Together by S.

#1 of a quadrilogy of stories:

Together
Alone
Quest
Paying The Debt

Word count: 5,461

“Dammit, Murdoch, I’ve got other things to do besides those fences.”

“Yes, you do and if you didn’t spend all your time with that Kate, you’d have finished them by now.”

“That’s not fair! I’ve got a right to some kind of life besides cattle!”

“Of course you do, Johnny, but you are also a ranch owner. People depend on you. Do you want to let them down?”

Scott could hear his brother mutter something before Murdoch walked out of the house.

“Hey Brother, you and Murdoch having a bit of a to-do?”

“Yeah Boston. He’s at it again. I forgot to do some fence mending yesterday ’cause I wanted to get into town to see Kate.”

A slight look of disapproval crossed the handsome face. “You’ve been seeing a lot of her lately.”

The sapphire eyes narrowed. “So what if I have? Don’t I have a right to visit with a girl if I want?”

“I didn’t mean that, Johnny. I’m just surprised. Usually, you have a new girl every week.”

“That’s not true! Just makes sense to check out all the possibilities.”

“Sure. Sorry I mentioned it. Where’d Murdoch go?”

“He’ll be gone ’til tomorrow. That way way I’ll have time to get them fences done. I plan on takin’ Kate to the dance tonight. You goin’?”

“No. . . . Well, I’d better head out. I’ve got somethings to do.”

Johnny Madrid Lancer walked into the kitchen to snitch some cookies. He knew he should really get out to the range to finish what he had started, but the confrontation with his father had riled him. Just because cattle were Murdoch’s life that didn’t mean they were his.  Hell, he worked hard around the ranch. He earned his wages so if he wanted to take it easy once in a while, why not?

Part of the problem was his late nights at Kate’s. Riding back to the ranch, then trying to get up at dawn was tough. Trouble was he hadn’t quite persuaded Kate to let him spend the night.

The dark-haired gunfighter walked into his room. He needed his hat. Unfortunately, the bed tempted him. What could thirty minutes hurt? Murdoch was gone ’til tomorrow.

Three hours later the younger Lancer son turned over only to hear an “Oomph!” Half asleep, his mind didn’t register who or what could have landed on him.

“Sorry, Brother.”

The sapphire eyes opened to look into his sibling’s face–the sibling who was sprawled all over him.

“Scott, what the hell are you doing?”

“Uh, well, you see….”

Johnny started to sit up so that he could push the blond-haired man off when he realized that his left arm was attached to Scott’s right arm—by handcuffs.

The handsome blond gave his brother a sheepish smile. His little joke had obviously gone awry, but maybe he could still salvage a laugh.”Johnny, don’t be mad. I ran into Val. He told me you asked to borrow these”–shaking both of their arms with his gesture. “So I told him that I’d give them to you.”

“Quizzically, the older man inquired, “What did you want them for anyway?”

The younger man flushed. “None of your business. Now get them off me. I’ve got work to do and I don’t have time for your childish games.”

“Okay, okay. I’ve got the key in my pocket.” He reached into his right pocket, then his left–no key.

“Uh….”

“Find the damn key. I’ve got to get those fences done, take a bath and get dressed. I told Kate I’d meet her at 6:00!”

“Johnny, it’s already 2:00.”

“What? It can’t be!”

With his left hand Scott took out the pocket watch that his grandfather had given him. He showed the face to Johnny. . . . 2:00PM.

“But that means I was asleep for three hours.”

“I guess it does. You must have been tired.”

“Now I don’t have time to do those fences. Dammit! Get me out of these things! I’ll have to get that bath now. You know how long it takes to heat the water.”

“You could go without.”

“I’m not goin’ near Kate smellin’ like this. Now where’s that key?”

“I’m sure I had it in my right pocket–but there’s a hole….”

A string of profanities filled the air. “How could you be so stupid? And what did you this for anyway?”

“It was just a joke.”

Bitingly, Johnny murmured, “Some joke! If you don’t find that key, I’m going to….”

