The Lone Wolf

(WHN for Cut the Wolf Loose)

by  Kathy S.



Disclaimer:  The Lancer name and characters are the creation of others.  This story is written for entertainment purposes only; no infringement of the creator’s copyright is intended. 


Scott shifted in his saddle and glanced down the quiet streets of town, but there was no sign of Johnny.  Where are you, Brother?  You heard Murdoch say we were leaving at six o’clock sharp Monday morning.  He frowned, knowing his brother was not accustomed to running his life by a timepiece. 

However, I don’t understand why we have to start so early.  The blond had not gotten much sleep over the past two days, and dawn came too soon this morning.  Looking at the mounted cowhands gathered around his father, Scott thought they all appeared the worse for having spent a weekend in the stockyard town after the long cattle drive.

“Alright!  Move ‘em out,” Murdoch said in a booming voice, and the ranch hands rode away, beginning the return trip to Lancer.

The chuck wagon rumbled forward with Jelly sitting on the tailgate.  The old man rubbed his feet, and Scott grinned at the memory of Jelly dancing with every female who was willing.

“Where were all my friends when I needed help resisting temptation,” Jelly complained.  “Ha!  Oh, nowhere!”

Watching the wagon pull away, Scott peered one more time at the empty street before him.  He nudged his horse closer to Murdoch’s chestnut.  “You waiting for Johnny?”

“Johnny’s a big boy,” Murdoch said.  “He doesn’t need anybody to wait up for him.  Not now anyway.”

The blond studied his father’s expression.  Something seemed to be troubling the older man.  Scott puzzled over what the last few words implied.  “I just had the feeling that you—“

“Scott, there’s a chance that Johnny may not be riding back with us this morning.”

“Not riding back?  Why?”  Scott’s heart beat faster.  Now what’s happened?

“Well, maybe one of these days he’ll volunteer it.  But if he doesn’t, don’t ask.”  Murdoch wheeled his horse around and spurred the gelding forward.

Scott hesitated for only a moment before following his father.  They rode together in silence, and the blond mulled over the events of the past week.  The cattle drive had been his first, and was dirty, tiring work.  So, when they delivered the cattle to the stockyards, he was anticipating a long, hot bath and a fine meal.  Instead, after the men were paid their wages, Murdoch announced that Scott and Johnny would be buying the first round of drinks at the saloon.  That first round soon led to another and then someone mentioned the carnival on the outskirts of town.  The call of the roulette wheel was strong for Scott, and most of his weekend was a blur of one game of chance after another.

With a shake of his head, Scott still could hear his father’s words.  “It’s not the cattle drive that separates the men from the boys.  It’s the town at the end.”  A town that wanted to separate each cowhand from his wages.  The blond chuckled and recalled his winnings.  But not this Boston-raised cowboy.  I was a winner—not once, but twice.  Scott paused at the recollection of Johnny grabbing the money from his hand at one point during the night and saying, “I owe ya.”

Scott had not seen much of his younger brother over the past two days.  The blond settled a little more comfortably in the saddle and gathered his memories since arriving in town.  Johnny had laughed and seemed to be having a good time in the saloon, “cutting the wolf loose,” as their father called it.  The brothers wagered on who could chug a beer faster.  The loser would have to wear Jelly’s cap for an hour.  Scott lost and Johnny whopped loudly when the cap was placed atop the blond head.

Walt and the boys stayed at the bar, but Johnny, Scott and Jelly meandered over to the carnival.  Johnny was the first one on the dance floor.  He was in good spirits and having a fine time.  The games of chance attracted Scott, despite Jelly’s suggestion that they get dinner.  Everything after that became a blur of numbers and probabilities.  Hadn’t Johnny stopped by at some time and said he wanted to talk?  But I was on a winning streak and wasn’t paying much attention to what he said.  Scott’s gloved hands tightened on the reins.  Was Johnny trying to tell me something important?  Did he need me?  And I told him, “Not right now.”

Scott groaned and Murdoch glanced over at him.

“You okay, Son?”

Scott cleared his throat.  “Yes, Sir.  I was just thinking about this weekend.”

Murdoch raised an eyebrow.  “I didn’t see you after we paid the men.  Did you have fun?”

The blond smiled and launched into the story of his success at the carnival.  “It’s all about probabilities, Murdoch.”

