Chase A Wild Horse 2009
by  Lancer Redux


Part One


Johnny was losing it.

Three weeks at Lancer, part of it spent recovering from Pardee’s fun and games, the other part being immersed in what made up the Lancer Wildlife Preserve and Lancer, Inc. First part was enough to drive him crazy with being told what he could do and when to do it. The second was pushing him over the edge with what he was responsible for and how he was expected to handle it.

The preserve – Murdoch’s pride and joy – was immense and complicated. The multi-corporation was immense and complicated. Johnny couldn’t wrap his mind around it all.

As for getting to know his family, well, he was no further along then when he arrived at Lancer. Murdoch was confusing, like the man wasn’t sure what to do with Johnny. Teresa was everywhere and trying too hard to make like a happy family. Scott – he still didn’t know anything about Scott. He hadn’t seen much of Scott.

Johnny’s afternoon had been mapped out for him. He was to attend some board meeting where he and Scott were to be introduced to the members and something about a vote. Suits and ties were expected.

Christ, suits and ties. When did that happen?

Right now it was a little after eight in the morning. Feeling stifled, Johnny grabbed his camera bag and headed out of the hacienda. Seeing an unknown 4x4 parking in the driveway, he came to a halt on the front step. A tall lanky man left the vehicle and Johnny grinned, recognizing the driver.


Spinning around, Wes headed his direction, his hand reaching out. “Ha, I was wondering if I’d find you.”

Shaking his hand, Johnny asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Cowboys & Indians magazine offered me freelance job for some shots of wild horses in California.” Wes rocked back on his heels and threw his arms out wide. “Word around is that you landed here, so I thought I’d look you up.”

“Caught me just in time.” Johnny grinned, remembering more than a few rowdy locations where their paths had crossed. “You ready to go now? I was heading out to try my new gear, and the preserve has a few of those horses you’re looking for.”

Wes gave him a critical look. “Jesus, you’re about ready to jump outta your skin. How long’s it been?”

Since Mexico.

“Too long. Lost my equipment and was out of commission for awhile.”

“Sounds like a story. You can catch me up while we find ourselves some horses.”




It was the difference in Johnny’s voice that drew Murdoch into the great room. He couldn’t deny his curiosity, and it grew when he saw the stranger with him. Although, it was clear he was no stranger to Johnny. His son’s body language alone told him this was someone he was comfortable with.

The Lancers themselves hadn’t settled into that level of relaxation yet.

Murdoch went to the French doors, pleased that his leg was holding up. Physical therapy, far too early in the morning, had been rough. At the time of what felt like the hundredth knee bend, he was certain he would never walk again.

He walked through the open doors. “Johnny?”

Johnny turned around, the smile on his face dimming a little. “Hey, Murdoch, this is a friend of mine, Wes Gammon. Wes, this is my father, Murdoch Lancer.”

“Fath…” Wes sent Johnny a sidelong look before he held out his hand. “It’s great to meet you, Mr. Lancer.” 

Murdoch wondered if he’d ever become used to that reaction. He took the offered hand and allowed that Johnny’s friend knew how to do a handshake. “You too, Mr. Gammon.”

“Wes, please.” Gammon seemed an amiable type, but Murdoch felt uneasy. Perhaps a little threatened to have an old friend enter the mix when they as a family hadn’t even had time to adjust.

“Murdoch, then.”

“Will do.”

Johnny held up his camera bag. “Haven’t had a chance yet to test this out. Wes and I are just heading out.”

Damn it, he didn’t want to destroy the good mood Johnny was in, but… “How long are you planning to be gone?”

Wariness crossed Johnny’s face. “Why?”

“A couple things have come up. I’m sorry.” Murdoch hated to disappoint Johnny. He knew his son had reached and surpassed the limits of ‘stir crazy’ a week ago.

“What things?”

“We need to meet with the lawyer before the board meeting this afternoon. You and Scott need to be briefed on a few things before then. There are also some contracts we need to discuss after that.”

Johnny looked down at the bag in his hand. “What time?”

“Eleven o’clock, still time enough for the two of you to catch up, and, Wes, you are more than welcome to stay here.” He could give Johnny that much.

Wes gave a nod. “Appreciate that.”

“Eleven, huh?” Johnny looked back at Wes. “Wes, I just need to grab my watch.”

“Wait, take this.” Murdoch didn’t know what processed him. Johnny wouldn’t even know it for the apology it was, but he pulled his great-grandfather’s pocket watch from his shirt pocket and snapped it open.  “It’s old.” He closed it again. “But it’s still a good timepiece. Keep it.” He tossed the watch to Johnny.

Catching it, Johnny looked at the antique, studying it.

Murdoch should let his son know the history. “I…um…”

Johnny looked puzzled. “What?”

“Nothing, I’ll see you later. Be ready at ten-thirty, Scott’ll be waiting for you.” Murdoch felt like an idiot, but he couldn’t explain what the pocket watch meant and the history behind it with Wes Gammon looking on. There would be another time: A better one.  He turned back and headed inside.




That was different. Slipping the watch into his jean pocket, Johnny looked out at the hills in the distance.

“Maybe we should do this later, Johnny. Seems like you have a busy day ahead of you. The horses aren’t going anywhere.”

“It’s not about the horses, Wes.”

Gripping Johnny’s arm, Wes said, “I must be missin’ somethin’ somewhere.”

“Come on, let’s go. Don’t have a lot of time.”




Sam Stryker watched through the binoculars as the truck left the main house. “Looks like the younger son just left with someone.”

“How we doing this?”

Sam looked over to David. “For now, we’ll watch for an opportunity.”

Things were tight and they needed a quick influx of cash to make it into next month. If they had to, they would steal it, but that wasn’t as satisfying as some rich man or woman handing over cash to avoid scandal or inconvenience.

In the back seat, Eli rolled down the window. “Man, look at this place. It just screams money and lots of it.”

From the research Sam had done, Murdoch Lancer had enough to spare and the Strykers had the need.




This part of the Lancer Preserve was barren and wild. And Johnny loved it.

“Would you look at that.”

Johnny grinned, understanding Wes’ breathless tone. The herd was sweeping in a graceful curve down in the valley and they had ringside seats on the ridge. Telephoto lenses were out and there was a fast click of the shutter as picture after picture was snapped.

This is what made it all worth it. Didn’t matter how long the wait, how rough the travel. To catch that perfect shot made the rest a moot point. Right now, Johnny knew what he had was good, and it didn’t matter if these photos never graced the glossy pages of a magazine. With a camera in hand, he felt at home.

And there wasn’t anything better.

Wes lowered his camera as the herd moved off. “The magazine wants one of a horse rearing. I don’t think that’s gonna happen with them on the run.”

Johnny started packing up his gear. “We can follow in the truck for part of the way. Maybe they’ll stop by the river and we’ll have better luck.”

“Sounds good. These are some great shots!” Wes shouldered his camera bag and they headed to where they left the truck. “So, a father?”

“Yeah, I was just as surprised as you.”

“Johnny, you rarely spoke about your birth father and what you did say wasn’t anything I’d repeat in polite company.”

Johnny slid a glance to Wes and saw open concern. “Found out my mom twisted the truth some. She left Murdoch taking me with her to hook up with my stepfather. Murdoch didn’t kick us out.”

Wes grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop. “And so a couple of decades go by and what?”

“Murdoch was looking for me the entire time.”

“Shit, Johnny, are you sure? It isn’t like your mom is around to refute this.”

Johnny had wondered that same thing. “Wes, I have a brother, an older brother. Mom never said a word about him. She never had me use the name of Lancer. I have a birth certificate with the last name Madrid and a different social security number than the one I had after I was born. We’re still cleaning that up.” Johnny pulled away to get into the truck.

Once Wes was behind the wheel, he turned to Johnny. “An older brother – how?”

“Different mother - Murdoch’s first wife. I don’t know much about her except that she died soon after Scott was born.” Johnny concentrated on his fingers running over the strap of his camera bag. “I did some checking, the guy that found me – and pulled me out of a tight spot – was on the job for about five years. He said my case was old.”