Consternation filled the pale face. “Johnny, I’m sorry. I must have lost it.”

His brother jumped off the bed jerking Scott along with him. “Then we’ve got to get an axe or something.”

“An axe?”

“That should break the chain so I can get free of you. Who’d of thought anyone from that fancy college of yours would be so careless?”

Scott hung his head. “You’re right. I just didn’t think.”

“DAMN STRAIGHT! Now let’s go find an axe.”

The brunet jerked on the chain and heard a small Ouch. “Come on, as long as we’re stuck, you might as well help out.”

“Wait, just a minute!”

Sighing, “What now?”

The blond reached into his shirt pocket to take out a key. “I remember now. I knew there was a hole in my pants pocket….”

Johnny grabbed the key to release himself. “Ooooee, am I glad to be out of those. Now get out of here. I have to go take a bath, get dressed, and…..”

Scott headed out the door fumbling with the remaining handcuff attached to his wrist.

The brunet called after him, “You can be sure I’m going to tell Murdoch why I couldn’t get the fences all done. He’s not going to land all over me for this one!”

The older Lancer turned to look at the younger man. “I’m really sorry, Johnny.”

“You should be.”

Scott left.


Johnny flew to his armoire to check out his supply of clean clothes.Luckily, Teresa had washed the day before so his white shirt with the embroidery was there. Now for the bath.

Heating the water seemed to take forever. Usually the gunfighter relished soaking in a tub of hot water, but today he made do with only a few inches. He did use a soap that Teresa had given him. At least it smelled like a man, not some sissy girl’s stuff.

After toweling off, he dressed quickly and brushed his hair. There! He was ready for Kate. With a mischievous smile, he wondered if Kate was ready for him?

Kate looked beautiful in a blue, lace dress. She had her hair piled high on her head. As she looked at herself in the full-length mirror, she was aware of her mother joining her.

“If Johnny doesn’t propose to you tonight, Kate, I’ll be very surprised.”

“Oh Mother, you know we’ve only been seeing each other for a few weeks.”

“That’s true but I’ve heard he’s the impetuous type. Just think, you’d be living in that magnificent house.”

“It is beautiful, but I’m not sure I love him.”

“Love? Do you think I was in love with your pa when I married him? Johnny Lancer is a good-looking young man who is part-owner of the biggest ranch in this valley. What’s not to love?”

“Well, that’s true, but he does have a reputation.”

“So he was a gunfighter? He isn’t now, and once you’ve landed him you can change him into whatever you want.”

“Just like you did Pa?” she giggled.

Her mother gave Kate a smile and a hug. “I just want you to be happy and have things. Your pa and I have been mostly happy but…there now I’ve said enough. Your beau will be here anytime.”


Johnny walked up to the house. He had left Barranca at the stable since the dance was just down from Kate’s home. The young man was glad that the ladies of the town saw nothing wrong with dancing as long as the partners maintained some kind of decorum. At one of the dances a couple had embraced too closely while waltzing and the town tongues had click-clacked for weeks afterwards.

The handsome brunet liked dancing since it gave a man a legitimate reason to put his arms around a girl–in public. Most of the females he knew were careful about their reputations so they would not allow too much familiarity without at least some kind of promise of wedlock.

Johnny Madrid had had many encounters with women. His sexy smile made it natural that women would find him charming, but he had always made it clear to any woman that he was the one in charge. He had no intention of being caught and forced into marriage by some irate father.

Kate Miller answered Johnny’s knock herself. “Kate darlin’, you look beautiful.”

“Why thank you, kind sir. Shall we go? My dancing shoes have been skipping for fifteen minutes.”


Kate knew most of the young people in town so she spent some time saying hello to friends. On the other side of the crowded room, Johnny did the same with some of the young bucks of the area. Their roars of laughter could be heard even above the music.

Then the musicians struck up a waltz. Johnny swept Kate into his arms and onto the dance floor. They did make a handsome couple, her fair hair in contrast to his dark looks.

The evening progressed smoothly with periodic breaks for punch and cookies. Finally the last dance was played and the two young people headed back to Kate’s house.

