soon as we figured out where you were heading. He would have been here himself, but took a bullet in his back last November. He’s not up to any long overland horseback rides. He would have been here if at all possible.
Third, fourth, fifth and sixth, you are not joining the Wild West Show…you are not going to Denver…you are not going back to the Fergusons in San Francisco…you are going home to Lancer with us. Our father has a vast ranch, over 100,000 acres, where you can ride to your heart’s content, rope and chase cattle, do chores, go to school, etc, etc, but most importantly you will join the Lancer family as you are part of it, like it or not, its in your blood. That can’t be changed.
“Seventh, at the next town we will get off of this train, our horses and yours are in the back boxcar. We will travel the next three maybe four days to our home near Morro Coyo. Now, I understand that you two have a lot to think about, but with or without your cooperation you are coming with us.
“I would suggest that you get out of those dresses, nice disguise by the way, you did manage to hoodwink us once. But don’t make the mistake of thinking we’ll fall for any more tricks. We won’t and you two will be riding home on sore bottoms, compliments of Sheriff Crawford who is just chewing on the bit to tan them, especially after that kick to his shin.
“Finally, you will now tell us who is Jace and who is Jesse,” stated Scott looking at his brothers. “Or by God, Val will wait his turn in line as I’ll turn one of you over my knee right here, right now, then the other if need be to get an answer. Do we understand each other?”
Jessie and Jace continued to stare at the men, now realizing that they had indeed lost what little sense they had. Johnny saw the twin sitting next to Scott; communicate with the one next to him by using a combination of eye and rapid hand motions.
To end their silent communications, Johnny pushed his shoulder into the twin he was seated next to, “Come on little brother, this ain’t a hard question ta answer. My step-father would ask only once before taking off his belt for an answer. Don’t be stubborn, ya’ll find with the Lancers that don’t get ya squat, exceptin’ a short walk ta the barn. Our pa is the most stubborn of us all; leastwise he likes to think it.” Getting nothing but another stony glare, Johnny reached up and yanked the bonnet off the twin’s head to get a better look at him. Instead he, Scott and Val got the surprise of their lives as Jessie’s braids tumbled down against her shoulders.
“Pantalones de infierno! (Hell’s bells) Dios! You’re a girl!” Reaching over he snatched at Jace’s bonnet, yanking it off the boy’s head, “Well, well, well, Val we’ve been bamboozled by them! Boston, we got us a bona fide little sister. Damn! This just gets more and more interestin’ by the minute! Don’t this beat all?”
Scott and Val’s astonished looks were priceless as they looked from one twin to the other. “You are Victoria Alexandra Lancer’s children are you not? No lies now!” said Scott as he pointed his index finger at the girl, who sat with folded arms across her chest, glaring at him. “Young lady, you had quite a bit to say just a little while ago, now start talking! Who are your parents?”
Jessie was debating with herself if she should take a bite out of his finger, she figured she would if he got it close enough for her to grab it and bite it. They were locked in a glare of the other as the sound of the door was opened and shut.
“Ahhhh, Mr. Lancer! Here you all are! Finally! With the twins!” exclaimed a breathless Miss Patterson, as she and Guinn Ward joined the group. “Oh! I see you look somewhat perplexed to Jessie’s gender. Please, allow me to explain the confusion. We only learned of Jessie’s gender after sending the initial telegram to your father. I believe Mr. Hereford was under the impression that a subsequent wire, corrected our notion that the twins were both sons. But I gather that must not have happened. The Fergusons were not forthcoming with this information until later in our investigation when we got their full descriptions. Please forgive us for the confusion. In answer to your inquiry these indeed are the Lancer twins, Jessica Mackenzie Lancer and Jason Morgan Lancer.”
“They certainly have made fools out of us all, what with their games of hide and seek, disguises and ruses now haven’t they,” asked Guinn.
“I dunno about that, seems like they did a damn fine job of takin’ care of each other, certainly no less than most grown-ups, maybe even better,” quipped Johnny as he winked at his younger siblings. “Somethin’ tells me that I’m goin’ enjoy havin’ them spice things up around the ranch.”
Val loudly snorted, “Ya would! I puttin’ ya two on notice, either one of ya step outta line in my town, ya asses are mine. So ya better heed my warnin’, your ol’ man will not like havin’ ta come bail any of ya out on a regular basis. Hell, he may even insist that I keep ya locked up so’s he don’t go stark ravin’ bonkers.”
Johnny grinned, “Val will do it to. He’s done it ta me more times than I can count. But he is right, ol’ Murdoch he’ll ride herd on ya, he does it ta me. He’s fair but he don’t appreciate his rules bein’ broken.”
Val snorted again, “Ain’t ya the pot callin’ the kettle black!”
Jace sat there looking from face to face, “Can I change now? I feel stupid sitting here in this getup.”
“Johnny why don’t you escort Jace to the baggage car to change,” said Scott. “Val and I will keep Jessie occupied right here.”
“Hell no! I’m going too! I want out of this frigging dress, it fucking itches,” said Jessie, as everyone’s eyebrows rose a notch or two at her colorful language.
Jace noticed their looks, “Aww, gee don’t mind Jessie. She picked that up from the Rough Riders at the Wild West Show. She likes seeing people’s reaction. I’ve tried to get her to stop, but she won’t,” said Jace.
“She’ll stop alright, Murdoch will see to that,” frowned Scott as it dawned on him just what a rude awakening he had in store with these two arriving on his doorstep. Life at Lancer was about to change dramatically, time would only tell how eventful it would be or even if the change would be for the good.
“I’ll escort Jessie,” volunteered Miss Patterson.
“Lady, like hell you will! I do not require a damn nursemaid, nor does Jace. We’re able to take care of ourselves, in case you didn’t figure that out! All we request is some privacy, so lady butt out,” Jessie stated as she stood up to brush past the Pinkertons and Sheriff Crawford, grabbing their carpetbags from the aisle, “Come on Jace, let’s go!” she exclaimed taking charge of the situation.
Scott saw the smirk on Johnny’s face grow wider, holding his sides as he tried not laughing while the frown on Val’s face deepened, creating crags in his leather-like face as he sighed, sensing that it was going to be a long trail ride home. Seeing that it was up to him to be the conscientious brother, as well as keep his eyes attentively on the pair, Scott stood up, “I’ll go keep them out of trouble,” as he followed his youngest siblings.
“Yeah, ya do that, Scott,” laughed Johnny.
“I’m goin’ see if I can’t find me a bar of soap, someone’s gonna be needin’ her attitude changed real soon,” said Val as he dragged his hand across his whiskers. He saw Jessie stop mid-stride in her tracks, turning her head around, looking past Scott at Val, she stuck her tongue out at the lawman.
Scott whirled her face front again, directing her to, “March.”
“Yep, Johnny, she’s your blood sister all right, chock full ta the brim with piss and vinegar. Well, hell I managed ta take ya down a notch or two back in the day, dusted your britches to knock some of your sass right outta of ya along with a chip off of your shoulder. Taught ya a thing or two about mindin’ your manners. Guess I have ta do it again, iffen ya or Scott don’t.”
Johnny was trying hard to stop laughing at the turn of events. Soon he was doubled over in his seat, guffawing loudly, with tears trickling down his face as he told Val, “Ain’t life a bitch? Just when ya think ya got it figured out, some divine power in the universe pulls the rug out from under ya feet. Sending ya spiraling down another pathway, ya didn’t even know existed.
“Come on, Val, ya got admit, this is funny! I’m seein’ what I must have been like when ya took me under your wings…I was just about their age, maybe a tad older. Shit, I turned out okay, even if ya did punch my ticket a time or two. Only difference is now there’s two of ‘em and they’re thick as thieves.”
“Yup, double, double Lancer trouble for ya pa ta deal with, well I hope he’s up ta the challenge.” Smirked Val. “For now those two are on my watch, so ya may want ta have a little heart-ta-heart with your sister. The boy seems ta favor Scott’s deposition, but it’s early yet, jury’s still out on him. But whoa Nelly! Little Miss Jessica Mackenzie Lancer, she’s ya reincarnated in a girl’s body. Betting’ ya right here and now, she’ll parade that twin of hers up ta the blazin’ gates of hell and back draggin’ him right alongside her, maybe even ya if ya ain’t careful. Heaven better help us with those two!”
Johnny grinned at his friend, “Dios amigo, she’s just a little girl. Ya ain’t goin let my kid sister get under your skin are ya?”
“Nope,” he answered as he sat down across from Johnny, crossing his legs at his ankles and his arms over his chest. “Ya just better keep a watchful eye on her. Mark my words, Johnny boy, that’s one filly that’s not goin’ be broke easy.”
“Oh come on, Val, I like her spirit! Ya don’t find many girls with her brains and guts. She just needs to be gentled down some, that’s all. Boy! She sure can turn the air blue in a hurry!”
“Yeah, well just don’t interfere with my duties iffen I have ta rein-in her spirit ‘tween here and Lancer.”
“‘kay, Val, I’ll talk with her, just back off some. Give me time with her. I know what they’re goin’ through and ya don’t.”
Val leaned forward looking firmly at Johnny, “She gets three strikes before I step in, startin’ with her tongue stickin’ out at me, clock’s ticking…tick…tock…one down, two more ta go, amigo.”
Chapter Thirteen – The McCloud River Express
WARNING- Duck! Strong Gusts of Profanity Falling and Flying (Can’t be help!)
Johnny and Val sat waiting for the other Lancers to return…ten minutes blended into fifteen merging into twenty minutes. Still no Scott returning with the youngest Lancers from the rear of the train. Sensing something wasn’t quite right, Johnny and Val trekked to the baggage car, where Val tried turning the door handle only to discover that the door was locked tight…from inside.
Val banged hard on the door, yelling over the clanking of the metal wheels against the steel rails of the tracks, “SCOTT! SCOTT LANCER! CAN YA HEAR ME? OPEN UP! OPEN IT UP BEFORE I KICK THIS DOOR IN!” With all the surrounding noises from the engine and the rattling of the wheels, it was impossible to hear anything from the other side. Val held tight to the iron platform’s low handrail, hitching up to swing both feet full force against the locked door handle resulting in a loud splintering of wood. He succeeded in forcing the door open, by knocking it off two of the three hinges. Grasping the door, he pulled it away off the frame, pitching the damaged door out of his way and over the side of the train.
Johnny saw Scott lying on the floor with his hands bound behind his back, gagged and struggling with his bindings. Val yanked the gag away from his mouth, as Johnny fussed with Scott’s hands, which turned out to be his own belt used to restrain him.
“What in the hell happened Scott?” asked Val. “Where are those damn kids?”
“How am I supposed to know where they are?! Do you see them in here? Jace and I had our backs turned so Jessie could change when the train lurched. Something fell off that top shelf, hitting me on my head, knocked me out cold, that’s all I remember. When I came to, I was trussed up like a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and they were gone. I’m guessing that they didn’t come back your way?”
“Nope, which means they went that a way towards the box cars. Ya okay enough ta come with us?” asked Johnny as he helped Scott to his feet.
“Try and stop me, brother.”
A quick search of the remaining cars, revealed neither hide nor hair of the missing twins, not even their carpetbags. Val and Johnny searched forward, while Scott stayed put, nursing a knot on his head along with a king-sized headache. Locating the Pinkertons Johnny told them to start looking. In tandem the agents searched from car to car, they spoke with the Andersons and the conductor and no one had seen them.
Johnny and Val continued forward to the coal car, where Johnny dropped in on the surprised engineer, who mistakenly thought the train was being held up, raised his hands high into the air. Johnny admonished him, “Oh, put your damn hands down!” Val trailing behind Johnny showed him his badge and reassured the frightened man that it wasn’t a hold-up, as he batted away the coal dust from the front of his shirt in frustration. But the twins weren’t found or confound it seen; it was like they had vanished into thin air.
Rushing back to where Scott was, Johnny stopped Val, “Hold-up a minute Val, we ain’t thinkin’ this through. We gotta think like…twelve-year old kids, very clever kids. Remember the door ta the baggage car was locked from the inside…DAMN IT! THEY CLIMBED UP THROUGH THE ROOF HATCH! They could have jumped off the train but I doubt it, it’s movin’ at a steady pace; too fast ta do something that stupid. THE ONLY PLACE THEY COULD BE RIGHT NOW IS ON TOP OF THE TRAIN! MIERDA!
“I’ll smack ‘em myself if they are up there! Amigo, find the conductor see how long before we stop, don’t want them tumblin’ off or jumpin’ down before I get my hands on ‘em. I’m checkin’ the rooftop.”
Val rolled his eyes and shook his head, “Damn fool kids either way, ya just be careful ya hear me amigo. Ya don’t get yourself killed goin’ up there on a movin’ train.”
“Naw, I’m not goin’ up there with the train movin’. No sense in scarin’ ‘em and havin’ ‘em tumblin’ off, breakin’ their necks if they are up there. If they are up on the roof, I’ll need ya ta stop the train, so’s I can get ‘em down without hurtin’ ‘em…yet.”
Johnny climbed the ladder on the outside of the car, removing his hat, letting it hang down his back from the leather stampede string. He was careful not to pop his head up in plain view. Ever so gradually Johnny raised his head using the frame of the car as cover; slowly he inched up higher, looking towards the engine, nope no kids on any of those cars. Carefully looking back toward the caboose, where damn it; those two were hanging on for dear life with their arms wrapped around the air shaft that rose up from the roof, as they lay flat on the roof, on top of their carpetbags.
Climbing down, Johnny felt Val’s hand easing him back to the platform, “THEY’RE UP THERE ALL RIGHT! HOLDIN’ ON TA THE AIR SHAFT!
“I gotta an idea, give me five minutes time then have the engineer slow the train down ta a crawl.
“Me and Scott will have unhitched the caboose from the train, lettin’ it come ta a nice slow stop. Continue forward for another ten minutes then have ‘em back up ta reattach the caboose. By that time there will be two very sorry Lancer kids.”
Val grinned, giving Johnny a thumbs-up sign, cuffing him on his shoulder, “Good plan, Johnny.”
“See ya,” Johnny grinned back. “Oh hey, Val, let the conductor know what’s goin’ on, will ya?”
Moving through the cars quickly, the passengers were watching all the back and forth comings and goings with opened curiosity, they didn’t know they would be getting a floor show with their train ticket. Johnny reached Scott, told him where their siblings were, he groaned in aggravation. They moved rapidly through the remaining cars, working together to unhitch the caboose, momentarily watching as the train pulled away. Johnny then crossed to the rear of the caboose while Scott stayed in the aft position.
“Hey, we’re slowing down! There goes the train! What the hell is going on Jace?”
“How do I know? Maybe there’s something on the track up ahead.”
Johnny and Scott had poked their heads over the top of the car, “We’re what’s goin’ on,” smirked Johnny as he crooked his index finger at the wind-blown twins. “Come here.”
The twins froze in place, quickly assessing their options. They concluded that staying put was their best and only safe choice, judging from the grim looks on Scott and Johnny’s faces.
“Come over here, now,” Johnny said looking with his hard Madrid stare, known to shake even the most austere composure of veteran gun hawks. Only it seemed it wasn’t working on his stubborn siblings who didn’t budge.
“If you know what’s good for you, you will get down now because if we have to come get you, you aren’t going to like the additional consequences. You better get use to hearing all about consequences, as our father will repeat it often enough if this exhibit is indicative of your behavior you got away with in the past,” said Scott.
“GET DOWN NOW!” both brothers yelled.
Two unrepentant, wind-chapped faced children scampered over the roof top, dragging their carpetbags with them, dropping them to the platform. The twins were a tad on the shaky side from their ride on top of the moving train for the past thirty minutes, as they climbed down the ladder to the waiting, hands on hips Lancer brothers.
Scott and Johnny each grabbed hold and control of one twin, using one hand at the scruff of a neck, and the other hand at the back waistband of pants, Scott and Johnny partially lifted them inside the empty caboose. The older brothers felt their siblings’ resistance as their boot heels and spurs scraped along the wood planked floor, as they tried securing footholds to stop the forward motion…it wasn’t working in the least bit.
“Do ya realize how dangerous that stunt was ya pulled? That was a life and death decision one of ya made for the other! Or did ya both come up with that foolish, hare-brained, half-baked idea?” scolded Johnny as he held Jessie, shaking her a bit. “Answer me, girl!”
“It was my idea,” Jessie admitted, locking eyes with the angry man.
“No it wasn’t, it was my idea,” Jace said with bravado. “Blame me, not Jessie. I take full responsibility for the plan. Leave her out of this.”
“Oh, no you don’t Jace, it was my idea,” she repeated.
“Jessie, you know it was mine.”
“It’s commendable that you two are sticking up for the other and not snitching, but makes little difference to us as you’re both in hot water, clear up to your eyeballs,” said Scott as he sat down on one of the two sofas, against the wall of the car. Johnny perched on the other sofa; both brothers yanked their younger sibling over their respective knees, smacking two incredibly surprised twins’ decisively on their rear ends.
“STOP THAT,” yelled an irate Jessie, trying to squirm off of Johnny’s lap, using a hand to cover her bottom. “You can’t be doing this to us!”
“Ya think so? Ya should have thought about that before ya tied up Scott and climbed up on ta a movin’ train roof,” said Johnny as he moved her hand away from the intended target, continuing to wallop her.
“LET ME GO, YOU…YOU…SON OF A BITCH! YOU BASTARD!” she hollered.
“Is that the best ya can do?” Johnny laughed, looking over at Scott who was busy taking their youngest brother to task, bucking and squirming, trying to escape the stinging smacks.
“OKAY YOU’RE A FUCKING SON OF A BITCH! YOU’RE A FUCKING BASTARD!
“That’s more like it, sis, music ta my ears, gives me all the more reason ta be blistering your britches. Now if I only had a bar of soap ta clean out that mouth of yours!”
Val hearing the commotion, stood guard outside the caboose door grinning at the noises emitting from within. With his arms crossed, he leaned against the door keeping the train staff at bay, until the whoppings were over. “Yeah, sounds like the twins got what they deserve for that fool-hardy stunt; scarin’ years off my life that I can’t afford ta lose. Hell if they ain’t just like Johnny was, a good butt blisterin’ just what they deserve.”
The door opened as Johnny and Scott led the pair outside, both sniffling as they wiped tears away from their eyes. “Val any idea how far we’re from the next town?” asked Scott.
“Don’t matter none. We’ve been told ta get off here so’s the train can continue without all the uproar,” shrugged Val. “Guess they don’t want anymore of the ruckus and trouble that these two have been givin’ us.”
Scott rolled his eyes, “Just great! I have never been kicked off a train before. At least we have our horses, time to saddle-up since we’re traveling from here, wherever here is.”
“Val? Ya got your cuffs?” Johnny asked.
“Ya know I always have ‘em with me. Why? What do ya have in mind?”
“Hand ‘em over, will ya? I got an idea.” Johnny snapped one onto Jessie’s right hand and the other onto Jace’s left hand. “There, that’ll be easier ta keep ‘em corralled together while I saddled the horses. I’m tired of chasin’ and ridin’ herd on ‘em, it’s like tryin’ ta herd cats in an open field on a rainy day with ‘em. Ya and Scott take care of the other stuff; get our saddlebags. Their gear is here, after ya get the horses outta the car while I sit on these two.”
