Madrid Lancer stood at the side of his palomino, Barranca, brushing the
golden coat. He had put in a long day on the south range, but he
didn't want to leave his beautiful horse covered in burrs and dust, just
so that he could go in and take a hot bath. Finally, Barranca's coat was
shining as the young man stood there, hands on hips, proud of his accomplishment.
Replacing the brush in its accustomed spot, Johnny headed towards the white
hacienda. He was only a few feet from the open French doors when
he heard two voices, raised in anger.
I won't discuss this any longer. Your place is here."
I have an obligation and I'm not going to sit by and let those men die!"
Your obligation is to Lancer and to me. When are you going to remember
that? I'm sorry about those men, but they are cattle rustlers
so what else can you expect?"
don't know that they are cattle rustlers. There hasn't even been
sure that they'll get one. Besides, what can you do? You're
not a lawyer!"
but I might be able to help in some way! They're good men."
tall rancher stood there, barely controlling his temper. "I repeat,
you are not going to go off for who knows how long on a futile gesture
to save men you haven't even seen in over five years!"
does that matter? I hadn't seen you for twenty years, but you expected
me to drop everything and come here to save your ranch!"
you were well paid for it! You are a part owner and that should be
your first consideration. You know we have to get those cattle to
the railhead or pay a forfeit to the Army! I gave them my word and
Murdoch Lancer doesn't go back on a contract!"
those men my life. Isn't that more important than your cattle deal?"
forget who you are speaking to, Young Man. I am your father!"
why don't you act like it instead of some petty tyrant? You didn't
care about me for twenty-five years so why should I listen to you now?"
not true. You know I came after you. . . ."
right. That's the old refrain. You're the self-sacrificing, loving
man who was deprived of his sons by an ogre and a scheming bitch.
Well, that doesn't work with me anymore. I was willing to overlook
those years when you didn't care if I was alive or dead because frankly,
I was sure you resented my being alive while my mother died."
wasn't your fault!"
it wasn't, but did you ever bother to tell me that? I would look
at her face in Grandfather's painting, wishing it had been me that died,
gasped. "Did Garrett say that I hated you for Catherine's death?"
He rarely ever discussed her. Once when I was nine, I asked him about
her, but he got this sad look on his face so I just changed the subject."
I cannot forgive him for stealing you away when I had to be somewhere else."
not asking you to forgive him, just don't ask me to forget that you were
too busy to even write until you needed me to help save your ranch."
"It's your ranch too."
it? There's only one boss at Lancer. I'm only an owner when
you want to remind me of my obligations. Well, I have decided that
my obligation, right now, is to Spur Foster and Frank Jacobs."
patriarch tensed then shrugged. "If you've made your decision, then
go, but just as you won't forget those years, I won't forget this." The
tall man headed out the door, nearly knocking Johnny down. When the
dark-haired man tried to stop him, he pushed the younger man
away and headed to the stable.
into the house, Johnny found his brother in his room, packing. "Scott,
what the hell is going? Are you going back to Boston or something?"
eyes glanced up at the other man. "No, what makes you think that?"
I heard Murdoch yelling. Usually, the only time he gets that mad
is because of Harlan Garrett!"
deny that, but this time it doesn't have anything to do with my grandfather."
what is it?"
men, who were in my regiment, have been accused of cattle rustling.
I got a telegram from them asking for my help."
you' re not a lawyer!"
chuckled. "That's what Murdoch said, but, well, maybe I can do something.
Those two men saved my life during the War. I just can't let them
die without trying to help."
you tell him that?"
blond nodded. "He's worried about that contract with the Army. I
know it's important, but not more than the lives of two men!"
if you need to go, do it. The hands and I can get those cattle to
the railhead. We won't let Murdoch down."
blond's face whitened. "Do you. . .do you think I want to let him down?
I just couldn't live with myself if I didn't help Jacobs and Foster.
I am all they've got."
care of yourself, Boston. I've only got one brother."
goes for me. I hope you don't have any problems with the cattle delivery."
me going along, how could there be?" grinned the dark-haired son.
is that! Now, I'd better go. There's not much time and I have
a long ride ahead of me."
