Word count: 11,835
The lean body in the blue shirt lay at an angle in the middle of the dusty Green River street. Underneath one side was a pool of red blood which continued to trickle from the wounded chest. It was only that constant sign of life that gave the man hiding behind the horse trough any consolation.
Scott and Johnny Lancer had arrived in Green River to deposit a considerable sum of money to the Lancer account at the bank. After completing that errand, the brothers had decided to head to Old Maude’s for a quick drink before heading home.
Just as they had started to cross the street towards the dancing emporium, a shot, from seemingly nowhere, had rung out. Scott had gone down while Johnny had launched himself behind the nearby horse trough. Barely raising his head above the edge of the wooden vessel, the dark-haired Lancer had quickly ducked down again as another bullet had removed the hat from his head. Peering around the side of the trough, Johnny Madrid could just see his brother’s still body, lying in the bloody road. Trying again, the gunfighter didn’t even clear the protective barrier before he was forced back to its safety.
Angry with frustration and fear, Johnny tried to figure out where the shooter was located. Of course, there was no one in the street. All passers-by had fled inside the stores for protection, leaving only Scott exposed to the shooter’s ire.
Hearing a groan of pain from the injured blond man, Johnny prepared to make one more effort when the sound of three shots from the alleyway across the street rang out. Delaying for only a second, the brunet then jumped up and ran to his brother in the midst of silence. Peeling Scott’s bloody fingers from the wound, Johnny could immediately see that the wound was serious. Glancing around, he could see no one, but started to yell for someone to get a doctor. Finally, a brave woman peered out, recognized the two young men and hurried down the street towards the doctor’s house. Desperately trying to staunch the blood, Johnny only noticed the woman out of the corner of his eye. There was just so much blood.
“How is he?”
Madrid glanced up. Silhouetted against the sun, the man loomed over the kneeling Lancer. When the man shifted to blot out the sun, Johnny could finally focus on the interrogator. “Not good. Could you see if the doctor’s comin’?”
“He’ll be right here, Mr. Madrid. I can see him coming down the boardwalk.”
Johnny only nodded, concentrating on trying to prevent his brother from bleeding to death.
“I’m here, Johnny. Let me look at him.”
The gunfighter moved aside so that Dr. Atkins could take his place. Quickly, but carefully the physician examined the injured young man. “We’ve got to get him to my surgery quickly if I’m going to save him.” Instantly, Johnny and the obliging stranger picked up the slender man to transport him the short distance to the doctor’s office. As soon as Scott was safely on the table, the doctor ordered both men out of the room as his wife entered to assist him.
Reluctantly, Johnny left the room, followed by the taller man who suggested, “Why don’t we sit down in the waiting room? I’m sure the doctor will do all that he can.”
Allowing himself to be nudged into one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs, Johnny sat down, trying not to think about what Atkins was doing inside the next room so he wasn’t paying attention to the stranger’s conversation until he felt a hand shake his arm. “Uh, sorry, did you say something?”
“I just said that Scott is a survivor. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
“Do you know Scott, Mister?”
“I’ve never met him, but I do know that the two of you are brothers and that you used to go by the name of Johnny Madrid.”
A tingle ran down Johnny’s spine. “Are you here lookin’ for me?”
“No. Why would you think that?”
“Well, uh, it’s just that sometimes my past tries to catch up with me and I thought. . . .”
“You can put that out of your mind. Actually, I came to this part of California to find Scott Lancer.”
Tensing slightly, Johnny shifted to make sure he could take out his gun quickly if needed. “Why would you want to see Scott?”
“That’s between the two of us, but don’t worry, I mean him no harm.”
Johnny sat there silently for some time, focusing on the man in the other chair. The stranger had piercing gray eyes, a firm chin, dark brown hair and appeared to be in his early 30s. “Do you mind tellin’ me your name, Mister?”
A smile which did not reach the granite eyes crossed the man’s lips. “Sorry. I should have done that right away. The name’s Westcott, Clayton Westcott, but my friends call me Clay.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
“You’ve got a good ear, Mr. Madrid. I was born in Virginia, but since I’ve lived mostly in the West for the past decade, I’ve rather lost my southern accent.”
“I see,” was the dark-haired Lancer’s only reply, but in actuality he didn’t see. What would this man want with his brother and did he have anything to do with the shooting? “Uh, Mr. Westcott, you were out there on the street. Did you see the man who shot at us? I can’t understand why he stopped firing. I assumed he wanted us both dead.”
“Oh, I definitely saw him, but you don’t have to worry, he’s dead. I made sure of that. I suspect the undertaker is making arrangements to plunk him in Potter’s Field right now.”
“He’s dead? But how? I didn’t even get off a shot.”
“Let’s just say I was in the right place at the right time. Since he came after me, I decided it was only fair to defend myself,” Westcott remarked with assurance.
“Did you recognize him?” questioned the gunfighter.
“Never saw him before. You might want to take a look at him before the undertaker does his duty.”
“Yeah, mebbe, I should. Uh, would you mind stayin’ here while I go look at him? I won’t be long.”
“Take your time. You might want to stop and get a drink before returning. It will steady your nerves,” the other man suggested.
“Nothin’ wrong with my nerves,” Johnny protested.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean any offense, I just noticed your hands were shaking.”
Staring down at his bloody hands, Johnny couldn’t help but shiver. So much blood and all of it, Scott’s. “Mebbe I will stop for a shot, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I’ll wait right here. I imagine the doctor will still be in there for awhile.”
“Yeah.” Almost in a daze, the shorter man stood, went out the door, across and down the street to the bare structure that housed the establishment of Hezekiah Umber. The gaunt figure of the undertaker gave Johnny the willies. He looked as if he practiced embalming on himself. “Uh, Mr. Umber, did they just bring in a fellow that was shot in the alley down the street?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Lancer. Did you wish to see the dearly departed?”
Johnny almost snorted in derision. “He’s not dear to me, but I would like to see him.”
“Of course. Follow me.”
Johnny Madrid stared down at the unknown man with the large bullet hole between his eyes. He had never seen the vermin before so he could only wonder why he had tried to kill the two Lancers. Shaking off his feeling of disquiet, Madrid thanked the undertaker and left for the saloon.
Two shots of whiskey later, Johnny headed back to the doctor’s office. Clay Westcott was still sitting in a wooden chair, tipped back against the wall. Straightening up, Clay inquired if Johnny had known the shooter. When Johnny had only shaken his head, Westcott shrugged his shoulders. “Guess you may never know why he was after the two of you then?”
“Guess not. Any word from the Doc?”
“His wife came out a couple of minutes ago. She said the bullet was close to Scott’s heart so he’s gotta go slow. She did say your brother is holding his own.”
Sapphire eyes glanced towards the door where Scott was under the knife. “Mebbe, I should get someone to go get my father, just in case.”
“I’ll go if you want me to.”
“That’s right nice of you, but let’s wait awhile longer. I’d rather give him good news.”
“Fine. You’re in charge.”
The minutes passed into hours as the two men sat together. Westcott did not attempt to make idle conversation for which Johnny was grateful. He just didn’t feel like talking right then–not until he knew whether Scott would live or die.
Two hours later Dr. Atkins emerged from his surgery. Johnny stood up, noticing the now-red apron the older man wore around his body. “How is he, Doc?”
“One more inch and your father would have had only one son.”
The dark-haired gunfighter shuddered slightly, but asked if he could see his brother.