They all headed for the box car, where Scott handed the saddles to Val who stacked them on the ground. Val jumped up into the car and helped Scott lower the inclined gangway. They carefully walked the horses down the wooden plank, holding tight to the bridles not allowing the train sounds to frighten them off, leaving them afoot. On top of everything else that was the last thing they needed to deal with.
Johnny had the twins sit on a large fallen tree trunk in plain sight as he saddled Barranca, who neighed his welcome to his rider, then moved to Skylark, then Blackjack, making certain each horse’s reins were tightly tied.
“These are fine-lookin’ horses ya have, ya should be happy that we got ‘em back for ya. Would have been a downright shame ta not keep these beauties. I would hate ta give up my horse,” Johnny said as he adjusted the saddle on Blackjack, running his hand across the black’s withers in appreciation.
Neither twin responded, staring at the man claiming to be their brother, Jessie shooting daggers at him with chilly eyes.
Johnny shrugged his shoulders, before giving them each a playful push on their shoulders, “Oh come on. Lighten up will ya? Ya two earned those butt dustin’, just be glad it was Scott and me, you had it easy. Ya know, ‘tween ya and me, ol’ Val or Murdoch, would have used their belts on a bare butt ta make their point. And I speak from personal experience on both accounts. Ya wouldn’t be sittin’ there after they whooped ya, fact of the matter is ya wouldn’t be sittin’ anywhere after they whooped ya. Now, we have a long ride before we reach Lancer, promise no more dumb tricks? ‘kay?”
“Like we have a choice in the matter,” stated Jace.
“Jace, ya always have a choice, ya can choose ta cooperate and not ta play games. Or ya can choose not ta and accept the consequences,” shrugged Johnny as he checked the saddled horses girths, having finished the job of saddling Charlie and Val’s horse, Chief. Winking at the pair he added, “Ya know, I’m on yer side. Why not be friends? Ya ponder it; get back ta me with your answer later, ‘kay?”
Johnny glanced over to Scott, grinning as he peel out several bills, then several more from his stash, handling them over to the conductor as Val was engaged in a heated discussion with the Pinkertons. “Oops, looks like Scott’s havin’ ta pay for damages, that ain’t goin’ make him any too happy. And it looks like the Pinkertons are pissin’ off Val, not a smart idea on their part.”
Jessie looked over at the apparent pay-off, “If your brother wants to be reimbursed, tell him we can pay for our own reparation. Our mother was exceedingly well-off. Jace and I don’t accept charity from anyone.”
Johnny squatted down to eye level with Jessie, “That’s OUR brother, Jessie. I’m sure ya don’t accept charity but you’re dead wrong. That ain’t charity, that’s one of the Codes of the West; look out for your own, its Lancer takin’ care of Lancer. Drop the chip off your shoulder right now, ‘cos like it or not, we’re family now and ya’ll find out that the Lancer big brothers will look out for their kid brother and sister, every time.
“Make no mistake; Scott’s a good, decent man, one of the best I’ve ever known. Ya best make note of that, as is Val and OUR pa.” He stood up, tapping her gently on the tip of her nose. “Ya do yourself a favor ta behave yourself and stay out of trouble. Ya too, Jace. Otherwise ya do best ta remember another one of ‘em Codes, don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.”
“Yeah, what about you? Are you a good man?” she baited him.
Johnny smiled his wide grin, thinking, “Oh yeah, this one’s goin’ be downright interestin’, she’s fearless.” He tipped his hat in her direction, “Ya think about that, let me know what ya figure out, little sister.” Grinning as he watched her scowled at him as she attempted to cross her arms and couldn’t cuffed to Jace.
Scott and Val approached the trio of Lancers carrying their gear. “I don’t think any of us will be welcomed back on the McCloud River Express anytime soon,” fumed Scott.
“How much, Boston?”
“Broken hinges and spilt door frame, missing door, damage to items in the baggage car, a broken roof latch, bent air pipe, delaying the train, frightening the engineer half-to-death, something about a hold-up, then there was extraneous damage to a few of the other cars, all totaled, two hundred and twenty-five dollars and fifty cents.”
Johnny whistled in appreciation at the amount, “Murdoch’s gonna be pissed.”
Jessie grinned, “You were swindled.”
Scott looked at her, “Don’t you worry, Jessie. I’m sure our father will make sure that you and Jace work off that amount. He’s very good at collecting for “extraneous” expenses due to willful children’s disregard of directives. Or for their lack of respect to authority figures or for any property damages from duly noted unruly behavior. Isn’t that right Johnny?”
“I’ve told ‘em that, Boston, only with less words.”
With her free hand, she reached down inside her left boot, “You want two hundred dollars and some change? Go on, here take it. Jace and I pay our own way.”
“No, not everything can be solved by money; it’s not that easy Jessie. You hold on to your money,” Scott shook his head as his voice tightened, “I’d like to see you try that with our father. I want to be there to hear what he has to say to your offer. I highly doubt that he will take you up on it. When he thinks there are lessons that need to be taught you’ll be schooled in them.”
“More consequences?” asked Jace.
“You’ll find out that when Murdoch Lancer calls the tune everyone listens and more importantly follows his orders. He especially holds his offspring to higher standards as examples for the hired hands. He can’t expect them to obey his orders if his children don’t or won’t,” Scott said as he gave the twins a firm look, “Time to mount up and move out.”
Chapter Fourteen – On the Road to Lancer
Warning- More cussin’!
The Lancers and Val watched the McCloud River Express head down the tracks, until it was far away in the distance, leaving behind a trail of dark smoke billowing from the smoke stack and the train’s whistle fading away in the distance. Val removed the handcuffs from the twins so they could mount their horses. “It’s against my better judgment ta be takin’ these off, but seein’ as I only have the one set, I’m warning you two, ya better not fuck with me.”
“VAL!” shouted Scott, “Language, please!”
“I ain’t sorry, but I’ll rephrase it for their delicate ears. No more bullshit, ya got it?”
Silence, complete stony silence emulated from the twins as they gave him icy stares.
“No sweat off of my brow. Don’t say anything; it’ll be a lot quieter on the trail. Johnny, Scott, I’m taking drag. Ya two each stick like glue with ‘em, one twin each. Just pretend ya’re part of Noah’s Ark, traveling two by two. Only in this case we’re headin’ for the Arch of Lancer for salvation, if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Move out, we’re wastin’ valuable daylight standin’ around here.”
“You’re real funny, Val,” groaned Johnny. “The Arch of Lancer!”
“How SO VERY droll, el hijo de perra,” (the son of a bitch) murmured Jessie as she rolled her eyes towards the sky, forgetting that Johnny had already spoken several phrases in Spanish to her.
Johnny reached over, grabbing hold of Skylark’s reins; he locked eyes with Jessie, “Déjalo, hermana mia! (Let it go, my sister!). Val never had any kids, it’s been a long time since he was one himself, he don’t appreciate most adults’ with humor, let alone any smart-mouthed kids. Ya don’t want ta cross him. He won’t think ya funny at t’all if he hears ya,” cautioned Johnny.
Johnny added, “Reloj su boc, senoriate joven, (Watch your mouth, young lady) if ya don’t, he’ll find that bar of soap and stick it where ya ain’t goin’ like the taste of it. Believe me, he always makes good on his word, as does Scott, as do I. We promised Murdoch ta bring ya back, safe and sound. We’ll be doin’ just that. Un poco hermana mia (My little sister), Val speaks Spanish, tambien (also).”
She stared at Johnny then to Jace who must have signaled her because she smiled sweetly at Johnny and apologized, “Yo comprende y lo siento.” (I understand and I am sorry.) Johnny noticed that the two had managed to communicate without speaking once again. He was puzzled by this but outwardly displayed no trace of being aware of anything, instead tucked away his observation. He needed to ponder on what was going on some more before he said or did anything.
“Scott, I’ll ride with Jessie,” he said turning in his saddle seeing Scott already with Jace. Scott gave him a wave to acknowledge the arrangement. Tossing off “Good Luck.” He said a quiet, quick prayer that the remainder of their travels would be uneventful.
Johnny replied with a familiar casual hand wave, smirking, “Ya too, Boston,” as he wheeled Barranca around guiding the travelers towards Lancer.
They headed in a north by north-west direction hoping that they would stumble across a town before too long to get their exact bearings. Each brother talked with their sibling, trying to coax some type of response from them, but to no avail. As they rode along, occasionally Jessie turned in her saddle to signal Jace with a few facial expressions and hand gestures. She froze her actions when she noticed Val was watching them. She would whip her head back, after giving him a fierce stare, making him glower at her. Under her breathe; she made a promise to herself, “One day, soon Sheriff, one day soon, we’ll fix you real good.”
Johnny seemed indifferent to the girl’s activity, barely registering any of it, but in reality he was studying her, trying to gauge her mettle and the silent language between the twins.
It had to be near six o’clock in the evening before the men decided to make camp for the night. They were tired and hungry, no one had eaten since breakfast and stomachs were growling their protest at such poor treatment. Val scouted ahead for a suitable campsite and returned to the group, “Found one, about two miles ahead, fresh runnin’ water, high sweet grass for the horses, follow me.”
The riders followed Val to the site. Johnny, Scott and Val dismounted, stretched their cramped muscles from their almost non-stop riding they had done in the past few days. Jessie and Jace saw a small window of opportunity, still mounted, urged their horses into a fast gallop down the trail. “Saw that one comin’,” drawled Val. “Well, don’t just stand there! Who’s goin’ after ‘em?”
“We are, Val, we’ll be back soon,” sighed Scott as he slapped his gloves together against the palm of his hand before tucking them in his belt. He and Johnny mounted back on their horses, ready to head after their wayward siblings, again.
“Yep, ya do jest that. I’ll be here, starting the fire and the coffee,” he nodded towards them.
Scott gulped, “Great, thanks Val.”
Johnny grinned at Scott, knowing full well how little Scott cared for Val’s particular vile tasting, bitter black coffee. Scott swore a spoon could almost stand straight up in the mug, no matter how hard he tried to doctor the stuff to be drinkable…it just wasn’t possible.
“Scott, up ahead, you take him, I’ll get her,” Johnny pointed out as they urged their tired horses forward in hot pursuit.
Jace looked over his shoulder and shouted at Jessie, “Faster!” He urged Blackjack while Jessie pushed Skylark, the pair spilt up going different directions to elude their pursuers. Since their horses were carrying lighter loads than Scott’s Charlemagne and Johnny’s Barranca the gap did begin to lengthen. But the older brothers’ horses were trained for endurance, familiar to long days of chasing stray cattle the brothers’ horses surged forward, leaving a trail of dust in their wake.
Johnny saw the gap narrowing between him as Jessie’s horse started slowing its pace. Johnny gripped Barranca with his knees as he looped the reins around the saddle horn and his body matched the galloping stride of Barranca easily. Unhooking his lariat, he twirled it above his head in a wide circle, Barranca sensing his duty as a cow pony stretch forward as Johnny unleashed his lasso.
It dropped neatly over Skylark’s head and neck as Jessie felt an unexpected jerking motion, pulling Skylark to an abrupt stop that made her fall sideways from her saddle. She hit the ground with a thud and a bump, as she rolled a few times in the dust, nearly ended in a wide spreading prickly pear cactus in full bloom before she stopped her motion.
She lay winded in the dirt, as Johnny jumped from Barranca, kneeling alongside of her; he lifted her head off the ground, “Jessie! Are ya alright? Are ya hurt? Answer me, no games, now!”
“I…can’t…breath,” she hissed, breathing heavy, in labored gasps. Johnny loosened her hat’s stampede strings that were pressing tight against her neck, ripping her hat off; he tossed it aside then unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt. Sitting her up, he was relieved to see that her breathing had somewhat eased; he scrambled to his feet to retrieve his canteen from his saddle horn as Barranca stood ground-tied near-by nudging at Skylark.
Uncorking the canteen, he held it against her lips, allowing her short small sips, “What’s the hell’s the matter with ya? Takin’ off like that? Did ya think we’d let ya get away?” He patted her on the back as she coughed from the water going down against her constricted throat muscles.
“Jessie, like it or not, ya stuck with me and Scott, watchin’ out for ya and Jace. I ain’t lettin’ ya two run off fendin’ for yourselves anymore. That’s how I was forced ta grow-up and it ain’t how ya gonna grow-up, not as long as I’m around. Comprende miel?” he asked drawing her chin up to look at him, eyeball to eyeball. “Answer me, Jessie.”
Quietly she responded with a compliant, “Yes, I comprende. May I get up now?”
“Nope, let me check and make sure ya didn’t break any bones, anything hurtin’?” he asked as he looked her over, flexing each limb carefully and gently.
“Anything besides my dignity and my butt?”
“I’m talkin’ about ya bones, ya ass can take that little fall. Bet it smarts some more now. Can ya stand?”
“I think so,” she raised to her knees, putting her right foot down to push up she stopped, sucking in air at the sharp pain of putting her weight on it, “Owww! Shit!”
“Where’s it hurt?” asked Johnny with concern etched upon his face.
“Damn it, it’s my ankle.”
Johnny made her sit back down, “Ya sure like turnin’ the air blue don’t ya? Why don’t ya try being lady-like for a change? This the one?” he questioned as he gently tugged her right boot, smirking as her boot knife fell to the ground. He tossed it aside as he pulled her sock off. Whistling sharply at the purple bruising and swelling rising to the surface, “Looks like ya sprained it good, but it don’t look broke ta me.”
“How the hell would you know?”
Johnny scoffed at her question, “So much for lady-like, Jessie. I had my share of broken bones and injuries ta know the difference, did a lot of my own doctorin’ from time ta time.”
“That’s a long story. Stay put, don’t move, I need ta bind that, gotta find something ta use for a splint,” Johnny moved back to Barranca and rummaged through his saddlebags, reaching for his extra shirt to rip into made-shift ties and a bandage. He found an appropriate sized tree branch that would work and was wrapping her ankle when Scott rode up with Jace riding in front of him, as they led Blackjack.
“I see ya caught yours as well, Boston.”
“Jessie! What happened?” Jace asked sliding down from Charlemagne, kneeling besides her. “Are you okay? What did you do to my sister, you bastard!” he yelled at Johnny, pummeling his fists at his back. He saw the Jessie’s knife on the ground and made a dive for it, holding it in his hand, pointing it towards Johnny.
“Put the knife down, Jace,” Johnny said softly, standing still as he watched for Jace’s eyes to betray his next move.
Instead Scott yelled, “JACE” diverting his attention for a split second, long enough for Johnny to grab his wrist to twist the knife from his hand. He held a struggling Jace with one hand as he tucked the knife into the back of his pants. Johnny then held Jace by his shoulders and gave him a firm shaking, garnishing his attention, “Jace! Settle down!”
Jessie shouted, “Jace! I’m okay! It’s alright! I twisted my ankle, that’s all. Guess we didn’t get too far this time, did we?” Jessie shrugged.
Jace stopped struggling and Johnny released his iron grip on his shoulders and reached up to tousled Jace’s hair, “That’s better. Scott, hold onto him while I finish binding her ankle. Better check his boot, see if his carrying one of these as well.” He held the knife up looking at it before tucking the knife into his own boot away from busy hands, asking, “Jessie, what are ya doing with this knife?”
“Protection,” she said.
“Don’t ya know that someone could have taken it away from ya and used it on ya instead?”
Scott held tight to Jace’s shoulders, as they as Johnny wrapped Jessie’s foot and ankle with his torn shirt, “No, Jessie you didn’t get away, nor will you get away. Look at the troubles you’ve created, you – a leg injury, Blackjack lost a shoe and picked up a pebble. It’s a good thing Jace knew he had to stop riding him so hard; otherwise he could have suffered a leg injury as well, maybe even enough to have to put him down. Jace? Are you carrying a knife?”
Jace hung his head, arms crossed against his chest, looked very much like Johnny when he was in trouble, kicked at the dirt, “Yeah.”
“Hand it over, please,” said Scott holding out his hand as he watched the boy knell down to retrieve his knife. Standing up he sighed as he turned the blade over to Scott, “I’m going to want that back.”
Scott grinned looking over Jace’s head to Johnny, who shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll see.”
Jessie was looking the worst for the wear with dirt stains spotting her clothes, there were a few rips in her pants. Her hair was a wild tangle mess, desperately in need of a curry comb as Johnny helped her to her feet, he pulled a few wisps of debris from her hair, “How’s that ankle feel?”
“Okay, I guess,” she said as she hobbled a few steps, testing how much weight she could put on it.
“Good, I’m glad ta hear that,” Johnny said as he placed his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him, “For once and for all I want your word that ya’ll behave for the rest of this trip. No more escape attempts, no more sneaky little tricks, no more gettin’ yourself or your brother into trouble. Ya got it?”
He held her in place, not letting her move away from his grip, as they locked eyes on the other, his Madrid persona kicked into gear. “Ya caused us a lot of trouble, it ends here and it ends now, unless ya and Jace want ta ride the rest of the way on wore-out bottoms. Promise?”
Jessie held his gaze, aware of his deep blue eyes as she recognized that his resolve matched if not exceeded her own, uttered, “Fine.”
He didn’t release his grip; instead she felt a tad more pressure on her shoulders as he held her in place, waiting and wanting more than that from the girl. “Okay! Okay! I promise…are you happy now?”
“That’s what I want ta hear, Jessie. Your turn with Jace, Scott.”
Scott mirrored Johnny’s actions as Jace looked to his sister for a moment or two, long enough for Johnny to step between them, blocking their view of the other, thinking to himself, “Oh no, none of the silent communication crap this time.” Johnny yelled to Jace, “Jace answer Scott on ya own accord, not our sister’s.”
Jace looked up Johnny before mumbling to Scott, “Fine, I promise.”
Scott winked at Johnny and said, “Good now that this is all settled, let’s head back to camp. Jace you’re riding with me until we find a town. Blackjack needs his shoe replaced before being ridden,” he mounted; then reached down to give him a hand assisting him to the front of his saddle, where he could keep his eye on him.
Johnny wrapped Skylark’s reins around his saddle horn and lifted Jessie in front of his saddle, mounting careful avoiding bumping her swollen ankle.
Chapter Fifteen – On the Road to Lancer
Back at camp, Val had built the fire, put his coffee on and had started the evening’s fare of beans, rice and beef jerky, standard trail fare unless the brother brought back more than the delinquents. He was seated on the ground, leaning back against his saddle on his bedroll, his long legs stretched out in front of him as the Lancers returned to the campsite.
“Took ya long enough ta catch ‘em,” he groused.
“Val, can ya come here? Ease Jessie down, she hurt her ankle. Try not jarring it.”
He ambled over to Barranca, while Johnny guided her injured leg over Barranca’s neck, Val lifted her into his arms, “Hurt yourself huh? How bad is it?”
“Bruised and swollen.”
Taking her to his bedroll he put her down on it, “Guess ya won’t be tryin’ anymore fool ideas now, will ya, Miss Jessie?”
Jessie managed to give him a cocky grin, “Least not today, I’ll wait for another day Sheriff Crawford. After all there’s always tomorrow.”
He harrumphed at her, amazed at her bold, brashness, down to the cocky grin, not unlike another youngster, from another place and time. “Well that stunt makes two! Ya’re down ta your last strike with me, young lady, cross the line one more time and ya’ll be singin’ a different tune.” He stomped off but soon returned with a large log to raise her ankle, elevating it to help reduce the swelling.
