Remember My Name
A cloud of dust followed the battered yellow Volvo as it roared under the Lancer arch, horn tooting. In the great room, the black-haired man lounging on the couch looked up and smiled, white teeth flashing against his tanned skin as he recognized the sound.
“Scott, Teresa’s here,” he informed the blond man seated behind the alcove desk. Tall and slender, the other man stood up, putting both hands in the small of his back, which cracked pleasurably, then crossed to the door.
“Let the wild rumpus begin.” he quoted ruefully, then flung it open.
A second later, a young girl in low-cut jeans and a tank top that ended just north of her belt buckle flew through it in a welter of flying dark curls, clanking arm bracelets and overnight bags, followed closely by a small yapping pug. She flung her arms about his neck. “Scott, it’s so good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you, too, Teresa,” he said dryly, withdrawing her arms from about his neck in an effort to breathe.
In the next instant, she hurled herself into the arms of the second man now standing behind them, a wide smile on his handsome face.
“Johnny!!” she cried, almost strangling him in her excitement. “You’re home!”
Releasing him, she stepped back, looking intently into his face. “For good?”
He nodded. “For good.”
He looked up as a second woman crossed the threshold. Tall and blonde, she had an expensive haircut and the over-groomed look he associated with the current crop of Hollywood starlets. He thought he remembered her face from the cover of one of the tabloids Teresa was so fond of reading.
“Johnny, Scott,” Teresa began, “This is Lyric, Lyric Bowen, the star of the film I told you about, the one I have the supporting role in?”
The two men looked at each other, then collided as each offered a hand, smiling at the lovely girl. A sharp nip at his ankles made Scott step back…”What the…” he began as Teresa gathered up the dog.
“Bad boy!” she said mildly to the animal, who glared at Scott with round, belligerent eyes. “You remember, I told you about Pugsley? The puppy I found in the trash can in L.A.?”
Behind her back, Scott rolled his eyes at his star-struck cousin. Teresa had an unfortunate habit of naming her animals after movie characters.
Just then, a small cavalcade of vehicles roared under the arch. The girl turned anxiously toward her cousins.
“Remember I mentioned that it was an indie film?” pleadingly.
The men shook their heads. Scott raised an eyebrow, guessing what was coming.
“Well, we, uh, the producers ran out of money and we still have some scenes to shoot….I told them you wouldn’t mind if we finished the film here.”
Scott opened his mouth, exasperated. Johnny shot him a quelling glance and he shut it again with a snap.
A minute later, the vehicles halted, spilling out a gaggle of movie types and equipment. As Teresa ran to tell Maria, the housekeeper, Johnny picked up Lyric’s bags. “Let me show you to your room.”
A trifle stiffly, he carried them upstairs to the room next to Teresa’s and set them on the bed. Standing in the doorway, he smiled. “Dinner’s in an hour.”
Stretching, the girl lifted her long blonde hair, then let it drop. Her bangs emphasized the catlike green eyes beneath them as she smiled into his blue ones. “I need a shower,” she announced, looking deeply into his eyes. “To cool off.”
He smiled. “I imagine you do, after driving on the 405 with Teresa.” He waved a negligent hand as he turned away. “Bathroom’s that way.”
Surprised to find herself left alone after the blatant invitation, the blonde smiled at the closed door. She loved a challenge and had not yet met the man who could resist her charms.
Stuffed, after dinner the movie types, including the pretentious, bearded young director, had drifted away to the bunkhouse and their rooms, promising an early start in the morning.
Lyric, too, had excused herself and gone upstairs early. Scott’s eyes followed her. Tall, thin and long-legged, Lyric nonetheless sported the large baseballs-on-the-chest look that bespoke breast augmentation by a popular Beverly Hills surgeon. Having paid plenty for them, she showcased them at every opportunity in low-cut tanks and dresses. She had been charming and flirtatious at dinner and a moment later, he, too, excused himself.
Left to themselves, Johnny poured a brandy for himself and Bailey’s on the rocks for his cousin. Ensconced in the deep blue velvet couch, she smiled up at him happily.
He jerked his head at her. “So—where’d you meet Lyric?”
“On that soap opera—I was the ingénue, remember?”
He did, vaguely. Teresa was always hoping for her big show business break; the pilots and soap operas were beginning to run together.
“Lyric…do you like her?”
Johnny thought for a moment. “She’s pretty enough. Got really big feet, though.”
Teresa clapped a hand over her mouth, giggling. “God, never let her hear you say that! She’s really sensitive about them—size 11s!! And it’s the one thing she can’t buy—small feet!” she said complacently, sticking both her size sixes straight out before her.