“My wife is with him right now. Maybe later. He’s going to be out for quite awhile. Why don’t you go get some sleep and come back in a couple of hours?”
“I’d like to stay. . . .”
Before Lancer could even finish, Clay Westcott interrupted. “Mr. Madrid, why don’t you ride out to your ranch and tell your father what happened? He might like to know.”
“That’s a good idea, Johnny. Maybe Teresa could come in and spell my wife.” The doctor suggested.
The dark man stared at the others for a moment almost as if he didn’t understand their words. “I should stay here.”
The doctor seized Johnny’s arm. “Listen, Boy, use some common sense. Scott may still not make it. Murdoch should be here and I think he’d appreciate your being the one to tell him.”
“I. . .I. . . .”
“Come on, Madrid, you need to get somethin’ in your belly and then make that ride. I’ll stay here in case,” reiterated Westcott.
Johnny followed the other man out the door, not saying a word. As the two started across the street towards the cantina, Johnny stopped. “Why are you so anxious to get me out of town, Westcott? How do I know for sure it wasn’t you who shot my brother?’
Clay’s handsome face frowned. “I killed the man who shot Scott. Remember?”
“Only got your word for that.”
Clayton Westcott could read the thinking behind Johnny Madrid’s sapphire eyes. Before Johnny’s gun could even clear the holster, Westcott’s own gun was sticking in the young man’s gut. “Mr. Madrid, I did not come here to hurt Scott Lancer. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re upset by what happened to your brother so I’m going to reholster my gun and go over to the cantina for a drink and some food. I’d suggest you come with me. You’re tired and probably hungry and you won’t do anyone any good bein’ foolish. Okay?”
The silence that had filled the street when Westcott had drawn his gun, faded into a flood of whispers from people nearby. They had never seen anyone draw as fast as Westcott had done. In fact, most of the townspeople had assumed that Madrid had the fastest draw. Now, rumors began to swell in the wake of the shooting of Scott Lancer.
After a long hesitation, Johnny merely replied, “Guess I am kinda hungry. Scott and me were gonna stop at Old Maude’s just before this all happened.”
“Well, what do you say we just go to the cantina? It’ll be quieter and then you can ride out.”
Entering the cantina, both men placed their orders and took a welcome drink of the cold beer which the waitress brought. Westcott glanced idly around before remarking, “Not a bad place. Better than some of the dumps I been in.”
“And just where might those have been, Mr. Westcott? Surely not in Virginia?”
“Haven’t been there since before the War, even if my only brother still lives there. Traveled all over since I left home.”
“That how you picked up that quick draw of yours?’
Clay’s eyes narrowed. “I got my draw the same place you got yours–practicin’.”
“On targets or men?”
“Both–just like you.”
The tension between the two men eased slightly when the pretty waitress brought over their plates of food. The girl smiled brightly as Westcott, in fluent Spanish, complimented her on the food and her service.
Before digging in, Johnny took the time to peruse the other man’s face. “You speak damn good Spanish.”
“I should. I spent a lotta time there in the last decade and most of my relatives down there don’t speak much English. In fact, they hate most Americans because of the war.”
Johnny stopped before he pushed a piece of tortilla in his mouth. “You mean the one between North and South?”
“Well, they weren’t too thrilled with that one because of what happened
with that Frenchman, but I really meant the one where all that territory in the West was taken from them.”
“Yeah, my mother told me about that,” admitted Johnny. “So you’ve got people down there?”
“Yeah, not many but when I needed a place to stay, they shared what they had.”
Johnny continued to stare at the older man for a moment.
“What’s the matter? Have I got sauce on my face or something?” the taller man inquired.
“No, it’s just that you don’t. . .look Mexican.”
“Neither do you, but I’ve got a lot different types of blood in me, even some Indian from a great-great grandmother. Maybe that’s why I could never stick it in Virginia–too restless.”
“I can understand that. Been the same for me ’til I got to Lancer.”
“‘S’pose you can, only you found a family and I lost mine.”
“Thought you said you gotta brother in Virginia?”
“Haven’t seen him since he was sixteen. Lives near Richmond.” Johnny waited for Westcott to continue. “My youngest brother was in Aylett’s regiment, the 53rd Virginia, during Longstreet’s Assault.”
When the sapphire eyes didn’t register recognition, Clay explained. “He was killed at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge as some people call it. He’d just turned twenty-one.”
“Sorry. I was in Mexico during the War, but Scott’s told me about it.”
“Yeah, I got a coupla letters from Jeremy telling me about Edward’s death. Jeremy didn’t serve ’til towards the end when the South got desperate. He’s more the scholar than a soldier. Also, he was always sick a lot. Guess bein’ without food durin’ the War ain’t helped none. Got a letter some time ago, askin’ me to come see him. But first he wanted me to see if I could find Scott Lancer. Jeremy says he owes him somethin’ and I’m supposed to deliver it.”
Johnny Lancer sat quietly watching Westcott’s face as the taller man spoke about his two brothers. Since Johnny had not even been aware of Scott’s existence until recently, he had remained ignorant of the possibility that his older brother might be killed by enemy fire. For a heart stopping moment, the dark-haired man could understand what Harlan Garrett must have felt, watching the most important person in his life ride off to war. Had that also been the reason that Murdoch had never inquired about Scott’s welfare in 1865? Was it easier not to know? Streaming through his mind for a fragment of an instant was the regret that the man from Boston had ever entered Johnny’s life. To lose him now. . . .
“Mr. Madrid, I assure you that as soon as I have completed Jeremy’s task, I will depart from this area.”
Johnny’s eyes refocused on the handsome face. “What? Sorry, I was just thinking about Scott.”
Clay’s hazel gray eyes softened. “If you’re done eating, why don’t you go get your father? I’ll hang around ’til you get back. Oh, are you planning to send Harlan Garrett a telegram about Scott– just in case?”
Sapphire eyes hardened into blue steel. “Just what do you know about Garrett?”
“Not much except for what Jeremy told me. I know he raised your brother.”
“You mean he took Scott to Boston and kept him there when Scott’s mother died!”
“Oh sorry. As I said I don’t know much about the situation. Just figured a man as smart as Murdoch Lancer could find his way to Boston.”
Madrid jumped to feet. “He did go to Boston!”
“Oh, so you mean it was then that Scott decided to stay there?’
“Scott was only five. What difference does. . . .?”
Westcott rose to his feet, looming tall over the gunfighter. “Madrid, save your indignation for someone who’s impressed by it. I don’t care what your father did or didn’t do, but I assume he might like to know about Scott’s condition,” Clay suggested mockingly.
Impulsively, Johnny brought up his hand, itching to wipe the look off Westcott’s face, only to have his wrist grabbed in an iron grip. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I don’t give a damn what you think of me, but I don’t think I’d be wantin’ to give my family more grief. Now, why don’t you just go get your pa?” Westcott dropped Johnny’s right arm, handed the pretty waitress a coin, and walked out the cantina door.
Resisting the temptation to rub his gun hand, Johnny paid and then walked down to the stable to collect Barranca. The ride to Lancer was not a pleasant one as the brunet’s thoughts reflected his confusion over the situation. His distrust and dislike of Westcott had grown immeasurably, but he had no proof that the man truly had any intention to hurt Scott. He just regretted not knowing the reason for the attack on Scott or had he been the intended target at all? Johnny couldn’t shake his unease. Riding under the great gate, Lancer couldn’t help but sigh with relief. Lancer represented stability and security. Hopefully, its walls would never be breeched.