She watched him as he rolled up his saddle blanket and gently elevated both her legs higher, cushioning them against the log, she chuckled at the grumpy man, “Now see there Sheriff Crawford, if I didn’t know better I would believe that you really do care about me. Better be careful or others will see a big heart and think that your bark is far worse than your bite.”
Johnny chuckled at his sister’s keen assessment, pitching in his two cents’ worth, “Whoo-whee Jessie, ya didn’t once turn the air blue, now that’s a change…for the better. But I’m gonna warn ya ta watch out, Val can bite when he’s a mind ta!”
Val harrumphed again, watching as Scott and Johnny sniggered at him. He picked-up his coffee mug pouring more of his dark, concentrated concoction, glared at the brothers who were obviously enjoying poking fun at him. He stirred the beans and rice, the smells wafting towards the others, who were busy making the camp ready for the night.
Scott had Jace helped him unsaddle and tether the horses in a string line while Johnny gathered firewood. Scott and Jace set the saddles, blankets and bedrolls for their beds; Jace and Jessie’s were placed side-by-side, with Scott and Johnny’s gear on either side, all in a nice, neat semi-circle, near the campfire. Johnny took the canteens to be refilled by a nearby stream, touching the cold water he decided that after they ate, he would take Jessie down here to soak her foot and ankle in the refreshing crisp water, to help alleviate the swelling.
Food hot and ready, the five settled down to consume their meal, the men washing it down with cups of coffee, bitter as it was. Val took a big gulp saw Scott crinkling his nose in disgust at the odor, winked at Johnny and swallowed with relish, “Ahhh, Scott, that’ll cure whatever ailments ya got and put hair on yer chest. Try it for yourself, bucko.”
Scott almost spit his mouthful out as he grimaced at the overpowering taste, mumbled to Johnny, “I don’t care, if I have to wake up at 4-00 in the morning, I’m making the coffee, not Val. His brew could pass as varnish remover. Whatever you do, don’t let the twins taste this, it’ll stunt their growth and I can’t imagine Jessie will want hair growing on her chest!”
Johnny turned his head away from Val, placing his hand against his face to mask his smirk. With watchful eyes he caught the twins’ looking intently in his direction. “Wonder what they’re up ta now?” he pondered to Scott. They heard traces of conversation, which was escalating.
“He is,” whispered Jessie. “Just look closely at the drawing.”
Jace shook his head, whispered back, “No, he’s not. I have looked.”
“I’m telling you he is.”
“NOT! NOT! NOT”!
“IS! IS! IS!”
“Well which one of ya is gonna figured that out so’s we can get some piece and quiet ‘round here?” drawled Val, as he crouched in front of the brothers, sipping his coffee. “Unless ya want me ta knock some heads together?”
Johnny taking a big scoop of beans and rice up in his spoon, put it in his mouth, smiled as he chewed slowly, pointing with his spoon towards Scott, he swallowed his food before replying, “He’s the big brother, let him have this one!”
“Thanks brother, by all means allow me,” he quipped with a sigh. Standing up he joined the two still squabbling over whatever disagreement had developed, which ultimately would surprise the heck out of him. “Mind if I join you?” he inquired as they looked up at him interrupting their disagreement. Straddling the log where Jessie’s leg was propped up, he looked at her, “Jessie, how’s the ankle?”
“It’s okay, sore some.”
“Johnny’s going to take you down to the stream so you can soak it for awhile before we bed down,” he told her. “Now what were two bantering about that is so all fired important?”
“Nothing,” Jace quickly answered looking at his sister.
“It didn’t sound like nothing to me, despite not having any siblings around while I was growing up, I know a disagreement when I hear one. Maybe I can help settle whatever it is if you allow me.”
“Show him that book, Jace, if anyone would know he would,” Jessie said to Jace.
“No, it’s not important.”
Scott looked at him and said, “Jace, sometimes what is important to you isn’t important to somebody else and vice versa. You two obviously need another opinion, like an arbitrator to decide who is right and who isn’t right. Or perhaps just figure a way for you to meet in the middle of both your positions. I promise I’ll be fair, honest and impartial. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on?
“The book Jace, show him the damn book,” pressed Jessie.
“Oh, oh right already, jeepers!” Jace said as he pulled the dime novel from his sister’s saddlebags and held it out for Scott to look at.
“This is what you’re arguing over? This story?”
“No, not the story, look closely at the picture on the cover, I think your brother is none other than who that book is about, Johnny Madrid,” she said crossing her arms over her chest with a defiant look tossed at Jace. “Jace doesn’t think so; he can’t imagine what Johnny Madrid would be doing living on a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere.”
Scott grinned at the two of them as they glared at the other, “Hey you two, stop it, look at me now. First Jessie, Johnny is OUR brother, not just mine, but all of ours. Secondly, Jessie has a good eye, Jace. Third, Johnny Lancer, OUR brother was indeed Johnny Madrid before he came home to Lancer.” He paused giving them time to let it sink in. “And fourth, Lancer is not in the middle of nowhere, there are three towns all within an hour or so ride, depending upon the direction you head, plus Stockton, Modesto, San Jose and San Francisco all within traveling distance.”
“See I told you,” said Jessie as she reached over to poke Jace on his shoulder. “Next time, remember I’m better at details than you.”
“You’re not pulling my leg are you?” asked Jace as he looked at the drawing on the dime novel to Johnny finishing off the last of his meal, talking with Val.
Johnny looked over at the three, “He’s got ‘em quiet now Val.”
“Good, I hope they stay that way durin’ the night,” he grumbled.
“They should be gettin’ tuckered out soon.” He stood up and stretched, “Think I’ll take Jessie ta soak that ankle for a bit. I’ll send Jace over ta help ya and Scott clean-up.”
“Ya do that, amigo.”
Johnny joined his siblings, and had to wonder if his barn door was hanging open at the stares he got from the twins, “What? Somethin’ the matter?”
“Scott said you were him, really, is that really true?” asked Jace, holding the dog-eared novel up for Johnny to read the cover, “The Fastest Draw in the West – Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny paused before answering, “Well, ol’ Boston here, he ain’t in the habit of tellin’ stories or even stretchin’ ‘em.”
“Holy Shit!” Jace exclaimed looking at him in wonder with a trace of new found respect.
“Now hold on, don’t go gettin’ all excited, turnin’ the air blue too, Jessie doin’ enough of that for both of ya. More than likely half the stuff in here ain’t nothin’ more than a pack of lies, told ta sell these here penny dreadfuls,” Johnny declared as he flipped through the pages of the novel. “Well look right here, “Johnny Madrid rode into Thelma, gunnin’ for Big Red McCord, he had a score ta settle.” I ain’t never been ta Thelma and don’t know anybody named Big or Red or McCord for that matter. This is all made-up trash. There’s only one, maybe two good uses for this…in the outhouse or ta start a campfire.”
“Oh,” said Jessie thoughtfully. “But you said “half the stuff is lies” so that means the other half is true then?”
Scott smirked, “She’s got you there Johnny. Maybe you want to expound upon which is what in this particular “dreadful”? I’d like to hear it myself.”
Johnny rolled his eyes at Scott, “Now ain’t the time Boston, sister has ta go soak her ankle, wanna be able ta put her boot on in the mornin’ and ya two better go help Val with the clean-up.”
Johnny carried Jessie on his back to the stream where he carefully unwrapped her foot, rolled her pant leg up almost to her knee, whistling at the discoloring that had traveled down her foot, reaching the top of her toes. “Bet that hurts, don’t it?”
“I’m fine,” she grimaced.
“Oh, come on, ya have ta do better than that ta fool me! Can ya flex that foot?”
Through gritted teeth she tried bending her foot, cried out at the pain, “Okay, that smarts.”
“Here, get it soakin’ in the water, see if that don’t help,” he said as he placed her foot into the water, she jerked it back surprised at how cold the water was but Johnny held her foot, easing it down into the water up to her shin. “It’ll take a minute ta get use ta the temperature, hold still now.”
“I’m fine,” she replied.
“Oh no, not another “I’m fine” sibling! Where have I heard that before, brother?” joshed Scott as he and Jace joined them.
Johnny gave Scott an impudent grin as he cupped his hands together in the cold water, tossing the contents at Scott, large droplets striking against his dark blue shirt, along with a few landing squarely on his face. Scott used his fingertips to wipe away the water from under his eyes and scowled at him, “Find example you’re setting for these two, Johnny.” He bent down; scooping water up in his own hands took aim and fired splashing cool, clear water droplets on his brother’s impish grin.
“Figured ta cool ya off some brother.”
“Likewise. Did it work?”
The twins watched in awe as the two faced each other, both unbuckled their gun belts; tossed them aside in what was fast becoming a full pledged water battle as Johnny scooped more, Scott did too. They moved downstream away from Jessie’s soaking foot, each giving as good as the other received.
Johnny grabbed hold of Scott in a headlock, attempted to push him forward to soak his head, but Scott nimbly used his left shoulder and head butted against Johnny enough to set him off kilter. Older brother was able to toss little brother head over heels, landing on his backside in the stream, soaking him to the skin. Johnny not to be outdone by Scott, used the water to camouflage his nimble foot action and knocked Scott’s legs from under him landing him on his rump alongside of him in the waist high water.
The twins were laughing hilariously at the antics of the older men. They had gotten partially wet themselves from flying water droplets as the brothers continued their frolics similar to the Pacific White Sided baby dolphins and Humpback and Orca whales they were accustom to watching while the mammals cavorted in the coastal waters in the Pacific Ocean. Johnny tried pushing Scott’s head under the water, Scott turned the tables and pulled him under the water instead, until Johnny yanked on Scott’s legs pulling him under. Finally exhausted, the brothers stood up laughing good-naturedly at the other’s soggy appearance.
“If ya two ain’t a sight, will ya look at ya! Wetter than pair of pigs sloppin’ around in a mud holler! Have ya gone plum loco? What in the tarnation has gotten in ta ya?” boomed Val as he stood on the bank staring at the older brothers. “Git the hell out there now, ya two nitwits!”
Scott and Johnny looked sheepish at Val, standing on the bank with his hands on his hips, frowning at them as they sloshed their way towards the bank. Reaching either side of Val, Scott and Johnny boldly yanked him face down in the water, reducing Jessie and Jace to fits of hilarity at the sudden and unexpected turn of events.
Val came up out of the water, spurting water from his mouth, pulling tangles of weeds from his face, yelled full volume at the brothers, “JOHNNY LANCER! SCOTT LANCER! WHAT IN THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YA?”
“Nothin’ Val, figured ya might as well join in, take care of your monthly bath, that’s all,” shrugged Johnny as the trio made their way out of the water, oozing and sloshing from the stirred up muddy shoreline to terra firma.
The twins were by now doubled over with mirth as the dripping trio stood near them. While Val continued his grousing, fussin’ at the brothers, “not havin’ a lick of sense that God gave ya, didn’t know enough ta come in out of the rain; they would need directions ta pour piss outta of a boot; he oughta cut him several switches puttin’ them ta use where they do the most good on a couple smart-alecks’ wet backsides, and this was the last time he’d help ‘em out, ever again.” Each proclamation brought forth more peals of laughter from the twins, as Jessie was holding her sides from laughing so hard.
“Glad ya two think this is so all-fired funny, I ain’t the ones that will be livin’ with these two overgrown nitwits!” yelled Val stomping off towards the fire. “And that goes double for ‘em with ya two troublemakers! Makes a man grateful he didn’t have any damn smart-ass kids!” Which resulted with increasing the level of laughter from the four siblings, Jessie was wiping at the tears that had formed in her eyes while Jace had collapsed to the bank, pounding at the ground with his fist. Johnny and Scott were holding each other to keep from falling down to the ground, as they laughed and laughed.
“Well, brother, we better join Val and dry off,” Scott chuckled as he put the tails of his shirt from his pants, wringing out the excess water.
Johnny had removed his boots, dumping the water out of them, “Yeah, Boston, guess so. Jessie how’s ya foot?”
“Forgot all about it,” she laughed as she stood-up with the aid of Johnny and Scott. “I’m….”
“FINE,” finished Johnny and Scott as they held her up, when she raised her foot off the ground.
“Alright, alright already, if it will make you both happy, it only hurts when I stand on it.”
Johnny picked her up and piggy-back carried her against her protests that he was getting her all wet, “Not ta worry sister; ya ain’t made of sugar, so ya won’t melt any. If I know Val, he’ll have the fire burnin’ real good so’s we dry off before sackin’ in.”
Johnny looked at Scott who nodded back at him, mission accomplished at gaining some ground towards diminishing the twins’ distrust of them. So what if they both endured a soaking to do so, pissing off Val in the process? Val hadn’t been included in their brotherly conniving, which worked out so much the better, getting the reaction they desired, resulting with the twins’ attitudes towards them relaxing. Or did the realization that they were traveling in the company of the legendary Johnny Madrid have anything to do with it?
“Hey Jace, bring up some more firewood; don’t want that fire dying down until we’re dried off,” Scott directed the younger boy as he himself loaded his arms with some.
Back at camp, Val had stoked the fire until a fine blazed crackled and popped the dry wood he added. Stringing his lasso between two trees he created a clothesline from which hung his wet clothes, his boots were set back from the fire to dry and not crack from the heat, as he leaned against his saddle wrapped snug in his blanket drinking coffee and relaxing. He loudly harrumphed as the Lancer clan rowdily approached, loudly laughing as they stomped and two of them sloshed their way back into the campsite.
Jace and Scott carrying the extra wood dumped it in a pile near Val’s bare feet that were sticking out from his blanket. Val jerked his feet back, shouting, “Why don’t ya watch what the hell ya’re doin’? He moaned, “How’s a body ta git any rest around here with all this commotion?”
“Ya sleepin’ yet Val?” Johnny questioned as he put Jessie down on her rolled out blanket, placing her foot back over the tree trunk. “Makin’ a lot of grumblin’ in ya sleep if ya are,” he joked as he used his own blanket to dry off her feet, wrapping the right foot again, pulled her socks on, and rolled her pants’ legs down. Her needs taken care of, he took his boots off, sticking two sturdy tree branches into the soft ground, turning his boots upside down to dry, with his socks over the boots, with no spare shirt to change into, he removed his shirt and hung it over the line, wrapping up in his blanket, removing his soaked pants he hung them over the line to dry.
Scott had performed similar ablutions with the good luck of having a spare shirt to wear, had twisted his blanket in half, knotting it around his slim waist, poured some of Val’s god-awful coffee, shaking his head in remorse at how much more bitter it had become while they were down by the water. “Val, you used too many grounds to make this, less is more!”
“Ya don’t like, don’t drink it.”
“Now that’s the best piece of advice I’ve heard coming from you tonight,” he said as he turned the cup upside down. “Seems to me that you’re in a foul mood tonight, what’s the matter with you?”
More peals and snorts of laughter began causing Val to toss a hard glare in the direction of the offenders, “Harrumph.”
“Oh come on, Val, lighten up, will ya? A little water never hurt nobody, ya gotta admit it, the look on ya face when Scott ‘n me was pullin’ ya into the water, was something else. Whooo doggie, we all thought it was!”
“Keep it up, Johnny, next time ya butt’s sittin’ in my jail I’ll remind ya just how amusin’ it was, accostin’ a lawman and ya ol’ amigo who spent some time raisin’ ya, this is the thanks I get. I’ll remind ya as I forget ta let ya out for thirty days,” groused Val. “Ain’t it about time ya’ll sacked in, give a man some peace and quiet ‘round here?”
“Soon, Val, soon. Do you want the first watch or do you want Johnny to take it?”
“Nope, I’ll take it, gonna sit here drinkin’ and enjoyin’ my coffee along with the peace and quiet. I wake ya in four hours, Johnny can have the early mornin’ shift.”
Johnny spoke up, “Let Boston sleep, wake me instead.” Johnny knew that Scott was planning on making the coffee in the morning, this would be the way to get past Val and truthfully Johnny wanted better tasting coffee in the morning as much as his brother did.
The twins had fallen fast asleep as the two older brothers checked, adjusting their blankets against the dropping night temperatures, “They look kinda peaceful like that, don’t they?”
“Must be completely exhausted from their busy day of activities,” chuckled Scott as he replayed how the twins had gotten by them at the train depot. “Quite a pair they are, they’ll be keeping us all on our toes for a long time to come, Johnny.”
“Yeah, can’t wait to see ol’ Murdoch’s face when he finds out that Jessie’s a girl. Ya don’t think we should wire him in advance do ya?”
“And ruin his surprise? Why? This is probably one of those times when the proof is in the pudding. Val told the Pinkertons to butt out; they were officially off the case. I don’t imagine they will send him a telegraph, unless they want to deal with Val. I would imagine that the roasting he gave them this morning left no doubt in their minds not to interfere. If the next town we come to has a telegram office, we can wire him that we’re on the way home. Keep it short and sweet, Johnny.”
“He’ll like that, save him money on the number of words,” grinned Johnny. “Yeah, Scott, that’s real sneaky like, but then these two were pretty sneaky themselves, dressing up in their get-up, sure did pull one over on us. Must be a family trait.”
“Get some sleep Johnny; another day will be here soon enough, need to be rested and ready for whatever trouble those two can conjure up.”
“Good-night, little brother.”
Chapter Sixteen – On the Road to Lancer
The next day, they rode into the small mining town of Fortuna; Jessie was riding in front of Johnny, leaned against him with her right sock-clad foot wrapped and propped up alongside Barranca’s neck for support. Before heading out Johnny had checked her foot and decided to keep the boot off for another day as it was still swollen. He was tucking it away in her saddlebags for safe keeping when he found a pearl-handled pistol inside the bag, this somehow didn’t surprise him. Figuring what one had the other did too he stepped over to Blackjack to check Jace’s saddlebags, and found a matching firearm; both had their initials etched on the butt of the guns. Shaking his head, he removed the pistol and handled them both to Val for safe-keeping.
Val groused, “Do ya think ya should frisk ‘em for anything else? Explosives maybe?”
Johnny stood with his hands on his slim hips, with his hat pushed back on his forehead, looked from one twin to the other, “Okay ya two, either one of ya got any more weapons? Now’s the time ta tell me.”
“No, Johnny, that’s all, I swear,” answered Jace as he sat behind Scott. “You tell him, Jessie.”
“Jace is telling the truth, Johnny. We wanted to get some rifles before we left San Francisco but couldn’t find a store that would sell them to us.”
“Where ya get these pistols?” Johnny asked as he took a closer look at the workmanship of the pair before tucking them into his own saddlebags for safe keeping.
“Those were gifts we received from friends, who knew Jace and I were learning to shoot,” Jessie continued, “Give them back they belong to us.”
Johnny grinned at her and shook his head no, “’Nope, we don’t need any accidental shootings ta add ta our troubles.”
“What about the boot knifes, where did they come from?” pressed Scott, curious as to how precocious these two really were.
“Oh those Jessie managed to win in a dare from an older brother of a friend of ours and the brother’s friend,” Jace grinned.
“Yeah, what was the dare?” Johnny drawled.
“We prefer not to say,” said Jessie looking at Jace, with a glance that Johnny realized something had been communicated between the twins that kept Jace quiet.
Val groused, “It weren’t anything illegal was it?”
“NO! Nothing like that at all Sheriff, just a dare that Jessie won, not saying another word about it and you can’t make me,” challenged Jace.
