When Johnny saw the rider coming up the road, he was far from surprised. In fact, he was very satisfied. He had expected a reaction to the showdown this morning and he had been hoping that he would not have to wait long.
He did not recognise the rider, but he had a pretty good idea that it was Tessman himself, coming to check out the new stranger at the ranch.
The rider was still some way off, so he stood up leisurely and picked up the chair that he had been sitting on. He took it inside and closed the door behind him, before placing it back at the table and walking over to the bedroom.
Sarah was still sitting by Scott, waiting for him to waken. He still showed no signs of coming to, so she had made herself more comfortable and had gotten a book to read to help pass the time. She looked up as Johnny silently entered the room.
“There’s a rider coming,” Johnny told her quietly and with no obvious concern.
“Who?” she asked him, matching his quiet tone.
Johnny’s eyes had switched to his brother. He answered the question without taking them off him. The longer Scott remained unconscious, the less he liked it.
“Don’t know for sure,” he told her. “My guess is it’s Tessman.”
After a moment, she asked nervously, “What are you going to do?”
Johnny finally turned his full attention back to Sarah. “Not me,” he answered, “You. You’re the one he’ll want to talk to.”
Sarah closed the book and put it down, and then she stood up slowly to face him. “Johnny, I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t want to face him.”
He took her arm, gently but firmly, and led her out of the room so they could talk without fear of disturbing Scott.
“Sarah, listen to me,” he said firmly. “If you want to know for sure if he is involved, then you have to talk to him. He doesn’t know who I am, and you can bet that’s why he’s here. Give him some rope and see where he takes it.”
She considered the idea for a while, not looking at Johnny while she thought about her position. She did want to know. In her heart, she still held out hope that Johnny was wrong.
Footsteps on the porch, followed by a sharp knock on the door, attracted both their attention and they turned their heads towards the door as one.
Johnny looked back at her. “Sarah?” he asked.
“Alright,” she agreed with a reluctant sigh.
Johnny smiled at her confidently. “Good girl,” he said and turned and went back into the bedroom. He did not close the door though. He stepped back out of sight of the drawing room, but he wanted to be able to hear everything that was said.
When she was sure that he was out of sight, Sarah looked towards the door. There was another knock on the door, a little louder and a little more demanding this time. She did not want Johnny to be right. Gabe had been her friend and had stood by her when others had left or ignored her plight. But then, if he was not responsible for everything, it meant that Scott and Johnny were. Scott might have lied to her, but she would not believe that he would have plotted against her. Surely she had not misjudged him that much. Either way, she felt the sharp sting of betrayal.
She shook off the feeling and walked to the door. She drew a deep breath to clear her mind and opened it.
Sure enough, Gabe Tessman stood before her. Her belief in him stirred again, and she smiled up at him with genuine warmth. He was dressed as immaculately as always. He stood before her, hat in hand politely, tall and handsome, and she wanted to much for there to be some mistake in their theory.
Somewhere there had to be another explanation. Perhaps, if she could sit him down with Johnny, together they could work out who was really responsible. Perhaps it really was the man calling himself Johnny Madrid who was behind everything. Maybe Johnny was wrong about that after all.
“Gabe,” she cried happily, “What brings you here?”
He gave her a hurried explanation, barely recovering his breath. “I had to make sure you’re alright Sarah. It’s all over town that there was some trouble out here this morning.”
She smiled. “Of course, I’m fine, thankyou,” she assured him. “Just what is all over town?”
She stepped back a little to allow him to enter and he stepped past her and into the room. He turned back to face her again, an expression of concern on his face.
“That there was some sort of gunfight here, and Johnny Madrid was shot,” he told her anxiously.
“Well, yes. There was,” she admitted candidly.
“Well, what happened? I can’t believe that Joe or Tom, or you for that matter, could have shot him. And I thought Garrett was out of action too. There’s talk that you have some stranger here with you.”
“No, not exactly,” she tried to explain. “Madrid and three of his men came here this morning, looking for trouble. They wouldn’t leave, and so John…”
“John who?” he demanded.
Sarah looked at him and did not answer for a moment.
Tessman continued without giving her more time to answer, shaking his head in disapproval.
