Sarah had followed him in. His move had come so quickly that she had been caught right off guard. She stopped just inside the door and watched him. He was clearly distraught, and the anguish in his cry had startled her. It had come out of the blue, and was so out of character to the diffident young man she had been talking to.
Watching him stand at the doorway, she realised that Scott, at least, had nothing to fear from this man. Whether he was Scott’s brother or not, he certainly cared about him.
She watched as he lifted his head and looked again at the prone figure in the bed. He turned and seemed to pull himself together to approach the bed and then he took off his hat and tossed it on the chair as he passed it.
Sarah still had the rifle in her hands, but she realised she did not need it and silently leaned it against the wall. As she followed him as far as the doorway, Joe and Tom both tumbled into the house. She turned and reassured them, “It’s alright. Put the guns down.”
They stood protectively behind her, watching the stranger as he reached the bed and sat carefully on the edge.
“Scott?” he whispered gently, and then repeated it when he got no response. “Scott, can you hear me?”
Scott’s eyes flickered open at last and he turned his head very slightly to where the familiar voice seemed to be coming from. He frowned and tried to concentrate, but his eyes were blurred. Even so, fever or no fever, he knew that voice.
“Johnny?” he whispered.
“Yeah, it’s me,” his brother answered, with a weak attempt at a smile and a cheery voice.
The confusion in his eyes cleared but the frown remained. “What are you doing here?” he asked him.
“Got worried about you,” Johnny answered honestly. “Looks like I was right too.” His smiled broadened wryly. “Damn, you look awful, brother.”
Scott smiled. “I feel awful,” he answered.
Johnny felt Sarah’s presence before he noticed her approach. She stood quietly behind him, not wanting to intrude, but anxious that Scott should not exhaust himself.
Johnny put his hand on Scott’s forehead. The heat that his brother’s body was generating was so surprise, but it worried him. Scott flinched back at his touch. The move, this time, cost him dearly and he gasped from the pain the movement caused.
“Easy, Scott,” Johnny soothed him, resting his hand gently on his brother’s bandaged arm.
“Johnny,” he whispered painfully, “I had to stay.”
Johnny smiled. “I figured that already,” he told him, and glanced briefly at the young woman standing behind him. “I’ve seen her.”
Scott half laughed, and half coughed. “Sarah,” he said.
Johnny smiled at him again. “That her name? We ain’t been properly introduced yet.”
The smile on Scott’s face faded. “Help her Johnny,” he asked his brother.
“Sure,” Johnny told him. “You know me, anything for a pretty girl.”
“Thanks,” Scott whispered and a faint smile crossed his face.
He seemed to lose control of his breathing then and began to gasp for air. Johnny laid his hand on his shoulder and gently held him down, whispering calmly, “Take it easy,” until finally he began to breathe normally again.
Sarah gave Johnny the mug of water and he lifted his brother’s head gently off the pillow so that he could sip some of it. He held him until he had swallowed as much as could and then lowered him back down.
The painful spasm took its toll of Scott and he closed his eyes for a few moments. Sarah put her hand softly on Johnny’s shoulder and he nodded his understanding. He put down the mug and rose from the side of the bed. He was about to turn away when he heard his brother trying to whisper something to him.
He leaned forward but couldn’t make out exactly what he was trying to say. Only two words came to him clearly. He picked up the word “careful” and the other he knew only too well – Madrid!
“You get some rest, big brother,” he told him. “I’ll be back soon.”
Scott either did not hear, or was too tired to answer. He closed his eyes again and his head seemed to sink lower into the pillow.
Johnny picked up his hat and turned back to look again at his brother before he followed Sarah out of the room and faced the three of them. Sarah saw his demeanour change again. He was in control of himself and everyone around him.
“What did he mean – Madrid?” Johnny asked the three of them when he knew he was out of Scott’s hearing.
The three of them looked uncomfortable with the question, but it was finally Sarah who answered.
“He was probably trying to tell you that it was Johnny Madrid who shot him.”
“Madrid?” he exclaimed. “Are you telling me that Johnny Madrid is in these parts?”
“Yes, he led the raid on the ranch the other night and he shot Scott,” Sarah told him, the anger evident in her tone.
Johnny shot her a look of cold fury that took her breath away. “When did it happen?” he asked them angrily.
Sarah answered the question. “On Wednesday night,” she told him. “We were raided. They ran off the horses and started shooting at anything that moved.”
“And Scott moved,” he finished.
“He ran out to git me,” the older man explained, guiltily.
Johnny looked at him. If the little, gruff little man expected any sort of reprisal, he did not get it. It was no less than Johnny would have expected to hear of his brother.
“How bad is it?” he asked them.
Joe answered for them this time. “The bullet hit his collar-bone an’ busted it. That’s why he’s in so much pain I guess. Looks like the wound’s goin’ bad though.”
“What did the doctor say?” he asked with concern.
The three of them looked at each other, but none of them answered his question, so he repeated it. “What did he say?”
Sarah finally answered for them all. She could hardly bring herself to say the words. “He hasn’t seen a doctor.”
Johnny turned on her coldly. “What do you mean, he hasn’t seen a doctor? You just said that he was shot two days ago.”
She nodded desperately. “He wouldn’t come,” she tried to explain.
“The doctor? Are you telling me that bullet is still in his shoulder?” Johnny fumed.
“Yes,” she whispered. She wanted to explain, but she couldn’t.
Joe spoke up instead.
“We’ve b’n to town to bring him out here twice. He’s got a yella streak right down the middle of his back. Always says he’s too busy an’ he won’t do it,” he explained angrily. “Says we gotta bring him to town to see him. We’ve fixed the wagon up as comfortable as we can. We was fixin’ to take him when you turned up.”
“And how were you planning to do that with the bridge out?” Johnny demanded.
“There’s a ford downstream,” Sarah told him. “It’s longer, but we can cross there.”
“And there’s no road,” Johnny said, understanding the situation now.
Sarah nodded sadly. “We don’t have a choice. The doctor just won’t come out here. Madrid has threatened to kill him if he does.”
“He’s not going in that wagon,” Johnny told her with grim finality that stunned her. “Stay here with him. I’ll get the doctor,” he announced coldly. He was so sure of himself that Sarah felt that he couldn’t be seeing the situation clearly.
“You don’t understand. He won’t come. Joe even tried to bring him at gunpoint,” she explained desperately.
The little man grinned sheepishly. “Mighta worked too, ‘cept the sheriff got the drop on me an’ backed him up.”
Johnny looked at the little man curiously. At least they had tried. Trying and failing was no crime, but if he thought for a minute that they had just let Scott suffer without making a real effort to get the doctor, well, that would have been different.
He was beginning to understand what had been going on here. He did not know the whole story yet. There would be time enough for explanations later, but right now he had to get help for his brother.
“I’ll get him here,” he told them, with a self-assurance that convinced both Joe and Tom, if not Sarah.
Sarah remonstrated with him. “You don’t understand. There won’t be enough daylight to make the trip if you fail. We have to go now.”
“No,” Johnny told her flatly. He turned to her and, with a tone that reminded her of cold steel, said, “He’ll come.”
He brushed past the two men and left them all staring after him as he walked purposefully out of the door and swung up on the palomino and rode out.
None of them spoke for a while, and when the silence was eventually broken, it was Joe who voiced the opinion of them all. “Looks like a hard ‘un, that one,” he said. “Wouldn’t have picked him for Scott’s brother!”
Sarah agreed with him, but Tom, still staring out of the door, and considering the stranger, said “No, but I reckon that Doc Barnes just might accept HIS invitation.”
Johnny wasted no time on the ride into town. Despite being on the road all day, Barranca seemed to sense his urgency and gave Johnny everything he had. He galloped most of the way to Hobson’s Crossing, slowing at the ford on the edge of town but keeping up a trot until he reached the doctor’s office.
He dismounted and tethered the horse, patting his neck appreciatively as he passed and walked to the doorway. He took off his hat and put it back on comfortably. It was a habit he had. It gave him a chance to stop for a moment and gather his thoughts. Putting on that hat was almost like putting on Johnny Madrid. Sometimes he even thought of it that way. It was that easy to change persona.
From what he had heard back at the ranch, an appeal to this man was not going to work. Mostly, frightened men did not respond to pleas. Fear was too strong an emotion. But he had found, that frightened men could be made more afraid.
Well, he thought, if this man is frightened of a fake Johnny Madrid, let’s see how he feels about the real thing!
As he strolled leisurely into the doctor’s office, the doctor turned around from his back room and walked to meet him.
“You busy, Doc?” he asked carelessly.
The doctor approached him. “Not at all,” the doctor replied with a cheerful smile. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh, it ain’t me that needs you Doc,” he told him as he casually walked past him. “But there’s a man out at the Connolly Ranch who does. He’s got a bullet in him.”
Johnny turned back to face him. The doctor’s face had lost all of its colour. Johnny stood facing the doctor, and tucked his hands into his belt. The doctor had said nothing, so he continued. “He ain’t doing too good either, Doc, so you’d better come right now.”
The doctor shook his head nervously. There was something about this stranger that scared him. He couldn’t say exactly what it was. He spoke quietly. He dressed in Mexican style clothes that matched his dark looks, and he wore his gun tied low like a gunfighter – tied low for easy reach one assumed. His eyes were hard and, although he had offered no threats, he had a manner about him that made him appear dangerous.
“Oh, well, like I told Miss Connolly,” Barnes stammered, “I have too many patients to attend to here…”
“Well now, that’s funny,” Johnny said, with no hint of a smile. “I thought you just said you weren’t busy.”
Disconcerted, the man stumbled out with “Oh well, I…”
Johnny turned away from him and walked over to a big untidy desk, before turning back to face him.
“You got a brother, Doc?” he asked curiously and leaned back against the desk. He picked up a book off the desk and made a pretence of flicking through the pages, and then he looked over at the doctor, expecting an answer.
