Paying The Debt by S.

#4 of a quadrilogy of stories:

Together
Alone
Quest
Paying The Debt

[Some explicit language used.]

Word count: 5,820

A breeze blew through the trees, which swayed gently with the perfume of late summer. As usual the buzz of the great ranch was muted now in mid-afternoon. Anyone who could would find an excuse to be in the shade—not out in the merciless sun.

Out on the range the ranch hands bore the brunt of the heat, but at the end of the day they would return to their bunkhouse for food and drink. Those who were not too exhausted might even take themselves off to town for a cold beer and warm companionship.

Normally the dark-haired young man would make the effort to head to Morro Coyo even if he nearly fell asleep while riding the miles into town. But, for the last three weeks, he had stayed closed to the ranch—three weeks of hope, frustration and fear. Three weeks in which he had seen his brother make the effort to adjust to his return home after being the prisoner of a sadistic maniac.

At one point during the six long months, Johnny Lancer had truly feared he might have lost his brother for good. Then miraculously Scott had been found. His return to the ranch had been a tense time. As Johnny learned more about Scott’s incarceration a deep hatred filled his soul. Hatred and guilt—guilt because something told him that his own past had played a part in the tragedy.

The older Lancer had made considerable strides in the past week, but he still experienced nightmares and hated being left alone for any long period of time. Naturally, Johnny had taken it upon himself to keep Scott company, but he knew that couldn’t go on forever.

There was always work to be done on the busy ranch. Fortunately, most of the ranch hands understood the need for Johnny’s continuing absence. However, when there were jobs that required the brunet’s presence, usually Teresa or Jelly would subtly keep an eye on the blond. But Johnny could tell by the look in the blue eyes just how much his own presence meant to his brother so he always made a special effort to sit with the older man and just talk, especially at night.

Now after three weeks, Scott was determined to go out on the range to check some fences that were reportedly down. The younger Lancer had tried to put if off, but his sibling insisted that it was time to get back to work.

“Hey, Boston, it’s too hot to do this. Why don’t you stay here? I’ll be back in an hour or two?”

“Johnny, I’m fine. Now let’s go.”

“Fine? Oh right, you’re fine. You look like this breeze could knock you off your feet and you’re whiter’n that stuff in Teresa’s snow globe.”

“Well, I was underground a long time. You can’t expect me to be tanned, now can you?”

“No and that’s just what I mean. You act like ya got somethin’ to prove.”

“Dammit, I do! Can’t you see that? He took almost six months of my life, but he’s not going to take anymore. I want my life back and it starts here! If you don’t want to go, I’ll do it myself.” The last few words were barely audible.

The trembling body, as well as the words, told Johnny just how important this was to the older man so he capitulated. “Okay, Boston, we’ll go but we’re not stayin’ out long.”

As they rode along neither man said a word. To Johnny’s knowing eye he could tell that Scott was trying to reabsorb the smells, sounds and feel of Lancer. For a moment they stopped at one of Scott’s favorite spots. The look on the thin face said everything. “I didn’t let myself hope I’d ever see it again.” Johnny nodded.

“Sometimes I’ll lie there in bed at night and think I’m still back in that cell—that this is all a dream.”

“Is that why you come into my room?”

A flush crossed the pale face. “Sometimes I don’t even remember doing it. I just wake up on the floor next to your bed. I…I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t ask you that because I’m angry. I’m just glad you can feel safe somewhere. It won’t be much longer and you’ll feel safe all the time.”

Tentatively, Scott brushed his hand across his face as if his hair was in his eyes. Actually, his hair had been clipped short to make it easier to clean. It was just now growing out. “Do you really think that I will feel safe again?”

“Sure, why not?”

“He’s still out there. He let me go, but he’s still out there. What if he changes his mind? What if….?”

“Then I’ll kill him and you’ll never have to worry about him again.”

The blue eyes looked into the sapphire. He knew his younger brother was good at killing—if he wanted to be. Sometimes Johnny’s single-mindedness scared the older man. He would never want to be an enemy of Johnny Madrid. “I know you will but you can’t protect me every minute for the rest of my life. You have a life too. You haven’t even been in to see Kate, except once, since I’ve been back.”

