WARNING: DEATH FICTION (an alternative ending to “High Riders”)
Scott Lancer awoke and felt
the soft breeze from his bedroom window make its way to his face and partially
covered body. The breeze wasn’t
cold, but it wasn’t warm either, and he grabbed the sheet that was around his
waist and brought it up around his shoulders.
The light wrapping warmed his body and he felt comfortable.
The sun shone through the
window, and he could smell the lilac and flowers from Teresa’s garden.
And he could hear the birds singing. It
was Spring. On an April morning.
. . .
A time of new beginnings,
when all nature awakens. The very
thought of this time of year used to bring Scott great
joy. Especially when he
lived in Boston, where the winters were cold and dark, and Spring’s arrival
brought the anticipation of sunshine, picnics, evening walks, and summer
But that all changed. A
year ago this day. On an April
morning. . . . .
Scott rolled over on his
side, away from the window, away from the breeze and the sun.
He reflected on the past year of his life.
It had been filled with personal satisfaction.
The satisfaction that he had
made the decision to answer his father’s invitation, to travel from the
security of his Boston home and meet his father, in the wilds of California.
The satisfaction that he and
his father had made amends, and were on their way to a relationship that was one
of respect. And friendship.
Scott liked his old man, and knew the feeling was likewise, and felt
that, in time, their relationship would grow to become one more than respect and
And the satisfaction that he
had learned things he never thought were possible. He was a rancher. He
learned about the physical abilities needed to herd cattle, to sleep outdoors
for nights on end, to feel dirty and grubby.
He felt the joy in knowing
your efforts were rewarded with top dollar for the cattle, or horses, that were
bred and sold.
Yes, the past year had been
adventuresome, exciting, frustrating, and rewarding for Scott Lancer.
And he wouldn’t change it. Well,
he would change one thing. . . . .
Because for all the personal
growth and satisfaction the last year had brought him, one very important part
of his life was missing.
His Brother. . . . . . . .
Fear that the ranch
his father had built through years of sweat and tears would be stolen away by a
vindictive, cruel land pirate named Day Pardee. Scott never could figure out how the man came by his first
Confusion as Scott had
learned, just three days before, that he had a younger brother, a prodouct of
his father’s second marriage. The
thought his father might have remarried after the death of his mother and had
other children was a question Scott had pondered in his young life, but his
grandfather had always denied it. Thus,
Scott’s wondering whether he had any brothers or sisters was deceitfully
Tension as the hours
before the battle with Day Pardee and his gang neared, and Scott’s nervousness
that he could be killed over land was taking its toll on him, as well as the
tension he could feel regarding his father’s reaction to his brother.
His brother that, he learned, was a gunfighter that went by the name of
Hope that all would turn out well and he would get to know his father,
accept his brother, if the high-strung, somewhat arrogant young man was willing,
and that a new life would be awaiting the young Bostonian.
But that hope was dampened
that April morning when Scott was advised by his father that his brother’s
whereabouts were unknown; that he had taken the “listening” money and run;
and that at that particular time, his father didn’t care one way or the other.
But Scott knew different. His
brother’s absence was tearing his father apart.
And Scott realized that the
plan he devised to defeat the land pirates would have to work.
His brother had disagreed with his plan, but Scott had hoped against hope
his brother would see it his way and join
him in his plan to defeat Pardee. But
no one could know. .
Scott rolled over on his back
and stared out his window. He no
longer felt chilled and climbed slowly out of bed to take in the sights and
sounds of the day. It was like this
a year ago this day. On an
April morning. . . . . .
He and the few Lancer hands
that were loyal enough to stay on to help their long-time employer, friend, and
Lancer patriarch, put the plan into action.
They had confronted Pardee, told him the ranch was unprotected, and
ordered him to leave. They knew he
wouldn’t; they counted on it.
They returned and got in
position at the outside back stairway of the sprawling ranch house; rifles and
shotguns in hand. Then they waited.
Scott remembered feeling very hot and a knot grew inside his stomach he
hadn’t felt since his days in battle during the war.
He remembered looking over at the ranch hands; they meant well but they
would be no match for Pardee. And
he looked at his father. Such a
large man, but somehow, Scott knew the old man was fearful of losing everything
that meant anything to him—his land, Lancer.
And Scott wondered whether the old man felt any fear in losing him, his
oldest son, as well.
If only his brother were here
to help. His brother, the
gunfighter. With his cockiness,
self-assurance, and talent with a gun, the high-riders didn’t stand a chance.
But he was no where in sight. And
during the deathly stillness and quietness of the calm before the storm, Scott
thought about his brother. Johnny.
