“Teresa, wait!” Sally Miller ran across the dusty street towards her friend. “I’m so excited, Rob Jacobs asked me to go to the church picnic on Saturday. Who are you going with?”
Teresa didn’t let her feeling of desolation show on her face. “I’m not sure, yet. Maybe Tommy Peterson.” Not adding that although she was hoping that Tommy would ask her, so far he had not come through.
Sally didn’t seem to notice her friend’s discomfiture, and continued to babble on. “I’m on my way to the mercantile to get a new hat. The Medina’s just got a new shipment in. Do you want to go over there with me?”
Teresa glanced up the street. Johnny had driven her into town, but had characteristically disappeared to leave her to do her errands alone. She assumed he was in the saloon, and would probably be awhile. “Sure, Sally, I think a new hat is just what I need.”
As Sally led the way across the street, Teresa once again wondered why it seemed like she was always without a date. That morning, she had peered into the mirror in her room, and although she certainly didn’t consider herself beautiful, she didn’t think her looks were the issue. She shook her head. Despite living with three of them, sometimes she just didn’t understand men. This was one of the few times that she missed having a mother to guide her.
Sally entered the small shop and went right to the display of hats. Grabbing one, she put it on her head and whirled to show Teresa. “How do you like this one?”
Teresa picked up a dark green hat that would go with the dress she had just completed. Placing it on her head, she answered her friend. “I like this one better.”
The two friends continued to playfully try on hats, and after all of them had been thoroughly critiqued, the girls finally made their selections.
On the way out, Teresa noticed some new material and went over to investigate. Maybe it was her habit of wearing jeans most of the time that the boys found unappealing. Maybe she should try to look and act a little more feminine. She resolutely grabbed the bolt of blue cloth, and then picked up another bolt of a different color. She was going to have a lot of sewing to do.
Teresa paced back and forth on the sidewalk. Where was he? She had been waiting for almost a quarter of an hour, and Sally had left to finish some errands. If Johnny didn’t show up soon, she would ask someone to go get him. She just couldn’t figure out what was so enjoyable about sitting in a bar drinking.
Her irritation quickly disappeared, however, when she spied Tommy approaching from the end of the street. As soon as he spied her, the young man glanced nervously around, then doffing his hat, came up to talk.
“Howdy, miss Teresa.”
“Hello, Tommy, how are you today?”
“Fine.” Crunching his hat nervously with his hands, he once more glanced around. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Miss Teresa, uh, I was wonderin’ if, uh maybe you weren’t doin’ anything else, uh, that maybe you would want to, uh…..”
At that moment, he happened to look up and see Johnny rapidly approaching from behind Teresa.
“Sorry, Ma’am, sorry to bother you.” He managed to squeak out before hightailing it back the way he came.
“Teresa, you O.K.?” Johnny came striding up and grabbed the packages out of her hands. “Here, let me help you with those.”
Teresa looked at him in exasperation. “Johnny, did you have to show up right then? Couldn’t you have waited for a few minutes?”
Johnny looked around blankly. “For what?”
Teresa shook her head. “Never mind.”
She started to go with him to the buggy, and then she realized that this was probably the last chance she would have to come in to town before the picnic. Shoving the last parcel into Johnny’s hands, she turned and walked towards the telegraph office where Tommy worked with his father. “I’ll be right back.” She called to her perplexed “brother.”
As she approached the office, she almost got cold feet. She WAS being awful forward. She started to turn around, then resolutely turned and walked into the office.
“Miss Teresa!” the voice sounded very nervous.
“Hello again, Tommy. I’m sorry we were interrupted.
‘That’s all right.”
At Tommy’s continued silence, Teresa tried again. “I believe you were asking me something?” She inquired sweetly.
“Uh, yeah.” He hesitated, and without meeting her eyes, finished with a rush. “I thought maybe you might go with me to the picnic on Saturday.”
Before Teresa had a chance to respond, Mr. Peterson came from the back office.
“I’m sorry, Miss Lancer, but Tommy has to work Saturday, and he won’t have much time for socializing in the future.”
Tommy looked confusedly at his father. “No I don’t , Pa. You said I could have the day off.”
“TOMMY! Don’t argue with me. Now if you’ll excuse me, Miss O’ Brien, we have work to do. Good Day.”
Teresa left the office in a daze. Mr. Peterson obviously did not approve of her. But why? She felt the tears well up in her eyes, and she turned off of the street towards the schoolyard. The children had all gone home for the day, and an old tree with a seat underneath it looked like a welcome and private place to give in to her grief.
“Teresa?” Turning away and wiping her eyes, she looked up into the face of her friend, Sally.
“Are you O.K?”
Sniffling, Teresa nodded, and Sally put her arms around her friend.
“Oh Sally, what’s wrong with me? Why won’t any of the boys ask me out? And Mr. Peterson wasn’t even subtle. He practically forbade Tommy to see me. Why?”
Sally bit her bottom lip. “Don’t cry Teresa, it’s not you.”
Teresa looked up with tear filled eyes. “What do you mean, it’s not me? Who else could it be?”
Sally once more hesitated, not sure how much to tell her friend. “Teresa, all of the boys think you’re cute. They WANT to ask you out. I know, because I’ve heard them talking with my brother. They didn’t think I was around.”
Teresa was totally confused. “Then why?”
Sally looked down. “They’re afraid.”
Teresa stared at her friend. “Of what?”
Sally took a deep breath. “Of Johnny.”
Teresa didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “That’s ridiculous! Why would they be afraid of him?”
“Well….” Sally started. “With his reputation and all, and then remember at the spring dance last year when Johnny threatened Jimmy Martin for dancing with you?”
Teresa looked confused. “But Jimmy was drunk, and was being totally obnoxious.”
“That’s not the story Jimmy tells.”
“But that’s what happened!”
“Maybe, but Jimmy also said that Johnny caught up with him after he left the dance and threatened to shoot him if he ever got near you again.”
Teresa got very still and watched her friend intently. “And what else.”
Sally hesitated. “He told Jimmy to tell his friends that they’d better stay away, or they’d have Madrid to confront. The story got around, and now even the boy’s fathers are making sure they stay away from…...” Her voice trailed off.
“From me.” Teresa finished.
At Sally’s nod, Teresa felt her anger start to take hold. She didn’t know when she’d been more furious. Without a word, she turned away and stormed back to where Johnny was waiting in the buggy. Just wait until she was through with him. She’d teach him to interfere in her life.
When they reached the hacienda, Teresa jumped down and ran into the house, nearly colliding with Murdoch. He reached out to stop her, but she twisted away, and with a sob, ran up the stairs. He turned towards his son, who was still sitting in the buggy. “What happened?”
Murdoch’s temper rose when Johnny just shrugged and looked away. The young man got out of the buggy and started to lead the horse to the barn. Murdoch rushed after him, and when he finally caught up, he grabbed Johnny by the arm and swung him around. “I said what’s wrong?”
“I have no idea. Why don’t ya ask her?” Johnny said flatly, keeping his head down.
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed as he tried to grab Johnny’s face. Johnny jerked away and started to walk off. “JOHN!” Get back here right now!”
With a resigned sigh, Johnny turned towards his father and slowly lifted his face up to Murdoch.
Murdoch took a deep breath and tried to control his temper. He knew that he and his volatile son didn’t have the best relationship in the world, and he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions now. “I assume Teresa did that?” He said, staring at Johnny’s swollen and blackened eye.
Johnny lowered his head once again and merely nodded. Murdoch felt his temper begin to rise once more. “Aren’t you going to give me an explanation?”
Johnny sighed. “I told ya, I don’t know.”
Murdoch looked at his son incredulously. “Are you trying to tell me that TERESA, OUR TERESA, just hit you like that for no reason?”
“I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t know why she hit me.”
Murdoch’s temper was at the boiling point. “And what were you doing when she hit you?”
Johnny’s temper finally flared. “Think what ya want, Old Man, ya always do.” He turned and stalked off, ignoring his father’s demands to return.
Dinner that night was strained, to say the least. Johnny kept his head down and didn’t say more than two words, and Teresa kept shooting Johnny dirty looks. Murdoch had gone up to talk to her before dinner, but she had been as close-mouthed as his son. It was apparent, however, that whatever had happened had done more than make her mad, because she had obviously been crying. He didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but after dinner he was going to find out for sure what was going on. Scott looked between Teresa and his brother in complete bafflement.
When he was done eating, Johnny mumbled an excuse and bolted from the table and headed for the barn. Scott started to get up to follow him, but his father stopped him. “Let him go, Scott, he needs some space.” Scott looked at his father and reluctantly sat down.
Murdoch sighed when he saw Barranca heading for town a few moments later and turned his mind to more pressing matters. When Teresa got up to do the dinner dishes, he gently grabbed her arm. “Teresa, we need to talk. Please come into the Great Room with me for a minute.”
Teresa started to come up with an excuse, but then thought maybe it would be better to get it out all at once. “All right, but I want Scott to hear this, too.”
Teresa walked into the Great Room and started pacing nervously in front of the fireplace as she planned what she was going to say. By the time she had gotten everything straight in her mind, Murdoch was about ready to explode. He had a pretty good idea of what she was going to say, and he was getting ready to kill his younger son.
“I want you both to know that I am NOT a little girl. I am a grown woman, and I want to be treated like one.”
“Not too much.” Murdoch mumbled to himself.
Teresa continued. “I am tired of everyone on this ranch treating me like a child to be protected. I have taken care of the three of you when you’ve been hurt, and I have run this house for years. I DON’T appreciate you thinking that you have to protect me at every turn.
Murdoch was getting impatient. “Teresa, get to the point.”
Teresa turned and looked at him. “That IS the point. Do you know what happened today in town?”
Murdoch braced himself, while Scott shook his head. “What happened?”
“Tommy Peterson wanted to ask me to the dance, but was afraid to.”
Scott and Murdoch both looked perplexed. “Why?”
She glared at Murdoch. “Because YOUR SON scared him off, that’s why!”
Murdoch felt almost weak with relief, and he made the mistake of chuckling. “I don’t think it would take very much to scare off Tommy.”
Teresa turned towards Murdoch, furious. “It seems as if he’s managed to scare off the entire male population around here.”
Scott smiled. “Come on, now Teresa. I haven’t heard Johnny threatening anybody lately.”
“Do you remember Jimmy Martin?
Scott thought for a moment before frowning. “Wasn’t he that obnoxious young man that was trying to paw you at the dance last year?”
Teresa blushed as Murdoch looked at her in alarm. “Yes, but I was taking care of him quite successfully on my own, before Johnny interfered.”
“Teresa, if anyone was out of line with you, then Johnny had every right to warn him off.” Murdoch scolded.
Teresa glared at her guardian, then said softly. “Maybe so. But he didn’t have the right to go after him and tell him that if he or any of his friends got near me again, he’d kill them.”
“I’m sure that’s not the way Johnny meant it.” Murdoch looked at her in disbelief. “Is that why you hit him?”
“He has ruined my chances to get a date. Not only are the young men my age intimidated, but their parents have actually forbidden their sons from seeing me.”
Scott shook his head. “Come on now, Teresa. I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
She turned on him like a cat. “Oh yes it is. And you haven’t helped, either.” She turned and glared at Murdoch again. “You never let me go anywhere on my own. You don’t know how intimidating you can be to other people.” She shook her head in frustration. “How am I ever going to meet anyone with the three of you scaring everyone off?”
Murdoch tried to calm his ward. “Honey, there’s plenty of time for you to meet people. You’re just a child still.”
Scott braced for the explosion as Teresa’s face turned red. “A child? I am the one that took care of you and this whole….” She hesitated, and then decided to say it anyway. “Damn ranch while you were laid up. And half the girls my age are already married. Is that what you want? Me to stay an old maid and take care of the three of you forever?”
Murdoch shook his head slowly. “Of course not. But while you ARE living here, we are going to watch out for you.
Teresa’s voice was icy calm. “Watching out is one thing. But you need to get Johnny under control, and I won’t tolerate him, or any of you, scaring off any more would be suitors. If you do, I won’t be here to take care of you or this house. Do you understand?”
At Murdoch and Scott’s slack jawed nod, she turned and stormed out of the room.
