Dawn and the slow, steady heartbeat of Lancer quickened just a fraction as the ranch hands rose to another day's work. For now, it was cool, but soon shimmers of heat would enervate their hands and souls.
As the sun continued its remorseless journey across the sky, a rider appeared on the hill overlooking the white hacienda. He made no move, content to watch and wait.
The quiet interior of the house hardly reflected the working cattle ranch outside--just as the unending activity of horse, cow and man could not penetrate the thoughts of the solitary inhabitant.
Johnny Lancer lay on his bed. That it was midday made no difference to the young man. Normally, he would be out on the range from sunup to sundown doing whatever tasks his father demanded of him. Johnny might be a part-owner, but there was no question who gave the orders. But today Murdoch Lancer and Teresa O'Brien were out visiting friends so the younger Lancer son had given up the pretence that he cared about whether the work was done or not. In fact, he hadn't truly cared for nearly two months.
During those two months the brunet had walked, talked and ate like Johnny Lancer, but that was also a pretence. The shell of the man was there, but the inside was hollow and had been since that horrible moment when he awoke after being struck down by Ezekiel Wilson at the orders of Johnny's one-time friend, Pace Timmons.
It wasn't the painful blow that had caused the hollow feeling. It was the knowledge that Timmons and the Wilson Bothers had taken his brother Scott prisoner. The malevolence of the plan haunted Johnny. Timmons had exacted the perfect revenge.
The former gunfighter had gone after the outlaws, tracking them for many miles, but their lead was too great and eventually the trail had disappeared. Reluctantly he had returned to Lancer, hoping to use some of the ranch hands to spread out the search and perhaps pick up the trail again.
He had even paid for some Pinkerton Agents to use their expertise but to no avail.
No rumor, no whisper, no chance word came to give the whereabouts of the outlaw band and their prisoner. Nothing. It was at that point that the hollow began to consume the shell.
Now after nearly two months Johnny had begun to fear his brother was dead. He knew Murdoch thought it was true even if he wouldn't say it. The patriarch had insisted that life had to go on. A cattle ranch couldn't mourn forever. If any news came, then of course, the search would start again but until then....
That wasn't good enough for the young man. He had to know one way or the other. If Scott was alive, then he had to be found. If he was dead, then Johnny needed to kill the four men responsible. Johnny Lancer was not content to watch and wait any longer.
With that determination the brunet strode out to the stable to saddle Barranca. He had decided to go into town to send some telegrams to the sheriffs near the border. A big enough reward for information might produce someone who knew where Pace Timmons was holed up. He just needed to find that someone.
As the palomino and its rider rode under the Lancer gate, the horseman on the hill watched with interest. Now was his chance. Now it was time to do what he had come for.
The horseman dismounted and limped into the hacienda. He knew this was a busy time for ranch hands and the owner was gone. He glanced around the great room, then walked throughout the house.
As he passed one bedroom, he spotted a glint of silver. No one would notice if the small object were missing. Then he moved on. He had no time to waste. Someone just might come in.
The last bedroom. He glanced at the light-blue patterned shirt lying on the floor. Carefully, he picked it up, feeling the fine material. He could use a shirt like that.
Then he walked over to the bed, took out a small envelope and placed it square in the middle of the spread.
As he turned to leave, he spotted another silver object. He hesitated, then pocketed it along with the other.
Time to leave. Out the door, on the horse, and away from the house.
"Wait up! Stop!" A gruff voice yelled at the horseman. He didn't stop or even turn around. The gruff-voiced man was on foot; he would not be able to follow.
Three hours later Johnny returned from town. Before two months ago he would have stayed in Morro Coyo for a drink or two, but not now.
"Johnny! Johnny!! Am I glad to see you!"
"What's up, Jelly?"
"I think we may a been robbed."
"Dunno for sure. I was over by the stable when I spotted this feller comin' out the door. He was acarryin' somethin' blue. He jest gets up on his horse and rides away. I yelled at him to stop but he just kept goin'. Come into the house and tell me if anythin' of yours is amissin'."
