It was hot, too damned hot. Someone had opened the windows, seeking relief from the weighty, moisture-laden air in the cantina, but the breeze blowing in through the openings was hotter still.
Johnny Lancer vigorously rubbed the sweat from his eyes. //Where the hell was Scott, anyway?// Court had adjourned half an hour ago. The brothers had parted agreeing to meet at the cantina for lunch before the afternoon session. Johnny had chosen a table at the back of the cantina, placed their orders and then studied each new patron in the crowded dining room.
A few members of the jury had entered the cantina shortly after Johnny had arrived and were struggling to eat their meals, their appetites waning upon entering the sweltering little eatery. Johnny didn't blame them, in fact he had done little more than push his food from one side of the plate to the other.
Johnny shifted uneasily in his chair. A sense of foreboding had weighed heavily on his shoulders from the moment Scott had been subpoenaed to serve on the jury Now Johnny was stuck in this hot, noisy eatery, his mood growing increasingly sour as were the moods of the cantina's other occupants. Rising over the din of argumentative patrons from nearby tables, angry voices could be heard from the back room; as in the kitchen someone dropped a plate, resulting in loud cursing in Spanish. It seemed the heat was not the only oppressing force in town this afternoon. An ominous cloud had hung sullenly over the town from the time Sheriff Crawford had brought in his prisoner.
Adam Carver was handsome, rich, powerful, charming - and a murderer. His preferred victims were all working girls, who, in his opinion, were substandard life forms who did not deserve to live. He had, from an early age, vowed to rid them of the burden of their meager existence by denying them the right to life itself. To that end, he had traveled extensively, bent on ridding society of the female vermin, his wealth allowing him all the comforts and freedom his quest demanded.
It had been with a great deal of ceremony that Val Crawford had finally solved the riddle of the mysterious series of murders stating emphatically, "Mr. Carver chose the wrong sheriff to mess with."
Victoriously, he had led his captive in a mock parade down the middle of Main Street to the jailhouse and secured him in a cell. The next couple of weeks had been a flurry of activity as Judge Nathan "Headhunter" Harmon arrived in Green River to schedule the trial and set about pooling a jury.
Since Carver's arrest and Judge Harmon's arrival, Green River had labored under a cloud of unrest. While relieved that the alleged perpetrator of the heinous crimes had been apprehended, the community also struggled with the idea of performing their civic duty. Carver's reputation for buying and selling that which he needed at any given moment, including men, had far-reaching affects. Normally courageous men now turned the other way when Sheriff Crawford approached them, unwilling to serve. Still others left town vehemently refusing the request to serve as juror. Faced with the prospect of a continuance, Judge Carver reluctantly issued subpoenas.
Taking another gulp of his hot beer, Johnny sighed in frustration.//Something was wrong, very wrong.// With sudden determination, he shoved his hat roughly onto his head before stalking out of the cantina.
2 weeks earlier
Another hot afternoon brought an unwelcome visitor, Deputy Josiah Quint, riding purposefully toward the hacienda. Murdoch Lancer stood at his favorite window, observing the approaching horseman. "Rider coming," he announced to Teresa.
As the weary rider drew rein at the nearest hitching post, they exchanged glances before the tall rancher leisurely strolled through one of the great room's French doors to meet their visitor.
"Afternoon, Josiah. What brings you out here?"
"I have a summons for Mr. Lancer." The deputy wiped his sweat-streaked face, sighing gratefully when a ranch hand appeared to take his horse. "Sure is a hot one."
"Come on in, have a drink." Murdoch stepped aside to allow the deputy to enter the cool of the great room before following him.
"Thanks, Mr. Lancer. Sure will feel wonderful to wash the dust out of my mouth."
Anticipating the offer of refreshments, Teresa poured two glasses of lemonade, graciously passing one glass of the cool beverage to each of the men. Gratefully, Josiah accepted the glass of lemonade. Without pause the tall, lanky deputy drained the glass before turning his attention once more on his host.
"Is Scott around?"
"He's out in the north pasture. What brings you here? What summons?" The pleasantries dispensed with, Murdoch gave in to his growing curiosity.
"Judge Harmon needs one more juror in the Carver case. He sent me to summon Mr. Lancer to fill the vacancy."
"Is this a request or an order?"
"Well, the Judge signed the subpoena. I'm not sure Scott can refuse."
Hours passed, Murdoch pacing nervously, the time seeming painfully slow before he heard the normally welcome sound of horses approaching. The familiar whoops and laughter rang in his ears as his boys returned home.
The Lancer brothers entered the great room with a flourish, prodding each other as they shared some secret joke. White teeth gleamed in dust-caked faces, dirt and sweat stained their clothing.
"Hey, Murdoch," the youngest had greeted his father. "How was your day?"
"Deputy Quint left a few hours ago. He had a summons for you, Scott." Like a foreman handing down a verdict, Murdoch Lancer handed the summons to his son.
Scott stared at the proffered document before extending a hand to receive it.
"What's it say?" Johnny asked.
"It says, 'You are hereby summoned to perform your duty as a citizen of the San Joaquin Valley, of the Township of Green River, said duty to be performed as Juror number 12 in Case number 1872-CP-32-147, State of California versus Adam Horatio Carver. You are required to report promptly at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of August 12, 1872 in the County Courthouse, Green River.'"
"Damn it, Scott, plain English would do," Johnny protested good-naturedly.
"I have to serve on the jury in the Carver case."
"Scott, are you sure about this?" Johnny had heard the whispers in town, the rumors, and was aware of Judge Harmon's search for a twelfth juror. Trouble was brewing and Scott was going to be right in the middle of it.
"I don't exactly have a choice, brother. This is a subpoena," Scott said, a cheeky grin plastered reassuringly across his face.
"I just wish I could be there."
"Aw Murdoch, can't you postpone your trip to Stockton?" Johnny complained.
"Any other time I would, but you know how important this deal is to Lancer. The eastern pasture is pretty much worthless unless we can renew our lease of the water rights from the State. Its important to the future of the ranch. We need that water." Murdoch explained patiently. "Besides I know you two will take care of each other in my absence. How much trouble can you get into sitting in a courtroom?" //Then again I am talking to my sons.//Murdoch mused.
"Sure Murdoch, I'll watch over Johnny here. He'll behave himself. I'll make sure of that."
"Yeah right, Boston, and whose gonna look out for you, huh?"
"Me? What can possibly go wrong? It's just jury duty!" With a wink at his father, Scott added, "besides it's my duty."
Murdoch was an upstanding member of the community whose belief in the judicial system was well known. Pride swelled in his chest at his blond son's willingness to comply with the summons. Murdoch placed an arm around Scott's shoulders, squeezing his approval.
Realizing he was not going to be able to dissuade his brother from his chosen course, Johnny nodded his agreement. //Hell if you can't beat them, at least load your weapon and watch their backs.//
"Yeah, ok, Boston, but I think I'll come along."
Scott broke away from Murdoch's embrace to playfully cuff his younger brother firmly on the back of the head.