“Sarah, this is not the way to go about things.”
She frowned, puzzled by his remark. “I don’t understand.”
“Hiring a gunfighter, Sarah!” he answered, to her surprise. “You should have come to me first. I would have told you what a bad idea it was!”
She exclaimed aloud, “Gabe, what in the world are you talking about? I have not hired any gunfighter!”
Tessman frowned this time. “Then who shot Madrid?” he asked her.
“John did, but certainly doesn’t work for me,” she explained, an angry edge to her voice. “He’s Scott’s brother.”
He scowled and considered for a moment. “Garrett’s brother?” he asked her at last.
“Yes,” she answered. “He came here looking for him.”
“Sarah, any man who can outshoot Johnny Madrid is dangerous. I told you to get rid of Garrett. You don’t know enough about him. Now look what’s come of it!”
For the first time, she began to feel uncomfortable. Angrily, she retorted, Scott was nearly killed helping me, Gabe. And his brother faced Madrid and risked his life too!”
“But you know nothing about them Sarah,” he insisted. “You’re here with strangers. I don’t like it!”
“Gabe,” she answered firmly, standing her ground, “if John hadn’t been here this morning, who knows what would have happened!”
“If he hadn’t been her, Madrid wouldn’t have come here looking for him!” he threw back at her, his voice rising in anger.
Sarah stopped and frowned in bewilderment. “Why do you think he came here looking for John?”
“I heard he had a run-in with some of Madrid’s men yesterday,” he remarked off-handedly. Then, with more spite, he added, “When he was kidnapping the doctor at gunpoint.”
Sarah looked past Tessman towards Johnny, who confirmed his story with a careless nod of his head.
“I didn’t know about that,” she admitted, “but I don’t see how it changes anything Gabe. He went for the doctor and he was the only one who could get him here.”
“At gunpoint Sarah! Doesn’t that tell you anything about him?”
Sarah had had enough. Her own temper was getting the best of her. “It tells me that I should have tried it myself. I tried everything else! Including trying to get you to help!” She eyed him angrily and continued, “And how did you know anyway? Doctor Barnes is still here, so he didn’t tell you.”
“I hear everything that goes on in town, Sarah. You know that,” he snapped at her. He was getting nowhere with her and he knew he could not afford to lose his temper.“Sarah, if this man tried to kill Madrid, you can’t afford to have him here. It’s too dangerous.”
A cool, almost disinterested voice came from behind him. “If I’d tried to kill him, he’d be dead.”
Tessman swung around to see who had spoken. At last he was face to face with the man he had come looking for. He was younger than he had expected, and the way he leaned carelessly against the doorway, with his arms folded lazily across his chest, was infuriating. But his eyes held a cold hard stare that gave him cause to stop for a moment. He decided to ignore the man for now and turned his back on him to talk to Sarah again.
From behind him, Johnny studied him. The man was dressed in his “Sunday best” and was unarmed. Somehow that did not surprise Johnny. The man bought guns to do his dirty work, and used them against a woman who he was supposedly courting. No, he wasn’t at all surprised that Tessman wore no gun of his own.
Ignoring Johnny, he continued his conversation with Sarah.
“When Murdoch Lancer finds out that his son has been shot, he’ll come up here with an army at his back, Sarah,” he warned her.
“Then I’d better keep him here to help fight them off!” she argued.
“Oh, don’t be a fool Sarah!” he told her angrily. “It’d be a blood bath! People could get hurt!”
Sarah stared at him in astonishment. “People have been hurt already Gabe, remember? Manuel and Kurt, and now Scott!”
Tessman dismissed them arrogantly. “I mean you could get hurt Sarah,” he told her, taking her arms firmly to impress his point. “You’re the only one I care about.”
From behind him came that provocative ice-cold voice again. “Then where will you be when Murdoch Lancer rides in with his army?”
He let go of Sarah and whipped around to face his antagonist.
“You stay out of this!” he shouted furiously, and then spun back to face Sarah again. He took hold of her arms again and the grip was harder this time. He shook her very slightly, trying to force her to listen to him.
“You can’t stay here Sarah. You’ve got to get away before you get hurt. You must see that, surely!”