Johnny walked in. Everything looked normal. He headed to his room. Immediately he spied the envelope and ripped it open.
"Jelly, what did this stranger look like?"
"Couldn't tell for sure. It was a distance and, well, my eyes aren't quite what they used ta be. But I'll tell you one thing, he had a limp."
"Course I only see 'im take a few stips so mebbe I'm wrong."
"Jelly, I've got to go to Walnut Creek. Tell Murdoch where I've gone if he gets back before me."
"Walnut Creek? That's a long way."
"Yeah, and I don't have much time to get there."
"Let's just say, it's got to do with Scott."
"Scott? He's alive?"
"I think so, but it may be another one of Pace's tricks. No matter—I intend to find out."
Handing the note to Jelly, the Lancer son mounted the palomino and headed for Walnut Creek.
Jelly watched his departure then glanced at the piece of paper in his hand:
I am fine. If you can, meet me at the saloon in Walnut Creek by noon on the 21st. Call off the Pinkertons. I need to talk to you alone.
The late afteroon sun shone down on Johnny Lancer and Barranca as they cantered toward Walnut Creek. Deep inside, the dark-haired man wanted to gallop, to cut loose so that he could finall find out the truth about his brother. Two terror-filled months had worn down whatever patience the gunfighter possessed. He needed to know if Scott was alive--now!
Weeks in limbo, weeks of guilt that his own past had endangered his brother's future, had left the young man filled with remorse over the cost of Pace Timmons' vengeance.
As the sun began to lower into the western sky, Johnny couldn't help thinking about the encounter at the saloon and its aftermath. The brunet hadn't seen Pace in years. In fact, after Luke's death Pace had ridden away from the ranch where they both worked. He hadn't even drawn his wages.
So when Timmons issued his challenge to the younger Lancer, Johnny hadn't been quite sure what would happen. At the time, he was just happy that all the pain had seemingly been forgotten.
Forgotten? Obviously Pace's hatred had simmered for years until it boiled over on that night by the campfire.
Suddenly, Johnny felt a change in the rhythm of Barranca's gait. Something was wrong. Pulling up, he dismounted the palomino to check out his beautiful horse.
In the near twilight it was difficult to tell exactly what had happened. Finally he found it--a small stone had lodged in the back left hoof. Johnny pried it out, then patted the golden flank. No telling how long it had been there.
He remounted, but restricted himself to a walk in order to see if the horse was all right. Quickly he realized the palomino seemed to favor that leg so the stone must have caused some strain.
Frustrated, the young man dismounted once again. He would have to walk or risk serious injury to Barranca.
Since it was already nearly dark, he decided to find a place to stop for the night. With rest maybe the horse could continue.
After walking for a mile or so, he could see the shape of something dark on the horizon. Maybe it was just a series of boulders, but it could also be a house. Urging Barranca on, Johnny was determined to find out.
As he drew closer, he discovered that house was too elegant a term. Actually it was more of a shack with a small barn nearby. Approaching with care, Johnny stopped outside the shack and called out.
A scruffy-faced man emerged. "Hold it there, Stranger. You jest git off my prop'ty."
"Sorry to bother you, but my horse has come up lame. Would you have a horse I could use 'til I could return for mine? I'll pay you extra."
"How much extry?"
It was obvious from the startled look on the scruffy face that the offer was tempting. "Weelll, I might jest have me a horse. He's not as good as your'n, but it might git ya ta where yur goin'. Say what's yur name, mister?"
"Are ya one of them Lancers from down near Morro Coyo?"
"Weell then, what say ya make it $20 for the horse 'n I'll throw in feedin' yurs 'til ya git back. No extry charge!"
"You gotta deal."
The door to the house opened. "Pa?"
"Hesh up, Janie. I'm a fixin' to make us $20."
"Pa, food's ready. Why don't ya ask the feller to come in 'n eat?"