Scott stepped off the boardwalk, settling his hat securely on his head, as he walked toward the jail. His business at the bank had been concluded successfully, the transaction smooth and without complication; Murdoch would be pleased. Now, Scott had nothing on his mind but a certain younger sibling. He knew Johnny could always be found in one of two places, the saloon or the jail where he would be harassing the sheriff. The youngest Lancer and Val Crawford had an extensive history, yet Johnny had not completely let Scott in on the details of their shared past. Some things, he had commented, were best left unsaid. Why, Scott had wondered. Johnny had just given him one of his trademark smiles before walking away. Some day, Scott thought, he was going to get his brother to fill him in.
As he approached the jailhouse, he grinned at the raucous voices he could hear inside. Johnny and Val were engaged in a heated debate, as usual. They often argued, good-naturedly, of course. Val was the only man Scott knew who could get away with ribbing Johnny without fear of ending up on the receiving end of Johnny's Colt. It seemed to be a game of one-upmanship that the two men thrived on. Curious about the cause of today's disagreement, Scott pushed open the door and entered the office.
"I could hear you two all the way outside." The grin slid off Scott's face as he took in the countenances of the room's only other occupants. Quickly, he noted that the door leading to the cells was closed. Tension filled the room and Johnny had his hand resting on the butt of his gun.
"Did I interrupt something?"
Johnny took a deep breath, glaring at Val who steadfastly returned a scowl of his own.
"I need a drink, Scott. Let's get out of here," Johnny growled, moving toward the door.
"I asked what's going on, brother."
"And I said I need a drink!" Johnny snapped before storming out of the office.
"Later, Val," Scott threw over his shoulder as he followed his angry brother outside and toward the saloon.
Scott grabbed Johnny's arm, twirling him around so they stood face to face.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?"
Johnny shrugged off the restraining hand before taking a step backward. Scott made no forward movement knowing Johnny did not like to be crowded. Patiently he waited, allowing his brother a moment to suppress his anger.
"It was nothing, Scott. Just a difference of opinion." Johnny's voice was softer, controlled, his body relaxing now.
"Must have been a quite a difference. Want to talk about it?"
"Not here. Over a beer, you're buying." A fleeting grin crossed Johnny's face before he turned and continued his trek toward the saloon.
Scott fell into step with the dark-haired young man; the two walking in silence. As they approached the entrance to the saloon, the doors abruptly opened. A handsome young man shouldered into Scott, the collision bringing both men to a sudden stop as each sidestepped to avoid tripping the other.
"Pardon me," the stranger murmured. The young man's attention shifted between the two men, then settled on Scott's companion, noting the dark hair, blue eyes and the way he wore his gun until finally recognition flared in his eyes.
"Do I know you?" he asked, curiosity overwhelming caution.
Johnny, likewise, had taken in the stranger standing before them; the man lacked the wary expression of a gunfighter, though Johnny knew he could handle himself. A lefty, Johnny mused.
"No, I don't believe you do."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure I know you."
Scott had stood by patiently, but now his patience was wearing thin. Something in Johnny's stance alerted him that while his brother may not actually consider the other man a threat, he was not dismissing him either. Why? Again Scott wondered about the enigma that was his sibling.
"Look friend, if you will excuse us we were on our way in," Scott interrupted the silent pair, aware of the edginess in his brother's posture.
"Madrid, you are Madrid. Hot damn, I knew I had seen you. The border, right?"
"No, it's Lancer," Johnny growled before pushing past the stranger and heading for his favorite table.
Scott studied his brother for a moment before weaving through the usual afternoon crowd to sidle up to the bar.
"Two beers please, Martin," Scott requested. He tossed a quick glance in the mirror over the bar. His brother was slouched in the chair, relaxed and easy, but Scott knew him well enough to understand that things were not as they seemed. Like a duck on a pond all appeared calm, but underneath the surface that little duck was paddling madly. So too, the nonchalant demeanor of Johnny Lancer belied the tension Scott knew swirled under the cool exterior.
"Martin, you better give me a bottle of tequila, too."
Martin grinned knowingly at Scott Lancer.
Hugging the bottle under one arm and balancing the glasses of beer, Scott weaved through the crowded room until he reached the back table. Carefully, he placed the beers down on the table, then handed the bottle to his brother. Without a word Johnny took a deep swallow of the beer, then rubbed his mouth. Sighing, he removed his hat and placed it on the chair beside him.
"Ok, give it to me. What's going on?" Scott urged, his patience now all but exhausted. His own temper was simmering, bubbling to the surface, ready to spill its ire on any unsuspecting adversary, even if that adversary came in the form of his brother.
Since Deputy Quint had served him a week ago with the subpoena for jury duty, his brother had subjected him to mood swings such a as he had yet known. Johnny's grin came easy, his support unfailing, yet the anger was constant under the soft words and the quick smile. And for the last week Scott had tried, but to no avail, to draw out the younger man, urging him to release the cause of his troubled demeanor.
"Johnny, I have about had it with this attitude. First me, then Val, now that stranger. What the hell is eating you? And don't tell me nothing!" Scott growled, his soft voice screaming louder than any shout.
"This ain't the time or the place." Johnny reached for the bottle, he took a long swallow before setting it back down and wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve.
"When and where is the place then? You have had a burr under your saddle for the last week and I am, quite frankly, tired of it. Now talk to me."
"Scott, not here," Johnny's soft plea, normally so effective, fell on deaf ears. Scott was not going to be denied, not again.
"Brother, do you want a scene here? In the middle of the saloon? Now talk, or so help me I will make one."
Johnny's eyes sought out those of his brother as he weighed the likelihood that Scott would carry out his threat. Slowly a small grin appeared and both brothers relaxed, their differences set aside in one quick smile.
"Scott, I'm just worried about you."
The quiet admission came as no surprise. Scott had known Johnny was concerned with his decision, yet it was not a decision he could have avoided. The judge's subpoena did not request his presence, it required it. Johnny was aware of the legal implications had Scott chosen to ignore the summons, as was Scott. But while Scott was pleased to perform his duty, he knew Johnny was filled with dread.
"Look, little brother. It's no big deal. Anyway, there is more to it than that, isn't there? You were not arguing with Val over me serving as juror. Come on, Johnny."
"Scott, have you looked at this town in the last week? Since Carver was brought in? Have you really looked?" Johnny leaned over closer to Scott, his voice low and insistent, urgent.
"Well, yes. There are a lot of strangers around. I may have grown up in Boston, Johnny, but I was not sheltered. What's the point?"
"The point, brother, is Carver is powerful, he has a lot of friends. He can buy and sell his way out of most anything."
"Are you saying he could buy the judge?" The thought that Judge Harmon could be enticed by the offer of financial gain to rule in favor of a defendant, even one like Carver, shocked Scott, his strong sense of morality offended by such a blatant suggestion.
"Not the judge, Boston. The jury. He could buy the jury and those who don't accept his offer could be, well..." Johnny's voice trailed away, but he was satisfied by the understanding he now saw mirrored in his brother's eyes.