Kate’s mother had left one lamp lit in the downstairs parlor. “Come in for a moment. We hardly had any time to talk.”

Johnny sat next to Kate on the sofa. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

“Johnny! Mother’s right upstairs!”

“So? I don’t wanna kiss her!”

The young woman giggled. “You know what I mean. Behave yourself.”

“Aw, that’s no fun.”

“I’ll be you’ve had fun with lots of girls.”

“I’ve had my share.”

“Didn’t you ever think of settling down?”

“Have settled down. I’m a ranch owner or haven’t you heard?”

“Oh, you are silly. Everyone’s heard of Lancer.”

“‘Spose they have. Murdoch’s ranch is mighty big.”

“It’s your ranch too.”

“Just a third.”

“Well, that’s a lot–and one day….” She stopped. “I meant to ask you. Was your brother at the dance?”

“No, he didn’t go.”

“Why not? My friend Victoria was hoping to dance with him. She thinks he’s handsome.”

“Don’t know and I really don’t want to talk about him. Let’s talk about us.”

“Us? Johnny Lancer, I don’t know what you mean.” Kate’s heart began to beat faster. Could her mother be right about a proposal?

“Oh, I think you do.” He caressed her face and then pulled a pin from her hair. The elaborate hair arrangement, which had taken so long to create, cascaded around her shoulders. “That’s better. I like to run my fingers through your hair.”

“Johnny, that took hours,” she complained. I was going to leave it up for church tomorrow.”

“Sorry. I’ll help you put it up again.” He kissed her pouting lips. “In fact, I’ll be glad to help you in other ways too.”

“What ways?”

“Oh…to undress for bed.”

For a moment she just sat there. “You don’t think I’m going to let you do that, do you?”

“Truthfully, no, but I thought there might be a chance and, well, I’m a bit of a gambler.”

“I see. Well, this time you lose.”

Johnny laughed loudly. “Okay, darlin’. That’s fine with me. I gotta get back to the ranch anyway. Gotta get up at dawn. You know us big ranch owners–the work’s never done.”

“Will you have any time to take me for a carriage ride?”

“Don’t know. Murdoch depends on me. He said to me just the other day ” (He stood up and put his hand in his shirt like Napoleon)–“Son,” he says, “this ranch would fall apart without you.”

Kate laughed gleefully. “You do that very well.”

“Well, I hear it a lot!”

“So what about the carriage ride?”

“I’ll come by to get you about 3:00.”

“Oh, won’t I see you at church?”

“Uh, no, I…well, uh..I’ve got to git those fences…I mean accounts done.”

“You do the bookkeeping? You must be very smart.”

“Yeah, well, Murdoch’s eyes aren’t too good anymore. Whereas I can pick the wings off a fly at fifty paces with my gun.”

A look of puzzlement crossed the lovely face. “Why would you want to do that?”

“Acually I wouldn’t but it does come in handy as a parlor trick. I have a couple of others if you’d like to see ’em?”

“I certainly would.”

“How about this? Close your eyes. . . . Don’t open them. . . . That’s a good girl. . . Now open them.”

Kate found herself locked in handcuffs.

“Johnny Lancer, you let me out of these!”

“I will for a price.”

“A price?”

“Yeah, I need three kisses.”

“Three? I’ll give you one!”

“Well, I am a gentleman so I’ll settle for two.”

“One and a half!”

“Hey, wait a minute, how do you give a half kiss?”

“One lip, Silly!”

This time Johnny roared with laughter. “Just for that, I’ll let you go for the one kiss, but it’s got to be a GOOD one.”

“All my kisses are good!”

“Ooooeee, I’ll say. Now pucker up.”

The kiss was as advertised–long, deep and sensuous. When they broke apart, Johnny sighed, “Whoa lady, I’d better leave before I forget I’m a gentleman.”

“Yes, Johnny dear, maybe you’d better before I forget I’m a lady.”

On that note Johnny Madrid Lancer left for home.