The only response he got was a nervous shake of the head. This hard-edged stranger was the coolest man the doctor had ever come across.
Johnny looked over at him. “Well I have,” he said calmly, “and, you know, as brothers go, he ain’t bad.” Johnny smiled before he continued, and the smile sent chills down the doctor’s spine. “In fact, I kinda like having him around.”
He put the book back on the desk and looked into the doctor’s eyes. “I wouldn’t like it if anything happened to him.”
This time the threat was obvious, and if the wounded hand at the ranch was really his brother, then he had to believe that this man was serious. The doctor began to panic. “It would be worth my life to go out there,” he told him fearfully. “They said they’d kill me if I did.”
Johnny slowly walked over to the and man slipped his gun from the holster. He stood in front of him and put the gun to the terrified man’s head and then he cocked it. “Well, you see,” he said coldly, “I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
Johnny was so close to the man that he could nearly feel him shaking. He could almost smell the fear on him, but he had no sympathy for him. If that was what it took, then so be it.
The doctor swallowed hard and tried to lean his head away from the gun. He stuttered out, “I..I’m no good to you dead!”
Johnny smiled, but the cold, hard threat in his eyes belied the smile. He replied coolly, “You’re no good to me alive either - unless you’re coming with me.”
The man surrendered instantly and nodded quickly and stuttered, “Okay, okay, just put the gun away.”
Johnny uncocked the gun and lowered it with satisfaction. “Where’s your horse?” he asked him.
The doctor heaved a sigh of relief. It took him a moment to answer. “I’ve got a buggy out back.”
Johnny shook his head. “No good. You won’t get it across the stream with the bridge down. Just saddle the horse.”
He nodded. “Alright, whatever you say.”
“Then get your things together and we’ll get going,” Johnny told him, slipping the gun into his holster and stepping back.
The doctor did as he was told and they were soon riding out of town together. They rode more slowly this time, while Johnny kept a close eye on the surrounding countryside. There was enough cover, in a few places by the sides of the road, for an ambush. He rode with the reins held tightly in his left hand, so that his right hand could sit comfortably within easy reach of his gun.
They rode in silence at first, and then the doctor ventured to ask a few questions.
“Is the wounded man really your brother?” he asked him.
Johnny’s answer was short and to the point. “Yep,” and then he added, “My name’s Garrett, John Garrett. Most folks call me Johnny.”
Barnes looked over at him. He hardly seemed like the same man who had held a pistol to his head. His whole demeanour had changed. He seemed almost friendly now.
“Johnny,” he said, warily, “you know I wanted to come sooner but...well…”
Johnny glanced over at him briefly. “But you were afraid,” he finished for him. “Yeah, I know.”
“Yes,” Barnes answered, and he shook nervously. “Johnny Madrid will kill me for doing this.”
Johnny did not even look towards him when he answered. “Johnny Madrid won’t kill you Doc. You’ve got my word on that.”
The doctor looked at him puzzled. “Are you sure you can stop him?”
Johnny smiled an enigmatic smile, one that the doctor could not interpret. “Trust me, Johnny Madrid ain’t gonna kill you.”
Half an hour out of town, Johnny reined in Barranca and put his hands on the doctor’s arm to stop him. Ahead there were three riders stopped on the road waiting for them.
The doctor panicked. “Oh God, I knew it!” he cried out in terror.
Johnny stopped and waited for them to come to him. As they grew closer, he asked the doctor, “Any of them Madrid?”
The doctor looked closely at the approaching men. One appeared to be Mexican, but he did not recognise him. “No, I don’t know any of them.”
“Alright,” Johnny said, “let me do the talking.”
The doctor nodded and waited tensely for the men to close the distance. They stopped only a few yards in front of them.
All three looked like men hardened to their trade. Johnny recognised the Mexican man, but the others were strangers to him. He knew Joaquin was no slouch with a pistol, but certainly not good enough to take him. He also knew that the man had recognised him and knew it himself.
The others, he guessed, were probably in the same category - men who were good with a gun, but not good enough to have a reputation of their own. They were the type of men who were usually sent out in a group like this.
Since he did not know them though, he couldn’t take the chance on going for his gun. None of them had their guns already drawn so he was certain that, on a good day, he could probably take all three without any of them getting to their guns, but they were an unknown quantity at this stage, and he was mounted as well, making it just that little bit harder.
He waited for them to start talking, but kept his eyes on Joaquin. The man had recognised him sure enough. He was nervous, and his horse had picked up on it and was dancing skittishly under him.
One of the other two said, malevolently, to the doctor, “You going for a ride Doc?”
Before the doctor could reply, Johnny answered the man coolly. “He’s with me.”
The man looked Johnny up and down and grinned. “Is that right? Well, I thought he was busy in town today.”
The doctor looked nervously in Johnny’s direction, but said nothing, just as Johnny had told him. The man beside him had turned back into the ice cold stranger he had been back in his office and he was amazed by the way he seemed to be able to transform at will.
“He was. Now he’s busy coming with me,” Johnny smiled coldly.
He turned his attention to Joaquin. Whether any of the others knew the truth or not, this man knew for certain that the man he was working with was neither Johnny Madrid nor Johnny Lancer. He had worked at the ranch for a couple of months a year ago. He had been fired for stealing from the other hands.
“Hola Joaquin,” Johnny said with cold civility.
“Hola senor,” he replied uncertainly.
“Usted necesita nuevos amigos, Joaquin!” Johnny told him, with a malicious smile.
The other men obviously neither understood Spanish, nor understood the reason he had directed the question at the man. They both glanced at Joaquin and could see that he was intimidated.
The man looked at his companions and then answered nervously, “Si senor.”
Johnny grinned. “Bueno, Joaquin! Vayase!”
The man looked again at his companions, but did not move immediately.
“Vayase!” Johnny repeated, and then snapped “Ahora!” The man quickly wheeled his horse around. Before he could go, Johnny called out one last instruction to him. “Hey, Joaquin,” he told him coldly, “No regresen.”
To the surprise of the other two men, the Mexican nodded eagerly and replied “Si senor, si!” and then he sank his spurs into his horse and galloped off in terror. They watched him go, then turned and looked at the stranger who had frightened him off so easily. He had not even pulled a gun on him.
Johnny turned his attention on them now. “Are you boys getting out of the way?” he asked coolly.
Neither was quite sure how to deal with him.
“Just who are you mister?” one of them finally asked.
Johnny grinned. “Why don’t you ask Joaquin?” he answered merrily, then added, “If you can catch him.”
The two men looked at each other, unsure of themselves. Joaquin had run off in fright. They had seen the fear on his face the moment that the stranger had spoken to him. If he could evoke that sort of fear, without even pulling a gun, then he was probably not someone either of them wanted to take on.
When neither of them spoke, Johnny did. “Now how about you two boys just ride on by us and head into town nice and easy. I’m not looking for any trouble.”
They looked at each other for a minute, considering their position, and then did as he said without a word. They rode forward and past both Johnny and the doctor, heading straight back towards town.
Johnny turned his horse around enough to be able to watch them until they were out of range, then he turned back to the doctor and breathed a sigh of relief. “Let’s go,” he said to the doctor, and urged Barranca forward.
“You bluffed them!” the doctor exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Johnny replied, “but they were second rate or it wouldn’t have worked.”
“The Mexican knew you. What did you say to frighten him like that?” the doctor asked, curious.
“I just told him he should find a better class of company,” Johnny replied innocently. “Now let’s get going. We’ve wasted enough time already.”
Sarah was worried. She had not left Scott’s side since his brother had left. The fever had taken hold. She had been at his side, bathing his face and neck with cool water, but it had had no effect – he was burning with fever.
He had begun to moan softly and toss his head from side to side and she feared that the infection was spreading more quickly now. She had both Tom and Joe outside keeping a lookout for Johnny, but she feared that they would not be able to get Scott into town now until daylight came again in the morning if they did not leave soon. They were running out of time.
Tom came to the doorway of the bedroom and looked in. She heard him and turned around to face him.
“He’s so much worse, Tom,” she told him anxiously, “maybe we should get him into the wagon now while there’s enough time to get him into town before dark.”
Tom looked at Scott, and considered it. He was getting worse all right. He could see it. He thought about it for a minute, and then replied, “I think we should wait till that brother of his comes back. I’ve got a feeling he might just do it.”
“What if he doesn’t Tom?” she pleaded.
“Then we’ll give him another half-hour to get here. If he ain’t here by then, we’ll get going in the wagon. There’ll still be enough light to get to the road before dark anyway,” he suggested.
Sarah was satisfied with that. She went back to tending to Scott and Tom went back out to his place with Joe.
Twenty minutes later, she heard Joe call out “Riders comin’!” and raced out to join them at the window in the drawing room.
“Can you see who it is?” she asked eagerly.
“One of ‘em’s riding a palomino, Miss Sarah,” Joe told her. “Bound to be Scott’s brother.”
She watched the road impatiently, waiting for a glimpse of the riders. Joe and Tom had their rifles handy just in case, but they were both sure that it was Johnny.
When at last the riders came into view, riding hard along the road, she breathed a sigh of relief and cried excitedly, “He did it! I don’t know how, but he brought him!”
She ran back to Scott. She didn’t want to leave him alone, even for few minutes. She took her place by his side again and took his hand. “It’s alright now Scott,” she whispered to him, hoping that he just might hear her. “The doctor’s here. You’ll be fine.”
Tears or relief filled her eyes, and rolled down her cheeks. Please God, she prayed, don’t let it be too late!
She heard Johnny burst into the house and ask the men apprehensively, “How is he?”
Joe answered him. “Worse, son,” he told him honestly. “Fever’s got real bad.”
Johnny said nothing but strode into the bedroom. He looked at his brother anxiously from the doorway, and then came in quietly, hat in hand.