He tweaked her nose. “Go to bed.”
She rose. “I think I will, I’m really tired. See you in the morning.”
The next day, a shriek penetrated their early morning fog as a door crashed into the wall of the hallway. The small, rotund gaffer came stumbling out, a boot in one hand. His screams quickly became muffled as his mouth and tongue swelled. From up and down the hall, startled voices asked “What was that?” and doors flew open. Scott and Johnny knelt beside him as the crowd gathered. He looked up at them, mouth opening and closing as anaphylaxis claimed him. A second later, he was dead.
A short time later, the San Joaquin County Coroner’s hearse rolled away. The sheriff, a big man with a beer gut named David R. Bell, looked soberly at the three Lancers who stood facing him, Johnny’s protective arm around Teresa. Scott, he thought, looked tired, with dark circles under his eyes, as if he had not slept well.
“Come on, people” ordered the director, clapping his hands. “The show must go on!”
Teresa glanced over her shoulder as she was herded off, seeing the frowns on the faces of her cousins as she went.
That day’s shooting was uneventful and ended promptly at six, even the fretful director having found Fred Henley’s death “a downer.”
Dinner was a somber affair and again, the participants drifted off early to the bunkhouse or their rooms. Teresa and Lyric went upstairs to run lines in Lyric’s bedroom, leaving Johnny and Scott alone in the great room.
Around 1 a.m., the second assistant director rose from her sleepless bed and wandered outside to the Olympic-sized pool. A second later, she stepped out of her flip flops. Trendy Seven brand jeans dropped around her ankles, quickly followed by her tank top and thong underwear.
She cleaved the water with hardly a splash, finding it pleasantly cool against her overheated body. Floating on her back, Rose Adams looked up at the moon, feeling the day’s tensions begin to leave her.
Seeking the relaxation that sleep would bring her, Rose turned over and began swimming laps. Faster and faster she went, flipping over and pushing off from the wall like the experienced swimmer she was.
Suddenly, she stopped, gasping, as something struck her in the back. Unable to understand what was happening, she turned, looking about wildly. Drawing in air to scream, Rose swallowed water instead. With a barely audible hum, the pool cover advanced relentlessly, pinning her beneath it.
She pounded on it, soundlessly screaming. The last of her air left her lungs, leaving Rose Adams floating facedown.
Remember My Name
In the pink light of dawn, Arturo Cipriano VII strolled out from the bunkhouse. Smiling, he breathed deeply of the crisp, eucalyptus-scented air. It was his favorite time of day. He glanced toward the house, knowing that Maria would have begun breakfast already. The kitchen lights dimmed as dawn broke over the distant mountains and Arturo Cipriano saw what he had missed. A horrified moment later, he started for the house, eyes wide in his head, hoarse voice calling, “Mr. Johnny, Mr. Johnny!”
For the second time in two days, the coroner’s hearse rolled under the arch, followed closely by the sheriff’s car. Inside it, the big man’s face was troubled. All of his instincts were screaming but in the absence of toxicology reports for the deceased, he had nothing to go on. As for Rose, everyone had seen her drinking tequila shots at dinner. She had had too much, gotten disoriented and drowned, most likely. David frowned. Two deaths in two days seemed unlikely but with Hollywood people, anything could—and did—happen. Still, he had ordered background checks on cast and crew.
Leaning against Scott, his arm around her in the morning chill, Lyric shivered, causing the muscular arm to tighten. She and Scott had heard nothing in the night but then, they had been too busy. Both the Lancer men were dripping wet, having leaped into the pool in a futile attempt to save the girl.
Over her head, Johnny’s eyes met Scott’s, then glanced down at Teresa, troubled. Reading her cousin’s mind, she said “Oh, no, Johnny, you can’t—we’re almost done filming. To close now would be a waste of the backer’s money.” Big brown eyes met vivid blue ones. He knew how much she hungered for stardom. He could not be the one to take it away from her now. Sensing weakening, she pled, “Please, Johnny…just two more days?”
He nodded down at her. “But you don’t leave my sight. Promise me.”
She nodded happily. “Sure, Johnny, anything you say.” She tilted her head and looked up at him. Shooting will be over in two days. Then we’ll go back to L.A. and it will all be over.”
In the great room, Scott built a fire, as much for comfort as warmth against the chilly morning while the others went to change. Back to the room, he stirred the flames with the poker, brow creased in thought. He never saw the assailant silently crossing the carpet behind him before the pain exploded in his head. He pitched forward, to lie unmoving in a slowly widening pool of blood.