The man looked at Johnny. "Ya hungry, Mr. Lancer?"
"I guess I am, but I don't want to put you out."
Jane walked out the door. She was small with long brown hair. "Oh, ya ain't, is he, Pa?"
"I reckon not. Come on in."
"I want to get Barranca bedded down first." He led the palomino into the small barn. In one of the two stalls was a chestnut. He assumed this was the horse he'd be using for the next couple of days. In the dark it was hard to tell what shape the animal was in, but as long as he could make Walnut Creek by noon, he didn't care.
Walking into the house, he was surprised to see that it was clean and neat.
"Sit down, Mr. Lancer. It's just stew."
The three ate in silence then the man asked, "What'er ya doin' out this way. Your spread's aways from here."
"I was on my way to Walnut Creek until my horse went lame. By the way, could you check on the left back leg while I'm gone? I'm worried it might get worse."
"I'll be glad ta, Mr. Lancer. I'm always takin' care of Sherman," replied the girl.
"The chestnut. His former owner served with the general durin' the war. He said they both had red hair!"
"I see. Well, I'll take good care of Sherman."
"Uh, Mr. Lancer, do ya think I could have the $20 now?"
"Let's say I give you $10 now and the rest when I collect my horse. Is that okay with you, Mr....?"
"Chase. Alonzo Chase and this here is my daughter Janie."
"Pleased to meet you both. Now if you don't mind, I need to make an early start tomorrow so I'd like to bed down."
"Ain't got no spare beds."
"That's okay. I'll use some of the hay out in the barn."
After saying goodnight, Johnny headed to the barn. Even though he was tired from the long ride, sleep was elusive. He kept remembering the fight he had had with Scott. How could he have struck his brother? He replayed the scene in his mind over and over again. Would Scott ever forgive him for that and all that had happened afterwards?
Finally the body's need for rest overwhelmed the restless mind and allowed the gunfighter to sleep.
"Mr. Lancer, Mr. Lancer!"
The blue eyes flew open. For one second he thought he was back in that Morro Coyo stable, then he realized the person calling his name was not Joe but Janie Chase.
"Mr. Lancer, I know'd ya want ta git goin' early so I brung ya some coffee 'n biscuits."
The young man sat up. "That's real kind of you. Mmm, these are good as..." He took another bite. "No, they're better than Teresa's."
"Teresa. Is she your woman?"
"No, more like a sister."
"Oh, ya ain't married or nothin'?"
"No, I'm not." He took a swallow of the hot coffee and finished the biscuits. "Now I'd better get on my way. Thanks for the breakfast."
"Will ya have more time to stop when ya come back this way?"
"I hope so. Here's the $10 for your pa. I plan to be back in a couple of days. Keep an eye on Barranca for me, will you?"
"I surely will. Don't worry, I love horses."
"Thanks" Then he headed on his way to Walnut Creek.
Fortunately Sherman proved to be an excellent mount. Johnny had no trouble getting used to his unusual gait. They covered the miles to Walnut Creek without further delay.
Tying the chestnut to the hitching post, Johnny Lancer entered the saloon exactly at noon. It was empty except for the barkeep. Ordering a beer, the brunet sat down at a table to wait. By 12:30 he was beginning to worry. Maybe this was all a hoax but for what reason?
Walking over to the bar, he inquired, "Has a tall man with blond hair been in here looking for someone?"
The barkeeper's eyes narrowed, carefully perusing the gunfighter. "You Johnny Lancer?"
"Somebody left this for you."
The note was brief:
Meet me at the shack one-half mile west of town. Weathervane on roof. Come alone.
It took the young man only a short time to cover the half mile. As he moved up the rickety steps to the door, he drew his pistol. The door opened with a creak. He stepped inside quickly, prepared to duck and fire if need be. Glancing around in the darkened room, at first Johnny did not take in the figure in the corner.