"I see. Well, don't worry, brother. You are watching my back, aren't you?" A mischievous gleam shone in the slate blue eyes. Johnny just nodded, his expression not one of humor but of concern.
"Come on, Boston, we gotta get back. The old man is gonna have a fit."
The ride back to Lancer passed quickly and silently with each man lost in thought. At the knoll overlooking the hacienda Scott came to a halt. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow before settling the hat once more on his head. Johnny sat calmly beside him, stroking Barranca's golden neck, while the horse pawed the ground impatiently. The stallion wasn't the only one anxious to get home.
"What happened with Val?" Scott asked quietly. He threw his brother a quick glance before dismounting and walking around his mount to stand looking up at Johnny.
"You aren't gonna let it go, are you, Boston?" Exasperated, Johnny studied his brother. When Scott made up his mind about something it was hard to get him to let it go. He was like a dog with a bone, he hung on with arms, feet and teeth, AND guts.
Johnny smiled as the words brought back memories of the first time they had met their father. He had told them he wanted more than their guns. What more, Johnny had asked. I want your arms, legs and guts was the firm reply. Scott Lancer had given him exactly that and now months later, he was as tenacious as he had ever been.
"Johnny, I'm not going to let it go. Not now. Not ever."
"Ok, ok," Johnny conceded soberly. "I think Val should hire more deputies."
"What!" Scott had expected anything but that. While Johnny and Val enjoyed antagonizing each other, a simple suggestion did not seem to be sufficient reason for the two men to have had the argument Scott had walked into. Puzzled, Scott stared at his brother. "So?" he asked.
"I asked Val to make me a deputy."
Scott considered his brother's explanation. It was still not a plausible explanation for the heated exchange he had witnessed, unless of course, his brother had made the suggestion with his less than customary tact. Satisfied he had reached a logical conclusion Scott sighed and gathered his reins.
"What's the matter, Scott? Can't you see me wearing a star?" With that Johnny burst out laughing as Scott mounted his sorrel, shaking his head.
"Little brother, you are out of your mind. I do believe we need to call Sam out here to check you over." With that Scott spurred his horse toward home, his laughter matching that of his brother's.
Austin Frazier sipped his cold coffee, scowling when he swallowed a mouthful of grounds. Morgan would never learn. The kid couldn't brew coffee no matter how many times Austin had explained it to him but the kid was handy in a fight, in fact he was damned good with a gun. They didn't come much better, or much faster, and they were going to need all their collective skill for the upcoming confrontation. What they lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in talent.
There were only four of them now. Their parents had died six years ago when their homestead had been raided by a party of drunken braves. Austin was the oldest and therefore had assumed the role of head of the family. Though barely 25, he was far older than his years. Life had forced him to grow up fast. Tough as nails but with a tender side, he was fiercely loyal to his family.
The twins, Dusty and Duncan, were two years younger, each handsome with 'devil may care' personalities; it was rumored they could charm a bird out of a tree. Next came Morgan, and with him came trouble and plenty of it. The boy didn't attract trouble, he created it. Daily, Austin's biggest challenge was reining in his youngest brother. Now even more so. Since that day three weeks ago when they had taken to the trail of the murderer, Morgan had been impatient, anxious and spoiling for a fight. The kid had blood in his eyes and that worried Austin. He knew how Morgan's life would end unless he could get through to the kid and it wasn't a happy ending.
Now they had been here for a week, waiting, eating, sleeping, and waiting even more. The waiting was grating on everyone's nerves. On at least two occasions he had had to break up quarrels between Morgan and Duncan. If they didn't make their move soon, he wasn't sure he would be able to maintain control of the younger men.
Val sat at his desk, going through the latest stack of wanted posters, looking at the faces without seeing them. The argument with Johnny weighed heavily on his mind, he hated arguing with his friend. Johnny had seemed so sure, so certain and Val would never have believed the day would come when he doubted Johnny's instincts. But this was his town, he knew how to do the job the Cattlemen's Association had hired him for.
Still, Johnny had been so adamant that he needed more deputies, he had even volunteered. The thought of his friend wearing a badge would have made him laugh any time but now. Was it pride that made him believe his friend was wrong? Was he willing to risk the citizens of the town he had been entrusted to guard? Damn, Johnny was so hard-headed, but then again so was he.
The sound of the door opening jerked the sheriff out of his brooding thoughts. He looked up, surprised when he saw Judge Harmon filling the door to the jail house.
"Good evening, Your Honor," he greeted the other man as he leaped up and extended his hand. The judge accepted the proffered hand, shaking it firmly before entering the room and closing the door behind him.
"Sheriff," he replied. "The prisoner is secure?"
"Course he is. I know my job. Don't need none o' your help." Val bristled.
If the judge noticed the sheriff's mocking attitude, he gave no indication, choosing instead to study the structure that housed the sheriff and his prisoners.
"Are you prepared for the trial? It starts next week and I want to be sure security is impenetrable. We can not afford to be lax in our duties."
"Carver ain't going no wheres," Val growled.
"Sheriff Crawford, do not underestimate the man. He is more lethal than you can imagine. Good evening to you." With that the judge turned on his heel, slamming the door behind him.
Val sat down wearily in his chair. "Asshole," he muttered.
Dusty Frazier followed the main road out of Green River, taking every precaution to ensure he was not being followed. He traveled at a brisk pace, anxious to make his report to his brother. His reconnaissance into the normally sleepy little town had gone well, very well indeed. The news he carried would be most welcome. Dusty could almost hear Morgan's childlike shrieks of glee at the prospect of finally facing the man responsible for the murder of their loved one. The murderer would pay and very soon.
Finally, he reached the turnoff toward where the campsite was hidden. He drew rein, nonchalantly rolling a cigarette while peering around from under the brim of his hat. Satisfied he had been successful in avoiding discovery, he spurred his mount off the road and into the brush. Through the short expanse of underbrush he found the little used track. Another mile would do it, he thought. Another mile and they could finally put their plan into motion. Abruptly, he once more halted the gelding and whistled the signal. Immediately an answering whistle was heard and he entered the camp.
Austin met him expectantly, grasping his mount's bridle. Morgan and Duncan moved to stand beside their brother, eagerly awaiting the report.
"Well?" Austin asked.
"He's there alright."
"They filled the jury then?" Getting Dusty to talk was like pulling teeth and Austin's temper finally snapped.
"Tell me everything now!" he demanded.
Dusty slid off his horse, Morgan and Duncan moved to flank him.
"Ok, ok, yeah the trial starts Monday. Some kid named Lancer is filling the twelfth spot."
"Anything else?" Morgan urged.
"Yeah, one more thing. Lancer has a brother, Johnny."
"So?" This from Duncan.
"He used to be a gun. Til about 3 months ago, he went by the name of Madrid."
Morgan Frazier fondled his Colt, his eyes filled with a strange gleam.
"Madrid? This is gonna be fun," he laughed.
Austin Frazier stared at the younger man, his worst fears were now becoming a reality. "Oh my God," he breathed.