. . . . . . .
In the beginning, Scott
wasn’t impressed with Johnny, nor was Johnny impressed with Scott.
Scott noticed right away Johnny’s arrogance and total disrespect to
Murdoch Lancer by continually calling him “Old Man” at their first meeting.
And although Scott wasn’t exactly thrilled with Mr. Lancer himself, the
thought of calling him Old Man, in his own home, no less, appalled him.
But in those first few
minutes, fatherly instincts must of
taken over, because the Old Man informed his gunfighter son that as long as he
was a “visitor” under his roof, he would refer to him as Mr. Lancer. . .or
Murdoch, if he preferred. And for a
few seconds, the cocky gunfighter became an obedient son as he mumbled, “Yes
sir, Mr. Lancer.”
Scott had smirked.
Maybe, even gunfighters can be put in their place.
But Johnny had intrigued
Scott. Maybe not so much the
person, but who this person was. A
gunfighter. Someone who actually
killed people for money; although, it didn’t look like Johnny had a lot of
extra change to spare. But besides
the cockiness, arrogance, and perhaps innocence, Scott had noticed the spark in
the sapphire eyes and the devilish grin that, when he did smile, told of a
different man behind the mask. The
man of Johnny Lancer.
Murdoch Lancer had insisted
on a family dinner that first night, at 6:00 p.m.
Not 5:58, not 6:02, but 6:00 p.m. Sharp.
Despite the less than
flattering comments from his brother about his fancy eastern clothes, Scott had
donned his finest dinner suit and readily accepted the fine wine offered to him
by his father. But then Johnny
came, five minutes late, running down the steps two at a time, like a child;
spurs clanging on the floor. A
frown came over the face of Mr.
Lancer, but Scott remembers chuckling to himself.
Johnny had turned down the offer of wine, and mumbled something in
Spanish when informed the hacienda didn’t have any tequila available.
Teresa O’Brien, Murdoch
Lancer’s ward, had set a beautiful table, with Lancer’s finest crystal and
china for this special occasion, even though the darkness of the impending
battle with Pardee hovered over the
Scott felt right at home with
the elegant table setting, but in glancing at Johnny, knew that the young man
was totally out of his environment. Johnny
glanced at Scott, and Scott nodded with his head which fork to use for the
salad. A small smile, as if to say
“thanks,” appeared on his lips, and Scott became more intrigued with the
dark-haired, blue-eyed gunfighter as he asked ‘Miss O’Brien’ for “Milk,
please,” with his dinner.
That night, in the main guest
room of Lancer, Scott thought a lot about the young man that was his brother,
whose room was across the hall from his. Scott
ridiculously pondered whether he would be shot in his sleep by the gunfighter.
But he remembered reading a book, as a kid, that gunfighter’s didn’t
kill people at random. Especially.
. . . .family.
During the next day,
Scott’s meetings with his brother were less than pleasant. They argued, they fought, and they hurt each other with
unkind words. But from what
Scott had been told by Teresa, Johnny
had learned that his life, as told him by his late mother, was basically a lie.
And at one point, Scott thought he could see a hint of “Why me?” in
his brother’s blue eyes. And
Scott had wanted, at that moment, to reach out to him. . . . . .
There was hope for them.
As Scott stepped up to his
bedroom window and looked out at the rolling hills and valleys that was Lancer,
he thought about the few times he had been with his brother.
What missed opportunities those had been.
And it was funny, Scott could barely remember what Johnny had looked
like. Except for the straight white
teeth, and those eyes. He was glad
he had found a picture of Johnny while he and Teresa had gone through his
belongings, looking for something, anything. . . . . after the unthinkable had
A year ago this day. On an
April morning. Scott waited for
Pardee and his gang, and it was so quiet. So
deathly quiet. And the minute or so
he waited seemed like—forever. Then
he heard the faint galloping of horses--many horses, he could tell, and they
grew closer. He watched his father,
who finally stood up and gave the command to get ready. Get ready to fight. To
shoot. To kill—for Lancer.
Scott was good with a rifle,
he never questioned his ability. But
there was so much going on inside him right now. Then they came into view.
The high riders. And the
lead rider who somehow looked out of place, but Scott couldn’t dwell on that
now. He aimed his rifle, and
waited. Waited for the opportunity
to shoot the lead rider.
He watched, breathlessly, as
the golden palomino jumped so gracefully over the fence.
And the gracefulness of its
rider. Just then, as Scott realized
it was his brother who was the lead rider, he heard Murdoch shout, “Don’t
shoot---it’s Johnny!” Fear, and confusion in his voice. And just as Scott thought “What the hell is he doing?”
his father echoed the same words, out loud.