Val pointed his index finger at Jace, “Wanna bet me on that youngun? That’s two for ya by the way. Johnny, Scott one more for either one of ‘em…”
Jessie and Jace exchanged looks before Scott wheeled his horse around, cutting off their unspoken communication. Johnny mounted Barranca, leaning over to Jessie whispered in her ear, “Sister, behave yourself today, ya gave me ya word. Cowboys are judged by his or her honesty. It’s absolute – ya word is ya bond.”
She looked over her shoulder at his eyes and sighed, “I know, Johnny, the Code of the West.”
He returned her look with a grin, “Yep, one of ‘em anyway. Ya think about tellin’ me later about that dare ya won.”
She relaxed her shoulders into his chest and sighed, “I’ll think on it. You do know that a girl’s entitled to some secrets, don’t you? Even if she is riding with Johnny Madrid.”
“Not if they’re the kind of secrets that can cause ya more trouble, little lady,” chuckled Johnny.
Jace riding behind Scott encircled his arms around the blonde-haired Lancer’s waist as they traveled, as the older brothers had effectively blocked the two from silently communicating with the other for now. They wanted to have one day of hard riding, making up ground without incident. Today instead of riding drag, with no worries of any ill-conceived escape attempts by the corralled twins Val rode alongside the brothers, leading the twins’ horses behind him.
Fortuna was similar to any of the other dozens of mining towns that had sprung up in the west, more saloons with a few other necessary shops mixed in to make it officially a town. There was a dry goods store, a sheriff’s office, a hotel, a livery stable and a few other stores that served the population. Pulling up to the livery stable, Val dismounted, with their preset duties already planned out, he would take care of Blackjack, while Johnny and Jessie looked for a doctor and Scott and Jace for a telegraph office. But not seeing any poles and wire strung on the outskirts of town, that didn’t look any too promising.
“Meet over at the hotel when everyone’s done with their undertaking,” reminded Scott.
Johnny pulled up in front of the dry goods store, sliding off the rear of Barranca; he reached up and lifted Jessie down, setting her on boardwalk. He next tied Barranca to the hitching rail before picking up his saddlebags and throwing it casually over his shoulder. Piggyback riding his sister, with her hair tucked up under her hat, he stepped inside the store, relieved to be out of the midday hot sun.
“Help ya sonny? Looks like ya got an extra load on your back there,” asked the portly shop keeper, wearing a dingy looking apron.
“Is there a doctor in town?” he asked.
“Nope, jest Zeke over at the livery stable, takes care of humans and animals alike,” he answered. “What happened ta him?”
Johnny set Jessie down on the countertop, “Nothin’ just a bad sprain, I reckon. Ya got any liniment? Witch-hazel maybe? Could use some regular bandages, maybe something to relax muscles from crampin’? Need a few other items too, socks, a couple of shirts, one my size, one “his” size will do, and some canned goods, beans, peaches.”
“Where ya headed stranger?”
“Home, up towards Stockton, my brothers, along with Sheriff Val Crawford are heading home,” said Johnny looking intensely at the man, sizing him up.
“Haven’t I seen ya before?”
“Don’t think so, never been in this town,” Johnny replied coolly staring the man down.
Jessie watched in amazement at how quickly he had changed from easy-going, smiling Johnny Lancer to wary, hard, almost cold Johnny Madrid, cautious about revealing too much of his business to the nosy man.
The shop keeper held out his hands, “Whoa, mister, not lookin’ for any trouble, jest makin’ small talk that’s all.”
Johnny gave him a quirky grin, “That’s good, now if ya’d get our supplies, we’ll be on our way. Oh, here add some of those lemon drops, peppermint sticks and rock candy too,” he said winking at his sister, who grinned at the news.
The shop keeper gathered up the requested list, running up the total in his head, still pondering over where he had seen that dark-haired, blue-eyed man, wearing his gun low on his slim hips, in the brightly-colored shirt with Mexican embroidery and his calzoneros, with polished buttons down the sides before. As he walked around his shop retrieving items, carrying them back to the counter, he noticed his pile of dime novels and gasped in shock. Johnny Madrid was in his store! That’s where he had seen him before! The fastest gun in the west was here in Fortuna!
Johnny sensed the man’s change in demeanor, turned to look at him again, saw what he was looking at and nodded his head in acknowledgement. Jessie sat quiet as a church mouse; curious to see what would happen next. The shop keeper gathered his wits about him and carried the last of the supplies to the counter, gulping a few times, he stuttered, “Mr. Madrid, this is on the house, please take it and leave. I don’t want no trouble in here.”
Johnny pulled several coins from his jacket pocket, placing them on the counter. He said, “Its Lancer, Johnny Lancer and I’ll be paying for our goods if ya don’t mind.”
“Sure, just leave, I don’t want no trouble,” he repeated.
“Neither do we, so how about it if ya keep quiet?” Johnny asked as he put his purchases inside the saddlebags, throwing it back over his shoulder.
The man simply nodded his head in agreement, wiping the sweat from his brow watching Johnny.
Johnny grinned at him as he piggy-backed Jessie back outside into the hot mid-day sun.
“Wow, does that happen a lot?” she asked, looking up at him.
“More or less,” he answered, “Here hold on,” easing her into his saddle, he placed the filled saddlebags on Barranca, tying them on then he gathered the reins. Johnny walked across the street to the hotel, hitched Barranca and lifted Jessie down; he placed her in one of the wicker rocking chairs outside the hotel. He opened his saddlebags and pulled out the liniment, bandages and new socks. Sitting down on the porch he removed the tattered remnants of his made-shift shirt sleeve bandage to check her injury. He opened the liniment and poured a good amount into his hands to rub on her foot and ankle, glad to see that the swelling was down and the black and blue bruising no longer spreading.
Jessie watched him administer his doctoring, “Johnny?”
“What made you become a gunfighter?”
Johnny paused, looking at her, thinking to himself how much he should reveal, “I reckon that it wasn’t any one thing I could point out, it just happened and well, it’s a long story. I don’t usually talk about it but maybe one day I’ll tell ya more.”
“Your turn, what made ya and Jace run away from the Fergusons?”
She decided to mimic him, not yet ready to disclose her emotions about her mother and San Francisco, “It just happened and well, it’s a long story too. Maybe one day I’ll tell you more.”
“Smart-ass,” he chuckled at her audacity. “Yep, our ol’ man is gonna have his hands full with ya underfoot, little sister.”
“Ol’ man? Do you call him that to his face?”
“Not unless he wants to eat his meals standing up he doesn’t.” Scott quipped. “You two better not either. He prefers “pa”, but we call him Murdoch, most of the time since Johnny and I are equal partners in the ranch. However I don’t suggest you address him like that. “Sir” when the situation dictates full respect and compliance would be your best bet, especially when he’s on the warpath over something.” Clapping his hand to Johnny’s shoulder, he smiled. “And he is the tune caller as well, isn’t that right Johnny?”
“Yeah, he’ll let ya know in a hurry if ya break one of his commandments.”
“Let me get this straight, the infamous Johnny Madrid, who I just saw over at that store, let’s his father ride roughshod over him? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” stated the young girl.
“Suffice it to say, little sister, Murdoch sets the policies in place, he doesn’t appreciate having them bent, broken or ignored. You might get away with something once, might mind you, with a stern warning, but certainly not twice,” Scott said, looking at both the twins with a serious expression on his face. “Is Val here yet? How about having a hot meal, some decent coffee before heading out? Still can make another twenty miles or so since there isn’t a telegraph office in this town.”
The Lancers entered the hotel, happy to see that the dining room had a table large enough to accommodate the five travelers, as other patrons were partaking of their noon day meal. Johnny placed Jessie down in the chair that Jace pulled out for her, and then he took her hat off her head, letting it fall down her back held by the stampede strings. The others sat down, waiting on Val who soon came inside joining the group. “Did I miss anything?”
“Nah, Val, ya know we always wait for ya before we do anything,” said Johnny grinning at his friend.
They ordered their meal and drinks, sarsaparillas for Jace and Jessie, one cold beer for the others. The meal was a plain fare of corn bread, beef stew and peach cobbler for dessert and much to Scott’s delight and relief, freshly brewed tasty coffee.
Scott was enjoying a second cup of coffee, leaning back in his chair, with one hand clutching his mug, the other across his content stomach. Suddenly they heard yelling from outside the hotel dining room window, “MADRID, JOHNNY MADRID, I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE! I’M CALLING YOU OUT! I’M WAITING ON YOU! GET ON OUT HERE! BE READY TO MEET YOUR MAKER!”
Johnny looked at Scott and Val, sighing heavily, noticed the worried looks on the faces of Jace and Jessie, “Scott, keep ‘em inside. Let me handle this in my own way.”
“Johnny no, you don’t have to do anything,” said Scott, placing his hand on Johnny’s shoulder as he pushed it away to stand up, knocking his chair over to it’s side.
“I do, Scott. Don’t ya understand, this will always be the same, another town, and another place until they stop lookin’ for me ta get a name. It can’t be helped, if I don’t go outside, he could come in, shootin’ causin’ harm ta innocent people, includin’ these two. I couldn’t live with myself if that happens.”
“Val, did ya recognize anyone in town?”
“Nope, don’t reckon I heard that voice before either.”
“MADRID! ARE YOU A COWARD?”
Johnny sighed, as he checked his gun, spun the chamber, twirled it around a couple of circles and replaced it back into the hostler.
“Johnny? Don’t go out there!” exclaimed Jessie as she stood up and wrapped her arms around his waist.
Johnny patted the top of her head, “Listen ta me, Jessie, I don’t have a choice. Ya stay put, ya hear me, this ain’t fun and games! I promise ya that I’ll be right back. I’ll try talkin’ him out of this first. Here, Scott, watch ‘em.” Jessie nodded her head up and down, softly said, “Be careful, Johnny.”
Meanwhile, Val slipped out of the dining room, gun drawn, out the back door down the alley and around the side of the hotel, poking his head out to scan the street. He’d be keeping his watchful eye out for any sneak attacks against his ol’ comprade.
Scott held onto Jessie’s shoulders as Johnny adjusted his hat before walking to the door. He looked up and down both sides of the street, checking for any possible ambushes, looking for gun barrels pointed from rooftops or upstairs windows or behind water troughs. Glancing at the figure in the street, he tried placing him, and did not recognize him.
Sighing with frustration, Johnny sauntered to the middle of the street, all the while scoping the all too familiar playing field of a dusty street without appearing to be doing anything but walking to his designated place opposite the man who had called him out. The sun’s angle, the afternoon shadows, the youth standing in the street clenching and unclenching his hand above his six-shooter were seen and processed in rapid fashion by the seasoned gunfighter as he assumed his position.
“Kid, ya got a problem with me? I don’t know ya.”
“Nah, no problem, ain’t never laid eyes on you before. Heard you were in town. Figured I’d take that reputation of yours away for myself. Become famous for gunning down Johnny Madrid.”
“How old are ya?”
“Old enough to be faster than you!” he bragged, puffing out his chest.
“Kid, ya really wanna die today?”
“Won’t be me, Madrid, it’ll be you eating the dust,” he boasted as he looked towards the watchful gathering audience, huddled in doorways and windows, some brave enough to press their backs flat against a few of the buildings’ exterior walls.
There was an underlying electrical current running through the crowd as they pointed towards Johnny, “That’s Johnny Madrid”; “I heard he’s the fastest gun this side of the Mississippi or East of China”; “Story I heard is that he gunned down two of the best in Nogales ‘fore he was fifteen”; “There ain’t nobody that can touch him with a gun”; “Don’t know what that fool boy is thinking out there, somebody should go fetch his pa.”
Jace, Jessie and Scott peered out the dining room window. Some townsfolk were caught between the two men squaring off against the other, their bodies were pressed against the buildings afraid to make any sudden motions. Perhaps some were afraid to run for cover, in reality most were morbidly curious enough to stay put to watch a gun battle play out before their eyes. The portly shop keeper was crouched behind boxes of his dry goods that were piled on the boardwalk. Even the town’s Sheriff was gawking from behind his half-curtains at the jail, making no motions to stop the trouble from taking place in his town.
“Well kid, if ya insist on this, it’s your funeral,” said the steely-eyed Johnny as he kept his eyes on his opponent’s eyes. Watching and waiting for the tell-tale flickers of action that would signal his opponent’s intention to start the dance by drawing on him. “Anytime ya ready ta start the dance, well ya go ahead. Try me.”
“Scott, can’t you stop this?” asked Jessie, as the Lancers crowded the hotel dining room window.
“Too late, hush now; don’t be a distraction for Johnny,” said Scott. “Right, Val?” Scott turned and saw that Val wasn’t where he had been standing a few seconds ago. Scott relaxed slightly with the knowledge that Val was out there somewhere watching his brother’s back while he kept his eyes on the twins.
The Lancers watched in silence as Johnny stood his ground, waiting for the kid to make his move. When he did, it was over fast, the kid lying in the dusty street, holding his bleeding gun hand, knees drawn up to his chest as he withered and winched in pain. Johnny stood over him, gun smoking as he kicked the kid’s gun away from his reach.
Johnny kneeled down by the kid, raising his head from the dirt, “Let me see that arm, kid.” He looked at it, then yelled at the kid, “Before ya try something that stupid again, try usin’ ya head, ya got you’re whole life ta live, gettin’ drunk, havin’ fun, playin’ poker, maybe get hitched and having a kid or two of ya own if you’re lucky enough.
“This lifestyle ain’t for ya kid; ya don’t have any business playin’ at bein’ a gunfighter. Ya too damn slow ta survive for long. There’s some that would have kill ya outright without battin’ an eye, leavin’ ya ta bleed ta death in the street.”
“Why didn’t ya kill me?” he moaned in pain.
“I don’t have anything ta prove. And my little sister and brother were watchin’. It ain’t right for ‘em ta see me kill someone just a couple years older than ‘em for no reason. Now if I were ya, I’d get my ass over ta the livery man ta let him fix me up. Then I’d high-tailed it back ta my folks and stay put until I had more sense,” said Johnny as he jerked the kid to his feet.
“Go on get out of here! I don’t want to see ya again, next time I might not be so generous,” he gave the kid a shove towards the livery.
Jessie started limping towards the door, but Scott lifted her up off her feet, carrying her as the group moved towards, the door, as Johnny came in. “Nice shooting, Johnny. Looks to me like he was pretty scared,” said Scott. “Scared enough to wet himself.”
“Pretty damn stupid more like it, Scott. Come on, let’s get outta here, this town’s lost its quiet little charm,” said Johnny as he took Jessie into his arms. “Ya ‘kay, Jessie? Jace?” he asked ruffling the boy’s mop of hair.
Choruses of “We’re fine,” were heard by Val as he joined the group, nodding over at Johnny to let him know there weren’t any more laying in wait for them to deal with…today. Johnny nodded back to Val as Scott again saw the interaction between them, knowing there was another piece of the Johnny puzzle to him to ask about when the time was right.
“Johnny, you were so fast, even faster than Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley,” said Jessie in awe as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Bein’ faster than your opponent is one thing, bein’ a whole lot smarter than your opponent is more important,” Johnny said as he put her back on top of Barranca.
Jace mounted Blackjack now in charge of Skylark, gripped the reins as they left the town of Fortuna behind them, staying the course of north – northwest towards home. Jessie, resting easy in the saddle soon fell asleep at the soothing gait they were traveling at lulled her into peaceful repose, her head against Johnny’s chest as his heart thumped a steady calm pace. He grinned as Scott and Val pleased with Jessie’s change of attitude, not turning the air blue today and at her refuge where she was relaxed and content enough by her surroundings to fall fast asleep.
Chapter Seventeen – The Lancer Ranch
Murdoch paced in front of his great oak desk, wearing out both his boot leather and the carpet marching one direction, pivoting and striding back the same path. His hands were clasped behind his back as he traveled one way and clenched in tight fists coming back. Lost in deep concentration he didn’t notice Teresa entering the Great Room with a tray of hot coffee, a sandwich piled high with rare roasted beef and a more than generous slice of warm blueberry pie.
“Murdoch? Murdoch?” Teresa chirped at the older man as she set the tray down. “I’ve brought you something to eat. Now come and sit down, eat please,” she cajoled the still pacing rancher.
“All your worrying in the world isn’t going to get them here any quicker. You know Johnny and Scott will take care of things. And Val’s with them to keep them out of trouble. Please come sit down and eat your meal,” she insisted.
“You do not want to make yourself ill from the anxiety. And you’re not helping your back with all that pacing. If you’re not careful you’ll be stuck in bed when they get here,” she chided at the towering, imposing figure.
Murdoch glanced at the petite, dark-haired girl who was his ward, his “adopted daughter” since his foreman; Paul O’Brien had been shot and killed by Day Pardee’s band of miscreants several months back. He snorted as he recognize that she was the only child he had been close to, the one child whom he had seen grow-up at Lancer from a baby to young adulthood. She wasn’t even related to him except through the time-honored bond of friendship, loyalty and a solemn promise made to his dying friend.
Nary a one of his four children could he say the same, not one had he seen grow-up from their babyhood, with the exception of Johnny, who was stolen away in the night at the tender age of two by Maria, deserting him to years of agony and distress as he tried oh so hard had he tried to find his happy cherub little boy. He felt intense bitter regret tearing at his mind, his body and his soul as he recalled all those bygone years, three wives gone, all dead and gone! So many hopes and aspirations shattered, tossed aside, no pieces to glue back together. Then Day Pardee came and tried to break the ever proud, stubborn Scotsman of his home. No one was going to take that away too!
Murdoch had marveled at Paul dedication and devotion to raise Teresa by himself, his wife Angel as it turned out was not a fit person to mother a litter of kittens, much less an infant. Angel took off with a traveling group of performers much to Paul’s relief as he stood holding his wiggling bundle of joy, watching her wagon pull away. He hoped that she never crossed their path ever again. They had told the little girl that her mother had died shortly after her first birthday and every Sunday the little girl placed a bouquet of wildflowers upon her grave in remembrance.
And so it was that Murdoch was there when Teresa first learned to walk, spoke her first halting words of, “papa” and “my’doc”. Other “firsts” he witnessed were her first tooth, and it’s falling out after her first fall from a pony. Murdoch placed the little girl back on top, not allowing her to give over to her fears. He had rescued her with scraped knees, tangled hair and torn clothes from climbing too high in a tree after being chased by an angry charging bull.
He had dried her tears after the only time Paul had bared her bottom and soundly spanked her for roping him shut in the outhouse when she had been angry with her father. Paul had been stuck inside the small hot, smelly privy for the better part of an hour before Murdoch discovered the problem why Paul had not returned to the branding in the corral. Afterward the spanking a contrite and sobbing Teresa had flung her arms tight around Murdoch as he offered her a consoling shoulder to cry on along with a pillow that evening to sit upon at the dinner table.
Murdoch had been there when the Miller boys tried cutting off her long dark hair, her pride and joy, as they pinned her to the ground in retaliation for them getting their hands whacked with a ruler and staying after school for their ducking her pig-tails into an ink well at school. She stood by sniffling, with a few clumps of cut hair clutched tightly in her hand, watching as Murdoch and Paul took their belts to the awfully sorry boys. They next rode them off of Lancer back to their father with stern admonitions to leave the young girl alone. Both men smiled unabashedly as her face shone with pleasure and happiness that evening as she sat by the fireplace, bushing the luxurious wavy locks that fell almost to her waist, minus one or two strands that were hardly noticeable unless you were looking for them.
