#2 in a duology, preceded by The Next Production
Word count: 2,919
“Mrs. Johnny Lancer, now there’s a name I could get used to.”
“Lucy, what are you talking about? Has Johnny proposed?”
“No Angie, but there are ways.”
“Are you in love in with him?”
“Love?” For a brief moment sadness flickered across Lucy’s face. “No, I’m not. but I do fancy myself as mistress of Lancer.”
“Oh don’t be so naive. I could give Johnny sons and in return I would have wealth and position.”
Angie decided that she didn’t like this conversation. She liked Johnny and even though Lucy was her best friend, she wasn’t blind to her mercenary ways.
“Anyway come see my dress.”
“Oh you bought one?”
“No I made it.”
“You made your dress when Mme Latour has such divine creations?”
“Yes and they cost the earth.”
“You should have asked some young man to buy yours–like I did.”
“Lucy, that’s positively sinful.”
Lucy tisked, “Your innocence is showing again, Angie.”
“I can hardly wait until Saturday. When Johnny sees me in my gown, he’ll be bursting to pop the question. By the way, who’s taking you to the party?”
“When did this come about?”
“Short notice, wasn’t it?”
“He was supposed to be away this weekend , but that fell through so he asked me to go.”
Well I must say I’m surprised. I thought he was after Mary Henderson.”
“Oh didn’t you hear? She’s engaged.”
“Oh. And what about her brother?”
“Everybody seems to think that he’s serious about Teresa O’Brien.”
“She’s a very nice girl.”
“Exactly. She’s a girl. He needs a woman–like me.”
“How many men do you need, Lucy?”
“I just thought if Johnny is a disappointment, the Henderson ranch is almost as big as Lancer.”
Angie grimaced. “Uh Lucy, I’d love to chat some more, but you know how Mr. Hopkins is if I’m late for work at the general store.”
“That’s alright. You run along. I’ll see you Saturday.”
Scott and Johnny looked quite handsome in their good suits. Handsome but uncomfortable on the part of the younger brother. “Tarnation this collar feels like one of them chastity belts.”
“Chastity belts?” Scott’s eyebrows peaked.
“Yeah you know.”
“I suppose I do.”
“Hey Scott, why’d you say the Barkleys cancelled your plans this weekend?”
“I told you they had to go away for an emergency.”
“Oh sure. I forgot.” Those 3 brothers put the kibosh on that little romance.
“Why are you so interested?”
“No reason. I’m just concerned for my brother’s future.”
Well my immediate future calls for me to pick up Angie soon, so I’m going.”
Looking at his pocket watch, Johnny agreed. “Lord, if I’m late Lucy will bust her new bustle.” The 2 brothers rode into town together and then separated to pick up their dates.
Angie looked wonderful in the jade-green dress that matched her eyes. “You look terrific, Angie.”
“Thanks, but my shoes pinch.” Her shoes and Johnny’s collar.
At Lucy’s, Johnny waited and waited. He knew Lucy hated to be on time–it wasn’t fashionable. “Come on or we’ll miss the refreshments.”
“I’m ready.” She appeared in the doorway–a vision in red. She had piled her hair up on her head to show off her slim neck and revealing decolletage.
Johnny gulped, “Lucy, you are stunning.”
“But you’ve already seen this dress when you bought it for me.”
“I know but then it wasn’t…all filled out.” She laughed.
The music filled the room. Scott and Angie had already danced 2 waltzes when Lucy and Johnny entered. Lucy surveyed the room. Except for the Lancers, the prospects are pretty slim. I wonder where Steve Henderson is.
At that moment Steven and Teresa entered. Teresa wore the wine-colored gown that was her favorite. Look at that matching necklace and earrings.
Interrupting Lucy’s thoughts, Johnny asked her to dance
The packed room continued to fill. One of the newcomers was a stranger. He was big and burly and seemed to be searching the crowd for a familiar face.
Lucy noticed the man immediately. Hurriedly she hid behind a curtain. When Johnny returned from the punch bowl, he found her there. She was shaking.
“Are you alright?”
“No. Please could you take me home?”
“Of course, but you seemed fine just a minute ago.”
“I can go by myself if it’s too much trouble.”
Of course Johnny insisted on taking her. Fortunately she was able to avoid seeing the stranger.
When they arrived at Lucy’s house, she gave Johnny a kiss. “Thanks for bringing me home. I’ll be alright now.”
“Wait! Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“I have a headache. I’ll see you soon.”
She closed the door, almost hitting Johnny’s nose.
He turned to walk off. Women. Jelly is right! With his head down, he almost bumped into the stranger. “Is that Lucy Jennings’ house?”
The stranger knocked on the door. Lucy answered. “Johnny, I told you….” She stood transfixed. “William?”
“May I come in?” She moved aside to let him enter.
From the short distance, Johnny could see fear on her lovely face. Who the hell is that man?
Rather than go back to the dance Johnny decided to return to Lancer. DAMNATION! This is not how my Saturday night was supposed to go.