With that, Scott Lancer walked out of Lancer to head south towards the small town where Spur Foster and Frank Jacobs were fighting for their lives.
weeks after Scott Lancer had left his home in the San Joaquin Valley, Murdoch
Lancer rode in under the great gate of his beautiful home. He had
successfully delivered the promised cattle to the Army railhead depot,
received his money, and was now looking forward to a hot bath to relieve
the aches and pains that came with persuading ornery cows that they had
to go one way when they obstinately preferred to go another. Still,
the patriarch had to admit that the drive had gone fairly smoothly--except
for one incident involving Johnny.
younger Lancer had done his best, but no man can plan for everything, especially
when dealing with 4-legged bovines. Fortunately, Johnny's wound was
not too severe, but it was painful so Murdoch had persuaded him to ride
back to Lancer in the chuck wagon instead of on Barranca. Naturally,
this had not set too well with the spirited young man, but eventually he
had agreed to his father's suggestion.
up his horse, Murdoch entered the hacienda, hoping to find his older son
had returned, but not surprisingly, he found only a delighted Teresa waiting
for him. After questioning Johnny's whereabouts, the young woman
quickly collected a cup of coffee and some freshly baked oatmeal cookies
for her guardian. She could tell how tired he was from the slump
of his shoulders. While munching on the cookies, the rancher imparted
his news about Johnny being carried home in the chuck wagon. Teresa's
mouth dropped open when she heard the circumstances. That Johnny
Madrid would not insist upon riding his palomino was disturbing, but her
guardian reassured her that the injury only needed time.
ten minutes the injured man was delivered to hearth and home by Cookie
in the chuck wagon. Climbing gingerly down from the back, the gunfighter
scorned the offer of help by one of the vaqueros who had also ridden in.
Limping painfully, Johnny headed for the comfort of his room. Months
of sleeping in his soft bed at Lancer had undermined his ability to tolerate
a simple bedroll as the sleeping accommodation of choice.
as he gratefully sank into the inviting softness, two visitors made their
way to his room to offer comfort, consolation, and cookies.
Grateful that his jaws were not the affected part of his anatomy, Johnny
proceeded to devour four oatmeal cookies washed down with coffee strong
enough to stand on its own--just the way Johnny liked it.
assuring Murdoch that she would keep the invalid company, Teresa was pleased
to see the tall man head to the bath house. As soon as his father
had left, Johnny whispered to the young woman, "Any word from Scott?"
girl only shook her head. Johnny's face grimaced in displeasure.
"Dammit, what right does he have to do this to us?"
Johnny, I thought you urged him to go?"
maybe I did, but he shoulda let us know somethin' by now. At least,
he could send a telegram sayin' he's on his way."
if he's not coming back?"
he. . . did he say that to you?"
I. . .I didn't even get a chance to talk to him. It's just that I
can't remember ever seeing Scott so angry. You're usually
the hotheaded one."
started to protest then let it go, knowing that was one argument he couldn't
both of 'em were sure steamin'."
we should have expected it before now."
you can't take three stubborn men and throw them into a situation like
it is here at Lancer and not expect some fur to fly!"
we were doin' pretty good," Johnny pouted.
the surface, maybe, but there have been times when I felt like Lancer was
sitting on top of a volcano--all the hurts, regrets, and doubts just waiting
to be released like some eruption."
. . . ."
I haven't known you and Scott very long, but I know the circumstances that
brought you here. It can't have been easy for either of you and I
know it wasn't easy for Murdoch to ask. Only the idea
that he could lose Lancer allowed him to swallow his pride."
you sayin' that he didn't really want us here except against
that's not what I'm saying. I think he wanted you here, but couldn't
bring himself to ask because that would look like begging. By offering
you a share in the ranch, he saved himself from doing that and found a
way to bind you to Lancer so that hopefully one day, you'd learn to know
him and be willing to stay."