“I know. We talked about it. She agreed with me that however long it takes, my first duty is to you.”

A grimace of hurt crossed the handsome face. Duty? Is that all it is to you, Brother? “Maybe we’d better get this done. I’m getting a little tired.”

The two rode over to the south range only to find the fencing in good shape. Obviously there was no need for concern on that front.

Riding back to Lancer, Scott’s shoulders began to slump. Johnny pulled up. “You all right?”

“Fine. Let’s just go.”

As they rode up to the ranch, the younger man noticed a buggy hitched to the post. Scott dismounted slowly. Normally, he would have taken care of his own horse but gratefully accepted the help of a vaquero.

Walking into the great room he found Teresa talking to a small man in a black suit.

“Scott, you’re just in time. I was going to make tea.”

“Tea?”

“That’s right. Malcolm and I whipped up a batch of scones while we were waiting for the two of you.”

“Malcolm?” Through his tired eyes he could see that the man in question was neat as a pin and seemed to quite familiar to Teresa.

“Oh that’s right. You don’t know Malcolm. You were in Boston when he worked here.”

“MALCOLM!”

“Mr. Johnny!”

A stunned Scott watched as his brother pounded the back of the older man. They even hugged.

“When did you get here?”

“Oh Mr. Johnny, let’s sit down to tea and I’ll tell you my news.”

“Did you make stones? Whooee! Ummm, I can eat a bunch. Scott, wait ’til you taste his stones. They’re almost as good as chocolate cake!”

By this time, Scott’s exhaustion had fogged his brain. “Johnny, what are you talking about?”

“He means scones, Scott.”

“Oh scones. Why didn’t he say so?”

Just then the blond began to sway slightly.

“Scott, why don’t you lie down some before dinner?”

Surprisingly the older Lancer made no protest. “Maybe you’re right, Teresa. Enjoy your tea.” He then turned towards his room.

While Johnny talked to Malcolm, Teresa carried in the tea and scones.

“So, Malcolm, how’s San Francisco?”

“Everything is going well. Mr. Godwin’s club is a tremendous success. I do hope you and your father will soon be able to avail yourselves of its amenities—and Mr. Scott too, of course . . .I beg your pardon, Mr. Johnny, but your brother didn’t look too well. Has he been ill?”

“Uh, you might say that. But now, Malcolm, why are you here? It’s a long ride just to make stones.”

“Yes, it was a long journey but I need to tell you some important news and I wanted to do it in person . . .You remember my former employer, Brant Tucker?”

“Sure. He’s the guy I won you from.”

“Yes well, as you remember Mr. Tucker was not too pleased when I turned down the chance to return to his service.”

“I’ll say. He was mad enough to chew nails.”

“I’m afraid that’s an understatement. He was mad enough to kill.”

“What?”

“I did not tell you this but just before I left your employ I prevented Mr. Tucker from—to use a colorful term—bushwhack you. I told him not to get within fifty miles of you again. I thought he had complied but now I know I was wrong.

” About eight months ago, I discovered someone was following me. When I informed the authorities, they thought I was imagining things. Then notes began to arrive saying that I was a dead man. That did catch the attention of the law but to no avail. Then the notes changed in tone. Now they threatened “others”. My first concern was Mr. Godwin, but nothing untoward occurred. I then realized it might refer to you so I telegraphed your father. He assured me all was well.”

Johnny shook his head. Murdoch hadn’t even mentioned the wire.

“Now I have received another note which simply said, ‘I told you someone else would pay.’ Mr. Johnny, I am afraid that Brant Tucker intends to seek revenge against you.”

Johnny stood up. “I think he already has.”

“But you don’t appear to be injured?”

“Malcolm, I think what Johnny means is that Tucker took his revenge out on Scott.”

“Your brother? But he wasn’t even here.”

“I know but he came back to the ranch not long after you left. Then he was held prisoner for five months. We never knew who took him, but I have a feeling it was Tucker.”

“Oh my Lord, you mean that’s why he looks so….?”

Johnny nodded. He’s just now starting to recover.”

“Mr. Johnny, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Can you…can he ever forgive me?”

“It wasn’t your fault, but at least now I know who to look for.”

Johnny, you just can’t go looking. He might be anywhere.”