And of course Murdoch had been there when Teresa became the honorary hostess of Lancer, holding her first social and waltzing the beaming young girl around the hacienda courtyard on a gentle warm spring night under the glowering Chinese lanterns bouncing gaily on their cords. He had proudly escorted Teresa to her very first town dance when Paul was sick in bed and couldn’t take her. And he was there offering her comfort with calm soothing words of remorse when he told Teresa how her father had died, alongside him, protecting Lancer, take care of their own. He had assured her then that she would always have a home at Lancer.
One budding young lady on her way to womanhood, not of his flesh and blood had shared more memories with him than any of his wives or his sons had. He grimly shook his head at his thoughts troubled him, realizing that he wasn’t being fair to Teresa, none of this had been her fault or responsible.
Murdoch turned to Teresa, pulling her tight into a bear hug; he whispered gently, “Teresa thank you, I know life here hasn’t been easy for you, especially with your father gone. If…if there’s anything you want, travel anywhere, go away to school, just say the word. I’ll make sure it happens.”
Teresa tilted her head to look up at the tall, giant of a man, “Murdoch Lancer, if I didn’t know you better, I would think you were trying to get rid of me!” She stamped her foot to emphasize her thoughts as Murdoch chuckled.
“Now, Teresa honey, you know that isn’t true. Why the Lancer ranch wouldn’t be the same without you here. I only want to make certain you’re happy, that’s all.”
“Of course I’m happy, this is my home,” she stated. “It’s the only one I’d ever known.”
“I know, it just seems like this may be too remote, too cut-off from civilization for most women. I hope you don’t have any regrets, living out here away from other women.”
“Murdoch Angus Lancer! Why you know that Maria and Lupe are here everyday. And there’s three towns all with female companionship and there’s dances and the social activities with church and then there’s helping Doc Jenkins with nursing. I have plenty to fill my time, sometimes too much when Johnny or Scott or even you are sick or injured confined to bed.
“And now you have two more sons coming, who even though they didn’t know you now, in time they will. It will be just like when Scott and Johnny first came home, at first you were all strangers, not sure of each other until the newness wears off, as you learn about them and they you, that’s all. Like putting on a new pair of boots, it takes times to break them in just right.
“Why I’ll bet you that Johnny and Scott are filling their heads with stories about you right now. They’ll be fine if you love them, that’s all they need to feel wanted and find their place within this family.”
“Teresa, you’re right, I almost forgot to count my blessings! Thank you for reminding me.”
“You’re welcome, now you sit right down here and eat your meal. Scott and Johnny won’t know it’s you if you don’t eat and take care of yourself. Then they’ll be mad at me for not taking better care of you.”
She sat down in one of the stuffed blue chairs, picking up her needle, began repairing some of Johnny’s clothes, missing buttons, rips along seams, darning holes in socks. “My, my, my that Johnny sure is hard on his clothes, it’s a wonder anything stays on him,” she said smiling at Murdoch who was chewing his sandwich.
“Two more boys, young boys, may mean that basket of yours will be over-filling, Teresa,” he pointed out as he poured a cup of coffee.
She sighed, “Thank you for reminding me Murdoch. There is always the possibly they’ll be more like Scott in that regard, I mean since they were brought up in San Francisco. I would expect they went to museums and concerts, dressing more akin to Scott’s fashionable style rather than Johnny’s more rugged, colorful motifs. Perhaps they’ll more closely match Scott’s personality traits than Johnny’s since San Francisco is the closest to being similar to a big city back East?”
“Hard to say, Teresa, we’ll have to be open and ready for them no matter who they resemble or don’t. I wonder what’s keeping them. I wish they would send a telegram and let me know when to expect them.”
“Murdoch they’re be here, it only been six days. That was a long ride to Los Angeles they had to make. Why they’ll probably be taking it slower coming back, to not push the horses. You’ll see, perhaps they’ll be here tomorrow, if not tomorrow then surely the next day.”
“I hope you’re right, Teresa, I hope you’re right,” mulled Murdoch as he stared into the flames of the fire, pondering again what he could have done to make Victoria so angry at him to conceal having his children. For the life of him, he just couldn’t figure it out. Even though he had told Johnny that he understood women, he really didn’t understand them at all or what makes them tick.
“Teresa, are their rooms ready? Do we need to get anything, do anything else in preparation for them?”
She sighed thinking that he really didn’t listen to her when she told him preparations had been made for the arrival of the twins, “Yes, Murdoch, their rooms are cleaned top to bottom and aired out. I put fresh linens on the beds, and there are fresh towels. Everything is ready for them. I don’t know what else we can possibly do until they arrive.
“Other than I would imagine that everyone will want or need a bath. It’s a good thing you put two tubs in the bathhouse, you may want to add two more so the boys can all get done on time for dinner or whatever.”
“Excellent suggestion, Teresa,” he said while gazing at the likenesses of his wives, Scott’s mother, the sweet and gentle, well-educated, soft-spoken, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Catherine so much like their son. Good manners, respectful of others but having a very wicked sense of humor along with a strong love for books and the arts, a thirst for knowledge but possessing a steady and sturdy core filled with resolve to handle things diplomatically and fairly to all concerned.
Murdoch’s heart and soul ached for what might have been, raising his first born on Lancer in the early days of building his now vast holdings. But then Murdoch’s heart and soul ached for the others that followed in Scott’s path.
Johnny’s mother Maria, his vivacious firecracker, full of life, the dark-haired, doe-like dark eyed beauty that at first had hid her fiery disposition from him; both mother and son were quick to anger, slow to cool off. Maria and Johnny were alike in many mannerisms and features except Johnny’s eyes were the bluest he had even seen; only his mother and his grandmother had eyes that shade of blue.
But as Maria’s eyes began betraying her jealous unrealistic gripe on reality, filled with bitterness and rage at him, fortunately Johnny’s eyes didn’t. And oh how Murdoch had searched into the very depths of Johnny’s soul through those intense angry eyes that had flash at him more than once the first few days Johnny had appeared at Lancer. Murdoch’s quest had been to seek for any inklings of what he suspected was a trace of madness that Maria had either possessed or developed after giving birth to their son. Instead Murdoch found to his delight was that Johnny had a heart of gold, a mile wide to match his independent streak that Murdoch was cultivating as best he could, building a loving and trusting environment for the young man who had so many reasons not to trust anyone.
He had to wonder, gazing at the likeness of Victoria, his red-haired, blue-eyed Irish bonnie lass with a bough so heavy that at times he couldn’t be sure what exactly she had said, if she was happy or angry. Until one day he realized she was fussing at him in her native tongue of Irish Gaelic, which was totally foreign to him. He never knew if she was doing that to annoy him or blowing off steam or more than likely keeping him in the dark from her true feelings.
She had been the most confounding of the three, with her beliefs that women should have their independence from men, should have the right to cast their vote, should be able to voice their opinion in public without fear of repercussions and should be able to earn their own income, separate from their husband.
What would their children be like? Happy? Calm? Sunny? Polite? Surly? Temperamental? Opinionated? Angry? Confused? Only time would tell. He hoped he had made the right decision by sending Johnny and Scott to retrieve the twins from the Pinkertons. His mind wandered back to the early days of each of his marriages and he was filled with regret, remorse and sadness that things had not worked out differently in any of them…but would he have Johnny or Jesse and Jace then if things hadn’t worked out the way they had?
Shaking his head to banish the cobwebs from the recesses of his mind, Murdoch placed the pictures back inside the top drawer of his desk. Deciding he needed to escape the confines of the too-quiet, too-empty house, with his sons gone. He took large strides to the foyer where he strapped on his pearl-handed six-gun, pulled his hat down on his head and jerked the door open, “Teresa, I’m going out for awhile.”
“Where are you going?”
“I need to get some fresh air. I’m going to ride to the top of the ridge and watch the sunset and do some thinking up there. I need a change of scenery. Don’t wait up for me.”
His walk was one of purpose as he headed to the barn. Cipriano, Isidro and Arturo were busy mucking out stalls, brushing down horses, cleaning and polishing tack while they talked. Their laughter and rapid Spanish tinkled in the evening air like the sounds of light, joyful music with the lifting of their voices expressing tidbits of the day drawing to a close.
When their Patron appeared the men greeted him with the respect due to him, doffing their hats as Cip started towards him. Murdoch held up his hand to stop Cip, “Buneos noches, Cip,” he nodded his greeting towards Isidro and Arturo. Por favor, don’t let me interrupt you or your work. I can handle my own horse. He bridled and saddled his horse, a large buck-skinned dependable horse.
Murdoch mounted, telling his hands, “Cip, I don’t want you or anyone else to wait for me. Do not delay joining your families tonight. Go home and appreciate the time you have with your wives and children. I’ll take care of old Buck here when I return. Adios.”
“Si, Patron, as you wish,” replied Cip.
The three hands watched their Patron ride down the main road in silence. Cip broke the mood, “Vaya con Dios, mi amigo.” (Go with God, my friend).
Turning to the others Cip continued, “His heart…muy grande pain. It will be muy, muy bueno for his hijos (sons) to return soon.” The men watched until they couldn’t see Murdoch any longer and returned to finish their evening chores, which included preparing for the next day business of keeping the ranch running smoothly.
Chapter Eighteen – On the Road to Lancer
“Hey sleepyhead, ‘bout time ya woke up,” joshed Johnny good-naturedly at his rousing little sister, who stretched her arms high, knocking his hat off his head, held by his stampede strings, dropped down his back in the process. “How ya doin’?”
“Could use a break. Where are we? What time is it?”
“More than halfway to Sonora, near as we can figure, goin’ on ta six o’clock. Val’s up ahead scoutin’ for a campsite right now. Can ya wait ‘nother ten-fifteen minutes until we stop?”
“I guess so, where’s Jace?”
He rode up alongside Johnny and Jessie, “Right here.”
“Did I miss anything exciting?” she asked him.
Johnny snorted as Scott rode up along his other side to reply, “Young lady, are you telling me that you didn’t have enough excitement on this trip already?”
“Well,” she drew out, “There’s always room for more!”
“Like what?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know, wild Indians, stampeding buffalo, maybe a prairie fire?”
Scott laughed, “Jessie I do believe that those are all too tame by your standards. I don’t know if anything can match what we’re gone through with finding you and Jace to bring you back to Lancer.”
“Yeah, well Johnny’s gunfight was exciting!”
“Whoa, hold it right there Jessie and ya too Jace! Don’t ya go romanticizin’ that, there’s nothin’ fun or excitin’ about killin’ or hurtin’ another person! It leaves ya with a sick taste in ya mouth at the waste and in the pit of your stomach, it can eat ya up inside something fierce.
“Scott knows what I’m talkin’ about, he served in the Civil War and did his share of killin’, some were good, hard-working men with wives and children back home. Those men didn’t do anything wrong except fight for their side, standin’ their ground for their beliefs and way of life. Only difference ‘tween Boston and me was he did it for his country and his beliefs, that’s all.
“Now me, I had ta kill or be killed in order ta survive. I ain’t proud of it either, it’s somethin’ I’m tryin’ hard ta leave behind, but sometimes my past rears its ugly head and nudges me into doin’ somethin’ I don’t want ta do. Do ya comprede?”
“I think so,” Jessie said.
“Yeah, me too,” agreed Jace.
“Don’t get the wrong idea and don’t ya ever think killin’ is fun or excitin’. Back there in that town, if it was a different person, than that kid wantin’ to make a name for himself, just maybe I would have had ta kill ‘em. There are men out there somewhere lookin’ ta make their mark by goin’ against me. If I had ta protect my family I would do whatever it took, even killin’, but I don’t go lookin’ for trouble or gun fights, both just find me. Ya got it?”
The twins nodded their heads in agreement, realizing that they were just given a no-nonsense lesson in life by Johnny Madrid.
Val came riding up, “Well, look whose decided ta finally join us…I jest hope your long nap don’t keep ya awake all night long.” Jessie looked hard at the lawman, but decided not to respond to his baiting. She instead held her tongue along with the words that almost flew out of her mouth, however she was sorely tempted to stick her tongue out at him.
Val saw her dilemma, snickered, “Something the matter with ya, cat got ya tongue?”
She gave him her best frosty stare, flicking her braided hair over her shoulder, striking Johnny’s chest with it with a thud.
“Val, play nice,” cautioned Scott as he pointed his finger towards him. “Don’t start anything.”
“Jest havin’ some fun, Scott,” he groused. “Site is up yonder ‘bout five hundred yards, towards those mesquite trees, nice little watering hole, ground’s nice and soft. Can tell we’re getting closer ta Sonora, the ground is perfect for crop growin’.” He tipped his hat to Jessie still staring at him like she would prefer throwing daggers into his skin before clicking his horse out to the front to lead the group to their camp site.
Climbing down from Barranca, Jessie was happy to discover that her foot wasn’t bothering her nearly as much as before. She sat down on the ground and removed the sock and the bandages, flexing her toes and foot, the purple colors were still quite vivid, but at least her foot had returned to normal size.
Johnny looked at it after he tied Barranca to the string line Val had erected, along with the makings of a fire ring. “Set there a minute, sis.” He brought over his saddlebags and dropped it by her. “Let me help with the set-up and then we’ll head to the watering hole.”
“I can manage,” she added a tad on the defensive side, “I’m not a baby, you know.”
“Never said that ya were, don’t get your hackles up. Sometimes there’s a time ta be patient, other times call for movin’ fast. Since that’s a watering hole with no flowin’ water, we need ta check it first. Make sure its drinkable and that none of the local varmints have claimed it as their own; they could be territorial and some might strike out without warning. If the water’s safe we’ll take out what we need for our consumption first, since it will all hafta be boiled for our use. Then the horses get their share and then you can soak that foot. Our needs and the horses come before any comfort for your foot.”
“Oh,” she said, looking downward at the dirt. “Sorry.”
“Slow down a tad, there ain’t need ta be in such an all fired hurry, Jessie. Ya’ll miss seein’ the little things if you’re rushin’ from here ta there all the time.”
Scott walking up behind them, placing her saddle down alongside her remarked, “Haste makes waste, Jessie.”
Johnny seizing the moment, lighten the mood, “Emerson said that too, Boston?”
“Nope, it’s an old proverb that our father has been known to expound that thought more than once,” grinned Scott. “Err not precisely in those exact words, but the intent is certainly there. Remember the time that you overslept, from one of your nights on the town, and you must have thought you had slept in your clothes. You rushed downstairs, thinking you were late for breakfast, which by the way little brother, you were, you sure did surprise everyone, even yourself if I recall correctly, standing there in your….”
“Enough! I get ya, Boston! Jessie, don’t want ta hear about that,” interrupted Johnny.
“Oh yes I do! Tell, tell Scott!” she exclaimed excitedly, “What happened?”
“Boston, I swear ta God, if ya say one more word, I’ll be tellin’ her about that time ya “haste made waste” when ya were rushin’ out of the Painted Lady after spyin’ from an upstairs windows the ol’ man walkin’ in after checking Charlemagne and ya spilt…”
“Enough! Point taken brother, I’ll not say another word about your moment of haste and forgetfulness if you do likewise for me,” said Scott, holding his hand out for Johnny to shake on it. “Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Johnny, grinning cheekily at the disappointed etched upon Jessie’s face.
“No fair, start telling stories and then just stop right at the best part,” she fussed, crossing her arms against her chest, lowering her chin in a familiar pose that Scott inwardly groaned at seeing.
“Well, Jessie, maybe this evening after we’ve eaten and cleaned up and you’re soaking that foot, we’ll tell you stories that are fitting for your ears,” said Scott. “How’s that sound?”
“Deal! I want to know why Johnny calls you Boston. And why neither of you grew up at Lancer. And why your father lets you call him by his first name. And why you two…”
“Whoa! Whoa! There ya go again! Slow down, querida,” laughed Johnny.
“OUR father, Jessie, OUR father,” said Scott with Johnny mimicking Scott’s use of “OUR”, for Jessie’s benefit. Himself having gone down that road a time or two with ol’ Boston on their first few days at Lancer, when his ever-so proper brother made sure to drive home his point to his younger brother and anyone else standing near-by for that matter. Johnny wasn’t sure if he wanted to punch his brother in the nose or laugh in his face until he realized that was Scott’s way of not letting Johnny feel left out in their new surroundings.
“Why don’t we first go about getting camp ready? If I’m not mistaken I saw Val head out to hunt for fresh meat for dinner. Think he’d appreciate coming back finding everything else done and fresh coffee ready, don’t you, Johnny?”
“Sure. Come on squirt, climb aboard and I’ll give ya a ride over ta the fire. Scott can show ya how ta make coffee, real coffee the way he likes it,” laughed Johnny as he boosted his sister to his back. Her peals of laughter sounded like music to his ears as he deposited her by the fire ring that Jace had started and was adding another log to it.
Scott brought over the bag of coffee grounds and the coffee pot, showing her where the grounds went in a small metal basket filled with small holes, “Use three scoops of grounds, and spread them around, that way they’ll drip evenly. That makes the coffee taste better, none of the bitter swill that Val makes.” He cringed and made a face, shimming his shoulders at the thought of Val’s coffee, holding his nose to indicate that it even smelled awful.
“It ain’t all that bad, ya just one of ‘em soft, pampered greenhorns, Scott Lancer! Thinks ya a regular Mr. Smarty Pants with all your high-flauntin’ education. That’s all there is ta it,” grumbled Val in a booming voice having softly stepped behind Scott, casting his shadow over him, as he tossed a couple of rabbits by his feet.
Jessie looked surprised at the Sheriff’s silent approach and thunderous retort. She noticed the wink Scott gave her; along with his cunning grin to assure her that he had known Val had been behind him when he was speaking about the evils of Val’s nasty coffee. She giggled as their repartee continued and Jace and Johnny joined the circle.
“Now Val, everyone from Green River to Spanish Wells, over to Morro Coyo and the Lancer ranch knows your coffee is the real reason so many of those drunk cowboys you lock-up on Saturday nights don’t come back to Green River to do their celebrating. One taste of that stuff with their breakfast and they become honest, hard-working, law abiding, sober citizens, who do their drinking elsewhere,” teased the chuckling blonde.
“Well, that’s one way ta make ‘em ta decent citizens! Just doin’ my job and at least there’s more coffee for me ta drink instead of letting a bunch of sway-backed, double-dealin’, sneaky, low-down dirty sons of a …”
“LANGUAGE! Val, little pitchers,” cautioned Scott, pointing towards Jessie and Jace, who were doubled over with mirth as the cankerous lawman berated Scott.
“Gun,” Val added, “Shoot, than ain’t even payin’ me no never ya mind, ta busy splittin’ their guts,” throwing his arms up into the air.
“That don’t make no difference,” quipped Johnny.
“That doesn’t make any difference,” corrected Scott.
“Ain’t that what I said, Boston?”
“Isn’t, Johnny, isn’t,” corrected Scott.
“Aw, Boston, will ya knock that shit off, ya two were fussin’ over the damn coffee, go back ta it and leave me the hell out of this,” moaned Johnny.
“JOHNNY! LANGUAGE!” yelled Scott and Val at him, who stood there, giving the older men his cocky-eyed smirk. Creating more boisterous laughter to burst from the twins as they fell backwards from the log they were perched on, in an uproar of amusement.
“Knock it off ya two, before I’m in trouble with big brother AND the law,” Johnny whispered to the twins; as he righted Jessie back onto the log, giving Jace a gentle shoulder shove, tousling the youth’s hair.