"And now Scott has made the volcano mad?"
smiled wryly. "Well, not exactly. In this case, I think Murdoch
has made the volcano mad!"
you're closer to Scott than anyone, but would you say that you really understand
sure, uh, most of the time, I mean he is like one of them clams at times,
but sure I understand him."
eyes narrowed questioningly while Johnny fidgeted sheepishly. "Well,
dammit, Teresa, he's one of them tight-mouthed easterners. Sometimes
those blue eyes of his look so innocent and yet I know he's thinkin' a
mile a minute. How are you supposed to deal with a man who's so calm
all the time? Even when I tease him, he just looks at me like he's
got a moron for a brother. It just ain't natural."
brought a chuckle to Teresa's lips. "Johnny, that's what I'm trying
to say. This whole situation is unnatural. Three men who have
had their own lives for twenty-five years and now are thrust together without
laying the ghosts to rest. You'd all three have to qualify for sainthood
for it to work without occasional bouts of anger and harsh words--and I
KNOW that none of you are saints!"
Teresa, that makes alotta sense--even if you are one of them sentimental
WHAT does that mean, Mr. Madrid?"
uh nothin'." Struggling to sit up, Johnny suddenly moaned, "Ouch,
my. . .er. . .back hurts. You wouldn't happen to have a nice hot
water bottle lyin' around, would ya, Teresa?"
young woman snorted. "I'll see what I can do. Just rest your.
. .er. . .back."
Teresa, you're one of them angels of mercy."
rolled her eyes. "Please, Johnny, I still have to go make dinner.
I'll have Murdoch let you know when it's ready."
forget my hot water bottle!"
headed to the kitchen to find the hot water bottle, but instead found Murdoch
Lancer eating some more oatmeal cookies. "Is he okay, honey?"
fine, but he's worried about Scott and I must admit I am too."
The gray-haired rancher sat there for a long moment, unspeaking, then he conceded, "I'm afraid Scott may not be returning."
days that followed very little was said about the missing Lancer.
There had still been no word so both Johnny and Teresa assumed that Scott
did intend to return--if he was able. Teresa, particularly, was adamant
that the blond would not leave Lancer without telling them so.
one night while the trio was sitting at the table in the great room, Johnny
heard, what he believed to be a rider, approaching. Since it was
dinner time, it did not seem too likely that it would be a neighbor so
the dark-haired man drew his gun, opened the door silently and slipped
out into the dusk. Within two seconds came a frantic shout,
"Murdoch, come out here!"
his napkin to the floor, the rancher immediately hurried out the door while
warning Teresa to stay inside. As his eyes adjusted to the twilight,
the tall man could see his younger son frantically trying to keep someone
from falling off the horse. Moving closer, he could see blond hair
covering a face that he almost didn't recognize. The normally handsome
and well-defined features were now dark with bruises and dried blood from
a broken nose. Reaching up to steady the slender figure, Murdoch
helped Johnny release his older son from the rope which had been circled
around his body. Only that rope had kept him in place for whatever
time he had been in the saddle.
Carrying Scott gently into the house and then into his room, the two Lancers laid him on the bed before taking stock of the injuries inflicted on the lean body. Noticing Teresa's white face, Murdoch told her to find one of the vaqueros who could ride into town to get the doctor. She just nodded and hurried outside.
quickly, the two Lancer men stripped the torn clothing from the injured
man. It was then that they saw the extensive bruises and lash marks
on the slim man. Johnny glanced over at his father; without comment
the two turned the blond onto his stomach. It was all the younger
man could do not to retch at the sight of the crisscrossed wounds.
Whoever had done this had intended to inflict punishment, just short of
closer to inspect the inflamed marks, Murdoch turned to his son,
"What kind of man could do something like this?"
know, but he's a dead man!"
patriarch stiffened at the remark. "John, this is no time to go off
half-cocked. We've got to get him cleaned up so when the doctor arrives,
Scott can be treated."
dark man grudgingly nodded. His revenge could wait until he was sure
that his brother would survive.
at the door, Teresa looked at the two men who meant so much to her.
"I. . .I brought some hot water, lint and towels. I knew you'd want
to. . .help him right away."
Teresa. This is not going to be pleasant, maybe you'd rather. . .
." The patriarch stopped immediately when he saw the set jaw of his ward.
She might not be a Lancer, but O'Briens could be stubborn too. "Let's
get this done then. It's a good thing he's unconscious because I
don't think he could take the pain."
quickly but thoroughly, they cleansed and bandaged the various injuries
until the three were satisfied that nothing more could be done for the
moment. The blond was then covered by a warm blanket.
stay with him 'til the doctor arrives."
right, Johnny, I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything," replied the
stood in the corner, saying nothing, just staring at the man lying on the
bed until he remarked, "How far could he ride like that?"
way to tell. I guess he knew his horse would get him home."