“Too much punch! Damn, I had too much punch!” Johnny could feel the punch sloshing around in his belly. For some reason Barranca’s usually smooth gait accented his discomfort. The liquid seemed to move in a roaring tide breaking half-way up his sternum. The discomfort extended south too. Naturally he would not have mentioned this to Kate before leaving. For some reason the call of nature would seemingly shock the delicate ears of a young lady.

So Johnny did what he always did in a situation like this. He brought Barranca to a stand still, climbed down and took advantage of a nearby stand of trees–their sensibilities did not concern him.

Remounting the palamino, he felt a slight wave of dizziness. “Whoa! What was in that punch?” He had seen one of the Larraby boys over near the punch bowl with a flask, but the pinkish liquid had seemed innocuous enough.

Despite the queasiness of his stomach and pain in his head, the dark-haired young man finally made it home. After seeing to Barranca’s welfare, he tottered to bed and forgot all about Kate, fences and handcuffs.

The late morning light pierced his skull. <<No more punch. I’m stickin’ to beer.>> This thought barely registered before his stomach agreed with a heave. Luckily the chamber pot was at hand. <<I’m gonna kill that Larraby kid.>>

Walking slowly to the pitcher and basin, he poured himself a glass of water so that he could rinse his mouth and throat. Squinting at himself in the mirror, he wondered how his head could hurt so much and still stay on his shoulders.

A groan escaped his lips. <<Fences. I’ve got to go fix those fences.>> Not bothering to put on clean clothes, he grabbed his hat to head out to the stable.

The clock in the great room began to chime. Agony clanged in his head. For one brief moment he considering taking out his gun and blasting the offending timepiece, but decided it wasn’t worth facing Murdoch’s wrath.

Some part of him absorbed the number of chimes. NO! It couldn’t be that late! Murdoch would be back in just two hours. He’d never get all those fences done!

For an instant he was tempted to just go back to bed and say the hell with it. Maybe Murdoch would take pity on his dying son! Then he remembered the man he was thinking about. Murdoch Lancer tolerated little weakness in himself or his sons. So the brunet grumpily carried on to the stable and out onto the range where the miscreant fences lay in wait.

By the time he arrived at the first of the offenders, the inside of his head felt like the roar of a waterfall. Fortunately, he realized that he must have finished more fencing than he had thought because these were in perfect shape. No carousing cow could even stick a snout through these–let alone an ungainly body.

As he rode along, he noticed that the whole section was complete. Perhaps some of the ranch hands had picked up the slack?

“Johnny!” The gunfighter knew that voice. Doomsday had arrived! Murdoch Lancer was home early.

“Johnny, you did a great job. These fences look terrific.”

“Uh, yeah thanks.”

“Let’s go see the ones in the next section.”

Gulping, the young man remonstrated, “Do we hafta? They look just like these.”

“I just want to be sure they’re all done. Every beef we lose costs us money.”

“Sure, let’s go. <<Oh well. I’ve lived a good life–short, but good.>>

As they made their way to the next section, the younger Lancer inquired, “You’re back early, aren’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, I am. I had a thought while over at the Henderson’s. Why don’t you and I go do some fishing together?”

“Fishing?”

“Sure, we’ll take a couple of days off. With the fences done we can take a little time. You and I never get a chance to do things together.”

“Well, uh, you see all the….”

Murdoch stopped. “Johnny, I’m sorry I should have asked if you had plans with Kate.”

“Er, no, it’s not that. I mean I’m supposed to take her for a buggy ride today but that’s all.”

“Great. Then we’ll get together some stuff and go for a few days starting tomorrow. Teresa will be glad to have us out of her hair. She’s been talking about doing some housecleaning. Now let’s check the last of the fences.”

<<And it’ll be the last of me when he finds out I didn’t do ’em!>>

But as they continued along all the fencing seemed in pristine shape. No breaks, no twists, no downed poles–perfect.

“Well, Son, I knew I could count on you. What do you say we go back and talk about our fishing plans?”