When Scott got up the next morning, he passed Johnny’s room and noticed that his brother apparently hadn’t come home. Sighing, he went down the stairs and grabbed a couple of biscuits from the stove. He was halfway out of the door when a thought occurred to him, and he turned around and quickly put together a couple of sandwiches and stuffed several handfuls of cookies in a sack. He smiled. If he knew Johnny, he would be out working already, and he probably hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch the day before. Even six months ago, he would have been worried about Johnny taking off, but he knew now that it would take more than a quarrel with his “little sister” to make Johnny abandon his home and family.
He saddled up Charlie and headed for the east pasture where he and Johnny had been working the last couple of days getting it ready for use. He went to the portion of fence line where they had worked the day before, and was relieved to see the familiar Palomino ground tied under a tree. Johnny had already started working on a section of fence, and Scott left Charlie under the tree with Barranca and joined his brother. Without a word, Scott offered Johnny a couple of biscuits, and went to work.
It was nearly noon before they were finished with that section of fence and took a break to eat lunch. As they sat under the tree, Scott watched his brother. Johnny seemed quiet; he hadn’t said more than a couple of words all day. Scott noticed Johnny’s eye had turned almost purple and shook his head; Teresa sure must have hit him hard. He just couldn’t quite believe that Teresa had hit Johnny. Scott had never seen her resort to violence before, but remembering her words last night, he realized he’d never seen her this mad before, either. He smiled slightly. Leave it to Johnny to bring out the temper in anybody.
The two men finished working in companionable silence and finally headed for home. Scott was relieved to see that Johnny headed Barranca towards the house without hesitation, and he smiled to himself. He had worried about Johnny leaving for so long that it was always a relief to be reminded that his little brother wasn’t going anywhere. When they rode under the arch, Scott was glad to be home, even though by Johnny’s body language he knew that his brother didn’t share his enthusiasm. Scott knew that the row with Teresa was bothering him more than he cared to admit. Johnny and Teresa were usually pretty close, and Scott couldn’t recall another time that they had actually fought.
Once again, dinner was strained. Teresa was obviously still annoyed at all three men, but she aimed most of her ire at Johnny. The slammed dishes and hostile looks weren’t lost on anyone. Finally, Teresa jumped to her feet and stormed up the stairs. Murdoch and Scott both watched her go, while Johnny kept his head down and studied his plate. Murdoch turned back and watched his son for a moment. “Teresa explained to Scott and I last night what the problem was.”
Johnny’s eyes flew to his father’s. “Yeah? Well I wish you would let me in on the secret.” He said angrily.
“She’s angry at the way she’s been treated.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Murdoch. “The way she’s been treated?” He turned and looked at Scott in disbelief. “What did she tell you?”
“She’s tired of being treated like a child.” Murdoch explained.
Johnny looked at Murdoch, perplexed. “Why is she mad at me?”
Scott shook his head. “She thinks that you’re to blame for her lack of suitors.”
Johnny looked at his brother in confusion. “What?”
Murdoch stepped in. ‘She told us that she found out yesterday that you threatened Jimmy Martin at the dance last year, and that you also warned off his friends.”
Murdoch watched as his younger son’s expression turned from disbelief, to puzzlement, and finally to realization.
Murdoch sighed. He had done a lot of thinking last night, and knew that Teresa had a reason to be mad if Johnny had actually done what she said. He had been hoping that she had exaggerated, but by his son’s reaction, it didn’t seem as if she had. “You did, didn’t you?” At Johnny’s nod, Murdoch felt his temper start to rise. “Johnny how could you? Don’t you care about Teresa’s feelings at all?”
Johnny looked up angrily at his father. “Of course I care about her feelings. Why do ya think I did it? That Martin kid is nothin but trouble, so are the kids he hangs out with. I didn’t want to see Teresa with that bunch, that’s all.”
Murdoch looked at his son severely. “That wasn’t your call. I hear that Jimmy was drunk and out of line. You had every right to stop him from pawing Teresa, but you had no right to warn off everyone else when they hadn’t done anything.”
Johnny’s temper flared. “I didn’t warn off everybody; just that wild bunch that Jimmy hangs around with. Teresa has no business with any of them.”
Murdoch shook his head. “You shouldn’t have threatened anybody.”
“Oh, so I should just wait until somethin’ happens, and then we can all try ta pick up the pieces, is that it?”
Murdoch glared at Johnny. “She’s not a child any longer, and you can’t keep her from meeting people. And you don’t go around threatening to shoot half the population just because you think they MIGHT be bad for her.”
Johnny shook his head in disbelief. “I didn’t exactly threaten half the population.”
Murdoch sighed in exasperation. “No, but you know how rumors fly. Right now, according to Teresa, there’s not one young man in town who doesn’t think that Madrid will be gunning for them if they get anywhere near her. Not only that, but their fathers are aware of it too, and as a result, Teresa has about as much chance of getting a date as Jelly does. As usual, you should have thought before you opened your mouth.”
Johnny was fuming. “Well, I’m sorry I tried to protect my sister. Next time I’ll just ignore it.”
“You can protect her without bringing Madrid into it, is that clear? Now I want you to apologize to Teresa and to fix this, do you understand?”
“What do ya want me to do, shoot myself?”
“Don’t get smart with me, young man. This is very important to Teresa. You are the one that messed up, now you can come up with a way to make it better. I believe Tommy Peterson was going to ask her to the picnic this weekend, until his father intervened. I expect you to go in and talk to him and his father tomorrow.”
Johnny looked at his father in disbelief. “And just what am I supposed to tell them?”
“I have no idea, but you’d better come up with something. Next time maybe you’ll think before you threaten anyone.”
“Yeah, I learned my lesson all right. Next time I’ll just shoot ‘em and be done with it.” Johnny grumbled.
“Scott, I want you to go into town with Johnny tomorrow.” Murdoch said sharply.
“What’s the matter, ‘fraid I’ll get lost?” Johnny said sarcastically.
Murdoch met Johnny’s gaze. “I just want to make sure that things get better, not worse. I don’t trust your temper.”
Johnny pushed back from the table. “Is that all?” He asked quietly.
At Murdoch’s nod, he jumped up and headed for the stairs.
“Don’t forget to apologize to Teresa.” Murdoch ordered.
Johnny hesitated slightly, then continued up the stairs, slamming his door hard enough to make the windows rattle.
The next morning, Scott and Johnny rode into town. Again, Johnny didn’t say more than a few words, and Scott knew that Johnny was troubled more about the rift between he and Teresa than having to talk to Mr. Peterson. As they approached the telegraph office, Scott wasn’t surprised when Johnny suddenly cut his horse to the side and pulled up in front of the saloon. Sighing, Scott followed his brother inside. He figured it wouldn’t hurt Johnny to get a drink or two before confronting the Petersons.
Johnny walked into the saloon ahead of Scott and after doing his customary check of the premises, he threw his hat on a table and plopped down into a chair. Scott went up and got them both a beer, then came back and sat next to his brother. Without a word, he handed one of the drinks off to Johnny, and then sat back in the chair and watched his brother.
Finally Johnny sighed and put his drink down. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” He asked softly. “Go in and say ‘Oh, by the way, go ahead and take Teresa to the picnic and I won’t shoot ya.’ Or maybe I should use the direct approach ‘Take Teresa to the picnic or I WILL shoot ya.’ I’m sure Murdoch would love that.”
Johnny picked up his beer and then slammed it down in frustration. “I wasn’t tryin ta keep her from getting a date, I was just tryin’ ta protect her.”
Scott looked in sympathy at his brother. “I know that, and once Teresa calms down, I’m sure she’ll realize it too.”
“Yeah? What about the Old Man? He’s sure not willin’ ta give me the benefit of the doubt.”
Scott sighed. “I think he knows to. He just got scared and overreacted.”
Johnny looked up sharply. “Scared? Of what?”
Scott studied his drink. He hadn’t intended to bring it up, but it had just slipped out. Keeping his head down, he replied, “Teresa was really upset last night. She told us that if ANY of us scared off any more suitors that she would leave.”
Johnny looked at his brother’s face. “She didn’t mean it.” He said uncertainly.
Scoot shrugged his shoulders. “She was upset, that’s all. Forget about it Johnny. It’s not your fault.” Scott watched as Johnny nodded slowly, but he had a feeling that Johnny didn’t quite believe him.
The two men sat there for another few minutes before Scott spoke. “Johnny, would you like me to go with you talk to the Petersons?” He didn’t really think his brother would take him up on his offer, and was surprised when his brother nodded his head. “I’d probably just mess it up somehow.” Johnny said quietly.
Scott figured they’d better get it over with before Johnny had any more to drink. Him going in there drunk certainly wouldn’t make a good impression. “Come on, brother, let’s get this over with.”
With a sigh and a last gulp of his beer, Johnny stood up. “It sure would be a lot less stressful just ta shoot him.” he said, with a weak attempt at humor.
Johnny led the way to the telegraph station and with a slight pause at the entrance, entered the darkened building. Tommy looked up and his nervousness was apparent when he recognized the two men. His eyes focused on Johnny “What can I do for you Mr. Mad….Lancer?” He stumbled.
Johnny shook his head and approached the counter. “It’s Lancer, Tommy. Madrid’s long gone, OK?”
At Tommy’s nervous nod, Johnny sighed. “I don’t know what you heard, but I’m not goin’ ta shoot anyone ‘cause they take Teresa out, understand?”
“Yessir Mr. Lancer.”
Johnny fumbled with a pencil that had been left on the counter while he chose his next words. “I guess what I’m tryin’ ta say is that if you wanted ta take Teresa to the picnic, there’s no reason not to.”
Tommy brightened considerably. “It’s all right with all of you?”
At Scott and Johnny’s solemn nods, Tommy grinned. “Then I think I’ll ride out later this afternoon and ask her if she’d like to go with me to the picnic this Saturday.”
Johnny heaved a sigh of relief; one conversation down, one to go. As he and Scott turned to leave, they were stopped by the voice of Mr. Peterson. “Scott, John, can I do something for you?”
Scott glanced at his brother, but it looked like Johnny’s talking streak was about over. “No sir. We just stopped by to clear up a misunderstanding, that’s all.”
Mr. Peterson narrowed his eyes as he continued to study the two men. “What kind of a misunderstanding?”
Scott once more glanced at his brother, but Johnny’s lips were firmly sealed. Taking a deep breath, Scott plunged ahead. “It seems like there was some concern about Johnny here not wanting anyone dating Teresa. Unfortunately, a rumor got started to that effect, and we’re just trying to clear it up.”
Mr. Peterson stared at Johnny for a moment before turning his gaze towards Scott. “I don’t think there was any misunderstanding at all. And I’m not going to take a chance on your hot- headed brother takin’ somethin my boy does wrong and puttin’ a bullet in him. Now if you’ll excuse me, Tommy and I have work to do.”
At Mr. Peterson’s words, Johnny turned and abruptly left the building, however Scott stayed. “Mr. Peterson, I assure you, Johnny has no intention of shooting Tommy. And all Johnny did at the dance last year was warn off a man that was totally out of line with our sister, and somehow that got twisted around to make my brother look like the bad guy.”
Mr. Peterson stared at Scott. “Your BROTHER is a vicious killer. He has no business even associating with decent folks. I don’t understand why Murdoch even brought him home in the first place. He should have left him in Mexico where he belonged.”
Scott took a deep breath. “Johnny is my brother and Murdoch’s son. I won’t have you talking about him like he’s anything less, do you understand? You don’t even know him. How can you judge him like that?”
Mr. Peterson glared at Scott. “What I think is my business. And it’s my business whether my son has anything to do with Teresa or anyone else. And I will not allow Tommy to associate with the family of that half breed killer.”
The punch landed before the word ‘killer’ was completely out of Peterson’s mouth. The man fell backwards against the wall, blood spurting out of his broken nose. He grabbed his nose, and then glared at Scott. “You tell your father that he can go somewhere else to get his telegrams from now on. I don’t want to have anything to do with any of you. You’re all crazy.”
“That will be fine with us, Peterson. We have no intention of doing business with a closed minded idiot like yourself.” Scott turned and stalked from the office and nearly ran into Johnny, who was standing just outside.
Johnny shook his head. “Ya shoulda let it go, Scott. I learned a long time ago that ya can’t beat sense into people like that.”