Wes started the truck and kept it to a slow speed. “Man, that’s…hell, I don’t know what to say.” Wes darted a look in Johnny’s direction. “And your brother, Scott?” Johnny nodded. “He’s been around - ”

“No, he didn’t know any more about me than I did him.”

“And that works, how?”

“No idea. I’d like to know what happened there. Murdoch didn’t raise Scott any more, actually less, than he did me. Scott was raised by his mother’s family. I have a feeling Scott thought the same as me, that Murdoch didn’t want him. There’s a hell of a lot more going on there than I can figure out.”

“Shit, what a mess. Sorry, man, it’s, well, that’s quite a story.”

“Tell me about it. I have no idea what to do with either of them.”

“Family life not all it’s cracked up to be?”

“Most days I feel like I’m losing my mind. This staying in one place, part ownership in multimillion dollar corporations, and family? What do I know about any of that?” Johnny looked out the side window.

“You thinking of leaving?”

“It’s crossed my mind more than once. We tip-toe around each other not knowing what the hell to say to each other. We talk business or horses.” Johnny waved his hand at the land around them. “Or about this preserve.” He let his hand flop down to his lap. “And that’s actually okay since what else would we talk about?”




As the second box of basement files was hoisted to his chest, a vague notion that he ought to leave the rest to his brother flitted across Scott’s mind. So it came as a relief that his BlackBerry rang. Until he saw who. Scott debated on whether or not to answer his phone, but putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. A quick glance around revealed he was alone. 

“Hello, Grandfather.”

“Scotty, why are you in California?”

“Grandfather, if you know I’m in California, you know exactly where I am and why.”

“I do. I’m disappointed that you didn’t tell me yourself.”

Scott felt a smidgeon of guilt for that. “I didn’t want to distress you. You’ve never said a kind word about Murdoch.”

“There are none to say.”

“I’ve found out differently.”

“What has he told you?”

Scott’s eyebrows rose at the harsh tone. “About what?”

“Has he explained what happened with my daughter?” And there was that old underlying grief in his tone.

“We haven’t talked about her. I’m not sure if we will.”

“He doesn’t have the right to speak of her after what he has done.”

After meeting Murdoch, Scott’s thinking had opened up to include the idea that his grandfather wasn’t unbiased when it came to Catherine Garret marrying Murdoch Lancer. From what he had gleaned from his grandfather’s comments, his mother made up her own mind and married against her father’s wishes. As far as Harlan was concerned, it led to her death. And this conversation would degenerate further if he didn’t change the topic.

“I’m remaining out here for a time.”

“You have responsibilities here.”

“And what are they?”

“You have your role with Garrett Financial!”

Scott pulled the phone away from his ear and looked heavenward. “It’s a token job at best and one I am easily doing from a distance. I doubt anyone even realizes I’m not in Boston.”

“That’s not good enough, Scotty. We have upcoming meetings that you will be expected to attend.”

“And what’s to prevent me from attending? Half the group teleconferences in. I have the meetings on my calendar and I will be there.” Scott heard voices in the background.

“Scotty, I have a meeting about to start. This conversation is far from over.”

“I don’t doubt that, Grandfather. All I’m asking for is some time to get to know my father… and my brother.”

“That drifter!” A chill went up Scott’s spine. “You can do better things with your time, Scotty. You’ll see. We’ll talk soon.”

The call ended and Scott stared at his phone. His grandfather knew about Johnny? For how long?




Part Two


Johnny was grateful when Wes took his nonverbal hint to end the conversation about his family. The morning was flying by and they took the opportunity to shoot other areas of the preserve. Seeing it through a lens gave Johnny a different appreciation for Murdoch’s passion for the place.

It was beautiful and had freedom to it that Johnny had been missing in the last few weeks.

“Man, I hope I have a reason to use some of these shots. Whatever else, Johnny, this a great place.”

“That it is.” Johnny turned at the hint of dust in the air. Sure enough, they had found the horses again. “Hey, there they are!”

Once back in the truck, they followed the dust cloud more than the horses. With the dips and valleys they were out of sight most of the time.

“What’s that about?”

Johnny looked away from the dust to see where Wes was pointing. They were coming up on a gravel road that only locals used. A car was off in the ditch and men were getting out of it.

Wes pulled up onto the road and headed towards them. Johnny stuck his head out the open window once they were close enough. “Hey, you guys, okay?”

The older man shot them an angry look. “No thanks to you! What are you doing chasing those horses across the road?”

“Not chasing so much as following.” Johnny glanced at Wes to see him watching the two younger men.

“You scared them onto the road and right into our path. I had to ditch to avoid hittin’ them!”

Johnny heard Wes snort and felt like doing the same. He made a show of looking down the road to the tracks of the horses left behind in the trodden down grass in the ditch. “Yeah, I can see you didn’t have any time to stop – what with the couple of hundred feet.” He looked back. “Can’t say I think much of your car, Mr…?”

“Stryker. Sam Stryker. These are my sons, Eli and David Stryker. And you can count on hearing our name again. I’ll need compensation for the damage to my car.”

“Stryker, the ditch is shallow and the only damage done is to the flora and fauna. You can drive out of it and I’ll thank you to do so. This is a preserve – that junker has no place here.”

Wes leaned over Johnny. “You might want to come up with a better con. That’s about a dusty as it gets.” He laughed and stepped on the accelerator. “Man, that was lame.”

Johnny laughed with him, but he wondered if Stryker would let up.




Murdoch prowled the great room and glanced at his watch again. “What’s keeping Johnny? They should’ve been back by now.”

Scott adjusted his tie, his movements calm and unhurried. “He probably just lost track of time. We should’ve replaced his cell after his crash. He hasn’t been up and around long enough to think about it.”

“Scott, stop trying to cover for him. He needs to be at this meeting.” Damn it, they couldn’t wait. “We need to go – at least the two of us should show.”

Following Murdoch out the door, Scott looked over his shoulder to see Teresa coming down the steps.

“Do you think Johnny’s all right?”

“I do.” Scott stopped at the door. “He’s with a friend and distracted. Have him call me when he gets back.”

“And warn him about Murdoch’s mood?”

Scott didn’t bother to suppress his grin. “It wouldn’t hurt. See you later.” The past few weeks had been taken up with Johnny recovering, dealing with the Pardee fallout, and learning what he and Johnny had signed up for. Looked like they were about to revisit some awkward family moments again.




Wes glanced over to Johnny, seeing his friend relaxed and watching the countryside. The vehicle’s clock showed just after 2:13 p.m. He remembered the meeting Johnny was supposed to attend, and had all along. Johnny hadn’t, which didn’t surprise him. Madrid had his own way of keeping time and it had little to do with clocks.

After what Johnny had shared with him, his friend needed this time away to get back to what he enjoyed and made him happy.




Observing Murdoch Lancer in the boardroom was at once an eye-opening experience and a gratifying one.

Harlan Garrett had a creed. Check compassion at the door and get to work. Because they will get you if you don’t get them first, which was so typical of the business circles Harlan ran in. Scott didn’t spend a whole lot of thought on the subject. He never cared for it as it never sat well with his own personal ethics, but Garrett Financial was a success.

Scott was happier in the military. Most of the time you had an inkling of who your enemy was before they came at you from all sides – most of the time.

Murdoch was fair and he wasn’t out to destroy. Yet he was a businessman and a shrewd one at that. It was arriving at a deal that worked equably for all parties concerned that had Scott studying his father with interest.

If this was how Murdoch Lancer did business, Scott could see himself working in this environment and enjoying it. Lancer, Inc. had some unique challenges that piqued his interest and he wished Johnny could have been there. Scott would have been just as interested in his brother’s take on it.

Right now, he was relieved to see Murdoch drive off with the lawyers and return to Lancer. His father had done well to hide his irritation and disappointment from the others, but Scott was all too aware of the tension radiating from him. He was exhausted from being near him, and riding a half an hour in the car with Murdoch wasn’t a trip he wanted to make. Given the legal department had damage control to contend with as Johnny’s lack of presence was a bigger issue than even he realized, Scott opted to remain in town.

There were a few phone calls he needed to make without worrying about being overheard.

Crossing over to the park, Scott made himself comfortable on a bench and dialed a number from heart. He grinned when a gruff voice answered.

“Al here.”