Scott Lancer left his room to head to the kitchen. Sitting at the table, Johnny held out a mug of coffee to his brother. “Ugh! This is horrible. Who made it?”
“I did. Teresa is still asleep. She got home even later than you.”
“Say what happened to you? I looked for you and Lucy. Did you go over to her house to discuss animal husbandry?”
Johnny gave his brother a scathing look. “No, she got sick so I had to take her home.”
“She didn’t look sick in that dress.”
Just then Jelly came in to tell Johnny that Deputy Fred Merkle was outside and wanted to talk to him. Scott and Johnny went out.
“What’s up, Fred?”
“You took Lucy Jennings to the dance last night, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but we left early. Why?”
Well, the Sheriff wants you to go to her house with me. This morning Angie Walters stopped by her place and it seems that Lucy has disappeared.”
Johnny and Scott Lancer rode along with with Fred Merkle. “Scott, I’m still not sure why you’re coming too. It’s me the Sheriff wants to see.”
“Just thought you might need some back backup in case…”
“In case of what? They can’t think I had anything to do with Lucy’s disappearance.” Once again Scott’s eyebrows arched as if to say, ‘Who knows?’
At Lucy’s house the 2 brothers found the Sheriff sitting in the kitchen. “Mr. Lancer, please sit down.” He looked at Scott. “Uh Mr. Lancer, why are you here?”
“Just making sure Johnny has a friend in his corner.”
“Does he need one?” Turning to Johnny, “So Mr. Lancer….”
“Since there are 2 of us, why don’t you call me Johnny?”
“Perhaps I’ll settle for Madrid instead. You have used that name, haven’t you?”
“Not for some time.”
“I see. Well Mr. Madrid, tell me what happened last night.”
“Lucy and I went to the dance. She said she felt ill so I took her home. As I was leaving this guy came up to the door. She let him in and that’s all I know.
“Did she seem to know this man?”
“She called him William so I guess so. That’s the only reason I didn’t go back.”
“I don’t catch your drift.”
“Well, she seemed nervous.”
“But you still left?”
Embarrassed, Johnny just nodded.
“That surprises me with your reputation.”
“Many people saw him at the dance. He’s not a figment of Johnny’s imagination.”
“True Mr. Lancer, but so far I can’t find anyone who saw this stranger go to Miss Jennings’ house.”
“Why are we sitting here? We should be out looking for her!”
“Of course, Mr. Madrid, where?”
“Well…uh…maybe. Damn, why can’t we take the road out of town and see if there are any tracks?”
The Sheriff’s eyes mirrored his incredulity. “How many horses have been that way since last night, do you think?”
“I don’t know, but we have to do something.”
“Exactly– and I’m doing it!”
Scott quietly asked, “Do you really suspect my brother in connection with this?”
The Sheriff hesitated. “Mr. Lancer, I suspect everyone right now. As far as we know, he was the last person to see her alive.”
Johnny’s head jerked up. “She’s not dead.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well I don’t know but the house looks okay to me. Did you find any…blood or anything?”
“No, you’re right. It would seem she went willingly or perhaps she was drugged.”
Johnny’s head began to hurt and he wasn’t even hungover. “Please let me try to find her. Maybe the guy was a relative or something. Maybe there was an emergency.”
“Wouldn’t she have notified her best friend then?”
“Oh I don’t know. Let’s just get on the road and I know we’ll find her.”
“Mr. Madrid, I do not want you to leave town.” Johnny’s protest was cut short when the Sheriff pointed out that he wasn’t under arrest–just being asked to co-operate. That’s me–good ol’ cooperative Johnny.
Scott looked at the Sheriff. “Are you done with my brother?”
“For the time being. I assume you’ll be at Lancer?”
Scott and Johnny walked out of the house. “Johnny, you go back to Lancer. Tell them what’s happened. I’ll get on the trail.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The only way to prove that you had nothing to do with this is to find Lucy, bring her back, and let her tell her story.”
“But you can’t go by yourself.”
“Well he’s bigger than you!”
“He’s also bigger than you!”
“But well, let’s face it, I’m better with a gun.”
“That’s true little brother, but hopefully I’ll be good enough to get Lucy back–without needing a gun.”
Johnny looked Scott in the eye. “Thanks. I owe you one. Be careful.”
“Hey don’t worry. You’re not getting my share of Lancer that easy!”
Scott headed out the main road. Johnny just stood there watching his brother, then mounted Barranca for the ride home.
Scott knew it wouldn’t be easy to pick up Lucy’s trail. He wasn’t the tracker that Johnny was, but he was determined to find the young woman. What if I don’t find her? People might really believe Johnny did something to her.
Scott continued on. He hadn’t brought anything with him, but that was the least of his worries. After several hours he stopped for a hot meal. He asked if anyone had seen the couple. Frustration mounted as the answer continued to be negative.
Maybe she wasn’t with the guy? Maybe she left on her own. He asked about a lone woman but still the answer was no. Exhaustion crept up on the blond. One more town and then I’ll stop for the night.
In the distance he saw a few lights. Riding up to the saloon, Scott went in and asked for a shot of rye. “Have you seen a man and a woman come through here? He’s big with muscles and black hair. She’s a looker with black hair.”
