with gratitude to my beta, Margaret P.
Suddenly there was nothing to do but wait.
Slumped in a chair in the doctor’s parlor, Scott studied the young woman sitting across from him. Emily’s face was pale, her red-rimmed eyes unfocused, her blouse dark with dried blood— Johnny’s blood. Her cropped brown hair had escaped its pins to fall over her forehead, around her face. He wished she would lean back, relax; but he had never seen her relax unless she was with Johnny.
Johnny, who was in the other room with a bullet in his back.
Bullets seemed to fly with some regularity in this life ‘Out West’. Until the War of the Rebellion Scott had very little exposure to gunfire; there had been no bullets in Boston. The War had changed that, of course, but one expected shots to be fired during war. It never occurred to Scott that dodging bullets would become a skill needed in daily life.
Judging by the look on Emily’s face, growing up in Ohio hadn’t prepared her for flying bullets either.
Scott caught her eye. “He’ll be all right,” he said gently.
“How do you know that?”
Her rebuff took Scott aback until he remembered his brother’s fiancée generally rejected meaningless social niceties, albeit usually not so bluntly.
Scott sighed. “I don’t know it. But I want him to be.”
Emily gazed at him for a moment before dropping her gaze. “Me, too,” she whispered as her eyes filled with long delayed tears. Scott leaned over to offer her his handkerchief; she accepted it without looking up. The clock ticked away the seconds, and they waited.
“Excuse me, sir, for interrupting your meal, but aren’t you Lieutenant Scott Lancer?”
Scott looked up from the last oyster on his plate and didn’t recognize the man speaking to him. “I’m afraid you have me at the disadvantage, sir.”
“You ARE Scott Lancer. I’d recognize that voice anywhere.” The man wore his business suit like a uniform; he loomed over Scott with an ingratiating smile. “If you remember me at all, it’s as Corporal Glen Rust, Army of the Potomac.”
Recognition dawned and with it, a little disappointment. Scott had been enjoying his solitude as well as the unexpected quality of the cuisine at Green River’s newest restaurant. But, as ever, politeness won out. “Of course I remember you.” Rust had been Major-General Sheridan’s personal assistant – busted from aide-de-camp for reasons Scott never bothered to find out. He’d disappeared during the fighting at Yellow Tavern and Scott hadn’t given him another thought until this moment.
Scott fought the urge to sigh. “Please, join me for dessert.” He waved his hand at the empty chair across from him.
Rust sat down with a broad smile. “It’s been some time since I’ve encountered another of the General’s fair haired boys. How’ve you been, Lieutenant?”
“I’ve been well.” Rust, never a small man, had gained bulk and lost hair since Scott had last seen him. “And please, call me Scott.”
“Yes, of course, of course. So Scott, what are you doing here in Green River, California, of all places?”
“I live in the area – I own a ranch with my father and brother near Morro Coyo.” Scott was pleased how natural it felt to say those words, once so foreign to his tongue. “We’re planning a wedding celebration, and are considering holding it in town…”
Rust’s eyes lit up but Scott shook his head, smiling as he held up a hand. “And before you ask – no, it’s not me getting married. So tell me, Rust, what have you been up to?”
Rust leaned back with a satisfied smile and spread his arms wide, waving at the white table cloths and colorful stained glass lamps decorating the dining room. “This restaurant is mine, Scott. I own another – also called The Occidental – in San Francisco, and decided to try expanding the business.” Rust pulled out a cigar case and offered one to Scott. A waiter in a starched white coat immediately appeared with a light.
“Very nice.” Scott had been pleasantly surprised by the cuisine; the smoke did not disappoint either.
“Thank you, Scott, thank you. Now, why did I think you were from back East?”
“I was. I was raised in Boston.”
“I’m from the Great Lakes area myself. After the war I made some money in gold in Idaho and invested it in The Occidental in San Francisco.” Rust nodded as the waiter set a cup of coffee in front of him, but shook his head when offered a piece of pie. “Long story short, I ended up both owning and managing the establishment — turned it around, made it profitable. I showed ‘em how it was done, and now I’m going to do it again.”
He puffed thoughtfully on his cigar before he continued. “It’s an endlessly challenging profession, is the restaurant business. You wouldn’t believe the things that go on behind the scenes. You have to be on your toes all the time, that’s for sure.”
Scott listened with what he hoped was the proper degree of attention. He wasn’t particularly interested in the restaurant business. Or Glen Rust.
“You’ve got a nice town here. Green River came highly recommended. A growing population center, a real opportunity for a restaurant of high quality.” Rust leaned in across the table, dropping his voice a notch. “I was a little taken aback at just how Mexican this area still is, though. Wasn’t sure that fit in with my plans for an elite establishment. Then I realized greasers work cheap and I can keep them in the back while the whites work in the front.”
Scott was recalling why he hadn’t cared much for Rust. He drained the last of his coffee and clenched the cigar between his teeth, speaking around it. “Well, I must be on my way. Good luck, Rust.” Scott stood and briefly shook Rust’s hand before reaching into his jacket for his wallet.
Rust waved him off. “This one’s on me, Scott. It’s a pleasure to see you again. And please, consider my establishment for your upcoming celebration. I have private rooms if you’d like, or you can rent the entire place. I always liked you, Scott, and I’ll make you a great deal.” Rust smiled broadly.
Scott wished The Occidental hadn’t been so nice, the food so good. It would be a wonderful location for Johnny and Emily’s party. He had no doubt the price would be right, too. If only Rust wasn’t such a…Scott finally let out that sigh.
“What? My opinion isn’t good enough?” Hand over heart, Scott pretended to be hurt.
Johnny gave him a shove before turning to help Emily down from the spring wagon. Ranch work didn’t stop for the planning of a wedding celebration, but a supply trip could double as an opportunity to check out dress patterns and fabric. It could also include lunch at the new restaurant Scott had told them about.
After escorting Emily to the mercantile, Johnny and Scott picked up the supplies they needed before heading to The Occidental. The restaurant was doing a brisk lunchtime business and nearly all the tables in the dining room were occupied. To the right of the foyer was a standing bar of oak and brass, backed by an ornate mirror. Johnny led the way there. He ordered for them while Scott idly scanned the crowd.
The beers were just sliding down the bar as Scott caught sight of Glen Rust. He diverted his gaze but it was too late – the restaurant owner had seen him. Soon Scott was clasping Rust’s hand and trying not to grimace from the overly strong grip.
Scott turned to his brother. “Glen, I don’t believe you’ve met Johnny, our blushing bridegroom. Johnny, this is Glen Rust, Green River’s newest restaurateur.”
Smiling wryly at his brother’s introduction, Johnny thrust out his hand. Rust hesitated in mid-reach as his eyes darted from Johnny’s embroidered shirt and leather bolero jacket to the conchos on his trousers and the gun tied low on his thigh.
Rust recovered quickly and fully extended his hand, but Johnny had already jerked back his own. He brandished his fist, thumb on top, at Scott as he strode away. Scott knew he was being left to take the bull by the horns.
Scott leaned closer to Rust, forcing the man to take a step back. “Do you have a problem with my brother?”
Rust started. “Your brother?”
Rust blinked; he rubbed his hand on his trousers. “He looks…swarthy.”
Scott reined in the temptation to slug the man. “His mother was from Mexico. Our father is from Scotland. Since it’s obviously a problem for you, I’m sure we can find another…”
Rust interrupted. “No, Scott, I do want your business. I was simply surprised – he’s your half-brother, then. That explains it.” He chuckled nervously. “I knew you were white! May I ask, is the bride also, ah, Mexican?”
Scott snorted in disgust. “It’s no concern of yours. Many of our guests are Mexican. Many of our friends are Mexican. Many of your potential customers are Mexican. I suggest you treat them – all of them – with the same courtesy and respect you show me. Can you do that?”
Rust pressed his lips firmly together before nodding his agreement without meeting Scott’s eyes. A passing waiter with an overloaded tray gave Rust an excuse to move away with a muttered “Excuse me.”
Shaking his head, Scott walked into the dining room. He found Johnny leaning back in his chair, twiddling his thumbs. As Scott approached Johnny spoke without looking up.
“So what was it? My gun?”
“He took offense to your complexion.”
Johnny snorted. “Pendejo.”
“Is it gonna be a problem?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Scott hoped his optimism wasn’t wishful thinking.
Johnny looked up to meet his brother’s eyes. “Good.”
Scott pulled out the chair opposite Johnny. “I’m glad Emily wasn’t here to see that. You know, Rust made derogatory remarks about Mexicans when I was in here the other day. I suppose I should have mentioned it to you.” He grimaced slightly. “But I never thought he would behave quite so rudely. He assures me he will treat our guests with courtesy and respect.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve heard that song before.” Johnny picked up the menu he’d been ignoring. “Food’s good here, huh?”
Grateful for Johnny’s quick shift of subject, Scott followed his brother’s lead and put Glen Rust behind him.
He knew Emily had entered the restaurant by the look on Johnny’s face—Scott had heard the expression, but never really appreciated the truth of it, until he saw his brother’s face ’light up’ at the sight of her. And Emily beamed when she caught sight of Johnny. The brothers stood as Emily joined them; Johnny took Emily’s hands in his and gently brought her fingers to his lips. She blushed as they took their seats.