“Good afternoon, Al.”

“Scott, is that you?”

“It is. How are you?”

“I’m doing just fine, boy. Retirement agrees with me.”

Scott felt any remaining tension leave him as the Bostonian accented voice continued on with the little daily slices of life that had done wonders for Scott’s sanity growing up in Harlan Garrett’s house.

“So, Scott, you didn’t call just to hear about the life of a retired butler. What can I do for you?”

“Do you know how long Grandfather knew about Johnny?”

The silence on the other end gave Scott his answer.




Without even thinking about it, Murdoch headed out of the hacienda when he saw Wes and Johnny pull in. Johnny was laughing at something Wes had said and in the back of Murdoch’s mind it came to him that he hadn’t seen his younger son that carefree before.


Johnny shut the truck door as he looked Murdoch’s way. “Hey, Murdoch, we got some great shots.”

“And the meeting?” Murdoch nodded to Wes as the young man walked by him on his way into the hacienda.

A puzzled look crossed his son’s face. “Meeting? Oh, crap, the meeting.” He pulled out the watch and groaned when he saw the time. “I’m sorry, Murdoch. I forgot about it. It’s been weeks since I’ve used a camera and I got carried away.”

“That’s not good enough, Johnny. You had an obligation to be at that meeting.”

“And I wasn’t and know I should have been, but being out and shooting felt right.”

“You can do that on your own time.”

Johnny frowned. “When’s my own time?”

“When you’ve completed your work and commitments the same as everyone else. Just because you’re my son doesn’t mean you don’t carry your own weight around here.”

Johnny looked like he was about to say something, his temper looking to be on the rise, but instead turned and went into the house.

Murdoch knew he was letting his frustration get the better of him and instead of following Johnny to say more things he’d regret, he opted to see what James and Brec from Legal had come up with for damage control. The sound of a vehicle in dire need of a tune up made him pause and he watched as a clunker of a car came up the drive.

The car stuttered to a stall and two men stepped out of it. The driver’s attention landed on Murdoch. “You Murdoch Lancer?”


“Sam Stryker.”

“What can I do for you?”

“You can pay for the damage to my car.” Stryker pointed towards the door. “That idiot ran us off the road.”

Murdoch turned enough to see Johnny walking out the door. “He’s my son.” He turned back to Stryker. “What is this about?”

“These two were playing around and chasing a band of wild horses into the road. We had to ditch to avoid them and it messed up my car. I don’t want any trouble – just compensation for the damage done.”

James poked his head out the door. “Mr. Lancer, we need to take a conference call.”


“We have the other team on the line. Do you want Sacramento Legal pulled off their current load?”

Stryker took a couple steps closer. “What’s it going to be?”

Johnny slid around to stand in front of him. “Don’t listen to him. He’s trying to con you.”

There wasn’t time to deal with all this.

“Mr. Lancer?”

Murdoch looked behind him to see James holding up his cell phone.

Stryker shifted enough to catch his eye. “Well?”

Murdoch had priorities and dealing with Stryker was the lowest of them. “How much?”

“Couple thousand.”

Johnny swung around to face Stryker before turning back. “It’s a con! The car isn’t even worth that much.”

Murdoch gestured to James. “Have Brec pull out fifteen hundred in cash for Mr. Stryker.” Murdoch looked back to Stryker. “Your car isn’t worth more than that.”

Stryker brought his hand to his cap and smiled.

Murdoch turned to go into the house, but Johnny stopped him. “Why are you letting him get away with this?”

“There are people about to lose more than fifteen hundred dollars. Right now, we’ve got more important things to think about.” Without a word, Johnny walked away.

Murdoch was relieved to see Brec bringing out the cash and handing it off to Stryker. James followed him out. “Pull Sacramento Legal and get them up to speed.”

“Right.” James pulled out his cell and headed back inside. Murdoch hoped that was the end of it.




Johnny had run into a lot of lowlifes before. He wasn’t sure why this family of petty criminals bothered him so much. “Is this what you do? Go around bleeding money out of people?”

Eli made to go after Johnny, but Johnny just wanted away from them. He gave them his back and headed towards the barn. He heard a swish and ducked his head before stumbling around to face Eli - who had a tire iron in his hand. Johnny heard shouting, but ignored it in favor of avoiding another swing at his head. The impetus of the swing dropped the boy to his knees.

Eli looked back to Sam, who nodded towards Johnny. “You started it, now finish it.”

This time Johnny was more than ready for it and used Eli’s momentum against him. Johnny gripped Eli’s arm and pulled him off balance. Eli’s legs tangled, tripping him up, and he crashed head first into driver’s side of the car, dropping like a stone. 

Sam rushed over to his son; Johnny met him there a scant second later.

Johnny heard Murdoch yell out for someone to call 911. Stryker waved them away. “Nobody touches him.”

Eli was coming around and Sam pulled him into a sitting position. Johnny cringed at the rough movement. “He shouldn’t be moved. He hit pretty hard.”

“Eli, let’s get you in the car. Can you make it?” The boy nodded, his face paling as he did so.

Johnny couldn’t take his eyes off Eli’s dazed face, his head bobbing as Sam lifted him to a shaky stance.

“Your son needs medical attention.” Murdoch moved Johnny aside to get closer to the Strykers. “The ambulance is on its way, but it will take at least twenty minutes. He shouldn’t be moved.”

“He just knocked his head.”

“And that’s more than enough. He was unconscious and needs to be checked out.”

“Not your business. It don’t end here, Lancer.” Sam glared at Johnny. “You’ll see – not here – not yet.”

“Stryker, get that boy to a hospital.” Murdoch caught the car door to keep it open as Eli flopped into the back seat.

Sam yanked the door away from Murdoch and slammed it shut. Eli grabbed his head at the squawking of rusted hinges and loud bang.

Stryker pulled out the envelope with the money. “This isn’t nearly enough – you’ll pay.” He shoved Murdoch aside to clamber into the car. After a few sputters, it started. Sam ground the gears as he set the car into motion and pulled away.

They could only watch as the Strykers left in a cloud of dust, and Murdoch made the call to cancel the ambulance.




Part Three


Legal had headed back to town, and Murdoch was left with Johnny at the house. There hadn’t been time to talk, too much happening at once. One thing with all the lawyers, there were witnesses to the confrontation with the Strykers.

Murdoch studied his younger son leaning against the back of the sofa, his arms crossed over his torso, and looking down at the floor. As a father, he wanted to know and understand him – and failed. He regretted that he hadn’t had that opportunity when both Scott and Johnny were in their younger years.

Johnny looked at him. “Why do you keep looking at me?” The floor became of interest again. “You saw what happened. I didn’t want to fight him. What did you expect me to do?”

What could Murdoch say to that? He could only walk away.

“What’s the matter, isn’t that good enough?”

Murdoch faced him. “Scott will be back soon.”

Dropping his arms, Johnny stood. “I asked you a question.”

Murdoch continued to walk away knowing he wasn’t in the right frame of mind for having this conversation. Instead, he looked out the French doors.

“If it’s about the meeting, I’m sorry about that. Whatever you need me to do I’ll take care of it now.”

Murdoch gazed out at the preserve, his way of calming down, before turning to Johnny. “Now is too late. We have fifty people anxious and worried that they are about to lose their means of support. This economy isn’t forthcoming with employment and they all know they’ll have a hell of a time finding work if the company closes its doors. That’s what your forgetting costs.”

“How was I to know that was going to happen?”

“Maybe you never will know. Maybe it takes years to understand how the corporate world works. Maybe it’s not for you, Johnny.” Murdoch remembered his son’s smile when he had returned earlier that day from doing something he enjoyed.

“Look, all right. I’m sorry what this is costing you.”

“What it cost us, Johnny.” He walked towards Johnny. “Not you. We. And all the responsibilities that go with it.”

“I’d do fine. I’d do just fine if you didn’t push so hard.”

“I wish I had the chance to break you in easy, but I don’t. You’ve got to make up your mind who you are and where you belong. If it’s not going to be here, I want to know it now.” Damn it, he wasn’t saying this right.

Before Johnny could answer, Wes walked into the room. “Johnny, I’m going out for a few.”

“You leaving for town?”