The three turned, tilting their heads sideways almost as one glancing at the towering pair. Scott and Val were standing with foolish grins painted on their faces before Val cleared his throat saying low, “Will ya look at ‘em Scott…that’s just plain peculiar how much they act alike.”
“I see what you mean Val,” stated Scott as he too tilted his head sideways to study his younger siblings.
Val shook his head, “Well, somebody better get busy and skin those rabbits so’s we can eat before tomorrow.” He walked away to his gear, still shaking his head at the strong family traits he was noticing between the Lancers.
Jace and Johnny set about skinning their dinner; Johnny gave Jace his knife back as he instructed the young boy to the process. Johnny was surprise to see that Jace needed no instructions.
“I’ve done this before you know,” Jace said.
“Looks that way ta me. Why would ya have done that livin’ in San Francisco?”
“Our Mother would take us camping in the hills so we could experience nature, sometimes we were gone for a month at a time. She would sketch for hours while Jessie and I hiked, hunted rabbits and fished…,” his voice trailed off as he stopped talking.
Johnny gave him a moment to collect himself, “Well, Jace ya doin’ good with that rabbit, but better finish it before ol’ Val…I mean Sheriff Crawford comes over here and kicks our butts for not finishing up. Ya never want ta kept a hungry man waitin’ too long for his supper. He can growl and grumble like an ol’ bear woke up from his winter’s nap if he’s a mind ta!”
Scott was busy helping Jessie open the cans from the dry goods store. The shop keeper had provided them with potatoes, green beans, pickled beets and cinnamon peaches in thick syrup for dessert. Between the rabbits and the other provisions they had plenty for the evening meal. With the prospects of arriving in Sonora the next afternoon Scott, Johnny and Val mulled over spending a night off the trail, getting a good night’s sleep at the local hotel, as Jessie soaked her foot in the watering hole.
Johnny passed around the bags of candy for everyone to enjoy another treat as they sat along the small watering hole. Slurping and sucking on a peppermint stick, Johnny voted in favor of spending the night in Sonora, while Scott wanted to push on. Jace and Jessie spoke up to indicate they sided with Johnny, wanting an opportunity to clean-up before meeting Murdoch. Val stood along the shore, skipping rocks, remained neutral to entire process, neither one making any difference to him.
“Hey, Sheriff Crawford,” said Jace as he had appeared by the lawman’s side, tugging on his sleeve.
Looking down at the boy, Val was taken back by how much he resembled Johnny as a young boy; it was like stepping backwards into the past, “What?” he groused.
Jace looked at him trying to decide if he should continue or not based upon the man’s gruff reply, but then realized that was the only way he had head Val speak to any of the them, pressed on with his question, “Can you show me how you do that?”
Johnny ribbed Scott and pointed to the pair, as Val had gotten down on his knees to match Jace’s height, and showed him how to flex and toss the flat stones across the smooth surface of the water.
“Will ya looky there Scott, Val’s gained himself a new pal.”
Jessie leaned backwards, dropping her back to the ground, placing her arms over her head in a long stretch, turned her head into her outstretched arms to hide from view her smirk.
Chapter Nineteen – Sonora
Arriving in Sonora, mid-afternoon, the group rode over to the livery stable, leaving their horses for the night; they carried their saddlebags to the nearest hotel and checked-in. They asked for adjoining rooms, Johnny and Val in one, Jessie in her own between the two other rooms with Scott and Jace in the third. Val opted to stay in the room, cleaning up, while they ran their errands. The other’s dropped their gear off in their rooms then Johnny, Scott, Jace and Jessie sent a wire to Murdoch with word of their location and plans-
“Have J and J – Stop – Spending night in Sonora – Stop – Home tomorrow – Stop Scott and Johnny”
That job completed, they headed to the dry goods store to purchase a change of clothes for Jessie and Jace. They planned to send their clothes to be washed and dried while the twins were having much needed baths to remove all the accumulated dirty and grime from their traveling on the open road.
Jessie insisted on jeans and an embroidered shirt with bright festive flowers across the shoulders, similar in fashion to Johnny’s own favorite style, while Jace selected a checkered pattern of dark blue and white. Jessie spotted a pair of shotgun leather chaps that she added to the pile of clothing, that Scott pulled off, placing them back on the shelve. But she put them back on the pile, glaring at him.
“Jessie, you don’t need those,” explained Scott. “Murdoch won’t want me spending his money on something that isn’t necessary.”
“Scott, don’t you fret any. I told you before we have money. I’ll pay for them, along with the other items,” insisted the stubborn girl, still glaring at him, drawing both Scott’s and Johnny’s full attention to her and ignoring Jace.
Johnny jumped in between the two still arguing over the chaps, “Whoa, hold up here! Don’t anyone get themselves into a pucker over a pair of chaps. Scott, why don’t ya go arrange for the baths while we finish here?”
“Okay brother, but you can explain this to Murdoch.” Dropping the one end of the chaps he had been holding on to he left the store heading back to the hotel to order that tubs be brought up to their rooms along with plenty of hot water.
“Thanks Johnny! Is he always so contrary?”
“Nope, but ya know he could say the same about ya, little sis. He tends ta be more cautious about particular things than ya seem ta be.”
“Or you I gather.”
“Maybe,” laughed Johnny at his sister’s sharpness with assessing the two older siblings. “Did ya figure out if I’m a good man or not yet Jessie?”
She grinned coyly at him, “Maybe.”
Johnny tilted his head back and let out a hardy guffaw at her word mimicking. “Quick as greased lighting and sassy ta boot, ain’t ya?”
“Now cut that out, enough already! Time ta head back and clean-up for dinner.”
Jessie looked at Jace, who gave her a quick wink, which she returned, smiling. She noticed that he was holding onto a pair of matching shotgun chaps, placing them on the countertop; adding a fistful of brightly colored kerchiefs, shrugged his shoulders, “Just because.”
Taking money from her pocket, she paid for their selections and asked the clerk to wrap them up in brown paper, pointing to the twine she wanted him to use; it was the strongest cord available they had.
Arriving back at the hotel, Jessie carried all the packages into her room; closing the door behind her she separated them into what was hers and what was Jace’s. Within a few minutes Jace knocked to retrieve his new clothes while Scott stood in the hallway chaperoning the pair. Jace crossed his legs at the ankles as he leaned his shoulder against the door jam waiting for Jessie to give him his clothes. Unknown to Scott there was a note tucked inside the jeans pocket that Jessie had quickly drafted before he came to retrieve the items.
Pleased with herself, she closed her door, stripped off her clothes, discarding them into the hallway through her cracked doorway. Johnny or Scott would retrieve them for cleaning. She locked the door, stepped into the tub encasing her body into the bubbles from the lavender soap suds. Leaning back to relax, she ran their daring escape plan through her head one more time.
At dinner, Jace would slip the sleeping draught he lifted from the store into Scott’s coffee, during the distraction she would create at the dinner table, drawing attention to herself, away from Jace, like she pulled at the store, which had worked like a charm. Back at the hotel, Jace would use the kerchiefs and cord to secure Scott to the bed, gagging him as well. Climbing out their windows, they would shimmy down the balustrade, scamper to the livery stable and skedaddle out of town. They would take all the horses with them thereby thwarting any attempts by Johnny or Sheriff Crawford to trail after them.
She giggled in delight, thinking how they would turn the tables on Johnny Madrid and Sheriff Crawford and the way too serious Scott Lancer. She ducked her head under the water to stop her laughter from being heard by anyone else. Lost in her revelry, she missed hearing the sharp rap on the door, or seeing the knob jiggling and turning in either direction. She did hear Johnny sharp whistle through the wooden door, “Jessie? Are ya still in that tub?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, ya better finish-up miel, we want ta eat soon.”
“Okay. Where are we going to eat?”
“There’s a place called, “Ol’ San Francisco Steak House” that Val swears is the best in town.” He could hear the water sloshing as she splashed around in the tub. “Hurry it up will ya?”
“I am, just drying off.” She gripped the towel tightly to her mouth suppressing her giggles as she imagined the looks of surprise when neither she nor Jace were anywhere to be found come morning. She twirled around the room in delight with the knowledge that Jace and she would continue with their plans. Her promise of “no more tricks” or “behaving” vanished from her head as she pulled on her new clothes. She debated pulling on her chaps but decided that would set Scott off. She did not want him pissed off tonight or concentrating on her anymore than essential, regretfully she left them lying folded on the bed but vowed to put them on before heading out.
In ten minutes there was another knock on the door, interrupting her thoughts. She opened the door to find the others standing in the hallway, “Jeepers! I’m almost ready, just finishing with my hair, come in or stay out there, suit yourselves.”
The four stepped inside as she held the door opened for them; Jace gave her a quick thumbs-up signal as he strolled past her flopping face down on the bed, cupping his chin in his elbows as he watched his sister. Closing the door she stepped back in front of the high-boy dresser mirror to finish brushing her hair, pulling it back into a low pony-tail, noticing the others watching her, she turned, “What?”
“Nothin’, it’s seems like females take forever ta get ready ta go. Can ya hurry, some of us are really, really hungry!” Johnny exclaimed.
“I’m done. I sure don’t want to be the reason why you were kept from getting your next meal.”
“Move it out, move it out,” gripped Val. “Sooner we eat, sooner we can get a good night’s sleep, sooner we’ll be back ta Lancer. Be happy ta turn ya over ta your pa.”
Dinner was a noisy, lively affair. A cattle drive had arrived in the Sonora stockyards during the late morning. Many of the Double R ranch hands were in the restaurant having their evening meal along washing it down as the beer flowed endlessly. The twins grinned at each other, thinking, “What good luck! Such perfect timing!”
Scott, Johnny and Val were busy talking with several of the cowboys seated at nearby tables. The hands talked about their drive, the prairie conditions, waterhole availability, the number of head brought to market, and of course the current going rate per head. It was easy for Jace to slip the sleeping draught into Scott’s coffee mug. For good measure he added some into Val’s mug since he happened to be seated between the pair.
Signaling to Jessie, Jace dropped the bottle under the table, using his boot rolled it towards Jessie. She dropped her napkin to the floor, bending down to retrieve it she concealed the bottle, hoping to get some of the draught into Johnny’s coffee. Unfortunately, Johnny ended his conversation turning his attention back to the table he finished his drink.
Jessie then decided to try her hand at play-acting as she covered her mouth with her hand and yawned widely.
“Ya tired, sister?”
“Yes, I do believe I am. It must be from all the fresh air, the hot bath and the big meal. I’m ready to go to sleep, here and now.”
“Hey! Scott, ya looking all tuckered out, ta.”
“Johnny, I’m having a hard time keeping my eyes open. Let’s go get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow night we’ll be home in our own beds.” Standing up he felt a slight bit unsteady, holding onto the table for support, “Johnny, pay the bill, I need to get out of here, now.”
Scott and Val leaned against the other for support, as Johnny guided them from behind up the hotel stairs after they had walked in zigzag steps back to the hotel. Stopping first to deposit Val in their room, Val began snoring when his head hit the pillow; next Johnny helped Scott onto the double bed while Jace removed his boots. Jessie meanwhile made noises in her room of splashing water as she washed her face and hands, then of the bed springs singing out in the pretense of her going to bed. She heard Johnny close Scott and Jace’s door, locking it from the outside.
Johnny knocked and opened her door sticking his head inside, “Ya all settled for the night?”
Jessie nodded her head yes, yawning blew out the lamp on the table next to the bed, ‘Night Johnny,” she yawned again, snuggling down under the covers, still fully dressed in her clothes, complete with her chaps.
“’Night little sister, ya need anything knock on the wall, since I’m lockin’ the door,” he instructed.
“Okay, but I’ll be fast asleep before you know it,” she said snuggling deeper under the covers, wiggling her head to adjust the pillow more comfortably.
Johnny closed the door and she heard the key turn in the lock, then Johnny’s fading boot steps as he entered his own room, where through the thin walls, she could heard Val’s loud snoring. Smiling to herself, she threw off the bed covers and tip-toed to the other side of her room, where she could hear Scott’s heavy snoring. Slipping to the window, she slowly eased it open, having rubbed soap in the frame’s tracks earlier the window opened without a sound.
She stuck her head outside the window frame looking over at Johnny’s window, where the soft light shone through the closed window. Twisting to look at the other window, she grinned as Jace poked his head out. She held up her hands and signaled thirty to indicate they should wait at least thirty minutes after the light in Johnny’s room was extinguished. Using more hand signals, she demonstrated hands bounded together, pointing towards the room. Jace smiled and shook his head affirmatively.
They both ducked their heads back inside their windows to wait for when the light from Johnny’s room would go out. When it did they both sat quietly counting off the minutes. Listening to the tinkling of the player piano from down the street playing lively tunes, and the sounds of laughing, carefree cowboys and painted ladies of the night enjoyed their evening of ribaldry and revelry.
When the allotted time had gone by, Jessie poked her head out the window, seeing Jace give her a thumbs-up signal, he quietly placed his saddlebags on the floor of the balcony before climbing out, reaching back inside for his boots. Jessie copied his actions, as they both left their windows wide open, in stocking feet tip-toed to the far end of the balcony where they sat to pull on their boots, all in absolute silence.
Continuing with using hand signals to communicate, Jace indicated that he would shimmy down first and wanted Jessie to toss him the saddlebags once he was down on the ground. He carefully climbed down and deftly caught the bags tossed to him, placing them over a nearby hitching post; he helped Jessie come down the balustrade by guiding her until she reached the ground, grinning at him.
“Ya two goin’ somewhere?” Johnny drawled as he stepped from the shadows of the hotel grabbing hold of two surprised children’s shirt collars, forcing them to turn their heads sideways to look up at him as he looked down.
“Ahhh a moonlight ride? We needed to get some fresh air…that’s all,” Jessie replied with a growing sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“A moonlight ride, my ass! With all your gear? What you need isn’t fresh air. Jace where’s Scott? Does he know ya’re out here?” he inquired. “Answer me, boy,” Johnny said giving him a few firm shakes.
Jace looked down at his boots and kick the dirt, “No, he’s fast asleep, sawing logs; I just didn’t have the heart to wake him up and let him know. He’s so peaceful.”
Johnny snorted, “Peaceful? That’s good! Now let’s go back inside, wake-up Scott and Val, let ‘em know what’s goin’ on.”
“Do we have to?” Jessie asked, dreading the answer. “Can’t we just let them sleep?”
“Come on…I was hoping that ya weren’t going ta try runnin’ off again…but I had a feelin’ ya just had ta try one more time. I know ya better than ya think. Now I’m goin’ release my hold on ya, but I swear if either one of ya runs off, the other is goin’ pay for it with their hide, ya got it? I ain’t in the mood ta be chasin’ ya.”
Two heads bobbled up and down. Johnny released his grip and handed them the saddlebags, directing them “Inside, upstairs, move it.”
Back up the stairs Johnny marched the twins down the hallway, opening his room’s door, striking a match to light the lamp. Val laid flat on his back, snoring heavily as Johnny rifled through Val’s saddlebags searching until he pulled out the handcuffs. Leaving him snore away, they next stopped in Jessie room, where Johnny told them to drag the feather mattress from the bed.
Shrugging their shoulders at each other the twins did as they were told, while Johnny unlocked Scott’s door. Seeing the condition the twins had left Scott, bound and gagged, didn’t make Johnny any too happy.
“What in the hell? I can’t turn my back for one minute that ya aren’t up ta makin’ trouble? Put that mattress down on the floor alongside the bed.”
When they had done as instructed, Johnny gruffly said, “Sit down, and don’t move unless I tell ya. Jessie give me your right hand.” He snapped the handcuff onto her wrist and then had her reach that arm under the bed rail. “Jace put your left hand over the bed rail.” Jace watched as Johnny locked the handcuff on to his wrist.
Johnny smirked at his outfoxing the foxes, having them effectively held in place by each other and the cast-iron bed. Johnny released Scott from his kerchief bindings, removing the gag from his mouth and tried waking him up, which he couldn’t. Scott was out cold, dead to the world.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor facing the twins, Johnny sighed, “’Kay, one of ya better ‘fess up and tell me what ya slipped ta Scott and Val.”
Jessie and Jace remained silent under Johnny’s growing glower.
“Look ya two, this ain’t funny! For all I know whatever ya gave ‘em, could cause ‘em some harm, seein’ as how they ain’t respondin’. It ain’t normal! Now I’m askin’ ya for the last time nicely. What did ya give ‘em?”
“Sleeping draught,” mumbled Jessie.
“Shit! Where in the hell did ya get that?”
“From the dry goods store,” Jace smirked.
“I just did, that’s all. Don’t worry Jessie paid for it with the other stuff.”
“Jace, I’ll deal with ya two later, for now, ya better wipe that smirk off ya face. Ya have no business messin’ with sleepin’ potions or any other medicines for that matter. Now I’m goin’ for the doctor, ya two better hope that Scott and Val will be okay.”
He stomped out of the room, slamming the door and locking it behind him. He was back in ten minutes, dragging a rumpled hastily dressed, bleary-eyed white-haired doctor, who stared with inquisitiveness at the two prone children lying on the feather mattress, handcuffed together.
“Doc, never mind with those two! I had ta figure out a way ta hold ‘em while I fetched ya.”
“How much of the sleeping draught did this man have?” Doctor Florian Harms asked after listening to Scott’s heart and lungs with his stethoscope, lifting his eyelids to check the pupils’ dilatation and testing his reflexes in his foot with a sharp pin, garnishing no reaction to the pin prick.
“Maybe half of the bottle,” answered Jace after Johnny nudged him with the point of his boot.
“Half? Half? Half a bottle?!” repeated the doctor. “That’s too much! It could stop his heart permanently! What were you thinking young man?!”
“Well it wasn’t like I had the time to measure the stuff. I just pulled of the lid and poured some in his coffee when he wasn’t looking and then some in the Sheriff’s coffee. There was some left over that Jessie was going to put into Johnny’s but he finished his before she could.” Jace said. “Is he going to be all right?”
“Young man it’s a little late in the day for you to start worrying about that! Where’s the other man?”
“Down the hall. Stay here, I’ll bring him here, where I can keep an eye on ‘em all,” Johnny said.
Johnny carried the sleeping man into the room, placing him down on the bed alongside Scott. He watched as the doctor examined Val, shaking his head.
“These men need lots of coffee to wake them; keep their hearts’ pumping. I’ll have it sent up. You need to pour as much as possible down them, and keep them walking around. They will be groggy, probably difficult and grumpy as all get out, but it must be done. Once their initial lethargy has passed then they can rest. They’ll feel like they have acute hangovers, probably fierce headaches that can make the room seem to spin. Get these two troublemakers helping, seeing as how they are responsible for the situation,” instructed Doc Harms.
“Anything else?” asked Johnny.
“Yes, I prescribe a trip to the woodshed for these two! They could have killed these men with their negligence in tinkering with medicine,” said the doctor as he closed his bag, scowling at the two who had the good sense to hang their heads in shame. “The youth of today makes no sense to me!”
Johnny walked Doc Harms to the door, thanking him for his assistance who promised to look in on them in the morning.
Johnny removed the cuffs from the twins, pointing his finger at them, “I ain’t puttin’ up with any bull crap from either of ya! We have a long night ahead. Ya helpin’! Comprende?”
Jessie bit her lower lip, keeping it from trembling, said, “We’re sorry, Johnny. We didn’t know! We never meant to harm them. We thought it would only make them sleep so we could get away, that’s all.”