Green River had never seen a restaurant like The Occidental. The dining roomserved only wine – no hard liquor – so that ladies were comfortable there. The bar was for men only, but the patrons were expected to remain orderly so as not to disturb the diners. The spacious restaurant was well lit, well polished, and well swept. The food was tasty, the service top shelf.
They discussed wedding plans; Johnny was quick to agree with whatever Emily suggested. Scott got the distinct impression his brother just wanted the whole thing over with. Emily, unaware of the earlier unpleasantness, approved of The Occidental, and since Scott “knew the owner” she delegated to him the task of getting a cost estimate.
Near the end of their meal Glen Rust approached the table. Johnny took a deep breath and gave Emily’s hand a little pat as he got to his feet.
Scott stood to start the introductions. “Glen, you met Johnny earlier.” He looked a warning at Rust, who gave Johnny a curt nod.
“And his betrothed, Mrs. Emily….” Scott stopped short as Emily’s hands flew to her mouth. She stared wide-eyed at Rust. He stared back, confounded by her reaction.
Suddenly his face mirrored her shock. “Good God. Emmy?”
Emily stood so abruptly her chair toppled over. Johnny righted it, then grabbed her elbow. Frowning in confusion he supported her as she made her way around the table to stand in front of Rust.
“Bud?” Emily extended a tentative hand but stopped short of touching him. “Bud, you’re dead. I got the letter. It said you died in Virginia.”
Rust shook his head. “No, Emily. Dear Lord—they told you I was dead? And look at you— all grown up!” They stared at each other for a moment; then embraced awkwardly while Johnny hovered behind Emily, poised to offer support.
The hug didn’t last long. Emily pulled away from Rust and turned to grab Johnny’s hand. She looked from one man to the other with a hesitant smile.
“Bud, this is my fiancé, Johnny Lancer. Johnny, this is my brother, Glendon Rust.”
Glen Rust’s expression changed to one of dismay as Emily’s words sank in; for a split second Scott feared the man would pass out. The disquiet was broken by a soft chuckle. Scott looked at Johnny in disbelief and recognized the crooked smile he’d seen that first day off the stage in Morro Coyo — the smile of a man who acknowledged the absurdity of a situation and looked forward to the fireworks to come.
Johnny reached out to shake Rust’s hand, still chuckling as Rust automatically returned the gesture. “Pleased to meet you, Glen. Or is it ‘brother-in-law’?”
Rust was moving past consternation and rounding on anger. Johnny kept that damn grin plastered on his face and Scott couldn’t decide whether to laugh at his brother’s audacity or strangle him. Then Scott looked at Emily and decided no matter what posturing was going on between the men, a young woman coming face to face with a brother thought long dead should at the very least sit down and have a brandy.
Scott’s suggestion to adjourn to one of The Occidental’s private rooms eased the strain between Johnny and Glen Rust. The restaurant owner was momentarily distracted as he settled them and placed their order. Emily clutched Johnny’s arm, staring at Rust as if he might disappear if she looked away. Ever solicitous of Emily, Johnny still made no effort to hide his amusement.
Scott’s skill in the social graces was put to the test. He suggested Emily and her brother be left alone, but Johnny glared at him and Emily asked that Johnny stay. Then Scott offered to leave so the other three could talk privately; this time it was Rust who asked him to stay. The four of them sat stiffly on chairs and couches while the waiter brought brandy for Emily and whiskey for the men.
Sitting next to Johnny on a green velvet settee, Emily took a sip of her drink. Once the waiter departed she smiled at her brother and said, “Bud, I don’t understand what happened. How did they think you were dead?”
Rust leaned back in a chair facing her, his legs stretched in front of him. “I don’t have any idea. I never knew they told you that. I never knew you got a letter. I was injured at Yellow Tavern – Scott remembers that, don’t you , Scott?”
Scott was uncomfortable being drawn into the conversation. His reply was cautious. “I remember Yellow Tavern. I don’t remember seeing you after that.”
“As I’ve said, I was wounded— badly wounded.” Rust directed his remarks to Scott. “I was months in the hospital and never fit enough to return to action. I petitioned to return to the fighting many times, without success. I spent the rest of the war in Washington D.C. writing letters for Secretary of War Stanton.”
“Wait a minute.” Johnny held up a hand. “Scott, you served with Glen, here? You’ve known Emily’s brother all this time?”
Scott shook his head and glanced at Emily. “We were in the same unit. I never knew Emily’s maiden name, so I had no reason to connect her with Glen Rust.”
Johnny looked sheepish. “Shoot, Emily. I never thought of you with any other name than Morris.”
Emily patted his knee. “I was born Emily Rust. I became Emily Morris when I married Josiah, and I’m going to become Emily Lancer when I marry you.”
“No!” The word exploded from Rust. His full attention was back on his sister.
Emily straightened in her seat. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“No, you aren’t going to become Emily Lancer. You can’t marry him.” Rust pointed at Johnny. “I won’t permit it.”
Emily frowned. “Glen, I’ve been widowed well over a year now. There’s no reason at all I can’t marry Johnny.”
“No reason? How can you even think of marrying a…a Mexican? I won’t allow you to. ” Rust was working up to a bluster. Johnny shot Scott a devilish grin.
“I thought you said he wasn’t going to be any trouble.” Johnny pretended to speak confidentially, but Scott knew Rust heard every word. And that Johnny intended him to.
“I was mistaken,” Scott said.
Emily ignored them. “You can’t stop me. I am marrying Johnny and you have no right in the world to forbid it. I’m delighted to find you, Glen, I really am, and I thank God you’re alive, but if you think for one minute you can waltz in here and start ordering me around like you did when we were kids you’ve got another think coming!”
Johnny grinned at her and whispered, “That’s my girl.”
Rust was not amused. He glared at Johnny.
To Scott’s relief Johnny abandoned his attempt at humor.“Emily, when was the last time you saw Glen?”
“I was thirteen when he left to join the Army. It was a couple of years before the War broke out.” Emily frowned at her glass of brandy before she spoke directly to Glen. “I remember being happy that you were going away because you teased me so much. Remember how mad I’d get? But once you were gone I missed you. I wrote to you every Saturday. You rarely wrote back.”
Rust squirmed a bit in his seat. “I did look forward to your letters, but I meant to make the most of being in the Army and couldn’t waste time on frivolity. The letters I got from Mother and Dad required answering. Yours didn’t.”
Emily let the slight pass. “When Mother and Daddy died I thought you would come home, at least for a little while. But you didn’t. You wrote to say how sorry you were… but you didn’t come home.”
“Can you forgive me, Emmy?” Rust sounded sincere enough. “I was young and stupid. I should never have run from my responsibilities. All I can do is ask your forgiveness.”
Emily didn’t hesitate. “Of course I forgive you, Bud. I forgave you long ago. You had your own life, and I made mine.”
“You married Josiah Morris.” Rust made it sound like an accusation.
Emily nodded. “I know you didn’t care much for him.”
“It was mutual, as I recall.” Rust’s words were clipped. “Why him, Emmy?”
“He asked me.” Her matter of fact answer charmed Scott. Johnny surprised her with a wink Rust couldn’t see, and Emily smiled down at the floor. It was a gesture she’d gotten from Johnny, and Scott smiled too.
Rust continued his accusations. “I didn’t hear from you after you married.”
“That’s not true. I wrote you with my new name and address. I think I wrote one time after that but I didn’t hear anything back either time.”
Rust regarded Emily through narrowed eyes but didn’t respond.
When she continued Scott heard a small tremor in her voice. “I never heard anything at all for years, until….until I got the letter that you were dead. I still don’t understand how that happened, Glen. I thought you were dead and I had no family anymore.”
Johnny put his arm around Emily and pulled her close.
Rust was oblivious to his sister’s feelings. “When I returned to Oberlin after the war, you were gone. I heard you and Morris had moved West and no one knew how to reach you. That was that. I didn’t figure I’d ever see you again.”
Emily looked at him pointedly. “You went home? When?”
“I just said: after the war.” Rust tugged on his collar.
“When?” Her voice was sharper too.
“I don’t remember, exactly. Let’s see…” Rust looked up at the ceiling as if searching there for a memory – or the right answer, Scott thought.
Emily leaned forward, waiting. Johnny pulled his arm away and kept still. No trace of amusement remained on his face as he looked hard at Rust.
“Hostilities ceased in May of ’65, and of course there was still a lot of work left for me in the War Department, so it must have been some time after that….”
Rust gave up. “What difference does it make? You were gone and I had no way to find you. And now by some miracle we’re here together in the same room! Let’s just be thankful for that.”
Emily shook her head. “You haven’t changed,” she said with a trace of bitterness.
Rust pulled himself straighter in his chair. “What are you talking about?”
“You know.” Her hands made tight fists in her lap. “You’re not telling the truth about going back home after the war. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what else you’re lying about.” She met his eyes. “You still can’t tell the truth, can you?”
Rust jumped to his feet, but Johnny moved even faster to stand in front of Emily. He held out a warning hand to block Rust’s approach. Leaning past Johnny, Rust jabbed a finger at his sister. “You haven’t changed either, sister. You’re still sullying our family reputation by associating with degenerates, and you’re still a self-righteous little bitch!”
Johnny shoved Rust across the room, grabbed him by his lapels and slammed him into the wall. He leaned on the bigger man with a forearm across his throat and spoke softly into Rust’s ear.
“No one talks to a lady like that. I don’t care if you are her brother – no one talks to her like that. Got it?”