A thunder of hoof beats interrupted Scott’s explanation.  The familiar flash of Barranca’s golden coat was a welcome sight to the blond, and Scott felt a wave of relief settle over him as Johnny slowed the horse to a walk and rode beside Murdoch.  Concern quickly replaced Scott’s relief, when he noticed Johnny was missing his hat and more surprisingly, his gun belt.  He wanted to ask his brother what had happened in town, but he remembered his father’s warning to let Johnny volunteer the information.



“Morning, Johnny,” Murdoch said, letting his eyes meet his son’s.  He tried to gauge the boy’s disposition, but all he saw was the guarded expression of someone who could have been a stranger to him.

Johnny nodded, but didn’t say a word.  He settled Barranca to a stride that matched the chestnut’s pace.

Murdoch felt an odd mix of emotions toward his youngest son.  He was glad Johnny was riding beside him; surprised, in fact.  Based on the strength of his son’s feelings for Reverend Thompson’s daughter, Murdoch had not expected to see him this morning.  The girl Johnny started to tell me about had to be Laura Thompson.  She’s running the only mission is town, and Johnny clearly said, “Mission.”

After another quick glance at the remote look in his son’s eyes, Murdoch pressed his horse into a lope.  Best to leave that town, and whatever happened there, far behind.

They rode three abreast for the better part of the morning without speaking.  Murdoch fought a battle of warring emotions.  He was not ready to lose Johnny to marriage, when the boy had only recently come back into his life.  Yet, he wanted his son to be happy.  The image of the Reverend’s daughter and his youngest son—the former gunfighter, Johnny Madrid—was a tough one to figure.  How could it work for them?  Johnny has such a dark, troubled past.  Does the girl see him as a lost soul who needs saving?  And Johnny just doesn’t seem like the type to marry a minister’s daughter.  But the look on his face when he told me he had met someone special was so… so genuine.  Maybe she would be the best thing that ever happened to him.  Something must have gone wrong for him to be here now without her.

Murdoch felt a pang of guilt.  Going to bail out Walt and the other hands Saturday night had seemed more urgent than talking to his son about love and marriage.  No, not more urgent, just easier.  Hell, I couldn’t even answer Johnny directly about how long Maria and I courted before we wed.  It struck Murdoch as strange that the boy’s mother never told him anything about the time she and Murdoch had spent together.

His horse’s steady stride slowed as the road headed uphill, and Murdoch pulled the aging chestnut back to a walk.  Johnny kept Barranca at a lope and surged forward.  Reining in his mount, Scott rode closer to his father.

“Murdoch?”  Scott’s eyes searched for an answer.

“Stay with him, Son.  I’ll be along.”  Murdoch watched his two boys race up the road.  Scott caught up with Johnny at the crest of the hill, and then both disappeared over the ridge.

Murdoch sighed and patted the chestnut’s neck.  “Oh to be young again.”  His thoughts returned to the unfinished conversation he and Johnny had shared in the hotel room the other night.  Murdoch was proud his youngest had sought him out to talk.  With a cringe, Murdoch realized he had turned down an earlier offer to join Johnny for dinner.  Indigestion from spicy Mexican food had been his excuse, but that was all it was—an excuse.  I could have told them to cut down on the chili peppers.  Was I afraid to eat with Johnny when he was in the mood for food that reminded him of his past?  An unexpected shiver ran down his spine.  Maybe I didn’t want to see him as Johnny Madrid.

He pulled his hat forward and swayed with the horse’s motion.  The muscles in his back tightened, and he grunted at the discomfort.  “I’m getting too old to do these cattle drives.  Next year, Scott and Johnny can take this job on without me.  I don’t need to be there for everything.”

But I wasn’t there when Johnny wanted to talk, father and son.  I was over at the jail, bailing out Walt and the boys.  Damn!  Why didn’t Johnny stay put in the room like I told him to?  Then we could have talked when I got back.  That boy doesn’t follow directions.

Murdoch’s thoughts softened as he reached the top of the hill and spotted Johnny and Scott waiting for him at the bottom of the hill.  What kind of father am I?  I had a pretty good idea where Johnny was.  I could have gone to the Mission House to find him.  Instead, I went back to reading Homer.  What do I know about being a father?  He set the gelding to a slow trot and decided he would do better by both sons, but especially Johnny, from now on.



Johnny squinted into the sun and ran a hand through his hair.  He regretted the theft of his hat, but the missing pistol made him nervous.  It never bothered me that I wasn’t wearing a gun when I was with Laura.