Sarah brushed the unwanted tears from her cheeks. “We’d just about given up on you,” she said to him.
“Your man outside, Joe he says he’s worse,” Johnny answered tentatively.
She nodded. “Yes, but you’ve brought the doctor,” she said with relief.
Johnny nodded. His eyes had not left his brother.
“I don’t know how you did it, but thankyou!” she told him earnestly.
He still made no reply. He did not even look away when the doctor entered the room.
Sarah stood up and left the bedside to allow the doctor to take her place. He went immediately to work, removing the bandages, and revealing a welter of bright red around the angry-looking wound.
Scott continued to moan softly, but he did not seem to feel the doctor’s tender prodding of the wound. He had reached some place now where he was past feeling it.
When he had finished, he sat back, and then stood up and turned around to face them all. Sarah was standing by Johnny’s side in the room, and the other two men were waiting anxiously at the door. He took control of the situation and gave orders to all of them.
“Joe, get me some hot water and towels, please,” he began. “Tom, I want this lamp lit and get another one in here. There’s not enough light and one won’t be enough. Miss Connolly, clear all this stuff off this table and make some room, and I’d like you to stay and help me, if you don’t mind.”
She nodded and went about clearing the table for him.
He turned then to Johnny, who had said nothing, but stood by watching.
“I know what you must think of me, Johnny,” he admitted, “but I’ll do my best for him, I promise you. Trust me, okay?”
Johnny finally took his eyes away from Scott and looked into the doctor’s eyes, searching for something that would indicate that he really could trust him.
He must have found it, because he answered quietly, “Sure Doc.”
“Good. Now get out of here and let me do what I have to. There’s not enough room in here for all of you.”
Johnny seemed loath to leave, so Sarah, finished clearing the table, took him by the arm and ushered him out of the room. Tom brought the second lamp and handed it to her, and Joe arrived with the bowl of hot water and the towels he had brought. She ushered him in and he placed them on the table, and then went back out. Sarah shut the door and turned around to help.
In the kitchen, Tom and Joe got coffee and sat down at the table to wait. Joe put down a mug for Johnny as well and looked over to where he was standing. He looked lost.
“Come sit an’ have a coffee, son,” Joe said to him. “No point standin’ ‘round there. They could be a while.”
Johnny looked over at him and shook off the reverie that had taken over him. “Thanks,” he said quietly and went over to join them.
He tossed his hat negligently onto the fourth chair and sat down with them. They were all silent for some time, all thinking about Scott.
Then Joe looked up. “We ain’t b’n introduced son,” he said. “I’m Joe Nesbitt an’ this here string bean is Tom Rawlings. The lady in there is Miss Sarah – Connolly that is. She’s the boss.”
Johnny nodded. “Figured she was,” he told him. “I’m John Garrett – Johnny if you like.”
Tom spoke up at last.
"Johnny, we kinda wanted to say how sorry we are about what happened to Scott. He's a real good kid."
Johnny nodded, appreciating the sentiment. He knew how hard it was for men like these to express such things. "He's a big boy," Johnny told him.
"He knew what the risks were."
"Yeah, well, he saved my skin," Joe told him, guiltily. "I feel kinda bad about it."
Johnny looked closely at him. "Would you have done the same for him?"
"Sure!" Joe assured him, without even stopping to think about it.
"Then it doesn't matter does it," Johnny told him.
The brusque little man smiled with relief and then looked at him, intrigued. “So,” he said at last, “you gonna tell us how you got that doctor here?”
Johnny stared at the cup of coffee in his hands, then took a sip and answered with a short, “Nope.”
Joe turned to Tom, but got no backing from him. He turned again to Johnny. “Well, he ain’t beat to a pulp, an’ he ain’t got no bullet holes of his own I could see. In fact, he seems real friendly an’ considerate like,” Joe said.
“Yeah, I guess,” was all Johnny would say.
Joe laughed. “You know, son, you an’ that brother o’ yours is like chalk ‘n’ cheese!” he told him.
Johnny laughed with him. “Yeah, that’s b’n said before.” He looked back over his shoulder and back again to the table.
“They’ll be a while, son,” Joe told him again. “You gotta be patient.”
Johnny took another sip of the coffee. “That just ain’t something I’m good at I guess.”
He looked at the two men, and asked bluntly, “You wanna tell me what’s been going on here?”
Joe shook his head angrily. “Well, you might say we got trouble, son,” he said in gross understatement.
Johnny smiled. “I figured that out already too. What sort of trouble?”
“Well, Miss Sarah, she inherited the place when her Uncle died ‘bout six months ago,” Joe began. “That’s when it all started. Murdoch Lancer made an offer for the place, an’ she said no. Since then, them Lancers won’t stop at nothin’ to get at us.”
It sounded familiar to Johnny. It was pretty much what had been in the letter that Murdoch had shown them, but it told him nothing new. He wished that Scott could tell him everything that he had found out, but that was not likely to happen too soon.
“What sort of things?” he asked them.
“Well, look ‘round, son,” Joe told him tersely. “They b’n pullin’ down fences, burnt the barn the other night, an’ wrecked the bridge.”
“Has anybody else been hurt?”
Joe nodded. “Yeah, two others, but not as bad as Scott. They weren’t hurt much, just enough to scare ‘em into leavin’. Things have got worse this past week I reckon. Seems like everyday they’re up to somethin’.”
“Pushing just a little harder. Maybe they think she’s ready to fold.” Johnny answered.
Joe nodded sadly. “I reckon it could be.”
Johnny had heard it all before. Range wars were nothing new to him. In fact, he had made a good living out of them at one time – back in his gunfighter days. This, however, was different. This was personal. If it hadn’t been before, when the Lancer name was being bandied about, it was now – after Scott.
“So why is Murdoch Lancer so interested in this place? You got any idea?” he asked them.
Joe scoffed. “Sure, we know why. Water!”
Johnny frowned. “Water?” he asked, intrigued.
“That’s right,” Joe said, but added no more.
Johnny pried a little further. “Well, I thought LANCER had all the water they can use.”
Joe nodded. “Yep, that’s right, son. An’ most of it comes from that stream you crossed back an’ forth today.”
“You’re kidding me,” Johnny exclaimed. “That stream out there is the headwaters for the river?”
Joe nodded. “Most of it anyway. Come spring, that sweet li’l creek out there is a big ol’ river for a while.”
Johnny whistled. “That’d be a good enough reason alright,” he declared. “And what’s this about Johnny Madrid?”
Joe expression turned to stone. “He’s here alright. It was him led the raid the other night and shot Scott.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Oh, you know, mex, dresses all in black. Just don’t get near him. He’ll kill you quick as look at you,” Joe warned him.
Johnny said nothing, but he found it ironic that he, of all people, was being warned about Johnny Madrid. He thought about all the other times that he had heard about men using his name and reputation. He had never gotten even close to any of them.
This one he intended to find.
He sat quietly with them for a while and finished the coffee, but he couldn’t stand sitting around. He had never been one for patience, but this was more than he could stand.
He stood up and walked across the room to the drawing room and stood for a minute looking at the closed bedroom door. Then he paced back across the room to the front door and looked out into the shadows of the late afternoon.
The other men watched him moving broodingly around the room. Finally Joe spoke up.
“You really ain’t one for waiting, are you boy?” he commented.
Johnny turned around, surprised. “No, I guess not,” he admitted. “I just wish I knew what was happening in there.”
Tom spoke up at last, and Johnny was almost surprised to hear him speak. He had sat silently for so long.
“Say, Joe, why don’t you go out and see to those two horses out there while it’s daylight,” he suggested. “I’ll rustle up something for us all to eat.”
Joe thought it a good idea and rose from the table. “Johnny,” he said, “why don’t you come with me. It’ll take your mind off Scott.”
Johnny agreed and started for the door.
“No, Johnny,” Tom called, stopping him. “You stay here. Just in case there’s any news.”
Joe walked outside and walked the two horses over to the corral. Tom watched him go, and then turned around to Johnny.
“Come sit down, Johnny,” he said. “There’s some things I need to tell you.”
Johnny was intrigued enough to do as he said without argument. When he had taken his seat, Tom sat back down next to him.
“Joe can’t see past the LANCER name in this Johnny. But Scott,” he said with interest, “he has some other ideas.”
“Like Gabe Tessman. He’s Miss Sarah’s lawyer. Scott got this idea that maybe he’s the one behind it and he’s using LANCER as a blind,” he explained.
“And do you agree with him?” Johnny asked, wondering if Scott had an ally here.
“I don’t know. What I do know is that they don’t like each other. Part of that is about Miss Sarah, I guess, but they really didn’t take to one another.”
“About Sarah, hey? Well, that’s my brother alright,” Johnny said with a smile.
“Anyway,” Tom continued, paying little heed to his reaction, “the night Scott was shot, I heard one of the raiders point out Scott to Madrid. I think they were gunning for him.”
The man had Johnny’s attention now. “Is that so?” he said quietly, and a stone cold chill ran right through Tom.
Tom looked at him strangely. “You know, Johnny, Scott said he’d know Madrid if he saw him. In fact, the last thing he said before he passed out that night was to me.” He watched Johnny’s reaction carefully. “He just said ‘It wasn’t Madrid’.”
Johnny showed no surprise and Tom stared at him for a while.
Johnny noticed. “You got something more on your mind, Tom?”
Tom scratched his chin while he considered his answer, and he eyed the stranger before he replied.
“Well,” he began carefully, “it seems to me that Murdoch Lancer has two sons. I ain’t heard much about the other one, ‘cause everyone around here is only talking about Madrid. But it seems I heard somewhere that them two boys ain’t much alike.” He stopped to gauge the reactions of his listener, but Johnny said nothing. He just looked back at him through narrowed eyes, so Tom continued. “Seems to me I heard the other son was from back east somewhere and a real educated fellow.”