He gave Rust a final shove and turned away to crouch beside Emily. Clasping her hands in his, Johnny said, “I’m sorry.”
“What for?” Emily smiled but Scott saw the effort in it. “Because my brother is a liar and a bigot? I’m sorry too.”
Gasping, Rust, lurched away from the wall and slid down into his chair. Scott moved to stand over him, fearing if the man made a wrong move Johnny wouldn’t stop at a shove. Rust looked up and said, “You saw it – he put his hands on me. He’s dangerous.”
“You asked for it, Rust.” Scott didn’t try very hard to control his disgust.
“We done here?” Johnny asked Emily after a moment when the only sound in the room was Rust’s heavy breathing.
She looked at her brother. Glen scowled back. “No sister of mine will marry a greaser. Be careful, Emmy. Think hard about what you’re doing.”
“I know what I’m doing, Glen. Do you?”
Rust didn’t answer.
“Come on.” Johnny stood and helped Emily to her feet. He jerked his head at Rust. “We’ll let Scott say our good-byes, okay?”
Emily cast a longing glance at her brother. Rust looked away. Johnny and Emily left hand in hand.
Rust shifted in his chair as Scott pulled several bills out of his wallet and dropped them unceremoniously on the table beside him.
“My brother was right. You are a pendejo.” Scott turned and walked out.
Johnny and Emily relished the peace of their private spot. It was near Emily’s house on the bank of a small creek, where the water lapped at the stones in its bed and birdsong filled the air. Emily spread a worn quilt under a cottonwood tree and settled against its trunk. She had a book with her but she laid it aside when Johnny plopped down with his head in her lap.
She toyed with his hair and he closed his eyes. They were comfortably silent for some time; Emily had almost dozed off when Johnny spoke without preamble.
His voice startled her awake, but the question didn’t surprise her. Lately every conversation between them circled back to the disastrous reappearance of Glen Rust.
“Because when I was just starting to talk, I called him ‘Gwen’.”
Johnny squinted one eye open and grinned up at her. “I can’t see ol’ Glen appreciating that much.”
Emily laughed. “No, not at all. He chose the name ‘Bud’. I don’t remember why. I suppose he thought I couldn’t mess that one up.”
“Were you ever close?” Johnny closed his eyes again.
“Not really. He was six years older than me, and we really never had that much in common.” Emily ran her fingers through the curl at the end of Johnny’s over-long hair. “It was almost like each of us was an only child. We were rarely even home at the same time.”
Emily stopped, lost for a time in thoughts of her far-away childhood. Johnny remained silent but she knew he was waiting for more.
“He started getting into trouble about the time I started school. He got in fights a lot. He lied about everything. I think my parents were relieved when he joined the army. I remember something about him joining up to avoid going to jail, but I’m not sure about that.”
She sighed. “I don’t know what to do. It doesn’t feel right to just forget he exists. Maybe if I talked to him alone...”
Johnny sat up with an exaggerated groan and scooted to sit beside her. His moving bunched up the quilt and he took the time to smooth it out before he said, “I don’t think that’s going to help much. Maybe you’re better off without him.”
Emily felt a catch in her throat. “I thought he was dead all this time, and now he isn’t, but I can’t be happy about it. He won’t let me be happy. It’s not fair.”
“Hey.” Johnny reached out to cup her chin in his hand. His voice was soft but firm. “You don’t need a big brother to let you be happy.”
Emily tried to look away but Johnny wouldn’t have it. “Listen to me. Happiness comes and goes. But whether it’s comin’ or goin’, it’s up to you – not him, not even me – to decide how you want to be. He can’t make you happy and he can’t stop you being happy, either.”
He let her go, then tweaked her nose as she turned her head. “You go ahead and be miserable for as long as you need to, but in the end you and me are going to live happy ever after, and there’s nothing Glendon Rust can do about that.”
Johnny bit off the syllables “Glendon Rust” with two sharp shakes of his head. Then he grinned a cheeky grin at her.
There was no way she couldn’t smile back.
But Emily did want to try one last time to reconcile with her brother. Knowing Johnny would oppose the idea, and figuring what Johnny didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, she rode her bay mare into town early one morning alone.
There was no response when she knocked on the doors of the shuttered Occidental restaurant, so Emily decided to ask after Glen at the hotel. She was just inside the doors with their etched glass panels when she saw her brother across the lobby in idle conversation with another guest.
When Glen noticed her in the doorway he peered right past her; when he confirmed she was alone, his face relaxed into a smile. “Emily! What a surprise! I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”
“Hi, Bud. Is now a good time?”
“Of course.” Glen turned to his companion. “Vince, this is my sister, Mrs. Emily Morris. Emily, this is Vince Collier, a business associate of mine. My right hand man here in Green River, you might say.”
Vince Collier was as tall as Glen but not nearly as stout. He spoke with pretentious elegance and fussed with his cuffs while the three exchanged pleasantries. Collier remained inside when Glen escorted Emily to the wicker chairs on the hotel porch.
Sitting side by side they looked out onto Green River’s main street. Emily’s mare was hitched to the rail beside the steps. The swish of her tail and the occasional stomp of her foot were peaceful accents to the morning quiet .
“Gosh, it’s good to see you, Emily.” Glen spoke as if there had been no ugliness between them just days before. “You’ve grown into a beautiful young woman.”
Emily shook off his overtures. “Not so young any more, Glen. A lot has happened since you left home – to each of us, I imagine.”
Glen darted a glance at her and she saw something unexpected in his eyes – something like concern. He drew in a breath before he spoke.
“Emily, before you say anything I want you to know that I know all about Johnny Lancer. I know he’s Johnny Madrid. And…” Glen hesitated as he studied his hands. “I know what he did to you.”
She stared at him. “What do you mean, ‘what he did to me’?”
Glen looked past her to the doors of the hotel; Vince Collier stepped out as if summoned. He tipped his hat to Emily and leaned on the porch railing.
“Mrs. Morris, I felt it incumbent on me to inform your dear brother about your unfortunate experience at the hands of Madrid’s friends. While such things are not generally spoken of in polite society, Mr. Rust deserved to know the depths of perversion to which Madrid can sink.”
Emily’s heart turned over; her blood ran cold. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispered. But she did know. Oh, God, she knew. It hadn’t occurred to her other people knew, too— including her brother, now.
Glen looked at her with pity in his eyes. “Vince told me all about it, Emmy. I’m so sorry.” He swallowed hard.
Emily’s limbs were leaden, as if she would never be able to move again.
Her brother continued speaking, looking everywhere except at her. “I suppose you rejected his advances, so he arranged for his friends to… “
He searched for the word. Emily wanted to tell him to stop but she couldn’t make a sound.
“He had to fix it so no decent man would have you. It was the only way he could make you marry him. I know you would never consider it otherwise.” Glen shook his head and finally met her eyes again as Vince Collier took over the story.
“With a wealthy white father and a well bred white wife by his side Madrid can pretend to be a decent man instead of the half-breed Mexican killer he really is.”
Sickened, Emily looked away from both men. Finally she found her voice. “No. No. You’re not making any sense. It isn’t like that.”
The leaden feeling burned away as she jumped to her feet to escape the lies. Glen caught her by her arm but she jerked away and ran down the steps into the street; the increased distance between them helped calm her.
She looked back where Rust still stood on the hotel porch. “Johnny is an decent, honorable man who would never dream of forcing anyone, especially a woman, to do anything against her will.” She sounded strident even to her own ears; she took a deep breath and added, ”I am marrying him because I love him, and he loves me.”
“How can you expect me to believe that?” Rust leaned over the porch railing. His voice carried past her to a few curious passers-by who tried to listen without appearing to. “After what he had done to you? And you saw him attack me. He’s killed men for looking at him wrong! He killed those men he sent…after they…”
“Stop!” She put her hands over her ears to block his voice; there was a roaring in her head. She was six years old again, tormented beyond reason by her big brother. “Stop it, Bud. Please stop it. I don’t want to talk about that, I can’t talk about that.”
She gulped a great breath of air and tried to regain control. Glen stayed on the porch but Collier came down the steps. When he reached out to take her arm she threw him off and backed away.
“Don’t touch me!” Was she screaming? Good. She needed to scream.
Collier threw his hands up in surrender and looked to Rust. Glen gave him a quick shake of the head before he turned to Emily; he spoke to her with exaggerated calmness. “Emily, sister, settle down. We need to talk about this, to figure out how I can help you. How we can help you.”
She’d heard that wheedling tone from him when they were kids, when he’d tried to sound reasonable to the grown-ups after he’d teased his little sister into hysterics. Only this time she wasn’t a child, and he wasn’t teasing. And this time there were no grown-ups to intervene and make him leave her alone.
It was up to her. It took everything she had, but Emily collected herself. She raised her head and glared at her brother.
“You may believe what you just said, but you know nothing about it. You know nothing about Johnny. You know nothing about me.” Her voice was getting shrill; she stopped to bring it under control, raising her hand to stop her brother when he started to interrupt.
“No, Glen. You stay quiet for once. Johnny is a good man. We love each other. Nothing that you just said is true, and I don’t have to justify anything to you. I don’t need your help and I don’t want your help.”
Emily walked back to her horse and untied the lead rope. She swung up into the saddle, turned the mare’s head toward home, and urged her into a fast lope. She didn’t say goodbye. She didn’t look back.
His brother was late. The day was hot and Scott could almost taste the beer Johnny owed him, but there was no sign of his errant brother.