Scott grinned at his brother. “Maybe not, but it sure made me feel better.”
Johnny sighed and looked at his brother. “Maybe so, but Teresa and Murdoch are both gonna have my hide when they find out that Tommy is permanently off Teresa’s suitor list.”
Scott looked worriedly at Johnny. “I’m the one that threw that punch, and besides they’ll understand when I explain what happened. They can’t blame you for that.”
Johnny dropped his head and smiled sadly. “Wanna bet?”
Murdoch confronted them as soon as they walked into the house. “Well? Did you talk to the Petersons?”
Johnny immediately dropped his head. “Yeah, we talked to them.”
“And? Did you get it straightened out?”
Scott spoke up. “Not exactly.”
Murdoch managed to glower at both boys at the same time. His voice was like frost when his gaze finally settled on Johnny. “What happened?”
Johnny shrugged. “Tommy wanted to take Teresa to the picnic; he wasn’t the problem. But Mr. Peterson had other ideas.”
Murdoch’s voice was calm. “Did you apologize?”
“Wasn’t nothin’ ta apologize for.” Johnny spat.
Scott stepped in before things could get out of hand. “Johnny explained to both Mr. Peterson and Tommy what had really happened. Mr. Peterson was being unreasonable, sir.”
“I’m sure if it had been handled correctly, he would have seen reason”. He shook his head. “Maybe it was a mistake to send the two of you.” Murdoch sighed. “I guess I’ll have to go in and talk to him.”
Johnny smirked as his brother looked decidedly uncomfortable. After hesitating a moment, Scott finally answered Murdoch. “I don’t think that will do any good, sir. In fact, he asked us to take our business elsewhere.”
Murdoch stared at Scott before swinging around and looking at Johnny in disbelief. “What did you do? hit him?”
Scott stood up straighter. “Actually, sir, I hit him.”
Murdoch swung back around to Scott and slowly shook his head. “I send the two of you into town to take care of one minor task. Couldn’t you handle it without making a mess of it for a change? You were supposed to convince him to let Tommy take Teresa to the picnic; not alienate him more!” He glared at Scott. “Why on earth did you hit him?”
“Because he said……..”
“Scott don’t.” Johnny interrupted. “Let it go.”
“I’m not going to let it go. He had no call to talk to you that way.”
Johnny shrugged. “He didn’t say nothin’ that wasn’t true, and ya can’t change the mind of somebody like that by hittin’ em.” Johnny snorted. “Believe, me I’ve tried.”
“Just what did Mr. Peterson say?” Murdoch asked.
“Scott!” Johnny’s voice managed to sound threatening and pleading at the same time.
Scott hesitated before answering his father. “Suffice it to say he insulted your son.”
Murdoch glanced at Johnny before dropping his eyes. He shook his head. “We won’t be doing business with him any more, that’s for certain. We’ll go in to Spanish Wells to pick up or send telegrams from now on.” He turned to Scott. “But Johnny’s right, you can’t change a person’s opinion by hitting them.” Murdoch sighed, and then looked at Johnny. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that there was more to it than what Teresa said.”
Johnny shrugged. “She didn’t know.”
Murdoch looked at both of his boys. “She’s not going to be very happy about this. She was really looking forward to that picnic. I think the best thing we can do is back off a little and give her some freedom. Maybe we have been just a little controlling.”
Scott looked enquiringly at Murdoch. “I thought that’s what parents were supposed to do.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I don’t know. I know I want her to be safe, but she accused me of being her jailer the other day.” He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “I’m just not sure what to do. I talked to Maria, and she said Teresa is growing up, and that we need to give her more freedom. Maybe she’s right.”
Johnny shook his head. “Murdoch, freedom is one thing. But you can’t expect us ta do nothin’ if we see she’s ridin for a fall.”
Murdoch sighed. “No, but we don’t have to be there every time she stumbles, either.” He hesitated a moment. “I want you boys to back off, understand?”
Scott and Johnny looked at each other and shrugged before they both grudgingly nodded their heads. Murdoch looked at Johnny. “And you still shouldn’t have threatened Jimmy and all of his friends. Have you apologized to Teresa for that yet?”
When Johnny slowly shook his head, Murdoch continued. “She’s upstairs. Now would be as good a time as any.” He said pointedly.
Johnny nodded slightly, then turned and walked slowly to the stairs. He didn’t think he’d felt this apprehensive when he had walked out towards the firing squad down in Mexico. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on Teresa’s door.
“Come in.” The voice was sharp; not like Teresa’s normal tone of voice. Johnny hesitantly entered the room and stood just inside the door. Teresa was sitting at the small table by her window, looking out at the ranch.
Johnny stood watching her for a moment, waiting for her to make the first move. When she continued to ignore him, he finally took another step closer. “Teresa, we need to talk.”
Teresa turned towards him, and he took a step back at the look of anger she gave him as she spoke. “Murdoch said you and Scott went in to town to talk to Mr. Peterson.”
Johnny nodded, unsure of what to tell her. “Yes, we did.”
“I suppose you made sure he knew how you got that black eye.”
Johnny looked at her in confusion. “It wasn’t brought up. I just wanted both Tommy and his father to know that I wasn’t going to cause any problems if Tommy wanted to ask you out.”
Teresa turned on him angrily. “Couldn’t you have just stayed out of it? Why do you have to keep interfering? Do you know how humiliating it was to me to know that you and Scott had to ride in to town and try to talk Tommy into asking me out?”
Johnny’s mouth flew open. “You think I WANTED to do that?”
Teresa was furious. “Why can’t you just leave things alone? Do you know what it’s like to have your family hovering over you all of the time, to have them always trying to protect you? Do you know how hard it is to grow up with someone always making sure that you don’t get into any trouble, that you never make mistakes? That try so hard to keep you from getting hurt that you feel suffocated?”
Johnny’s voice was cold. “No, Teresa, I wouldn’t know nothin’ about that. I didn’t have anybody ta make sure I didn’t get hurt or ta keep me from makin’ stupid mistakes, and I made ‘em all. I would have done anything ta have what you’ve had all your life; people who care about ya. I never had anybody that cared; I never had anybody, period. I’m sorry you’re upset about what I did, and I’m sorry I messed up your chance to go out with Tommy; I didn’t mean to. But there’s no way I’m just gonna sit back and watch someone that I care about get hurt, so ya better get used to it.” Johnny turned and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
Johnny stomped into his room, still angry with Teresa, and feeling just a little bit of guilt over the problem with Tommy. He slammed his own door and then stopped when he saw Scott standing by his window.
“I take it the apology didn’t go well?” Scott asked.
Johnny plopped down on his bed. “I just don’t understand, Boston. All we’re tryin’ ta do is ta look out for her, how come she’s gettin’ so mad?”
Scott laughed briefly. “Look who’s talking!”
Johnny managed to look completely puzzled when he replied, “What do ya mean by that?”
Scott laughed. “I remember a few very notable instances, LITTLE brother, when you were not exactly appreciative of Murdoch or I interfering when you were in trouble. In fact, you were downright livid. And you were quite vocal about it, too.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “That’s different, and you know it.”
Scott raised his eyebrows at his brother’s comment. “Why?”
Johnny shook his head “Scott, don’t change the subject. We’re talkin’ about Teresa, remember?”
At Scott’s disbelieving look, Johnny sighed. “It’s different ‘cause I don’t need you lookin’ out for me. I’ve been lookin’ out for myself for a long time. She’s just a kid” he hesitated, “and a girl on top of it.”
“You’d better not let her hear you say that, or you’ll have two black eyes to explain.” Scott shook his head. “Johnny, Teresa feels all grown up, whether she is or not. She’s never really been in trouble before, or had any major problems that she’s had to solve all on her own. She’s been protected her whole life, by her father, by Murdoch, by us. She thinks she can handle anything. Teresa doesn’t know how dangerous things can get for her. She doesn’t think she needs anyone telling her what to do, or looking out for her.
Johnny dropped his head and said softly. “Everybody needs somebody lookin’ out for them.”
Scott looked at the top of his brother’s head and smiled. “Yes, they do. And we’re not going to stop just because Murdoch tells us to give her some space. But on the other hand, he is right, everybody needs to make a few mistakes so they can learn.”
Johnny sighed. “So we’re just supposed to let her get into trouble, even if we can head it off?”
Scott shrugged. “It depends on what kind of trouble you’re talking about. I have no intention of standing idly by if there is any real danger.” He grinned. “But maybe if she has to handle a few minor catastrophes on her own, she might be just a little more appreciative of us when we do step in.”
Johnny grinned slightly. “I like the way you think, Boston.”
Scott laughed. “Of course. I’m the older brother, I’m supposed to have brilliant ideas.” His expression grew serious, and he said softly, “Did you tell her about Mr. Peterson?”
Johnny sighed. “We didn’t get that far.”
Scott nodded understandingly. “I think I’ll go talk to her. She needs to know that it wasn’t you that messed things up.”
“Yes it was,” Johnny said ruefully. If it wasn’t for me, Mr. Peterson would probably be beggin’ Tommy ta take Teresa out.” Johnny shook his head. “The problem is, I can’t do anything ta change why Peterson doesn’t like me.”
“Johnny…” Scott said warningly. “It wasn’t your fault, and Teresa needs to know that. She also needs to know what kind of man Tommy’s father is.”
“Scott, Tommy isn’t like his old man, he’s always been O.K.” Johnny shrugged. “Ya can’t go blamin’ the son just ‘cause his daddy’s a fool.”
Scott looked at his brother. “Maybe not, but Teresa still needs to know what Mr. Peterson is like.”
Johnny looked at his brother and sighed. “You don’t need to talk to her, I can take care of my own problems.”
“Now where have I heard that before?” Scott headed towards the door. “There’s no reason for you to take care of it on your own. Besides, I’m just looking out for my little brother.” Scott grinned as a boot came sailing by his head before he could escape.
Scott rapped on Teresa’s door, determined to get her and Johnny back on good terms. When she acknowledged him, he entered and like Johnny had done previously, stood just inside the door.
“Teresa, we need to talk.”
The young girl rolled her eyes at the familiar words, but remained silently sitting by the window.
“Teresa, I think you’ve treated Johnny pretty harshly. He never meant to do anything to hurt you.”
“I know.” She sighed. “And I didn’t mean to hurt him. But he has to realize that I’m not a child; you all have to realize it. I can take care of my own problems. You have to stop interfering in my life.”
“We’re not trying to interfere, we’re trying to protect you. There is a difference.” Scott said quietly.
Teresa turned towards Scott. “No, there isn’t. Johnny was trying to ‘Protect me’, but instead, he ruined my chances of going to the picnic with Tommy.”
Scott felt his temper start to rise. “The only reason that you’re not going to the picnic with Tommy Peterson is that his father is a closed – minded bigot. Johnny tried to tell the Peterson what had happened, but he wouldn’t listen. I wound up breaking his nose, and I’m glad I did.”
Teresa whirled to face him and looked at him in disbelief. “You broke Mr. Peterson’s nose?” She jumped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t believe it! Why can’t you just leave things alone! Are you TRYING to make things worse?”
Scott stared at Teresa, then said slowly. “No, we weren’t trying to make things worse. Johnny went in to town to try to fix things, even though I don’t believe he’d done anything wrong. It was Mr. Peterson who was pushing for a fight.”
Teresa shook her head. “He wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for Johnny.”
Scott shook his head in disbelief, glad that Johnny was in his room and not listening to his ‘sister’. “You’re right. If it weren’t for Johnny, everything would be just fine. After all, if Johnny weren’t around, you wouldn’t have a half- breed killer for a brother, and Mr. Peterson would be happy to let Tommy go to the picnic with you.
Teresa gasped. “Mr. Peterson didn’t say that.” She looked at Scott uncertainly.