“Go on,” Johnny prompted, showing no apparent emotion.
“Well, it seems to me, that if Madrid ain’t the real thing, and LANCER ain’t really behind all this, and old man Lancer got wind of it, well he just might…”
Johnny looked him in the eye and Tom was a little unnerved. “He just might what?” Johnny prompted again.
Tom went for broke and spat it out. “He just might send his boys up here to check it out,” he said in a rush.
Johnny sat back in the chair and considered the man. A smile broke over his face and his eyes lit with delight. “Tom, you surprise me,” he said with a grin. “You know that if what you’re saying is true, and I ain’t saying it is of course, that makes me…”
Tom nodded. “I know. Johnny Madrid.”
The smile had not left Johnny’s face. He shook his head. “Does Scott know what you were thinking?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“And just exactly how long have you suspected,” Johnny asked.
“Well,” he answered slowly, “Scott never did look much like a drifter.”
Johnny smiled at the remark. “Yeah,” he replied, “’Boston’ ain’t never done much in the way of driftin’.”
Tom nodded and smiled with him. “Well, he seemed to know an awful lot about those fancy books of Miss Sarah’s, and then he got real interested in Madrid. I was pretty sure, though, when I heard him call you ‘Johnny’.”
Johnny looked at the man and tried to weigh his options. “You know Tom, you might not say much, but it sure is worth hearing.”
Tom grinned broadly. “Joe does enough talking for the both of us,” he answered.
“Have you said anything about this to anyone else?”
Tom shook his head emphatically. “No.”
“Then don’t, not yet,” Johnny suggested. “I got a rat to catch first.”
“You mean Madrid?”
Johnny smiled, but this time his eyes were cold and hard. The change came so quickly that it shocked Tom. “No, he won’t be hard to find. It’s his boss that I want.”
Tom watched his eyes, mesmerized. “You know something Johnny,” he said at last. “I’ve been hounded by this Johnny Madrid for damn near six months and I’m telling you right now, he’s mean. But you,” he told him decisively, “you’re dangerous!”
Johnny smiled enigmatically and softly answered, “I know.”
By the time the door was finally opened and the doctor emerged, Johnny had just about worn out both himself and the floorboards. He jumped up from the chair he had finally taken refuge in, anxious for news.
“Well?” he demanded impatiently.
The doctor approached him and frowned. “Well, Johnny,” he began seriously, “the bullet had broken his collar bone all right. The bullet was wedged in it. I got it out, and a few bone fragments as well, but the wound has festered. I cleaned it out as much as I could.”
“Will he be alright?” Johnny asked him nervously.
The doctor sighed. “He’s got a high fever right now, and the infection has spread considerably. I don’t think his lungs are affected, which is good news, but he’s pretty sick. We’ll have to wait and see if that fever breaks.”
Johnny looked towards the bedroom. “Can I see him?”
“Sure,” the doctor said enthusiastically. “Sit with him for a while if you like. I don’t think he’ll know you’re there, but if it makes you feel better do it.”
As Johnny passed by him, he added, “Johnny, I’m sorry. I wish I had come sooner.”
Johnny stopped and turned to face him. “You were probably right to be afraid. They might have killed you.”
“If I’d been with anyone but you, you mean?”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe, but I appreciate what you’ve done for him.” He turned and went into the room, and the doctor followed behind him.
There was a sweet, pleasant sort of smell in the room that had not been there before. The doctor noticed the puzzled expression on his face and explained. “That’s chloroform you can smell. I used a little to sedate him. It was a little risky, in his condition, but not as risky as doing that kind of surgery with him moving around.”
Johnny nodded briefly and looked at his brother. He was flushed with fever, and he was deeply unconscious, but he looked peaceful.
Sarah was still clearing things from the table when he came in. She looked pale and sad, but she smiled when he came close. She pulled the chair close to the bed as if she knew already that he wanted to stay.
“Sit down, John,” she said kindly.
“Thanks,” he said automatically. Then he pulled himself together. “Tom’s put together some supper if you want it. I’ll stay here for a while.”
He pulled the chair a little closer and sat down, while Sarah and the doctor left the room quietly.
Johnny sat contemplating his brother in silence. They had grown close over the last couple of years. Sometimes he even forgot that Scott had not always been there. The idea of Scott not being there in the future was more than he could bear.
It was a miracle that he had a brother at all. He had grown up alone and had thought he would always be alone. Now here they were, with so little in common in some ways, but best friends just the same.
He thought about all the things he and Scott had missed out on by growing up apart. He sometimes watched boys playing in town - chasing each other, wrestling in the dirt, challenging each other to do stupid things, and getting bawled out, side by side, by the their parents. They had never had any of those experiences that bond brothers together as they grow up.
Instead they had each grown up separated by thousands of miles and completely different cultures, each unaware that the other even existed.
Of course, they had pulled off a couple of really stupid stunts together since they had met. He smiled as he remembered them. Still, meeting as adults, it had been harder for them to connect as brothers. They had become friends first, and out of that friendship had grown their relationship as brothers.
He thought, too, about the times when he had turned his back on LANCER and nearly thrown it all away. Right now, he wished that he could take back the hurt that he must have caused them then.
No, it would not be fair to lose him now. They had so much left to do together, so much more fun to have. He wasn’t going to lose him. If he had to he would keep him alive by sheer force of will.
“Stay with me, big brother,” he whispered to him. “You ain’t going nowhere yet.”
Sarah prised Johnny away from the bedside when she came back. It had been decided that Dr Barnes would stay with Scott through the night and watch him, while Sarah and the others got some sleep. She had already sent both Joe and Tom back to the bunkhouse. Johnny, however, was reluctant to leave his brother.
“Come outside to the kitchen and let Doctor Barnes watch him,” she suggested gently.
The doctor had followed her into the room and he added, “If he needs you, Johnny, I’ll call you. You have my word on it.”
When he didn’t move, but kept his eyes on his brother, Sarah tried again.
“Johnny,” she said quietly to him, “he’s better off with the doctor by his side.”
Johnny looked up at them both and finally relented. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he admitted and rose from the chair. He took one last look at Scott before leaving the room with Sarah. Scott hadn’t moved at all, or made a single sound in the time Johnny had sat with him. Whether that was bad or good, Johnny did not know, but he hoped it meant that he was resting easy.
He followed Sarah out of the room and into the kitchen.
“Sit down,” she ordered him determinedly. “I’ll make some fresh coffee.”
“Thanks,” he said quietly and took a seat.
In minutes she had returned with two mugs of coffee. She placed on in front of him, and then sat down with the other one. Johnny looked at the mug, but had no real inclination to drink it. He held it in one hand and studied it as though looking for something in the mug.
“You’re close to your brother, aren’t you John?” Sarah said, more as a statement than a question.
Johnny did not look up. “Yeah,” he answered simply, and without having to think about it. “I guess we are.”
“I wish he’d never come here,” she said unexpectedly.
This time she got his attention. He looked across the table at her and frowned in bewilderment.
It was her turn to study her coffee. “Because then he wouldn’t have been hurt,” she answered sadly. “It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, none of this would have happened.”
“Ma’am…” he began to answer, but she cut him off.
With tears in her eyes she said to him, “Not ma’am, it’s Miss.” She smiled wanly, “Scott says I say that all the time. Please, call me Sarah.”
He smiled at her. “Sarah, then,” he replied. “He must have known what he was signing on for when he started.”
She nodded. “I know, but things have gotten so much worse this past week. I should have sold out before it went this far.”
Johnny shook his head. “No Sarah, you can’t blame yourself for holding on to what’s yours.”
“I’m a fool,” she said in despair. “I should have known I couldn’t hold out against Murdoch Lancer. I should have sold out when he first started getting rough.”
Johnny felt a surge of outrage at the mention of his father’s name. If there was one person who knew what she was going through, it was Murdoch. He had lost a lot of good men, and Paul O’Brien, his best friend and Teresa’s father, had been killed fighting to save LANCER in just this same kind of situation.
Murdoch would never stoop to these levels, and inside he screamed to be able to tell her so. He was not always good at hiding his anger, and he fought hard against to inclination to forget everything and assure her that LANCER was not behind her problems. He took a moment to get himself under control before he answered her.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re fighting against Sarah, big or small. This place is yours and you should fight for it.”
She ran her hands across her head and replied. “It doesn’t matter any more Johnny. Like I told Scott the other night, I can’t afford to keep it.”
“And what did he say to that?”
“He said that he could get some money, but he didn’t say how. I wouldn’t ask him to anyway.” She smiled briefly. “I kidded him that perhaps he planned to rob a bank.”
Johnny laughed. “No only trains,” he remarked, the memory of one of the ‘stupid stunts’ alive in his mind.
She looked at him curiously. “That’s what he said. Did he really?”
Johnny smiled. “We did once, kinda,” he laughed. “But not for money or anything,” he assured her “and in a good cause.” Embarrassed, he added, “It’s a long story.”
Sarah smiled at the thought of it. “I can’t imagine him doing something like that.”
Johnny laughed again. “Neither could we,” he told her. “I think I know what he has in mind though. Don’t sell out just because of the money. Don’t do it if you really want to keep the place.”
She sighed. “I do love this ranch, Johnny. I don’t know if you understand what I feel about this bit of land. Uncle Tim spent half his life building it. It was all he had and he left it to me.”
He nodded. “Sure, I understand,” he told her, and he did. He felt the same way about LANCER, and so did Scott and, of course, Murdoch. Murdoch loved it so much that he had been prepared to swallow his pride and pay both of his sons to come home and help him to keep it. It suddenly occurred to Johnny just how hard that must have been for him to do. He looked at her. “Then don’t sell. We’ll figure something out between us, but you hold onto this place.”
Sarah smiled gratefully. “I was wrong. You are like your brother.”
Johnny said nothing in reply. She watched him toy with the mug.