Sarah stared at him without saying a word. “Sell out to me, Sarah, and get out while you can!” he said forcefully. “Lancer won’t get hold of it, so he won’t have won. You’ll still have your pride. And I’ll give you a fair price, more than fair. You can get away from here and start fresh. I just can’t stand to see you going through all this.”
Johnny watched for Sarah’s reaction and said nothing. The man was certainly persuasive. He made a good argument, but it was just what Johnny had expected to hear. He wanted this ranch all right. At least, he wanted the water. It was in Sarah’s hands now. Would she see through Tessman or not?
She was silent for some time. Neither of them said anything more. Johnny had the idea that Tessman thought he had finally persuaded her that it was her best option. Tessman had let her go and stood before her hopefully. Johnny hoped he was wrong, but he gave Sarah the time to consider.
Sarah looked past Tessman and straight into Johnny’s eyes as she said quietly, “John doesn’t think that man is Johnny Madrid.”
Tessman exploded. “What! Sarah, that’s ridiculous! Of course he’s Madrid.”
“How do you know Gabe?” she asked him, turning her gaze back to him.
He was stunned. He stammered a little as he answered. “Well, Sarah,” he replied, “Everyone knows he is. I mean, he’s been recognised as Johnny Madrid.”
Sarah looked him in the eye and asked, “Who by?”
He stood back and looked at her, replying evasively, “One of my men. He knew him in Sonora.”
“Well, who was it Gabe? I’d like to talk to him myself. Maybe he was mistaken.”
“Sarah, he was not mistaken,” Tessman insisted with exasperation. “Madrid makes no secret of it anyway?”
Johnny added sarcastically from his place in the background, “He introduced himself to me just this morning.” Then he grinned, ironically. “Funny thing though, I’d have thought he’d have introduced himself as Johnny Lancer!”
Tessman spun around and faced him savagely. “I told you to shut up and stay out of this!” he shouted furiously.
He watched as Johnny unfolded his arms casually, and stood up straight. He saw his mistake as he watched the steel come into Johnny’s eyes as he stared at him. He suddenly realised that this man was dangerous.
“He probably uses the name ‘Madrid’ because it frightens people,” he said lamely.
Johnny grinned, but the steel stayed in his eyes. Even the quiet way that he spoke had a lethal quality to it. “I guess maybe it does,” he granted him, “but that don’t make him Johnny Madrid.”
Tessman turned back to Sarah. “This is ridiculous, Sarah,” he stammered.
Johnny walked carelessly forward into the room. He passed by Tessman with a sideways glance at him and took a position over by the easy chairs in the drawing room. He sat on the arm of one of them. He had a good view of both of them from there, and he could see the discomfort in Tessman’s eyes.
“I could tell you I’m Wild Bill Hickock,” Johnny said with a smile, “but that don’t make it so now does it?”
Sarah understood where Johnny was going with it and took it another step farther. “Why are you so sure that he is Madrid, Gabe?”
Tessman looked over at Johnny, and then back to Sarah. Cornered, he looked for another angle and found it.
“Alright, I never told you this, Sarah, because I knew it would upset you,” he began smoothly, morphing back to the sympathetic friend he wanted her to believe him to be, “but I went to see Murdoch Lancer myself.”
Sarah’s eyes widened in astonishment and she looked over towards Johnny to see what his reaction was. He appeared to be more curious than shocked.
“When?” she asked him, her surprise obvious in her voice.
He continued smoothly. “Not long after Johnny Madrid first started showing up here. I wanted to talk to him - try to reason with him.”
“Well, why didn’t you ever tell me?” she asked incredulously.
“Because of his answer Sarah,” he told her sadly. “He said he’d do whatever it takes to get this ranch. I didn’t want to frighten you any more than you already were.”
“And he admitted that his son was here?” she continued, with a glance in Johnny’s direction.
Johnny was waiting for the answer. The man was finally cornering himself. He was finally giving Johnny the evidence that he needed to prove to Sarah, once and for all, that he was the man responsible the raids, and the fire and for all the violence. He could see from the expression on Sarah’s face that she knew it too. He said nothing, but let the man dig his grave a little deeper with everything he said.