Wes grinned as he made a swooping motion with his hand. “Yeah, thought I’d check out the nightlife around here before I head out tomorrow.”

“Wes, do me a favor? Grab my gear and wait for me outside?”


“I’m going with you tonight… and tomorrow when you leave.”

Murdoch’s heartbeat was painful. It was too soon, much too soon.

“You bet – meet you in the truck.” Wes went out the door.

Johnny looked back to Murdoch. “Guess you heard.”

Unable to talk, Murdoch walked to his desk to buy a little time. “You need to sign over proxy, if you plan to be gone tomorrow.”

“I’ll be gone by noon.”

Murdoch pulled out a form from the bottom desk drawer and slid it across the top of the desk. “You better sign it. It allows your partners to vote on your behalf.” Had they already been reduced to just partners?

With a quick scrawl, Johnny signed the paper. He looked at Murdoch, and again, Murdoch wished he knew what Johnny was thinking. Then his son set the pen down and walked out of the house.

“Johnny…” But Murdoch was calling to an empty room. He had only himself to blame this time.




Scott Lancer wanted a drink, any would do. But he wasn’t going to get one until he got home. The ring tone on Scott’s BlackBerry indicated Teresa was calling. “Hey, Teresa, I’m almost there.”

“Talk to Johnny; he’s leaving in the morning.”

“What? Why?” Could the day get any more complicated? After hearing what had happened at Lancer during his absence, it could.




Teresa went to her bedroom. If she stayed near any Lancer she would regret it. Three men with obvious intelligence and they still missed the simplest things.

They had a second chance. They were alive to take advantage of that second chance. They tip-toed around each other, not saying the things that needed saying, and counting on having time to do it. There was never enough time and there were never any guarantees in this life.

Except you would die.




Wes watched another car pull into Lancer. The place seemed to have constant traffic. If it wasn’t crazy people trying to extort money, lawyers and accountants overran it.

Johnny hadn’t described his brother, but Wes thought this might be him. Although, once the man got out the car, he thought maybe he was wrong. This guy didn’t look anything like what he would expect Johnny’s brother to look like. And he wasn’t thinking just hair color.

“You must be Wes.”

Wes straightened up from the pillar he was leaning on. “I am. You’re Scott?


Wes shook hands giving the brother a once over. “Gotta say that the two of you look nothing alike.”

“It’s been said.”

“The two of you don’t know each other real well, do ya?”

“That doesn’t need to be said.” Scott showed a tight smile. “I take it Johnny gave you the run down of why he’s here.”

“He did. Man, that was some story, too.” Wes grinned. “Maybe you guys can keep in touch by phone and email after we leave tomorrow morning.”

If he hadn’t been watching, Wes would have missed Scott’s eyes narrowing just a bit, and he felt a surge of satisfaction.

“Just head out on the road?”

“Best part of freelance gigs.” Wes looked over Scott’s shoulder to see Johnny coming out of the hacienda. “Just goin’ out and catching hold of somethin’. Go wherever it takes me. You know what I mean, Johnny? Just kinda let go and roam free.”




Scott turned around to Johnny and to avoid slugging Wes. He knew it wasn’t fair to blame Johnny’s friend for his brother leaving, but it wasn’t stopping him from doing so.

Johnny looked distracted, but nodded anyway. “Sure, Wes.”

But Johnny paced outside the door before stopping at the adobe wall, putting his palms down on it. Wes was right; Scott didn’t know his brother. However, this wasn’t the look of someone ready to leave.

“Johnny?” Scott walked in close to Johnny in an attempt to have a little privacy. “Wes tells me you’re leaving.” He could keep Teresa out of this.

“That’s right, Brother. Maybe you should own fifty percent of everything.”

“Don’t do it. This’ll all blow over in a couple of days. Give it a chance. Talk to Murdoch and straighten things out.”

“No, forget it.” They both turned when they heard Teresa coming out of the hacienda. “I’ve got a lot of places to go before they box me in. You belong here.”

How had Johnny come to that conclusion when Scott wasn’t even sure he fit at Lancer?

Teresa ran over. “Johnny, don’t go.”

As if it was the most natural thing for him to do, Johnny hugged Teresa.  He looked down into her face. “Teresa, you crying over me?”

She pulled away from him, swiping at the tears on her face. “Are you coming back tonight?”

“Yep, I’ll be back later.” He gave her a quick kiss on her forehead.

Johnny walked past Scott, giving him a pat on his torso. Scott grabbed him by the arm. “Johnny, take some time and think about it.”

Johnny wouldn’t look at him. “I already have.” Scott let go. “It’s time I started living my way again.”

Scott and Teresa watched him go. Scott thinking that maybe he could catch his brother tonight and talk him out of leaving.

Somewhere in the last few weeks that had become important to him.




David Stryker headed out of the motel followed by four others as soon as the car pulled up, his dad going to the back seat to pull his brother out of the car. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you later. Let’s get him inside.” Stryker looked at one of the others. “Give him a hand.”

Once they had Eli settled on the bed, David could see and feel the pale, clammy skin. “Dad, he needs a doctor!”

“He just needs to sleep it off.”

David looked down at his brother, worry starting deep in his gut. “C’mon, Eli, don’t do this.” Eli was only half-awake and mumbling, head rolling from side-to-side. He was restless, pushing and pulling at the spread covering him.

He looked closer at his brother and saw a red stain smeared across the pillow. He nudged Eli’s chin to the side. There was bloody fluid coming from his ear, trickling down his neck.

“Dad? C’mere. Something’s really wrong.”

“I told you; he just needs to sleep-”

Eli began to convulse.

By the time the ambulance arrived, Eli was long gone.




The Cerveza Bar was hopping; the people friendly and they slid right in. Johnny had spent many nights like this with Wes in the past. Both of them had a way of ingratiating themselves with a group where ever they were. It was just like old times. He wasn’t thinking about Lancer or the people there or about leaving in the morning.

Wes looked at the three shots sitting in front of Johnny. “Bet you can’t!”

“Bet I can.”

“Alright. How much?”

“The next round?”

“You’re on.” Wes looked at his watch, squinting at it in the dim light. “Okay, five seconds, starting…now!”

In quick succession, Johnny downed the shots and stacked the glasses one on top of the other.

“Damn it! Where’d you learn to do that?”

“Had an assignment once to photograph a Sport Stacking event. You know, where they stack cups and things super fast?”

“There’s an event for that?”

“There’s an event for everything, Wes.”

“Then let’s make up some of our own!” Wes slapped Johnny on the back. “Another shot?”

“No, think I better stop with this – I’ll drive us home later.” And it all came back, Lancer, the people, and what he was leaving. Were nights like this worth it?




Scott knew he was in trouble the moment Teresa opened her bedroom door and he caught the scent of lavender. Murdoch had informed his sons of The Teresa Code a few weeks ago. Unaware of the code, Johnny and Scott had been flayed by an irritable Teresa. Stunned, and in no way wishing to repeat the event, they had asked Murdoch for his insight.

They couldn’t have known she had come from a rough session with her grief counselor that day.

So citrus was for good days, lavender for bad.

Lavender was the first hint. The way her eyes narrowed was the second.

“Why are you men so stupid?!”

It went downhill from there.




Thinking he would wait for Johnny in the great room, Scott headed there only to find Murdoch sitting in the dark. Teresa did have some valid points, and he was ready to share in the verbal blistering he had just experienced.

No time like the present. “Well, what do you plan to do?”

“After Legal comes up with a plan, we’ll reschedule the meeting for the vote. It’ll be up to the board members after that.”

Was that how it was going to be? “You know what I mean. About Johnny.”

“He made his decision.”

Walking closer to Murdoch, Scott tried to see Murdoch better in the faint light. “Oh, did he? I heard he had some help.”

“The matter is closed, and not open for further discussion.”

The laugh Scott let go wasn’t a nice one. “You don’t give at all, do you? All pride and Johnny’s cut from the same mold. Not one inch of give.”

That at least got Murdoch up and walking. “You want me to go after him? Beg him into staying here?”

“Is that so bad?”

“And how long do you think it would last? If he’s willing to let go that easily. If nothing here has gotten through to him. If he hasn’t learned anything. If what he’s running to out there is so important, then let it happen. Let it happen now.”