Then he heard a hammer being cocked. He started to aim at the figure when the sound of a voice stopped his movement. "What's the matter, Little Brother, are you afraid I'm Timmons?"
For one incredible moment the other man couldn't move. It was true--Scott was here, was alive! He took a step forward. "Scott!"
"Stop! Just stay over there."
"What? What's goin' on?"
"I need to talk to you then you're leaving."
"Leavin'? I'm not goin' anywhere without you. Scott, what's wrong? Is Pace after you?"
The figure laughed ominously. "Oh, he's definitely not after me. He's dead. They're all dead--all four of them. I killed them--and I didn't need Johnny Madrid to do it for me."
"I don't understand. If they're dead, why are you hiding out here? Why didn't you come back to Lancer?"
He walked over to the kerosene lamp. He needed more light so he could see his brother's face.
"That's enough! Don't turn it any higher!"
Johnny stared at the man. Scott's face was concealed by a beard. His hair was long and unkempt. He looked like he had aged five years in just two months. Johnny couldn't control his gasp of surprise.
The blond shook his head. "I know I don't look the same. I'm not the same."
"Why don't you tell me what happened? Where have you been?"
The younger man sat down to wait for his brother's explanation.
"I don't remember much about the first few days after you were struck down and we left that campsite. All I remember for sure is Timmons and one of the Wilsons fighting over whether to shoot me or send to Lancer for ransom money. I knew you were tracking us because Pace kept saying that we couldn't stop or you might catch up.
"Then after you lost our trail, the beatings began. It was like he needed to hurt someone, and since you weren't there--he took it out on me instead."
Despair filled Johnny's heart at that revelation.
"When he got tired of it, one of the others would take over. By the end of ten days, I...I couldn't take anymore. They had left off tying my legs because I could barely move. I was just about ready to try anything, figuring even if I got killed it would be better than being beaten to death, when Timmons put a stop to the torture.
still not sure why he stopped it unless he was afraid he'd lose his prisoner.
They even started giving me more food and water, such as it was."
Scott's voice lowered to almost a whisper. "Then came the night, I got my chance. They were all asleep. Usually they'd give me laudanum or something so they didn't have to post a guard. That night I spit it out. I needed to feel the pain so I could do what I had to. Pace and the brothers were so drunk, they didn't even notice.
"I crawled over to Ezekiel, took the knife out of his boot sheath and slit his throat."
Johnny's breath caught in his throat. The older Lancer didn't even notice his brother's reaction.
"His blood spilled over my hands. It was warm. I never realized how warm blood could be. . . . . .I did the same to the other two. I wanted to take Pace last, but as I crawled towards him, I must have made a noise because his eyes opened and a little gun flew into his hand. He started to fire, but I shot him in the gut with the pistol that I'd picked up from Daniel's body. I moved over and watched him die in agony. I even kind of enjoyed it.
"Then when I was able, I took one of the horses and took off. That was a month or so ago."
"A month? Then why didn't you come back to the ranch or let us know where you were?"
A puzzled look crossed the thin face. "I just told you--I killed four men. I've been hiding from the law. Do you think I'd leave a trail to Lancer?"
"You were a hostage. It was self-defense."
"Oh no, Brother, it was murder. I killed them and I'm glad I did it. Now they won't ever try to hurt you again. . . . . . It's time you leave now. I just needed to make sure you knew I was alive. Knowing you, you probably got some guilty feeling about what happened. I didn't want that. Just tell Murdoch and Teresa you couldn't find my trail."
"Maybe I am, but I'm not going back to Lancer." He leveled his gun at Johnny. "Now get out of here."
"Scott listen, there's no need to be afraid. We'll get you a lawyer. No jury would convict you after they hear your story."
"Do you think I'd get up there and tell people what those bastards did to me? Murdoch's always saying we have a responsibility to Lancer. Well, I'm not going to shame him or you by telling what I did. No! Now get out of here!"
"I said go!" He pointed the gun right at his brother.
"All right, I'll go, but just remember you have a family that cares about you."