Tessman answered her with a sad shake of his head. “He didn’t have to, Sarah. Madrid was right there with him when I talked to him. So was the other son. None of them would listen to reason.”
Sarah was speechless. She didn’t know what to say now. She looked at Johnny instead.
To her surprise, Johnny smiled. “So you met the other son too did you?” he asked slowly. “Tell me, what was he like?”
Tessman frowned in confusion, and asked “Why?”
“Just wondered what he was like is all,” Johnny replied casually, and then added with a mischievous glint in his eye that only Sarah noticed, “I heard he’s from back east – a bit of a greenhorn.”
“I didn’t take any notice,” Tessman told him angrily. “He wasn’t important.”
“Well, what was his name then?” Johnny asked him, determined to push him further still.
Tessman lost his temper at last. “I don’t know. What the hell does it matter?”
Johnny stood up and the smile vanished from his face. “His name is Scott, Mr Tessman,” Johnny told him with a malevolent stare. “Scott Lancer. And you’re very wrong. He is important.”
Tessman stared at him in horror, as he realised what he meant. “Scott?” he said weakly.
Johnny pressed his point home. “Funny you didn’t recognise him when he turned up here.”
He looked from Johnny to Sarah in confusion. “I don’t understand. Why would he…?”
“Because Sarah wrote to Murdoch Lancer, and he got curious,” Johnny explained, pleased with the cold fear that he could see on the other man’s face as comprehension came to him - the realisation that it was all over.
“So he sent his son, Scott, to check out what was going on and why the Lancer name was being bandied around here,” Johnny told him, knowing that he must have already guessed, but wanting to press him as much as he could.
He continued calmly. “Then he didn’t hear from Scott for a while. So he sent me.” He looked the man in the eye, and a cold chill ran down Tessman’s spine. “I’m Johnny Lancer, Tessman, but I used to go by the name of Madrid.”
Terror struck Gabe Tessman when he realised the position he was in. He read the loathing in Johnny Lancer’s eyes, and fought to think of a means of escape. His glib tongue deserted him now and he was struck speechless.
All of his plans had come to this. Tessman saw all of his fine plans for the future fading into nothing and he turned in fury on the girl.
“You stupid bitch!” he hissed at her, and she stepped back in horror. “I told you to leave everything to me. You couldn’t leave it alone could you?”
After an appalled silence, Sarah turned on him with revulsion. “I trusted you Gabe!” she cried out to him.
“It should have been so easy, Sarah,” he sneered at her. “All you had to do was take the money and go. But no, you had to dig your heels in. You had to prove your point, like a spoiled little girl.”
She listened in dismay as the man she had trusted and relied on revealed himself to her. She turned away from him in disgust, but he grabbed at her and took her wrist in an iron grip and threw her in front of himself as a living, breathing shield.
As fast as Tessman moved, Johnny whipped out his pistol in time to have it drawn when Tessman looked up, but the girl was already in the way. He couldn’t fire without risking hitting her as well.
Voices! Dimly he could here voices. He couldn’t make out words. He couldn’t make out whose they were, but the voices were raised – arguing.
Scott fought to cast off the all-encompassing darkness that surrounded him. He fought the lethargy that held him back and the nausea that overtook him every time he tried to open his eyes. A feeling of urgency gripped him as he rolled his head towards the sound of the voices.
As consciousness began to come back to him, he recognised one of the voices. It was Johnny’s. It wasn’t raised like the others, but he knew that tone that his brother was using. He used it when there was trouble. It was the voice of Johnny Madrid that he could here.
Scott tried again to open his eyes, and this time succeeded. The room spun but he began to make out the other voices. He picked out Sarah’s voice first and then realised that the loudest and angriest was that of Gabe Tessman.
He tried shaking his head, but the result of that was a stab of pain in his shoulder that left him gasping for breath. It forced him to remember that he had been wounded and he lay very still while he caught his breath and fought down the waves of nausea that the pain had brought on.
In the other room, he heard Sarah arguing with Tessman. If Johnny was there too, he guessed that Johnny had worked out that Tessman was behind the raids. That meant trouble. He knew how Johnny would react and if Tessman was cornered, who knows what might happen. He didn’t trust the man at all. He had to get out there and back his brother up.