Scott shook his head. If Teresa didn’t want to be protected, now was as good a time as any to introduce her to the real world. “Yes, Teresa, he did. That’s the reason he wouldn’t let Tommy take you to the picnic. It had nothing to do with the threats that Johnny supposedly gave Jimmy and his bunch. Mr. Peterson is a bigoted, narrow- minded idiot, and if you want to go chasing after his son, that’s your business, I guess. But if he says one word about Johnny again, he’s going to have more than a broken nose, I can guarantee that, and I don’t care if you get mad or not. You see, I protect my brother, but I guess you wouldn’t understand anything about that.” He turned and walked out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
The picnic had come and gone, and the seasons had changed, but Johnny and Teresa still weren’t on very good terms. Scott sighed. He had hoped that his little lecture to Teresa would make her think. Maybe it had, but so far she had kept any thoughts or apologies to herself. She was doing her best to seem grown – up, dressing like a lady and behaving in a more restrained manner, but Scott could still see the young girl behind the facade. Apparently that’s what Murdoch saw also, because the freedom that she craved was slow in coming.
Johnny was scrupulously polite to her and nothing more. The jokes and teasing that used to mark their relationship had disappeared. Scott knew that his brother was letting Teresa set the tone for their relationship, and unfortunately, she had. She treated him more like a guest than a member of the household. But it wasn’t just with Johnny that she was more aloof. All of them were being held at arms length. It was like she was trying to prove she was grown up by being more reserved. The nights where she would sit curled up next to Murdoch as he read a book aloud were long gone. Instead, she would sit by herself and read or sew for a few hours before politely excusing herself and retiring for the night. She was pleasant enough when spoken to, but she never initiated a conversation, and her old habit of verbally sparing with he and Johnny had disappeared.
He knew that Murdoch was about at wit’s end. He had talked to her, he knew, and his father had even asked if she had apologized to Johnny for hitting him. She had looked up at Murdoch in shock, and with an indignant “no” she had stalked to her room, slamming the door behind her. Murdoch had then told him that he had talked to Sam and Maria, and that they both felt it was just a phase, and that she would outgrow it eventually. Personally, Scott thought that a little good old- fashioned corporal punishment might be in order, but Murdoch had quickly vetoed that idea. Scott had mentioned the problem in one of his letters to his grandfather and the older man had also thought that it was just a phase that she would outgrow, and reminded him of his own rebellion at that age. Scott sighed. He just wished if she were going to outgrow it, she would hurry up; she was tearing the family apart.
Teresa had once more asked Murdoch to allow her to go into town by herself, but Murdoch had refused, and with good reason. They weren’t in Boston. Rowdy cowboys from the ranches were always a threat. Most cowboys held women in high regard, but with a few drinks in them, even well mannered cowpokes could cause a lady problems. There were also drifters and stage passengers, just too many variables for Murdoch to feel safe in allowing his precious ward to wander the streets alone. His refusal was met with black looks and more slammed doors, but on this Murdoch had refused to budge.
So, he or Johnny were assigned the task of accompanying her into town on her weekly forays. While before the two brothers used to fight for the opportunity to accompany Teresa into town, it was indicative of the change in their relationship with her that they now both avoided it whenever possible. When in town, he and Johnny tried their best to abide by Murdoch’s orders and Teresa’s wishes, and kept a discreet distance. Luckily, so far their protection had not been needed. Teresa was well aware of their presence, however, and made no attempt to hide her anger at the situation.
That’s where Scott was today, babysitting his little sister. Johnny had refused the last several times and to keep him from getting into trouble with Murdoch, Scott had ‘volunteered’. Teresa had come into town today to pick up some material that she had ordered, and to visit with a few friends. Scott had driven her in the buggy, and she had let him know what she thought of that arrangement in no uncertain terms. When they had arrived, she hadn’t waited for him to help her down, but had jumped off and stalked away from the buggy without a word. Scott had taken care of an order at the mercantile, and then gone to see about the mail. He was told the mail would arrive on the afternoon stage, so Scott had retired to the saloon to wait, and watch all the comings and going through the large windows.
An hour later, Scott watched idly as the stage pulled in, leaving a billowing dust cloud behind it. The stage came to a stop directly across the street, and Scott scrutinized the disembarking passengers. Most looked pretty ordinary, but the last passenger definitely was not. He was dressed more in the eastern style of dress, and his clothes spoke of money. However, he wore a suede cowboy hat, obviously for looks, not use, and had some awful fancy luggage. But what caught Scott’s eye was the gunbelt tied low on his leg. His eyes narrowed. He’d have to be sure and warn Johnny.
He watched as the man walked casually up towards the hotel, and finally lost sight of him about a block down. Scott finished his beer and glanced at his pocket watch. Three o’clock. Teresa should have had plenty of time to do her errands. He slipped the watch back in his pocket and stood up. He would go get the mail and then go over to the store and see if Teresa was ready to leave.
Miss Agnes gave Scott a rare genuine smile when he walked in, and handed him a bundle of letters tied up with string. He gave the old lady a smile in return, causing her to blush, and then he left to go find his sister. He went to the general store, where Teresa usually got her material, but she wasn’t inside. He left the shop, mildly annoyed that he’d have to track her down. As he walked down the street, scanning the walks for Teresa, he caught sight of Sally Miller. Crossing over to the other side of the street, he quickly caught up with her.
“Miss Miller” Scott tipped his hat at the young girl. “Have you seen Teresa?”
Sally smiled at the handsome young man. “Yes, we talked for awhile, but then she decided to go for a walk.” She thought privately that she didn’t know what Teresa was so upset about; she certainly wouldn’t mind either Scott or Johnny hovering around her.
“Do you know which direction she went?”
Sally thought for a moment. “Yes, she went towards the hotel.”
After thanking Sally, he strode down the street. He certainly didn’t know what business Teresa could possibly have in this end of town. As he thought about it, he walked a little faster. Finally, he reached the hotel and looked around. Not seeing her outside, he glanced in through the doors of the large building, and was surprised to see her standing by the stairway, speaking to the man from the stage.
Scott quickly entered the room and approached the pair. Keeping his eyes on the man, he reached out and took Teresa’s arm. “Teresa, we need to get home.”
She looked at him in confusion. “Scott, I wasn’t done talking to Luke.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “Luke?” He asked.
Teresa had the grace to blush. “I mean Mr. Collins.”
Scott let go of her arm as he looked appraisingly at the man. “Maybe you should introduce us.”
Teresa looked confused for a moment, and Mr. Collins came to her aid. “I’m afraid it’s my fault. I asked this charming young lady for directions. I didn’t mean to cause any problems.” He offered his hand to Scott. “Luke Collins……Mr…?”
Scott looked into the man’s eyes and wondered where he had seen that same look before. He hesitantly offered his hand. “Lancer, Scott Lancer.”
“I am pleased to meet you both.” Luke said as he turned and smiled at Teresa. He took her hand and planted a kiss on it. “Perhaps we could meet again some time.”
Scott immediately took Teresa’s arm once more. “Mr. Collins, I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” He could feel Teresa’s anger at his words, and figured he’d catch an earful on the way home. But he had figured out where he had seen the same cold expression; the same predatory smile. It was the expression that Johnny had when he was toying with someone who had called him out; someone he was about to kill.
Scott took Teresa’s arm and guided her back to the buggy. The whole way he could feel her trembling, and one look at her face verified it wasn’t from the cold. He had a feeling that he had just ousted Johnny as bad guy of the year in Teresa’s mind. Thankfully, they didn’t meet anyone they knew on the way back, and just as thankfully, Teresa remained quiet until they were out of town. Then she turned her full wrath on him. “How DARE you interfere. I was simply talking to Mr. Collins. You had NO right to humiliate me like that.”
Scott stopped the buggy and turned to face her, wondering briefly if that’s how Johnny got his black eye. “I DID have a right to interfere. A lady doesn’t just start talking to strange men without a proper introduction.” He shook his head. “And don’t you mean “Luke?”
Teresa blushed and dropped her head. “That just sort of slipped out.”
“Teresa, you know nothing about the man. He could be dangerous.”
Teresa laughed unbelievingly. “What makes you think he was dangerous? He looked like a gentleman to me.”
Scott shook his head. “Gentlemen don’t wear their guns the way he did, or didn’t you notice?”
Teresa tossed he hair and looked away from her brother. “I noticed.” She shrugged and looked back at Scott. “Johnny wears his the same way. Are you telling me he’s not a gentleman?” She said flippantly.
Scott fought to keep his temper. “Johnny is most definitely a gentleman, but most people that are in his line of work aren’t. And I didn’t like the way MISTER Collins looked at us; especially you.”
“Why?” Teresa asked. “Just because he was nice to me?”
Scott took a deep breath. “I don’t trust him. Did it ever occur to you that maybe he was nice to you because he wanted something?”
Teresa looked at Scott and shook her head in disbelief. “You’re too suspicious, Scott. What could he possibly want from me?”
Scott looked at the girl. “Teresa, if you don’t know the answer to that question, then you’re not as grown up as you think you are.”
Teresa blushed. “We were just talking.”
Scott sighed. “You shouldn’t have been talking to him without an introduction. And like I said, there was something about him that I didn’t trust. I’m afraid that maybe he’s here because of Johnny.”
“Because of Johnny?” Teresa still looked angry. “Just because he was wearing his gun a certain way you think he was after Johnny, so I can’t have anything to do with him, right?”
Scott sighed. “Teresa, he was probably just someone who was passing through, and the chances are neither of us will ever see him again. Do you really want to fight over this?”
Teresa crossed her arms over her chest. “And what if I DID want to see him again, then what? That’s just the point I have been trying to make. I’m NEVER going to get a chance to meet anyone, let alone date them, if every time I do, one of you interferes. I thought that at least you understood, but you’re just as bad as Murdoch and Johnny.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Scott could feel how angry she was, and waited for the explosion. Instead, Teresa simply took a deep breath and looked away. Scott shook his head, but didn’t say anything else to his sister. She just didn’t understand how dangerous it could be out there for a young woman. Teresa had been pretty well sheltered her whole life. Although she had heard about things that had happened, and even experienced a few of the aftermaths, especially since Pardee, she had never had to deal with anything firsthand. Although her father had been murdered and both Murdoch and Johnny had been shot, she hadn’t been there for the actual events; she had only seen the results. She had never dealt personally with a person that was dishonest or even downright mean. And he hoped she’d never have to. Scott prayed that Teresa would never know first hand just how cruel some people could be.
When the buggy finally stopped in front of the Hacienda, Teresa once more jumped down without waiting for help and disappeared into the house. With a sigh, Scott looped the reins around the brake and stepped down.
“What happened?” Murdoch greeted him with as soon as he stepped into the house.
Scott glanced at the stairs just as the hem of Teresa’s dress disappeared out of sight and he went over and poured himself a drink. “We had a little disagreement in town.”
At Murdoch’s raised eyebrows he continued. “She was speaking with a strange man. I didn’t trust him, and ended the discussion.”
From the stairs, Teresa’s voice intruded. “You rudely interrupted a harmless conversation. Mr. Collins had simply asked me for directions to the café. He was not out of line, and he certainly wasn’t DANGEROUS.” Teresa had come into the Great Room and was glaring at Scott.
Murdoch glanced at his son. “Dangerous?”
Scott shook his head. “I can’t explain it, but there was something about him that I didn’t trust.” He didn’t even try to explain to his father about the look he’d seen in the man’s eyes; the one that reminded him of Madrid. “Also, he was wearing his gun low on his leg.”
Murdoch kicked back in his chair and looked thoughtfully at Scott. “Did you warn Johnny?”
Scott shook his head. “I haven’t seen him; we just got back.”
Murdoch nodded. “Be sure and tell him at dinner.” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Scott, it still sounds like you overreacted a bit though. Teresa says it was a harmless conversation.”
Scott glanced at Teresa who was standing watching him with a smug expression. “Maybe it was,” Scott replied slowly, “but I still didn’t like it, or the way he acted.”
“He was being a gentleman.” Teresa said.
“He was a total stranger.” Scott countered.
Murdoch interrupted and looked at his son. “I thought I discussed this with you and your brother earlier. I don’t see the harm in letting Teresa answer a man’s simple question, as long as he was being polite.”
Scott fought to control his anger. “You don’t call some one who is simply asking directions by their first name.”
Murdoch turned towards Teresa. “Well, young lady?”
Teresa shot a look of pure venom at Scott. “He introduced himself as Luke Collins. When Scott came up and grabbed me, it flustered me for a moment. I accidentally said the first name that I remembered. I already explained that to Scott.”