Dumbfounded by the turn of events, Johnny prevaricated. “I’d really like to Murdoch, but I’ve just got time to do a quick clean up and then pick up Kate.”

At Murdoch’s look of disappointment, the young man reassured his father that he’d be back early so they could talk fishing then.

“Good. I have a new lure to use that Matthew Henderson showed me.”

The two Lancers headed home.

Teresa greeted them with affection. She was thrilled to hear of their plans from Murdoch. “Wonderful. Now I can get a lot done around here with you two gone. But what about Scott?”

“Didn’t I tell you? I sent him up to Sacramento to secure some water rights for the ranch.”

“So he won’t be here either? Now I can really turn this place inside-out!”

“Just don’t touch my desk!” demanded the patriarch.

“And don’t touch my room!” the dark-haired son added as he emerged from his room wearing a clean shirt.

“Oh Johnny! I really want to get in there and clean. I think you’ve got shirts stuffed behind things in there.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Well, how come I’ve never seen you wear that shirt I gave you for your birthday?”

“It’s in there. I’m savin’ it for a special occasion.”

“Oh that’s sweet.”

<<Just so she doesn’t find it until I can get Maria to mend that rip,>>

“Time to go. Kate will be waiting. See ya later.”


Bright and early the next morning the two Lancers set off for three days of fishing. Kate had not been too pleased about the news when Johnny mentioned it. He had placated her by agreeing to go on a picnic when he got back. He liked picnics except for the creepy, crawly bugs. There would be food, a blanket and Kate–Johnny’s idea of a great way to spend an afternoon.

Since the weather had been good lately, the two men just carried their bedrolls and fishing poles. They would catch their meals.  After riding some distance, they finally arrived at one of Murdoch’s favorite spots. “Since we don’t have a whole week, I thought we’d stop here. Maybe we can go further out next time.”

Truthfully, all that Johnny wanted to do was take a nap. His stomach and head were much better, but he still felt like he had gone two out of three falls with a bull.

“Come on, Son, If we want dinner tonight, we have to get a move on.” In the face of this father’s enthusiasm, the brunet didn’t have the heart to say no.

Ironically, it was Johnny that got the first nibble. In fact, it was more than a nibble, it felt like a whale!

“Careful now. Give him some line.”

“I know, Murdoch.” Murdoch considered himself an expert at fishing. He was almost as excited about reeling in a fish as he was about outfoxing someone like Aggie at an auction.

Some minutes went by as the two men continued their war against the silver swimmer. Just as the battle appeared to be turning their way, their opponent managed to slip the hook. As the tension on the line released, the younger Lancer lost his balance–only to find himself in the cold water.

“DAMN! Johnny, you let him get away!”

“Let him? There was no ‘let’ about it!”

“Well, come on out of there. You’d better change out of those clothes before you freeze.”

Seeing that his teeth were beginning to chatter, the gunfighter thought that was a distinct possibility.

While putting on the dry shirt and pants he’d brought, Johnny heard Murdoch give a grunt of satisfaction.

“Take a look at this beauty.” Murdoch held a fish about nine inches long. “At least we’ll have something for supper.”

“Don’t forget those cookies and things, Teresa made us bring.”

“Let me get the fire built so we can dry your clothes.”

“G…good idea.” The brunet was still cold.

Finally both men were able to sit down to a meal of fish, crackers and cookies. The hot coffee tasted especially good to Johnny.

As the sun began to set, Murdoch made up the bedrolls for sleep. At the question in the sapphire eyes of his son, Murdoch explained, “I know it’s kind of early, but I aim to get up before dawn. The earth looks so clean and fresh. I always kind of imagine it’s like Adam and Eve must have seen it.”

“Mebbe so, but I don’t see any apple trees.”

“You have a point, Son. I’m going to turn in. See you in the morning.”

“‘Night Murdoch.”

The next day went much the same except that Johnny managed to stay out of the water. They also caught more fish. By nightfall the younger man was glad to just sit by the fire. He’d never realized how tiring fishing could be.   Staring into the campfire, his reverie was interrupted by the sound of his father’s voice, “Johnny?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about and well—I guess this is as good a time as any.”