Shots rang out, and Scott
realized he was hitting the enemy. He
kept his aim carefully away from Johnny. Then,
simultaneously, everyone realized what the young gunfighter was doing.
He was trying to make it home. Riding
away from them and to his family. He
hadn’t left after all. Part of a
plan. His plan. They
realized it now.
The adrenalin in Scott rose
as he shot over his brother’s head, giving him cover so he could make it
safely home. Then, it happened.
A shot. A falling horse.
A falling man. Johnny, on
the ground. Lifeless.
“I’m going to him, cover
me!” Scott had shouted. That was
his kid brother out there. But the
Old Man had held him back. “It’s
no use,” the words were tinged with regret.
“I don’t want to lose you, too.”
They continued shooting until
Pardee and his gang were dead. Murdoch
Lancer had won. The ranch had been
saved. Scott and the others had
survived. And as they looked out
over the lawn of dead bodies, one body began to move. Johnny. . . .
Scott didn’t wait to be
told. He dropped his rifle and ran.
Ran like he never had before, to his injured brother.
He sensed that his father, who had injured his leg, was close behind,
along with Teresa, and Cipriano, a loyal Lancer hand—and friend.
Johnny lay on his stomach.
Scott noticed the wound. To
his back. A back wound, not too bad.
We’re getting to him in time. He’s
strong, he should be ok, were Scott’s relieved thoughts.
He gently took hold of his brother’s shoulders; Johnny was aware and
made some quiet sounds. Then Scott
turned him over, and a look of horror overcame him.
The bullet had passed through Johnny’s body and exited through his
chest; he was, literally, bleeding to death.
Blood spread across his salmon shirt turning it dark red, and Johnny’s
ragged breaths and pale color told Scott that he wouldn’t have his brother
“Hang on, Brother, hang on.
It’ll be ok.” Scott
looked to see how much further Murdoch had to go before he reached Johnny.
Teresa was practically dragging the Old Man, whose injured leg hampered
“Hurry up, Old Man.
You’re son’s dying, if you want to talk to him you’ll hurry it
up!” were Scott’s biting thoughts.
removed his jacket and placed it under Johnny’s head. Then he tore off part of his shirt and applied it to Johnny's
chest in a futile effort to slow the inevitable, until his father got to him so
he could say good-bye to his youngest son.
Johnny looked up
at Scott with those eyes, now full of pain and fear; but still, the wit that he
the cowboy said to his brother.
Scott was amazed
at his brother's humor. “Thanks,
Brother,” he replied. Then,
“We'd just about given up on you, Boy.”
Johnny managed, “Well, you had your plan, and I had mine.”
Scott nodded his
acknowledgement, assuring Johnny that he, and everyone, realized that his
actions of the last days were part of his plan to save the ranch.
OK?”, Johnny questioned.
everyone made it,” Scott replied, quietly.
over his shoulder and saw his father was almost to the spot where he and Johnny
were. The time with his brother was
Scott's hand. “Scott, could you
do a few things for me?”
Brother. Anything. . . .”
continued, quietly, but determined. “Would
you keep an eye on the Old Man? Keep
him safe? He's been on his own for
too long, and he needs someone. . . . .”
“I will, you
can count on it,” Scott answered.
Johnny had one
more favor. “Could you make sure
that my. . . .headstone. . .says Johnny Lancer? Johnny, not John, and Lancer.
‘Cause Lancer is my name.”
Tears welled in
Scott's eyes. “We wouldn't have
it any other way.”
you're my brother. . . .”Johnny whispered, breathlessly, hoping Scott had
“And I am glad
and honored that you're mine, Johnny Lancer.”
And at that, Scott gave his brother a tender kiss on the forehead.
The large person
that was Murdoch Lancer came up behind Scott, and he removed his grasp from his
brother as his father took his place.
beside Teresa, arm in arm, supporting one another. Cipriano stood beside Teresa,
eyes closed, mumbling something in Spanish. Scott thought it sounded like a prayer.
Scott looked at
his father and brother, and was torn apart by the sight. His bleeding brother
and his father, covered in Johnny’s blood, cradling his dying son. And as
Johnny's frightened eyes met the gentle eyes of his father, Scott knew that the
love, tenderness, and comfort was there, for both of them.
quietly said something to Murdoch in Spanish, and the big man had replied.
Scott wished he understood Spanish.
At Harvard, he had studied Latin and French.
Useless languages. But then
he realized that Johnny's speaking Spanish to his father was to ensure the words
between the two of them would remain private.