“I get that, I do.” Scott was doing his best to keep his temper in check. “But what you’re doing is pushing him out. It isn’t so much what is important out there as that he doesn’t know if he’s wanted here.”

“Of course, he’s wanted.”

“And he knows that how?” Scott moved to stand face to face with Murdoch. “Teresa has told him she wants him to stay – I’ve told him I want him to stay. What have you done?”

Murdoch looked away for a moment before meeting Scott’s eyes again. “I gave him the choice. It’s his life.”

“What choice? Is that the way this is going to work with you? Johnny screws up and he’s out the door? Am I next when I do something that doesn’t fit into your well-ordered world? Will I get a choice?” So much for not losing his temper, no wonder Teresa was upset with them. “If we leave, we don’t get to come back!”

Murdoch recoiled. “Scott, no, it isn’t like that.” He reached out one hand to settle it on Scott’s shoulder. “This is both your home, however you want it.”

“That’s the problem, Murdoch. It isn’t however we want it. It’s what you decide. Did you find out that the reality of having us home wasn’t what you imagined?” Scott shrugged off Murdoch’s hand. “You call the tune, Murdoch. And if we can’t dance to it, we’re kicked off the dance floor.”

Striding out the French doors, Scott shook his head. He needed air and lots of it.




Murdoch ran his hands over his hair and massaged his temples. The conversation with Scott continued to loop through his mind.

The day had been one ugly confrontation after another. He needed to sleep and think things over when he wasn’t so exhausted.

One thought wouldn’t let go though: His sons believed he would kick them out.




Part Four


Wes didn’t have much cash on him – no doubt part of the reason Wes had looked him up – it wouldn’t be the first time. But Johnny wasn’t in the mood to pay for liquor he wasn’t drinking and decided they would make it an early night.

If only he could find Wes. It had come to that part of the night when there was too much sweat and stale beer breath. Some people were tipsy and others were heading into mean drunks, which meant it was time to leave.

Johnny didn’t find him in the Men’s room, but heard voices further down the hall. Once he neared the doorway, he realized a back room poker game was going on. He glanced in and stopped when he saw Wes at the table.

He felt like he had been kicked in the gut when he saw a familiar pocket watch sitting in the middle of the pot. He patted down his pockets to find them empty.

Wes threw down his hand. “Shit!”

Someone Johnny didn’t know was claiming the pot and he took a step forward. “That’s my watch.”

The victor grinned, looking high off the game. “Uh, no, it’s my watch. Won it fair and square.”

“Oh, hey, Johnny.” Wes stumbled to a stand, his chair scraping the floor. “I was just borrowing it as a stake in the game. I can win it back – just need some cash.”

Sighing, Johnny watched as the timepiece was pocketed away.

The winner gestured to the empty chair. “You want a chance to win it back?”

Johnny caught Wes when he tripped over his own feet. “No, I better get him out of here.”

“You just let me know when you want a game.”

Johnny managed a nod before pulling Wes’ arm over his shoulder and guiding him through the room and out of the bar.




Scott startled awake to find his light still on and his laptop’s screen saver glowing. A glance at his watch showed it was just after one in the morning. He wondered if Johnny had returned, but decided that later in the morning was a better time to track down his brother to talk with him.

Setting aside his laptop, Scott slid out of bed and headed for the kitchen for a glass of water to relieve the dryness in his mouth and throat. Maria’s cooking tended to be on the spicy side. Scott figured it burned the moisture right out of the body.

There was a subdued light coming from the kitchen and he was surprised at the unmistakable scent of pot wafting in from outside. Stepping through the doorway, he spotted Wes sitting on the low adobe wall, smoking.

“Wes, put that out.”

Wes looked over his shoulder and grinned. “You want some? Good stuff.” He took another long pull.

Moron. “Put it out.”

“Oh, come on. It’s just a little weed. Nothin’ to get excited about.” Wes was still all grins.

Scott stepped over and plucked the joint from Wes’s fingers.

“Ah, so you do want some!”

Holding it away from his body, Scott took it over to the birdbath and doused it. 

“Hey, why’d you do that?”

He buried the joint into the compost bucket. Tomorrow morning it would disappear when someone dumped it into the heap. It also gave Scott time to gather his temper before he faced Wes. “What is it with you? There is a teenager in this house that doesn’t need to see you smoking pot. As Johnny’s guest, at least respect the household.”

“You don’t know ol’ Johnny good enough or you wouldn’t be saying that.” Wes flopped back in the adobe’s curve resting against it like a chaise lounge. “That boy has smoked his fair share.”

As far as Scott knew that could be true, but he had a feeling that Wes liked to embellish the truth. “Doesn’t matter. I know he wouldn’t smoke in front of Teresa.”

“Johnny’s done a lot of things you and your father probably wouldn’t like. He’s lived in and gone to some rough places and had to do some crazy stuff to survive.”

“It’s up to him to tell us about it if he ever wants to. It isn’t your job to share his life.”

“But that’s just it. I have shared his life. You haven’t. You don’t know the first thing about Johnny.”

Scott paused, rewound what was said and fought the urge to shove Wes off the wall.

“Why are you acting like a dumped boyfriend? When did this become a competition?” Scott crossed his arms and wished for a Johnny-less Wes departure. “You’re right; I don’t know Johnny and you do – at least one a side of him.”

“Just don’t want to see him tied down and made to be something he isn’t.”

“And who are you to decide that for him?”

“A close friend – one who sees how unhappy he is.”

“Or is that what you want to see?” Scott had a fair idea what it was like for Johnny to return to Lancer. “He hasn’t left yet. I’ll talk with him in the morning. Wes, you’re his friend. Give him a little space to make his own decision.” Scott headed for the back door. “Good-night.”




“Johnny, come on, Johnny. Wake up.”

Johnny brushed away the hand that was shaking his shoulder. “G’way.”

“We have to leave, Johnny. No sense waking the household and dealing with messy good-byes.” Wes got down in his face. “You want to see that little Teresa cryin’ again?”

Hell, no. That was enough to jumpstart him. The bedside clock showed it was just after five in the morning.

Ten minutes later, Johnny was following Wes’ truck down the drive.




Groggy, Scott headed to the kitchen for coffee. He would need the caffeine to make it through the day.

This time he found Teresa at the kitchen table a morose look on her face as she tapped a fold of paper against the tabletop.

Heading for the counter with the coffee pot, Scott reached for a ready cup. “What’s going on?”

“Johnny’s left.”

Scott stopped mid-pour and set the coffee pot back on the warmer. “When?”

“Early this morning. I was up by six to make sure I saw him, have another chance to talk with him – tell him what an idiot he is.” She wiggled the paper towards him. “He left me a card. Said he would call.”

They were going back to where they had been yesterday, and Scott wasn’t ready for another round. Damn it, why did Johnny leave early?


“Does Murdoch know?”

“He knows.” She waved her hand out to the door. “He’s working in the blacksmith shop.” 

“What does that mean?”

“He does that sometimes when he’s upset.” They could both hear the clanging of metal on metal. “I’d say he’s upset.”

No way was Johnny getting away that easy. Given he was with Wes, Scott figured he would start by calling all the bars in the area.




The Cerveza Bar was starting to feel like a second home given how much he and Wes had been spending their time there. The place had free WiFi that Wes needed to upload his photos for the magazine.

Cowboys & Indians had liked the shots, but were disappointed there wasn’t one of a rearing horse. Wes assured them that he was still working on it, but needed payment for the photos they did want to use. They were still waiting for confirmation.

Wes was using a cash advance on his credit card to buy lunch and more than a few rounds of beer. Saturday was always a busy day. His friend was already hooked up with a couple of the local ladies who were bored and looking to enjoy someone new.

“Three beers!” Wes had one of the women in his lap. Another one sat in seat beside him.

Johnny looked over as another woman sat down at their table. He handed over his beer to her. Wes grinned. “Make that four!”

Wes laughed. “Ever seen so many hot tamales in your life, Johnny? They got more life than jumpin’ beans. Just like old times, right?”

Johnny did an internal cringe at Wes’ observations, but the women were tipsy and didn’t seem to mind.