Sunday, August 11 dawned cloudless, the sky barren of all hope of relief from the oppressive heat. The air hung heavy, motionless. No breeze rustled the leaves or dried the sweat that dripped in tiny rivulets down the backs of the riders. Tiny puffs of dust rose from under each step of the horse's hooves, drifting in spirals upwards and mingling with the sweat-soaked clothing now covered with a fine layer of the grit. Johnny raised his hat, once more rubbing the stinging moisture off his forehead, before settling the hat firmly on his head.
The Lancers had risen early without their usual carefree banter, the brothers quickly performing the necessary toiletries and then as silently partaking of the fare Maria had prepared for breakfast. Dressed in their Sunday best, they now rode steadily toward Green River. There would be no return ride home after church, not this day. This day they would stay in town, the reservations in Green River's only hotel confirmed.
Adam Horatio Carver was on the minds of each and every member of the Lancer household. His trial was to begin tomorrow. It was for this reason the return trip home had been postponed - Murdoch believing it best that Scott be prompt and rested when he took his seat in the juror's box. Silently they rode, each speculating the direction and events of the upcoming trial. To say it was Green River's biggest claim to fame was an understatement. The town was now swollen with the influx of newcomers and thrill seekers, hungry for blood and anxious to see the killer hang.
Austin Frazier sat his big chestnut, one leg leisurely tossed across the saddle horn. He surveyed the town of Green River situated below. Satisfied, he turned his eye to the three men sitting silently, but less than patiently, beside him.
"Everyone remember what you have to do, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, no sweat A," Morgan retorted.
Austin read the undercurrent in his younger sibling's voice. With a groan he pinned the boy with a piercing stare.
"Stick to the plan, Morgan. Don't go looking for trouble now," he ordered, with more confidence than he felt.
In return, Morgan tossed a snide grin his way. "I only want to see what he looks like."
"Leave Madrid alone, you hear me!"
It was always the same. As long as Austin could remember Morgan had been a handful, not evil, just rambunctious, or so their mother had said. Then again Morgan was mom's favorite and could do no wrong. Austin and the twins had taken many beatings in their brother's stead, their mother apparently blind to the youngest Frazier's penchant for trouble. She, no doubt, believed his brothers were leading him astray.
Austin, the twins Dusty and Duncan, and Dylan had always worked hard. Side by side the four oldest brothers labored in the fields of their farm with their father, struggling to keep their large family fed, while Morgan spent his days endeavoring to discover new ways of causing mischief Mischief was his middle name, or at least, the brothers had secretly nicknamed him so.
Morgan often left the farm for hours at a time, always returning home with a gift for their mother and a smug grin plastered to his face. And more often than not the next morning would find another of the town's merchants or the father of a young girl, knocking on the door with the latest complaint. Morgan was lovingly considered the terror of the small town of Cinder. Yes, lovingly. His exploits ranged from 'borrowing' perfume from the general store to 'borrowing' kisses from the young ladies. Though the fathers and merchants were outraged, they always chalked it up to youth. Morgan was able to apologize so humbly, that invariably he was forgiven.
Still the biggest concern, as Austin saw it, was Morgan's blossoming ego. He was beginning to believe the tales about him as told by the community. In Morgan Frazier's opinion, he could do no wrong, he was invincible. Austin's greatest fear was realized the day Morgan came home bearing flowers for mom and a dime store novel, The Legend of Johnny Madrid. Only a few days later, the youngest Frazier was hiding a gun in the tool shed then sneaking away in the late afternoon to practice.
Austin's worries were compounded the fateful day a wandering band of rogue Indians had approached their small homestead. His father, Henry Frazier had attempted to communicate with the strangers, but to no avail, they spoke no English. Kindly, he had offered them a bottle of brandy, it was to be his last mistake. Unaccustomed to the white man's brew, the Indians had become drunk and dangerous. Under the effects of the alcohol they had killed Henry and Joanne Frazier before falling into a drunken stupor.
As the Indians slept Austin herded the twins away from the only home they had ever known. Dylan had ordered him to go ahead. We'll catch you up, Dylan had said. He and Morgan would close up the small cabin, the only place they had ever called home. With a growing sense of apprehension, Austin had done as he was told and taken Dusty and Duncan to the prearranged rendezvous. The next morning a subdued Dylan had joined them, Morgan smugly following along behind him. As the two brothers had fallen into an exhausted sleep, Austin had discreetly checked their weapons, dismayed to discover tale-tell signs of blood on the blades of their hunting knives. Grimly, he had returned the knives to their sheaths.
They discussed returning to the homestead, but unanimously decided against it. The weeks had blurred into months as the brothers performed the endless tasks their survival required. Always moving, they never stayed in one place long. Each town they rode into was nameless, their sole purpose for stopping was to replenish their meager store of supplies. Their grief was overwhelming and the brothers clung to each other for support. All but Morgan. The boy withdrew. Instead of the carefree boy they had all loved, before their eyes he became cold, hardened.
Frustrated and concerned Austin approached Dylan. Dylan was the oldest of the brothers and closer to Morgan than any of the others, often siding with the youngest sibling no matter who complained about his antics. If any one could reach the young man, it was Dylan.
"He's just a youngster, Austin. We've been through a lot, ya hear. Leave the boy be," Dylan had protested.
"Dy, did you know he has a gun? Did you know he's practicing with it?"
"So? Most men out here have a gun. What's the problem?"
"Most men ain't pretending to be fighting Indians, killing people. Come on Dylan, you know he's headin for trouble. Can't you talk to him?"
"Austin, I said leave the boy alone. If'n he gets outta line, I'll handle it, ok!" Dylan had snarled at him and stalked away.
Two months later Dylan was dead. Murdered. As they had stood beside the small grave, weeping the loss of yet another family member, Austin had been horrified to hear Morgan whispering, vowing vengeance. He had dragged the younger man aside and attempted to reason with him but to no avail.
"They killed ma and pa. Now Dylan. You help me, A, or I'll kill the murdering bastard myself!" Morgan had hissed.
Now the brothers four sat their horses on the outskirts of Green River, Austin and Morgan engaged in a stare-down, the twins sitting patiently by. Dusty and Duncan were now accustomed to the battle of wills. Since Dylan had been killed the struggle for dominance had grown steadily more and more intense. It was only a matter of time before one or the other of their siblings would throw a fist, or worse, they feared.
Morgan had become more adept with the handgun than they had imagined, his speed with the draw rivaled only by his quick temper. His fascination with the names of the 'big' guns, as he called them, was cause for concern. But the conflict was not to be this day. This day, Morgan once more, reluctantly stepped down. "Jesus, A, don't get so bent outta shape."
"Well Morg, unless you aim to stand firm to your yappin, we have work to do. We'll meet up in the courtroom. Now git!"
The hours passed painfully slow. It seemed time had taken on a mind of her own, having decided to indulge in the habitual afternoon siesta. The sermon had dragged monotonously, the priest even more long winded than usual. Lunch had been subdued, all attempts by the Lancer brothers at casual conversation abandoned as nearby diners droned endlessly about the morning's trial.