"You should get some sleep," she told him. "He's in good hands with the doctor watching him."
"I know that, but I want to be here if he needs me," Johnny explained.
"So do I," she replied sympathetically, "but we have to be realistic. We can't all stay up all night and be there for him tomorrow as well."
He made no reply so she assured him, "If he wakes or needs you, the doctor will come for you. Right now, you need some sleep." She could see that she still had not convinced him, so she added, "And what if there's any trouble? You don't want to be half asleep!"
He put down the mug and, without looking up, he replied reluctantly, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s just that…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, but Sarah understood. “Go and try to get some sleep. There’s plenty of room over in the bunkhouse. I’m going to try to get some sleep myself.”
He picked up his hat from the chair and stood up. With a last look towards the closed bedroom door, he turned away and walked out of the house, closing the door behind him.
Morning found the doctor nearing exhaustion, but satisfied with his patient. As the chloroform had worn off, Scott had become more and more restless throughout the night. The fever had risen and it had been all that Doctor Barnes could do at times to hold him down as he thrashed around.
Scott had been mumbling incoherently for most of the night, and a couple of times he had called out. For the most part, the words made no sense, but he had picked out Johnny’s name a few times and he recognised the name ‘Madrid’ as well.
He was always surprised by the strength a very sick man could raise when in the grip of delirium. Scott writhed about wildly, and his breath had come in short rasping gasps that quickened into exhausted panting when he wore himself out. He would fall back in exhaustion, only to start all over again later.
It had gone on until the doctor had doubted that his patient could hold on much longer. With each bout of delirium, Scott had become weaker and weaker during his recovery time. The doctor had come close to calling to Sarah for help a couple of times, but he had managed alone without having to disturb her.
Scott had settled down into a deep sleep just before dawn, and shortly after, the doctor had noticed that he had broken out in a sweat. It was the first good news he had had since he had gotten here. The fever had finally broken, but with that sweat had come new fears. He had gone for Sarah then. Together they had dried him down and changed the bedclothes. A chill now could lead to pneumonia in his weakened state.
Sarah had left him then and gone out to get some coffee and make up some breakfast for him. As the sun rose, they were both satisfied that he was comfortable and improving. He was breathing quietly and evenly again.
Will Barnes had wanted to do this alone if he could. He felt he owed it to his patient, and to the others. He felt a terrible weight of guilt that it had gone this far. Johnny had terrified him yesterday, there was no denying that, but he had also given him the chance to make up for it. He was grateful for that.
The man baffled him. He seemed to be able to switch from a cold, hard killer, to an amiable, easy-going young man, as the situation demanded. It appeared that, if Johnny did not forgive him for not coming in the first place, he, at least, seemed to understand the fear that had driven him.
After the show Johnny had put on yesterday in his office, it seemed strange to realise it, but he liked the young man. It would feel good to be able to give him good news about his brother.
His chance soon came. It was soon after dawn when Johnny, Joe and Tom came over. Sarah had closed the bedroom door so that Scott could sleep without being disturbed, and Doctor Barnes had stayed with him.
Sarah beamed and gave them all the good news. “It’s alright Johnny,” she told him cheerfully. “The fever broke this morning.”
She watched his face intently, and, for just a moment, she thought she saw a wave of pure joy cross it, but the stoic façade replaced it in an instant.
“Can I see him?” he asked her, with no apparent show of emotion. He didn’t fool her though. She had had a glimpse what lay behind that cool exterior.
“Sure, why don’t you take over for Doctor Barnes? He’s exhausted,” she answered. “But go in quietly, Scott’s still asleep, and we want him to get as much rest as he can.”
Johnny casually threw his hat on a chair in the drawing room as he passed and left the other men. He knocked softly on the bedroom door and opened it.
Scott lay quietly sleeping, while the doctor sat in a chair nearby. Scott’s face was still flushed, but not too bad. He appeared to be sleeping comfortably and relief washed over Johnny like a cooling breeze.
The doctor rose quietly from his chair as Johnny entered, and walked over to meet him.
“He’s sleeping now,” Barnes whispered to him confidently. The fever broke just before dawn. His temperature is still pretty high, but it’s coming down.”
Johnny looked from his brother’s face to that of the doctor in front of him. “Then he’s going to make it?” he asked quietly.
The doctor grinned. “Sure he is,” the doctor told him with delight. “He had me worried for a while there, but he’s over the worst of it now.”
Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. "Thanks Doc," he said softly. "Thanks a lot."
"My pleasure, Johnny. I haven't felt so good about my work for a long time," he replied.
"Why don't you get some sleep then? I'll stay with him."
"Sure, but try not to wake him. He needs the rest," he started to walk out the door. "When he does wake, let me know. I'll have to change those bandages."
After the doctor left the room, Johnny closed the door behind him and sat down in the chair by the bed watching his brother. Scott looked tired and thinner that he should, but fighting off a fever for three days will do that. He hadn't moved nor uttered a sound since Johnny had come in.
Johnny made himself as comfortable as he could in the chair. He could be here for some time. He stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles and leaned back, folding his arms across his chest and settled in for a long wait.
Some time later, there was soft tap on the door and it quietly opened to reveal Sarah standing in the doorway with a cup of coffee in her hand.
"I thought you might like this," she whispered and softly swept into the room to hand it to him.
He noticed, now that he had relaxed, that today she was dressed demurely in a pretty blouse and a skirt. Her hair was pulled back neatly and there was bloom to her cheeks that brought out the twinkle in her blue eyes. She was a handsome woman, especially when she made a real effort, and she obviously had today.
He thought about the dusty 'tom-boy' who had met him yesterday at the door with that big old Henry .44 rifle pointed at him, dressed in blue jeans and with her hair straying from its bonds in all directions.
He didn't suppose that it was for him that the effort had been made.
Her eyes had gone straight to his brother when she entered the room. No, big brother had made an impression on her, that was obvious.
"Thanks," he said as he took the coffee cup. "I'll go to town later and send a wire to my old man. Let him know Scott's okay. I'll see that the Doc gets back okay."
"Oh, I sent Joe and Tom to check the fences again," she told him. "We've had a lot of trouble with them and we've been losing stock."
"Don't worry about it, I'll wait till they get back." He had no intention of leaving her and Scott alone at the ranch. She looked pretty mean with that rifle in her hands, but she would be no match for someone really intent on doing her harm, especially if, like the gunmen he had come across yesterday, they were travelling in packs.
"Is Doc Barnes asleep?" he asked.
"Yes, he was exhausted," she told him. She looked again at Scott and added "I think he had a rough time with him last night."
Johnny nodded and smiled. "He's stronger than he looks."
The quiet in the house was disrupted by the sound of riders coming. Sarah swung around in fright, and Johnny leapt out of the chair. They both hurried out of the room and Johnny closed the door as quickly and quietly as he could behind them.
Sarah ran for the rifle and rushed to the window. The horses were close now, and there were too many of them to be Joe and Tom returning unexpectedly. Sarah pushed the curtain aside, and Johnny closed the front door before joining her at the window.
As they came into sight she counted the horses and gasped. “Johnny, there are four of them!” Then she noticed one of the horses was a black and recognised the rider. She turned to Johnny in fear and whispered a warning. “One of them is Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny pushed the curtain further aside so that he could see – himself. It was a strange sensation. As they drew closer he could see that the rider of the black was Mexican, and dressed all in black clothes. He had no idea where that notion had come from. It certainly wasn’t any part of his own reputation – a little too dramatic for his taste.
Johnny watched them ride into the yard and pull up at the front porch. None of them dismounted and Sarah turned and held the rifle tightly. She looked at Johnny and realised he had no rifle, only the pistol in his gun-belt.
“There’s another rifle in my uncle’s room,” she told him quickly.
Johnny made no move to get it. “I prefer what I’ve got on,” he explained nonchalantly. “Rifles are fine for hunting - this is all I need for up close work. It’s more personal.”
She didn’t understand him and went instead to the door.
Johnny grabbed her by the arm. “You’re not thinking of going out there I hope,” he demanded.
Sarah turned her defiant eyes on him. There was fire in those eyes, and Johnny was taken by surprise.
“Of course I am. Did you think I’d cower in here?” she declared with a dangerous ‘don’t argue’ tone in her voice. “Who do they think they are – riding in like they own the place?” She turned defiantly back to open the door. “Well, I still own this place, Johnny, and it’s time they knew it.”
Johnny held her back. "Sarah, there are four of them this time."
"They haven't started shooting women yet, Johnny," she argued.
"Yet," he repeated.
"I've done it before remember," she insisted. "You seem to forget that we have lived this way for the last six months."
"Alright," he agreed reluctantly, "but leave that door wide open and if things get rough, you high tail it back in here."
She nodded and opened the door, while Johnny watched from behind. He didn't recognise any of those men, but that did not mean that they would not know him. He wanted the advantage of surprise when he faced them. He kept to the shadows and waited for the just right moment to go out there.
Timing could be everything. He had no intention of leaving Sarah out there alone with 'Johnny Madrid'.
Sarah had the rifle raised, aiming it squarely at 'Madrid' before she was even fully out the door. Johnny admired her courage, but it was wrong that she had to be in this position in the first place. He fought down the anger he was feeling. There was no place for it now. Anger brought mistakes, and he couldn’t afford any now.
"What's going on?" he heard from behind him. "Did I hear horses?"
Turning, Johnny saw the doctor coming from Sarah's bedroom where he had been sleeping. He was barely half awake but he walked over to join Johnny.
"Madrid and some of his men have shown up," Johnny explained briefly.
The doctor looked around him anxiously. "Where's Sarah?"
Johnny nodded his head towards the door.
Barnes was horrified. "Are you crazy? Letting her go out there!"
"Maybe," he agreed. "Why don't you go watch Scott for me? I'll watch out for Sarah."