Scott paid the farrier for resetting his horse’s shoe and asked him to hog tie Johnny if necessary, should he show up before Scott got back. Then he set out to retrace Johnny’s steps.
At the bank Ben the teller confirmed Johnny had indeed stopped in a while ago. Ben laughed and started to relate the funny story Johnny had told him. Scott stopped him when he realized it was the same joke he’d told Johnny that afternoon as they rode in to Green River.
“Did he mention where he was headed?” Scott asked Ben, who shook his head, still chuckling.
Scott pursed his lips as he walked out of the bank. Johnny had acted like the joke was no big deal, and here he was telling it around and, by the look of it, getting a great reaction. Scott was unaccountably peeved.
Next step was the sheriff’s office. Val wasn’t there; a crudely lettered sign on the door read “Off Duty”. Scott knew If you turned it around, the back said “Catch your own goddam crooks”—that had been Johnny’s idea. He opened the door just enough to peek inside at the holding cell where he’d found Johnny once.
The telegraph office was open but the operator hadn’t seen Johnny today. Neither had anyone in the mercantile or any of the other businesses up and down Green River’s main street. Scott walked past the Occidental Restaurant and decided in the interest of thorough reconnaissance to check there, too. Glen Rust was expected back anytime; none of the staff had seen Johnny.
Scott’s peevishness was being displaced by a growing sense of concern. He checked with the blacksmith but Johnny hadn’t shown up. He wasn’t in any of the saloons or cantinas.
Where the hell was he?
Scott knew of one more place to look. There was a sporting house on the edge of town where he and Johnny had been known to spend a few hours; at least, they had until Johnny started courting Emily. If he found Johnny there today Scott was going to be very disappointed in his younger brother.
The establishment was closed, the front door locked. Scott knocked loudly and after a moment one of the girls admitted him. Before he could ask after Johnny, the madam appeared, breathless and flustered.
“Oh, Mr. Lancer, I’m so glad you’re here. I didn’t know what to do.” Mrs. Winslow parted a beaded curtain and led Scott down a hallway lined with the tiny cribs where the girls plied their trade. All the doors were shut but the last one on the right.
Mrs. Winslow bustled in but Scott stopped in the doorway to take in the scene before him. Johnny was there with two of his favorite ladies. He sat shirtless on the side of the bed feebly batting at the girls’ hands as they washed blood off his face.
“What happened to you?” Scott wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but this wasn’t it.
At the sound of Scott’s voice Johnny looked up, eyes unfocused. Scott took in the extent of his brother’s injuries and felt guilty for his petulance. Johnny’s nose dripped blood; one cheek was fiery red and would soon show a bruise. Abrasions and more burgeoning bruises marked his lower ribs and abdomen.
“Scott.” Johnny’s attempt at speech ended with a cough; he groaned and folded his arms over his chest. Scott waved the ladies away and took up a clean rag floating in the basin. He sat beside Johnny on the bed and turned his brother’s face for a closer examination. One eye was already swelling shut. There was an ugly gash underneath it.
“Jesus, Johnny, what happened?” There was no answer. Johnny put his head down to try to avoid Scott’s ministrations.
The madam sent the girls out for more warm water and clean rags. The room felt less cloying when they left. “Mrs. Winslow, do you know what happened?”
“We heard something out back. I looked and there was Johnny curled up on the ground, no shirt, bleeding, all beat up like this. We managed to get him this far and I was just wondering what to do with him.”
“Has he said anything?”
She shook her head.
Johnny made a move to grab Scott’s hand, revealing his scraped and swelling knuckles. There were more incipient bruises on his arms.
“Ow! Stop it!” It appeared Johnny was becoming more lucid. Scott stopped scrubbing at the cut under Johnny’s swollen eye and sat back a little.
“Hey, brother. What happened to you?” Scott intended to be flip but couldn’t keep the concern out of his voice. Someone had done a real number on his brother. At least Johnny’s nose had stopped bleeding.
Johnny shook his head with exaggerated caution, then tried without success to breathe deeply. He coughed a few more times before looking from Scott to Mrs. Winslow. “How’d I get here?”
“Found you layin’ in my back yard, Johnny.”
“Oh.” Johnny was still a little slow on the uptake. He lifted a hand to gingerly touch his swollen eye. “How’s the other guy?”
Scott smiled. “That depends. Who was the other guy?”
“Guys. Three of ‘em.” Johnny grimaced as he tried once more to take a deep breath. “Damn. That hurts.”
“I imagine it does. Let me finish cleaning you up and you can tell me all about it on the way home. I’m particularly interested in what happened to your shirt.”
Johnny grunted. “Not sure I can ride just yet.”
“That’s okay, Johnny. You can rest here a bit. We don’t open for another couple hours.” Mrs. Winslow looked questioningly at Scott after she made the offer; she appeared relieved when he nodded agreement.
Scott was pretty sure he knew who to blame for Johnny’s situation. He hoped he was wrong. “Did you recognize them?”
Johnny slowly shook his head. “Never saw ‘em before. Told me to quit fuckin’ white women.” With a moan Johnny lay back on the bed. “Come back later.”
He closed his eyes and soon his breathing became regular. His muscles relaxed in sleep but the lines of pain around his eyes and mouth didn’t go away.
Scott watched him for another minute before turning to Mrs. Winslow. He handed the madam some bills and asked her to send someone to the mercantile to buy Johnny a shirt, and to keep the change for their trouble. Then he headed out to find Glen Rust.
When Scott arrived at The Occidental Rust had returned to supervise the dinner business. Scott walked in and headed directly to the private room. Rust hurried after him and tried to greet him, but Scott brushed him off.
“Somebody beat up my brother, Rust, and I think you had something to do with it.”
He watched Rust’s reaction closely but saw no sign of evasion or guilt. Rust simply said, “Why do you think so?”
“Because he said he was told to leave white women alone.”
Rust shook his head, the picture of sympathy. “Well, I can understand when people feel the need to stoop to that level in dealing with the darker races. But I must say, Scott, that your concern for your half-breed half-brother seems misplaced given his own propensity for violence.”
It was the last straw.
Scott’s punch left Rust in a heap on the floor. “Never insult my brother again. Stay away from him and stay away from me, or I swear you will regret it.” Scott took one deep breath to steady himself before striding out through the dining room, ignoring the diners who stared after him.
The ride home nearly did Johnny in, and it was several days before he recovered enough to leave the house. He never did explain to Scott what happened to his shirt, claiming he didn’t remember. He wouldn’t send for Emily because she had her own work to do and he didn’t want her to waste time worrying about him. When she showed up unexpectedly on the third day, though, he was glad to see her.
Emily joined the brothers on the patio where Johnny was basking like a cat in the sun. She couldn’t hide her shock when she saw his battered face. Johnny tried to make light of it all, even admitting to Emily he’d ended up shirtless in a bordello, which to Scott’s great relief she found amusing.
But when Emily asked, “Who would do such a thing?” Johnny exchanged a look with Scott, and Emily grasped its significance right away.
“No. Why do you think Glen has anything to do with it?”
Scott hesitated an instant before saying, “We have our reasons. You need to know, Emily, that I told your brother I suspected him, and that he was to stay away from Johnny and from me.”
“You told him that?”
“Yes, I did. Right after I hit him.”
Johnny whooped. “You slugged Glen? You never told me that, brother. Good for you!” The dismay on Emily’s face pulled him up short. “Oops,” he added, ducking his head.
Emily hid her face in her hands for a moment before she spoke. “I didn’t tell you before, but I went to see Glen in town last week.”
“You what?” When Johnny was surprised—which wasn’t often —his words came out clipped and harsh -
Emily lifted her chin. “I knew you’d be angry at me and I couldn’t deal with that after what Glen…” Her next words came out in a rush. “He said you arranged for your friends to ruin me so that no decent man would have me, because that’s the only way I would agree to marry you.”
Johnny gaped at her, dumbfounded. Scott saw Rust’s words in a new light. “Rust mentioned a ‘propensity for violence’.” Scott shook his head. “I thought he was referring to the little incident in the restaurant that first day. I had no idea…”
“Whoa. Wait.” Johnny had found his voice; it was all business. His face was expressionless, his eyes cold. “There’s a whole lot goin’ on here that I don’t know about. You both need to tell me everything.”
Scott had little to add, but Emily shared the details of her meeting with Glen and Vince Collier, including the fact that Glen knew about Johnny Madrid. The name of Rust’s right hand man meant nothing to Johnny or Scott, but they agreed his role in Rust’s actions bore further investigation. When Emily concluded her story with Glen’s offer to ‘help’ her, Scott knew Johnny shared his alarm.
“Emily, I don’t want you goin’ anywhere alone.” Emily began to protest but Johnny overrode her. “We don’t know anything about this Collier and until we do we all need to be careful.”
He spoke quietly but it was clear the matter wasn’t open for discussion. Emily looked deep into his eyes and then sat back in her chair with a small nod of her head. Scott made a mental note to ask his brother how he managed that. Calming down an excited woman was a skill he’d like to master.
“Johnny’s right,” he said. “We ALL need to be careful.” He look pointedly at Johnny.
Johnny smiled back at him, but his eyes remained hard. “That’s what I said, brother. All of us.”