Murdoch put his head down. For the first time in his life, he was glad that he had missed his son’s rebellious teenaged years. Finally he looked up at the two of them. “Teresa, I want you to be a little more cautious about talking to strangers. And Scott, like we discussed before, you and Johnny need to back off.”
Scott put his head down so that neither Teresa nor Murdoch could see the anger that was starting to show in his face. “Fine” he ground out. He looked at Teresa. “If you want to make a fool of yourself or worse, that’s fine with me.”
He turned and gave his father a long look. “You go ahead and handle this anyway you want. But don’t expect Johnny and I to pick up the pieces when it doesn’t work. And you can get someone else to drive Miss Teresa into town from now on. Johnny and I just quit.”
Murdoch watched as both Scott and Teresa stalked out of the room, going in different directions. He swung his chair around and looked across the land at the mountains, so peaceful in the afternoon sun. He sighed. He wished it were as peaceful here. The last several months had been a strain on all of them. He knew that Teresa was unhappy; he just wished he could figure out just what he should do. He didn’t have any experience as a parent.
His gut reaction was to stop Teresa’s nonsense once and for all. If it had been one of the boys acting like that, they would have been digging postholes for six months, preferably without being able to sit down on top of it. But for some reason he couldn’t quite figure out, it was different with a girl. He didn’t know how they thought or what they felt; he had learned that the hard way when Johnny’s mother had left without warning. Up until the morning he woke up and found her gone, he had thought that everything was right between them.
But looking back later, he remembered her saying things like he didn’t understand her, that he didn’t appreciate her, and the one thing that stuck in his mind the most was her saying that he treated her like a prisoner, that he acted like her jailer. Just like Teresa had said. It had scared him to death when she had said that. He was afraid that he would lose Teresa, too. Just like he had lost Maria, and it would be his fault.
He worried about his ward; she was the same as his own daughter. But he didn’t want to make the same mistake with her that he had with his second wife. He didn’t want to hold on to her so tightly that she had no choice but to escape. He shook his head. If he only knew for sure what he should do. In desperation he had ridden into town and discussed it with Sam. The old doctor had four grown children, two boys and two girls. The older man’s sage advice had helped Murdoch numerous times when he was learning how to cope with the two strangers that were his sons.
Especially Johnny. Murdoch shook his head. Things had finally gotten better between them, but for a time he despaired of ever having even a semblance of a normal relationship with the hardened gunfighter that at times still acted like a child. For a long time, he had made regular trips into town to discuss what was happening with Sam, and he knew that it was Sam’s and Scott’s attitude that made Johnny come to the decision to stay. He knew that if it had been left up to him, Johnny probably would have taken off long ago. Murdoch smiled ruefully. Probably after he shot me, he thought.
The knowledge of just how badly he would have erred in handling his son had tempered his dealings with Teresa. He was uncertain of her reaction, and more importantly, he was uncertain that he was even right. Sam had told him a story of one of his own daughter’s rebellious attitude and fight for freedom. Sam had smiled when he told Murdoch that for her whole life, Beth had been a model daughter, never arguing or showing any kind of a temper. He had felt blessed. That was, until the day when he told her she couldn’t go to a dance with a boy that he didn’t particularly like, and wound up wearing a cherry pie on his head.
When Murdoch asked cautiously how Beth had turned out, Sam had told him that she had gone on to become a nurse, a wonderful wife, and a proud mother of three children. Sam had said that Beth had outgrown that phase fairly quickly after Sam had given her a little more freedom to make her own choices.
When he talked to Maria, she had similar advice, and Scott had mentioned that Harlan had said much the same thing. So he kept his temper in check and decided to ride out the storm. He just hoped this storm wouldn’t last too long; it seemed Scott and Johnny were tired of keeping their umbrellas handy. And if the truth were to be told, so was he. He once more glanced up at the mountains, wishing briefly that he could just ride out and come back when the storm was over.
That evening, dinner was strained once more. It seemed to Scott that it had been that way forever, and would probably continue to be that way for quite a while to come. Immediately after he finished eating, he excused himself and went up the stairs to his room. A few moments later, as he knew he would, he heard a light rap on his door.
“Come on in Johnny.”
Johnny came in and without a word plopped down on Scott’s bed. “So what happened today?” Johnny smiled. “Teresa was glarin’ at you instead of me for a change.”
Scott sighed. “I’m afraid she’s mad at both of us now.”
Johnny ducked his head. “What happened?”
Scott told him about the man on the stage and how he had found Teresa talking to him. At Johnny’s worried look, Scott hesitated. “Do you know him?”
Johnny shook his head. “Doesn’t sound familiar, but he could know me. Maybe I should ride into town and find out.”
“No. There’s no sense asking for trouble. He could easily be just passing through.” Scott looked seriously at his brother. “At least wait a few days before WE go into town.”
Johnny smiled back. “WE ain’t goin’ no place. If he is after me, I can handle it.” He hesitated. “But I’ll do like my big brother says. I’ll wait a couple of days.”
Changing the subject, Johnny pointed at a letter next to him on the bed. “I see ya got a letter from old sobersides.”
Scott tried not to grin; Johnny never called his grandfather Mr. Garret, and some of the pseudonyms that he used were quite colorful. And accurate, he thought wryly. “Yes, I was just getting ready to read it.”
Johnny tilted his head. “Want me ta leave?”
Scott smiled. “No need. It’ll just take me a minute. Then I plan on trouncing you at a game of chess.”
Johnny grinned. “Wanna bet?” As Scott picked up the letter, Johnny walked over to the window and looked out. He breathed in the fresh air and gazed at the distant mountains. After a rocky and not very promising start, he had accepted this place as home. For the first time in his life he felt completely safe and relaxed with both the people and the place. Even the trouble with Teresa seemed minor compared to the daily struggles for survival that he had been used to. He knew he would never leave this place or these people; at least not willingly. He was home.
When Johnny glanced over at his brother a few minutes later, he knew that the news was bad. He walked over and sat down at Scott’s side and waited as Scott finished the letter and got his thoughts together. Finally, Scott looked up at Johnny. “It’s William, he’s dying.”
Johnny dropped his head. He knew that the old butler had been more like a father to Scott growing up than anyone else. While Harlan was cold and impersonal, even with his grandson, William had been the one that had shown the boy what love was all about. He was the one that had encouraged Scott’s dreams and stilled his fears. He had encouraged him and supported him, and occasionally had disciplined him. He had shown him how to make snow forts and how to ice skate. He had taught him about the stars, and how to treat young ladies. He had shown Scott how to live. It was because of him that Scott had turned into the decent, caring young man that was his brother, and Johnny figured he owed William. Johnny put his arm around Scott. “Ya need ta go back, Boston.”
Scott looked at his brother in surprise. Johnny was always completely opposed to him even hinting that he might go back to Boston, even to visit. Scott knew that Johnny was afraid that he’d stay there, although Scott knew that would never happen. When Harlan had come to California and tried to trick Scott into leaving, Johnny had been furious. At one point, Scott had actually been afraid for his grandfather’s life. He knew his brother’s anger was mostly fear that Harlan would convince Scott to leave, and he understood that fear. He felt the same rage and fear every time some gunslinger came looking for Madrid.
Scott wanted to go back, needed to go back, but now was not a good time. Scott slowly shook his head. “No, not with all the problems were having right now, and especially not until we figure out if that Collins guy is after you.”
Johnny stood up and turned to face Scott. “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t go back in time ta say good bye, and you know it.” Johnny sighed. “If ya want, I’ll ride into town tomorrow and see if I can find Collins and figure out what he wants.”
Scot’s answer was immediate. “No, I don’t want you to go looking for trouble.”
Johnny grinned. “I never do.”
Scott snorted. “Right.” He looked at his brother seriously. “I don’t want you going, understand?”
Johnny ducked his head for a moment before raising it and looking Scott in the eyes. “All right, I promise I won’t go lookin’ for him, if you’ll promise you’ll go back and tell your friend good bye.”
Scott thought for a moment. “What about Teresa?” Scott asked.
Johnny grinned. “Come on, Boston. Ya think I can’t handle one ornery female?”
Scott smiled. Actually, although his brother usually had no trouble at all handling “ornery females,” this one seemed to be giving both of them a hard time. And Scott was afraid that what they had seen so far was simply a minor squall. He expected the storm to break any time now, and he felt he should be here when it did. “Are you sure?” He asked hesitantly.
Johnny nodded. “I’m sure. If she gets too ornery, I’ll just threaten ta bring you home so there’ll be two of us watchin’ her.”
Scott grinned and shook his head. “What about Murdoch?” Scott teased.
Johnny laughed. “Now that you’ll owe me for.”
Scott laughed briefly and then got serious once again. “”I just don’t know if I should leave right now. I have a bad feeling about Collins.”
Johnny shrugged. “Scott, if he’s after me, ya can’t change nothin. And if he’s not, you’ll stay home for no reason. Now quit comin’ up with excuses and go down and tell Murdoch you’re gonna be leavin for awhile.”
Scott looked at his brother. “You promise you’ll be careful?” At Johnny’s nod, Scott continued. “I also want you to promise me that you’ll watch out for Teresa while I’m gone.”
Johnny looked at Scott in disbelief. “You think ya need ta tell me that?” Johnny said angrily.
Scott shook his head. “I know you will try. I just don’t want you to back off because Murdoch thinks you should.”
Johnny anger faded and he slowly grinned. “Since when have I let the Old Man talk me out of anything?”
Scott nodded and stood up. As he headed for the door, Johnny grabbed his arm and pulled him around so he could see Scott’s eyes. “You just promise me you won’t stay back there.”
Scott smiled at his brother. “I promise. This is my home, not Boston.”
Johnny watched Scott for a moment longer before nodding and dropping his arm. “All right. I’m holdin’ ya to that. And if you’re not back when ya should be, I’m comin’ back there after ya.”
Scott nodded. “I’ll be back.” Scott hesitated. “And you watch your back, and don’t take any chances, you hear?”
Johnny nodded and the two brothers looked at each other for a moment. This was going to be hard on both of them.
The next day, Johnny rode with Scott in the buggy into town. Murdoch had grudgingly agreed to let Scott go for a short while, as long as Johnny promised to take up the slack. Johnny had told his father he would, without an argument, and proved to Scott once more just how unselfish his brother really was.
Scott watched as the familiar and well –loved landscape rolled by, and then he turned to Johnny. “Thanks.” He said quietly.
Johnny looked over at his brother in surprise. “For what?”
Scott smiled. “For everything. For knowing how much William means to me, for talking me into going, for taking my chores while I’m gone, for being my brother.”
Johnny shot a sideways look at Scott. “Don’t ya be goin’ mushy on me now.”
Scott laughed. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Johnny nodded. “Good. “Cause then I might feel guilty about getting ya back for all them chores I’ll be doin while you’re galavantin’ all over the country.”
Scott raised his eyebrows. “What about all the chores I did for you last time you got shot?”
Johnny grinned. “That’s different. It’s not like I got shot on purpose.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Scott said dryly. “It seemed like awfully good timing to me, to get shot just before branding time.”
Johnny laughed and shook his head. “Guess my secret’s out, all right.”
Scott nodded seriously. “I knew it. Now next time you try anything, I can blackmail you. Murdoch would be very interested in that little fact.”
The brothers grinned at each other, both of them thankful that they had finally found each other after so long. They both knew that nothing would ever prevent them from being together again. And heaven help anyone that tried to hurt the other one.
Johnny watched as the stage disappeared into the distance, and he felt a twinge of apprehension. Part of him wanted to jump on Barranca and go chasing after it and beg Scott to stay here. But he knew how important this was for his brother, and he pushed those thoughts aside. He looked around the empty streets, and with a sigh, he went over to the saloon. He’d have a beer or two before heading back to the ranch. He felt like he needed one.
After taking his usual quick glance around, he entered the bar and went to his favorite table. As he slid into the chair facing the doors, Jake came up and plunked down a bottle of beer in front of him. Johnny nodded his appreciation to his friend, leaned back in the chair and pushed his hat back on his head. He let his mind wander – anything to keep it off the thought of Scott leaving. He wondered if he should go over to the hotel and see if he could find that Collins character, but he had promised his brother he wouldn’t go looking for trouble. Somehow, Johnny thought, he didn’t think it would matter. Scott had a pretty strong feeling Collins was trouble, and his brother was usually pretty astute. Johnny sighed. He’d rather find the trouble before it found him, but he had promised. He took another sip of his beer, then turned his attention to the bartender.