Scott gritted his teeth and tried moving slowly and tentatively. His left arm was strapped across his chest, so it was awkward trying to lift himself forward. He fought down the pain and moved his right hand to that edge of the bed to grab it and pull himself up that way. It was agonizingly slow but he finally had himself sitting up on the edge of the bed.
His head spun from the effort, and his stomach lurched. It took him a while to ride it out, but then he could take stock of his situation more clearly.
For a start, he figured he’d need both hands. He clawed at the tape that held the strapping on his left arm down. It finally gave way and the bandage fell away. Gingerly, he tried moving the left arm down to his side.
He had expected it to hurt, but it hurt like hell! The pain throbbed and his fingers were numb at first. Feeling came back to them and he ignored the pain and clamped the arm to his side. He would use it only as he needed to. The first thing to do was to get to his feet.
He sat for a moment, until the clouds cleared and his brain worked properly again, then he grabbed the bed-head with his good hand and pulled himself upright. He wavered unsteadily and the room blurred again. He thought he would fall again, and he held tight to the bedpost until he could stay up under his own steam.
He looked around the room quickly and found his clothes neatly folded and piled on top of the dresser. Forget the shirt, he told himself, just get the pants!
Letting go of the bedpost, he almost fell as he reached across to the dresser. He held tight to it for support for a moment, while the room stopped spinning. He struggled into his pants, using his left arm as little as he could, and then walked slowly and uncertainly around the bed to stand close to the doorway. His first steps were shaky and he had to grip the end of the bed to steady himself again, but he took his time and managed to stay on his feet.
The voices outside were getting louder, and his sense of urgency grew stronger. He stayed out of sight and looked out to see what was going on.
He heard Johnny, using that cool hard voice that he had heard him use when he was Johnny Madrid, saying, “Then he didn’t hear from Scott for a while. So he sent me.”
He watched Johnny stare the man down and then heard him add, “I’m Johnny Lancer, Tessman, but I used to go by the name of Madrid.”
Tessman’s reaction to that piece of news was to turn on Sarah in fury and abuse her.
“You stupid bitch!” Scott heard him hiss, and he saw the appalled expression on her face as she took a step back from him. Tessman continued his tirade. “I told you to leave everything to me. You couldn’t leave it alone could you?”
“I trusted you Gabe!” he heard Sarah cry out to Tessman.
“It should have been so easy, Sarah,” he sneered at her. “All you had to do was take the money and go. But no, you had to dig your heels in. You had to prove your point, like a spoiled little girl.”
Scott saw her turn away from him in disgust, but Tessman grabbed at her and Scott’s heart froze as he saw Tessman take her wrist and then throw her in front of himself as a shield.
As fast as Scott had ever seen him draw, Johnny had his pistol out and ready for him, but Tessman had the girl in front of him and Scott could see that Johnny could not fire without risking hitting her. He knew his brother well enough to know that he would not take that risk.
He could see that Tessman was not wearing a gun, but he had Sarah firmly in his grasp. Johnny could do nothing.
Scott saw the rifle over by the wall, where Sarah had obviously left it. He realised that if he made a move for it, he would be open to view from the other room, so he waited and considered his options.
He realised, also, that with Sarah in that position, he was just as unable to fire as Johnny was. She was held tightly right in front of Tessman and, while there might be room for a head shot, his own aim was likely to be unsteady at the moment. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Scott looked on as the three of them stopped to weight up their positions. It was Sarah who spoke first, pleading with Tessman.
“Please Gabe,” she said soothingly, “Please don’t do this.”
His reaction was the opposite of what she had been looking for. He snarled “shut up!” and put his left hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, keeping a tight hold of her waist with his right.
He turned his attention back to Johnny. “Put the gun down, Lancer, or I’ll break her pretty neck,” he growled savagely.
Scott watched in fury while his brother hesitated just for a moment, and then uncocked the gun and moved to put it down.
“Left hand, if you please Lancer, and no tricks!” Tessman ordered, and Johnny looked up at him malevolently, before doing as he was told. He changed the gun over to his left hand and placed it on the small table nearby.