“Now ain’t the time ta discuss it. Ya two walk Scott around, I got Val. Ya keep him movin’ or I’ll kick ya butts every step of the way.”
Soon the coffee arrived, and Johnny poured it into the bleary men, holding their noses to make them swallow the strong black brew. “Too bad ya ain’t awake amigo, makin’ some of that bitter brew of yours.”
Val moaned a low guttural sound in response to Johnny, coughing and sputtering as Johnny continued pouring coffee down his throat. Scott was much drowsier, requiring more effort to get the brew down, sputtering at least half of what went in him out down the front of his shirt, leaving brown stains in their place.
Up and down the group paced as Johnny, Jessie and Jace supported and prodded the staggering men whose legs buckled and wobbled under them, looking all the more like two very well soused drunks trying to find their way home in the dark. Every fifteen minutes or so Johnny forced more coffee down them, spilling more down their shirt fronts, until the lethargic men slowly regained partial semblances of awareness, just about the time the sun was rising over the mountaintops in the east through the opened window.
“Welcome back, brother,” said Johnny as he saw Scott’s eyes fluttering open, blinking from the light and the pounding he must have been feeling inside his head as he attempted to hold his head up.
“Wh..what happened?” Scott croaked. “Last thing I remember we were having dinner.” He felt like he had been drinking Johnny’s god awful tequila for three days and nights straight as the room spun round in hazy circles or was that him spinning?
“Later brother, for now, have more coffee then ya can rest.”
Johnny shifted Val, who groaned, grousing, “God damn it, my head is reelin’! I feel like I was thrown off a buckin’ bronco and my head smashed by the express wagon. Just what in the hell has been goin’ on amigo?”
“Val, can ya drink more coffee?”
“NO! I don’t want any more damn coffee! I gotta take a leak real bad! Real, real bad!”
“Hold on there Val.” Johnny looked around the room to figure this problem out.
“Ya two put Scott on the bed then Jessie ya go stick ya nose in that corner and don’t turn around ‘til I tell ya!” She did as she was told without arguing while Johnny took Val over to the opposite corner, handing him the chamber pot. Johnny then stood behind Val with his arms crossed, giving Val privacy and keeping his eyes on Jessie, he began whistling and rocking on his boot heels while Val took care of his business.
Val felt better with an empty bladder, grumbled, “Are ya gonna fill me in on what happened?”
“No, but guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“You and Scott drank a sleepin’ drought, guess ya had a smaller dose since ya seem ta be a bit less fuzzy. The doc said ya could have a headache, a bad one today and wants ya ta rest now.”
“Where we’d get a sleepin’ drought or do I even hafta ta ask?”
A small voice from the corner admitted, “Me.”
“Me too,” Jace added quickly. “I poured it into your coffee and Scott’s”
“But it was my idea,” said Jessie as she turned around to looked at Val with downcast eyes.
“No, it wasn’t, it was mine.”
“Don’t matter at all ta me, you’re both in this up to ya eyeballs,” said Val as he looked at Johnny and mumbled, “Amigo, that makes three for ‘em both, let me at ‘em, I have some hides ta tan.”
“Not now Val, first ya and Scott need ta rest. Those two will keep, they ain’t goin’ anywhere. I’ve got ‘em under control.”
Johnny made the twins lie down on the feather mattress as he cuffed them back together. As exhausted as they were, they didn’t argue or complain instead they fell fast asleep.
“See, Val, they ain’t goin’ anywhere. Here’s the key ta our room, now ya go get some sleep, too.”
“What about ya?”
“I’m puttin’ my head down right next ta Scott.”
“I’ll send him a wire later; let him know we’re delayed. Doc Harms will stop in ta check on ya, later.”
“Got it all worked out. Thanks amigo.” Looking down at the twins he said, “Their asses are mine.”
Johnny sighed, “I know, ya can deal with ‘em later. For now go get some sleep. I am.”
It was late afternoon before anyone stirred; Scott woke with a throbbing headache and a deep thirst that took four glasses of water to quench, as Johnny kept pouring. The twins were sitting up on the feather mattress, still cuffed together while Johnny fetched Val. The doctor had arrived earlier, examining the vital signs on his patients; he left a note, indicating he would be back again to check on them.
Johnny left Val in charge while he went to the telegraph office to wire Murdoch about the delay-
“Scott and Val ill – Stop – Doc taking care – Stop – Delayed 1 or 2 days – Stop – Johnny”
Val nursing his still throbbing, aching head, which felt like a buffalo had sat on it, slouched in the room’s one straight-back chair. He was scowling at the twins as he tried focusing. He quickly discovered that blinking his eyes didn’t help; he shivered as he thought that he was seeing double, double of those Lancers twins only meant double, double his troubles.
“Ahh…Sheriff Crawford?” Jessie asked. “Scott?”
“WHAT!?” yelled Val as his muddled thoughts were interrupted.
“Val, don’t shout, my head hurts too much,” complained Scott as he held his head between his hands, rubbing at his temples, trying to drive the dull aching pain away.
“Jace and I want to apologize. We didn’t mean to cause you any harm.”
“Yeah, Scott, Sheriff Crawford, we’re real sorry.”
“Not as sorry as ya gonna be,” Val groused.
Scott closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the pillows, replied low, “That was a mean, nasty trick you pulled. I’ll accept your apologies only on one condition.”
Jace asked, “What?”
“That you promise you will never do that or anything even remotely close to it again, ever.”
“I promise,” said Jace quickly.
“I promise too,” added Jessie.
“Can you answer me one question, why did you do it?” Scott asked.
“So we could leave is why. We want to go join the Wild West show, not to some stupid old ranch in the middle of nowhere. And we watched our mother take sleeping potions to help her sleep when she was sick, that’s how we knew it would work. We only wanted to make sure everyone was fast asleep so we could get away. Only Jessie couldn’t get any into Johnny’s coffee. I poured too much into yours and Sheriff Crawford’s since I had to be quick,” Jace said. “We didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“What makes you want to go away so badly?”
Jessie sighed as if the world was sitting upon her shoulders, she hadn’t notice that Johnny had slipped quietly back into the room and was standing with his back and one leg bent against the closed door, his hands resting on his silver concho belt. “We just want to be free to go where we want, to do want we want, when we want and how we want to with no one ordering us around. No more, no less than what you and Johnny and everybody else has. There’s nothing wrong with that is there?”
Johnny softly answered, “I’ll answer that brother, ya look like ya should lie back down get some more rest.”
Crossing the room, Johnny sank to his haunches as he looked directly into Jessie’s clear blue eyes, “No, miel nothin’ wrong with the idea of freedom, except that you’re only twelve years old. Ya don’t get ta make those decisions, at least not yet, accordin’ ta the law and more importantly Murdoch Lancer.
“Why don’t ya understand that ya now have a family that wants ya, even if ya don’t believe it, it’s the truth. Ya can keep tryin’ ta run off but like I told ya before, Scott and me will come after ya. We ain’t lettin’ ya get away, that’s all there is ta it. So’s ya two can knock this shit off. At some point ya’ll learn that ya can trust us but for now ya have ta earn our trust. Besides Scott will tell ya, we get told what ta do plenty by our ol’ man and Val here too. That’s all part of growin’ up and bein’ part of something bigger than just one or two people.”
Jessie lowered her head, but Johnny lifted her chin back up, saw tears forming in the corners of her eyes, “Hey, none of that. Ya and Jace made a mistake; it happens ta everybody now and then. It’s how ya learn what ya can and what ya can’t do. Lady Luck was watchin’ out ta make sure nothin’ bad happened, this time. But ya better remember this and think hard next time temptation rears its ugly head in your direction. Try listening harder ta that little inner voice that guides ya ta know better.”
“Oh, Johnny, something bad almost did happen! I don’t blame you if Scott and you don’t ever speak to us again!”
“That ain’t likely,” he grinned. “I suppose ya gotta be hungry?” He asked, tousling Jace’s hair and then wiping away the single tear rolling down Jessie’s cheek.
A chorus of “Yes, starving” got Johnny to his feet. He checked Scott, noticing his eyes blink a few times, softly asked, “Some hot soup sound good, brother?”
Scott gave him a weary lift of his hand in acknowledgment.
“How about for ya Val?”
“What ever ya do, don’t bring any more coffee. I had enough ta last me for quite some time.”
“That doc should be back soon. I’ll go get some grub if ya feelin’ up ta holdin’ down the fort,” said Johnny as he averted his eyes to the twins and back to Val.
“How about ya don’t take ya sweet time in getting’ back?”
Johnny returned with a covered tray full of food along with two of the waitresses from the café also carrying food trays. He kicked at the door to get Val to come open the door and set the tray on top of the highboy dresser, taking another tray from one of the girls, he placed that on the foot of the bed, and the third he put down on the floor alongside the twins, still cuffed together.
“Thank ya kindly ladies for your help, appreciate it, now if ya excuse us,” he said ushering them out the door. Doc Harms was walking down the hallway, tipped his hat to the two girls, yakking to each other about the odd picture they just witnessed.
“Evening, Mr. Lancer, how are my patients?”
“It’s Johnny, Doc. Gettin’ ready ta feed ‘em, from my own experience, wantin’ food I’d say is a good sign that they’re feelin’ better.”
“That is good news,” he said as he began examining Scott, reclining against the pillows. “Now let me get a look at you Mr. Lancer. How’s your head?”
“It’s Scott, Doctor Harms. It’s been better; the room was spinning before I got back in bed.”
“That’s to be expected, Scott. You had an overdose that was potentially hazardous. You and Sheriff Crawford are most fortunate men to have your brother take charge of the situation, most fortunate indeed. I am pleased with your vitals signs; you’re young and healthy and shouldn’t have any lingering side affects, except a headache for the next day or two. I do hope you plan to stay in bed for at least one more day to recover before continuing your travels.”
Johnny drawled, “I’ll make certain of that Doc.”
“You certainly have your hands full, Johnny.”
“Yeah, well Val’s a lot better, and these two are behavin’ like little angels in heaven, now.”
Doctor Harms gave them a stern look, “Don’t forget my advice. It’s amazing that the mere mention of a visit to the woodshed performs miracles in altering youngsters’ attitudes that need a firm adjustment.” He pointed his finger as he scolded them, “You two should count your blessings that these men will recover. I hope you have both learned a valuable lesson to leave medicine alone.”
“Yes sir, we have,” they responded in unison. “We’re very sorry.”
To Johnny it was uncanny how many times they spoke as one. Little wonder they had managed to communicate with each other in silence time and time again, first on the train, then on the trail and at the General Store. He would ponder on that some more, watch and see if he could figure out how they did it. He handled Scott his tray that held a bowl of chicken soup, some fresh baked biscuits and a slice of warm apple pie. He poured a glass of water for Scott as he already had enough caffeine for the day, the water would help clear his still muddled head.
The doctor had been shaking his head, clicking his tongue, stopping ever so often to wag his finger in the direction of the twins while examining Val. “You’re mighty lucky your friend didn’t consume any sleeping potion, mighty lucky. I hope you two are ashamed of yourselves and pay the price for your actions.”
Val glared at the twins, “Don’t fret none doc, they’ll be feelin’ the firm hand of the law sooner rather than later.”
Jessie and Jace looked at each other and gulped. They knew they had pushed the cantankerous man over the edge as they felt butterflies fluttering around inside their stomachs, along with their own conscious weighed heavy on them as they realized he was resolute in his statement. They were now worried what fate awaited them and whether or not Scott and Johnny would intervene on their behalf, which seemed highly doubtful. As such, both lost their appetite, leaving their food untouched on the tray.
Doctor Harms completed his exam of Val and stood to leave, “They’re out of the woods. I want them to get a good night’s rest. Stop by my office for a final check before continuing on your way.”
“’kay, Doc, thank ya,” said Johnny as he shook his hand and closed the door.
Johnny turned back to make certain that Val was eating his meal, taking Scott’s tray away, he sat on the floor cross-legged in front of the twins and picked up a fried chicken leg, taking a big bite out of it, chewed it, grinning at them, “Better eat up, ya told me ya were starvin’, dig in.”
It was decided that Val would return to the other room, along with Jace for the night. Jace looked alarmed at being separated from his sister. Val pushed him on the shoulder, grousing, “Git movin’ boy.”
Jessie concerned for her brother’s well-being, asked, “Johnny, why?”
Johnny had removed the cuffs from the twins and handed them to Val to use for the night with Jace, put his hands on her shoulders, “Val ain’t gonna blister him yet, if that’s what ya concerned about, at least not tonight. We all need a good night’s sleep.”
The twins gave each other a fleeting look as Val keep his hand on Jace’s shoulder, walking him out the door and down the hall. Inside their room, Val had him take off his boots and jeans, placing them in the hallway for Johnny to retrieve and place in the empty room preventing any ill-advised attempts this night. He had Jace stretch out on the bed as Val cuffed Jace’s right arm to the bed post. Smirking at the lad he directed, “Don’t kick me durin’ the night, bucko, nighty-night.” With that he blew out the lamp, sank to the mattress and pulled the cover to his shoulders.
Ensnared with no options, Jace decided that sleep was the best idea for now, he’d let Jessie ponder their next strategy. Soon he was slumbering despite the Sheriff’s over-zealous snoring as he curled up on his right side, pressing his ear to the mattress and the pillow over his left ear to block the noise.
In the other room, Johnny took the high-back chair and secured it under the door knob, after he returned from taking the twins’ boots and Jace’s jeans into the other bedroom, locking that door and putting the key into his pants pocket. He gave Jessie a warily smile, “Ya promise ta behave, then I won’t hog-tie ya up with those kerchiefs, but do anything in the middle of the night…”
“I won’t, I’ll behave,” she said, crossing her heart, “Code of the West.”
He snorted, “I heard that from ya before and look where it’s got us.”
“We had to try; we were looking out for each other is all. And it doesn’t count anyway.”
“Yeah, why not?”
“We had our fingers crossed behind out backs; everyone knows that cancels out a promise.”
Johnny smirked at her, “Just be glad sister that one of ‘em codes, won’t let me shoot ya ‘cos you’re a girl. Sack in now.” He pulled the cover up over her and Scott in the bed, noticing that Scott was biting his lips together to not laugh at Johnny’s statement to Jessie. Johnny winked at him before blowing out the flame to the lamp.
In the shadows, Johnny crept to the mattress on the floor and sank to it, tugging his boots off, letting them fall to the floor under the bed, with the soft ringing of his spurs. He lay back on the mattress and listened to the sounds of Scott’s and Jessie’s even breathing, along with the sounds from the town drifting through the open crack of the window as a gentle breeze blew the cool night air inside the room. He silently hoped that all would remain calm and peaceful tonight as he lay there listening to the various sounds of the night from the town before drifting off to sleep.
Chapter Twenty – The Road to Lancer
Doc Florian Harms made his final examination of his patients, clicking his tongue, as he checked each of their vital signs. Scott and Val passed with clean bills of health. Both their heads had stopped aching but the doctor cautioned them that if they experienced any lingering side affects on their journey such as blurry vision or queasiness they needed to take a break from their exertions until it passed. He instructed them to make certain they both were examined by Doc Samuel Jenkins once they got back into Morro Coyo as a final precaution.
The doctor stepped to the boardwalk to say good-bye to the assembled group. He noticed that the twins once mounted on their horses shifted their weight side by side, grimacing as the hard leather of the saddle made contact with what seemed to be two painful bottoms as they gingerly sat, twitching as they tried to find a forgiving soft spot in their saddles. The twins were learning that there wasn’t any to be found, among the lessons taught that morning.
Shaking his head at the folly of the two youths that came close to inadvertently ending the lives of his patients, he chortled as Johnny gave him a grin along with a thumbs-up. “Ahh Johnny I see you followed my orders with those scalawags, made them pay the piper.”
“Doc, I ain’t too good at followin’ orders, just ask Scott. It was Sheriff Crawford who made ‘em the promise that he kept this mornin’, found him a suitable spot over at the livery. ‘Bout wore ‘em out, I reckon, while Scott and me saddled the horses, took our sweet time doin’ it too. Guess we won’t have any more trouble from ‘em, least until we get home ta Lancer, then Murdoch can handle ‘em.”
“Well, well, well,” the doctor said, watching the twins fidgeting in their saddles. Their faces revealed their dilemma and discomfort but surprisingly both kept their mouths clamped shut.
Scott tipped his hat to the man, chuckling, “You might even say all’s well that ends well.” The other three men loudly laughed along with Scott. The twins remained silent, their minds elsewhere as they paid close attention to the predicament they had rightful earned and would be thinking about all the way to Lancer.
“Take care and have a safe uneventful rest of your journey,” waved the Doctor as they turned to head home.
The group headed northwest out of Sonora, knowing that before nightfall they would reach Lancer. Each was lost in their own thoughts as they rode along in peaceful silence. Since the terrain was wide open range, except where fruit and nut groves were planted throughout the area, they rode five abreast with Jessie and Jace in the middle, Val and Scott to the right of Jace and Johnny alongside his sister.
Johnny observed the girl unobtrusively from his periphery vision, trying to ascertain just how she and Jace were relaying messages to the other. Pushing his hat back on the crown of his head to wipe his brow, he searched his mind for previous observations he had made of the two, thinking over any tell-tale clues.
While he pondered on his musings, mulling them around in his head, the twins rode in silent misery, each step, each gait change, and each hill up or down astride their horses in their fine leather-tooled saddles reminded them of their paddling. Jessie gave out a deep sigh that made everyone look at her, “What?”
“What yourself, something the matter little sister?” asked Scott.
“Oh aren’t you witty, ha, ha, ha.”
Val groused at her, “Mean, rotten tricks, and sass get Lancer younguns a sore ass. Ain’t that right, Johnny?”
“Yep, it sure does. Suppose in another half hour or so, we’ll be ta Valley Springs, maybe that’d be a good spot ta stop for lunch, let everyone get down from their horses and sit comfortably under a shade tree,” he grinned at Jessie. “Reckon some of us will sit comfortably.”
“Ohhhh brother!” Jace said as Jessie rolled her eyes.
“Hey there Sheriff Crawford, Jace and I didn’t realize that we were in the presence of such a gifted and esteemed poet, chocked so full of shi…wit.” Jessie saw Johnny cock his head at her as his eyes give her a stern warning. She pursed her lips together; as she realized it was too late to bit back the smart-alecky retort that had flown out of her mouth.
Val squinted his eyes at her, drawling, “Well, now, Miss Jessie, ya want me ta start countin’ again? Betcha we got plenty of time ‘tween here and Lancer for me ta reach three.”
Jessie thought of another smart-aleck comment but wisely, instead of saying it, she silently signaled her thought to Jace that Val might need to take of his boots to make the count, who nodded his head in appreciation, keeping his thoughts to himself. Johnny had been watching their nonverbal communication, thinking that he had figured out what they were doing. He decided to keep it under his hat for the moment until he could learn more of their signals along with their meanings.
“No sir, Sheriff Crawford, that won’t be necessary, I retract my last comment and sincerely offer you my most earnest formal apology possible. It won’t happen again, sir.”
Johnny grinned, coughing as he held back a loud laugh as he shook his head at her performance, noting that she had the fingers of her left hand crossed while holding the reins, as she brought her right hand just above her heart to pledge her oath. Johnny thought, “She’s something else, the ol’ man will have his hands full with this little spitfire.”