At the thought of the lovely woman he had left behind, the dull ache of loss returned.  Laura, Honey.  The words had slipped out so easy, like it was meant to be.  Only it wasn’t meant to be.  He deliberately tucked his thoughts about her into that part of his mind where he locked away painful memories and hurts.  In a quieter time when he was alone and nursing a bottle of tequila, he would dredge up the image of her face and come to terms with his misery.

He shifted his focus back to the matter of needing a handgun.  Next town we come to, I’ll stop and get a new one.  Then there’ll be hours of practice to get the feel of its balance.  Until then, I’ll keep my rifle handy.

Johnny watched Murdoch ride down the hill slowly and considered how his mother must have found a younger version of the big man an impressive figure.  Questions about his parents’ marriage had flashed through his mind shortly after he realized how he felt about Laura.  Murdoch called it a whirlwind courtship.

“Johnny,” Scott said tentatively, moving his horse closer.  “I need to apologize for the other night.  You wanted to talk and I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Forget it.”  Johnny lowered his chin to his chest and rubbed his hand against the spot where the pistol normally hung at his thigh.

“Do you want to talk now?”

Johnny looked up and saw the questions in his brother’s eyes, questions Scott wanted to ask but was too polite to pose.  Johnny chose to avoid the subject he knew Scott was most curious to discuss.  “Sure.  Tell me about that system of yours.  It seemed to be working on that wheel.”

Scott beamed with pleasure.  “It’s all about probabilities, Brother.  Statistically, you can calculate the likelihood that a number will be a winner.”  The blond continued to explain how games of chance could be mastered with mathematics.

Half listening, Johnny feigned interest.  He had seen too many marked cards, rigged wheels, and loaded dice to know Scott’s system only worked if the dealer was on the up and up.  When the blond paused for breath, Johnny quietly added, “I’ll pay back that money I took.”

“No need, Brother.  I won even more the second time around.  But I’m curious what you wanted it for.”

Johnny fidgeted with his reins.  “Gave it to someone who really needed it.”

“Does that someone have a name?”

Looking directly at Scott, Johnny heaved a sigh.  He was not ready to talk about Laura, so he only nodded and set off after the chuck wagon, which was barely visible in the distance.



The wheels of the chuck wagon creaked and bounced along the rutted road.  The motion set the pots and pans to clanking together, and Jelly listened to the clatter.  With a yawn, he stretched and then kneaded the tired muscles along his legs.  “Never knowed dancin’ was such hard work.”  He rubbed his aching feet and muttered to himself, “Feet, ya done me proud, until that clumsy she-devil stomped all over ya.”

The hired hand studied the horizon from his position on the tailgate of the chuck wagon and spotted the trio of riders approaching.  Ol’ Murdoch got him a mighty fine pair of boys there.  He watched the men draw near.  When they were within shouting range, Jelly called out, “Look who decided to join us.”  He shook a finger in the direction of the youngest Lancer.  “Tarnation, Johnny!  You led me to that dance floor, and next thing I knowed, I’m dancing like a dang fool.  And you’re nowheres to be seen.”

“Sorry.”  Johnny smiled weakly and rode past the wagon.

Jelly frowned and craned his neck to regard the back of the rider he considered like a son.  He had not expected a compliant response from the former gunfighter.  Turning back to Murdoch and Scott, he shrugged his shoulders.  “What’s gotten into him?”

“Later, Jelly,” Murdoch said.  He held a hand up to silence any further questions.  Then, Murdoch and Scott galloped after Johnny.

“Well, I’ll be!  Don’t waste your breath telling me what’s going on.”  Jelly crossed his arms over his chest and jutted out his whiskered chin.  “Nobody tells Jelly nothin’.”  He paused for a moment and realized Johnny had tried to talk to him over the weekend.  Even though I was dancin’, I offered to listen, but Johnny walked away.  And he sure don’t want to talk now. 



That evening, in the campfire’s warm glow, Murdoch studied the faces of the men swapping lighthearted stories about their adventures in town.  All but one of them laughed loudly as Scott teased Jelly about the fine figure he cut on the dance floor.  Removed from the others, Johnny sat in the shadows, staring into the fire.  His distant expression worried Murdoch.

“Size of a bear, she was.  Near broke my toes.”  Jelly lifted his swollen foot for examination.

“She seemed right taken with you, Jelly,” Scott said.

The older man’s head shot forward.  “She sure weren’t no looker.”