Johnny now stood on the boardwalk, his nerves screaming for action while his mind begged for the silence that he required in order to focus. His senses were agonizingly alert, each sound and movement magnified to an excruciating crescendo. He had skillfully avoided any family activity, opting instead for the solitude of his own company. He now stood studying the window of the jail, watching for any movement to indicate the sheriff was in attendance. He knew he had to make things right with Val, and there was no time like the present. With a calm demeanor that belied his inner impatience, Johnny stepped into the street.
Johnny paused outside the door to the jail house, firmly grasping his nerves and temper. Absently, he removed his hat, running a hand through his thick black hair before once more settling the hat in place. His attention was suddenly captured by the stranger languishing outside the saloon. Nonchalantly, Johnny leaned against the post supporting the awning of the jailhouse and studied the young man.
Instantly he recognized the man; the same man he and Scott had encountered on their last visit to town. But something was different, something struck Johnny as being out of place. With a sigh of impatience Johnny studied the stranger, his hat brim effectively shielding his eyes. Same clothing, same rig worn casually on his right thigh. Same air of indifference. Yet there was something. Puzzled, Johnny turned back to his previous goal and entered the jail.
Val was leaning back, hat shielding his eyes, his chair tipped precariously on two legs.
Silently, the two men regarded the other, each seeking an opening. Finally, Johnny moved to the small table at the back of the office and poured a cup of coffee. Wrinkling his nose at the smell, he took a tentative sip.
"Your coffee is as bad as ever," he commented.
"Yeah and you ain't got no manners. Comin in here an just helping yourself, then complainin."
"Fergit it, Johnny. You go gettin all mushy on me an I won't be able to handle it." Val scowled, the smile in his eyes belying his stern voice. With an exaggerated air of impatience, he opened the center drawer of his desk, his hands fumbling around before grasping the object he sought. He tossed the silver disk to his friend.
Johnny deftly grabbed the object, his face lighting up in a smile as he studied the shiny star.
"What's the job pay?" he teased.
"You just be in court on time. Oh, and shut the damn door on your way out!"
Johnny studied the members of the community as they surged into the courtroom. Excitement electrified the atmosphere, the town eager for a glimpse of the defendant. As Adam Horatio Carver was led shackled into the room and escorted to his place at the defendant's table, the roar of the courtroom diminished to a low rumble. Intrigued by the charisma of the man, men and women alike vied for position, each and every one seeking the best possible vantage point. Adam Carver took his seat, his bearing arrogant and regal. With head high, eyes straight ahead he surveyed the small room, his attitude one of contempt. Gracefully he took his seat, his handsome face mirroring the scorn he felt for the injustice that had been exacted on his person by the shackles and handcuffs. He refused to acknowledge his attorney, who leaned in closer to whisper in his ear, only to be waved off by a brief flick of Carver's hand.
As Judge Harmon entered the room, the bailiff announcing his arrival and calling the court to order, Johnny's focus shifted from the defendant to his brother. Scott had been given the task of serving as the jury foreman, a position he accepted with solemn grace. Johnny smiled grimly, his blond sibling took his civil duty very seriously. Scott sat stiffly, his gaze firmly rooted to the judge, listening intently as the judge instructed the jury as to their duty.
//Leave it to Scott to take charge//Johnny mused. His eyes swept the courtroom, the sound of the proceedings fading to a dull drone as he made his assessment of the men in the room. Among the many strangers in the courtroom was a man, or men, who could have been paid by Carver to affect his rescue. Johnny was determined to find that man before they could free Carver or harm his brother.
Val had collected the weapons of all who had entered but Johnny's nerves tingled with the same sense of foreboding that had plagued him since Carver's arrest. He adjusted the weight of his rig, comforted by the Colt on his hip. Johnny continued his scrutiny of the room, his gaze pausing briefly on Val, returning the sheriff's nod with one of his own.
The sound of the door at the back of the courtroom opening, then softly closing, drew Johnny's attention. The stranger of the day before stood framed by the sunlight behind him. Again, suspicion niggled at the back of Johnny's mind, his nerve endings tingling with the sudden rush of adrenaline. He studied the stranger, his eyes falling on the gun tied loosely on his right hip. A gun. Johnny made his way immediately toward the doorway and the young man, vaguely aware of Val moving on the other side of the room.
The sheriff and his deputy reached the newcomer at the same time, taking positions on either side of him.
"No guns in the courtroom, mister," Val whispered. "Hand it over or take your leave."
"My name is Frazier, sheriff. Marshal Duncan Frazier. I am authorized to carry this weapon. I expect you to extend to me the courtesy afforded every lawman."
"Ya got any id?" Val challenged.
Duncan Frazier moved his suitcoat aside to reveal a star, his expression that of contempt. Coldly, he shouldered past Val and Johnny and took a seat at the rear. Again, the strange sensation that Frazier was not what he appeared tickled Johnny's mind. As nonchalantly as a man in a Sunday school classroom, Johnny leaned against the door, preparing himself for a long morning.
By noon the members of the courtroom had lost their earlier enthusiasm, the heat and the monotony of the testimony dulling their interest. Judge Harmon apparently was as disillusioned with the proceedings, the dry, stuffy air taking its toll on his patience as well. He called for a break, instructing the jury to return at three o'clock, and adjourning the trial. With a sweep of his robe, he left through the side door.
The courtroom emptied in a flood, the wave of men and women pouring through the doors into the street. As Adam Carver was ushered through the back of the room to a holding cell, he paused briefly to pin Scott with a withering stare. Scott held the gaze before joining Johnny at the main entrance.
"Meet me at the cafe. I'll be right there."
"Did you see the fella we met at the saloon the other day?"
"The one asking about Madrid?" Scott asked.
"Yeah him. He was here, claiming to be a Federal Marshal."
"I dunno, Scott. There's something wrong here."
She had moved to stand just behind Scott, her arrival unnoticed as the brothers engaged in conversation. Softly, she cleared her throat, smiling graciously as the Lancers turned to face her She stood tall but curvaceous, her blonde hair tied in loose curls on top of her head, brilliant amber eyes gazing intently on the two men.
Ever the gentleman, Scott extended his hand, a wide smile lighting his face.
"Hello ma'am, I'm Scott Lancer. This is my brother, Johnny."
She accepted Scott's hand, her grip surprisingly strong. Turning to face Johnny, she waited expectantly for his welcome. Johnny's deep blue eyes studied her appraisingly. He made no move toward her, instead allowing his gaze to sweep from her head to her heels pausing only briefly to appreciate her curves. She rewarded him with a blush and dipped her head. A momentary pause in which to compose herself and she raised her head, defiantly meeting the dark man's eyes.
"I'm Melody Connors. I'm with the Gazette out of Denver. I came to cover the trial. Perhaps you gentlemen would be so kind as to grant me an interview."
"Sorry ma'am, I got no use for the newspeople," Johnny's quiet drawl was laced with contempt.
Scott turned on his sibling, disapproval clearly directed at the younger man.
