Scott Lancer was engrossed in an article in the Stockton newspaper. It was chilling actually and it gave Scott an uneasy feeling. Blatant evil always did. He knew it existed in the world but it was unnerving nonetheless.
Johnny Lancer stared at his brother from across the restaurant breakfast table. They had just ordered and Scott was busy reading a newspaper. Murdoch and Teresa were discussing major purchases for the hacienda. Johnny was hungry and bored.
“What are you reading Boston?” Johnny asked in almost petulant voice.
Scott put down the newspaper and gave a thin smile. “I think it’s obvious I am reading a newspaper article Johnny. Did you want to know what it’s about?”
“Not really.” Johnny said looking around the restaurant.
Scott looked at Murdoch and Teresa. “Can’t you two give him some attention while I finish with this newspaper?” He asked in an amused voice.
Teresa giggled. “Perhaps or at least until breakfast comes. Johnny aren’t you excited about the trip to Sacramento? Christmas shopping, major purchases? There must be something you’ve been wanting.”
“I got everything I need” Johnny answered.
“So do we all.” Scott said folding up his paper. “But she asked what you wanted, not what you needed although I’m hard pressed to think of anything I need or want either.”
“Well, we have a stage ride to look forward to.” Murdoch said a bit chagrinned. “But after that it will be nice to spend some time together. After the banner year we’ve had, we can afford to splurge a bit. We all have worked very hard and it’s paid off.”
“Especially Scott, who nearly coughed up a lung on his turn riding drag on the cattle drive.” Johnny said with a laugh.
“A one-time coughing jag and I’ll never hear the end of it.” Scott lamented.
“One time for an hour.” Johnny teased. “I thought you were going to fall off Charlie.”
“A 7th Calvary officer does not “fall” off his horse.” Scott said haughtily his eyes amused. The Lancers all laughed.
Later they strolled down the Stockton boardwalk to catch the stage. “Looks like we have the privilege of riding with a Marshall and his prisoner.” Johnny said in Scott’s ear.
Scott gazed at the prisoner. His hands were manacled in front with a chain leading down to manacled ankles. The man was about Johnny’s height but was muscular and bulging.
“Is that a man or ape?” Scott said sarcastically.
Johnny laughed. “He’s some kind of animal, that’s for sure.”
The Lancers got on the stage along with the Marshall and his prisoner. Johnny sat on one side with the Marshall and his prisoner. The Marshall was in the middle. Murdoch, Teresa and Scott took the other side with Teresa in the middle and Scott across from the prisoner. The stage coach lurched and began to move forward. They had been traveling about 45 minutes when Johnny noticed the look on Scott’s face. He looked as dark and stormy as the clouds overhead threatening rain. Scott was angry, very angry. Teresa was looking down and Johnny watched as she tentatively took Scott’s hand. Murdoch was dozing.
“Johnny, would you change seats with Teresa?” Scott asked his voice tight.
“Sure.” Johnny answered in a confused voice. He stood up and helped Teresa sit down beside the Marshall and eased himself between Murdoch and Scott.
“Marshall.” Scott said his voice angry. “I don’t allow men to leer at my sister. I suggest you control your prisoner.”
“It’s Marshall Daniels. Mr.?
“Lancer. Scott Lancer.
Three pairs of cold blue eyes stared at the Marshall and his prisoner.
“I’m sorry ma’am and to all of you Lancers.” The Marshall said apologetically. It was obvious they were a family. His voice grew angry. “Alden you show any more disrespect to the young lady I’ll gag and blindfold you. “
Johnny felt Scott stiffen beside him. He looked over at his brother. His lips were in a thin line and he was pale. He looked at Scott quizzically. Scott met Johnny’s gaze and shook his head. Scott didn’t want to say anything than would frighten Teresa.
“Didn’t mean no respect. Seems like you got a nice family.” Alden said looking at the 3 men his voice lacking any sincerity.
Scott’s blood ran cold. A loud thunderclap sounded and the skies opened up with a hard cold rain.
“My family is none of your concern.” Murdoch said his voice hard. He had reached across and was patting Teresa’s hand. “I’ll thank you to leave us alone.”
“Aren’t you the uppity.” Alden began.
“Shut up!” Scott growled. “We are not interested in what you think of us. Shut your mouth or I will gag you myself!”
The stage grew quiet. Johnny was a bit amused but worried as well. He’d never seen Scott get his dander up the way he had. There had to be a reason and he meant to find out as soon as they were alone. The rain continued to pour down. It was easy to feel the stage was getting bogged down in mud as they were slowing down. They reached a way station where they were scheduled to have a 30 minute stop and a change of horses. The driver came to the stage door. “I’m sorry folks, we are going to have to stop here for a while until this lets up.”