Striding into the white hacienda, Johnny shouted out, “Murdoch, Teresa!”
The brown-haired girl emerged from her room. “Don’t yell, Johnny! I’m not deaf!”
“Sorry. Where’s Murdoch?”
“Don’t you remember? He had to go to Modesto. He should be back day after tomorrow.”
“What’s the matter? Where’s Scott?”
“Green River. He was shot bad.”
“Let me pack a bag. I can be ready in five minutes. Write a note for Murdoch so he can follow us.”
Johnny’s head whirled in the wake of the girl’s orders. “I. . .I. . ..”
“Don’t just stand there. It’s a long drive,” Stopping to take in Johnny’s tired face, Teresa ventured, “Let’s take the buckboard. I’ll drive and you can sleep.”
“Whatever you say, but when we get there, you can sleep and I’ll take care of Scott.”
“Might have to share him with Westcott!”
Teresa waited until they were on their way before inquiring, “Now, tell me what happened and who this Westcott is.”
Rubbing his tired face with one hand, Johnny informed Teresa about the shooting, glossing over his fear at feeling the sticky, warm blood on his hands. When he came to Westcott’s part in the story, he decided to omit his feelings of distrust about the former Virginian. Evidently, his effort was not too successful as Teresa immediately picked up on his reticence. “So what does he want to see Scott about?”
“Don’t know, but he hangs around all the time. I wouldn’t trust him too far.”
“Don’t worry about me. It’s Scott we should be concerned about. I hope Murdoch isn’t delayed.”
Pulling up in front of the doctor’s office, Teresa hopped down to enter the building. Deciding to take the buckboard to the stable, Johnny unhitched the horse before making his way up the street.
Entering, he heard a trill of laughter from the room where Scott lay recovering. Pushing open the door, Johnny found Teresa on one side of the bed with Clayton Westcott sitting in a chair not far away.
Glancing at the other man out of the corner of his eye, Johnny walked over to look down at his brother’s incredibly pale face. “How is he, Teresa?”
Westcott’s smooth voice spoke up instead. “The Doctor and his wife had to leave. There was an emergency. Scott hasn’t moved while I’ve been here.”
“Uh, Johnny, why don’t you go get some sleep? I’ll keep an eye on Scott. I brought some books and knitting with me.”
Johnny stared at Teresa, then at Clay. “I think I should stay.”
“No, Johnny, you need to sleep for a couple of hours. Besides, it will give me a chance to talk to Mr. Westcott about Pride And Prejudice.”
“It’s a novel, Mr. Lancer, written by Jane Austen. I noticed that Miss O’Brien was carrying it. We were just discussing Caroline Bingley.”
“She’s a harridan from the book, Johnny. Not your type at all,” Teresa informed him.
“Oh. Well, mebbe I will go get some shuteye then.”
“Rest easy, Mr. . . .Lancer, I’ll keep an eye on things here.”
“I’m sure you will,” murmured the brunet as he headed out the door.
Four hours later a more rested Johnny Lancer returned to find Clayton Westcott and Teresa O’Brien still sitting near Scott’s bedside. To Johnny’s concern it appeared that his brother was barely breathing, but Teresa reassured the dark man that Dr. Atkins had seemed satisfied with the blond’s condition upon his return.
“Johnny, Mr. Westcott and I are going over to the café for some food so why don’t you go with us? Mrs. Atkins will stay wih Scott.”
“I. . .I don’t know. Mebbe I should stay here.”
“Come now, Mr. Lancer, you didn’t eat much at the cantina. Surely, you can trust Mrs. Atkins?” questioned Westcott.
Sapphire eyes stared pointedly at the tall man. “Of course, I trust her. I just think I should be the one to keep an eye on my brother.”
“Well, surely Mrs. Atkins is more. . .qualified since she is a nurse, although I suppose you’ve had plenty of experience with gunshot wounds, haven’t you?”
“I’ve had my share,” the brunet remarked through gritted teeth.
“Please go with us, Johnny. I think we need a good meal then you can come back and stay with Scott, all right?”
Johnny could almost see the pleading look in Teresa’s brown eyes. Deciding that maybe it was better to go along and keep an eye on Westcott, Madrid capitulated. “Okay, I guess I can spare a few minutes. Then I want you to get some rest Teresa. Maybe Mrs. Taylor can put you up at her boarding house?”
Teresa colored prettily. “Actually, Mr. Westcott went over to the boarding house while you were sleeping so I do have a place to stay.”
Johnny swiveled slightly to face Clay. “Helpful, aren’t you?”
“Anything wrong with helpin’ folks, Lancer?”
Johnny’s chin came up but before he could answer, Teresa grabbed him by the arm. “Let’s go. I’m starving.”
Sitting down at the small table, Teresa glanced at her two companions. The tension between the men reminded her of mountain sheep who went at each other in a show of territorial supremacy. It was all she could do not to smile at their juvenile behavior.
After each of them had received their food, Teresa took care to talk about innocuous subjects. For the most part, Johnny only grunted in reply and Westcott wasn’t much more articulate. In fact, Johnny had tuned out most of the conversation until Teresa turned to Clay with a question, “I hope you won’t think me rude, Mr. Westcott, but I must admit I was surprised to find you so knowledgeable about a book like Pride And Prejudice.”
“Yeah, I can see why you might think that. Jeremy’s the one who sent it to me. I carried it with me quite awhile ’til I found myself stuck in a snowstorm so I dug the book out of my saddlebags and started to read.”
“Say, what’s this book about? Didn’t know many women wrote hereabouts.”
“Jane Austen was English, Johnny. The book is about the five Bennett sisters who are looking for husbands.”
Johnny snorted. “Ain’t every woman from the moment she’s born ’til the day she hogties some poor man?”
Clay grinned at the upset young woman. “I do think Mr. Lancer has a point. I’d rather take on a grizzly than some of the women I’ve met, especially the ones with MOTHERS.”
Teresa’s eyes narrowed. “You men are all hopeless! Not all women want to get married.”
Johnny and Clay looked down at their food before Johnny muttered, “Yeah sure.” To his surprise, Westcott gave him a wink of agreement.
“Anyway, the story isn’t just about the Bennett sisters. It’s about how people can misjudge someone they meet and the consequences of doing so. “Isn’t that right, Mr Westcott?”
“Sure is, Miss O’Brien. In fact, the book was originally titled, FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Woulda made a good title I s’pect.”
“I guess it’s like what could have happened when you and Scott first came to Lancer. It took awhile for all of us to learn about each other, just as it took some time for Lizzie to see the difference between Darcy and Wickham.”
For a moment, Johnny said nothing then he dropped his fork. “Don’t think I’m much hungry anymore. Think I’ll go sit with Scott.”
“Of course, I’m going to lie down for a short rest and I’ll be over to join you later,” remarked Teresa.
Johnny nodded before heading over to the doctor’s office. Sitting down once again by the silent man, Johnny thought about Teresa’s words. She had been right about what could have happened when he and Scott had met up, let alone the potential for disaster in a reunion with the man who was his father. Somehow, Scott had willingly taken on the role of peacemaker between the volatile men so compromise had reigned for the most part. Absolute trust in another man was something rare in Johnny’s life and he did not want to lose that now. Still, there was so much he still didn’t know about his sibling, including the reason behind the haunted look in the cerulean eyes at times.