"Once it's known that Scott Lancer's a cold-blooded killer, you'll forget that easy enough. Even Johnny Madrid gave his victims a chance to draw first."
Johnny walked out the door. The older Lancer listened for the retreating hoofbeats. Then he carefully got up and hobbled out to the back of the shack where his horse was tied. Painfully he struggled to mount. Sweat poured down his face as he tried again.
"Scott," said his younger brother in a gentle tone. The other man flinched. He hadn't even heard Johnny's return.
In the sunlight the young man could now see why Scott had wanted to stay in the darkness. His body was painfully thin with one shoulder hunched over. His left leg was curved awkwardly forcing him to put most of his weight on the other.
"So now you know. I don't want them to see me like this. Please just go away."
The dark-haired man climbed down from the chestnut to stand in front of Scott. He seemed to tower over the slight figure.
"Come on, I'm taking you to a doctor."
"I've been to one."
"What did he say?"
"He thought maybe after I get some strength back maybe some doctors in San Francisco might be able to help me some--break and reset some bones or something like that."
"Then that's what you'll do. But first we'll go to Lancer so that Teresa can fatten you up."
"Johnny," he wailed. "Don't make me do this. Just let me go. Maybe if I get better and I can work again, I'll come back."
"Dammit, Scott! I don't care if you sit around in the sun for the rest of your days. You are not leaving me and Lancer. I will not let Pace Timmons destroy us from the grave!"
"He's not in a grave."
"I left his body out there to rot. Don't you see Johnny, I'm not worth saving anymore. He's already destroyed Scott Lancer."
"Not if we don't let him. Please, Scott, do this for me. Do this for us. Weren't we separated for long enough?"
Blue eyes looked out from under the blond fringe and into those of sapphire. A shudder of pain crested through the slender body. "All right, I'll do it." <<For you and only for you.>>
Let's get into Walnut Creek, get a buckboard and then we have to make a
stop to collect Barranca."
It was then that the blond realized Johnny was holding the reins to a chestnut not the customary palomino.
"You mean like William Tucumseh Sherman?"
"The very same."
"But where'd you get him?"
"That, Brother, is a story you'll hear on our trip home. Come on, let's go."
He helped Scott onto his horse. By the time, they arrived in Walnut Creek; it was obvious that the older man was in excruciating pain. As Johnny helped him down from the horse, the blond-haired man nearly collapsed into his brother's arms.
"Easy. I'm going to get us a room for the night." In ten minutes Scott was tucked up in bed in the rather ramshackle hotel.
"Scott, I still think I should go get a doctor."
"No, the laudanum will help. It always does."
"You been takin' it ever since...ever since....?"
"Yes, the doctor gave me a supply. When the pain isn't so bad, I try to get by with whiskey." Slowly the blue eyes closed.
Johnny sat there a long time looking at the hunched figure. Even in sleep, Scott's body could not escape from the pain.
An intense hatred filled Johnny Lancer. How could his brother think himself a killer? Right then the gunfighter felt like the four men had gotten off easy.
After some time Johnny went downstairs to secure some food and water. He also arranged for the buckboard. Upon his return, he found the other man awake.
"Hey Brother, brought you something to eat and a change of clothes. You're lookin' kinda scruffy."
"A faint smile crossed the gaunt face. "I suppose I do. Before we leave do you...do you think I could get a shave and a haircut? I'll scare them enough at Lancer without looking like some wild man."
The sapphire eyes clouded. "That's nonsense."
Scott took in Johnny's displeased look and added fearfully, "I don't have to, if you don't want. Please don't be angry."
"Sorry--I'm not angry. Of course you can get a haircut and shave. I just don't want you worryin' about what they'll think at the ranch. You're alive, that's all that matters. Now you're goin' to eat and then go to sleep again. I'll be right here so there's nothing to worry about."