Scott sighed. There was no way he wasn’t going to get soaked. Scott jumped out of the stage and ran around it. He opened the other door and gathered Teresa in his arms and carried her inside so the hems of her dress wouldn’t get muddy. “Thank you, Scott.” Teresa said looking around the station. The older couple who ran it welcomed them and introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Jensen and they were told coffee was brewing. Teresa went and stood by the window. It was pouring harder than ever and she could barely see anything. Murdoch and Johnny came in. Johnny looked angry.
“Something wrong Johnny?” Scott asked with concern.
“The Marshall wouldn’t let him have his gun belt.” Murdoch said patting Johnny on the back. “Said it was too dangerous with the prisoner around.”
Scott sighed. “I don’t like it either but we’ll have to make the best of it. We might be stuck here for awhile.” He was about to tell Murdoch and Johnny what he knew about Alden but he was interrupted when the Marshall was pushed inside followed by an unfettered Alden. He grabbed Teresa and put the Marshall’s gun to her head.
“Now we are going to do things my way.” Alden growled. He pointed at the custodians. “Into the lean to with our good driver. Marshall you lock them in.” The couple did as they were told. Alden threw the length of rope he had slung over his shoulder at the Marshall. “Lancer men have a seat.” He said pointing at chairs. He pointed at Johnny. “You sit over here.” He pointed at a chair separated from the rest. The chairs were stout table chairs. “Marshall tie their hands behind their backs and tie them to the chair all except for blondie here. Leave him free from the chair. Oh and I will check the bonds so make them tight.”
Scott bristled as the Marshall bound his hands. “How could you let him get free?”
The Marshall cleared his throat. “I’m sorry” he said apologetically. “I slipped in the mud and he got my gun.”
Alden checked their bonds and made Teresa tie the Marshall to a chair. He put his manacles on Teresa’s wrists and pushed her down on the couch. He rummaged around in the kitchen area and found what he was apparently looking for, a large hunting knife. He tucked it in his waist band in the back. He went and stood in front of Scott.
“We’re going to start with you, smart mouth.” Alden said to Scott and viciously backhanded him across the face almost knocking him off the chair.
“Leave him alone, you bastard!” Johnny shouted.
“Johnny, no.” Scott said in an ominous voice. Scott knew who Alden was. He had read about him in the Stockton Newspaper that very morning. He was a killer who had murdered 3 families in the Merced area for a total of 14 people. What was worse he had confessed to the authorities that he had forced his victims to torture and kill their own family members. Scott’s blood ran cold. The man was on his way to Sacramento for trial and of course had ended up on the same stage.
“Scott go back in to the men’s sleeping room and sit on a cot.” Alden ordered. Scott did as he was told. Alden looked at the rest of them. “Try something out here and I won’t think twice about killing him.” He warned. Alden walked in to the sleeping room. “Scott, you and your family have just taken the last stage you ever will. Kind of an ill-fated trip I think.” He smirked. Alden threw the knife on the floor “You have 5 minutes to free yourself and go out and stab your brother in his right chest. Don’t talk to him, just do it.”
“You must be mad if you think I’m going to hurt my brother! Why should I do what you want? You’re going to kill us all anyway. “Scott retorted.
“You will do as I say. Obey me and your sister will have a quick death, disobey and she will be tortured, first by a bullet in each kneecap.” Alden said in a diabolical voice and left.
Scott’s heart began to race. God, he couldn’t hurt Johnny or have Teresa hurt he thought. He knew what Johnny would want. He needed a plan, but there was so little time. He went to the knife and sat on the floor with his back to it and freed himself. Tears pricked at his eyes and he brushed them away. He got up and picked up the knife and slowly walked into the main room. Alden stood behind Teresa. Scott walked past where they all sat over to Johnny and stopped in front of him. The rest sat behind Scott. Johnny looked up into his brother’s eyes and saw incredible sadness there. Scott’s breath came in gasps. Johnny’s eyes widened as Scott held the knife above his own head holding it with both hands and brought it down in an arc plunging it in to the right chest not of Johnny’s, but his own.
Scott fell against Johnny his body blocking Alden’s view. As Scott fell he pulled the knife from his chest and placed it behind Johnny’s back near his fingers. Scott whispered in Johnny’s ear “Kill him.” Scott let himself roll on to the floor. He fell at Johnny’s feet landing on his back. He covered the wound with his left hand trying to stymy the blood flow. Scott began to moan loudly in pain.