The doctor looked like he would argue for a moment, but he agreed and went into the bedroom with Scott, while Johnny turned back to keep an eye on Sarah.
"Stay right where you are!" he heard Sarah call out to them. She stood her ground and the four of them stayed on their horses facing her.
The man who had been pointed out to him as 'Madrid' was definitely Mexican, and he was dressed in a similar style to what Johnny himself wore, but all black, right down to his shirt. When he finally spoke, he had a heavy accent. Obviously, no one had bothered checking their facts before setting him up as Johnny Madrid.
"Senorita," 'Madrid' said silkily, "we have come for a friendly visit. Is this how you welcome us?"
"You're not welcome here, Mr Madrid," Sarah declared stonily.
The man grinned. "Senorita, we mean you no harm," he said and began to dismount, arrogantly ignoring the rifle.
"I said stay where you are," Sarah repeated coldly. "Don't bother getting down."
One of the other men laughed and 'Madrid' dismounted anyway. He stood beside his horse and continued to grin. "That is a big gun for such a pretty little lady, Senorita," he sneered, "perhaps I can help you with it."
Johnny, watching from inside, decided the time was right. They were calling her bluff and his appearance now should catch them on the back foot. In a moment he had slipped back into character and he stepped out into view.
The Mexican's grin vanished as he saw Johnny emerge from the house. Instead, he watched him suspiciously as he strolled through the door.
‘Madrid’ saw that he walked with a cat-like grace, apparently unconcerned about being outnumbered so badly. The stranger said nothing, but leaned carelessly against the support post, beside Sarah, with a hard look in his eyes that told him to be wary of him.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah caught a glimpse of Johnny beside her. She remained resolutely in her place, but was distracted by his appearance. She glanced over to see what it was about him that had caused such consternation among the riders.
She was astonished by the change in Johnny. Gone was the pleasant young man she had become accustomed to and in his stead stood a man with the coldest eyes she had ever seen. They held her mesmerised by their steely blue gaze. He seemed so tense, and yet he stood so nonchalantly; leaning against that post. Everything about him emanated danger.
Finally, he spoke, and his voice had a quality about it that allowed no room for argument.
"Go inside, Sarah," he ordered, without turning his head at all. He didn't take his eyes off the men in front of him even for an instant.
She turned her head towards him, but made no move to do as he told her. So he repeated the order, with a curt "Go inside, and shut the door."
After another moment of hesitation, she did as he told her. She lowered the gun and went back in and shut the door behind her. He didn't turn to watch her go, keeping an eye on the strangers instead, but he heard rather than saw the grating sound of the window being raised so she could rest the rifle on the ledge and back him up.
'Madrid' looked the new man up and down, taking stock of him. He was professional enough himself to recognise the demeanour of another gunfighter. He didn't know him, but he knew enough to be on his guard.
“So, you are the man I have heard about, eh?” ‘Madrid’ asked.
Johnny stared coldly at him. “Maybe,” he replied softly. “You didn’t bring my friends with you I see.”
“Cowards!” the man spat. “I ride with men!”
“Yeah, so I see,” Johnny agreed, with a smile that held no humour at all, and a quick sideways glance at the other riders. “Lots of ‘em! You sure brought plenty of men along to back you up against the woman!”
The Mexican stiffened at the insult. “You go too far, Senor,” he growled. “I think perhaps you don’t know who I am!”
Johnny studied the man closely, watching him for any sign of a move for his gun. ‘Madrid’s hand hung lazily by his side, but it was his eyes that Johnny watched – looking for that flicker he could always spot in the instant before a man made that move.
“I think maybe you don’t know who I am either,” Johnny told him.
The Mexican watched him carefully, and then he announced, “I am Johnny Madrid!”
Johnny controlled himself. He steadied his breathing until the anger faded away. Anger was the enemy. Emotions were the enemy. Concentration was what he needed now. He took a breath to clear his mind and pushed the man a little harder.
“Well, well,” he answered lazily, “and when did Johnny Madrid start goin’ after women?”
It was enough. There it was! The flicker he had been waiting for. It was just enough warning to give him an edge. The Mexican went for his gun, and he was fast. Johnny was faster.
Those watching would swear later that they drew as one. Johnny ducked in a crouch as he drew and fired one shot. The bullet tore the pistol from the Mexican’s hand and the man screamed in pain as the bullet bored on through his hand. His own bullet went harmlessly into the air, and Johnny swung around to cover the remaining three men. One of them already had his hand on the butt of his pistol.
“I wouldn’t do it,” he warned in a low icy voice, and the man eased the gun back into its holster and lifted his hand well away from it.
Johnny turned his attention, and his gun, onto them. ‘Madrid’ he discounted. The man couldn’t hold a gun, and maybe never would again.
Johnny stood up slowly, watching them closely for any move.
“I’ve got five left,” he told them coolly, “and three of you – just a matter of who wants to go first.”
None of them moved, except to steady the shying horses.
“Who are you mister?” one of them asked at last.
“Not important,” he answered, with irony. He nodded to the rider closest to ‘Madrid’. “You,” he ordered, “get down – real slow – and get your friend Mr Madrid onto his horse. I want all of you out of here.”
The ice in his voice was enough to get the man to do as he was told.
“And no sudden moves, or I’ll make you the first.” Johnny added for good measure.
The man knew he had no chance against him, even if he had not been holding the gun in his hand already. The three of them, together, might have stood a chance of getting him, but just as he had warned them, they would go with him.
The Mexican was put on his horse, still holding his bleeding hand and cursing Johnny loudly. Then the other man climbed back on his own horse. He watched Johnny the whole time, knowing that that menacing gun was pointed at him every second, just waiting for him to try something.
Johnny smiled menacingly and ordered, “Right, now save me the ammunition and just get out of here. Pronto!” and with that they swung their horses around and galloped off down the road.
He watched them until they were out of sight, before he holstered the gun and relaxed, breathing slowly out and running his hands through his hair to unwind. I’m out of practice, he thought privately, and turned and opened the door.
As he walked back in through the door, Johnny saw that Doctor Barnes had come back into the room, but it was Sarah who pounced on him.
"You beat him!" she exclaimed in a flurry of excitement. "You out-drew Johnny Madrid!"
Johnny ignored her and turned straight to the doctor. "Scott?" he asked anxiously.
The doctor reassured him. "He's fine. He's still asleep."
Sarah pulled him around to face her. She had tossed the rifle away in her excitement and her face was flushed with a mixture of relief and wonder.
"Johnny, you out-drew Johnny Madrid! How did you do it? Everyone said it couldn't be done!"
Johnny sighed. "There's always someone faster, Sarah," he told her patiently.
She stopped, surprised by his attitude. "But Johnny, that was Madrid you beat!"
He stood, stock still, and he ignored her. Her words grated on him.
Johnny walked over towards the table. "Sarah, I couldn't beat Johnny Madrid on my best day. It's not possible."
Sarah’s face lit up. “But you did! Johnny I’ve never seen anything like it. You were so fast!”
He leaned back against the table, and he told, "That wasn't Johnny Madrid, Sarah."
Sarah was stunned. The doctor looked at him curiously, the hint of a suspicion occurring to him, but he said nothing.
"What do you mean - not Johnny Madrid? Of course it was!" She declared.
Johnny shook his head. "No."
She refused to believe it. "Johnny, you heard him stand there and tell you..."
Johnny nodded and he answered, "I know, I know. He lied."
She stared at him in puzzlement. "How do you know?"
There was an edge to her voice that warned him that she was suspicious.
“Johnny, I don’t understand,” she said suspiciously. “If he’s not Johnny Madrid, who is he? And how do you know?”
He didn’t answer, but looked at her uncomfortably. He looked towards the doctor and saw what he thought was recognition in his face, but he seemed neither surprised not concerned by it.
Sarah, on the other had, was beginning to be very concerned.
“Answer me Johnny, how do you know?” she demanded, and this time, there was a touch of anger in her voice.
Johnny looked down for a moment and took some time to think about it. He came to the decision that it was time to end this farce. Scott would undoubtedly be angry. He would probably have preferred to tell her himself, but he would deal with that later.
He looked up and met her questioning eyes and held them while he told her bluntly, "Because I AM Johnny Madrid."
He watched for her reaction, but she gave nothing away immediately. She stood staring at him, denial and bewilderment in her eyes.
"No," she whispered weakly. "No you can't be."
He could see the distress evident in her face. "Sarah..." he began, but she stopped him.
"No, I don't believe it," she exclaimed.
He walked over to stand closer to her. "Why? Would you rather believe that was Madrid out there?"
She shook her head and refused to look up at him. "Madrid's a gunfighter! Murdoch Lancer..."
He took her by the arm and glared at her. "Madrid WAS a gunfighter!" he told her firmly, keeping a tight rein on his temper. "I don't hire my gun out to anyone, Sarah. I don't even use the name any more."
Sarah tilted her head up and looked at him, fire in her eyes and hurt in her face. “No, of course, not. It’s Lancer now, isn’t it.”
The sarcasm in her voice left him with no doubt about how she felt about that. “That’s right, Lancer. My name is Johnny Lancer,” he answered her coldly, “and my father is Murdoch Lancer.”
The name was enough to send her into a rage. “You lied to me!” she said in a low, furious voice. “You’ve been in my house, and all the time you were his son!”
“Sarah, listen to me..” he began, but she cut him off.
“No,” she replied savagely. Then a thought occurred to her that caused her more pain than she expected.
There could have been no mistaking the relationship of Johnny to Scott.
“And Scott?” she demanded.
“He’s my brother, like I told you. He’s Scott Lancer,” Johnny admitted.
“So he lied too!” she cried out in fury. “So what was his part in the plan? If you couldn’t force me off my land, maybe he could sweet-talk me out of it?”
“He stayed on here to help you Sarah. Don’t take that away from him.”
“How can I believe that? How can I believe anything any more?” she railed at him.