Do you think he feels this is his home?"
younger man hesitated. "He would like it to be--I think."
was a long pause before Murdoch cleared his throat to ask, "Johnny did
you hear any of what he and I argued about?"
brother accused me of some terrible things."
Johnny just nodded.
trouble is some of them are true. I. . .I could have written to him
to see if he was. . .to check, but every time I thought about doing so,
I'd see Harlan Garrett's smirking face in my mind and I'd tear up the letter.
I let my hatred for Garrett keep me from my son."
. . ."
an ugly thing, Son. It destroys your soul." The big man walked
out of the room.
chill ran down the gunfighter's back, but then he returned to his brother's
side where he stayed even after the doctor arrived. After his exam,
the doctor turned to the sapphire-eyed young man, "You'd better ask Murdoch
to come in here."
stony-faced rancher entered, trying to appear impassive. "I just
wanted to prepare the two of you. I can't guarantee that he's gonna
make it. He's sustained a severe beating and I'm afraid there may
be some internal damage."
can you do?"
"I'm not sure there's anything I can do."
you've got to help him!"
believe me I wish I could help him, but at least I don't think he's in
pain. Just keep an eye on him. Nature has strange ways of healing
the most violated of bodies so maybe if the damage isn't as severe as.
. . ."
rancher took Dr. Stephens by the arm. "Thanks for coming out so late.
We'll take care of him."
physician picked up his hat from the chair and started towards the door.
"If. . .if you need me, let me know."
returned to Scott's bedroom where he found his dark-haired son sitting
by his brother, holding his hand. The tall man wasn't even sure that
Johnny was aware that he had returned when the young man spoke, "Why didn't
I go with him?"
wasn't your decision to make, Johnny."
gunfighter swung around to face his father, "I'm gonna lose Scott before
I even had a chance to know him. If he dies, I'll never forgive
you for keepin' us apart all those years!" With that, the agitated
man stormed out of the room leaving his father to slump down in the chair
by the bed.
silence in the white hacienda, during the next few days, was almost audible.
It was as if they were already in mourning as the three inhabitants took
their turns sitting with the injured man. Teresa tried her best to
console both men, but it was obvious that neither man wanted to be consoled.
The impending loss of son and brother threatened to rent apart the bond
that Johnny and his father had so painstakingly built in the past months.
on the fourth day, Teresa walked into Scott's bedroom, carrying a cup of
coffee for Johnny. The younger son had volunteered to take the night
shift as he maintained he couldn't rest anyway. Upon entering, she
found him with his head resting on Scott's bed, his eyes closed in sleep.
Putting the cup on the nightstand, Teresa started to leave when she noticed
a single tear trickling down the pale cheek of Scott Lancer.
up, the young man reacted to the alert, "What? What is it?"
at Scott's face!"
with sleep, Johnny at first didn't notice the tear, but then he gently
wiped it from the other man's face with a calloused thumb.
you think he's waking up?"
"Don't know. Maybe he's hurtin'."
" Should we get the doctor?"
chewed at his lip. "Let's wait some. If he is wakin' up, we
might see some more signs of it."
. .I just don't like to think of him in pain."
swiftly glanced over to the young woman with anger in his eyes. "Do
you think I do?"
course not! It's just so hard to know what to do."
I guess I'm a might touchy."
all are. No need to apologize. I'm going to go make breakfast
and start some broth. If he does wake up, he'll need something."
a good idea, Teresa."
headed to the door, she remarked, "There a cup of coffee for you over by
the bed. It's probably cold though. I'll bring some more."
worry. It'll do."
Johnny walked over to pick up the cup, even cold coffee would relieve his parched throat. As he leaned over, two hands reached out to grab him by the throat. To his astonishment, two blue eyes, filled with hatred, stared at him. Struggling to release himself from his brother's incredibly strong grasp without hurting him, Johnny couldn't even call out. Then, from behind he heard Teresa's scream which brought Murdoch at a run. Taking in the situation, he moved over to the side of the bed, trying to pry loose the steel fingers. The increasing gasps from his younger son made it obvious that something had to be done and right then-- so the patriarch slapped the blond--hard.
stinging pain of the unexpected attack did the trick. Scott let go,
falling back onto the bed as great sobs of despair broke forth from the
shuddering body. Johnny fell back too, clutching at his throat.