Slumping down in the rocker, Johnny put his feet up, tilted his hat over his eyes and went to sleep. After only a few minutes, Johnny awoke with a start. A flash of fear seized him as his eyes darted over to Scott’s pale face. The blue eyes were open.
Moving cautiously nearer, the gunfighter whispered, “Scott?”
The curved lips tried to smile but turned into a grimace of pain. “You. . .h-hurt?”
“Not me, I ducked like any smart man would.”
Licking at dry lips, Scott tried to reach out, but was stopped by the pain.
“Here, drink this,” Johnny encouraged as he held the glass up for a sip. As Scott settled back on the pillow, Johnny reassured him, “I’m gonna get the Doc. You just lie quiet.”
Opening the door quickly, Johnny almost ran into the two men who were just preparing to enter the sickroom. “Doc, Scott’s awake. He just talked to me.”
“Well, that’s good news.” Turning to the tall man at his side, the doctor insisted, “Murdoch, why don’t you wait out here with Johnny while I examine Scott. You can see him when I’m done.”
“All right, Dr. Atkins. We’ll wait right here. This way Johnny can tell me how this happened.”
The two Lancers took a seat in the waiting room. “Now, Johnny, where’s Teresa and how did Scott come to be shot?”
Succinctly, the younger man told his father the bare facts about the shooting, leaving out anything about Westcott, except for his claim to have killed the shooter.
Murdoch paused for a moment. “So, you don’t have any idea why this man fired at you?’
“Didn’t recognize him. Not much to tell about him except he was missin’ two fingers on his left hand and he had a tattoo on the same arm.”
“Tattoo? What kind of tattoo?”
“Cross with the word ‘Juanito’ on top.”
“I see and he’s already buried?”
“Sure is. Guess we’ll never know why he did it.”
“Yes, well, at least Scott seems to be improving. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go get a room and clean up. I’ve been on the road all day.”
“Sure. I’ll stay here ’til you get back.”
The tall rancher headed out the door, but not towards the hotel. With his long stride he soon found himself facing the undertaker. Mr. Lancer, how can I help you? Oh dear, I do hope your older son didn’t succumb to his wound?”
“No, no, Scott will be fine. I just wondered if the man who shot him had any personal effects?”
“Uh, no, well, there was one item,” admitted the gaunt man.
The undertaker pulled out a small religious medal. “I found this on him. Obviously it’s not worth much with that dent in it, but I thought I should receive some payment for burying since he had no real money.”
Taking the small piece into his large hand, Murdoch carefully looked at it. “Mr. Umber. I think you deserve to be paid for your services so I’ll give you $10 for this.”
The avaricious eyes glimmered. “Of course, Mr. Lancer. It’s a pleasure doing business with someone so generous.”
Declining to shake hands with the man, Murdoch handed over a coin and
received the medal in return. After that, the patriarch walked over
to Old Maude’s for a drink to wash away the taste in his mouth. Fingering the medal in his pocket, Murdoch Lancer’s thoughts centered on why Carlos Esteban had tried to kill his sons.
The tall rancher crossed the street towards the building where Johnny sat waiting by his brother’s side. He had made a decision, one which was not likely to be popular but which needed to be done. Entering the small room Murdoch was surprised to see his younger son leaning back in a chair, sound asleep. On the other hand, his older son was watching Johnny sleep. “Scott?” The blond raised a shaky finger to his lips, warning his father not to speak loudly. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. You. . .you look as tired as Johnny.”
The tall man acknowledged the truth of his son’s statement. “Yes, I’ll be glad to get back home. In fact, I. . .I’ve decided to go back to Lancer. I have some things to do. Johnny and Teresa will be here to take care of you.”
Cerulean eyes fluttered slightly at the worried look on the rancher’s face. “M-Murdoch, is something w-wrong?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with. You just rest and get better. If I know Teresa she’ll make sure you do! Uh, just tell Johnny, I had to leave. Okay?”
“Take. . .take care of yourself.”
Murdoch walked over to lightly touch Scott’s bare shoulder. “You too. I’ll see you when you get home.” The patriarch glanced over to his still-sleeping son and then left.
Fifteen minutes later Johnny awoke to the sound of the outside door opening and someone yelling for the doctor. Peeking out, he recognized Bob Jordan, a very upset Bob Jordan. “Doc, Doc, the baby’s comin’. You gotta come with me!”
From his surgery Dr. Atkins emerged carrying his bag. “Relax, Bob, I’m right here.” The disheveled young man gave a sigh of relief as the two men left together.
Closing the door, Johnny was startled to hear a voice from behind. “S-sounds like Bob’s going. . .going to be a father.”
Turning, Madrid smiled at his brother, “Better him than me!”
“Good point, Brother.”
“So how are you doin’? Can I get you somethin’?”
“I’m fine. Johnny, Murdoch was here for a bit. He’s gone back to Lancer.”
Johnny’s sapphire eyes opened wide in shock. “What do you mean? He couldn’t have left!”
“Johnny, it’s all right. He had something to do. I’ll be ready to go home soon anyway.”
The dark-haired man gave his brother an incredulous look. “Boston, right now you couldn’t step on a bug so don’t you go plannin’ on goin’ back to Lancer soon.”
“Don’t give me orders, Mr. Madrid.” The pale lips curved in a knowing smile.
Johnny almost giggled. “You sound just like Westcott.”
Scott’s slender body contracted in a gasp. “Westcott? How? Who?”
Alarmed by the sheen of sweat on Scott’s face, Johnny moved over to the bed. “Hey, take it easy. There’s a guy in town named Clay Westcott. Says you know his brother.”
“Jeremy?” breathed the injured man.
“Yeah. That’s what he said. Anyway, he should be back anytime. So should Teresa.”
“She’s here too?”
“She insisted on coming. You know how she is when she makes up her mind.”
“Yeah, stubborn, just like you.”
“I’m not stubborn. I’m. . . .”
“If you say so, Little Brother. Johnny, I. . .could you ask Westcott to come see me? I really would like to talk to him.”
Seeing the strained look on Scott’s face, Johnny tried to delay the confrontation. “Boston, why don’t you get some rest and I’ll try to find him?”
“Okay but bring him right back here. Please.”
“You got it. Now close your eyes. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Concern quickened Johnny’s feet as he hurried out onto the street. To his dismay, he realized he didn’t know where Westcott was staying. Stopping first at the saloon, Johnny found Westcott wasn’t there. Heading over to the small hotel, Johnny was relieved to see the tall man descending the steps. “Westcott, Scott’s awake. He wants to see you.”
Grinning broadly, Clay followed the shorter man to talk to Scott Lancer–at last.
Both men entered the room quietly in case the older Lancer was asleep, but it was apparent from the glitter in the blue eyes that Scott had no intention of sleeping then.
“Good to see you awake, Mr. Lancer. Your brother and Miss O’Brien have been most concerned.”
“You. . .you’re Clayton? Jeremy told me how much he missed you.”
“I made a real bad mistake leavin’ Virginia. Shoulda stuck it out. Did Jeremy tell you about it?”
“Some. He said he didn’t blame you.”
“He wouldn’t, but a stupid mistake cost me bein’ with my brothers.”
Westcott sat down on the foot of Scott’s bed. He had seemingly forgotten that Johnny was even in the room. “I was real wild in those days. Thought I knew it all. Jeremy was the serious one and Edward. . .Edward was just a boy. Strange to think of him growin’ into a soldier. He loved animals. Wanted to take care of them. . . .Anyway, I got involved with this girl. She was real beautiful. I asked her to marry me, but her family wanted a man with money so they kept us apart.”