Johnny’s temper snapped. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her to the bedroom door. Opening it quickly, he forced her into the room. Scott still slept there from sheer exhaustion. He was pale now, the fever gone, and seeing him there like that, Johnny’s rage rose to towering heights.
Sarah snatched her hand away from him, and he pointed to his brother in the bed. “Take a look,” he demanded furiously. “Take a good look at him, and don’t you dare tell me that he came here to hurt you.”
She looked at Scott lying there; unaware of the raging battle of wills. She watched him, and she remembered the past week and what it had been like since he had come, and how she herself had come to feel about him. Her heart broke as she realised to what depths her temper had taken her.
She was silent for so long, that Johnny’s own temper began to wane. From behind them both, they heard the doctor’s severe voice.
“If you’ve both finished, you can get out of there,” he told them angrily and held the door to usher them out.
Johnny turned guiltily and strode back out, angry with himself for risking disturbing his brother, and at Sarah for pushing him to the point where he would do it.
Sarah took another look at Scott and then slowly followed him out.
Behind her, the doctor first checked that Scott had not woken, and then silently closed the door behind him. He took control of the situation, before either of them could start up again.
“Sarah,” he said with forbearance, “Sit over there.” He indicated one of the drawing room chairs, and she did as he said without a word. He turned to Johnny and indicated the kitchen. “And you,” he ordered, “Sit over there!”
A little stunned by the doctor’s orders, and still feeling the edge of his temper, Johnny hesitated.
“Sit!” Barnes shouted angrily, and Johnny sat down, crossed his arms across his chest and looked angrily away from both of them.
“Well,” the doctor continued, “if the shooting didn’t wake him, that little exhibition sure should have.” He looked from one to the other. “You two can carry on your little war out here if you like, but that man needs all the rest he can get right now. So keep it out here!”
Johnny said nothing, annoyed with himself for having lost his temper, and feeling more that a little guilty.
Sarah sat silently in the chair, looking bewildered, until finally she whispered in despair, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.”
The doctor spoke to her tolerantly. “Sarah, I think it’s pretty obvious that neither of these men came here to do you any harm. Both of them have risked their lives to help you. They deserve a hearing at least.”
He turned to Johnny, “And I think the least you can do is give her an explanation.”
“If Scott had come here and said his name was Lancer, she’d have put a bullet between his eyes!” Johnny announced in a huff.
Sarah turned on him, the fire back in her eyes. “I would not!” she insisted. “And why did he come in the first place then?”
Johnny finally turned around to face her, and his temper flared again despite himself. “To find out what the hell was going on here!” he stormed. “Murdoch gets some wild letter warning him away from some tin-pot little piece of land he’s never heard of, so he just naturally got curious!”
“Never heard of?” Sarah snapped furiously. “Well, that’s a lie! I don’t suppose I could expect anything else from your family though.”
“Shut up both of you!” the doctor shouted, and was agreeably surprised to find that they both did. “Sarah, what makes you think he’s lying?”
“Because I still have the letter that Murdoch Lancer wrote offering to buy me out,” she told him with satisfaction.
“Get the letter then,” Barnes told her.
She stood up and went to the bookcase where took out the book in which she kept the letter for safekeeping. She handed it over to the doctor and let him read it. When he had finished, she demanded of him “You see?”
“Johnny,” he said, walking over to speak directly to him and holding the letter out for him to read, “Is this your father’s signature?”
One glance was enough for Johnny. “Not even like it,” he stated bluntly, and gave a short laugh. ”It’s not even spelt right!”
“What do you mean?” the doctor asked.
“Murdoch spells his name with an ‘h’ not a ‘k’,” he explained. “I don’t think he’d make a mistake like that, do you?”
Disbelief flooded into Sarah’s face. “I don’t believe you!” she exclaimed. “Scott saw that letter, and he didn’t say anything about it being a fake.”
“He probably guessed you wouldn’t believe him,” the doctor explained to her. He was in the unenviable position of being able to see both sides more clearly than either of them. “So he stayed on to find out for himself?” he asked Johnny.
Johnny nodded. “I guess,” he said quietly. He gave a short ironic laugh and added, “There’s nothin’ like a Lancer for a lost cause!” He was silent for a moment before he continued. “He was supposed to come up here and find out what was happening, then come home. Should have only been a couple of days. We got a wire from him sayin’ he was working here. He was supposed to send word again by Friday. When we didn’t hear from him, I came to find out why.”
“Are you trying to tell me you knew nothing about the water rights?” Sarah asked him sarcastically.
Johnny turned to face her. “Not till Joe told me the other night.”
She looked like she was about to argue with that, but before she could say anything that would inflame the situation again, the doctor faced her and laid everything in front of her.
“Sarah,” he said with as much authority as he could muster in her voice, “we’ve got a fake Johnny Madrid running around here, and what looks like a forged signature on this letter. I think you have to be reasonable and consider the possibility that LANCER is not behind what’s been going on here. It looks like someone is using their name to cover their own tracks.”
An idea occurred to Johnny. “Who told you that he was Johnny Madrid? Was it him or someone else?”
She thought about it for a moment. “Well, he was recognised first, in town.”
That didn’t make sense. How could anyone recognise the man as Johnny Madrid, when he wasn’t.
“Do you know who by?” he asked.
“One of Gabe’s men, at the saloon I think. Gabe told me about it later. He was worried about him being in town.”
Sarah couldn’t concentrate on anything but who could be behind the campaign of violence against her and her men. She shook her head adamantly. “Who else has any reason to want this land?”
Doctor Barnes answered slowly and logically. “That’s what we have to figure out, Sarah.”
“There’s no one,” she insisted.
“Look Sarah,” Johnny said wearily, “anyone who gets their hands on the water rights to this land, can hold LANCER to ransom. That’s what this is about.”
“Is that why Scott stayed?” she asked. The fire had gone out of her eyes and he could see that the idea hurt her. She must have come to place a lot of faith in him in the past week. Suddenly, he felt sympathy for her again. His own anger dissipated and he was able to see more clearly again.
“No,” he said quietly, “he asked me help you.”
She sat calmly considering everything and then sighed. “On Wednesday night, just before the raid, we were talking,” she told Johnny. “He wanted to tell me something then, but the shooting started and he never finished. Maybe he was going to tell me then who he is.”
Johnny stood up and walked over to the bedroom door. “Probably,” he said, and then he grinned. “Could be the only good thing about him bein’ tied to that bed for a while. He’s gonna be mad as hell that I told you!”
Sarah smiled and Johnny continued. “When he wakes up, I can find out what he’s found out while he was here. If someone wanted him dead, it could be because he knew something.”
“What do you mean ‘wanted him dead’?” she asked, astonished by the thought of it.
“Tom told me that he heard one of ‘em point Scott out to our friend Mr Madrid,” he explained.
Sarah paled but only said, “I didn’t know that.”
The doctor brought the subject back to the gunfighter. “Do you think he knows who you are, ‘Madrid’ I mean?”
Johnny shook his head. “No, none of them knew me. Joaquin did, but he’s probably still running. He knows not to say anything.”
The doctor smiled. “Because you told him not to?”
“I didn’t have to. He got the idea.”
Sarah did not understand their conversation, but decided not to interrupt them.
“You got any idea who our gunfighter is, Johnny?” Barnes asked him.
Johnny leaned back against the wall and frowned. “Don’t know for sure. Could be Castellano, Diego Castellano. He’s supposed to be pretty good.” Johnny thought about it some more. “I heard he rode with Day Pardee for a while. He’d gone before I turned up, but he might have learned a few tricks from him.”
“Who is Pardee and what has he got to do with all this?” Sarah asked at last.
“Pardee was what Murdoch calls a ‘land pirate’. Kinda like what’s happenin’ to you,” he explained. “They force people off their land and grab it for themselves. A few years ago, Pardee’s men killed Murdoch’s best friend, and he nearly lost LANCER to them. He sent for Scott and me to help him fight them off. That’s one more reason why he’d never be involved in all this, Sarah. He’s been through it himself.”
“Do you think ‘Madrid’ is the man behind it all then?” Sarah asked.
Johnny considered the idea for a moment, before answering. “No,” he said in the end, “he’s a hired gun. Pistoleros don’t go to the trouble of forging signatures on letters. No,” he finished coolly, “there’s someone else in back of this. Someone smart enough to keep his own nose real clean.”
Everyone turned towards the window at the sound of approaching horses. Johnny strode over and peered out, only to relax immediately and turn back to say, "It's Joe and Tom."
The tension in the room eased and Johnny opened the door to let them in. They came straight in, tense and anxious themselves. "We heard a shot!" Joe exclaimed as he came to a halt in the drawing room.
Sarah reassured him. "It's alright Joe," she told him, "we had visitors alright, but Johnny took care of it."
Joe didn't like the sound of it. He eyed Sarah intently and asked her, "What kind of visitors? Who were they?"
Johnny answered for her. He sensed she wasn't sure what to call
'Madrid' now. "'Madrid' came calling," he told them bluntly.
Tom looked curiously at Johnny, but said nothing. Joe, however, jumped to exclaim, "'Madrid' was here? What happened?"
Sarah looked over at Johnny and decided to answer for him. "It turns out that he's not really Johnny Madrid," she told them, though she did not sound very sure of herself. "Johnny got rid of him."
Joe eyed Johnny suspiciously. "Just how did you manage that? And what do you mean - he's not Johnny Madrid?"
Tom watched intently as Johnny faced Joe and said, "I'm Johnny
Madrid, Joe. Least I used to be. My name is Lancer, and the man you know as Madrid is a fake."
Joe took a split second to accept what Johnny had told him, and then he leapt at him. Tom was ready and waiting for him and grabbed him as he moved. He pulled him back and pushed him up against the wall holding him there.
Johnny stayed put and let Tom handle it.