Lyric’s scream alerted Johnny and he rushed down the stairs, blue eyes narrowed, his service weapon in his hand. At the sight of his cousin, pale and still, he halted, the blood draining from his own face. Behind him, Maria dropped the breakfast tray with a clatter, one hand going to her mouth. He knelt beside the limp body, rolling it over. “Teresa!” he snapped over his shoulder. “Go call 911!” and the ashen-faced girl ran from the room.
In the barn, the skinny, pretentious director and his Director’s Guild trainee set up the movie’s last shot. Annoyed at the delay caused by the defection of two of their stars, they were in a bitchy mood. The rest of the shaken crew had demanded time off and left for Morro Coyo.
“Be back,” the director said menacingly, “by noon tomorrow and not a minute later or you’ll never work in this town again.”
“My God,” he said when they had all departed. “I can’t believe we’ve stayed on schedule with everything that’s happened.”
The trainee, wise in the ways of Hollywood, was quick to praise his boss, who, not so coincidentally, was also his lover. The man nodded smugly, drinking in the fulsome praise.
“Can’t wait to get out of here,” he said “and back to civilization.” He looked around, distastefully, nose wrinkling at the faint smell of horses and hay.
“What’ll you do first?”
“Get us a room at the Chateau Marmont,” the director said quickly, as if he’d been thinking about it. “Order Cristal, smoke weed, do some lines, get loose. Party.”
The preppy young trainee beamed. “Sounds good. Sounds really good.”
A sudden creaking from above made them look up but it was already too late. A large klieg light, loosened from its moorings, fell directly atop them. Brains splattered on the hay bales and across stall doors. Enmeshed in death, the sycophant and the director’s legs thrashed briefly, then were still.
Scott Lancer was not dead but he did have a skull fracture and a major headache when he awoke a few hours later in a hospital bed to find his concerned kin, lover and the sheriff staring down at him.
“Like it or not,” the big man said sternly, “I’m posting a guard outside his door.” For once, he received no argument from Johnny Lancer.
“Go on,” said the tiny nurse, shooing them out a few minutes later. “Get out of here, let him rest. Doctor’s orders.”
Scott waved a hand at them weakly. “G’wan. You heard the woman. I’ll be fine.”
Reluctantly, they left, looking back over their shoulders with brows wrinkled in concern. Finally, they were gone and Scott closed his eyes, exhausted.
Back at the ranch, Teresa went upstairs to lie down, saying she had a headache. After a few muttered words with Johnny, Cipriano drew up a chair outside her door, sitting erect with a shotgun across his lap.
Lyric laid a hand on Johnny’s arm. “Johnny? Would you take me for a ride? I need to clear some cobwebs.”
“Sure. I’ll go get the car.”
She shook her head. “A horseback ride.” Seeing the quizzical look on his face, she laughed. “I’m a woman of many talents.”
He bit back the uncharitable retort that rose to his lips. The hacienda walls were thick but not that thick.
“OK, I’ll catch and saddle some horses and meet you at the barn.”
She looked at him, green eyes slanted. “Ten minutes.”
From the bedroom window, she watched idly as he walked away, admiring the lithe walk and lean body.
In the corral, Johnny caught a palomino stallion, descendant of the original Barranca. Next, he caught a gray filly, whimsically named Besos—Kisses—because of her habit of nuzzling everyone affectionately. From a nearby paddock, a huge black stallion watched before dropping his head once again to graze.
In the fading light of early evening, they made their way up a winding road that led to an ancient, dilapidated line shack. Lyric turned her head, searching. As they reached the place where brambles and trees took over, she spotted something and dismounted. Almost hidden by drifting leaves, an old tombstone leaned drunkenly.
Still on the horse, he watched her, puzzled. Among all the trees, dusk had fallen; it was hard to see her expression.
Lyric knelt, tracing a finger over the moss-covered stone. “Looks like…Ed…Edm…something.”
Dismounting, he walked toward her, dried leaves crunching under his boots. Distant memory rang a bell but he was unable to grasp the thought.
She stood as he approached, a strange half-smile on her lips. Turning, she put a hand on his crotch as she stood on tiptoes, fastening her lips on his.
“Wait a minute,” he said, removing her hand. The coldness of his tone was chilling.
“You’re Scott’s girl…or have you forgotten?”
“I haven’t forgotten a thing,” she said, “But you’ve got that wrong. It’s you I want.”
Johnny frowned. “Well, I don’t mess with my cousin’s love life.”