“Jeremy said she married your best friend.”
A mirthless laugh escaped Clay’s lips. “Poor Tom. What a fool. His family did have some land and he was besotted with her. She. . .she pretended to be in a family way and that he had to do his duty. He believed her. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen. Fact is he said that he didn’t want to see me no more.
“Couldn’t stand to see them together so I decided to head out and find a different life. Damn! I should have stayed. Mebbe I coulda stopped what happened.”
Scott reached out to lightly touch the distraught man. “Is that why you weren’t in the war?”
“Yeah, only good thing to come out of the sorry mess. Those hotheads destroyed the South. Even thought about going north for a time, but couldn’t bear the idea of fightin’ against Jeremy or one of my friends. Anyway, Tom came home on leave Thanksgiving of ’62 and found out Belinda was with child. Since he hadn’t been around since First Manassas, he knew the kid wasn’t his. Went back to the Army and found a way to get himself killed at Fredericksburg.. I shoulda gone back after the War, but all I did was send Jeremy a letter. We’ve kept kinda in touch since then.”
“So why are you here now, Westcott?”
Clay glanced around, suddenly noticing Johnny. “Well, Mr. Madrid, as I said I have something to give your brother so if you wouldn’t mind going into the other room, I can take care of this and be on my way.”
“Now, just wait a minute!”
In a hushed, weak voice Scott interrupted, “Johnny, please leave us alone. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Johnny’s pouting lip stuck out, but he stood up and prepared to leave. Glancing back, he gave Westcott a murderously threatening look which Clay met with equanimity. Then, Johnny left Scott alone with Clayton Westcott, after deciding to stop at Old Maude’s for a drink, in fact several drinks.
Two shots of whiskey and a beer later Johnny Madrid Lancer made his way back to the doctor’s office. No one who had ever seen a drunken Johnny Madrid would say that the dark-haired individual who opened the door to his brother’s room, was more than pleasantly foxed but his usual sharp senses had fogged in the amber liquid. To his horror he found Clayton Westcott apparently ready to snuff out Scott’s barely conscious life with an over-stuffed pillow. Hurling himself across the short space, Johnny grabbed the man from behind. Sensing the danger too late, Clay tried to fight off his attacker by wrenching himself free with one arm. Swinging himself around, Westcott thrust the cotton-covered item right in Johnny’s face, staggering him.
Awkwardly, the gunfighter tried to regain his feet for another attack when a plea from the man in the bed stopped him. Steadying himself, Johnny glanced at Westcott’s grim face before moving over to the other side of the bed, away from Clay. “Scott, what in hell is goin’ on?”
“Mr. Madrid, if you would learn not to jump to conclusions, you would have realized that I was trying to adjust one of his pillows so that he could sit up. Mrs. Atkins has prepared some broth for Scott to drink.”
Sapphire eyes moved from the highly-colored face to the pale, pain-filled visage. “Is he tellin’ the truth, Boston?” Scott only nodded.
Sheepishly, Johnny stammered out, “S-sorry, I. . .I thought. . . .”
“That’s all right, Mr. Madrid, I know you don’t trust me anymore than I trust you.”
Turning back to Scott, Clay’s voice took on a warmer tone. “I’m going to go now, Scott. Follow the doctor’s orders and eat something so you’ll be strong enough to meet me in Richmond.” Without another word and ignoring Johnny’s astonished countenance, Clayton Westcott left.
Silence flooded the room as Madrid speechlessly tried to reconcile Westcott’s last words. In a whisper, Scott tried to reach through the unnerving quiet, “Johnny, I know you must have questions, but could you wait? I. . .I am. . .tired.”
In a voice that he had used many times to freeze a would-be opponent, Johnny Madrid hissed, “Wait? Of course, I can wait, BROTHER! What do I care if you keep secrets from me? Do you think it matters to me if you kill yourself goin’ off to Richmond?”
“It’s. . . not like that,” the blond breathed painfully.
“So what is it like? Westcott comes to town with an attitude and I’m supposed to roll over and beg? Well, Johnny Madrid doesn’t beg for any man. I’m goin’ back to Lancer. Teresa’ll be here which probably makes you real happy.” With that the dark man stormed out of the room, heading for the stable to collect Barranca.
The slamming of the front door alerted Mrs. Atkins to the discord in the invalid’s room. Hurrying in, she found her patient unconscious on the floor. After summoning her husband, she helped him to return the slender man to his bed. Fortunately, the doctor’s stitches had not been ripped open, but Scott was still unconscious when Teresa O’Brien arrived to take her turn at the bedside vigil.
Out on the road to Lancer, Barranca flew along the dusty road. The golden palomino was always closely attuned to his owner’s moods and today was no different. Sensing Johnny’s need, the horse covered the miles at an unearthly pace until through the slightest of movements, he could sense a slight easing of the anger and frustration within the gunfighter’s body. By the time the two rode under the great gate, Barranca’s sweat-flecked coat had cooled perceptibly in the soft California breeze. Taking his horse into the stable, Johnny proceeded to give Barranca a careful grooming before heading into the white hacienda.
Startled to see his younger son, Murdoch’s first thought concerned Scott’s condition, but when the brunet only rushed past into his room, the rancher realized that another crisis was at hand. Knocking tentatively on the door, the gray-haired man demanded that his son tell him had happened. Johnny only ignored the demand which further fueled Murdoch’s unease. Rapping on the door once again, the tall man threatened to have it broken down.
Johnny Lancer did not treat that threat lightly. He had a healthy respect for his father’s temper so he decided to emerge from his room.
The tall man looked down on his son, without saying a word. The chill of the silence sent a shiver down Johnny’s back. Carefully enunciating every word, Murdoch finally asked. “Would you like to tell me why you came in here like an angry bee?”
“I, uh, well. I just found out Scott is going to Richmond to meet that Westcott!”
Now, Murdoch was really speechless. Mouth open, he just stood there staring at his dark-haired son. “How. . .how do you know?”
“Westcott said he’d meet him there and Scott didn’t deny it. Damn, I knew not to trust that. . . .”
“Johnny, Scott is in no condition to go anywhere. Maybe you misunderstood?”
“Hell, no! Maybe he’s got some way to force Scott to go. I still think the man had somethin’ to with the shootin’.”
Wiping a hand over his tired face, Murdoch invited his son to sit down with him. “Johnny, I don’t believe this Westcott had anything to do with Scott’s injury. I believe the shooter was a man named Carlos Esteban.”
“Just let me tell you this in my own way. Esteban came to work here just about the time Pardee started making trouble. He wasn’t the best
hand, but as more and more men left, I couldn’t be too picky. During one of Pardee’s raids, Esteban was wounded and lost two fingers as a result. It was after that that his behavior began to change. Paul O’Brien warned me that Esteban was trying to rile up the vaqueros against the ‘patrone’ as he referred to me.”
“Why didn’t you just fire him?”
“I intended to do that, but he begged me not to. Said he had a family in Mexico. I told him he could stay, but anymore trouble and he was out. Things were better for awhile and then just before O’Brien was. . . killed, he told me that he suspected Esteban was stealing cattle, one or two a time. After the shooting, I was in no condition to do anything about it for quite awhile. But just about the time I set the Pinkertons to looking for you, I decided to confront him.”