Johnny’s idea of “careful” included persuading Emily to move into the guest room she had vacated just weeks before. Scott and Murdoch agreed; they posted extra lookouts and instructed Emily and Teresa to take two guards with them whenever they left the immediate area of the hacienda. Glen Rust’s amorphous offer of help unsettled them all.
Except for a dramatically bruised eye Johnny healed quickly. A week after the incident in Green River, he and Scott were to meet Sheriff Crawford in town to hear the results of the investigation. Now that Emily resided at Lancer she and Johnny found it easier to supervise the work being done on their new rooms, and Scott and Murdoch had gotten used to hearing their spirited discussions. When Scott went looking for his brother, he wasn’t surprised to hear urgent voices from the north courtyard.
He hesitated, unwilling to intrude on the couple’s privacy. Today’s argument wasn’t about remodeling rooms, though. Emily was telling Johnny it was a critical time for the herd she was watching, and with two guards along she wouldn’t be able to get as close as she needed to.
Johnny’s response was firm. “Emily, I admire those horses and I admire you learning all about ‘em. But I worry about you bein’ safe out there right now, and this is how it’s going to be.”
In the silence that followed Scott envisioned a tender embrace. Soon Johnny said quietly, “Okay then? And once this is over I’ll make it up to you.”
Scott had never known Emily to be flirtatious, but there was a definite teasing quality in her reply. “You will? And how do you intend to do that?”
Scott heard the smile in Johnny’s voice. “Ooh, honey, I’ll think of something...” Scott imagined a passionate kiss. Just as it occurred to him that discretion dictated retreat, Johnny breezed past him with a huge grin.
“And that, brother, is how it’s done,” Johnny said, backhanding Scott in the belly.
Scott cuffed him on the side of the head; together they made for the barn.
“I got nothin’ on Glen Rust,” Val started. “He opened up that fancy restaurant and no one’s complained about nothing. But,” Val’s eyes gleamed, “I got goods on Vince Collier.”
The sheriff stopped to lean back in his chair and light a cigar. Scott was impatient but took his cue from Johnny, refusing to give Val the satisfaction of urging him on.
Val puffed a few more times. “Collier’s from Texas originally. He’s been working in San Francisco for a year or two which is probably where he met Rust. He’s what you might call ‘muscle’. He keeps people in line. Been known to hire guns.” Val smirked at Johnny and said nothing more.
Scott was tired of playing games with the sheriff. “Did Collier hire the men who attacked Johnny?”he asked.
“I can’t say. Those fellas are long gone. Bartender said he saw them but they didn’t talk to anybody. Fella at the livery said they come in lookin’ kinda battered, bought some horses, and hit the road.”
Johnny smiled down at his boots.
“Is Collier wanted for anything?” Scott wished Val would just say what he knew instead of waiting for questions.
“Not that I can find.”
Scott pressed on. “Rust called Collier his right hand man. Is he helping run the business?”
Val shook his head. “Don’t appear so.”
“So what does Rust need with muscle?” Scott wondered. “Does he have enemies?”
Val chuckled as Scott rolled his eyes. “Haven’t heard of any.”
Johnny spoke up. “Could be that Collier thinks Rust is an easy dupe the way he flashes his money around… Or it could be that Rust brought Collier into the picture to get rid of me. Could be both.”
“Which leaves the problem of what we can do about it.” Scott looked from Val to Johnny; neither spoke. Johnny absently rubbed his black eye.
Scott exhaled tightly. “I think we have two problems. Rust is the first one, and the more delicate situation given he’s Emily’s brother. Collier is the other, and the more serious in my estimation. I think we all suspect Collier played a role in what happened to Johnny.”
Val nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“Collier’s motive is unclear,” Scott added, “but perhaps we don’t need to know his motive to come up with a plan.”
Johnny snorted. “Fancy words, brother. Glen Rust hates me because I’m a dirty Mex who’s going to marry his sister. He’s just about come right out and said he’ll do anything to stop it. And now he’s working with a guy who fights other men’s battles. Seems pretty clear to me.”
“I would say that sums it up. What’s your point, Johnny?”
“I know a little about that – fighting other men’s battles, I mean.” Johnny wandered over to the window. Something outside caught his attention and he studied it for a little while before adding, “We need to figure out this Collier fella.”
Scott frowned. Why did he have to ask all the questions? “How do you propose we do that?”
Johnny turned back from the window with a wicked grin. “Watch me.” He headed for the door, spurs singing.
It was near the lunch hour, and a disorganized line of people waited in the street for The Occidental to open. Scott watched Rust and another man – Collier? – glad-hand their way through the crowd. Rust unlocked the door and disappeared inside while his companion stayed outside.
Scott took his position as instructed, leaning against a post on the boardwalk; he looked past the restaurant towards the hotel. He was unclear what Johnny had in mind, and only slightly reassured by his brother’s insistence that he had no intention of shooting anyone. Johnny had taken Barranca and disappeared down a nearby alley. Val stayed in his office but promised to intervene if he heard gunplay.
Five minutes later Johnny reappeared at the end of the main street astride Barranca. For the slightest moment they hesitated. Then the horse snorted, and they began what Scott could only describe as a triumphal parade down the center of Green River’s main street.
The flashy palomino bobbed his head proudly as he placed each foot just so, tail slightly elevated, neck arched. Johnny sat deep in the saddle, reins high in his left hand, eyes narrowed just a touch and the hint of a smile on his face. He exuded confidence. He exuded danger. People began to notice him; the customers lined up outside The Occidental stared.
So did Scott.
This was Johnny, his brother, the man with whom he had ridden into town less than an hour ago. When they’d ridden in together they garnered no attention except a friendly wave from a shopkeeper. This was the same man, the same horse, the same clothes…but now everyone’s eyes were drawn to the lone rider, and no one could look away.
How did he do that?
Johnny rode to the hotel and stopped in front of the hitching rail. He dismounted so adroitly his boot touching the ground raised no dust; he walked behind his horse, pulled his rifle from its boot as he turned to check the street, then stepped onto the porch—all in one graceful movement.
He looked back at Scott, stilled for an instant, and winked. Scott fought the impulse to applaud his brother’s audacious performance.
Johnny settled in the wicker rocking chair on the hotel porch, pulled his hat off, and held it in his lap along with his rifle. He rocked slowly back and forth, squinting first at his hat, then at the crowd in the street. Scott knew the man who had been with Glen Rust had watched Johnny ride in, but now he pretended not to see Johnny as he made for the front doors of the hotel.
Johnny spoke without looking up as the man drew even with him. “Mr. Collier.” His voice was pleasant, his drawl pronounced.
Collier tugged at his cuffs as he stopped in his tracks. “Do I know you?”
Johnny didn’t miss a beat as he rocked. “Mr. Collier, you need to tell me what your business is with Glen Rust.”
Collier swallowed hard. “I don’t see that it’s any of your concern.” He took a single step closer.
Johnny managed to look friendly and cold at the same time as he gazed into the distance. “Well, now, you see, Mr. Collier, that’s where we disagree. Mr. Rust is my concern, since we’re almost family and all, and I intend to look out for his best interests just like I do for everyone in my family.”
Collier’s brow furrowed and he looked uneasily at Johnny’s black eye. Johnny still hadn’t looked directly at him.
“Mr. Rust does not intend to become any part of your family, and I must say I support him whole-heartedly in that intention.”
The rocking chair creaked as Johnny got to his feet and took a step closer to Collier; they were nearly face to face until Collier took a step back.
Johnny leaned in. “Mr. Collier, you appear to be a man in the prime of health. It would be a real shame if something happened to interrupt that.”
After a moment of dead silence he lifted his hat in mock salute and brushed past Collier, deliberately bumping the man’s shoulder. Collier opened his mouth but nothing came out.
Johnny ambled down the steps and slipped the rifle back into its boot. Taking up Barranca’s reins he mounted effortlessly before he looked back at Collier.
“A real shame,” Johnny repeated, leaning forward to rest am arm on the saddle horn and smiling down at the other man. Collier met his eyes for a moment before he backed up, then turned to hurry into the hotel.
Still smiling, Johnny reined Barranca away from the hotel. He touched his hat to the crowd in front of The Occidental, then trotted lazily down the center of the street.
Scott, laughing, caught up with Johnny a few minutes later outside of town. “That was some show, brother. I thought Collier was going to wet himself when you threatened his health.”
Johnny’s smile had an edge to it. “Yeah, that was kinda fun.”
The smile faded as Johnny looked down the trail. “What I did just now was to change the odds in our favor a bit. I know Collier now, and he knows that. Shook him up a little so he’s more likely to make a mistake. Simple as that.”
Scott nodded, but he knew it wasn’t simple as that. It wasn’t simple at all.
Glen Rust was the last person Scott expected to see drive a one-horse shay up the lane to the Lancer hacienda.
Murdoch scowled at the news and hurried outside, fists clenched. Scott paused by the front door to strap on his gun belt as Rust, dusty and a touch disheveled, climbed gracelessly from the buggy. A young stable hand ran up to tend the horse; Rust ignored the boy and approached Murdoch.
“Mr. Rust.” Murdoch acknowledged Emily’s brother with cold formality. Neither man offered to shake hands. “I’m Murdoch Lancer. I believe you’ve been told to stay away from Lancer. Why are you here?”
Scott saw uneasiness flash in Rust’s eyes when he looked up at Murdoch’s granite face . “Mr. Lancer, my business is with Scott.”
Murdoch frowned as Scott took his position beside him.