"There's no reason to be rude, Brother."
"I got my reasons. I'll meet you in the cafe. Don't take too long."
Scott regarded his brother before relenting. "Would you relax? Look I'm going to set up time for a meeting with Ms. Connors, then I'll be along. Ok? Save me a beer."
"Yeah, right. You buying?" Johnny returned Scott's smile hesitantly. With a last look at the young woman, Johnny left, relief at escaping the confines of the courtroom filling him with a welcome sense of freedom.
Scott stared after his brother before shrugging and turning his attention to the beautiful woman standing beside him.
"Ma'am, court is in recess for lunch as I'm sure you know. Perhaps, I could take you to dinner this evening for that interview?"
"Mr. Lancer, is it? Yes, that would be acceptable. Are you buying, Sir?" she laughed, the sound like ice tinkling in fine china.
"Seven o clock?"
"I'm at the hotel, room 14. I'll expect you." In the whisper of her full gown she left him, his heart hammering in anticipation. //Yes sir, jury duty wasn't so bad// he mused.
Taking another gulp of his hot beer, Johnny sighed in frustration.//Something was wrong, very wrong.// With sudden determination, he shoved his hat roughly onto his head before stalking out of the cantina.
Now leaving the cafe, Johnny paused on the boardwalk, a sudden memory arresting his forward motion as effectively as a steer hitting the end of a lasso. He and Scott leaving Val's office just days ago, encountering a young stranger. A lefty. But this morning in court that same young man wore his gun on the right hip. A movement across the street drew Johnny's rapid gaze. Val. Purposefully, Johnny strode across the street, intent on intercepting the sheriff on his way to his office.
Val halted on the boardwalk, patiently waiting as Johnny joined him. Something in the sheriff's stance alerted the young gunhawk to the danger, the tension, the air was ripe with it. It emanated from the courthouse like ripples in the pond, each circle of fear and anxiety spreading wider arms, encompassing all in her grasp. Townspeople feared the verdict. What if Adam Carver were found innocent and released? Would he linger in the normally quiet town? Would he seek revenge?
As Johnny neared the sheriff, he called out, "Val, we gotta talk."
Scott turned to find Marshal Frazier studying him, an expression of cunning marring his handsome features. With an exaggerated gesture he waved a hand toward the door of the courtroom. The marshal's eyes gleamed with a hint of evil mirth as he mocked the blond juror. "We would be honored if you would join us, Sir."
The threat was unmistakable as the marshal's hand caressed the butt of his Colt. Scott entered the court, the nerves in his spine jangling as the door to the room slammed shut behind him. As his eyes adjusted to the lighting he was aware of the presence of Judge Harmon and Adam Carver, his expression smug and satisfied. Scott understood the foreboding his brother had been experiencing as her icy fingers trailed along his arms and back.
Three strangers lounged around the room, well armed and deadly. No, two were strangers, the last man shockingly familiar. Fear tempted the oldest Lancer son, she called to him and begged him take heed, but an overpowering strength flowed through his veins. Johnny was waiting, Johnny would come. Together they would come through this, whatever this was.
The muzzle of the Colt prompted Scott to move forward where he sat beside the judge and the defendant at the defendant's table. The three gunmen took up positions around the seated captives, their expressions eager, hungry, bloodlust shining clearly in their eyes. The leader of the men came to a stop a mere foot from the table, his gaze sweeping from one of the captives to the other.
"So, let's get down to business, gentlemen, shall we?"
"You have been richly paid for your services, I insist you untie me immediately," Adam Carver demanded coolly.
"Paid us? Paid us for what? Saving your sorry hide. We ain't here for you. You deserve whatever you're gonna git," Morgan snarled.
With a snort, Austin Frazier eyed Adam Horatio Carver. He had heard of his reign of blood, and quite frankly he couldn't care less if they hung the murdering bastard. The other one, now, he was different. Austin was going to enjoy watching him die. He licked his lips in anticipation.
"It's time you paid for your crimes, Sir. We have come to watch you die and die you will." The young man made no further effort to hide his hatred, his eagerness to draw blood lighting his soft brown eyes with an almost amber glow.
At the ominous promise of death the judge blanched, his face taking on a peculiar green hue, his mouth hanging open, gaping at the gunman.
Scott tried to remain still, cool, but sweat trickled down his back, under his arms and even into his eyes. His breathing was becoming more labored as adrenaline pumped at an accelerated rate. These men were going to kill them and no one could stop it. Where the hell was Johnny?
The plan was not the best one he had ever formulated, actually it was one of his worst ideas. But it was just the way he and Val liked to operate. The fact it made no sense, at least not to anyone but themselves, was the one thing they had in their favor. No one would expect the direct approach. Johnny only prayed Scott would somehow understand.
With a barely perceptible nod, Val conveyed his message and the two men began to move painstakingly slowly toward the center of town, to the old stone building that served as the town's seat. Johnny took the left of the courthouse, Val picked his way down the alley to the right of their intended destination. Once in place, Johnny halted, awaiting the signal. Many times he and Val had performed maneuvers such as these. They knew what the other was thinking, what he would do next. Like a well trained team pulling a stage, they needed no words, no gestures, preferring instead simple glances, minute nods.
As he waited for the moment he knew to come when they would enter the courtroom simultaneously, going about the attack like a pair of dancers, twirling, ducking and all the while firing, he cautiously peered into the nearest window. Three men were standing guard around the defendant's table; the judge, the defendant and Scott sat quietly at the table, hands flat on its worn surface. The oldest gunhawk had risen and was angrily pacing before the judge's bench, his voice rising in pitch. Johnny felt a moment's anger before the icy cold resolve of Madrid once more steadied his nerves and gained the edge. God help any man who hurt his brother.
On tiptoe he edged toward the front door, his hand grasping the handle, relieved when the silver knob gave beneath his urging. Unlocked. He quietly swung the door inward on well greased hinges, slipping cautiously into the dimly lit foyer, the afternoon's shadows darkening the normally sunny room. With a gentle sigh, he paused. Val would be making his way in from the back, inching closer to the door that led back toward the judge's chambers and holding cells. Surprise was in their favor but Johnny realized the odds were less than optimal. They would have to rely on Scott's quick wit and understanding of what was occurring as they moved in for this rescue attempt to end successfully. A lot of ifs, but Johnny Madrid had always thrived on long odds. Today was to be no different.
"Look gentlemen, name your price and it's yours," Adam Carver offered.
"Why should we risk our necks for you?" Austin's patience was quickly ebbing, leaving him irritated and more inclined to allow Morgan to vent some of his ill concealed hostility. "My brother here," Austin nodded in Morgan's direction, "would be more than happy to oblige you if you want to hurry on your way to hell. He's been achin' to kill someone. Might as well be you."
"Listen to me. You can get what you came for and leave wealthy men in the process."
"Shut the hell up!" Morgan moved quickly, his gun was roughly shoved under Carver's throat. "Austin, let me do him. Come on, let me kill the bastard."
"If you didn't come to free Carver here, then what do you want?" Scott interjected.