“Well, I had the two prettiest gals with me,” Pinkie boasted, jerking his thumb toward his chest.  “One on each arm.”

“Maybe, but I had Lady Luck with me,” Scott said and clapped the freckled ranch hand on the back.

Murdoch listened as the tales grew livelier and the exploits of the weekend grew more exaggerated.  Through it all, he kept a wary eye on Johnny.  His dark-haired son remained quiet, seemingly part of the group, yet not joining in the camaraderie.  The former gunfighter drummed his fingers against his thigh.  Murdoch wished he could pull his youngest boy aside and have a private conversation with him.

“Hey, Johnny,” Pinkie called.  “Which one of them ladies was the prettiest?”

Johnny looked across the campsite and flashed one of the partial smiles Murdoch knew was a Madrid trademark.  Murdoch wanted to throttle Pinkie for disturbing Johnny.  Can’t he see Johnny’s not part of the joking?  My bet is the Reverend’s daughter turned down his marriage proposal.

“The way I hear it,” Johnny replied softly.  “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Well said, Brother.”  Scott gave Johnny a wink.

Murdoch saw the exchange of looks between his sons and wondered whether Johnny had confided in Scott about his feelings for Laura Thompson.  He hoped Johnny would share his thoughts with someone.  Scott.  Jelly.  Even me!  Talking might be the best thing for him.

“Hey, Boss,” Walt said in a deep baritone voice.

Rousing himself from his thoughts, Murdoch refilled his coffee cup and grunted.

“Me and the boys wanted to thank you again for bailing us out of jail.”

“No problem, Walt.  I’ll take the bail money out of your wages for the next month.”  Murdoch grinned at the distressed look that crossed the foreman’s face.  “Just kidding.”



The roar of laughter filled the night air, and Johnny reflected on Laura’s gleeful laughter when Jim, the Indian at the Mission House, turned his other cheek after she slapped him.  She sure was pleased that he understood the lesson she tried to teach ‘em.  Said, “The door has been opened.”  But for Johnny, the door to happiness with this special woman had slammed right in his face.  He tried to make her see.  Don’t you know what they’ll do to you?  They’ll drain your life away. 

He had offered her more, a life at Lancer, as his wife and the mother of his children.  He had never wanted children before, but she made him think of being settled and raising a family.  Not the kind of life Johnny Madrid had led or the bachelor existence of Johnny Lancer.  He told her about Johnny Madrid and she did not turn away.  But she did turn away when he wanted her to leave the Mission House.  Her rejection hurt, causing a pain deeper than any bullet had ever inflicted.  The questions he asked her had almost stuck in his throat.  Is that all?  Is that it?

His anger and pain drove him out of the Mission House and his feet took him to the carnival.  I was angry.  Wanted to take it out on someone.  There was that Injun with his head in the target, and the carnie selling three throws for a nickel.  I almost did it, almost threw that damn ball at Bear Paw… But I wasn’t mad at him.  Hell, I wasn’t mad at anyone, just hurt.

Johnny stared into the fire, remembering the last time he saw Laura, when he handed her the money Scott had won.  In his heart, Johnny knew she was right.  The Mission is where Laura belongs.  She has that special spark.   Gripping his rifle, he rose silently and slipped into the darkness.



Scott poked a stick at the burning embers.  The fire was failing and there was little reason to add more wood at this point.  The men had turned in for the night, and even Murdoch was asleep.  Johnny’s bedroll was empty, a lonely testament that something was troubling his younger brother.  Scott considered searching for him, but knew the former gunfighter would be illusive if he did not want to be found.

He tossed the stick into the dying flames and removed his gun belt.  He rolled it into a coil and carefully set the weapon on his brother’s bedroll.  All afternoon, Scott had noticed Johnny fingering the place where the Colt usually lay against his leg.  If wearing a gun will calm your nerves, Brother, you can have mine.  It’s the least I can do to make up for ignoring you this weekend.

Returning to his blanket, Scott lay down and wondered what was bothering his brother.  The steady sound of snoring and a lack of sleep over the weekend wore on Scott, and his eyelids grew heavy.  The blond wanted to talk to Johnny, but his eyes refused to stay open.  With a sigh, Scott pulled the blanket over his shoulders and was asleep in seconds.