The patriarch walked over to pour himself a glass of whiskey before continuing. “At first, he denied it then he turned real arrogant saying things like I only had money because other men sweated and bled for it. He tried to taunt me that soon no one would risk their neck for Murdoch Lancer.”
Sighing, the rancher’s voice became just a whisper. “I was so angry at what he said that I told him my two sons would soon be arriving. He laughed right in my face, saying that all the hands knew I lacked the ‘cojones’ to keep my wife and son with me. Then, he started screaming curses in Spanish about Catherine and how weak all Americans were. Something just snapped. I knocked him down, threw him over his horse’s saddle and sent him on his way. I never saw or heard of him again until this happened.”
“But lots of men have lost fingers,” insisted Johnny. “It mighta been someone else.”
“But they don’t all have their son’s name tattooed on their arms. I saw that very same tattoo you mentioned when the Doc took off his fingers. And they don’t all carry this.” Murdoch held out the religious medal he had bought from Umber. “Carlos once told me he carried it because it had saved his life at Chapultepec.”
“But why would he go after Scott and me?”
Murdoch took another large drink. “I. . .I don’t think he was after you. When I realized that the shooter was probably Esteban, I came back here to check with some of the vaqueros who had known him. Ramon told me that Carlos had stayed in the area for quite sometime. He and Luis had even bought him a drink from time to time since they didn’t know what had occurred. One time the three of them saw you and your brother in town together. When Carlos found out who the two of you were, he became almost insane with anger until. . .until Luis mentioned that your name was John. Ramon said that he then became quiet and started talking about his little son, Juan. After that day, he disappeared. They assumed he had gone back to Mexico.”
“So, you think he decided to get back at you by killing Scott?”
“Exactly, and he almost succeeded.”
But, even if that’s true, it isn’t your fault.”
“No, but Scott was the one to pay the price for those few cows Esteban stole. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go to bed. I haven’t been
sleeping very well. We can talk about Scott going to Richmond tomorrow.”
Overwhelmed by what his father had just imparted, Johnny’s brain filled with the thought of what had happened earlier and the confrontation still to come.
Blue eyes opened reluctantly as the pain, centered in Scott’s chest, began to recede.
“Just rest easy, Scott. Have a little sip of water.”
Scott knew that voice which had comforted him before. Taking a sip of the proffered liquid, the Lancer scion grimaced at its bitterness. “What. . . What’s that?”
“I just put some laudanum in it to ease your pain. Now, go back to sleep.”
Scott grabbed for Teresa’s hand. “Did you see Johnny? He. . .he was angry.”
“Scott, I don’t know where Johnny is. When I got here, Dr. Atkins had just got you back in bed.”
“Teresa, go look for him. I’ve got to talk. . .to tell him. . . .”
“All right, if it will ease your mind, I’ll go see if he’s at the saloon or something. Now, go to sleep.”
Scott weakly tried to hold onto her hand. “Don’t. . .go. . .saloon. . .”
Smiling, the brown-haired girl wiped the sweat from the pale face. “Scott, don’t worry about me. I’ll just stand at the door. If I see Johnny, I’ll bring him back here. Now. Go. To. Sleep.”
Scott raised his hand in a partial salute. “Yes, Sir.”
Alerting Mrs. Atkins to her departure, Teresa began her canvass of the town. One of the girls at Old Maude’s told her that Murdoch had been there earlier, but not Johnny. After twenty minutes of looking, Teresa stopped at the livery stable. When informed that Johnny had collected Barranca, the brown-haired girl stopped her search to return to the Atkins place.
Drinking the tea that Mrs. Atkins had provided, Teresa gazed at the blond-haired man in the bed. Scott had always seemed such an enigma to her while, on the other hand, Johnny had been much easier to read from the first moment she had laid eyes on Murdoch’s sons. Perhaps, it was because Johnny was so much like his father and no one knew Murdoch Lancer better than Teresa. Of course, her guardian was not as moody or impulsive like his son, but then Murdoch had been forced to learn control. One did not create an empire without being in control of their emotions and behavior.
That control was reflected in Murdoch’s older son, of course, but Teresa had always wondered if that reserve wasn’t more due to his upbringing than his paternity. The young woman had met Harlan Garrett only once, but it hadn’t been difficult to understand why Catherine Garrett had married Murdoch Lancer. If a girl’s first love was her father, Catherine could not have picked a man more in her own father’s image. True they didn’t look alike, but both men possessed iron wills and a drive to succeed. Neither man tolerated opposition, believing in the righteousness of his cause. The death of Catherine Garrett Lancer and the birth of Scott had destroyed the possibility of any compromise between the two men. So Murdoch’s obsession had become Lancer while Garrett’s focus had been on Scott. What a burden for a young man to carry. For all the unhappiness that Johnny’s childhood might have carried, he still had been free to create his life as he chose. Small wonder that Maria’s son would take up the gun. Johnny Madrid’s lightning reflexes commanded respect–even from Murdoch Lancer himself.
As for Scott, Teresa suspected that no one had ever seen the true Scott Lancer. He had built layer after layer, accommodating those around him so that they would see the man they believed him to be–and he was still doing it. Like Johnny, she had seen the haunted look in those blue eyes and had wondered about it. Shaking her head at the folly of the men in her life, she stood up to take the now-empty teacup out to the kitchen.
Upon her return, she was surprised to see that Scott was awake. He certainly did share in the stubbornness of the Lancers. “So, how are
you feeling now? Mrs. Atkins made some broth, would you like some?”
Ignoring the question, Scott asked, “Did you find him?”
“No, Barranca’s gone. I suspect he’s gone back to Lancer.”
“He. . .he said he intended to, but I hoped. . . .”
“Scott, Sindy over at Old Maude’s told me that Murdoch had been there. Did he come here?”
“Yes, I talked to him, but he had to return to the ranch. Maybe that’s why Johnny. . . wanted to go back.”
“What do you mean? Why?”
“Murdoch looked worried and tired. Maybe Johnny was concerned.”
“Maybe but let’s not worry about that now. I’m going to go get that broth, and you, Mr. Lancer, are going to drink all of it!”
A determined Teresa O’Brien watched as the slender blond sipped the homemade broth carefully. When he stopped part way through, she gave him one of her meaningful looks–the kind she usually reserved for recalcitrant guardians. He finished the broth.
Taking the mug, she urged her charge to sleep some more but wasn’t astonished when Scott asked her to sit with him for awhile. It was obvious that the blond had something on his mind. After a short wait, her patience was rewarded.
“Teresa, did you like Clay Westcott?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I did. He had quite a way with him. We even talked about about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE together.”
At Scott’s slight gasp, Teresa’s brown eyes flew to his face. “Are you all right?”
“Fine. It’s just. . .it’s just that. . .did Clay tell you anything about Jeremy?”
“He just said that you and Jeremy met because of the War.”
“It was. . .a little more than that. He saved my life.”
“When Libby was liberated, the army put some soldiers, who were. . . sick like me, in private homes. The civilians got extra rations for taking care of us. I was sent to Jeremy’s. Of course, I was. . . out of my head at the time and didn’t even know the war was over. Anyway, when I woke up, there was this small man sitting by my bed, reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I found out later he had taken care of me without sleep for three days. I’ve always believed it was his dedication that pulled me through.”
“He sounds like a fine man.”