While he knew the crimes Carver was accused of, he could not in good conscience sit by and watch the angry young man commit murder. The situation was rapidly deteriorating and Scott knew his brother would appreciate the diversion. "Perhaps we can come to an understanding, reach a compromise."
Austin drew his breath in sharply. "A compromise? Mister, you tell me how to compromise on death. My brother was murdered! You think an understanding will bring him back. You are the high and mighty one, aren't you? But even you can't do that."
"Carver is going to stand trial. Let the law handle it."
"What makes you think we came for Carver?" Austin demanded.
"Then why, what? I don't even know you."
"You Lancers may be rich and powerful but you don't know shit about everything. Ask the good judge here what we want."
Bewildered, Scott turned to stare at the judge. "Do you know these men, Your Honor?"
"Know us? Know us?" Austin exploded. "He damn well should know us! The bastard killed our brother as surely as if he had pulled the damn lever himself. Go ahead, your honor. Tell us you forgot!"
Recognition dropped her gavel on the judge's head as surely as he had but an hour before dropped his gavel on the aged desk. Judge Harmon shrank back before the verbal onslaught as if struck, terror washing over him. His jaw gaped, memory of a trial mere weeks before thundering in his mind as his heart hammered in his chest.
"You," he gasped. "But, it can't be."
"Yeah, Mr. High and Mighty. You think you're something. You just ride into town, sit your ass in that there chair, lookin' down at the rest of us and then hang a man easy as you please. You think you're above the law. Well, you ain't. You bleed same as us and we're gonna show you what it feels like to beg for your life. You murdered our brother. I would guess you ain't nearly as brave."
Silence descended over the courtroom as Austin's impassioned tirade left the young man panting from the emotional trauma of reliving his brother's death. Judge Harmon remembered. He remembered the youth charged with robbing the bank and murdering the teller. It had been an open and shut case, the jury quickly reaching its verdict-guilty. Judge Harmon had been satisfied that justice had been done, he had passed sentence and the young man had been hanged despite the earnest insistence that Dylan Frazier was innocent. The Frazier brothers' demands for reconsideration had been as swiftly overruled. Dylan Frazier had been hanged the following morning, amidst the shouts of his brothers. Though the pleas of the Fraziers had haunted his sleep for the first few nights afterwards, the judge had finally convinced himself he had performed his duty and carried out his responsibilities to the fullest.
"He was tried and convicted," the judge finally managed to squeak.
"He wasn't nothing of the sort." Morgan had come to stand in front of the defendant's table, his Colt gripped firmly in his hand and waving ominously in front of the three men seated there.
"Mr. Frazier, he was tried in a court of law and..."
"And nothing, you piece of shit. He didn't do nothing!" Morgan was livid, his face a mottled crimson.
"I understand your pain, Mr. Frazier. But he was found guilty." Scott found himself joining the argument though reason demanded his silence.
"Mr. Lancer? That's your name, right?"
Scott nodded mutely, his gaze on the muzzle of the Colt that was moving between the judge and himself.
"You don't know nothing. Dylan didn't do it. I did it! I robbed that bank, I shot the teller! Lying scum here hung an innocent man!"
As the words assaulted the occupants of the room, the accusations reverberated repeatedly, piercing the minds of the six men between the four walls. Austin had turned, his shock at the confession as debilitating as that of Judge Harmon. He fell into the nearest chair, his body leaden, his eyes wide. "Morgan..." he breathed.
Standing hidden behind the doors that entered into the courtroom, Johnny and Val had been silent witnesses to the failure of Judge Harmon. Each had heard Morgan Frazier's explosive confession. Each had experienced the shock of knowing the hostage situation now occurring inside could not be laid at the feet of the defendant. Now they knew it was the judge himself who was responsible for the actions of the three gunmen.
As the room fell into stunned silence, the occupants temporarily immobilized by the words that still resounded in their ears, Johnny knew the time had come. He could see Val peering cautiously around the back door, and he nodded. Taking a deep breath, Johnny counted to three before leaping from his place of concealment.
"Everyone drop your guns now!" he bellowed.
Immediately the room exploded. Scott dove under the table, dragging Judge Harmon with him. Adam Carver leaped from his chair, knocking it down in his haste and falling over it Quickly he was up, sprinting for the front door. A well placed shot from Val brought the escaping man down clutching his side.
Austin Frazier had recovered rapidly and was firing a steady stream of bullets at the youngest Lancer, who dove for cover behind the last row of spectator chairs. Firing as he fell, Johnny was satisfied to hear a groan as one of his bullets found their mark. Austin went down, his flailing legs tripping his brother Duncan and upsetting his headlong rush. In a tangle of limbs the brothers fell, their bodies thudding loudly as they landed on the heavy planking of the floor.
As Austin had fallen, his gun had landed mere feet from the table under which Scott and Judge Harmon were lying. Scott calculated the odds of reaching the weapon and made a move for it.
Morgan had recovered from his surprise at the sudden attack and was now bringing his Colt to bear on Scott's back. He fired but the shot went wild as the judge kicked the chairs into his legs.
"Scott, look out!" Johnny yelled above the din.
Scott rolled to his left, firing in the general direction of the youngest Frazier. Morgan jumped to his left, and raced to the back door. As he neared the door, his lowered his shoulder and charged through it.
Johnny and Val met in the back of the courtroom. Austin was down, moaning with pain, blood flowing freely from the hole in his thigh. The Marshal was standing now, dazed but unhurt.
As suddenly as it had began it was over. Johnny paused to reload, his eyes sweeping the room. "Scott, you ok?"
"Yeah, the judge and I are fine. How about you?'
"Yeah ok. Val, I'll be back," he threw over his shoulder as he ran to the back door. Icy fingers tickled Johnny's neck, raising the small hairs at the base of his spine. Habit long engrained into his subconscious brought Johnny to a halt. He hazarded a quick look around the door into the alley behind the courthouse.
Morgan was attempting to mount his gelding, but the gunfire and the anxiety of the young man had conspired to unnerve the horse. The animal was anxiously crab walking in small circles, each step taking the stirrup out of reach of Morgan's raised foot.
With deadly calm Johnny stepped into the alley. "Going somewhere?" he drawled icily.
Immediately, Morgan Frazier dropped the reins and turned to face Madrid. A sneer crossed his angry face. "I always wanted a chance to test ya."
"Looks like today is your lucky day then, don't it?"
"Looks like it. I'm gonna be the man what killed Johnny Madrid."
"Or maybe not."
The faintest flicker and Morgan was grabbing for his gun. He was fast, faster than anyone Madrid had ever faced, but he wasn't fast enough. It was over in the blink of an eye. Johnny walked over to the young man and kicked his gun out of reach. Sightless eyes stared up at him, the sneer frozen on the handsome face. With a sigh, Johnny turned and headed back into the courthouse.
Val had rounded up the remaining brothers, Austin was now sitting in a chair holding a cloth on his wounded leg. Duncan sat sullenly beside him, his arrogance now gone. Adam Carver lay where he had fallen, having succumbed to the wound inflicted on him by Val.