“True but I’ve got to try. I still don’t know why he let Scott loose; but it’s haunting him, and he’s never going to be at peace ’til that bastard’s dead. Teresa, I’m going into town to send out some telegrams and get the Pinkertons in on this. Whatever it takes, I’m going to find him.”

“But what about Scott?”

“Don’t say anything to him. After I get back, I’ll tell him I have to go on a buying trip for Murdoch.”

“But you know how he is when you’re not here.”

“It can’t be helped. Try to keep him occupied. Right now this the only thing I can do. I’m not gonna let that sonofabitch destroy my brother.”

Turning to the small man, “Come on, Malcolm, let’s take a ride into town. I want to talk to you some more.”

“Of course, Mr. Johnny. I will be happy to help in any way that I can.”


After Malcolm and Johnny left, Teresa went into the kitchen to clean up the tea things. From the direction of Scott’s room she heard a cry.

Oh, not another nightmare!

During the first days after the blond’s return, nightmares had been almost a constant occurrence. It had only been during the past week that they had seemed to abate. Sometimes Teresa felt the last six months had been one unending nightmare.

Hurrying into the bedroom, she immediately tried to awaken the sleeping man. At first he seemed to resist then the blue eyes opened in terror. “Is Johnny okay?”

“Of course. Why would you think otherwise?”

“I…he…I thought someone shot him.” Struggling to get up, he was gently pushed back by the young woman’s strong, capable hands.

“There’s no need. He’s not here.”

“Where is he?”

“He and Malcolm went into town. They’ll be back in a little while.”

Unease, like a San Francisco fogbank, settled over the older Lancer son . . .

“Teresa, what do you know about this Malcolm?”

“He’s a fine man. Johnny won him in a poker game.”

“Won him?”

Teresa went on to explain. Both young people laughed at Johnny’s experiences with the valet.

“Johnny with a valet! I wish I could have seen that. It sounds like they really like each other.”

“Oh, they do. Johnny was quite impressed with Malcolm’s sense of duty.”

The handsome blond’s face reflected his distaste for action based only on duty. Duty had cost many a fine man his life during the war, and now the daunting word continued to haunt him.

“Is something the matter?”

“No, I was just…thinking. It’s too bad that Malcolm wasn’t here while I was imprisoned. It would have made it easier for all of you.”

“I thought the same thing, but at least Johnny and Murdoch were able to talk some. Speaking of Murdoch, he really respected Malcolm, but I think I appreciated his help the most. I actually had the time to help Reverend Baker at the Orphanage and visit some friends.”

At the wistful tone of her voice, Scott looked at the young woman. “Teresa, I guess we take advantage of you, don’t we?”

“Oh, Scott, it’s not that. I love Lancer and you three are my family, but, well, sometimes I need someone like Malcolm to remind me that I have dreams too.”

“I know. It’s hard for women sometimes. Even in Boston, women seem to be mere reflections of their husbands or fathers. You’re no one’s reflection. You are just you—a very special woman. I know I’ve never mentioned it before, but I do realize how hard it must have been for you to share Murdoch.”

Teresa looked up in surprise. “Yes, it was. He was special to me even before my father . . . but for that year after, he was everything to me. I was so afraid the two of you would destroy him.”

“Why?”

“Scott, I know Murdoch sometimes treats me like I don’t understand about the world, but I wasn’t certain how the two of you would react to being with your father again. Believe me, I know how stubborn he can be. I wanted to believe that even though your bond had been stretched, it wouldn’t break. I’m just glad I was right.”

“Teresa, I may not always see eye to eye with Murdoch, but I respect what he has done here and I realize that, in his own way, he cares.”

“Yes, he does and I’m glad both of you stayed. Of course, I have had to bake more cherry pies and chocolate cakes, but….”

“Uh speaking of that, I am kind of hungry. Do you have any of Johnny’s ‘stones’ left?”

“I think so. Come out into the kitchen and I’ll make you some coffee too.”

“Good.” A look of uncertainty crossed the lean face. “You did say Johnny was coming back soon, didn’t you?”