“That’s right, Wes.”

“Hey, Johnny – you alright?”

Sliding his chair back, Johnny looked down at his friend. “Yeah, listen – I’m gonna go get some air. You’ll be okay, huh?

“Sure, Johnny. Ol’ Wes ain’t gonna be lonesome.” Wes squeezed the woman in his lap, calling out, “Where are those beers, Bartender?”

He headed outside, walking towards his Jeep. It was there, packed with everything Johnny owned, and ready to hit the road. He leaned against the fender, wondering why the idea wasn’t as appealing as it had been yesterday. Part of it was guilt for not saying good-bye to his family in person. He owed them that respect.

Before he could get too far into his thoughts, Wes stumbled out of the bar, and staggered down the sidewalk. “Johnny! Johnny! Woo hoo!”

Johnny couldn’t help the smile as he caught his friend before Wes ended up flat on the pavement. “Well, look at you.”

“Woo hoo. Good Ol’ Wes have himself a time… oh.” He headed for his truck. “Now’s as good a time as any.”

“For what?”

“To get that shot.” Wes leaned to his left, looking more than a little unsteady.

Johnny steered him back towards the bar. “No, no, come on. Come on.”

“But… I… need that shot.”

“I know you do, but how about we get some food into you and sober you up some.”

“All right, all right, I’ll do it later.”



Murdoch walked over to the corral to meet one of the younger staff members leading a horse out the gate. “Hey, Walt. Check on the East Mesa, see how dry it is.”

“Will do, Mr. Lancer.”

Murdoch took the reins to allow Walt the freedom of closing the gate. He heard the sound of a familiar junker and grimaced when Sam Stryker pulled up.

Sam stuck his head out the window – anger radiating off of him. “Where’s your son?”


“The one that hurt my son.”

“That was unintentional and he’s not here. Why?”

“My boy died.”

Damn, he had known Eli Stryker had needed to go to the hospital. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Where’s your son?”

“He’s gone – he’s not coming back.” For the first time, Murdoch was glad of that.

Men got out of the car and walked around to face Murdoch and Walt.

Sam stayed where he was. “You’re lying.”

Walt stepped back with a touch to Murdoch’s elbow and whispered, “I’ll get help.”

Sam gestured to one of the men. “Do it.”

To Murdoch’s utter shock, one of the Stryker’s men shot out an arm, snatched Walt’s shirt and hammered a fist into the side of his employee’s face. Walt fell back in the dirt before Murdoch could catch him, but he dropped down beside him in the hope to protect his employee from any more abuse.

Sam stepped out of the car and glared down at Murdoch. “Your boy deserves more than that.” They all got back in the car and tore out of the drive.

Relieved to see them go, Murdoch helped Walt to his feet. “I’ll have Frank take you into the clinic.”

Walt pressed light fingers to his jaw. “I’m okay.”

“No, you’re not. Let me get you checked out for my own piece of mind.”

Then Murdoch needed to make some calls: The first to the police.




Part Five


The bar had quieted down after the lunch crowd. Johnny slumped in his chair nursing the same beer he had for the past hour. Wes was at another table clicking in a haphazard way on his laptop.

Johnny straightened when he saw a familiar car pull into a parking space on the opposite side of the street. Setting his beer down, he rubbed a hand across his face and waited for Scott to walk in through the door.

And walk in he did. Johnny shifted closer to the table. “You came a long way for nothin’, Brother.”

Scott gestured for a beer. “Then you won't mind if I sit down for a while.”

Johnny hooked his foot in a chair pushing it out for him. “No, go right ahead.”

The bartender brought over the beer as Scott sat down and looked around the place. “I see what you mean. This is really a great life.”

“You missed the earlier crowd.” Johnny looked back at the bar and around. “This place does really good at night.”

“Oh, I bet it does.” He took a drink of his beer.

“You take care of that vote yet?”

“No, it'll take a couple of days.”

“So, what'd the old man do, let you off for good behavior?”

Scott looked over the rim of his mug. “He didn't send me.”

Johnny didn’t know how to respond to that. Scott was coming off so calm and cool, but read as ticked. Johnny didn’t want to get into it with him. “Before I forget this: You know that small creek on the south side? You know where it narrows there?” Scott nodded. “There’s some garbage and debris piling up. It’s gonna cause trouble if it doesn’t get cleaned out. Don’t think it’ll take long.”

Scott gestured with his beer.  “It'd take me a lot less time if you were there to help me.”

His brother smiled and waved it away. “Never mind, I know. Forget it. You've got everything you want right here.”

Johnny couldn’t meet his eyes. “No, Scott. I got it other places.”

Scott smiled again. “It’s a funny thing. I was just driving through town; I never expected to find you here. I mean with all that talk about freedom, it's a funny thing to find you all jammed in between these four walls.”

Johnny glanced over to Wes. “Well, Wes and I are taking off later.”

“Just taking off?”


“Got any plans?”

What was Johnny to say to that? He plan was to leave, beyond that he didn’t know.

“I asked if you had…”

“Yeah, I heard you. May head overseas - to the wars. See if we can’t shoot some of what’s happening.”

“Just gonna kill time. And watch killing?”

“That's right.”

Scott looked down at his glass, smile gone. “You'll be dead before your thirty.” He took a drink.

Johnny smiled. “That comes to us all, doesn’t it, Brother?”

“But when you go you won't even leave a small ripple.” Scott put down his half finished beer.

“That it, Brother? I mean - the sermon’s over, isn’t it?”

Serious, no more of the half smiles, Scott leaned closer to him. “This is one of the best things that ever happened to you in your life and you’re going to get up and walk away from it and all for nothing. But I guess that's all you’ve got going for you from now on.”

Johnny let that slide knowing Scott was upset and figured he deserved it for sneaking out that morning. This didn’t have to be an all or nothing deal. He would prove to Scott that he could keep in touch.

Scott stood up and put out his right hand. “It was nice to have met you, Brother.” Johnny looked at the outstretched hand and smiled before taking it. Scott’s grip was hard, but not for the purpose of causing hurt.

“Good luck.” Scott let go of his hand, and left the bar without looking back.

Wes came over to the table. “Don't let him bother you, Johnny.” He whapped Johnny on his arm.

Problem was, what Scott said had bothered - too much had rung true. “Wes, would you mind leavin’ me alone for a little while?”

Still stumbling from alcohol, Wes says, “Sure, Johnny. I…I think I'll go out and have me that fun we talked about.” Wes picked up Scott’s unfinished beer and left Johnny at the table.

Through the window, Johnny watched Scott drive away.




Shit. Shit. Shit.

He could have handled that better, different, or some way that would have reached Johnny. Scott pounded his hand against the steering wheel. Instead Johnny was planning to head to a war zone with Wes - who spent much of his waking hours drinking or smoking illegal substances. Perfect.




Johnny was lost in thought and was aware only on a peripheral level of what was happening around him. The bar was filling up again.

“Hey, the man without his watch.”

The winner from last night’s poker game sat down at Johnny’s table.

“So, did your friend take anything else of yours he might want to gamble away?” The grin was good-natured and teasing, no malice intended.

“I hope not.” Johnny let the distraction take him out of his troubled thoughts.

“Jerry.” He held out his hand.

Johnny accepted. “Johnny.”

Jerry rested his elbows on the table. “I had a friend like yours once. Fun guy to hang out with, but could he pull some crap. Know what I mean?”

“I do.” Johnny laughed.

Jerry pulled out the timepiece. “Later when we get a game going, you can have a chance to win it back.”

“Think I’ll take you up on that.” Johnny wanted Murdoch’s watch back.




Happy and drunk once again, Wes looked around the crowded bar. His head swirled and he felt his face flush. Time for a little air and maybe throw up in the alley.

He jostled his way out to the front door and weaved his way out onto the sidewalk. The world sure was tippy. He stumbled off the curb and spun around.

Sure was bright out.




The squeal of tires and a shrill car horn was loud enough to stop conversation within the bar. Johnny looked around and didn’t see Wes. He was one of the first ones out the door to see a crowd out in the street. A man stood by his car in a state of shock, staring down at person lying in the street.