“Hey, Jake, anybody askin’ about me?”
Jake shook his head. Johnny asked him that question frequently. There had been more than a few times when Jake had answered yes, and it usually meant trouble for the young gunfighter. But Johnny had been at the ranch for quite a while now, and fewer and fewer gunhawks came looking for him. And those that did were quickly discouraged, one way or another. The young man was well liked in the area and Jake didn’t know anyone in town who would willingly give out information about Johnny Madrid or his whereabouts. Jake knew of several times quite recently when someone had inquired if Johnny Madrid was around. Just a couple of months previously, a young man had walked into the bar asking if “that yellow coward Madrid” was around these parts. The young kid was obviously out for a reputation. If the low- slung gun and fancy clothes didn’t give him away, the hungry look in his eyes did. He was met with a solid wall of stony looks and silent shrugs. He had left the bar and tried to ask a few people on the streets, but met with no greater success. He had finally had the bad misfortune of asking Miss Agnes.
Jake laughed to himself remembering the way Miss Agnes had withered the young kid with a stare. She had told him in no uncertain terms to wash his face, go home and take up an honest occupation. She had followed him up and down the streets as the kid tried vainly to lose her, and lambasted him with words from the scripture and advice on how to turn his life around. She had even followed him into the saloon. The poor kid had finally given up and nearly run to his horse, all thoughts of keeping up a tough image disappearing under Agnes’s sharp tongue. Sam, who had been watching from his office, had laughed and taken her to dinner that night in appreciation, and no one ever told the Lancers about the incident.
Jake shook his head. When Johnny had first come home, the entire town was a little apprehensive. But Johnny soon proved himself to be not only a respectable young man, but also a fine friend and neighbor. Sam and Jake had laughed one time about Murdoch’s concerns. Sam had told Jake that Murdoch was worried that the neighbors wouldn’t accept Johnny because of his past, and Jake had told Sam that if it came to a vote between Murdoch and Johnny, Johnny would win hands down. He was by far more popular than his old man, which seemed to tickle the doctor to no end.
The bartender noticed that Johnny didn’t seem as happy as he usually was to hear that no one was asking about him. Something was definitely on the young man’s mind. Johnny sat for another hour, nursing another beer or two and occasionally looking out the window towards the hotel before finally getting up to leave. He nodded at Jake, and after his usual hesitation, he went through the batwing doors and walked over to where Barranca was tied. After a last long look at the hotel, he mounted his horse and headed out of town, never seeing the man’s face in the window across the street, scrutinizing his every move.
The next several days at the ranch were taken up with work. Scott had left at a bad time, and there was plenty to do. Johnny came home tired every evening and went to bed early. He was looking forward to the upcoming weekend, when he could take it just a tiny bit easier. He planned on just sitting around and doing nothing from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning. On Friday, he came home just in time to sit down at the dinner table and join Murdoch and Teresa for supper. As he slid into his place, Murdoch looked up at him. “Are you planning on going to the dance this Saturday night?”
Johnny looked up at his father in surprise. Murdoch normally didn’t take any interest in his and Scott’s social life, that is unless it affected the ranch in some way. He looked over at Teresa and noticed her tense expression, and wondered tiredly what was going on now. “No, I hadn’t planned on it.” He said cautiously.
“Would you be willing to go?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny’s sat back and studied his father, his eyes narrowed. “Why?”
Murdoch glanced at his ward and refused to meet Johnny’s gaze. “Teresa wants to go, but I don’t want her going without an escort.”
Johnny looked from Murdoch to Teresa in disbelief. “And you want me to take her?”
Teresa spoke up. “You both don’t have to talk about me like I’m not here.” She looked at her brother. “And believe me, Johnny I don’t like it any better than you do.”
Johnny felt his temper starting to rise. If she had been the least bit gracious, he might have considered it, but he had suffered just about enough insults from his little sister, and he was too tired to play the game at the moment. He glanced at Teresa before looking at his father. “No, I wouldn’t be willing to go. I have better things to do with my time than escort that spoiled……… young lady to a dance. I’d probably wind up looking at somebody wrong or coughing at the wrong time and wind up with another black eye.” He pushed himself away from the table. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going ta bed.”
Scott sat in the bedroom, watching his old friend. He had arrived three weeks ago and told his grandfather he would stay until William recovered or……Scott didn’t want to even think about the alternative. He had been shocked when he had first seen William. The butler had aged twenty years in the short time Scott had been gone. Normally a vibrant, active person, he had turned into a frail old man in a matter of a year.
Scott had asked the doctor what the diagnosis was, and had been told it was simply senility, incurable and irreversible. The doctor explained that his friend would continue to deteriorate until death finally claimed him, and had told him that according to how quickly the disease had progressed so far, the end would probably be in a week or so. But William was beating the odds at this point. He was still fighting to survive, and had gotten no worse since Scott’s arrival. The old man was obviously uncomfortable, and usually confused, but he did have moments of lucidity, and had been delighted to see his young friend. Scott had talked to him for hours at a time and told him all about his new life. He had told him all about Murdoch, Teresa and Jelly. But most of all he had told him about his brother. William had chuckled in delight as Scott had told him about some of their adventures, and the old man had said that he would love to meet Johnny. Scott was glad that William seemed to approve of his brother, because the older man’s opinion was important to Scott. He just wished that it would be possible for the two to meet.
Right now William was sleeping somewhat peacefully, and Scott allowed himself the luxury of thinking about home. He wondered how Johnny was doing, and if Teresa was still being difficult. Johnny had sent him a letter already, which surprised Scott because Johnny wasn’t much of a letter writer. In it, his brother had told him all about what was happening on the ranch, and Jelly and Dewdrop’s latest escapades. He told him that Charlie was missing him, and that Johnny had ridden him into town to cheer him up. To show his appreciation, Charlie had somehow gotten loose and hightailed it for home, leaving Johnny stranded.
At the end, Johnny had very casually mentioned that Teresa was being her usual charming self, and that he had met that Collins fellow and that he didn’t seem to be a threat. For some reason, Scott didn’t totally believe him, and he figured if Johnny said Teresa was being a little difficult, the whole ranch was probably up in arms. The need to return home was almost overwhelming, but he couldn’t leave William, not now when he seemed to be rallying a little. And not after he had promised his grandfather he would stay until William passed on.
Scott reached over and took the wet cloth from William’s forehead. The old butler had complained about his head hurting, and the cool rag seemed to help a little bit. Scott re-wet the cloth, then folded it neatly and re-applied it. Sitting back, he watched his friend for a moment before turning his attention back to the letter he was writing.
A few moments later, his grandfather walked in, carrying a tray with some milk on it. Scott shook his head, bemused by the sight of his stuffy grandfather waiting on his butler. If Scott hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he would never have believed it.
Harlan carefully set the tray down on the bedside table. “How is he doing?” He asked his grandson.
Scott shrugged. “About the same. He hasn’t really changed much for the last several days.” He looked up at his grandfather. “I guess that’s good news.”
Harlan nodded. “If he wakes up, see if he’ll drink some of this. The doctor said to get as much as we could down him, and you know how he loves milk.”
Scott sighed. William just wasn’t hungry, and trying to get him to eat or drink was difficult at best. But his grandfather was right. If he didn’t get any nourishment, he certainly had no hope of getting better.
Harlan sat down in a chair opposite Scott’s and carefully watched the old man. Scott was pleasantly surprised and happier than he would admit over the tenderness and attention that Harlan was giving his longtime employee. Scott wondered if maybe his grandfather saw himself a few years down the road. After all, William and Harlan were about the same age, and the preacher in Green River always said that a little glimpse of your own mortality could make a saint out of a sinner faster than anything.
Scott snuck another look at the two men, and then returned to his letter writing.
Johnny rode into town to pick up the mail, hoping there would be a letter from Scott. His brother had been gone for over six weeks now, and Johnny had expected him back long before this. He walked into the post office and saw Miss Agnes stuffing mail into the different slots, with her back to him. Walking quietly, he snuck up on her and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. With a decidedly un-lady like oath, she swung around, ready to do battle until she saw who it was.
“Johnny Lancer, I have a mind to put you over my knee. What’s the matter with you, scaring a body half to death?”
Johnny grinned, knowing her bark was far worse than her bite. “I just wanted ta let you know you’re appreciated.”
She fixed him with a stare that Johnny thought was equal to any Madrid used, then she put her hands on her hips. “And I don’t suppose you coming in here has anything at all to do with a letter from a certain Boston gentleman that came today?”
Johnny’s grin answered the question for her, although his words belied the fact. “I don’t know any “Boston Gentlemen’, but if the letter is from my disreputable brother, I’ll take it.”
With a smile, she handed him the envelope and got another peck on the cheek for her trouble. She watched the young man leave the building and walk across to the old oak tree in the center of town to sit down and read it. She was glad that both of Murdoch’s boys had finally come home, and that they were such fine young men.
Johnny slid down next to the base of the tree and tore open the envelope. After quickly skimming it to make sure all was well, he started to read it in earnest. He frowned when he read that William was still making a fight of it, and had even rallied slightly. Scott said that he would be delayed for a while and asked if Johnny could handle everything for a little while longer. Johnny finished reading the letter and then stuffed it into his pocket. Maybe he should have been a little more honest about what was happening with Teresa and Collins, but he hadn’t wanted Scott to cut his trip short. But now? Johnny shook his head. He just hoped his brother got back before it was too late.
Johnny glanced up and saw Collins walking down the street toward the saloon, and his eyes hardened. He just knew that guy was hiding something, but he couldn’t figure out what. He seemed pleasant enough, but Scott was right; there was something in his eyes, and he had a way of looking at you like he was sizing you up. Johnny didn’t particularly like the way he looked at Teresa, either, although Teresa had fallen for him and in her eyes he could do no wrong. He didn’t think that Murdoch quite trusted him either, but his father didn’t have as strong a reaction to him as he and Scott had.
He thought back to earlier in the month. Teresa had finally gone to the dance by herself after a lot of arguing with Murdoch. Murdoch didn’t like the idea of his ward going to a dance unescorted, and both Murdoch and Teresa had been mad at him because he had refused to take her. He had thought about it again, especially since Murdoch had come in to his room that evening and asked politely if he would consider it. But he really had been too tired, and he just knew that somehow he’d get into trouble with either Murdoch or Teresa if he did.
Finally, the day before the dance Murdoch had given in and told Teresa she could go. Johnny had shook his head in disgust, but not said anything openly for fear Murdoch would stop being polite and insist he escort his little sister. Murdoch had driven her into town and then walked over to the local café where he spent a long boring three hours trying to stay awake.
The next morning had been Sunday, and after sleeping in, Johnny had gone downstairs and met his family for breakfast. The first thing he noticed was Teresa’s mood. For the first time in months she was acting like her old self. She was downright cheerful. Johnny watched her suspiciously for a moment and then looked to his father for an explanation. For some reason, Murdoch had avoided his eyes, but he didn’t have long to wait to have Teresa’s high spirits explained.
“He was SO nice, and he’s very handsome,” she chattered. “He has such nice manners, he kept wanting to know if I wanted anything to eat or drink, or if I was cold…..And he’s a BEAUTIFUL dancer, I felt like I was floating on air,” she said dreamily. “I don’t know WHY Scott didn’t like him, he’s a perfect gentleman.” She said, looking pointedly at Johnny.
And Teresa’s last words, Johnny’s head had jerked up and he stared at the girl. “Are you talkin’ about that Collins fella?”
Teresa met his gaze. “Yes. And you stay away from him, John Lancer. If I find out you’ve done ONE thing to mess this up I’ll never speak to you again.”
Johnny continued to watch Teresa. “Mess WHAT up?” He said quietly.
Teresa flipped her hair over her shoulder. “He invited me to the church social next weekend. He said he wanted to see more of me.”
“I bet he does,” Johnny mumbled.
“JOHN!” Murdoch glared at his son. “I won’t have that kind of talk in front of Teresa.”
Johnny glanced at the confused girl and mumbled “Sorry.”