Tom held him back against the wall with a strength that surprised everyone in the room. He said to him severely, "Joe Nesbitt, you saw'd off little hot head! What do you think you're doin'? He could kill you deader'n beef steak in an instant, so cool off for a minute and listen to the man!"
Joe's face went red with fury. He struggled against the iron grip that Tom held him in, but could not get away. Tom frowned at him and added, "That's enough, Joe! He's here to help!"
Joe stopped struggling and glared at Tom. "You don't sound surprised!"
Tom slackened his grip and answered, "I ain't. I guessed it already."
"Tom, you knew?" Sarah gasped. "Why didn't you say something?"
Tom released his friend and turned around to answer Sarah. "Maybe I should have, Miss Sarah, but I figured it was for him to do. I figured he's here to help you."
"Then you believe his story that LANCER is not responsible for attacking us?" Sarah quizzed him.
"Well, Miss Sarah," Tom replied slowly and thoughtfully, "me and
Scott had our own ideas about that. I don't know if I was thinkin' the same as him though."
Johnny looked at Sarah. “Look,” he said patiently, “The letter is a fake, your ‘Madrid’ is a fake, and you can’t possibly think Murdoch would hire someone to impersonate me. We sure didn’t send Scott up here to get shot up. Doesn’t that tell you that we are NOT involved.”
“Yes,” she admitted reluctantly. “It wouldn’t make sense.” She shook her head sadly. “None of it makes sense any more.”
“Joe, you said things have gotten worse lately,” Johnny told him. “So what was different? Why did they start pushing harder?”
Joe considered the question. “Well,” he answered eventually, “Scott was here for one thing. An’ I guess Miss Sarah was feelin’ kinda low. Maybe they thought the time was right.”
“Who else, but all of you here, knew that?” Johnny asked them.
Sarah answered this time. “No one, Johnny. No one at all.”
“’Cept Mr Tessman,” Joe threw in. “He knew. He came visitin’ after the fire.”
Johnny looked gently at Sarah. “Sarah, tell me this. Has anyone else offered to buy the ranch?”
She didn’t reply. She didn’t want them to get the wrong idea but she had to say something. She nodded. “Yes, but not like you think. He was only trying to help. He was just being kind.”
“Tessman?” Johnny asked.
She nodded again. “He’d do anything for me,” she told him and added with regret choking her words, “Even though I hurt him deeply.”
Realisation hit Johnny with her words. “He asked you to marry him?” he asked her gently.
Sarah said nothing, but the blush in her cheeks answered for her.
“That ain’t none o’ your business, son!” Joe burst out.
“Take it easy, Joe,” Johnny reassured him. “I think it is. I think it was part of his plan.”
“No!” Sarah exploded.
He knew that the truth would hurt her, but it was time that she faced it. His suspicions appeared to be borne out by the facts, even though there was no proof. He had nothing but circumstantial evidence, a whole lot of maybes that he had put together. But together they made a strong case and he knew that Sarah would consider it a betrayal.
Betrayal was a hard thing to live with. It was the most unkind cut of all. He knew. He had known the feeling once or twice himself. The idea of having to be the one to make her confront it appalled him, but he knew he had no other option.
He took her by the arms and faced her. “Put it together Sarah,” he told her, harshly. “Who showed you that fake letter? Who told you ‘Madrid’ had been recognised in town, when no one could have because he was a fake?”
She shook her head in denial. “No, Johnny, you’re wrong.”
His grip on her tightened and his voice changed to steel. “Sarah, he couldn’t get it by marrying you, so he had to buy you out. He knew you were just about ready to crack, and he upped the ante.”
Sarah continued to shake her head in denial. “No, he wouldn’t do that,” she cried and suddenly her resolve broke and she leaned her head on his chest and cried weakly, “He couldn’t.”
He let go of her arms and wrapped his arms around her to comfort her. “I’m sorry, Sarah,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Johnny held Sarah and looked up at Barnes. "Doc, I think it might be a good idea if you stay here for a bit longer. Any of those real important patients you had need you right away?"
Barnes smiled. "The only patient who's probably wanting me has a hole in his hand," he replied, "and it seems only fair that he should have to wait."
Johnny grinned. "Seems fair," he agreed. "Why don't you try to get some more of that sleep we interrupted then?"
"Sounds good to me," he turned and went back towards Sarah's bedroom. “That’s if you folks have finished shouting’” he added with a grin.
He could see that Johnny had things under control now and Sarah was best left alone. "Wake me if your brother wakes up," he added as he went into the room and closed the door.
Joe spoke up next. He was uncomfortable with Sarah upset. "Maybe we should get back to work too," he said. He and Tom headed for the door, but Joe stopped and turned back with a puzzled frown on his face. "Before I go, I gotta know. How did ya get rid o'‘Madrid?'"
Johnny's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Guess he wasn't as good as he thought he was," was all he said in reply.
Joe's eyes widened. "You outdrew him?" he exclaimed.
“Let’s just say he couldn’t live up to my reputation,” Johnny told him.
Joe whistled and said to him, "Wish I'd b'n here to see that! I seen that man draw when he shot Kurt, an’ he was mighty fast.”
“I musta been lucky then,” Johnny replied mischievously.
Joe looked at him and grinned. “Kinda doubt that!” he laughed.
Before he could say any more, Tom pushed him through the front door and followed him out. The two of them left to go back to their work, leaving Johnny alone in the room with Sarah.
She had calmed down by now and he took her into the drawing room and sat her down gently. He left her there and went to the kitchen to check the cupboards.
He found what he was looking for - a bottle of brandy that looked like it had been there for some time. He poured some into a small glass and took it in to present it to Sarah.
If he expected an argument, he was mistaken. She took it and sipped it, before finishing it off quickly. She looked up at him.
"Thankyou,” she whispered. “You must think me such a fool."
He sat back on his heels and faced her. "Why, because you trusted a friend?"
She shook her head angrily. "I didn't see any of this coming. I never even questioned that it was Murdoch Lancer who was behind it."
"Sarah," he answered her quietly, "that's what he counted on. None of this stuff would have stood up in court against LANCER."
"That doesn't matter," she replied. She looked him in the eyes and said angrily, "I thought he was my friend - the only one I had outside this ranch."
Johnny looked away for a moment. He could see the hurt in her eyes and it angered him.
"I know," he said and he looked back to face her again. “So now you’ve gotta decide who you really can trust.”
“Trust,” she scoffed. “I don’t know who to trust any more. Everyone has lied to me, even Tom.”
“Tom didn’t lie to you. He just didn’t tell you everything,” Johnny pointed out sternly. “He’d never hurt you. Neither would Joe!”
“You lied to me,” she accused him. “And when I saw you out there, well…” She stopped and struggled to find the right words, and then looked him straight in the eye. “You frightened me. I’ve never seen anyone look so cold and hard.”
Johnny leaned back away from her. For an instant, Sarah thought she saw a moment of despair cross his face, but it was gone before she was even sure that she had seen it.
“Johnny Madrid may not always be the best company in the world,” he explained, “but he’s a part of who I am. And he’s handy to have around sometimes.” He stopped and added uncomfortably, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I know you didn’t, but you were like a different person,” she continued.
Johnny sighed. “I’m hopin’ you’ll try to forget it then. I didn’t come here to hurt you.”
“No you came because of Scott,” she told him.
“Yes,” he admitted easily. “I came here because I was worried about him. Not to help you. But I never told you I did, did I?”
Sarah had to admit that that was true. “No, you never did.”
“And I’d be willing to bet that Scott didn’t lie to you except about his name and his needing a job,” he told her. Then he smiled disarmingly. “He just ain’t much good at it.”
“But he did lie to me,” she insisted.
Johnny’s smile broadened and his eyes sparkled. “Of course he did! What would you have said to Scott Lancer, I wonder? Besides ‘Vamoose!’”
It worked. He charmed her into a small, tentative smile. “I suppose so,” she admitted.
“And I’ll just bet he regretted lyin’ to you, the minute he got a good look at that pretty face of yours,” Johnny teased her.
She sat up straight and relaxed into an easy smile. “Alright, you’ve made your point,” she told him. “Don’t go thinking you can charm me that easily.”
Johnny laughed. “Well,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “it was worth a try.”
Sarah stood up decisively. She picked up the rifle from where it had fallen by the window, and, with it dangling harmlessly by her side, she walked over to her uncle’s bedroom door. She opened it slowly and quietly. She stood looking at Scott, his head sunk into the pillow, his face pale and drawn, now that the fever had passed. He hadn’t moved at all. He hadn’t heard anything as far as she could tell.
Johnny stood up and went silently to her side. He looked first at his brother, and then at Sarah. He contemplated the soft expression on her face and the concern in her eyes as she leaned forward and smoothed the hair away from his eyes. Oh yes, he thought, big brother has certainly made an impression!
Aloud he said quietly to her, “Why don’t you sit with him for a while? I’ll go keep an eye out for any more unwanted visitors.”
“Thank you, Johnny,” she smiled at him. “I’ll come and get you if he wakes up.”
She walked in, leaned the rifle carefully against the wall and within easy reach and took her place in the chair by Scott’s bed. She watched him intently.
After a moment of hesitation, Johnny turned and left. He picked up one of the chairs from the kitchen and took it out onto the porch and made himself comfortable there.
Sarah had been so casual about taking the rifle with her. It was as though she went nowhere without it. It was a reflection of what the woman’s life had become that she hardly moved from one room to another without having the weapon within reach. He knew that Scott had wanted to change that. He had asked him to help her.
he had no other reason, that would have been enough. But sitting on the
porch, looking around him at the war-torn yard that must once have been
such a pleasant place, and thinking about Sarah’s grief at the discovery
of Tessman’s betrayal of her friendship, he knew that he would not leave
here until it was al l resolved.
Tessman had a lot to answer for, not the least of it being what he had arranged for Scott, and Johnny intended to see that he paid in full.