Rolling over, Murdoch gazed at the stars spread across the black sky.  The more he thought about his desire for a weekend of solitude with a classic book, the guiltier he felt.  I should have had dinner with Johnny and spent some time with Scott.  In the moonlight, Murdoch could see the tousled blond hair and sleeping form of his eldest son.  He glanced toward Johnny’s bedroll, still bound closed by the leather straps. 

With stiff joints, Murdoch rose and stretched.  Then, he noticed the bundle on top of Johnny’s bedroll.  He bent over and realized it was a pistol and gun belt.  Where did this come from?  Johnny never goes off without his gun.  That thought triggered some nagging anxiety deep within Murdoch.  Johnny wasn’t wearing a gun when he rode up this morning!  In the dim light, Murdoch examined the coiled gun belt and recognized it as Scott’s.  Murdoch glanced at his oldest son again with admiration, proud that he was watching out for his brother.  Slowly, Murdoch walked to the horses tethered beyond the chuck wagon.



In the distance, the plaintive howl of a wolf disturbed the silence.  Johnny listened and turned toward the mountains to the east.  An answering chorus of howls filled the night air.  Barranca stamped a hoof and snorted.  The other horses in the remuda stirred restlessly.

“Easy, compadre,” Johnny said in a soothing voice.  He ran his hand along the palomino’s neck.  “They’re way off yonder.  Just stakin’ their claim.  Probably some lone wolf tryin’ to find a mate.”

The words struck a nerve and he thought of Laura.  “You shoulda seen her, amigo.  Prettiest blonde hair.  Eyes as blue as the sky in the morning.  They sparkle in the light.  And her skin—so soft, like the softest…”  He shook his head.  No.  Ain’t no words to describe her.  “Well, you shoulda seen her.  I even told this banged up cowboy she wasn’t the type that normally caught my eye.  But I was wrong.  So wrong.”  He tried to recall when his feelings for her had changed.

“She wasn’t like all those old missionary ladies, tellin’ me that the devil would take me ‘cause of all the bad things I done.”  He let his fingers trail along the gelding’s back.  “She was preachin’ some of the same lessons.  Turn the other cheek.  God is love.  But she was different.  She sure was different.”

Barranca returned to grazing, and Johnny heard the steady grinding of the horse’s teeth.  He patted the golden rump and moved to a tree a few yards away from the horses.  Casually, he leaned against the tree trunk and gazed at the half moon hanging in the sky.

A branch overhead rustled, and an owl hooted, before spreading its winds and flying away.  Johnny watched the dark shape disappear into the black night and wished he could join the bird.  A yelp from the lone wolf broke the silence, and then the air was still.

Johnny wrapped his arms around himself and brushed the toe of the worn boot against the ground.  The secondhand boots fit, but were a little loose.  Lost my gun, my hat, and even my boots.  He smirked at the memory of the revenge he had extracted on the skunk who had drugged his tequila and robbed him.  I gave him a little something extra.  It’ll be awhile before he drinks any cactus juice with that busted mouth.

Closing his eyes, Johnny dropped his chin to his chest and his thoughts returned to Laura.  Guess I lost my heart too.  Ain’t the first time, but this one…  Johnny raised his head and looked into the dark sky.  “This one was ‘cause of you.”  He felt a flash of anger.  “Don’t you have enough people doin’ your work?”

With a sigh, Johnny shoved his hands into his waistband.  Laura had made her choice, and he would learn to live with it.  Johnny knew in his heart that running the Mission House and tending to the less fortunate and needy was her calling in life.

Stiffening at the sound of heavy footsteps drawing near, Johnny listened carefully to the crunch of soil and snapping of twigs.  He had hoped no one in camp would miss him.

“John?”  A deep voice called tentatively in a quiet tone.

“Over here, Murdoch.”  Johnny turned in the direction of camp and watched his father move past the horses.

“Thought you might like some company.”

Johnny bent and pulled a blade of grass from the ground.  He twisted it between his fingers and thought about his response.  He did not really want to talk to anyone right now, but he recognized the Old Man was doing his best to be a concerned father.

“The tales were gettin’ mighty tall back there,” Johnny said, hoping Murdoch would accept the explanation and not press further.



“I suppose they were.”  Murdoch stopped and stood beside his youngest son.  When Johnny failed to say anything else, Murdoch cleared his throat.  “When I got back from bailing the hands out of jail, you were gone.”