“Rust.” Scott acknowledged their visitor without expression. “You have a lot of nerve showing up here.”
Rust tried to smile; he failed. “May we go somewhere private to talk, Scott?”
“No. Anything you have to say can be said right here.”
“If you insist.” Rust spoke through tight lips. “First, I’ve come to apologize for offending you.”
He hesitated and Scott knew he expected a reciprocal apology for a certain punch to the face.
“I don’t accept your apology. You should apologize for insulting my brother, not for offending me.”
Rust looked down with a barely audible grunt. “The other reason I am here is to talk with you about my sister.”
“Go ahead.” Scott planted his hands on his hips, grateful that Johnny and Emily were out riding and unlikely to return home soon. Murdoch stood beside his son, eyes narrowed.
“I am fearful for Emily.” Rust pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his neck. “I have been told that Johnny Madrid is responsible for an unspeakable act committed against her, in order to force her to marry him. I…I am afraid for her safety.”
“Are you?” Scott’s voice was sharp.
Rust met Scott’s eyes. “I am.”
The two men glared at each other until Murdoch broke the silence. “Surely you know the story is a lie. Emily is in absolutely no danger from my son.”
“I want to believe that.”
“Why?” Scott barely contained his outrage. “It seems to me you’ve done nothing but stir up trouble for Johnny since you found out about him. Why do you suddenly want to believe Emily is safe with him when you’ve refused to believe the truth all along?”
Rust ran a finger around his collar. “I don’t know what the truth is. All I know is that I do not want her to marry a man who might hurt her.”
“You mean you don’t want her to marry a man who isn’t white.” Scott’s jaw clenched.
Rust closed his eyes for a moment. “That’s true. I won’t deny it. It’s abhorrent to me when races mix.” He looked up at Scott. “But when I learned of…what happened …”
Murdoch leaned close. “Bigotry is abhorrent to me, Mr. Rust, as is violence against women.”
Rust took a step away from Murdoch’s disapproval. “Vince Collier told me the tale. At the time I had no reason to doubt him. He encouraged me to take action to prevent Emily’s marriage.”
“By action I assume you mean beating my brother to within an inch of his life.” Scott didn’t bother to hide his disgust.
Rust lifted a conciliatory hand. “Collier did that without my knowledge. He had some idea about scaring Madrid…”
Murdoch interrupted angrily, “Lancer! His name is Lancer.”
“Yes, Lancer. Collier thought he could scare him away. It didn’t work.”
“The man’s a fool.”
“I think you may be right, Scott.” Shaking his head, Rust paced a few steps to lean against the hitching rail. “Collier has made some other decisions that have proven ill-advised. In fact, I am facing some financial embarrassment because of him. It occurred to me that the story he told me about my sister could be as unreliable as some of the stories he’s told me about my money.”
A warning sounded in Scott’s head. Rust seemed sincere when he spoke of Emily, but Scott knew better than to trust the man.
“What exactly do you want from us?” Murdoch was becoming suspicious as well.
Rust removed his bowler and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I want you to tell me that Mad—I want you to tell me that my sister will not be ill-treated if she marries your brother.” His expression bordered on imploring. “Scott, you have always been a trustworthy man and if I hear it from you perhaps I can believe it.”
“Will you then withdraw your opposition to the marriage? Will you call off Collier?”
“I don’t think I can call off Collier, at least not without some help.”
Murdoch scratched his chin with his thumb; his deep voice held a note of incredulity. “You will sanction your sister’s marriage to a man you think is capable of heinous crimes if we help you get rid of your business partner?”
To Scott’s surprise Rust straightened from the rail. “I deserved that, Mr. Lancer.”
He faced Murdoch squarely. “If I can believe Emily truly wants to marry your son, and that he will not harm her, I won’t stand in their way. And that is not contingent on you helping me with Collier.”
“Okay, say we believe you.” Scott’s tone had softened a bit. He’d never seen any sign of backbone in Rust before, but standing up to Murdoch took guts. “What will it take to convince you Emily is and will be safe?”
Rust bowed his head as he searched for the words he wanted. “I need to know— is it true that her attackers were friends of Johnny Madrid?”
Scott considered the question and could see no harm in answering it. “My brother knew the men; he never counted them friends. They thought they had an old score to settle with him. And his name is Lancer.”
“I’m sorry. Johnny Lancer.” Rust fell silent. He chewed on his lip, and when he finally spoke Scott heard a voice devoid of bombast. “Will he be good to her?”
Scott didn’t hesitate. “He will. You have my word on that.”
Rust replaced his hat. He rubbed his handkerchief across his eyes. “I hadn’t seen her in so long…it was such a shock. I know I handled it badly. I will apologize to her when I see her…if I see her.”
Murdoch reached out and briefly rested his hand on Rust’s shoulder. “She’ll forgive you. Emily is a remarkable young woman. I believe she truly loves my son, and I know he loves her. Let that be enough.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. Forgive me if I stop short of offering my blessing, but you may tell Emily I will not disown her.”
“That’s big of you.” Scott’s moment of respect for Rust had passed. Truly the man’s arrogance knew no bounds.
Murdoch put a restraining hand on Scott’s arm. “Now tell us about Collier.”
Rust showed no reaction to Scott’s mockery. “Vince Collier helped me with….business dealings in San Francisco. I asked him to join me in Green River when I was facing personnel issues. I allowed him take over some managerial tasks as well. We have no written contract between us, but he insists I promised him a share of the restaurant, which I did not. He is threatening me with violence if I don’t satisfy his claim.”
“Well, we certainly don’t want any violence, do we?” Scott’s sarcasm was lost on Rust.
Murdoch shot his son a warning look. “What is it you think we can do for you, Mr. Rust?”
Scott recognized his father’s polite ‘I have no intention of doing anything you suggest’ voice; he’d heard it before during business negotiations.
Rust’s eyes shifted from one man to the other. “Vince was quite… shaken after he spoke to Johnny the other day. It gave me the idea that Johnny might convince Collier to withdraw his claim.”
Scott stared at Rust. ”I don’t believe it.” He wanted to scrape the man off his boot. “I don’t believe you. After all this you want to ask Johnny to do your dirty work?”
“Get out.” Murdoch’s voice was quiet as he drew himself up to his considerable height.
“Now wait a minute—“
“You heard my father. Leave. Get off our land!”
Rust took hesitant steps towards the buggy. He turned once as if to say something but stopped when he saw only implacable faces. He climbed into his shay, lashed the horse, and drove away.
“You threw him out? What’s wrong with you, brother? I could’ve got rid of Collier and made some cash in the bargain!”
Johnny’s amusement was contagious and the Lancer brothers shared a laugh until Murdoch cautioned, “Don’t take this too lightly, Johnny. Collier has shown himself to be dangerous, and we’re still not sure how far Rust will go.”
Johnny ducked his head. “Yeah, I guess.” He gazed over the mountains as if seeing something no one else could. He gave a small sigh. “Guess I’ll see what Emily thinks.”
Scott and Murdoch shared a glance. “Johnny, does she really need to know? We can all see how hard this has been for her….”
Scott was referring to Emily’s increasing frustration with the restrictions on her freedom since she had moved back to Lancer. To placate her Johnny had today foregone the guards he’d insisted on; instead he rode with her himself, just the two of them. That’s where they had been at the time of Rust’s unexpected visit.
Johnny chuckled. “Haven’t you learned yet? Emily ain’t exactly the kind of girl who appreciates things being kept from her.” He jumped down from his perch on the wall of the patio and headed for the north courtyard with his characteristic swagger.
Murdoch watched his younger son’s exit with a bemused expression. “Scott, I have a feeling we could both learn a lot about the fair sex from your brother.”
Scott shook his head in appreciation. “He does seem to have a way about him, doesn’t he?”
“That he does…” Murdoch agreed with a fond smile. “That he does…”
Johnny found Emily whitewashing the walls of their new bedroom. She had surprised him with her preference for adobe instead of more expensive forms of plaster, and they were both pleased with how comfortable and inviting the room was shaping up to be.
He tiptoed up behind her and said “Hey,” into her ear, but Emily didn’t jump. She was getting used to his habit of sneaking around.
“Hey. Are you here to grab a brush?” she said without a hitch in her paint strokes.
“Nope. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Ready to take a break?”
“Always.” She plopped the bristle brush into a bucket of water and wiped her hands on the apron tied over her trousers. “You want to go outside?”
“No, here’s fine.” He settled himself on the wood floor against a wall that hadn’t been painted yet. Emily sat next to him, under his arm.
“Scott just told me your brother was here earlier while we were out riding. Glen said he’s not going to stand in our way anymore.”
Emily leaned away to better see Johnny’s face. “Really? So it’s over? You’re safe? I’m safe?”
“Maybe. There’s more. He said he wants to hire me.”
“Hire you? For what?”
Johnny grinned. “What do you think? He wants to hire Johnny Madrid.”
Emily’s mouth fell open. “No. He doesn’t. He couldn’t. Really?”
He chuckled at her confusion. “Yes, he does, he could, really. He says Vince Collier is trying to horn in on the business and he wants me to run him out of town.”
Emily found herself laughing too. “That’s ludicrous!”
“Yep, it is. But I’m gonna do it.”
Johnny nodded. “Now don’t confuse me with someone who likes your brother, but Glen’s out of his league with a snake like Collier.”
Emily settled back against the wall. “Are you sure about that?”