Murdoch immediately moved to his side. "Are you all right, Son?"
emerged from the tormented throat. Teresa quickly thrust the cup
of coffee at him which he swallowed, gasping again as the pain reverberated
the length of his throat.
another swallow, Johnny croaked out, "S-scott?"
men turned to see Teresa trying to comfort the stricken man. Rubbing
the thin back tentatively, she hoped to get through the overwhelming anguish
so that Scott would know that he was safe, but nothing seemed to help until
finally the exhausted body gave in and slipped back into sleep.
why don't you go put something cold on your throat? I'll stay
here with Scott."
the brunet could protest, Murdoch took Teresa's hint and ushered his son
into the kitchen where he doused a cloth with cold water, just collected
from the well. The gunfighter did have to admit that the coolness
felt wonderful. The two men sat together at the kitchen table for
sometime before Johnny once again tried to talk. "Why. . .why. .
. ." but he didn't need to finish the thought.
did he try to choke you? I wish I knew. He must have thought
you were someone else."
. .b-beat him?"
Hopefully, when he awakes he'll be able to tell us."
right, Son, let's go see your brother if you feel up to it."
the rest of the day Scott Lancer had three nearly full-time visitors.
Teresa only left to make sure there was some food for them all.
As the shadows began to fall over the mountains of Lancer, the battered
body in the bed began to shift as if trying to find a more comfortable
position. With each shift, a grimace of pain crossed the badly swollen
face until the grimace seemed to be a constant fixture.
their collective breaths, the trio was rewarded when cerulean eyes opened
and took focus on the two men at the foot of the bed. The slight
smile that appeared was quickly lost in the agony of the bruise from the
slap. Tears began to collect in the cerulean eyes then were ruthlessly
blinked away as the dry lips opened to form one word, "So-rr-y."
The shadowed eyes then closed once again.
That night Murdoch insisted that Johnny get some sleep as he would take the shift. Sitting by the bed of his older son, the patriarch could barely see the thin outline under the covers. After some time, he reached up to cover his ears with his hands, but it did no good. He could still hear the cracking sound of the slap as he had struck his son, followed by the inconsolable sobs. Murdoch was not used to hearing a man cry. He hadn't cried himself even at the loss of Catherine or Maria and Johnny. Men were not allowed the same outlet under emotional distress, but hearing those sobs had terrified him. How could Scott ever stay at Lancer after being driven to such despair?
In the morning, as soon as Teresa put in an appearance, Murdoch Lancer rode out to console himself--as he had always done--by riding across the beautiful land which held his heart and soul.
O'Brien sat quietly in the chair beside Scott Lancer's bed. Some
mornings she would bring darning or piecework in with her, but this morning
she had brought nothing to keep her occupied. Somehow, she needed
to make sense of all that had happened the day before. At the center
of it was the tension that still existed as a result of the argument between
Murdoch and Scott. Teresa might be young but she understood Murdoch
Lancer quite well. In fact, he and her father, Paul O'Brien, had
been much alike--stoic men who despised weakness in themselves and barely
tolerated it in others. And yet, no one could be more thoughtful
and caring than the tall rancher who had taken Teresa into his home.
arrival of Johnny and Scott had tested the patriarch to the fullest.
To the rancher's chagrin, these unknown young men did not feel an immediate
allegiance to the man who had sired them. Each Lancer had had to
earn respect for the man he was. And that was the problem in Teresa's
opinion. The events of twenty years before had tainted the image
that both sons carried of their father and though that harsh image had
softened, it was still there lurking--always ready to lash out in hurtful
words and actions by one of the Lancers.
loved Murdoch dearly, but she sometimes rued his 'take it or leave it'
attitude. The rancher's disdain for apologizing or even discussing why
he had made his choices had made such a blow up inevitable. The tall
man needed to be in control, but the situation had moved beyond that to
the point where the Lancer bond might have been irreparably damaged.
in her thoughts, the young woman hadn't heard the door open. Johnny
stuck his dark head in the door. "Any change?"
he hasn't even moved."
the young man walked in to sit on the floor beside the bed.
don't you take this chair? I'm going to go make coffee and biscuits."