Johnny kept his head down for a moment and then looked at his father. “Are you O.K. with her goin’ with him, knowin’ what Scott thought about him?”
Murdoch shrugged. “Right now I can’t say. I haven’t met him, and I told Teresa I would reserve judgment until I did. I told Teresa to ask him out here for dinner sometime this week so we could get to know him.”
“Murdoch, Scott didn’t like him, and he’s pretty good at readin’ people. I think your askin’ for trouble lettin’ him come out here. Maybe I should ride into town and talk to him before you make up your mind.”
Teresa was on her feet in an instant, glaring at Johnny. “How dare you try to make a decision concerning MY life as if I wasn’t even here. This is none of YOUR business, Johnny.”
Johnny looked down for a second or two, then raised his head and stared at the girl. “It is MY business if he’s after me, and there’s a good chance he is. Scott said he was wearin’ his rig down low. Men don’t do that for the fun of it.”
Teresa’s hands flew to her hips. “If you’re afraid of him, then you don’t have to be here when he comes. In fact, I wish you weren’t. I don’t want you starting anything.”
Johnny’s temper had just about reached the boiling point. “I ain’t afraid of him, and I ain’t gonna start nothin’. I just don’t want him usin’ you ta get to me, that’s all.”
“I mean it, Johnny. Don’t go pushing him in to anything.” Teresa glared at her brother.
Johnny had stood up and thrown down his napkin. Don’t worry, I’m gonna take your suggestion and not even be here.” He looked at his father. “That line camp in the east pasture needs re-stocking. You O.K. if I go up there this weekend?”
Murdoch sighed and shot a look at his ward. “No, it’s not all right. With Scott gone, there’s too much work to be done around here, and I can’t spare you right now. Besides, I want you to meet this man too.”
At Teresa’s disgruntled look, he continued. “If I don’t like him, I’m not going to let you see him, is that clear?”
Teresa reluctantly nodded. “But I don’t want you saying you don’t like him just because of what Scott said.” She turned and looked at Johnny. “Or because Johnny has a ‘funny feeling’ about him.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I’ll make up my own mind. In the meantime, I want you two to get along, is that clear? I’m getting tired of living in a war zone.”
Johnny pointed at Teresa. “Tell her. I’m tryin’ ta get along.”
“So am I.” Teresa said. I just don’t want you making something out of nothing. Besides, he's not after you at all.”
Johnny froze as he met Teresa’s gaze. “And how do you know that?” He asked softly.
Teresa shrugged. “I asked him.”
Johnny looked quickly at his father, then back to the girl. “You told him who I was?” he asked in disbelief.
Teresa shrugged again, a little more uncertainly this time. “I didn’t think it was a secret, and like I said, he hardly seemed interested.”
Johnny took a deep breath and tried desperately to curb the anger he felt. Didn’t she understand at all? Or did she simply not care?”
Three days after the dance, Collins had ridden up to the hacienda. Johnny had talked to Murdoch, and his father had kept Teresa inside until Johnny went out to greet him, just in case. As Johnny scanned the man’s face, he noticed just the slightest smile, as if Collins was expecting the appraisal. The man dismounted and met Johnny’s stare with cool nonchalance, then studied Johnny in turn before finally sticking out his hand. “Luke Collins. And you must be Johnny.”
Johnny hesitantly shook the man’s hand, warning bells going off like crazy. He had seen just a glimmer of what Scott had seen in the man’s eyes before Collins had smiled and held out his hand.
The rest of the evening, Collins had carefully hidden any suspicious behavior. Murdoch had been suitably impressed and given Teresa permission to go to the picnic with him the following weekend. Johnny had watched him all evening and had to admit he was a perfect gentleman. He was everything Teresa said he was, charming, witty, and intelligent with impeccable manners. And Johnny didn’t trust him one bit. He was after something, of that he was sure. Johnny just had to figure out what.
Johnny stood up as Collins disappeared into the saloon. Teresa would probably have his hide, but he was going to go in and talk to Collins and find out a little more about him. He just wished Scott were here.
Johnny hesitated just outside the door to the saloon and looked cautiously inside. As he expected, Collins was seated at the far table, with his back to the wall. Johnny’s favorite seat. Taking a deep breath, Johnny adjusted his hat low over his eyes and entered the bar. He nodded at Jake and then went immediately over to a chair against the wall but facing Collins, and sat down. Jake brought him a beer and hurriedly got out of his way. Johnny smiled. Jake obviously knew something was up. Johnny studiously avoided looking directly at Collins and he sat back in his chair and sipped his drink. He could tell that Collins was annoyed. Johnny had a clear view of him, but Collins had to twist his neck around to look at Johnny. Johnny smiled. First point, Madrid.
After maybe twenty minutes, Collins finally got up and approached his table. “Mind if I sit?” Johnny just stared at him for a minute, and then kicked a chair out towards the man.
Collins sat down and took a sip of his drink before saying anything. “You don’t like me much, do you Madrid.”
Johnny met the man’s gaze. “Nope. And the name’s Lancer.”
Collins acted surprised. “That’s not what Teresa said.”
Even though Johnny was seething inside, he remained calm on the outside. “Don’t matter what ya call me, you get outta line, you’ll wind up dead.”
Collins studied the young gunfighter. “Is that a threat?”
Johnny shrugged. “Take it any way ya want to.”
“Why don’t you like me? Just because I’m seeing your sister?”
“Because I don’t trust you, and I think you’re after somethin’.”
“Now why would you think that?” Collins asked.
Johnny took another sip of his drink before answering. “Because I don’t like the way you wear your gun, I don’t like the way you look at people, I don’t like the way you just happened to appear in town, and I don’t like the way you just happened to meet Teresa. Are those enough reasons? ‘Cause if they’re not, I could come up with some more.”
Collin’s eyes turned cold. “You’d better learn to stay out of other people’s business, boy. Teresa’s a grown woman and can make her own decisions.”
Johnny studied his drink. “Is that a fact? I suppose that’s what you’ve been telling her.”
“What I tell Teresa is none of your business. And you’d better remember that, or you’ll find yourself in some mighty big trouble.”
“And you’re goin’ ta give it to me, right?”
“Maybe, if I have to.”
Johnny rocked back in his chair and studied the man. Except for a small scar on his cheek, he was pretty ordinary looking. What Teresa saw in him, he’d never know. But he now knew without a doubt that the man was dangerous. Collins knew who Johnny was and wasn’t the least bit intimidated by Madrid. In fact he was even pushing him a little. Johnny just wished he could find out a little bit more about this guy before Teresa got hurt. Part of him wanted to say to heck with it and call him out right now. But knowing his luck, he’d win and Teresa would never speak to him again. But there had to be way. Johnny shook his head. If only Scott were here. He always came up with good plans.
Johnny noticed the man was drinking tequila. For most men, tequila was an acquired taste, and most men that drank it had spent at least a little time down around the border. Johnny knew Collins wasn’t Mexican, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t lived down there. He took a chance. “So whereabouts in Mexico you from?” Johnny said casually.
Collins stared at him for a moment. “What makes you think I’m from Mexico?”
Johnny shrugged like it didn’t make any difference to him. “I just thought Teresa said something about it, that’s all. Maybe I was mistaken.”
It was Collins turn to appraise Johnny. After a moment’s hesitation, Collins finally answered. “I spent a little time down around Reynosa and Leon.” Collins shrugged. “Not much down there.”
Johnny nodded. “That’s for sure.” Johnny studied his glass carefully. “What did you do down there?”
Collins just looked at him and smiled. “Nothing that would interest you, boy.”
Johnny looked up and met Collin’s gaze. “Let’s quit pussyfootin’ around. I don’t like you, Collins, and I don’t trust you. If you had any sense you’d hightail it outta here right now. ‘Cause I WILL kill you if you do anything to hurt my family, and I think that’s what you have in mind.”
Collins glanced around to see who was watching. He noticed in disgust that not only was the bartender watching with interest, but also several other men from the Lancer ranch were in the saloon. He’d have to wait for a better time. “Maybe it’s you that better hightail it outta here, boy. Because if you start anything with me, you’re the one that’ll wind up dead.” Collins got up and stomped out of the saloon, leaving Johnny wondering just how much of this conversation would get back to Teresa. He sighed. Why couldn’t she understand he was just trying to protect her?
Later that afternoon, he walked into the hacienda. He had gone by Widow Johnston’s house on the way home to see if she needed anything, and she had kept him busy for several hours with chores. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to have a nice relaxing dinner and go to bed early.
He walked into the dining room, and realizing he was late, slid into the chair next to Murdoch. “Sorry,” he said to no one in particular. “Widow Johnston kept me tied up for awhile.” He reached over and grabbed a biscuit, and then realizing that no one had said anything, he looked up at his father. He saw the storm signals immediately, and wondered if his father was really that upset with him for being late to dinner. He glanced at Teresa, and realized that his being late had nothing to do with it. He sighed and wished that the news could have waited at least until after dinner. He dropped his head and put his biscuit down on the plate, waiting for the tirade that was sure to come.
He didn’t have long to wait.
“Johnny,” His father said. “I believe I was very specific about you staying out of Teresa’s business. We heard that you threatened Luke today in town, and I want to know why.”
Johnny brought his head up and stared at his father. “Luke?”
“Yes, LUKE!” Teresa stormed. “You had no right to threaten him. What has he ever done to you?”
“Johnny, I want to know what happened, and I want to know now. It’s not like you to do something like that, especially since I ordered you to leave him alone.”
Johnny’s arms wrapped around his chest in a familiar gesture. “I’m just tryin’ ta keep Teresa from makin’ a big mistake, that’s all.”
Murdoch glared at his son. “Then you admit you threatened him?”
Johnny sighed. “Sort of.”
Teresa jumped to her feet. “If you EVER do anything to threaten or hurt him again, You WILL regret it, do you understand me? “ She turned to Murdoch. “You’d better stop this right now. I will NOT have my life ruined by your son.”
Murdoch watched Teresa run up the stairs before turning to Johnny. “Well?”
“Murdoch, there’s somethin wrong with that guy, I just know it. He’s up to something and is just usin’ Teresa as a pawn, I can feel it.”
Murdoch sighed. “Johnny, I don’t know, you may be right. But from what I have seen, he’s been a perfect gentleman. Until and if something happens to show us you’re right, I want you to stay away from him. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Came the quiet reply.
Murdoch fixed his gaze on Johnny. “I mean it. Leave him alone!”
Johnny sat for a moment before jumping up and leaving the table, leaving Murdoch all alone and wishing Scott were home. He knew his older son would straighten everything out.
Johnny buried himself in his work for the next several weeks. He was the first one up in the morning and the last one in at night. He purposely stayed out past dinner time, and then would grab a bite to eat in the chuck house with the men, or go over to Cipriano’s and eat there. He even went over to Widow Johnston’s to eat more than once. He figured that even her constant chattering was better than listening to the stony silence at the Lancer dinner table.
He would come home long after dinner and normally go straight up to his room, avoiding talking to either Murdoch or Teresa. And more and more, he spotted Collin’s horse tied up out in front when he arrived home. Murdoch was trying to get to know him better, and Collins seemed to be making a good impression. The few times that Johnny had stayed downstairs for a few moments to listen in, Murdoch had been treating Collins like a good friend. Or a son, Johnny thought bitterly. It hurt him to see the easy camaraderie that Murdoch seemed to bestow on Collins, when his own relationship with his father was so rocky. Johnny hadn’t missed the look of triumph on Collin’s face when he had seen Johnny standing there. Of course, no one else saw it, Collins made sure of that.
Johnny sat in his room on this night, trying to figure out what to do. He knew things couldn’t continue the way they had been, something had to give, and soon. Lancer no longer felt like his home, he felt more and more like he was an unwelcome guest. He looked out at the stars and wondered what his brother was doing on this night. He missed him tremendously, and he was desperate for him to come back. Maybe he could fix this mess. Picking up a pen, he began to write his brother a letter.
Scott walked down to the breakfast table half asleep. He glanced at the clock. It was funny how easy it was to slip back into old habits. Ten o’clock. He would have already had a half a day’s worth of work done back at Lancer. He wondered what Johnny was doing and if things had gotten better between his brother and Teresa yet. He hoped so. He knew it had been tearing Johnny up inside to be fighting with her. He glanced up as his grandfather came in to the room.