Malcolm and Johnny were in Morro Coyo much longer than they had intended. Telegrams had been sent to most of the sheriffs in the surrounding area plus the Pinkertons had been alerted. Johnny had decided to wait in town for awhile just in case there were some positive replies. The two men conversed over cold beers while hopefully waiting for news.

“So you’re really happy with Godwin?”

“Oh yes, and soon we’ll be partners. It has been a most amiable arrangement.”

“Glad to hear that, but you know I do miss you at the ranch.”

“Mr. Johnny, my time at Lancer is among my happiest memories. I learned much from you and your family.”

“Not as much as we learned from you.”

“Oh Mr. Johnny, I doubt that, but I am grateful to you for saying it.” He hesitated. “Do you mind if I ask you something? Johnny shook his head. “Are you intending to go after Mr. Tucker by yourself?”

“Sure. Why?”

“I do not think that is a good idea. If, as you suspect, he was responsible for your brother’s incarceration, then he is a monster. I do think you need someone to help you.”

“I’m not asking Scott.”

“Oh no, I did not mean that. It’s obvious that he hasn’t recovered from his ordeal. I meant me.”

“You?”

“Exactly. It’s because of me that you and your brother were targeted. I have kept up my practice with a firearm just as you showed me—and I would consider it an honor to stand by you.”

The gunfighter looked at the valet. “Thanks, but what about your job?”

“I spoke to Mr. Godwin about the possibility that I might be of service here before I left. He agreed that a man of honor has to pay his debts. Had I not let Tucker go, your family would be safe now.”

At the determined look on the smaller man’s face, the brunet realized what a negative answer would do the proud man. “All right. But I’m not even sure where to start looking.”

“Perhaps we’ll hear from one of your contacts?”

“Maybe, but I wish I could be more certain. Scott needs to know that bastard won’t hurt him anymore.”

“You care a great deal about your brother, don’t you?”

“Yeah I do, and I came too close to losing him. There’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do to make him feel safe again.”

“I understand. I would like to help you in this if you’ll allow me.”

“Okay, but remember Tucker is my business. I don’t want you to put yourself at risk. Just cover my back.”

“I shall endeavor to do so.”

“Guess we’d better head back to Lancer. Scott gets nervous if I’m gone too long.”


Nervous didn’t begin to describe the blond’s mood. As darkness began to approach without Johnny’s return, Scott’s skin crawled in apprehension. It was almost as if the varmints had once again taken up residence in his clothes. He found himself jumping at every little noise. Fleeting notions of the jailer grabbing the his younger brother and subjecting him to heinous tortures flooded his thoughts.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. Saddling his favorite mare, Catherine, he decided to ride into Morro Coyo to find his brother.


The ride back to Lancer took somewhat longer than usual since Malcolm still found riding difficult. In fact, the small man felt at a distinct disadvantage on the back of a horse so he was grateful to see the Lancer stable.

Putting Barranca and Malcolm’s horse into their stalls, Johnny immediately noticed that Catherine was gone. Running into the house he headed into Scott’s room which was empty.

“Teresa, where’s Scott?”

“Isn’t he asleep? He ate something and then said he wanted to lie down.”

“He’s not there and Catherine’s gone.”

“Oh no. He was so worried about you. Do you think he went into town after you?”

“We didn’t see him on the road.”

“Maybe he got by you in the dark?”

“Maybe. But I don’t like this. I want a couple of hands to go into Morro Coyo to check. If he’s there, fine. If not….”

“What can you do in the dark?”

“Not much but I’ll leave at first light and hope to pick up his trail if there’s no news before then. I’m not takin’ any chances with Tucker around.”

Tears glistening in her eyes, Teresa whispered, “Johnny, I’m so scared. How much more can he take?”

“We’ll get him back. Malcolm will come with me.”

“Malcolm?”

“He wants to, Teresa.”

“Take care of him. I don’t want to lose any of you.”

The night proved to be long and disturbing. Thoughts of Tucker and Scott precluded much sleep. At dawn the two men set out, determined to find Scott Lancer.


The blond awoke to find himself in a small cabin. For a minute he couldn’t remember why he wasn’t at Lancer then the events of the evening before came flooding back.

Riding along on the way to Morro Coyo, he had come upon a young man lying practically in the road. Had there not been a full moon, he’d probably have ridden right over him. Scott had stopped to see if the man was badly hurt when he had been struck from behind. The only thing he remembered was someone saying, “Sorry, Mr. Lancer.”