Scott nodded. “During the days that followed he told me about Clay and Edward and I told him about Grandfather and SPIN. We found out how much we had in common. He had wanted to go to Harvard, but his family wasn’t very wealthy and then the war came. He had tried to persuade Edward not to enlist, but the boy wanted to fight for Virginia.”
“Jeremy must have been devastated when his brother was killed,” she remarked sympathetically.
The blond fringe nodded. “Jeremy told me that he wished he had shot Edward in his hand or something. He hated the idea of war and killing, but he didn’t seem to hate the Yankees, although he despised the destruction of his beloved Richmond.”
Taking his hand, Teresa remarked, “”I’m glad you had someone to take care of you.”
“Yes, he even notified my grandfather about where I was located so he could come and get me.”
“Your grandfather traveled to Richmond?”
“He certainly did. You might not believe it, but Jeremy and Grandfather became close friends while Grandfather waited for me to be fit to travel. He even persuaded Jeremy to handle some Garrett legal business which gave him a steady income.”
“I’m sure your grandfather must have appreciated Jeremy taking care of you.”
“I suppose so, but I think Grandfather genuinely admired his courage in the face of adversity. Harlan Garrett hated men who whined about how fate had treated them and preferred to think of themselves as victims. I suppose that’s why he and Murdoch could never get along; they don’t suffer fools gladly.”
“Did you ever see Jeremy again after you went back to Boston?”
“Once. I was going through a. . . difficult time. He invited me to stay for awhile. It turned out to be nearly three months. A month after I returned to Boston, I received a letter from him saying that he was going to marry. He said the girl didn’t like Yankees as she had lost her two brothers and her father at Petersburg. I kind of got the idea he would prefer that I not visit again.”
“That must have hurt.”
“It did. I asked Clay if they were still married. He said the engagement had been cancelled after only a month. I hadn’t heard from Jeremy again until Clay brought me a letter. Jeremy wants me to visit Richmond. I asked Clay to tell him I would.”
“Do you? Johnny didn’t.”
“Johnny’s afraid that the East will draw you back and one day you’ll stay there.”
“He doesn’t trust me in other words.”
“Johnny’s like Murdoch, he needs to know he’s in control. He can’t control your feelings for your grandfather and the life you used to have so it scares him.”
“I can see that, but there are some things that no one can control. It’s about time Johnny and Murdoch learned that. Maybe Johnny’s just worried that he won’t be able to get along with the old man if. . .if good old Scott isn’t there to act as peacemaker.”
“I’m sure it’s more than that. I know Murdoch cares about both of you.”
“Maybe, in his own way, but I’ll tell you a secret, Teresa. When that bullet hit me and before the pain blotted out everything, all I could think was that I was glad it was me, not Johnny.”
“Teresa, could we stop talking now? I’ feel like I could sleep. . . for a month. I always thought confession was supposed to be good for you. Right now it feels like hell.”
For the next three days Teresa and Mrs. Atkins took turns watching over their patient. In that time there was no word from either Johnny or Murdoch. Teresa had been sure that as soon as the dark-haired Lancer son had cooled down, he would return. Despite Scott’s too evident doubts, Teresa knew that Johnny did care about his brother.
At the end of the third day, Scott’s condition dramatically improved as his strength began to return. He even jokingly told Mrs. Atkins that it was all due to her extra-strength chicken broth. She had flushed with pleasure at the compliment.
For the next two days the two women continued to keep a close eye on their charge until the blond finally told them that he no longer needed such close attention. He urged Teresa to go back to Lancer, knowing of her concern about Murdoch.
She prevaricated for one more day, but finally gave in. There had to be something terribly wrong at Lancer or the two men surely would have traveled to Green River. After borrowing a horse from the Atkins and securing a promise that they would keep an eye on Scott, the young woman covered the miles to the white hacienda.
Upon entering the great room, Teresa quickly recognized that her suspicions were correct. Making for Johnny’s bedroom she found a pale, shaky Murdoch sitting at his son’s side. The rancher’s face lit up at seeing her. “Teresa, honey, glad to see you. Johnny’s not feeling good.”
“What about you? You look terrible.”
“Yeah, I must have picked it up in Modesto. Johnny took care of me for awhile then he came down with it. Doesn’t seem too bad, but he needs to rest.”
“You both do. Now, Murdoch Lancer, go back to your room. I’ll be in in just awhile.”
“Don’t argue with me. If you cooperate, I’ll have both of you back on your feet in two days.”
Teresa was a bit optimistic in her prediction, but three days later Johnny and Murdoch Lancer joined her in the kitchen for some food. Looking at their pale faces she cheerfully remarked, “Well, it doesn’t look like Mr. Umber is going to get any business from this family this time.”
Johnny groaned. “Don’t be too sure. My stomach is still doin’ a dance.”
“Give it a couple more days, Johnny. How about some broth?”
Johnny groaned again. “I’m floatin’ already.”
“Hmm, I guess my broth doesn’t have the same restorative powers as Mrs Atkins’ does. Scott was feeling much better after he had some of hers.”
Johnny sat there for a moment. “How is Scott doing?”
“Better as I said. Maybe when you feel up to it, you and Murdoch can ride in and bring him home. He must be going crazy being stuck there.”
“Yeah, I s’pose. Did he say anything about goin’ to Richmond?”
“He told me why he feels he should go.”
“Mebbe you should tell us?” questioned the young man.
“I believe Scott would like to tell you himself.”
“Dammit, Teresa, he’s in no shape to go all that way!”
“I think he intends to wait for awhile longer, until he’s fully recovered.”
“Did you say something, Son?”
“Scott’s gettin’ as cantankerous as Harlan Garrett.”
Teresa giggled. “Johnny, you’re not exactly Mr. Sunshine yourself, and speaking of Harlan Garrett, he’s a good friend of Jeremy Westcott.”
Johnny and Murdoch exchanged glances. “I knew that man had something to do with this!” uttered the gunfighter. “Tomorrow I’m ridin’ in and tellin’ Scott, he’s not goin’ anywhere.
“We’ll both go, Johnny.”
“Well, if you two intend to ride that far tomorrow, then I want both of you to spend the rest of the day in bed.”
Johnny smirked, “Yes, Boss,” before swaying his way back to bed.
At noon the next day, the two Lancers and Teresa driving the buggy, started on their way to Green River. The brown-haired girl had insisted on going. She said their reputations would never survive their falling from the saddle halfway to town so the two men had grudgingly agreed.
Arriving in front of the doctor’s office just as twilight was setting in, they tied up the buggy and entered only to find Dr. and Mrs Atkins sitting down to dinner. When Murdoch asked if it was all right to see Scott, the good woman blanched with surprise, “But Mr. Lancer, didn’t you know that Scott received a telegram? He left for Richmond yesterday.”
Four months after Scott Lancer left a letter for his father, informing him of the young’s man decision to go to Richmond, a stagecoach pulled into Spanish Wells. Across the road, leaning against a hitching post, stood a dark-haired man with sapphire eyes, sapphire eyes that carefully took in the frail-looking blond who stepped down from the stagecoach.
Scott Lancer glanced around surreptitiously for a moment until he spotted the familiar figure coming towards him. Giving his younger brother a tentative smile, the older Lancer was met with only a frown, a frown directed towards the tall man, who also emerged from the coach. saying, “I’ll get your bag, Scott.”
“Thanks, Clay,” Scott responded. Clayton Westcott reached up to secure the small carpetbag before handing it to Johnny without a word.