She sneered. “What love life? We fucked…that was it. Does that mean we’re pinned now? Going steady?”
She took a step closer. “Scott’s gonna take me to the hop? Get real, Johnny.”
He looked at her coldly. “Get on the horse. We’re goin’ back.”
As he turned to mount, his acute senses warned him. Flinging himself to the side, he just missed having the little knife slide between his ribs.
Combat reflexes, honed in Iraq, took over. In one lithe movement, he pivoted, his boot catching her across the midsection, not hard enough to hurt her but enough to double her over, the silver knife still clutched in her hand.
Sprawled in the leaves, she looked up at him, winded.
“Well,” he drawled. “Guess we know who was behind them killings, don’t we?”
She shook her head, then began to curse him and the entire Lancer family, invective as vile as any he’d heard in the service.
“Shut up,” he ordered, hauling her to her feet. Lyric continued to scream so he took a bandanna from the palomino’s saddlebag, gagging her with it.
Returning down the winding path, Lyric bound to her horse, Johnny slid her down from the animal as they reached the house. Lights were on in the barn; Teresa must still be shooting.
Prodding her before him into the great room, he made a third call to Dave Bell. Flipping his cell phone closed, he and Lyric waited for the sheriff.
Remember My Name
When the big man arrived with a matron, the girl was patted down, cuffed and loaded into the back of the second cruiser. As the red taillights disappeared down the road, Dave looked at his friend.
“I’m seventh generation lawman. I grew up on tales of what went on around here for the last hundred fifty years. That woman,” he continued, “You know who she is?”
Johnny shook his head.
The big man picked up a silver framed picture from the desk and shook it at him. “I ran a make on her. Just heard from Interpol. Lyric Bowen is the great-great-great grand daughter of Lucy Snark, aka Lucille Snipes, aka Libby Gumbiner from England, to name a few of her aliases.”
Seeing the name hadn’t registered, he continued. “One of the two women who tried to kill Johnny Madrid back in the 1860s. Ended up in Bedlam, the London mental hospital. The woman was a total loon, of course. Had to be, to do some of the things she did, a real menace to society. She got pregnant and gave birth in prison. Gave the baby to one of the jailers.”
Recognition dawned. “Why? What did a gunfighter ever do to her?”
“That’s just it. Nothing. She wanted him and she couldn’t have him.”
“How do you know all this?” Johnny demanded.
“Dave Bell—the first sheriff in Morro Coyo—kept meticulous records. Lucy’s partner, Sarah, escaped from Bedlam and made her way back here, using the name Willadeen O’Hara. She avoided capture one Halloween and was never seen again. Rumor had it that she used an old hermit up on Stone Mountain to make her escape and then killed him for his money. But it was never proven. She was sighted a few times after that but never caught. My guess is, she went back to England.”
He looked consideringly at his friend. “But Lucy never got out of Bedlam. She raved about the Lancers and her former partner till the end of her days. Mad as hell that she escaped Bedlam without her.”
He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “A real basketcase.”
Johnny looked at him, dumbfounded.
“Well, think about it, Johnny. It fits the pattern.”
The big man tossed a silver object inside a Baggie onto the desk. “You know what that is?”
Johnny shook his head.
“It’s not a knife. It’s a spoon. Sharpened to a knife-point. It’s what she just tried to use on you. And that was Lucy and Willadeen’s weapon of choice. A family heirloom, you might say.”
The sheriff shook his head. “That girl’s just as crazy as a bedbug, Johnny…must run in the family.”
He picked up his hat, preparing to leave. “But the good news is, you can sleep sound tonight. We’ve got our killer, I’d lay money on it.”
Johnny sloshed some tequila into a glass. Wordlessly, he passed it to Dave just as the phone rang.
“That was the hospital,” he said, hanging up. “Calling to say Scott can come home tomorrow.”
“He can? Oh, wonderful!” Poised on the threshold, Teresa entered the room, her smile bright.
The sheriff glanced again at the photos on the wall, thinking how strong the Lancer family resemblance was. Johnny was a carbon copy of his ancestor, the legendary gunfighter Johnny Madrid. As was Scott Garrett Lancer the Eighth; he looked just like his great-great-great grandfather. Their mothers, he thought to himself, might just as well not have been there for all the splash they’d made in the Lancer gene pool.
His face softened as he looked at Teresa. He had been sweet on the girl once, when they were all kids but she had gone off to Hollywood to seek her fortune and he had married his Emily. Dave glanced at the daguerreotype of Teresa O’Brien, eyes moving to her descendant. In snug hip-hugging, lowcut jeans, tight tank top and a denim jacket, she, too, was the spitting image of her ancestor.