First thing the next morning, Johnny helped Scott to the barbershop. The barber seemed none-too-clean, but did an adequate job trimming off the too-long strands. When he took out the straight-bladed razor to start on the beard, Johnny glared at him--daring him to make any misslip.
By 10AM the two brothers were on their way--Scott lying in the back of the buckboard. The brunet had procured several blankets to lessen the jolting.
As they headed out, Scott prodded his brother, "So tell me again where Barranca is."
Some hours later the buckboard, with the chestnut and bay tied behind, pulled up in front of the Chase cabin. Johnny immediately jumped down to check on his brother who had passed out some miles back. Indeed, the brunet was thankful for that because he hesitated to continually pour laundanum down his sibling's throat.
"Mr. Lancer, Mr. Lancer!" Jane Chase came running out. She stopped when she saw the dark-haired man carrying a man in his arms. "Put him in on Pa's bed. He ain't here. He's gone to do a job for old man McGraw over in the next county."
"You mean you're here all alone?"
"Sure, don't bother me none. I kinda like it. Me and Pa git along fine, but well sometimes a girl needs ta be alone."
Johnny smiled, then he looked down at his brother who was still unconscious. "Would you mind if we stayed here tonight? I don't think he can take much more joltin' today."
"He's a nice lookin' man. Who is he?"
"My brother Scott. He's been hurt real bad and I'm takin' him back home."
"Your brother? But he's so fair and you're..."
"Yeah, I know but we had different mothers."
"I see. I lost my mama three years ago. Pa's all I got."
"What about Sherman?"
"He's a horse! Well, he is kinda special. Pa bought him for my 17th birthday."
"Well, I appreciate your letting me use him. How's Barranca?"
"That horse a your'n is jest a rarin' ta go, but ya know I think he missed ya."
Well, I'm going out and unhitch the buckboard and put the horses in the barn. Will you keep an eye on Scott 'til I get back?"
"I surely will. Supper's almost ready so mebbe he'll wake up in time ta eat."
Janie dished up as soon as Johnny returned from the barn. The young man did justice to her cooking, but she could tell his mind was on the man in the other room.
"He's import'nt ta ya, ain't he?
"He is that. You see I never even knew he existed 'til about a year ago. But now...I can't imagine bein' without him."
Janie nodded. "I 'member how I felt when Mama died. It was almost like a part of me did too."
two sat there in silence for a moment. Then Johnny heard a sound
from the bedroom, he rushed in to see Scott tossing and moaning.
"Damn, he's in pain again and I don't want to give him anymore that laudanum."
"I got somethin' he can take. Mama showed how to make it afore she died. Pa swears by it when he's got a bellyache or somethin'."
"What is it?"
"Just some herbs which have been boiled into a syrup. It won't hurt him none."
Scott's moans made Johnny decide to risk it. "Thanks, I'll give it to him."
Janie grabbed a bottle and a spoon to hand to the young man. After carefully raising his brother up so he wouldn't choke. Johnny inserted the spoon into Scott's mouth. The potion must have tasted terrible because Scott gasped and nearly gagged.
"There now, that'll let 'im sleep."
"Speaking of sleep, I'm gonna bed down in here on the floor so I can be near in case he needs somethin'."
"I hope ya can get some sleep. Ya look plumb tuckered out yurself."
"Don't worry about me. I'll see you in the morning."
Early the next day Johnny awoke to the smell of coffee and bacon. His back hurt some but that quickly passed as he realized that Scott had slept through the rest of the night. Those herbs must have done the trick.
Walking out into the kitchen, he found Janie making breakfast. "How's your brother, Mr. Lancer?"
"He slept through the night."
"Good. I tole ya them herbs was ahealin'."
"Could I buy a bottle of it from you?"
"You can have it. I don't want money for helpin' folks."
Well, I tell you what then. Here's a $10 gold piece just for you. That's for takin' such good care of Barranca. Buy yourself somethin'. And here's the other $10 for your pa."
"Ya fixin' ta leave today?"