Hearing the door open, the older Lancer sat up as his head thundered in protest.

A man of about forty entered. “You look much cleaner than the last time I saw you.”

For one second Scott’s heart felt like it would pound its way out of his body. This was the man who had said, “This is for Johnny Madrid.” This was the jailer.

Lancer launched himself at the man. Surprised for a moment, the man found himself on the floor. Recovering quickly, he began to pummel the slight blond. Then he stood to look down at the bloodied, former prisoner. “So you know who I am, do you?”

“How could I forget a sadist like you?”

“Oh fancy words! But then you’re so refined, aren’t you? Or should I say—you were—until I broke you into little bits in that hole? It was easy to break a fake like you.”

At the surprise in Scott’s eyes, he continued, “Oh, you think I don’t know about you? You come out here from the East pretending to be something you’re not! Just like that sonofabitch brother of yours. What does he need a valet for? He just wanted to humiliate me. He cheated me and now he’s goin’ to die!”

The surprise turned to fear. “Where’s Johnny?”

“I’m sure he’ll be along soon. I’ve left him enough tracks to help out, but I’m sure someone like Johnny Madrid will have no trouble findin’ us. Now sit down over there. I don’t imagine it’ll take him long to get here. Then he’s goin’ to be allowed to watch you die ‘afore I put a bullet in his head.”

Scott sat on the bunk. He knew this had to be the man who had lost Malcolm to Johnny’s winning poker hand, but he didn’t understand why his hatred had consumed him. “Why did you grab me?”

“Oh, that was a stroke of genius. Since I couldn’t get to Malcolm for awhile, I figured I’d take out your brother first. Then I realized just killin’ him wasn’t enough. There’s somethin’ so comfortin’ about torturin’ a man second-hand. He know’s he’s responsible for all the pain someone else is sufferin’.”

“If you felt that way, why did you let me go?

“Let you go? I didn’t let you go.”

“But….”

Outside there was the sound of a horse. A young man strode in. “He’s on his way, Mr. Tucker. Can’t be more’n fifteen minutes behind me.”

“Good. You know what to do.”

The young man, the same one who had been lying in the road, glanced at Scott, then left.

“You see, Mr. Scott High-and-Mighty Lancer, that boy is my ace-in-the-hole. Your gunfighter brother will come bustin’ in here and he won’t have a chance.”

The blond said nothing. The young man had seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place him. All he knew was that he had to stop Johnny from walking into a trap. Even with his hands bound together, Scott was determined to do something to help his brother. He had known Johnny long enough to realize how impetuous the younger man could be.

The minutes ticked away in silence until again there was the sound of a horse outside. A nonchalant Johnny Madrid opened the door and entered just like this was his favorite bar and he wanted a shot of tequila.

The sapphire eyes barely glanced at Scott. He wanted no distractions from what he had to do.

“So, Madrid, you did show up.”

“That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”

“Obviously.”

“All right then, let my brother go. I’m here.”

“I don’t think so. I have some unfinished business with him. I don’t know how you rescued ‘im but I certainly don’t intend to let him live to tell the law about this. Once you two are dead, I’m home free.”

“I don’t think so.” Malcolm, gun drawn, entered the partially open door. “Put down your gun, Mr. Tucker or I will be forced to fire.”

“Haha! So the valet once again turns into a lion?” “Well,” shoving his weapon into Scott’s side, “he’ll be dead before you can get me. Is that what you want?”

For a second Scott could see the indecision in Johnny’s eyes. The blond couldn’t let Johnny surrender his weapon. Using his tied hands, he batted at the gun held against his side. A sting just under his ribs jerked the older Lancer son back from the jailer.

At the roar of the gun, Johnny jumped at Tucker. Trying to knock the gun out of his hand, the younger Lancer found himself under the heavier man. Tucker, oblivious to all but his prone enemy, deliberately put the gun to Johnny’s forehead. Before he could even cock the hammer, the sadist slumped over with a bullet hole severing his spine.

Struggling out from under the body, which partially covered him, the brunet checked the nonexistent pulse. Then he walked over to Scott’s side. “Hey, Boston, you okay?”