Alone in his room, Johnny stripped off his clothes, letting them fall carelessly on the floor, and slid between the cool sheets. They felt good on his naked body and he crossed sinewy arms behind his head, staring out at the full moon riding high in the sky.
Sleep tugged at his eyelids as his mind roved back over the day. He was glad the killer had been caught, the film crew had gone, that Scott would soon be home and that the hacienda was the Lancers’ once again.
In the distance, a wolf howled, to be answered by the rest of his pack. The eerie, wavering song focused his attention for a moment. Halloween, he thought sleepily. One they’d never forget.
He turned onto his side and punched up the pillow, a small smile lifting his lips. Soon, he was sound asleep.
Down the hall, a door opened quietly. The bloated orange moon cast wavering shadows as the intruder tiptoed stealthily down the hall, slipping from one pool of darkness to another. The fitful light picked out the sharp tip of the cleaver in one hand.
The intruder put one ear to Johnny’s door and listened. There was no sound. The gunfighter’s descendant was surely deeply asleep by now, helped along by the Nembutal added to the tequila decanter earlier. There would be no opposition.
The killer turned the knob and slipped inside, feet making no sound on the heavy carpet. With the sheet folded to his waist, Johnny was just visible in the wavering light. In the distance, the lone wolf howled once more, then was silent.
In the corral, Barranca stamped his feet and returned to sleep. The intruder paused for a moment, studying the slumbering face. Even asleep, he was handsome, thick eyelashes casting darker pools on his chiseled face, black hair falling across his forehead. He muttered something in his sleep and turned, flinging one arm out wide.
The killer raised the knife high, moonlight glittering on the blade.
Searing pain engulfed Johnny as it entered his chest. Blood gushed in a torrent as it was withdrawn and raised for another strike. Awake in an instant, he gripped the blade as it flashed downward, grunting with pain as it sliced his palm open. He grappled with the killer as consciousness threatened to swim away. With a supreme effort, he brought up his knees and kicked the killer in the chest. The assailant flew across the room and hit the wall. The knife spun away. Plaster rained down. Johnny staggered to his feet, fighting clear of the blood-soaked sheets and dropped to both knees atop the killer, pinning him as he ripped off the ski mask.
Teresa looked up at him, teeth bared in a snarl, squirming like a rattler to escape.
He gasped, thunderstruck, before climbing to his feet, jerking the girl with him. Seeing him weaken, she grabbed for the bedside lamp, trying to smash him in the head.
Yanking it roughly away, Johnny quickly looped the cord about her slender wrists and feet, hogtying her.
Pale with shock, he wrapped the sheets about him and turned on the light. With the last of his strength, he dialed the sheriff’s number.
Red lights flashing, Dave’s cruiser sped back up the Lancer road. The siren wailed, causing the horses in the corral to stampede away.
Behind him raced the ambulance, its own siren blaring.
Dave Bell stopped short on the threshold, staring down at his friend and his captive. Struck dumb, he could only stand aside as the EMTs raced in and began their work.
Pale and sweating, Johnny was loaded onto a gurney while Dave hauled Teresa to her feet, snapping the cuffs on the slender wrists. The girl stood, sullen and silent, until he prodded her roughly toward the door.
Strapped in, Johnny looked at the girl he loved like a sister. His voice was a whisper when it emerged. “Why, Teresa?”
Stung, she looked down at him, a crazy light in her eyes.
“The money, Johnny!! Once you and Scott were out of the way, I’d have inherited the whole ranch! Even had a buyer lined up--I was going to raze this place and build condos! Once I had the money, I’d have ruled that town! I could have been a star!!
Dave looked at her in disgust. In his head, the song from “Fame” began playing.
He shook his head to clear it and gave her a shove. “Get going. The only place you’re going to be a star is in the Stockton State Prison.
As dawn broke over the hacienda, Maria left her casita behind the kitchen. Mounting to the second floor, she stepped over the threshold and gazed at the carnage in Johnny’s empty room.
Slipping a hand into her apron pocket, she touched the crumbling page folded there. She had found it in the old family Bible. It stated clearly that if all of Murdoch Lancer’s heirs were deceased, the hacienda would pass to his “dear friend and employee, Maria, or any of her heirs or issue.” She fingered the document in her other pocket, then took it out. The Genentech logo at the top showed clearly as she read the results of the DNA test for the hundredth time. “To a certainty of 99.999 percent….”
A smile lifted her lips.