Climbing back into the coach, Westcott stuck his hand out to touch Scott’s arm. “You take care of yourself. I’ll write and let you know where I end up.”
“Do that, and thanks.”
Before either man could say another word, the stage was put in motion, leaving the two Lancers standing in the dusty street.
“You ready to head to the ranch?”
Scott nodded at the grim-faced man. “Thanks for meeting me.”
“No problem. I had to come into town for supplies anyway.”
Watching his brother struggle to climb up on the buckboard, Johnny almost reached out to help when Scott made one last effort and sank into the seat. Saying nothing, Johnny walked around to the other side and jumped up lightly. Glancing over at the blond once more, Johnny picked up the reins and headed for home. Dozens of questions in his mind, the gunfighter couldn’t decide how to ask even one of them of this almost-stranger. Even the dandy, who had stepped off the stage with him a year before, had been more approachable.
After a few miles, it was Scott who finally broke the silence. “How are Murdoch and Teresa?”
“Same as always. They. . .they’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t have the chance to leave more than that short note. Mrs. Atkins did give it to Murdoch, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, but it didn’t say much.”
”I. . .I just didn’t know what to say.”
“The truth would have been good.”
The blond looked over at his brother, his face closing over. “I’m sorry I disappointed you. At least, Grandfather let you know that I would be returning.”
Abruptly, Johnny pulled hard at the reins, bringing the buckboard to a halt. “Wait a minute! You mean that one telegram we got was from Harlan Garrett? But it was from Richmond?”
“He met me there. I. . .I was sick and I asked him to let you all know that I would be back.”
The anger and distrust in Johnny’s sapphire eyes slammed into Scott’s precarious control as he felt himself begin to shiver in the heat of noontime. “Johnny, could. . .I need to lie down for a bit. Could you pull over there under those trees?”
Seeing his brother’s extreme pallor, Johnny did as asked. Grabbing a canvas from the back, the brunet spread it out on the grass so that Scott could lie down, which he did gratefully. “Better?”
“Thanks. The trip was. . .exhausting. I don’t think I would have made it if Clay hadn’t agreed to come with me.”
“Mr. Westcott always seems to be around when you need him,” suggested Madrid.
Clenching his jaw, Scott pulled himself into an upright position, staring his brother straight in the eye. “I know you don’t like him, Johnny, but he’s been a good friend to me.”
“Sure, he has. Just how did he get you to go to Richmond anyway? I s’pose that telegram you got was from him?”
“Actually, it was to Clay, in care of me. And you’re wrong, I didn’t go to Richmond because of Clay. I went for Jeremy.”
Summoning his strength, Scott looked down at his shaking hands before answering the question. “I got to Richmond three days before. . .before. . . .There was a hard rain the day Jeremy died. I was sitting with him, holding onto his hand and. . .and he just slipped away. Clay buried him next to the marker Jeremy had placed for Edward in Hollywood Cemetery. My grandfather came down for the funeral and stayed when I got sick.”
Hesitating, Johnny finally said, “I’m sorry to hear that about your friend. Teresa told us what he did when the War ended.”
“He always thought he owed me something just because of the money when I owed him so much more.”
“Sometimes a man doesn’t like to be beholden to the best of friends, Boston.”
Scott’s blue eyes flickered. “Are we talking about Jeremy or you?”
“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Don’t you?” questioned the blond. “You’re the one who is so determined to stand on your own and not give anyone a chance to help you. I turn myself inside-out trying to be understanding, trying to be supportive and what do I get–the brooding gunfighter out to challenge the world on his own. You’re a western Don Quixote who doesn’t need a Sancho Panza. In fact, Murdoch, Teresa, and I are lucky you even tolerate our being around.”
Stunned by Scott’s vehemence, Johnny struck back. “You’re the one who went off to Richmond. I’m surprised you didn’t go back to Boston with your grandfather!”
“That wouldn’t have surprised you at all, would it? After all, I’m not to be trusted, am I?”
The dark man’s temper kindled. “What are you talking about? I trust you with my life!”
“That’s the easy part, isn’t it? What’s harder is your trusting me to make my own decision to remain at Lancer. Harlan Garrett is the great ogre just waiting to lure me back to a life of wealth and leisure, isn’t he? Well, you listen to me, Johnny, my whole world is not wrapped up in Lancer. I had a life before I came here and I do not intend to forget my grandfather and the others whom I care about. I do my damndest to be what you need in a brother, but don’t ever forget that I’m more than just your brother, Murdoch’s son or Harlan’s grandson.”
Squatting, Johnny rocked back on his heels slightly, staring at his brother.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go home.” Stiffly, Scott rose to his feet, starting towards the buckboard.
In a rush, words flooded from the dark-haired man. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, but some of it ain’t too pretty.”
“And you believe I’ll think less of you?”
The dark head nodded.
“Well, then you really don’t trust me, do you? I thought. . .I thought by now you’d know there’s nothing that would shake my belief in you.”
“I. . .I just couldn’t take the chance.”
Sadly, Scott made one last effort to reach his sibling, “Johnny, I’m going to say this just once. I am not your mother or your father. If I have to go somewhere, I will be back–unless the next time that bullet is one inch closer. Do you understand?”
At Johnny’s gasp, Scott took a step towards him. “Johnny, I know we both have things we’d rather not talk about too much, but let’s try not to let them destroy what we do have. Is that all right with you?”
“Sure. I, uh, sure. I guess we’d better get goin’. Teresa’s waitin’ on these supplies.”
“Good. I must admit I’m looking forward to her cooking. Neither Grandfather or Clay was much good at it.”
“Your grandfather cooked?”
“Well, he tried. Fortunately, some of the neighbor ladies brought over food after the funeral.”
After helping Scott up into the buckboard, Johnny set it in motion once again. “I was surprised to see Westcott with you.”
Dryly, the blond replied, “I noticed. He sold the Richmond house and plans to buy a small ranch out this way. He prefers the wide open spaces. Grandfather suggested that he might come with me, just in case I needed help.”
“Yeah, you’re lookin’ a might skinny.”
Grinning, Scott suggested, “Maybe Teresa will feel sorry for me and bake a couple of cherry pies!”
Gleefully, Johnny slapped his brother on the back. “That reminds me, Brother! Wait ’til you see what Teresa’s been makin’ for me! One day she baked this chocolate cake and well, I kinda dropped it while tryin’ to get a taste. Luckily, it was still in the pan so it only kinda collapsed. Teresa got so weepy, I said I’d eat it anyway. And you know what, Boston, it tastes damn good–real dense and chocolatey. She cuts ’em into mouth-sized pieces. I’ve taken to callin’ ’em Dropsies. Clever name, huh?”
“Very but I think you should call them ‘Johnnies’ since they’re dark like you and you created them.”
“Johnnies, huh? Say, maybe you’re right. They are kinda sweet like me.”
Scott successfully swallowed his laugh as the buckboard rolled under the great gate. Pulling up in front of the hacienda door, Johnny waited for Scott to climb down. “I’ll bring your bag in after I unload the supplies.”
“Oh, uh, I’m glad you’re back, Scott.”
“I’m glad to be back. By the way, Clay asked me to give you this.” Scott took out a piece of paper, handing it to the other man. “He said you would understand.” Scott then went in to find Murdoch and Teresa.
Johnny opened up the envelope, taking out the creased paper.
El amor de un hermano aguanta para siempre.
Clayton Westcott” *
*The love of a brother endures forever.
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