“Yes, it’s just a graze. Is he dead?”

“You don’t get any deader.”

A white-faced Malcolm walked over to the brothers. “Are you gentlemen all right?”

“We’re fine. Thanks for your help.”

“Help? I did not kill Mr. Tucker. I froze…He was going to shoot you but . . . I couldn’t move.”

“Now you know what I meant about what it is to shoot a man.”

The thin-haired man nodded. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I’m really cut out to carry a gun.”

“I’m just glad he’s dead. Now we’d better get Scott back to Lancer and take care of his wound.”

“Wait, Johnny, he had a partner.”

“What?”

“I think it must have him who shot…that.”

Pointing to Tucker, Scott began to tremble slightly. “His partner was supposed to ambush you. Why would he save you instead?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Almost as if he was talking to himself, Scott speculated, “Maybe he got scared and took off? He was awful young to be a killer.”

Johnny smiled bitterly. Somehow even after his horrifying experience, Scott remained too naive about what men could do.

“Maybe you’re right, Boston, but let’s leave this trash here and get you home.”

It didn’t take much persuasion to get the exhausted man onto a horse and back to the ranch where his wound was cleaned and bandaged. A small dose of laudanum helped him into a dreamless sleep.

At first Malcolm was still shaky from the recent confrontation, but after getting into the kitchen to help prepare dinner, his natural calm reasserted itself. Dinner was even more festive when Murdoch arrived home just as it was being served. His surprise at seeing Malcolm was overshadowed by the news of Tucker’s plot and subsequent demise.

After dinner, Murdoch appropriated Malcolm for a little talk. He even arranged for a trip to San Francisco within two months for the three Lancer men.

Two days later Johnny drove Malcolm into Spanish Wells to catch the stage to San Francisco. “Malcolm, I’m lookin’ forward to seein’ you again. Can I wear one of them smokin’ jackets I’ve heard about?”

“Of course, Mr. Johnny, we have a fine collection for gentlemen who wish to relax with a cigar.”

“Whoooee! Wait ’til Scott and Murdoch see me in one of ’em.”

“We also have a fine restaurant.”

“Do you do the cookin’?”

“No, we have a chef from Paris.”

Leaning over in a whisper, the brunet asked, “He doesn’t do them Echos, does he?”

“Echos?”

“You know, those things with shells that move real slow.”

“Oh, escargots. Well, yes does but I’ll make sure you aren’t served any.”

“Good. Me and them Echos don’t get along.”

“They can be difficult to eat. But perhaps you would like caviar instead?”

“Caviar?”

“Sturgeon eggs.”

“Ya mean like a hen lays?”

“No, not exactly, but it is delicious. Or perhaps you’d like to try Oysters on the Half-Shell?”

“Oysters on the what?”

They’re raw and served in their own shell.”

Johnny’s face turned slightly green. “Umm, I don’t think so.”

“Well, you do know what they say about them?”

“What?”

“They’re an aphrodisiac.”

“A….? Well, I sure don’t need that. I never get an upset stomach.”

Malcolm chuckled. “No, no, Mr. Johnny. They’re supposed to improve your love life.”

“Well, I don’t need none of that either.”

Malcolm nodded knowingly. “My mistake, sir. I’m sure you don’t. Miss Teresa told me about Miss Kate.”

“Yeah, well she’s okay, but you know I think I got time to look around. Besides I’m not marryin’ any woman ’til I find out if she can bake stones!”

Malcolm roared with laughter. “Oh Mr. Johnny, I will miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too. You’re a good friend.”

“Thank you. That makes me very proud. I look forward to seeing the three of you at the club. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to converse with Mr. Scott some more.”

“More?”

“Oh yes. He complimented me on my effect on your wardrobe. He was quite impressed with those shirts that you bought.”

“He would be. You should have seen him when he first came west. Whooee, he was dressed fancier than an undertaker at a $100 funeral.”

“Mr. Johnny, I’m very happy that everything has turned out well for all of us. It certainly was a fortunate day when you won my services.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that, but I’ve given up poker for awhile.”

“Why is that?”

“No one wants to put one of them French maids in the pot!”