"I want to get Scott home as soon as possible and we still have a long ride. I'm going to put him in the buckboard while he's still sleepin'. That way, maybe he won't hurt so much. Could I have some biscuits to take with me in case he wakes up hungry?"
"Surely. I got some that'r nice 'n hot. I just wrap 'em up."
"Great. I'm going out and hitch up the horses. Keep an eye on him, will you?"
Jane sat looking at the blond-haired man.
Suddenly she noticed blue eyes staring at her. "Mr. Lancer, I'm Jane Chase. Your brother is out in the barn gettin' the buckboard hitched."
"So you're Janie? Johnny mentioned your name. He says you're good with horses."
"Well, I do like 'em."
As Scott tried to sit up, he grimaced in pain. "I don't think ya should do that. Jest lie back 'til your brother gits back. Are ya a hungry?"
"Don't think so."
"Ya reely should eat somethin'. You're skinnier than Pa's scarecrow!"
Scott grinned. "Maybe later."
"Mr. Lancer, kin I ask ya somethin'?"
"Does yur brother mean alot ta ya?"
"Why would you ask that?"
"Well, he was a talkin' 'bout ya last night 'n I could tell yur special-like ta 'im so I was ahopin' he's special ta ya."
"You don't have to worry, Janie. He's very special to me."
"I know'd it. I jest know'd it from the way he talk'd 'bout the two a ya."
then Johnny came in. "Well, so you decided to wake up, did you? That wasn't
very nice leaving me to entertain this beautiful young lady all by
Janie blushed. "Oh Mr. Lancer, ya gotta away with ya!"
"That he has, Janie, that he has."
Ten minutes later. Scott was in the buckboard and Johnny had tied Barranca to the back.
Janie walked over and kissed Johnny on the cheek. "Take care a yourself and yur brother and if'n yur ever this way agin, stop and say howdy."
"I surely will." Then the brothers continued their journey home. Janie stood and watched 'til the buckboard was out of sight.
Finally after long hours, the Lancer Brothers were again at the hill overlooking the white hacienda. They had stopped because Scott insisted on sitting up front with Johnny rather than lying down in back. He did not want to arrive home flat on his back.
Johnny tried to talk him out of it, but Scott Lancer was just as stubborn as his brother and father. "I'm sitting up here and that's it."
"All right, all right. If that's what you want, but as soon as we get inside, you're going back to bed."
"Think you can make me?"
"With both hands tied behind my back--at this point."
"Maybe you're right. I guess I'm not ready to take on Johnny Madrid."
A troubled look crossed the brunet's face.
"Scott, before we go down there--I want to tell you something. I...I'm real sorry about that night in Morro Coyo. I shoulda listened to you, then none of this woulda happened."
He reached out to touch the cheekbone where he had struck his brother. "It was the liquor 'n bein' frustrated wih Murdoch always givin' orders 'n I don't know what all."
okay, Johnny. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. It's been hard for you
adjusting to being a ranch owner. You're kind of like that wild stallion
you caught that time. Only you're just gentled, not tamed--never tamed."
younger brother smiled. "I suspect you're right. Part of me will always
be 'Johnny Madrid'. Just like part of you will always be 'Boston'."
Scott shivered. He remembered how Johnny had sneered that name at him out in that dusty street. "Johnny, do you really think I look down on you as some gunslinger or something?"
Stunned, the brunet whispered, "Did I say that to you?" The blond nodded.
"Scott, You're my best friend as well as my brother. There's no one I trust or respect more than you."
"Janie said I was special to you. I guess she was right. Well let me tell you, Little Brother, you are all that and more to me......
"By the way, I have something of yours I want to return to you." He opened up the saddlebag at his right hand to take out a blue shirt and a silver frame that held a picture of the two brothers.
"It doesn't matter now. What do you say we get a move on. I could use a piece of Teresa's cherry pie about now."
" How about a piece of chocolate cake instead?"
Scott ruffled the dark hair "Or chocolate cake!"