And whatever they had said to one another had been good, as tears flowed
from both sets of blue eyes.
moment over, Scott heard Johnny ask, “Murdoch, would you hold me, please?”
Murdoch cradled Johnny, his large arm under his neck, and brushed the
blood and dirt off his still handsome face.
“No, Papa. Really
And at that,
Murdoch Lancer embraced his son's body next to his, his large arms wrapped
around Johnny's trembling, bloodied body, and Scott could see his father trying
to will his strength into his son. And
he saw Johnny's arms wrapped around his father, as the last bit of his being was
given to his father in a hug.
Scott heard his
brother's last attempts at life as he gasped and coughed.
Finally, a single, loud sigh came from Johnny.
Then his body went limp. The
arms that had been holding his father fell to the ground, and as Murdoch
released his embrace, Johnny's body relaxed and his head rolled sideways, facing
Scott, who saw two lifeless, sapphire eyes staring at him.
Visitor had come. Johnny Lancer was
dead. And a feeling of loss,
emptiness, grief, anger, and every emotion possible filled Scott Lancer's being.
But he knew he had to be strong. For
his father. For he had promised
Johnny he would take care of him. And
Murdoch took his
fingers and gently closed the lifeless eyes of his son; he gently stroked his
soft, black hair, and wiped away the tears that still flowed from Johnny's eyes.
Then, he embraced his son and held and rocked him until Scott was able to
pull him away so Johnny's body could be properly taken care of.
Scott left the
window where he had been remembering what happened a year ago this day. On an
April morning. He made his way to
his dresser so he could get dressed and make his way downstairs, where his
father and Teresa were waiting. They
would be visiting the Lancer cemetery today, where so far, the only inhabitants
were Teresa's father--Paul O'Brien. . .and Johnny.
Scott had visited the site on many occasions, but privately.
This would be the first time, since the funeral, that he would be there
with his father.
As Scott looked
at his reflection in the mirror, he smiled that Johnny would be pleased at the
physical change in his brother. While
Scott had matured and grown over the past year, his appearance had matured as
He had always
been tall and lean, with a light
complexion, a healthy glow, and a sparkle in his pale blue eyes.
But his time in the war, and specifically, his time at Libby prison camp,
had shrunk his body and paled his complexion to a pasty look that never seemed
to regain its color.
frustrations over Johnny's senseless death had been taken out on the physical
demands of ranch work, developing muscles in the process, and the California sun
had bronzed his skin and bleached his hair to a golden blonde. Plus, Teresa's
cooking had added extra weight that complimented his six-foot frame.
And his pale blue eyes had only recently regained their sparkle
because of someone special in his life.
He had met her
two months ago; the new school teacher in town. She was from Philadelphia, his neck of the woods.
And she was tall. And blonde. And
pretty. And her name was Katherine.
With a K. She liked to be
called Kath. And the possibility of
another Katherine Lancer in the family brought
a sense of joy and satisfaction to Scott and his father.
So this evening,
Kath would be joining Scott, Teresa, and Murdoch at Lancer for a dinner in
Johnny's honor. Murdoch had decided
that this day would not be a day of mourning; but rather, a celebration of
Johnny's life. It's what Johnny
would of wanted. So Scott had
done his own mourning, in private. On this April morning. And this evening, he would celebrate the person that was his
And after he was
dressed and ready to meet Murdoch and Teresa for the trip to the cemetery, Scott
looked at his reflection one last time, and thought of the person he was.
He was, and
would forever be, Scott Lancer, son of Murdoch and Catherine Garrett
Lancer. He was Scott Lancer,
grandson of Harlan Garrett. And
Scott Lancer, ex-lieutenant in the Union Army, and ex-war prisoner of Libby.
He was Scott Lancer, Harvard Graduate.
And Scott Lancer, 1/2 owner of the largest and best cattle ranch in
But Scott Lancer
was one thing more. Something he
had always been, but until a year ago, didn't know. . . .He was Scott Lancer,
older brother of Johnny Lancer. And
the feeling he had in those three April days, and particularly when he was able
to comfort his dying younger brother in the last few moments of his life, made
him realize how special it was to be a brother. And if he hadn't had
the chance to meet Johnny, if Johnny had died 10 days earlier in front of that
firing squad in Mexico, Scott would never have known the special bond that is
brotherhood. And for that, Scott
Lancer would be forever grateful to his Little Brother,
And as he
finally headed downstairs, Scott Lancer realized that Spring could, once again,
be a time of new beginnings. Yes,
he would always remember that April morning with sadness and regret, but his new
appreciation of life because of it would be with him forever.
For it was
Spring. A time for new beginnings.
It was. . . . . . .