Scott sat beside Judge Harmon, who was breathing heavily but unhurt. One last glance at the judge and Scott approached his brother.
"You sure you're all right? You're bleeding." Scott plucked at Johnny's sleeve. A bullet had creased Johnny's forearm, the path of its passing leaving behind a two inch furrow. The bleeding had ceased and blood had congealed on the open wound.
"Just a scratch. Must have happened when we busted in."
"You sounded like a herd of demented buffalo," Scott teased, as he wrapped an arm around the younger man, squeezing firmly.
"Remind me never to save your sorry hide again. Waste of good lead." The twinkle in Johnny's eye belied his gruff tone. "But it's a good thing you brought me along, huh?"
Curiously, Scott looked around the courtroom. "What happened to Morgan?"
"He wasn't fast enough," Johnny replied softly. His eyes fell on Val, who had listened to the entire exchange.
"Val?" Johnny stared at his friend.
"Go buy us a round. I'll be right behind you. Just have to check these men into the finest hotel in Green River."
With his arm around Johnny, Scott led the way out the front door. Pausing on the boardwalk, their gazes swept the street.
At the sound of the explosive gunfire the townspeople had frozen. Various chores and errands were now forgotten as they intently watched the door of the old courthouse. Waiting for a glimpse of the survivors, they held their collective breath. Upon seeing the Lancer brothers exit, the townsfolk released their pent up breath and returned to their daily business.
"So much for thanks," Johnny griped.
"I thought you didn't like attention?"
Johnny adjusted his gunbelt, then settled his hat firmly on his head. Scott had dropped his arm and watched as Madrid slowly retreated back into the dark place until Johnny Lancer needed him once more. In the midst of the transformation a thought crossed Johnny's mind.
"So, what's gonna happen now, you think?"
"I guess the trial is over and the Fraziers are going to jail. Johnny?" Scott paused, suddenly aware that Johnny was concentrating on something other than his brother's musings.
Johnny's head was slightly cocked to one side, his eyes staring at a point in the distance. Something didn't add up. Johnny's instincts were now screaming, demanding an audience. With a jerk Johnny brought his focus back to his older sibling. "Scott, the marshal. He goin to jail, too?"
"I would think so. He was in on the attempted murder of the judge. Why?"
"Did you happen to notice which hand he used?"
"His right. Why?"
"Boston, the other day, on the way to the saloon, 'member. He was a lefty." Johnny had turned to face his brother, now he was painfully gripping Scott's shoulders, his face mere inches away. "He was a lefty!"
"Yeah so..." Scott trailed out.
"He was wearing his rig on the right side in there!"
"That's right, Madrid, he was!" The voice was ominous drifting from behind Johnny. Over his brother's shoulder, Scott watched as the Marshal stepped out of the shadow of the alley and stood facing the brothers.
"Put your hands up," Dusty ordered. "Now turn around and see the man who's gonna kill you."
Slowly, his hands above his waist, Johnny turned to face this newest threat. Even as he faced Frazier, Johnny's ears were tuned to the sounds behind him. He listened intently, believing his brother was unarmed, and waiting for any sign, any signal that Scott may give him.
"You wanna try me? I already killed one Frazier today." Johnny studied the man before him. Quickly making the calculations, Johnny knew the odds were with the Marshal. Frazier's hand hovered over his weapon while Johnny's hands, held high in the air, gave the Marshal a definite edge. "So you use both hands, huh? Tell me, which hand are you faster with?"
"Well, I've always been faster than my brother. He just thought he was faster."
"Not today, he wasn't."
"I'm not talking about Morgan. I'm talking about my brother Duncan, Marshal Duncan Frazier."
Realization dawned on Johnny, the mindless screaming of his instincts taking on words instead of sounds. "You're twins!"
"Hot damn, you are slow but you finally figured it out. Now that you know, you can go to hell!" Screaming the last words Dusty Frazier made his move, his right hand a blur as it grasped his Colt and swung the weapon upwards.
Johnny made a grab for his Colt knowing he was beaten. Someone shoved him roughly to the ground, a gun bucked over his shoulder as he fell. Landing heavily in the dirt, Johnny was aware of Scott holding the gun he had taken from Austin and firing a second time. Dusty Frazier's eyes rolled back in his head, his mouth gaped and a small trickle of blood dripped from his open mouth down his chin. Grabbing his stomach, Dusty pitched forward, dead before he could taste the earth.
Scott stood motionless for a long moment, his sides heaving before turning to extend his hand, wagging his fingers. The dark-haired Lancer grasped the proffered hand and was hauled to his feet.
Facing his brother, Johnny Lancer murmured, "Twins, huh? I knew there was something not quite right."
"Good thing you brought me along, isn't it?" Scott grinned mischievously.
The three Lancers stood before the fireplace, snifters of their father's finest brandy in hand. Murdoch had returned victorious from Stockton earlier this afternoon and after relating his success and accepting his son's congratulations, he plunged ahead with the concerns that had plagued him all evening.
He knew there had been gunplay the day of the trial. Green River was abuzz with talk of nothing else. He also knew Scott and Johnny had been instrumental in ending the conflict in the courtroom. Carefully weighing their words so as to minimize any remaining concerns, the Lancer sons filled their father in on the events surrounding Green River's most notorious trial. As the conversation ground to a stop, much like a train grinds to a halt when out of steam, the men stood in the uncomfortable silence that ensued.
Clearing his throat, Murdoch observed, "It was an interesting trial then, wasn't it? I was surprised to hear Judge Harmon is retiring. I figured he would be sitting on the bench until he was a shriveled old man."
"I guess his conscience got the better of him. And I don't think interesting is the word I would use," Johnny protested.
"He was a fine judge in his day, Johnny. Something happens to a man when he is faced with so much bad. I guess it eats away at his soul, he gets tired. When that happens, he loses the ability to discern the truth. So, its not uncommon for people to make mistakes they might not have made in their younger days." Murdoch looked sharply at his youngest son, aware of how easily his words could have been misinterpreted. He studied the play of emotions on Johnny's face.
"It's ok, Old Man. I know what you mean. I could have gotten tired, too. But you found me in time. You said Sexton Joe called me a 'fallen angel', remember?"
"I do, son. I remember. But Isham also said you had not hit the bottom." With a sigh of relief, Murdoch knew the moment had passed and Johnny had understood.
"It looks like all is well that ends well. At least you boys watched each other's backs."
"All Scott did was sit around. I did all the work."
"Oh, and I got the girl, too," Scott reminded his sibling.
"Yeah, Boston here has a date," Johnny groused.
"I thought you didn't like reporters, little brother."
"He is giving the lovely Ms. Melody Connors an interview, John." Murdoch corrected his youngest son, a knowing gleam in his aged eyes.
"I bet she don't take no notes," Johnny grinned.
"Well then, next time you can serve on the jury," Scott quipped.
"To juries," the oldest Lancer toasted. His sons raised their glasses in acknowledgment before downing the fiery liquid in one gulp.