<<Oh, oh!>>

“Are you serious about this Kate? I mean–are you planning on marrying her?”

“Uh, hadn’t really thought about it.”

“It’s just that, well, I’m not getting any younger and I sure would like to see some grandkids at Lancer.”

“What about Scott?”

Murdoch looked down. “I doubt if Scott will stay at Lancer much more than another year. I suspect he’ll go back East and get into politics or something. After all, he’s Harlan Garrett’s heir. That would give him an edge.”

“He’s never talked about politics.”

“I know but sometimes I can see a sad look in his eyes–something he’s missing. Maybe I’m wrong but… Anyway, I’d like to think you’ll always be here to take care of Lancer. You and Kate could have a good life together.”

“You know I’ve made provisions for Teresa, but I want her to know that she’ll always be welcome at the ranch. That way your kids would have others to play with.”

“Whoa, Murdoch! I’ve only been seeing Kate for a couple of weeks.”

“I know but if she’s the one…”

“Murdoch, I’m not sure I even want to get married. From what I’ve seen there’s too much…heartache involved.”

“Are you referring to your mother and me?”

The brunet looked away. “I guess so.”

“Son, when I married Catherine, I thought it would be forever. I had all the young man’s fantasies of enduring love. When I lost her, I decided never to let myself be hurt again.”

“But that didn’t last long. I saw your mother and well, I just needed to be with her–in all ways. Those first couple of years were wonderful for me; but when I look back now, I can see that I was blind to her unhappiness. I was so angry when she left and took you with her that I wouldn’t even recognize that maybe she needed more from me. I was working from morning ’til night in those days. I’d come back to her and be too exhausted to do anything more than eat and go to bed.”

“She loved you, but I think she felt trapped. One day she broke free. It took me a long time to think of her without hatred.”

Johnny looked at his father. The dismay at that statement was clearly visible on the young man’s face.

“But that did pass. We both made mistakes, but unfortunately you paid the price for them. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is as much as I’d love to have grandchildren, I want you to be sure about what you’re doing whether it’s Kate or someone else.”

“How do you know for sure?”

The tall man smiled, “Now there, Son, I can’t help you. You have to do that on your own. Just don’t let that hot blood of yours get out of control. The regrets can last a lifetime.

“And on at piece of advice, I am going to say goodnight. Since tomorrow’s our last day, I want to catch some big ones!”

“$1.00 says I catch a bigger one than you!

“$1.00?–not very sure of your ability, are you?”

Johnny bristled. “Hey, listen Murdoch Lancer, I’ll make it $5.00!”

“Gracious! Did your boss raise your wages?”

“No, but I can borrow it from Teresa.”

“Teresa?” he harumphed. “You already owe her $10.00.”

“I do not! In a very small voice, he added, “It’s only $8.00.”

“What was that?”

“It’s only $8.00!”

The patriarch smiled, “All right. The loser has to wash windows for Teresa. You know she always asks one of us to when she’s doing a big cleaning.”

Fear entered the sapphire eyes. “Windows? Oh, Murdoch, anything but that!”

“Sorry, my son, windows or no bet!”

Muttering the young man agreed. “You sure can’t trust anybody around here.”

“What was that you said?”

‘NOTHING!–just goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Johnny.”


Riding under the Lancer gate, Murdoch and Johnny noticed Jelly out front beating rugs.

“Jelly, what’ve you got against those rugs?”

“Boss, I’m sure glad ta see ya. Teresa’s had me doin’ all kinds a stuff around here. I’m a ranch hand, not a housemaid!”

“Aw Jelly, I think it’s sweet.”

Throwing a menacing look at the dark-haired young man, the bearded one growled, “You just wait, Johnny Lancer, she found that shirt of yours–the one you ripped on the fence.”

The brunet pulled his hat down over his eyes. “I’m dead.”

Eyes twinkling, Murdoch nodded. “Well, I suspect your only chance is to go on in there, throw yourself on her mercy and tell her that you volunteer to wash the windows.”