“God, it hurts…it hurts so much!!” Scott cried in a louder than normal voice. “The pain…I can’t bear it.”
Alden came over and knelt beside Scott. “Please, I beg you..don’t hurt me.” Scott pleaded his voice desperate. Alden had his back to Johnny enabling Johnny to work at cutting his bonds.
“Damn Lancer!!” Alden smirked. “You stabbed yourself? And people call me crazy.” Alden laughed an evil laugh.
“Please don’t touch me! Don’t hurt me!” Scott sounded terrified.
“Leave him alone!!” Murdoch bellowed.
Johnny glanced at his father. Murdoch was livid and Johnny felt the same. Teresa sat with tears streaming down her face. Johnny renewed his effort on cutting through his bonds.
Alden pulled Scott’s hand away from his wound and landed a punch on it. Scott cried out loudly in pain. Alden raised his fist and punched Scott’s wound again only this time Scott only smiled grimly. Alden looked confused right before Johnny plunged the knife into his upper back. Scott closed his eyes and put his hand over his wound again. Johnny quickly cut the sheriff loose and handed the knife to him. He checked Alden for a pulse and pulled his body away from Scott.
“He’s dead Johnny? You’re sure?” Scott breathed.
“Yeah brother, he’s dead” Johnny said kneeling next to his brother. “God Scott, why did you do this to yourself?” Johnny questioned.
Murdoch came over and knelt on the other side of Scott. He gently pulled Scott’s hand away from his wound. “Let me see, son.” Murdoch said gently.
“Alden was a killer Johnny. I read about him in the paper this morning. He killed 3 families down near Merced. He forced them to torture their own family members. He was going to kill us all. I was supposed to stab you or else he was going to hurt Teresa.” Scott said weakly. “I had a….plan. It was…risky.”
“Your brother is a smart man Johnny.” Marshall Daniels said. He had released Teresa and let the driver and the Jensen’s out of the lean to. “He knew Alden enjoyed his victim’s cries of pain and their begging for mercy. He did it very well and distracted Alden so you could get free.”
“You’re right, of course, Marshall.” Murdoch said. “My son is much more stoic than that.”
Scott closed his eyes. Everyone was safe. As the adrenalin in his blood stream began to dissipate he could no longer fight the unconsciousness his body wanted. He gave up and let the temporary darkness overtake him.
“Murdoch, is Scott going to be alright?” Teresa asked anxiously.
“He’s unconscious now. The bleeding has stopped. There’s some blood pooled at the bottom of the wound but I don’t see any air bubbles. I hope that means he missed or did minimal damage to his lung.” Murdoch said looking at Mrs. Jensen. “Ma’am do you have a medical kit I could use?” Mrs. Jensen nodded and went to fetch it.
Johnny picked up one of Scott’s limp hands and held it. “Some plan, Boston. Stab yourself in the chest…. crazy Easterner.” Johnny muttered. “Risky?...he calls it. Stabbing yourself in the chest?…risky.” Johnny sighed. He squeezed Scott’s hand. “Thank you brother.” He whispered sincerely.
Scott Lancer took a deep breath of the cool, fresh air. It was a beautiful sunny day, the first week of December. He and his family stood on the boardwalk in Stockton waiting for the stage. Scott was healed from his stab wound and feeling well. They had had a very heartfelt Thanksgiving with all being thankful that they had escaped with their lives on what could have very well been the last stage for all of them. They were trying their Christmas shopping trip once again.
“Oh, I don’t believe it.” Johnny said staring past Scott. Scott turned around to where his brother was looking. Marshall Daniels stood waiting for the stage with a manacled prisoner. He saw them and came over and greeted them and shook their hands. They’d been stuck 2 days at that way station due to muddy roads and they’d become friends.
“Mike. Are we going to have your company on this trip too?” Scott asked with a smile.
Marshall Mike Daniels took in the frightened eyes of Teresa and the tight jawlines of Murdoch and Johnny.
“Actually Scott, we just got in. I need a rest so I think I’ll leave my prisoner at the jail tonight, get a room and take tomorrow’s stage.” The Marshall said pleasantly.
Scott nodded and turned and glanced at his family who all suddenly looked down. He grinned and turned back. “I see.” He shook the Marshall’s hand and said goodbye as did the rest of his family. He turned back to his family knowing they had been worried about how he would feel traveling with another prisoner. Scott smiled. Suddenly he realized just how much he was looking forward to spending this time with them.