"Sounds good. Uh, Teresa, did Murdoch go back to his room?"
I think he rode out awhile ago."
I heard a horse early. He. . . hittin' Scott bothered him."
But he had no choice.. . .How's your throat, Johnny?"
be okay. I wouldn't of thought he could be so strong in his condition."
you do realize he must have thought you were someone else? He would
never hurt you."
think so, but like you said how well do I really know him?"
of annoyance crossed the lovely face. "Johnny Madrid, some things
have to be felt in the heart. If you don't know how important you
are to Scott, then you two have as much to talk about as he does with Murdoch.
Now, I'm going to make the biscuits. I'll be back as soon as I can."
kept her word. Forty-five minutes later saw Johnny munching on two
hot buttered biscuits, washed down with steaming black coffee. "There
are plenty more in the kitchen if you want them, Johnny," reminded the
is fine. Truthfully, my throat is still a might sore."
I wondered. Usually by now you've inhaled a half dozen."
must be thinkin' of Scott. He's the one. . .the one with no manners."
The brunet set the remains of his biscuit back on the plate. "Teresa,
what if. . .what if he doesn't get better?"
we are NOT going to lose him. It may take some time, but don't worry,
he'll be back to playing jokes on you before you know it."
does take a delight in teasin' me. 'Course, I always know he's doin'
it, but Boston gets so much pleasure thinkin' he's put one over on me,
that I just let him go ahead."
I'm. . .sure that's true. I'm going to go clean up the kitchen now.
If you need me, just holler."
and thanks for everything."
brown-haired girl walked towards the kitchen, she could only hope that
she had been telling the truth about Scott and the jokes. It would
be so easy for him to slip away.
Murdoch sitting at the table devouring biscuits, Teresa walked over to
sit down across from him. "Have a good ride?"
always so beautiful in the early morning."
is always beautiful."
tall man smiled. "Sometimes I think you love this ranch even more
than I do."
I know you're joking, but you and I have been very fortunate."
think so? We've both lost a lot."
course, but just think about all we do have."
sat silently watching his ward, then he ventured, "Teresa, do you think
I should contact Harlan Garrett?"
you think Scott's that. . .bad?"
. .I don't know, but I think Garrett has the right to know, in case. .
.in case. . . ."
. . ."
I'll give it some more time. I have to admit I wouldn't like to tell any
man something like that." Murdoch rubbed at his tired eyes
with one large hand.
don't you go in and get another hour's sleep. Johnny's in with Scott."
rancher nodded. "Maybe I will. You know, Teresa, I worry about
what Johnny will do if Scott dies."
watched as her guardian moved down the hallway towards the bedroom where
his two sons were.
he found the comforting sight of Johnny Madrid holding his brother's hand.
"How is he, Johnny?"
change. I guess I thought after he. . .after yesterday, he'd be wakin'
just have to be patient. Maybe his mind isn't ready to accept
what his body endured."
you could be right."
going to go lie down for awhile. Let me know if you need me."
passed and then the silence in the room was punctuated by a series of small
whimpers which became moans from the man on the bed. Shifting restlessly
as he had done the day before, Scott Lancer tried to escape the rising
level of pain in his back by turning over, but the severe blows that he
had endured made this impossible. Fortunately, someone nearby seemed
to recognize the problem and maneuvered him onto his side with his back
was propped against pillows. Even though he could still feel a trickle
of blood and sweat irritating the wounds, the relief of being on his side
was immediate. Struggling to open his eyes to thank the person who
had helped, Scott peered up into the face of his brother. "Th-thanks."
have thought of that before. You hurtin'?
doctor left some laudanum. You want any?"
The blond raised his hand to the bruise which started at the edge of his
mouth and made talking difficult. The hand then moved up to softly
touch the swollen eyes and nose. "Thought t-they'd k-kill me."
who did this to you?"
dead?" Scott, what happened?"
the blue eyes had closed once again.