Johnny nodded. “It sounds like Collier is the one calling the shots. If your brother really has had a change of heart, and if we can get Collier out of the picture, then we’re good.”
Johnny rubbed his cheek, still careful of his black eye. “You keep saying what a liar Glen is. My question is, how do I know he’s tellin’ the truth about Collier?”
Emily’s face fell. “You don’t.”
Johnny’s fingers drummed against Emily’s sleeve. “The only way I know to handle this is to talk to Glen and maybe to Collier again. I’m not really going to hire out…just nose around to see what’s going on.”
Emily frowned. “Do you have to? Isn’t there some way to just…I don’t know…check up on what they’re doing without confronting them?”
“I can’t think of one. This isn’t some legal deal with contracts and such. It’s your brother the liar and a guy who we know doesn’t care about hurting people.”
They sat in silence for another few moments. Finally Emily spoke in a small voice. “I’m afraid. I’m afraid for you, and I’m afraid for Glen.”
Johnny nodded. “I promise you I won’t hurt your brother.”
“Can you promise me he won’t hurt you?”
Johnny smiled a somber smile and said, “Okay.”
“How can you promise that?”
He pulled her closer; she nestled her head against the hollow of his neck. “Trust me.”
Johnny hesitated in the shadow of the door to Glen Rust’s office, watching as Rust settled deep in his velvet armchair and lit a cigar. The office was one of The Occidental’s private rooms; Rust had brought in a writing desk to use the room for paperwork and an occasional drink.
Rust started when he heard the whisper of leather on wood as Johnny leaned casually against the doorframe.
“I hear you been looking for me.”
Rust quickly recovered his equilibrium. “I was. I didn’t expect to see you, however. Your father and half-brother didn’t seem inclined to pass my message along.”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, they did, and I’ve come to see what you had in mind.”
Rust puffed the cigar; smoke curled in front of him and dispersed through the room. “Do you know Vince Collier?”
Johnny sauntered to the desk and helped himself to a cigar from a box there. “I met him.”
“Collier wants a piece of my restaurant. I’m not going to give it to him. He’s made threats…” Rust frowned while Johnny lit his cigar with a match he’d struck on his thumbnail. “He’s made threats against my person.”
“Uh-huh.” Johnny perched on the corner of the desk. He considered the cigar, then looked back at Rust. “What’s his claim?”
Rust leaned away. “Nothing that would stand up in a court of law. He sees how busy The Occidental is and he thinks it’s some kind of gold mine. He’s not aware of how much work is involved, how high my expenses are, how little I keep for myself…”
“What’s his claim, Rust?” Johnny blew a smoke ring and watched as it expanded in a perfect circle.
“Oh, he says I owe him for services rendered in San Francisco related to my first restaurant.”
Johnny sighed inwardly. He was reminded how much he disliked men who hired guns—arrogant sons of bitches who didn’t know how to answer a simple question. Outwardly he appeared patient and unruffled. “What services?”
Rust got to his feet and paced a few steps behind the desk. “Vince Collier helped some…investors…understand that it was I who ran the business, not them. Somehow he got the idea that he was due some of the increased profits I achieved after that.”
Johnny feigned sympathy. “Difficult when the hired help gets too big for their britches, isn’t it?”
Rust got as far as saying, “Yes…” before realizing Johnny’s tongue was firmly in his cheek. Rust closed his mouth with a snap.
“So Collier chased off some busybodies and thought that meant he owned part of the business. And you wouldn’t pay him anything else. That about it?”
“So tell me, Rust, how much did Collier say you owed him back in San Francisco?”
“I don’t see what business that is…”
Johnny interrupted. “It don’t matter what you don’t see. I need to know what I’m dealing with here. Is Collier fifty dollars mad or five thousand dollars mad?—that’s all.”
Rust took a deep breath. “I paid Collier the agreed-upon fee of $350 for services rendered. He wanted more. One thousand dollars more.”
“Now, was that so hard?” Johnny puffed his cigar a few more times. “When did you tell him to beat me up?”
“I never…he did that of his own volition.”
“Now that just doesn’t make any sense at all, Glen. I never even met Collier before. I’m not marrying his sister.” Johnny smiled a little before he blew another smoke ring.
“Why does it have to make sense? Collier comes here, learns about my sister, finds out what your friends did to her…”
“Let me get this straight. This man Collier, who you once had business with, shows up here one day asking for money. You just happen to tell him your sister is marrying a Mex and he just happens to take it on himself to beat the shit out of me?” Johnny’s voice had gotten louder. He wanted Rust to think he was mad. Hell, he was mad.
“You said Collier told YOU about what happened to Emily.” He slammed his hand on the desk. “What the hell is going on here, Rust?”
“I believe I can shed some light on the matter, Madrid,” came a cultured voice from the doorway—the same doorway in which Johnny had stood minutes before.
Vince Collier entered the room, gun drawn.
Johnny slid from his perch keeping his hands visible and well away from his gun as Collier pointed the revolver at him.
“Stay where you are.” Collier stepped closer to the desk, eyes darting from Johnny to Rust and back again. “Madrid, please place your gun on the desk and slide it towards me. Then would both of you gentlemen take a seat, if you please? ”
Johnny complied, never taking his eyes off Collier; Rust trembled as he sank into his desk chair. Collier picked up Johnny’s gun and put it in the pocket of his frock coat.
“Now. Perhaps I can be of service untangling the web of deceit in which we find ourselves.” Collier glared at Rust. “I can only imagine the tales you have been telling, Glen. I’m sure Madrid will appreciate the unvarnished truth from a disinterested party such as myself.”
“You can hardly be considered disinterested!” Rust grasped the arms of his chair so hard his knuckles turned white.
Collier stepped back and quietly shut the door behind him. He ignored Rust’s interjection and focused his attention, and his gun, on Johnny.
“I worked for Glen in San Francisco. I helped him fleece legitimate investors and set himself up as the sole owner of the small restaurant he ostentatiously called ‘The Occidental’. He paid me a handsome cash fee for my services. We parted on good terms.
“Not long ago I received a wire from Mr. Rust, requesting my services once again. He was in Green River and wanted to eliminate a certain former gun fighter.” Collier smiled at Johnny. Johnny did not smile back.
“He promised to pay me well. When I arrived he told me of his sister and her entanglement with you, Madrid. When I looked further into the matter I heard of Mrs. Morris’s…ruination, a story that made my blood run cold. I shared that information with Glen, whose interpretation of events seemed to match the facts as I had learned them. Thus I agreed to take the job.”
Collier glanced over at Rust. His smile gave way to a frown of disgust. “Then I met Mrs. Morris herself. Her vociferous and emotional defense of you surprised me, as did Glen’s complete disregard of her opinion. I began to suspect I was being manipulated. That made me angry. That, and the fact that I was never paid the four hundred dollars front money upon which we had agreed.”
Rust tugged at his collar. He glanced at Johnny before he addressed Collier. “I do not manipulate people, Mr. Collier. I was acting, as I always have, in my sister’s best interests.”
Collier spoke over him in smooth tones. “When I declined to kill you as Glen wanted me to, he took it upon himself to arrange for what he called your ‘humiliation’. He hoped that if you were found in flagrante delicto in a house of ill repute, Mrs. Morris would listen to his idea of reason.”
Rust paled. Johnny shook his head and chuckled. “If that means what I think it means…”
Collier barked out a laugh. “The dolts he hired for the task could barely get you out of your shirt!”
Collier’s amusement disappeared quickly; he grasped his gun more tightly. “Now, I have been encouraging Mr. Rust to pay me the money he promised. He has refused, and has intimated that you are in his employ and that my life is in danger. Our meeting the other day seemed to confirm his story.”
Johnny ducked his head for an instant, then tilted it up to look Vince Collier right in the eye. “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t know I was playing right into Glen’s game, though. For what it’s worth, I’m not working for him.”
“You can’t believe him!” Rust’s voice was shrill. “He’s lying!”
Johnny shook his head. “Shut up, Rust. You know I’m not lying, and Collier here makes a lot of sense.” Still, he never took his eyes off Collier and the gun. “So what now?”
Collier turned his attention and his gun to Rust. “You promised me one thousand dollars to come to Green River, four hundred of it payable upon arrival. I’m an honorable man, and realistic; pay me four hundred dollars and I will disappear.”
No one moved. The tension in the room intensified. Johnny knew the confrontation had crossed into dangerous territory and he knew Rust was the wild card. He silently willed Rust to give Collier the money.
Rust shifted his weight. “I don’t have it here,” he said. “I’ll need to go to the bank for that kind of cash.”
Collier shook his head. “Let us see what you have on hand.” He directed Rust away from the desk with a wave of his pistol.
When Rust hesitated Johnny could stand it no longer. “Go on, Glen. Give him what he wants.”
Rust slowly rolled his chair away from the desk, but Johnny saw the subtle clench of Rust’s jaw as Collier began to rifle through the drawers. Before Johnny could react Rust lunged out of his chair and all hell broke loose.
Collier’s gun went off as Rust slammed into him with a yell. Johnny vaulted over the desk and throttled Rust; his momentum took them both to the floor. As Johnny twisted to his feet Collier fired again.
A burning pain exploded in Johnny’s back as a great push forced him down on top of Rust. He heard more gunshots but for some reason he couldn’t make out who was shooting who.
Collier collapsed on top of him; his dead weight sandwiched Johnny between the two bigger men. He couldn’t breathe. He tried to turn, to push Collier off but couldn’t manage it. Rust lay beneath him, whimpering.