“No, Wes!” Johnny pushed people away from Wes only to find his friend covered in blood, his eyes staring right into the sun.




Scott was almost back to Lancer when he saw a car coming up behind him – coming up too fast. There was the sickening crunch of steel hitting steel and the lurch of his car forced down into the ditch. When they came to a stop the jolt of it threw him against the seat belt and left him breathless. His hand scrabbled to unlock the seatbelt and he scrambled to get out the passenger side of the car, but he was too late. The door was jerked out of his grasp and rough hands pulled him out the vehicle to throw him to the dirt. He rolled and came up on his knees.

That was as far as he got before a boot kicked his right side. Someone caught him before he fell and he was struck across his face. He jerked away and kicked out.

Too many fists and feet to fend off. In seconds he was laying face down on the ground, a foot in his back holding him still.

“Your brother, where is he?”

“Fuck off.”  

Another punch and he was grateful it put him out.




The police, ambulance, and coroner had come and gone. Johnny sat on the curb, alone among a crowd of people.

“Hey, you okay?” Jerry rested a hand on his shoulder.

Johnny gave a short nod.

“We gathered up your friend’s stuff.” Jerry set the laptop bag and camera case down beside him. He held out the watch. “Doesn’t seem right to keep it now.”

Johnny picked up the watch and turned it over with his fingers. “Thanks.”

“That friend I told you about – same result – different means.” Jerry gripped and released his shoulder. “I’m sorry, man.”

Johnny could only nod again. “Thanks.” He stood and gathered Wes’ belongings.

“You have a place to go?”

“Yeah, think I do. Not far from here.”

“Take care, Johnny. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe you will.”




Scott awoke to the sun too bright, his body aching and an awful taste in his mouth. He spit out dirt and blood as he staggered to his feet.

His attackers were gone. The only thing around was his car - with slashed tires - and an empty road. He felt his pockets. No cell phone or wallet. A quick look in the car and he saw the contents of the glove box scattered across the seat. 

His head was fuzzy, but he remembered they had wanted to know where to find Johnny.

He had heard about the visit from the Strykers. Was that what this was about?

Whatever was going on, he didn’t intend to have them find him on the road again. He would go cross county back to Lancer.




Johnny reached the crossroads that led to the bumpy back road Teresa and many of the staff used. A small sign showed this was Lancer Wildlife Preserve property. The other way would get him to Sacramento by a circuitous route, but it would happen.

He had been to Sacramento before – nothing new there.

Lancer on the other hand – that was nothing but new.

Turning the wheel and accelerating, Johnny steered the Jeep towards Lancer.




Where was Scott? He had been gone for hours. It was after five o’clock and most of the staff was gone for the day. 

“Why doesn’t he answer his phone?” It was an effort for Murdoch not to slam the cordless phone into its cradle.

“Maybe you better get them both new phones.” Teresa paced around the great room, pausing a moment to look through each French door as she passed. “I’m going to wait outside.” She walked out as Murdoch picked up the phone to call again.

Teresa’s alarmed cry had him dropping the phone and heading outside. He pulled up short when he saw Teresa with David Stryker’s arm around her neck, and Sam Stryker standing beside them.

Sam took a step closer. “We haven’t found your son and I expect he’ll show here eventually.”

“I told you he left. We had a falling out and he’s gone for good.” Murdoch itched to reach out and pull Teresa away.

“No man would give up this kind of money.” Sam glanced to Teresa. “She’ll wait with us and when your son arrives, she’s yours again.”

“Don’t hurt her.” Murdoch looked into Teresa’s frightened eyes.

“We won’t, it’s your son we want. She’s just to ensure that you’ll do what we need. One, not calling the police. And you can do that by handing over your phones – all of them and your guns – all of them. I know you have them. She stays with us until you do.” Stryker nodded to another unknown man. “Gene here will go with you.”

Murdoch had the impression that Sam Stryker had gone from grief into insanity. He gave Teresa a long look until he could see her own resolve match his. Neither one of them would hand Johnny over to Stryker.

“I’ll do as you say.”

Sam showed an unpleasant grin. “Good. We’ll be around. You head back into the house.”

With a last look at Teresa, Murdoch went back inside. Gene stayed with him everywhere they he went, insisting that they go into every room, and took up a decorative basket sitting on a table in the hall to carry the phones. Last stop was the gun cabinet and Murdoch unlocked it. Gene took care of pulling the weapons out.

Murdoch was too worried about Teresa to make a move, and he hurried as much as Gene would allow him in order to get back to her.

Once they were outside again, David Stryker had removed his hold from Teresa’s neck to her arm and Murdoch could see Teresa had let go of some of her fear. He warned her with a look to keep quiet.

Sam smiled, an unpleasant expression on him. “See how easy that was.” He glanced at David. “Let her go.”

Murdoch held an arm out for Teresa as she dived for him and pulled her in close. She was shaking, but he couldn’t tell if it was from fear or anger. Chances were it was both.

Stryker waved towards the door. “Go back into the house and stay there. If you don’t, keep in mind that we have a couple of nice folks of yours in the barn with us.”

Murdoch felt Teresa’s own grip tighten on him as his stomach dropped. Who did they have?

David took a step closer. “We’ll be watching.”

Murdoch backed them into the house, shutting the door, moving to make it harder for the Strykers to see them. He faced Teresa, gripping her shoulders. “Are you all right?”

She swallowed hard a couple of times. “That sucked, Murdoch.” She slid out of his hands and turned away from him. “I felt all damsel in distress-y.” She spun back to him. “And who do they have in the barn?”


They both startled at Johnny’s voice. Alarmed, their eyes met before they turned to watch him walk into the room.

As much as Murdoch wanted to see Johnny again, now wasn’t the time. “How did you get in here?”




Part Six


As greetings go, Johnny wasn’t expecting that. “I came the back way.”

“Who told you to come back?”

What the hell? “I wanted to talk to you.”

Murdoch loomed over him; Johnny held his ground even though he wanted to take a step back.

“I thought you did all you’re talking when you left. Now get out of here.”

A frisson of unease went up Johnny’s back. “Where is everybody?”

“Out making up for all the work you refused to do.”

Johnny didn’t know Murdoch well, but this cold, distant demeanor was off. “Somethin’s wrong.”

Murdoch stared down at him. “The only thing wrong around here has always been you. So, get out while you still can.”

Johnny made to take a step past his father. “Teresa?”

Murdoch gripped Johnny’s arm. “I thought I made myself clear, but in case I didn’t, listen and listen hard. I don’t need you, now or ever. Now get out of here!”

Jerking his arm away from Murdoch, Johnny’s temper flared – anger was easier than the hurt. “All right.” He turned, heading for the back door.




Murdoch was certain he was about to vomit. Never had he thought he would say such vile things to his son. He reminded himself he just needed to get Johnny away and safe, call the police, and when it was over, make it up to his son.

If Johnny let him.

The hardest thing to do was watch his son walk away and open that door…


Johnny’s tone wrenched Murdoch out of his thoughts. Stunned, he watched Johnny catch Scott and pull him into the room. His younger son holding his older son close, moving slow and steady to the large sofa.

Murdoch reached out to help lower Scott to the sofa, placing a pillow behind him. Teresa ran from the room.

Scott waved them away. “I’m all right.”

“What happened?” With a gentle grip, Johnny moved Scott’s chin to the side to take a look the darkening bruise on his cheekbone.

Scott was a mess of bruising, dirty, and in pain from the way he was holding his side. Teresa returned with a basin, wash clothes, and towels.

Murdoch could see the house of cards collapsing.

Teresa beat him to the punch. “Sam Stryker’s son died. He’s after you, Johnny.”

Scott grimaced. “And he found me instead?”

Murdoch took one of the cloths, wetting it to dab at the blood covering Scott’s face to see how bad the damage was. “Looks like it.” He looked at Johnny. “I’m sorry – I just wanted you away and safe.” He turned back to Scott. “I’m not doing a very good job of that.”

Johnny picked something up from either his words or his demeanor. “What else?”

“Stryker has a couple of the staff in the barn. We don’t know who. It’s the cliché of trading you for them. They’ve taken all the phones to prevent us from calling the police.”

Scott nodded. “They did the same with me.”