Scott’s instinct was to run out there and pull Sarah away from Tessman, but he had to fight against the futility of doing it. So he listened, instead, to the players in the other room, biding his time for now and waiting for an opening to make a play of his own.
Johnny put the gun down carefully on the table, but did not take his eyes away from Tessman. He hated the defencelessness he was feeling. There should be a way to get her out of Tessman’s grasp, but he knew that the man was strong enough to do just what he had threatened if he made a move towards him.
As he straightened back up, he was sure he spotted a glint of hope in Sarah’s eyes, and understood that she was going to try something. He tensed and waited, ready to spring into action the instant he got the chance.
Sarah took a breath and bit into the hand that Tessman had clasped over her mouth. She bit hard and at the same time, she kicked back with all the strength she could muster and connected with his kneecap. He screamed in pain and doubled over, releasing Sarah who dashed forward away from him.
From his concealed position in the bedroom, Scott took the opportunity to dash across the doorway and grab for the rifle. He turned around quickly to see what was happening.
Tessman recovered quickly enough to shove Sarah forward into Johnny’s arms, keeping him from reaching his gun just long enough to reach inside his coat and bring out a lethal little Remington Derringer.
As Tessman took aim, Scott shouted “Johnny, look out!”
Johnny saw the danger, but Sarah was between them. He knew he did not have time to both protect Sarah and retrieve his gun before the first shot was fired, so he threw her to the floor behind him and dived for the gun, keeping himself in front of her to protect her.
As his hand clasped the cold grip of the pistol, he heard the first shot, but it came from behind them, not from Tessman’s derringer. The derringer went off at almost the same instant but Tessman’s aim was off as he was hit by Scott’s bullet and jerked back. Johnny grabbed his pistol and swung around and fired too, sending Tessman reeling back to the floor.
He didn’t get up. The first bullet had caught his shoulder, but the second went through his heart. There would be no more chances for Gabe Tessman.
The acrid smell of gunpowder filled the room and for a moment everyone seemed to be suspended in time. Johnny watched to make sure that Tessman stayed down, and then, as the adrenalin began to wear off, he felt the sting of a bullet wound in his side, and noticed the slow, crimson blood spreading around it.
He clasped his hand over it to slow the bleeding and looked first at Sarah, and then at Scott. Scott was still on his feet, and he held Sarah’s rifle still aiming it at Tessman, in case the man tried to get up. He wasn’t close enough, or aware enough for that matter, to realise that Tessman would never get up again.
Sarah had looked up when the shooting stopped and saw that Gabe was not moving. She began to pick herself up and saw Johnny sitting on the floor beside her, bleeding. She crawled over to him, her face frowning with concern, but he stopped her.
“I’m fine,” he assured her angrily. “Go help Scott.”
He nodded in the direction of the bedroom and she spun around to see Scott, the rifle falling from his hands, buckling at the knees and starting to fall.
She jumped up and ran over to catch him as he fell forward, passing the doctor as he emerged from her own bedroom.
“What the hell happened?” Barnes called out from the doorway, only half awake.
Johnny turned his head towards him and said, “Never mind that Doc! Help Sarah with Scott!”
Scott groaned weakly. All the strength he had found was gone, and Sarah struggled to hold him. His head slumped onto her shoulder and she wrapped her arms around his waist holding him up while the doctor, wide-awake now, ran in to help her get him to the bed.
Together they held Scott up long enough to walk him to the bed and lay him down. Sarah sat down on the edge of the bed beside him and whispered to the doctor, “Johnny’s hurt too,” in hushed tones.
Despite her attempt to keep it from him, Scott heard her through the haze of pain and exhaustion. He tried again to lift himself off the bed, but found he didn’t have the strength. Instead he asked anxiously, “Johnny? Is he alright?”
Sarah placed her hand tenderly on his arm. “Don’t worry, Scott,” she assured him gently, “He says he is, so I’m sure he’s fine.”
The doctor stood up and went out to see to Johnny. Scott gazed at Sarah and asked, “What about you? Are you okay?”
She smiled. “Sure I am, Mr Lancer. Now you lay here and rest.”