In the moonlight, he could barely see Johnny’s face, but Murdoch strained to read his son’s reaction.  Johnny did not respond, so Murdoch continued.  “I wanted to finish our conversation.  You were going to tell me about someone you met in town.”  Murdoch cringed.  He was not wording this right, and he felt awkward and uncertain.

Again, there was no comment from his son.  Damn it, Johnny.  Talk to me!  Murdoch decided to press harder, although he knew the boy’s fiery temper might kick in.  “Laura Thompson seems like a fine young woman.”

Murdoch saw Johnny jerk toward him and knew he was right in guessing the Reverend’s daughter was the woman who had captured his son’s heart.  Still, Johnny remained silent, but Murdoch caught the puzzled expression that briefly passed across his son’s face before he put on the Madrid mask to hide his emotions.

“You mentioned the Mission, and there is only one in town.  After I did our banking, I went to visit my old friend, Reverend Thompson.  But his daughter told me he had died and she was continuing his work.  She’s as dedicated as her father.”  As soon as he said the words, Murdoch suspected he had the answer to the question of what had happened and why Johnny seemed so distant.

“Yeah,” Johnny said softly.  “She knows what she wants.”

Over the past few months, Murdoch had come to understand his son well enough to realize Johnny might never tell him exactly what went on at the Mission House or how Johnny came to meet Laura.  The elder Lancer waited, hoping his son would say more, but he did not.

“When you came to see me at the hotel, you were asking questions about your mother and me.”

“Doesn’t matter now,” Johnny said.

“I think maybe you should know anyway.  When you’re ready, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you everything I remember about Matamoras and our wedding.”

“I’d like that, Murdoch.  But not right now.”

“Of course, Son.”  Murdoch gripped Johnny’s shoulder and turned to leave.

“Murdoch?”  Johnny paused and the whites of his eyes glimmered in the moonlight.  “You figure some folks have a more important purpose in life than others?”

Turning back toward his son, Murdoch wanted to ease the pain he heard in Johnny’s voice, but was not sure how to do it.  “Some people have different callings, but one isn’t necessarily better or more important than others.  Some have a rough path to follow, and others have an easy street, while a few forge brand new trails.”

“Laura, she…”  Johnny’s voice faded.

“Son, doing the Lord’s work is a noble calling, but it’s not for everyone.”

Johnny looked up at the sky.  “I asked her to be my wife, to come to Lancer.”

“And she chose to stay at the Mission,” Murdoch added quietly.

“Yeah.”  Johnny lowered his head.  “I envy her.  She’s stronger than me.  I don’t have what it takes to stay at the Mission and help her.”

Murdoch draped his arm over Johnny’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry about Laura.  She’ll have the Lord to help her.  But I think you’re wrong.  It takes a strong person to let go of the one you love so she can follow her dreams.  You are strong, Son, and I’m proud of you.”



Johnny nodded.  I’m not convinced you’re right, Old Man.  If I was stronger, I wouldn’t feel so tore up inside.  He swallowed hard.  “Murdoch, why don’t you call it a night?  I’ll be along in a few minutes.”

“Sure, Son.  But remember, any time you want to talk, I’m available.”

Johnny watched his father head back toward camp.  Then, he glanced up at the stars.  “Don’t reckon you’re used to hearin’ from me.  If you’re willin’ to listen to a request from someone like me, I got a special thing I need you to do.  Forget what I said about havin’ enough missionary people.  You need to help Laura run that Mission House.  It sure means a lot to her.”  Johnny rubbed the side of his leg where the holster usually rested.  “I ain’t askin’ nothin’ for myself.  Just don’t let that special spark of hers ever go out.”

Slowly, Johnny walked back to the camp site and slipped over to this bedroll.  He listened to the rattle of discordant snoring, glad no one was awake to question him about his late night whereabouts.  He frowned at the coiled gun belt laying on his bedroll and recognized the pistol as Scott’s.  Johnny gazed over at the sleeping blond, struck by this brother’s perception.

As the former gunfighter settled down on his blanket, he whispered one more prayer.  “Thanks for bringin’ me into the sunlight, like I told Laura.  Shoulda thanked you sooner for havin’ the Old Man send for me and givin’ me a brother who understands me.”

Johnny drifted into a deep sleep with the gun belt clutched to his chest.  So, he missed the distant snarl of a lobo and the answering call of another wolf that blended into a pair of matched howls.  Miles away, in a whitewashed Mission House, Laura added an extra request to her nighttime prayers, asking the Lord to bestow happiness on Johnny Lancer.



October 2003



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