“Hey mister, my name’s Lovell and I think I got your couple over at my place.”
“Really? Did they give you a name?”
“No, you see my wife she rents out rooms to make a little extra. This here couple needed a room since their horse went lame. I guess they’ll be on their way tomorrow.”
“Uh, they may be friends of mine. Do you suppose I could go see them?”
“Well you ain’t one o’ them jealous husbands are you? Don’t want no gunplay.”
“No I’m not anyone’s husband. I just want to talk to them.”
“Well okay. Let’s go. I’ll walk you over.”
“Thanks. Here.” He handed the man a coin.
“Hey thank you. That’s real nice of ya.”
Scott climbed the steps to the room where he hoped Lucy was staying. If she was a prisoner, he didn’t want to risk her life; but he had to clear Johnny’s name–that was paramount. He knocked on the door.
“Oh Mrs. Lovell, we don’t nee…” She saw Scott. Behind her, in a nightshirt, was William. Lucy shrieked slightly, “What are you doing here?”
“I might ask you the same!”
Back at Lancer, Johnny was walking around the world for the 2nd time. “Johnny, if you don’t stop that pacing, my floor is going to have a groove in it.”
“Oh sorry, Murdoch. I’m just concerned.”
“Scott can take care of himself.”
“Why don’t you go outside to see if Jelly needs help.”
“Yeah maybe I will. Damn! What happened to Lucy? The young man knew he wasn’t in love with her, but he still didn’t want to see her hurt. She was fun to be with most of the time. And goodness knows, she was beautiful! Johnny Lancer, how do you get yourself into these situations? I’m staying away from women from now on!
2 days passed and there had been no word from Scott. The Sheriff had come out to talk to Johnny again. He seemed less hostile this time, but still told Johnny not to leave town.
Just when Johnny thought he’d go stir crazy, Scott returned–with Lucy and William.
William helped Lucy down from the buggy. The 2 hesitantly entered the door of Lancer. Johnny almost fell over when he saw the pair. “Lucy, you’re okay?”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open. “Your what?”
Lucy nodded. “He’s been my husband for over 5 years.”
Seeing the confusion on Johnny’s face, Scott interjected, “Let’s all sit down so Lucy can tell you her story.”
Johnny just looked dazed. Do I need some tequila!
“Johnny, please forgive me. I shouldn’t have left like that. I just wanted to be with William again. You see we’ve been separated for such a long time.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me start at the beginning. When I was a little girl, my parents adopted an orphan boy. He was only a year or two older than me. They thought that I was spoiled and a brother might help. Then just before the war his aunt came to collect him. I remember my mama crying, but the woman insisted and had the papers to prove that she was his aunt. So I lost my brother.
My father was killed at Fredericksburg and my mother never recovered from his death. I took all kinds of jobs to just get by. Then one day I met this dashing officer. William and I fell in love. It wasn’t until 3 months after the wedding that I discovered he was my adopted brother.”
Lucy’s voice broke, “We didn’t know what to do. If anyone found out we were brother and sister, William’s career and our lives would be ruined. Maybe I was stupid, but I left him. I was so afraid that one day we might have children. Can you imagine what people would say then? I know it’s not like we’re blood relatives, but I was a coward. I just left. I didn’t see William again until Saturday night.”
William put his arm around Lucy. “I never stopped loving my wife. I knew she was terrified for both of us. For awhile I tried to drink myself into oblivion, but then one day I decided to leave the army and find Lucy.
Just before I left Ft. Robinson, I was contacted by a lawyer. He gave me some papers my aunt had left for me. He had been trying to find me since she had died. The papers proved that she was really my mother and that the Jennings had never legally adopted me. So now Lucy and I can live as husband and wife–out in the open.”
By this time, Lucy was crying. Teresa came in with some tea and sandwiches. “Here, have something to eat. You’ll feel better.” Lucy nibbled at a sandwich and drank a mouthful of tea.
“Johnny, can you forgive me? I know I haven’t always been the nicest person, but these last few years have been so lonely.”
For a moment, Johnny hesitated. “Sure. I’m just glad that you and William can be together.”
“I’ll return the dress so you can get your money back.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s my present to you.”
She came over to kiss Johnny on the cheek. “Thanks for being my friend. If it weren’t for you and Angie, I don’t know what I would have done.”
William took his wife’s arm. “Now we better go into town and tell the Sheriff our story. I guess our leaving caused quite a stir.” You can say that again. “Then we’ll be on our way to San Francisco.”
Teresa went over to the younger Lancer. “Johnny, are you alright?”
“Yeah sure. I’m just glad I’m not going to jail!”
Teresa then turned to the older Lancer brother. “Oh Scott, I almost forgot.”
“You almost forgot what?”
“The Barkleys sent you a telegram. They’re expecting you to visit them starting next week. Evidently Audra has lots of plans for the two of you.”
Scott glanced over at Johnny’s shocked face. “Well Brother, I guess some of us have it–and some of us don’t!”
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