“I still think my fish was bigger than yours!”

“That puny thing! It was so small I still think it was more bait than fish. Now go!”

Grumbling, the gunfighter walked into the house. Everything sparkled with polish.

“Johnny Lancer, you stop right there! You are filthy. DO NOT touch anything. Go out and take a bath. I intend to burn your smelly clothes!”

Touching his tomato-red shirt, he wailed, “But it’s my favorite!”

Teresa chuckled. “Oh all right, but I want to disinfect it first before I wash it. I put clean stuff on your bed. Take it with you to the bath house.”

“Yes, Teresa.”

The young woman looked at him suspiciously. A submissive Johnny Madrid Lancer had to be up to something.

An hour later Teresa judged that both Johnny and Murdoch were now sufficiently clean and tidy to be allowed to sit in the great room and kitchen.

While Murdoch worked on the books, Johnny sat at the kitchen table eating a piece of freshly-baked chocolate cake. “This sure is good. What’r ya makin’ for dinner?”

“Fish.”

“What?!!”

“Relax. I was just kidding you.”

“Good. I don’t wanna see any more fish.”

“I can understand that. Oh, by the way, Murdoch tells me that you’ve volunteered to do the windows for me this year. Is that true?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

“What?”

“Yeah, I’ll do ’em,” he said in an exasperated tone.

“Wonderful. I’m so glad that I don’t have to twist your arm. You can start tomorrow. As soon as they’re done, my cleaning will be finished. Then I plan to take a few days off.”

“What’da ya mean?”

“Just that! You men can cope on your own. Mary Henderson and I are heading over to Green River for the baths and shopping.”

“Hey, but that means you won’t be here to cook!”

“I know. Isn’t that delightful?” she smirked. “And don’t grumble under your breath. It will do you good to have to take care of yourselves.”

“I can take care of myself. It’s Murdoch and Scott who can’t.”

“Really? Is that why I found your shirt stuffed under the mattress? And what were all those red dots on it?”

“Uh…you see…I tried to repair the rip myself.”

“So?”

“Well, dammit, who knew how hard it would be to thread one of them needles and then I musta stuck myself fifty times!”

Hiding her smile behind her hand, Teresa relented. “All right, Johnny, I’ll fix it , but you have to promise you’ll wear it.”

“Oh, I will, I will.”

As the young man worked on his second piece of cake, he looked up at Teresa to inquire, “Do you ever think about gettin’ married?”

“Sometimes. Why?”

“I got this feelin’ Kate would like some kind of understandin’.”

“Really? But you haven’t known each other long.”

“I know. I like her ‘n all but the thought of thirty or forty years together….”

“It is kind of scary. You know, Johnny, sometimes I’ll be lying in my bed at night, and I’ll think about what it was like before my father was killed. If my mother hadn’t left us, I wonder if he’d still be alive?”

“Why would ya think that?”

“Oh maybe, it’s just that a married man has so much more to lose. Maybe he’d have insisted that Murdoch take more men with them that night. . . .I just don’t know.”

“Teresa, Paul O’Brien loved you. He just did his job.”

“I wish you could have known him. He was a wonderful man.”

“I’m sure he was and his daughter is pretty special too.”

“Thanks. Now no more cake. Dinner will be ready in an hour or so and I want you hungry.”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

“Now get out of here, I have cooking to do.”

.

Epilogue

Johnny wandered into the great room where the clock began to chime its hours. Suddenly Jelly burst into the house. “Boss, boss! Some guy brought these out from town. One’s for you, the other’s for Johnny.”

Murdoch opened his wire:

“Regret to inform you that horse belonging to Scott Lancer found wandering near town. Papers and note in saddlebags. No sign missing man. Sheriff, Middle River

While Murdoch read the few words, Johnny concentrated on his own missive:

Found following note addressed to J. Lancer in saddlebags:

Madrid:
He’s dead. Have helped all I can. Happy now? A friend

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-end-

To Alone—>

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