Malcolm was still laughing even when the stage for San Francisco pulled out.


Johnny returned to Lancer only to find Scott out in the stable with Catherine. Johnny knew that his brother frequently went out to brush his beautiful mare when he was troubled. From the look on the blond’s face, this time was no exception.

“Hey, Boston, how’s the wound?”

“It’s fine. I’ll be back at work tomorrow.”

“No hurry. Why don’t you give it a few more days?”

“I can’t.”

“Why? There’s nothin’ major goin’ on. Just the usual cow stuff.”

“I know, but I’ve got so much to catch up on. I feel like I did when I first came here—the owner’s son who gives orders to men who have been doing this since before I was born. Tucker called me a fake. Maybe he was right.”

The younger man looked at the troubled figure. He knew the repercussions of Tucker’s vengeance were far from over. “It’s goin’ to take time, Big Brother. I know you lost a lot. So did I.”

Scott’s head whipped around to stare into the sapphire eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I realized while I was talking to Malcolm that one of the reasons I like him so much is that he reminds me of you—except he’s a better cook.”

Scott smiled. “Oh really?”

“Quiet, Boston. I want to tell you this . . . I could talk to him about things and he’d understand. He even accepted my past. I knew I could trust him just like I trust you. It was good havin’ him around while you were out east. But when that damned Tucker grabbed you, I…felt lost too. I kept thinkin’ of things I wanted to tell you—not just big things, but everyday stuff too. I promised myself that if you got back safe, I’d make sure you understood how important you are to me.”

“Johnny, I know that because I know how important you are to me—and I have excellent taste in brothers as well as clothes.”

Smirking, Johnny reached out to touch the shirt covered with horsehair and dirt. “Oh yes, you’re really the man-about-town, aren’t you? It’s too bad Malcolm isn’t a gentleman’s gentleman anymore because he’d be perfect for you.”

“You’re right, we’d probably do well together, but not as great as the two of us.”

Grinning, Johnny agreed. “That is the truth, Brother.”

“Well, I’d better go in and finish the paperwork Murdoch needs. I tell you the stuff breeds like jackrabbits.”

“And it don’t even need one of them ‘apricot dishes’ to do it!”

“Apricot dishes?”

“Yeah, you know, that stuff oysters got to make you irresistible to women.”

“Oh that stuff?”

“I told Malcolm I didn’t need any of it.”

“You’re right there. If you enhanced the Johnny Lancer charm, no woman in the valley would be safe! I’ll bet even the Palmer sisters would be after you!” With that the older Lancer headed into the house, chortling all the way.

The brunet stood there for a minute before following the older man into the house.

God, I’m glad he’s home. I just hope things will be all right now and he’ll really feel safe. I just wish I knew who Tucker’s partner was and why he shot that bastard.


A week later the Lancer Brothers arrived in Morro Coyo to pick up supplies. While Scott put in the order at the General Store, Johnny headed over to pick up the mail from Mrs. Logan. Most of it was for Murdoch but there was one envelope that simply said—Johnny Madrid.

“Mrs. Logan, where’d this come from?”

“Some young man dropped it off.”

“Thanks.”

Walking over to the saloon the brunet sat down and opened the short note:

“Mr. Madrid,

I sure am sorry I left like I did. I did somethin’ real bad to you and yours but I tried to make up for it. I thought Tucker was my frien’ but he jest lied ’bout the 2 of you. You was kind ta me and then I tried ta take yur brother’s place. Now I know I cain’t. It ain’t possible for your brother to forgive me even if I did let ‘im loose. Howsoever, I’ma hopin’ that mebbe someday you kin.

Billy McCoy”

Johnny sat there staring at the letter. He didn’t even notice the entrance of his brother.

“What do you have there, Little Brother? A love letter?”

Johnny crumpled the paper. “No, it’s nothin’.”

“Are you sure?” You look kind of funny.”

“No, I’m fine. Let’s go get those supplies.”

“Sure. You know I can get them if you want to go spend time with Kate.”

“Uh, no, maybe another time. I was lookin’ forward to beatin’ you at chess.”

“Beating me? But you’ve never won a game!”

“So tonight’ll be different. Besides I like Kate, but nobody can take your place—nobody.”

.

-end-

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