Someone heaved Collier off Johnny and he sucked in a welcome breath, but paid for it with excruciating pain from what he now knew to be a bullet to his back. He felt familiar hands turning him over, and he saw Scott’s concerned face looking down at him as he crashed into darkness.
The hole in Collier’s neck and his staring, unresponsive eyes proclaimed him beyond help. Scott holstered his still-smoking gun and dragged the dead man off Johnny. Crouching, he rolled his brother off Rust, grateful beyond words that Johnny had the breath to cry out. When Johnny met his eyes he looked like he wanted to say something but his mouth didn’t move.
Free from the bodies that had trapped him to the floor, Rust struggled to his hands and knees. He stayed there, panting, as Scott grappled to raise Johnny from the bloody floor. “Glen! Glen, get up. Come over here and help me, damn it!”
Finally Rust stood up and took one of Johnny’s arms; Scott had the other. Together they lugged Johnny to the sofa where he collapsed face down, groaning.
Scott saw fresh blood coursing down Johnny’s arm, dripping off his fingers. “Jesus. Glen, go get the doctor.”
Rust didn’t move; he was fixated on Collier’s body. Scott looked at nothing except Johnny. He grabbed the collar of Johnny’s loose leather jacket and removed it as gently as he could. Underneath was a bloodied shirt and a seeping bullet wound in Johnny’s upper left back.
Someone stuffed a clean towel in Scott’s hands and he swabbed the wound with it. When he looked up Emily was there, ashen-faced, pouring water from a pitcher into a basin to soak a second towel.
“Bud, go for the doctor, please,” she said to her brother. “We’ll need a stretcher, too. Hurry, Bud.”
Scott stepped aside and she took his place, kneeling on the floor beside Johnny. Emily quickly folded the wet towel into a square and placed it over the wound, then leaned into it.
Johnny moaned. Without releasing the pressure on the wound Emily bent forward to peer at his face. “Hey, my love, it’s me.” Her voice was shaky. She cleared her throat and sounded almost normal when she continued. “I’m glad you’ve got your good eye up—otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see how I look in a proper dress.”
To Scott’s surprise Johnny opened his eyes and focused on Emily. “Where’d you come from?” he whispered as his bloody fingers reached to touch her.
Emily made a choking noise and grabbed Johnny’s hand as it waved through the air; she never let up on the towel. Scott mustered a smile and knelt down so Johnny could see him. “She told me what you were up to, brother, and then made me bring her along. Emily’s not the only one who doesn’t appreciate things being kept from her.”
The corner of Johnny’s mouth moved in what might have been smile. The effort exhausted him and he passed into unconsciousness.
Rust still hadn’t moved but the doctor arrived anyway, along with the sheriff who carried a rolled up stretcher. After a quick assessment of Johnny’s injury and after confirming that Collier was dead, the doctor instructed them to bring Johnny to his office immediately for surgery. With a minimum of fuss Scott and Val maneuvered an unconscious Johnny onto the canvas and hoisted him up.
Emily continued pressing on the wound as they wended their way through The Occidental and across the street to the doctor’s office. Scott carried one end of the stretcher, Val the other. Rust followed them dumbly.
After they settled Johnny on the operating table, Val nodded in his tight-lipped way at Scott before he took Rust by the arm. The two men disappeared out the door. Rust hadn’t uttered a word.
Suddenly there was nothing to do but wait.
Scott was sure he was going to crawl out of his skin with worry when the doctor finally emerged from his surgery, drying his hands.
“He’s going to be fine.”
“Thank God.” Scott closed his eyes and felt the weight of the world lift off his shoulders. Emily looked stunned.
“The bullet lodged just against his shoulder blade; didn’t do as much damage as it could have. I have great hope of avoiding infection; as a matter of fact, I haven’t had a bullet wound go septic since I started following Dr. Goodfellow’s protocol. Now, this young man is going to hurt for a while, and he might have a dent in his back, but I don’t foresee any permanent problems.”
Emily drew in a deep breath. “You’re sure?”
The doctor looked at Emily closely and his eyes narrowed. Scott realized it was the same doctor who had tended Emily after her ordeal. She must have realized it at the same time; she blushed and cast her eyes down.
“You can never be sure that a bullet wound won’t become infected, but if it does we can deal with it. And as I said, the new method of treatment with carbolic is proving very effective.” The doctor’s voice was softer as he spoke to Emily.
Embarrassment didn’t keep her from asking, “May I see him now?”
The doctor shook his head. “He’s just waking up from the anesthetic. The next couple of hours aren’t going to be easy.” He looked pointedly at Emily’s bloodied blouse. “Why don’t you go take care of yourself, and when you come back you can see him.”
Scott saw Emily start to protest; he stepped over to her and took her gently by the hand. “I agree. We’ll take a room at the hotel so we can move Johnny there as soon as the doctor says he’s able. I need to see if the sheriff has sent a rider for Murdoch, and…” Scott stopped himself. He’d been going to say that he wanted to see what Val had learned from Glen Rust, then thought the better of it.
But Emily was thinking the same thing. “I would like to go with you. Did the sheriff arrest Glen, do you know? Or did he just want to talk to him?”
Scott shook his head. “We’ll find out soon enough.” He held out his arm; Emily got to her feet. As she took his arm Scott thanked the doctor and promised they would return in a couple of hours. “We’ll be at the hotel or the sheriff’s office if you need us. Please don’t hesitate to send for us.”
When they resumed their vigil it was no longer silent; they pretended not to hear the retching and moaning from the other room. When the moans turned into curses Scott shifted in his chair. One particularly earthy profanity proved too much for Emily.
She burst out laughing.
Scott joined her and much of the day’s terrible tension evaporated.
When Johnny could have visitors they crowded into the tiny surgery room. He was bolstered by a nest of pillows that kept the pressure off his injured shoulder. A bandage circled his bare torso, trapping his left arm against his body. His complexion was a subtle shade of green and his lips were pressed in a tight line.
Emily perched on the side of the bed and grasped his free right hand in both of hers. He inclined his head towards her, and she leaned in to touch her forehead to his.
Scott smiled at them. “You scared us, brother.”
Johnny looked away from Emily and found his brother’s eyes.
“Was that you shooting there at the end?” Johnny’s voice was weak.
“Yes, it was.” Scott hesitated, unsure of how much to say.
Scott nodded once more after a quick glance at Emily. Johnny turned back to her and whispered a few words Scott couldn’t make out. Whatever they were, they made her smile.
“Glen Rust is a wanted man.”
Emily drew in a sharp breath at Val’s pronouncement. Johnny, still hurting but dressed and sitting in a chair in his hotel room, reached over to take her hand.
“I thought you said you didn’t find anything on him.” Scott didn’t care that Rust was in trouble, but he knew Emily would have questions.
The sheriff shook his head. “I didn’t, then. Today I got this.”
Val pulled a telegram from his vest pocket and handed it to Scott, who read it aloud. “A warrant for the arrest of Glendon Rust of San Francisco for the crime of embezzlement, sworn this day, etc, etc…looks official.”
Johnny swore softly. “I guess Collier sent a wire.”
Scott looked up. “Meaning…?”
“Meaning Collier told me he and Rust defrauded investors in that restaurant in Frisco. He must have told the law about it before he confronted Rust.”
Scott passed the paper to Emily; she took the document but barely looked at it. “Is my brother in jail?”
Val nodded without meeting her eyes. “He couldn’t make bail. In a day or so I’m gonna deputize someone to take him back to San Francisco.”
Emily slipped her hand out of Johnny’s to hold the warrant steady. No one spoke until she had read the entire thing.
Then she said, “If Glen sells The Occidental and uses the money to pay back the money he stole in San Francisco, can he avoid prison?” and Scott knew she was grasping at straws.
Val frowned. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Emily sighed. Scott, reminded of his own frustration with getting information from the taciturn sheriff, added what he knew of the law. “Even if he pays it all back, he still committed a crime. But it might make a judge more lenient…”
Emily sighed again, more deeply. “I don’t know why I even care. His behavior has been unforgiveable, and I really don’t ever want to see him again. But still, the thought of him in prison…” She blinked to keep her tears at bay. “I don’t suppose restaurants sell all that quickly, anyway.”
Silence reigned for a moment until Johnny chuckled softly. His eyes sparkled with a familiar mischief.
“Let’s buy it.”
Scott shook his head with a wry smile. “You know, Johnny, I could have sworn you just said we should buy a restaurant. Funny how the ear mishears…”
“C’mon, Scott, let’s buy the damn restaurant so Glen Rust can get outta town.” He leaned over to squeeze Emily’s hand. “Emily’s happy because maybe her brother won’t get sent to prison. We’re happy because he’s out of our hair. Val here is happy because he caught a bad guy. And Rust is happy…well, maybe not, but you can’t please everybody.”
Scott didn’t share Johnny’s enthusiasm. “And what are we going to do with that restaurant, brother?”
Johnny waved his hand airily and said, “We’ll sell it again to whoever wants it, Scott. What’s the point of havin’ all this Lancer money if we never do anything stupid with it?” He grinned at Emily. She relaxed and smiled back.
“There’s got to be somebody we can unload it on.” Johnny stopped suddenly. He looked gravely at Emily.
“You don’t have any other long-lost brothers roamin’ around out there, do you, Emily?”