Johnny returned to the chair where he remained until relieved by his father
in the early afternoon.
looking at his son made the tall man wince. His whole face was covered
in shades of black, yellow, plum, and blue. Especially disturbing
was the one at the edge of his mouth. Shaking off the thought, Murdoch
put on his glasses and started to read.
after awhile to rest his eyes in the subdued light, he was startled to
see two blue eyes staring at him from the battered face. "Scott?
Are you in pain?"
lips parted to form painful words, "A-angry at m-me?"
patriarch moved the chair closer. "I was, but things have changed."
in his room. Do you want to me to go get him?"
blond started to nod, a fine sheet of sweat broke out on the bruised face.
"Want to tell. . . ."
don't you just rest? Johnny knows you didn't mean to hurt him."
blue eyes opened wide in confusion. "Hurt J-johnny? Shifting
against the pillow, the blond man tried to force himself up.
by the sudden movement, Murdoch instinctively reached out to prevent the
slender man from trying to sit up. "Scott, listen to me. You're
in no shape to go anywhere. Lie back down and I'll go get Johnny."
eyes closed wearily. "T-tell him. . .t-ell him. . . ."
making sure that his older son would not try to get up again, Murdoch walked
down to his younger son's room. Johnny quickly accompanied his father
back to the room where he knelt down in front of his brother so that the
other man could see him clearly.
I am, Boston. Why'd you want to see me?"
glanced over at Murdoch. "It's okay, you thought I was someone else
Lancer started at the name. He had had business dealings with Grange
S-pur and F-rank."
friends are dead?"
Johnny could ask another question, the thin body under the blanket began
to tremble. "Don't. . .can't . . . ."
walked over to gently pat his son. "It's all right, Scott, you don't
have to think about it now. There's plenty of time." But the
blond did not hear the comforting words as he had escaped into sleep once
shorter man stood up to face his father. "What do you know about
this Grange Parker?"
lives down near Trench Gap. We've had a few business dealings,
but I've never had any trouble with him."
in for some now. As soon as I'm sure Scott's out of danger, I'm going
to head down that way and find out what he had to do with this!"
you are not! You could get yourself killed and that won't help Scott.
We're going to wait until Scott is able to tell us exactly what happened.
It's obvious that he's not thinking too clearly and we need to know the
truth before you go gunning for a respected rancher!"
the gunfighter's instincts told him to move now, but Johnny Lancer recognized
that at least for the time being, it would be better to wait so he backed
off in the face of his father's stand. "Okay but if Scott tells me
this guy was behind the beating, I'm going to Trench Gap and you're not
anything stop you, Johnny, short of an Act of God?" Murdoch Lancer
walked out of the room.
next three days passed slowly as Scott began to take in small amounts of
nourishment. His speaking continued to be halting and he avoided
talking about Trench Gap altogether. Frustrated by his brother's
reticence, Johnny stalked around the house like a caged lion.
end of the third day, Johnny was ready to defy his father and head off
to Trench Gap. He assured himself that he could handle the situation
without using his gun if absolutely necessary. He just needed to
for familial relations, mutiny did not become necessary. When
Johnny stopped in to say goodnight to Scott before heading to bed, the
blond man admitted that he needed his brother's help. Puzzled by
Scott's obvious reluctance to ask a favor, the brunet immediately assured
him he would do whatever he could.
relief was apparent even as he gave his brother an out. "D-don't
have to go with m-me, but not sure I. . .I can do it by myself."
G-Gap. N-need to find b-bodies. B-bury them."
why don't you tell me what happened?"
Isn't th-that enough?"
Johnny glanced up as Murdoch entered quietly. The rancher had assumed that Johnny had already gone to his room so he had come in to check on Scott before going to sleep. The younger man put a finger to his lips so Murdoch did not say a word to interrupt.
didn't even look up at his father. He seemed to be miles away--in
the small town of Trench Gap.
Suddenly, the blond's body tensed with anger. "Johnny, why. . .why c-can't you leave it alone? Do you n-need to hear what a miserable f-failure your brother is? I'll t-tell you and once you kn-know all the s-sickening d-details, you'll see.
to jail where F-Foster and J-Jacobs were. Sh-sheriff let me talk
to 'em. Spur ad-admitted he took cow. Was hungry. No
job." For an instant he clenched his eyes shut then continued, "Frank
tried to look out for him. Spur loved h-horses but was kinda slow
thinker. He was so sc-scared. I told 'em I'd pay for the cow."
covered the blond's face as he remember his confrontation with Grange Parker.