“That’s real smart of ya girl, I hate ta have ta paddle ya again today, betcha by the time we reach Lancer, ya remember how ya started this day for a couple days, I reckon so. Maybe it will keep ya on the straight and narrow path,” he smirked. “But I doubt it.”
“Oh but yes sir, I shall,” she agreed, with a tilt of her head towards Jace with a sly blinking of her eye that Johnny moving slightly ahead of the riders, looked backwards and caught this exchange.
“Wonder what in the hell that means?” he pondered, holding his chin with his right hand, as Jace mimicked her motions, throwing in a few of his own. Scott looked over at him to with a question in his eyes. Johnny mouthed “later,” to Scott who shrugged his shoulders.
Coming to a small lake near the town of Valley Springs, they found a grove of tall oaks to rest under. Horses’ needs first taken care of with a refreshing drink, sweet green grasses to munch on while the travelers had a simple meal of sandwiches, apples and some oranges picked fresh off a nearby orange grove. Jace and Jessie had opted to stretch out on their bellies, propping themselves up on elbows to eat, as their bottoms were feeling a tad worst for the wear.
Johnny thought Val and Scott wouldn’t object to stretching out for an early afternoon siesta, when neither one put up much of a fuss, he took the twins down to the lake. Figuring they would enjoy the cool water on their blistered backsides he let them strip down to their button-down cotton knee length undergarments, after he checked their saddlebags for extras for them to change into after they soaked.
The waded up to their waists in the water, reveling in the relief it brought them, turning as they heard Johnny whistle for their attention, he hollered, “Hey ya two, that’s far enough, don’t go out anymore.”
“Aww Johnny can’t we swim to the other side and back?” Jessie asked.
“Nope, I ain’t plannin’ on comin’ in ta rescue or chase either one of ya, so that’s far enough, ya hear?”
“But we’ve been swimming in the Pacific Ocean since we were little, we’re strong swimmers,” reasoned Jace.
“I ain’t sayin’ it again. Stop buckin’ against everything anyone tells ya. Ya hear me?”
Jace looked back at him, “Yeah, we hear.”
“Quick! Both of ya show me your hands; I don’t want ta see any crossed fingers on either one of ya.”
The twins raised their hands, taking a few steps closer to the shoreline, despite the temptation staring them in the face.
“That’s better. Hey! We got plenty of watering holes on Lancer, there’s even one with a waterfall. When we’re home, Scott ‘n me will take ya there one hot day, how’s that sound?”
“Good!” squealed the twins as they splashed handfuls of water at Johnny soaking him in their horse play.
They had been down by the water for the better part of a half hour when Johnny heard Scott’s quiet approach. Johnny was leaning back on one elbow on the bank watching his siblings try and dunk the other. Jace was right they were good swimmers.
“Hey Boston, how ya holdin’ up?”
“Fine Johnny, just fine,” he replied softly as he sank down alongside his brother, “How are they?”
“Looks ta me like a pair of kids goofin’ around in the water. Suppose we’ll have ta be hittin’ the trail soon, get on home. Man! I hope Murdoch ain’t goin’ ta be sore we didn’t wire him about Jessie. I know it was sneaky of us, sorta of…”
Scott chortled, “Yeah, Johnny, real sneaky, but he’ll get over it, after we pick him up from the ground!”
Johnny and Scott enjoyed the moment together, grinning at the picture they imagined of their ol’ man when he found out that Jessie was a girl.
“Guess we better round ‘em up, head on home,” said Johnny as he stood up, pulling Scott to his feet. “Which one do ya want ta watch over while they change outta of their wet duds?”
“You’re doing fine with Jessie; you seem to have a calming effect with her, brother.”
“I don’t know about that, Scott. Think she’s interested more in Madrid than Lancer. I catch her checkin’ out my pistol every one and awhile.”
Johnny gave Scott a gentle backhand slap to his belly, turning he whistled sharply to get the twins’ attention, waving them in. Both brothers were pleasantly pleased to see that they made their way to the shore without further coaxing.
“There’s hope yet Johnny for the rehabilitation of those two.”
“Rehabilitation, it means that they are able to adapt to their surroundings and conditions, their new life, follow the rules.”
Johnny looked from the twins to Scott, drawled, “Let’s wait and see about that Boston. I have a feelin’ our little sister ain’t quite there yet. Ya noticed that she and Jace have a secret lingo of their own? She’s the ringleader of the pair and they’re thick as thieves.”
“Duly recognized and noted, Johnny. We’ll have to try deciphering their code.”
“I’m workin’ on that Boston.”
“Well keep me in the loop as to what you decipher, I’m watching and working it out as well. Smart little buggers they are indeed.”
“Indeed, I’ve noticed.”
Chapter Twenty-One – The Lancer Ranch
With their riders back in their saddles and on the trail again, a few hours later Barranca and Charlemagne began bobbing their heads up and down, nickering as they sense their proximity to their own stalls. They began prancing, pulling on their reins eagerly in anticipation of ending their long trail ride and the reward that awaited them. They began impatiently snorting for their riders to hurry their descent down the final hill. However, Johnny pulled to a stop on the hill high above Lancer to allow the twins to see their new home, the grand vista of the valley below and the wide-stretching San Benito Mountains in the background.
“Look out there, Jessie and Jace. See that? That’s your new home! And this is where visitors comin’ or goin’ stop ta admire Lancer and the view.”
“This is where Teresa stopped the wagon on our first day before we rode down to meet our father for the first time,” added Scott. “Remember what she said brother?”
“There it is, as far as the eye can see, the most beautiful place in the whole wide world. Lancer,” they said together, grinning from ear to ear as they recalled their first glimpse into the realm of Lancer, just a few short months ago.
Laughing Johnny added, “Here we were, just findin’ about bein’ brothers. I was wonderin’ what in the hell ta expect next from the ol’ man lookin’ out over his ranch.”
“I know while I was looking I was holding my breathe becoming conscious that California was a whole lot different than Boston was or would ever be,” said Scott with a far-away glimmer shining in his eyes as he dusted away some of the lingering cobwebs within his head…a father, a brother and a new home all within the matter of a few hours after climbing off that bone-jarring stagecoach.
“That right, Boston? I was thinkin’ ya sure were dressed funny ta be out on the range all by ya lonesome, no gun, no decent hat ta protect that lily-white skin of yours, those clothes were a sight ta see. I just couldn’t wrap my brains around ya stickin’ it out…but here ya are.”
“Yep, here I am little brother,” smirked Scott taking off his cowboy hat to beat the dust away from his shirt front, “properly outfitted, no longer possessing “lily-white” skin thanks to the hours in the sun and lo and behold carrying a gun. You might say I’ve acclimated just fine, thanks to your lessons in schooling this Eastern dandy how to survive. I don’t know how I managed the first twenty-six years of my life without you,” he teased.
“De nada. brother, de nada. Glad ta be of service, anytime.” Johnny grinned back at the brother he had come to know and trust, hell even love in his own fashion.
Sniggering Johnny asked Scott with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “Think the first word, the ol’ man says ta these two is, “Drink?”
“I highly doubt that but it will more than likely be the first word we say to him after we pick him up from the floor and he recovers from the shock of meeting his daughter,” laughed Scott.
“Oh for pity’s sake will ya two jackasses stop ya yabberin’ let’s get them down there before I die of old age or thirst. All this talk about drinkin’ I need ta wet my dry with a stiff drink of some of your pa’s smooth sippin’ whiskey. I sure will be thankful ta release these two runts ta ya pa’s custody. Let ya pa have as much fun as we did gettin’ their asses here.”
The twins had done exactly what Johnny and Scott had done on their first view of the ranch as they sat in their saddles, stinging bottoms and all, taking the view in, the majestic surroundings of the San Joaquin valley and mountains far in the distance. They saw the generously proportioned white hacienda below, where a sizeable herd of cattle was milling about. Off to one side was a good sized pond, where there was a small dock and a row boat tied to a post, gently bobbing on the water, and there were several smaller buildings on the estate. Johnny pointed out the archway leading to the main house that had the Lancer name chiseled into the facade, the corrals, the barn, the stables, and the old guardhouse.
“Johnny spent a night in there, not too long ago,” Scott said.
“Ya pa might have occasion ta put these two in there ta cool their heels,” groused Val. “Come on, let’s get down there.
“Ya stayin’ for supper and the night ain’t ya, Val?” asked Johnny.
“Yep, wanna fill ya pa in on the shenanigans these two pulled, let him know why I tanned their hides. Make sure he knows if they create any ruckus and I do mean any, in my town, there’s more of the same ta come.”
“Val, I think Jessie and Jace know better than ta tangle with ya anymore, ain’t that right?”
Two heads moved up and down, replied in unison, “Yes sir, Sheriff Crawford, that’s right!”
“Well finally, we reached an understandin’!”
“Yes sir, Sheriff Crawford!”
Down the winding path the group rode, Jessie and Jace were in front of their brothers with Val bringing up the rear as they rode under the arch. Scott mentioned one of Murdoch’s cardinal rules, “Never gallop through the arch, unless it’s a dire emergency and it had better be one. He doesn’t appreciate extra dust stirred up, filtering into the house, especially if he has the French patio doors opened to let a breeze into the Great Room.”
“Another rule is that everyone pulls their own weight around the ranch, you’ll get no special consideration just because you’re a Lancer. This means you take care of your own horse and tack, unless one of the hired hands is willing and able to take over for you. You’ll know if someone comes up and offers to take the reins from you, otherwise you’re on your own to care for your animal.”
Johnny chimed in, “And don’t ever be late for dinner, it’s at six sharp. Which means ya cleaned up, hair brushed or combed, hands cleaned and your butt in your chair when Murdoch’s gol’ damn grandfather clocks chimes the hour or else.”
“Or else what?” asked Jace who similar to Johnny enjoyed his meals.
Scott laughed, “Or else you don’t eat, as that’s the one meal of the day, Murdoch insists the entire family be together.”
“Well I don’t plan on missing any dinners that for sure,” replied Jace. “I’m starving now.”
Jessie rolled her eyes at Jace, who was rubbing at his sore butt that their full day in the saddle only made their discomfort more pronounced. His expression was a quick smirk of his upper lip, blinking back at her but saying nothing.
Coming into the front yard, three ranch hands did appear from the corral area to take their horses as soon as they had dismounted. Offering greetings as they were busy looking over the patron’s newest sons. Scott and Johnny thanked the hands then everyone placed their saddlebags over the hitching rail to slap off some of their trail dust, stirring up a mini cloud of swirling dust motes flying about the yard.
The front door of the hacienda opened and Teresa ran out stumbling into Johnny’s arms and then Scott’s as he put his arm around her waist. She kept twisting her head from side to side to get a good look at the twins, who were standing off to the side, waiting.
“Scott! Johnny!” a deep voice boomed from the front door. “You made it! You have plenty of time for a pre-dinner drink and have time to wash-up before dinner. Sheriff Crawford I expect you to stay for dinner and the night of course! And I won’t take no for an answer. We have plenty to talk about I’m sure. I want to hear all about your trip and how everything went. I hope you all brought your appetite as the ladies have been cooking all day in anticipation of your arrival.”
“Murdoch, good ta see ya.”
“Sir, it’s nice to be home.”
“Howdy, Mr. Lancer, its sure nice ta see ya.”
The twins looked up at the tall man who gripped first Scott’s then Johnny’s shoulders in greeting. They backed up a few paces, only to feel Val’s hands clasped them on their shoulders, leaning down he softly whispered, “Wrong direction, buckos, ya need ta move inside.”
“Teresa, can you see that enough hot water is made ready, so these fellows can clean up? I’ll bet they’ll want to remove of all their accumulated trail dust soon,” direct Murdoch.
“Sure Murdoch,” said Teresa, making her way back towards the kitchen, wanting to give him time to meet the boys before they were overwhelmed with people crowding around them.
“Come on in, come on boys, let’s go inside, and make ourselves comfortable. Scott, Johnny, introduce me to these young lads,” said Murdoch as he ushered everyone into the Great Room.
Jace and Jessie felt Val’s hands pressing against their backs as they followed after the giant of a man, with graying hair, blue eyes and booming commanding baritone voice inside the cool interior of the adobe hacienda. Looking around at their surroundings, they saw that Murdoch was standing in front of a drink cart, pouring drinks, “Come over here, and let me get a good look at you two, please sit down.”
“We prefer standing if you don’t mind,” said Jace.
Murdoch glanced at him noticing the twins were gingerly rubbing their backsides, looked over their heads to his oldest sons grinning in the background, “Trouble I assume?”
Scott turned his head slightly to mask his smirk while Johnny chortled looking at Murdoch. Scott nodded, trying not to choke on his answer, “Guess you could say, double the trouble, sir.”
Val drawled, “Nothin’ that couldn’t be adjusted, Mr. Lancer, with the right amount of leverage and attention ta the troubles.”
Murdoch nodded to Val, “Hmmm, I see. Tell me more about it later Sheriff Crawford. First things first I want to meet my boys.” Turning his attention to the twins standing in front of him, he asked, “Well who do we have here?”
Johnny slide between the twins, gave Jace a friendly nudge towards Murdoch, grabbed Jace’s hat from his head, “Murdoch, this here is Jace, he’s ahhhh…your son.” The two looked at each other as Murdoch reached for his hand to shake it.
“Johnny, I can see that. Jace, I am so very pleased to meet you, son.”
He dropped his other hand down to the boy’s shoulder, and gave him a gentle squeeze, “I know everything is unfamiliar to you but we have all the time in the world to get to know each other.”
Johnny looked over at Scott who offered him a slight nod in encouragement, “Johnny, you’ve got the floor, go ahead.”
The moment of truth was at hand, as Johnny softly said, “Well, Murdoch, this here is Jessie.” He reached up and snatched her hat from her head, allowing her long pony-tailed hair that had been twisted up inside to fall down from its captivity, resting just below her shoulders. “She’s ahhhh…your daughter.”
“MY WHAT??” inquired an extremely shocked Murdoch as his stared down at the girl standing before him.
Off in the distance there was a loud clanking and crashing of dishes as they hit the tiled kitchen floor, along with a gasp and shrill, “On my God!” emulating from that direction. “Marie! Get over here and listen to this!”
“Daughter, Murdoch, she’s your daughter,” said Johnny as the father and daughter faced each other for the first time.
The look on Murdoch’s face encompassed his absolute astonishment. His eyebrows had risen to form arches over his eyes as his bottom jaw dropped, his mouth formed a circle as he stared at the young girl before him, before he snapped it shut. Jessie in turn had crossed her hands against her chest had an obstinate set to her jaw line as she pressed her lips tight while her blue eyes blazed fire.
Murdoch’s face changed from disbelief to granite as he recognized another stubborn Lancer offspring was standing in front of him. She did not appear that she would yield to his position as her father and her elder, the head of this family, entitled to reverence, he placed his hands on his hips, scowling at her. She locked her eyes on his and stood her ground, as did he.
Johnny had witnessed Mexican standoffs before, hell if anyone would know what one looked like; he would, since he had been in plenty of his own. He recognized the true start of one forming in the Great Room. Johnny took three steps backwards from the pair, bumping into Scott, who steadied him, maintaining eye contact on the stare down.
Val, Scott and Johnny stood silently, holding their collective breathes, watching with keen interest for an eye flicker or the softening of a clenched mouth to reveal any give or take between Murdoch and Jessie. Their eyes shifted from Murdoch to Jessie and back again as they wondered who would be the first to yield. Had they thought ahead, Scott would have bet on Jessie being the first to blink. Johnny wouldn’t have taken up the bet, thinking it was a sucker’s bet and Val was just wishing he had his hand on a drink for this match. Teresa and Maria were in the hallway holding their breathes at the shocking revelation that just walked into their lives, waiting for somebody to say something.
Neither Murdoch nor Jessie budged from their stake of Lancer carpet in the Great Room as the only sound heard was the perpetual tick-tock from the Grandfather clock.
Patti H. – June 24, 2009
Cliffhanger Time! Can’t be helped! Readers, thank you again for all the feedback given to me on my story. I am pleased so many of you wrote to me and let me know how much you enjoyed my saga and my new characters. Now if you think it’s over…think again! I have started writing the next phrase in the Lancers’ world as everyone adjusts to having two spirited pre-teens around the hacienda. Title is “Deuces, Threes and Fours Are Wild”.
I left many unanswered questions for the continuation, such as:
- Who is buried next to Victoria? (Psstt…its not Ulysses S. Grant!)
- Why didn’t Victoria tell Murdoch about their twins? Will we ever find out the truth behind their story of marital bliss and discord?
- What are the contents of Victoria’s will? Did she leave any messages behind?
- What happened to the Fergusons? Where they go?
- Why did the Pinkertons drop from sight? What was the reason Chief Hereford had to leave the case?
- What else did the twins learn from their adventures with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and the Rough Riders? Did they meet any other famous Wild West characters?
- Do the twins settle into their new world at Lancer?
- Will Johnny and Scott spend all their free time chasing after the twins? Will they become fast cronies to their younger siblings or be bailing them out of jams?
- Will Jessie’s secret be revealed as to how she won the knives she and Jace carried? And will Murdoch allow his young children to carry them or their pistols?
- Will we learn how the twins communicate between themselves? Will Johnny and Scott break their code or remain in the dark?
- What will Murdoch do with his new founded twins, especially his very impertinent Johnny-like daughter? Will he or won’t he take her to the woodshed?
- Will Johnny and Scott reveal the rest of their “haste makes waste” stories?
If you have other questions that you want answered in the next saga, you can email me at email@example.com and let me know!
Footnote: Though the Code of the West was always unwritten, here is a “loose” translation of the guidelines that I snagged from http://www.Legends of America.com. I used in my story nineteen of the “codes”, indicated with ** marks. The rest may be used in the next story if they fit in!
- Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
- Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life.
- Defend yourself whenever necessary.**
- Look out for your own.**
- Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
- Never order anything weaker than whiskey.
- Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences.**
- Never pass anyone on the trail without saying “Howdy”.
- When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.
- Don’t wave at a man on a horse, as it might spook the horse. A nod is the proper greeting.
- After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at him. It implies you don’t trust him.
- Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making love to his wife. Never even bother another man’s horse.
- Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim.
- A cowboy doesn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.
- No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat.**
- Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses and cows**
- Complain about the cooking and you become the cook.
- Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.
- Do not practice ingratitude.**
- A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters.**
- Always be courageous. Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt.**
- A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.**
- Never try on another man’s hat.
- Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same was true for riders who joined cowboys on the range.
- Give your enemy a fighting chance.
- Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.
- Real cowboys are modest. A braggart who is “all gurgle and no guts” is not tolerated.**
- Be there for a friend when he needs you.**
- Drinking on duty is grounds for instant dismissal and blacklisting.**
- A cowboy is loyal to his “brand,” to his friends, and those he rides with.**
- Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. This was also known as “the rattlesnake code”: always warn before you strike. However, if a man was being stalked, this could be ignored.**
- Never shoot a woman no matter what.**
- Consideration for others is central to the code, such as: Don’t stir up dust around the chuck wagon, don’t wake up the wrong man for herd duty, etc.**
- Respect the land and the environment by not smoking in hazardous fire areas, disfiguring rocks, trees, or other natural areas.**
- Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.**
- Live by the Golden Rule.**
“The Code of the West was a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct. It was never written into the statutes, but it was respected everywhere on the range.” – Ramon F. Adams
“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.” – John “The Duke” Wayne
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