Scott frowned. “You know?”
She nodded. “Johnny told us.”
Scott scowled crossly. “I wish he hadn’t. I wanted to be able to explain it to you myself.”
“He did a pretty good job of ‘explaining’ it himself. We had quite a discussion about it,” she told him with an impish smile.
Scott gave a short laugh, and regretted it immediately as the movement brought another stab of pain. He looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry I lied to you. I couldn’t think of any other way to do it.”
“I know that,” she accepted at last. “But it had better be the last lie you ever tell me.”
He smiled and continued. “I did try to tell you the other night, but we were interrupted. Forgive me?”
She smiled at him warmly. “Of course I do,” she replied, and ran her hand tenderly across his forehead and through his hair. She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on his forehead.
Before she knew it, he had wrapped his good arm around her and pulled her close, kissing her hard and passionately.
Johnny Lancer walked into the bedroom. The doctor had cleaned and patched up the gash in his side where Tessman’s bullet had nicked him, though his shirt was covered in bloodstains.
Joe and Tom had arrived, galloping into the yard after hearing shots for the second time that day. This time, though, they found Gabe Tessman lying dead in the house, and yet another Lancer brother wounded. Johnny had sent them to fetch the sheriff, and, almost as an afterthought, he had asked Tom to wire his father to let him know that both of his sons were okay.
The sheriff had been and gone now. Barnes had helped to convince him that Johnny was, in fact, Johnny Lancer and that LANCER had had no part in the raids on Sarah’s ranch. Rather that it had been Gabe Tessman who had been trying to get hold of it himself.
He accepted the fact that Johnny had fired in self-defence. The presence of the derringer revolver that Tessman had fired supported the story. When he left, to Sarah’s immense relief, he took Tessman’s body with him.
Scott lay back in the bed, newly bandaged and strapped up, and Sarah sat on the edge of the bed beside him. He looked none the worse for his efforts now. In fact, Johnny thought that he looked downright pleased with himself.
Scott grinned when he saw him come into the room. “You look like hell!” he said when he saw the bloodstained shirt, still unbuttoned and hanging loose, and the slightly drawn expression his brother wore after dealing the sheriff and all the loose ends.
“Thanks,” his brother replied with a smile, and then asked, “You okay?”
“Sure,” Scott assured him cheerfully, “You?”
“Yeah, just a scratch,” Johnny answered confidently and strolled around to the other side of the bed and sat down. He stretched out beside his brother, careful not to disturb him, and carelessly crossed his ankles and put his hands behind his head.
Scott eyed his brother with disapproval. “Comfortable?” he asked him sarcastically.
“Yep,” Johnny repeated nonchalantly.
“Well, at least you’re not wearing spurs!” Scott retorted.
Johnny grinned and made himself more comfortable. “Yes sir, Boston,” he said, “I could be real comfortable here. I was thinking I might stay a few more days. You know, get my strength back.”
“Is that right?” Scott answered. He knew this tone. His brother was playing with him, and he was curious to see where he was going with it.
“Yep,” Johnny continued, “Got everything we need – the Doc’s right here, nice people and a real pretty nurse.”
“You get your own nurse!” Scott snapped back at him.
Johnny turned his head to face his brother and asked in mock surprise, “You telling me you’re gonna hog her all to yourself?”
“Damn right I am, little brother!” Scott agreed emphatically, and grinned good-humouredly as he gazed at Sarah.
“Well,” Johnny answered as he sat back up, “I figured as much.” He stood up and said to Sarah, “You look after him till he’s strong enough to come home. I’ll head back tomorrow.”
Scott frowned. “Will you be alright riding that far?”
Johnny walked to the door. “Yeah, I’ll take it slow,” he reassured his brother. “And I’ll send back a couple of the hands to help out around here. Get this place back in shape.”
Sarah gave him a warm, grateful smile. “Thankyou,” she said softly to him.
“De nada,” Johnny replied, a little awkwardly.
He turned to walk out of the room and then looked back. He contemplated Scott and Sarah, together alone. They sure looked comfortable together.
Yep, he thought and grinned happily, I reckon we’ll be seeing a lot more of Sarah!