"Offered to pay, but he just laughed. Said M-Murdoch L-Lancer's son
should know that c-cattle rustlers hang. I. . .I begged.
S-said he'd drop charges. Rode to t-town. Spur 'n Frank were
sittin' on h-horses, ropes round necks. Tried to stop mob.
Men grabbed me, felt whip sting, saw horses move 'n they just hung there."
The last words raced off his tongue as if saying them fast made it hurt
was only silence in the room as Scott began to shudder uncontrollably.
as soon as you're strong enough I'd be proud to go with you to Trench Gap.
We'll find your friends."
A grim-faced Murdoch Lancer marched out of the room without looking at either son.
could see the concern in his brother's eyes. "Hey, Boston, don't
worry. He'll come around. Let me go talk to him."
as the dark-haired man walked into the great room, Murdoch went on the
attack. "John, how could you promise him that? He's in no shape to
make such a trip!"
not leaving tomorrow. He needs to do this and I'm not letting him
go on his own!"
just what do you plan to do if Parker comes after the two of you?"
"And what happens to your brother if you get killed?"
not gonna happen. Don't you have any trust in me? Do you think
I'd risk Scott getting hurt some more?"
might not be able to prevent it."
not but what's it gonna do to him if we don't try?"
had no answer for that. Hands on hips, the tall rancher stood there
thinking. "All right, maybe you're right, but he has to get well
first. Right now he couldn't make it out of the courtyard."
Don't worry, just trust me to keep him here. I have been known to
be cunning in my time."
"Well, this time you had better be as cunning as a fox!"
let me go tell him you've agreed."
I'll be in my room."
Madrid returned to his brother's side. The blond had somehow turned
over onto his stomach and had pushed his head straight into the pillow.
"Scott! It's all right. Murdoch's agreed to our going."
the slender man turned over to face the other Lancer. "Don't want
you to get hurt."
don't have to worry about me. Between the two of us, Parker will
be the scared one.
problem. We'll go as soon as you're feeling better."
Scott reached out to squeeze his brother's hand. "He doesn't have a ch-chance."
said it, Brother. Now get some sleep. I'll see you in
Johnny walked into the kitchen where he found Teresa drinking some hot chocolate before going to bed. With a few words, he informed the young woman about the proposed trip. Though shocked, she did not dispute the need for the ride. After that, Johnny went to his own room.
Teresa O'Brien walked to the door of her guardian's room and knocked.
When the tall man answered, she stalked right in. "Murdoch Lancer,
why did you agree to let those two go to that town?"
could I stop them? Johnny's right. Scott needs to do this.
Johnny will watch over him."
who is going to stop Johnny from getting into trouble? He means well
but that trigger finger of his doesn't always listen to reason."
"But if I tell them they can't go, they'll believe I don't trust them!"
not asking you to tell them not to go! You need to go with them!
Can't you see that?"
they'll be sure I don't trust them!"
is more important to you--what they think or that they both come back alive?"
you just don't understand. Men have to make their own choices."
give me that! I know you can do whatever you really want! The
question is what do you want?"
Lancer sank down on his bed. "I want both of my sons to survive."
tell Scott that you're going with them."
Knowing that he might be making a huge mistake, Murdoch decided that he could never live with himself if he allowed his sons to go off and face Parker alone. "All right, Teresa, I'll tell him. Let's just hope they both understand."
rancher walked slowly down the hallway to enter the blond's bedroom.
"Scott, could I talk to you for a moment?"
I did tell him that I agreed you should go, but I would also like to go
older man's surprise, Scott didn't even blink at the news. "Fine."
. .I thought you'd protest."
Want you to pr-protect Johnny. No m-matter what h-happens, keep him
s-safe. Not sure I can."
The sad admission curved Murdoch's lips into a small smile. "I promise. I'll make sure nothing happens to your brother."
A look of understanding passed between the two as Scott thanked his father.
story will be completed in the sequel, "Retribution."