Teresa jerked her head to the window. “They’re out front, just waiting for you to come back.”

Scott pushed the cloth Murdoch was using away. “There are at least five of them.” He waved to his own face. “I doubt they want to discuss the matter.”




David ran up to his father standing by the corral. “He’s in the house. I saw him through the window.”

Sam didn’t know how they missed Johnny or if he been there the entire time, but he had enough of waiting.

“Lancer! I know he’s in there. Send him out and the rest of you won’t get hurt and I’ll let your people go. What’s it gonna be?”




Johnny felt sick as he looked down at Scott who sat up in preparation for what? There wasn’t time to think on this. Knowing there were people in Stryker’s hands was too much. He headed for the door.

Murdoch caught him by the arm. “Johnny.”

“Look this is my responsibility. I have to handle it in my own way.” Johnny pulled away. “I’ll distract them enough for you to get to whoever they’re holding and to the phone in the barn.”

He walked by Teresa. “Thanks, Teresa.”

Johnny picked up a kitchen knife and headed out through the kitchen door – let the Strykers work for it. He scooted close to the wall and followed it until he was close to the corral. From what he could see their attention was on the front doors, which made sense only if they believed he would just walk out to them. Opportunistic con artists they may be, but this plan wasn’t something they had done before.

Taking a deep breath, he showed the top of his head over the wall.




David swiped an arm across his forehead. “He ain’t comin’ out.” He played with the unfamiliar gun in his hand.

“Gene, get around the back of the house.” Sam gave him a shove to get him moving. “See if you can flush him out.”

Gene ran out across the drive to the house, following the adobe wall around to the back. Sam watched him until he was out of sight.

“There he is!” David pointed to the adobe wall on the west side of the house, opposite of the way Gene had gone. “I’ll get him.”

Sam pulled him back. “You outta your head?”

“Not with you backing me up.” David pulled loose and tore across the driveway.

Sam waved to two of the others to follow him before raising the rifle and taking a shot at the glimpse of dark hair.




Johnny heard them call out and ducked down again. A bullet hit the wall, shattering the plaster and sprinkling dust in his hair.

It had been awhile since he had to avoid people shooting at him, but it was an art not lost when one had survived the learning curve the first time out, and had had some practice since then.

Time to lead them on a chase.




Murdoch pulled Teresa to face him. “I want you to hide down in the wine cellar. If things look bad, go out the easement and take the truck into town, straight to the police station.” He dug the keys out of his pocket and pressed them into her hand.


“No, listen to me on this. If they get their hands on you, we’re right back to where we started.” He looked down into her determined face and softened his tone. “Honey, I need to know you’re safe.”

She nodded and stepped away. “Be careful.” She glanced at Scott. “Both of you. One person doing crazy stuff is enough.” She hurried out of the room.




Scott limped after her. “I’ll make sure she gets there and go out the back. You go for the barn.”

Moving fast, Teresa opened the door to the cellar and with a last look at him, slipped inside. Scott changed direction to the back door, but heard a noise. He caught up a heavy candlestick from the table, hefting the weight. It would do in a pinch.

He could hear footsteps coming down the tiled floor and ducked into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. He saw the boot step into view that had him gripping his side. He owed that boot.

Shoving the door open with his foot, he swung the candlestick right into the face of the man, who dodged just enough to catch the full brunt of the blow on his temple. The thud he made when hitting the floor was more than satisfying.

Scott picked up the gun, setting the candlestick on the counter in the bathroom. Ignoring the soreness of his body, Scott jogged toward the kitchen exit to back Johnny.




Murdoch watched from behind one of the long curtains as Stryker’s men went running for the west side of the house. He watched as Johnny darted away from the adobe wall, sprinting for the corral. Shots were fired and Murdoch’s heart jumped with the sound as dust was kicked up by Johnny’s feet.

Tearing his eyes away from where he had last seen Johnny duck behind an outbuilding, Murdoch watched as Sam Stryker stood, gun in hand, following after his men.

Murdoch couldn’t see any others waiting around. He waited until Stryker had moved past his line of vision and then made a dash for the barn. It had been awhile since he had to run anywhere and he could feel it.

No shots were fired, and he made his way to the side door from within the corral. The door wasn’t latched and he peered in to see if he could find his staff and the people holding them.

He crept in, grabbing the shovel that sat just inside the door. The stalls offered him some cover and once he made it past a couple of them, he could see an unknown man looking out one of the windows.

The stranger raised his gun and aimed.

And then he was falling.

Murdoch had no memory of crossing the space separating them, but he did feel the satisfying thunk as the shovel landed on the back of the man’s head.

A quick glance out the window showed Johnny dodging around hay wagons.

“Mr. Lancer.”

Murdoch looked to his left and down and found Frank and Hillary tied to a post. “Be right with you two. I just need to call the police.”




Johnny hated using the horses in this corral as cover, but he hated the idea of being shot again even more. Agitated, the horses were trotting around, giving Johnny all the distraction he needed to keep moving.

“Lancer!” David Stryker was doing his best to get to him, being single-minded in his pursuit and not careful. A shot went wide and Johnny had to wonder if he had ever used a gun before.

A horse knocked into David causing him to stumble and catch himself before he sprawled on the ground. Johnny scrambled over to him, knife in hand. David was bringing the gun up when Johnny rested the knife against his throat.

“Hand it over.”

David gave up the gun and Johnny eased the knife away from the man’s neck as he wrapped his fingers around the grip.

David tried to break away. “Dad! Dad! Kill him!”

Johnny yanked David to stand in front of him and aimed the gun at his head. He watched as Stryker and the two other men stopped – not sure what to do.

“Stryker! You lost one son. Do you want to try for another?” Johnny tightened his hold on David. “Tell your men to drop their guns.”

“You killed my son!”

“No, I didn’t. You didn’t let him get the care he needed, did you? Did you take him to the hospital when you left here? You want to lose another son because you didn’t make the right move?”

Sam turned to his men. “Drop them.”

Another voice came into the mix. “Now all of you take five steps to your left.”

Johnny looked over to see Scott had joined them; his gun up and ready, and Murdoch emerged from the barn carrying a shovel.




Wes’ funeral was a quiet affair.

So many of the people Wes knew wouldn’t know about his death until long after he was buried. It was the nature of the people he and Wes associated with. Or at least it had been for Johnny.

Johnny had attended other funerals, but this was the first time he had family standing beside him. It was odd and reassuring all at the same time. Though Murdoch hadn’t said anything, Johnny knew he had paid for the funeral arrangements. He would have protested, but couldn’t find a good reason to do so.

Odd, reassuring and appreciated more than he had the ability to say.

Scott bumped his shoulder on the way back to the car. “You okay, Johnny?”

“Fine, Scott, just fine.” He was even beginning to believe it.




Johnny waded through the wordy business plan, determined to finish it. Scott had made notes from his read through. Strange how those little notes let him discover a few things about his brother, so there was an added side benefit to the task.


Johnny looked up as Murdoch joined him.

“I missed you at breakfast.”

Johnny pointed to the papers on the desk. “Yeah, thought I’d get a jump on this.”

Murdoch looked out the window. “It’s a nice day.”

“Yeah.” Johnny added his own scribble on the page.

“I saw a band of mustangs out by the Black Mesa this morning. How much longer do you think you'll be working here?”

It was hard to think of horses without thinking of Wes. Johnny leaned back in the chair as Murdoch settled his hip on the edge of the desk. “I’ll finish this and send it over to Legal to keep them busy.”

Murdoch grinned. “Good thinking.” He picked up one of the documents. “You know a person’s life can be laid out like a business plan. Sometimes maybe that’s not all good. Maybe there’s a time when a person needs to play hooky. Kind of break the pattern. Maybe there’s even a time when the most important thing in the world is to go out after a wild horse.”

Johnny thought about rearing horses and old friends. “Up by Black Mesa?”

“About forty, as near as I can figure. No telling how long they'll be there. You know how a wild horse will move on.”

Johnny smiled, something easing inside him. “Yeah, a wild horse can really move fast, once he's got a mind to.”

Murdoch lifted his arm to show he was holding Johnny’s camera bag. “Scott’s waiting outside.”


~The End~





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