“Good morning, Grandfather.”
“Good morning. I hope you slept well.”
“Yes, sir, I did. How is William this morning?”
“Better, he slept well last night and ate some toast earlier. You know the doctor said yesterday that it was like a miracle, and that William had a good chance now of surviving.”
Scott nodded his head. “I heard, and I’m glad. He was always special to me.”
Harlan nodded. “And you are special to him. That’s why he got better, because you are here.”
Scott dropped his head. “I need to talk to you about that. I need to go home. William is getting better, and you don’t need me any more.”
“THIS is your home, Scotty, and it always will be.”
Scott shook his head, “No Grandfather, Lancer is where I belong. We’ve already discussed this. I told you I would stay until William was either better or until he passed on. Well, he seems to be getting better, and I plan on going home in a week or so.”
Harlan looked almost panicky, Scott noticed. He knew his Grandfather wouldn’t take the news graciously, but he had hoped there wouldn’t be a fight. Scott tensed, waiting for Harlan to start his attack, but surprisingly, Harlan calmed down almost instantly and smiled at his grandson. “You’re right, of course. As much as I want you here, you have your own life. If you chose to live at Lancer, I will respect your choice. I would appreciate it, however, if you wait to make sure that William is really better. After all, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to get all the way back in California and have to turn around and come back.”
Scott nodded his agreement. After all, the doctor had said that a relapse was possible. He was just grateful that Harlan was being so understanding. His Grandfather had changed a lot in the last year or so, and all of the changes seemed for the better. Scott smiled. Maybe he was finally learning what life was all about.
The next two days, William made steady progress. Scott was overjoyed to see his old friend getting stronger and stronger. The two men talked for hours, played chess, and just enjoyed each other’s company. Scott told William he was planning on going home soon, and William encouraged him. “It’s where you belong,” the old man had told him. “I can see in your eyes how much that place and those people mean to you.” William had looked around the room, and then leaned over towards Scott. “Whatever you do, don’t let Mr. Garrett talk you into staying here, He will try, you know.”
Scott shook his head. “You’re wrong about that. So was I, for that matter. I was expecting him to fight my leaving, but he told me I should go home as soon as you were better.”
William sank back down. “Good.” Just make sure you do it.”
Scott smiled. “Don’t worry, I will. Nothing can keep me away from Lancer.”
“And your brother?” The old man said wisely.
Scott nodded solemnly. “And my brother.”
The next day, Scott went in to check on William in the morning and noticed he seemed a little warm. He tried to wake him up, but the old man was groggy and confused once more. Scott immediately had one of the servants go and get the doctor, and he went in to wake up his Grandfather. “William has taken a turn for the worse.” He told Harlan.
With a sigh, his Grandfather got up and slipped into a robe. “He was fine last night when I brought him some milk. I wonder what happened?”
Scott shook his head. They’d have to wait for the doctor.
An hour later, the doctor completed his exam and came downstairs to talk to Scott and Harlan. “I believe that William is having a series of small heart attacks. He seems to get better, and then he has another, and he declines once more.”
“Is there anything we can do to stop them?” Harlan asked.
The doctor shook his head. “Nothing.”
How long does he have?” Scott asked.
The doctor shrugged. “It’s hard to say. He could have a massive one right now and succumb, or he may not have another one for weeks. I just don’t know.”
Harlan shook his head. “I’m sorry, Scotty. I know how much you were looking forward to going home this week, but can you please stay another week or two until we know what’s going on?”
With a sigh, Scott nodded his head. He couldn’t leave right now. But even though he knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault, he felt angry at the delay. He just hoped Johnny was doing all right without him.
Scott sat at William’s bedside, staring at the letter in his hand. Johnny didn’t come right out and say so, but Scott was pretty good at reading his little brother, even at a distance. Scott needed to go home. He sighed and looked over at the sleeping man. William hadn’t gotten any worse in the last several weeks, but he hadn’t gotten any better, either. Scott felt a momentary flush of shame as he wished that William would do SOMETHING – either get better, or pass on. Scott had been in Boston for over two months now, and nothing much about William’s condition had changed. The doctor said that was the way it went sometimes. Scott sighed again and ran a hand through his hair. He needed to get home. As much as he felt he owed it to William to be here, his first priority was to his family at Lancer, especially Johnny. He had agonized all night, but he had finally come to a decision. He would go home in one week, one way or the other, and nothing would stop him this time.
That afternoon, he took a cab to the train station and bought a one- way ticket to California. He didn’t tell his grandfather where he was going; he planned on breaking the news to his grandfather that weekend. He knew it would be hard on the old man; Harlan had been tending William continually and Scott’s help would be sorely missed.
Scott decided to walk home; he needed the fresh air and to get away from the constant spectre of death that had pervaded his grandfather’s house. He tried to smell the trees as he walked, but the scents seemed muted and dull. He realized just how much he missed the clean air and wide- open spaces of California. He wanted to go home.
As he got closer to the house, he noticed the doctor’s buggy parked in front of the house and wondered if William had taken another turn; the doctor usually came every other day or so, and he had been here yesterday. Scott hurried up the steps and pushed the door open. His grandfather immediately came flying at him, obviously distraught. “Scotty, where have you been?”
Scott grabbed his grandfather’s arm. “What’s wrong?”
Harlan shook his head. “William came to about an hour ago and was very agitated, calling for you. Then he collapsed. I sent for the doctor, but…..” Harlan dropped down into a nearby seat.
Scott also sank into a nearby chair. He shouldn’t have left. He had been so selfish, thinking he needed to get away for a little while, and that is just when William had needed him. He had let his friend down. He buried his face in his hands. He just hoped he would get a chance to tell William he was sorry.
Johnny rode along the fence line, checking the wire to make sure it was strung properly. It was a mindless job, perfect for a day like today, when he had other things on his mind. He didn’t know what to do about the situation at home. Teresa was in love with a man that Johnny knew was no good. He just couldn’t prove it, and until he did, no one, including Murdoch was going to listen to him. He snorted. Teresa thought that Collins was about as dangerous as old Zanzibar, and by far the finest man that had ever graced the face of the earth. She and that snake had done a pretty fine job of convincing Murdoch of that, too. Collins was so helpful; always willing to offer a hand, always there when something needed doing. And since Johnny was spending more and more time away from the house, that was pretty often. He figured that was the safest course for him, however. He figured if he had to watch that conniving S.O.B. ingratiate himself to his father any more, he’d pull out his gun and shoot him dead.
Why couldn’t they see it? Especially Murdoch? His father was usually pretty good at seeing past people’s games. Johnny knew that he sure had never been able to put much over on the Old Man. That was another thing that rankled him. Murdoch sure seemed to be a lot more accepting of Collins than he’d ever been of him. Johnny shook his head. He knew, or at least he hoped, that his father loved him, but Murdoch simply didn’t seem to LIKE him very much. Johnny wasn’t a diplomat or a slick talker like Collins, and he and the Old Man had locked horns lots of times. Collins, on the other hand, always seemed to go along with Murdoch and agree with everything he said. Even the few times he had offered a different view, he had made sure that Murdoch knew how much he respected the older man’s opinion, something that Johnny never did.
He just didn’t understand why Murdoch couldn’t see past the slick demeanor. Johnny was surer than ever that Collins was up to no good. Johnny had the feeling that deep inside Murdoch also knew, but for some reason he was afraid to hurt Teresa by forbidding her to see him. Johnny was worried that Teresa was going to get hurt anyway – and badly. He needed to find some way to prove to both of them just what kind of a man they were dealing with, and he needed to do it soon.
As he rode along, half heartedly inspecting the endless fenceline, a plan began to form. He knew what he needed to do; the problem was how to do it without getting his head bitten off by Murdoch. He knew that his father certainly wouldn’t go along with his plan, so he guessed he’d have to figure out a way to carry it out without anyone being the wiser. The problem was, he had the distinct feeling he was running out of time. He’d have to figure out something real soon, or it very well might be too late.
As he approached a stand of trees, he heard a woman’s loud voice, and a lower pitched man’s voice coming from the small grove. They sounded as if they were arguing. As he got closer, he recognized both Teresa’s and Collin’s voices. He turned Barranca away from the sound, determined not to get involved. He had only gone a few paces, however, when Teresa’s voice rose in pitch, and took on a decidedly frantic tone. Johnny hesitated a moment, undecided, but when Colin’s voice also rose to a shout, he turned his horse back towards the commotion and kneed him forward.
As he got closer, Johnny could see that Luke and Teresa were arguing about something, although he couldn’t make out the words. He cautiously approached, not wanting to interfere, but also not wanting to leave if Teresa needed his help. Neither one seemed to notice him at all. Suddenly, Collins reached out and grabbed Teresa’s arm and twisted her towards him. She cried out in pain, and Collins raised his hand as if to strike her. Before the hand could descend, Johnny flew out of the saddle and launched himself at Collins, knocking him down.
Teresa screamed as the two men rolled in the dirt, each trying to gain an advantage over the other one. Teresa was yelling at both of the men to stop, but the two were so angry that it didn’t even register. She tried to get between them, but was pushed roughly out of the way by Johnny and sent flying. She sat there for a moment to catch her breath, then scrambled to her feet and ran towards the two enraged men once more. She grabbed Johnny’s arm, and tried to pull him away, screaming at him the whole time.
As she pulled on his arm, Collins sensed the advantage and landed a solid blow to Johnny’s jaw, sending him reeling backwards. As Johnny tried futilely to keep his balance, Collins went for his gun. Johnny desperately tried to shake Teresa off of his arm as he went for his own gun, and managed to loosen her grip just as Collins fired. Johnny felt the bullet part his hair as he jerked his own gun out of the holster and fired, knocking Collins backwards into a tree, where he hit his head, hard.
Teresa stared at Johnny for a moment in disbelief, and then ran to where Collins was lying. Johnny came over and knelt by the unconscious man, carefully prying the gun out of his hand before turning his attention to the bleeding shoulder wound.
Teresa shoved him out of the way and knelt next to Collins. “Go get me a bandage from your saddlebags,” she ground out.
Johnny did as he was told, and came back with an extra shirt, which Teresa promptly tore into rags.
“He’ll be O.K.” Johnny said lamely. “It’s just a shoulder wound. The bullet went clean through.”
Teresa didn’t answer him, or for that matter even look at him as she tended to Collins’ wound.
Johnny stood up and wandered a few feet away, to where Barranca was standing. He absent- mindedly stroked the horse’s neck while he watched Teresa’s almost frantic motions as she bandaged the bullet wound. When he noticed the tears, he dropped his head, and then with a sigh, Johnny walked back to join her once more. Bending down, he took a hold of her arm. “Teresa, I’m sorry…..” He started.
With an oath, she tore her arm out of his grasp and turned and looked at him with a face contorted with rage and pain. “Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me again. For that matter, don’t ever speak to me again!”
Johnny looked at her in shock. Didn’t she realize that he had no choice? “Teresa, I…..”
“I mean it, Johnny. I don’t ever want to talk to you again.”
“You expected me to stand there and watch him hit you?”
Teresa stared at Johnny for a second before looking down. “He wasn’t going to hit me. And you didn’t have to shoot him!”
“He WAS going to hit you, and HE’S the one that drew on ME!” Johnny stormed.
“YOU started it, he was just defending himself. Now quit talking, we need to get him some help. Can you at LEAST do that for me?”
Johnny stared at her for a few moments without saying anything. Finally, he took a step back, his face turning cold. “Let’s get him on a horse.”
“No! I don’t want you getting anywhere near him. Just go get help.”
Johnny showed no emotion as he turned without a word and started towards his horse.
“I hate you!” Teresa yelled.
Without looking around, Johnny swung up on Barranca and spurred the horse away from his sister.
He rode back to the ranch after midnight, feeling sick to his stomach. Probably some of it was from his unsuccessful attempt to get falling down drunk, but most of it was from the words Teresa had spat at him earlier.
Johnny had run into Cipriano and Jelly half way back to the ranch, and told them where Teresa and Collins were before heading into town to get Sam. As soon as Sam had driven out of town, Johnny had headed for the local cantina, where he had stayed all evening. Val had walked in around dusk, and plopped down in the chair next to him without saying a word. Finally the sheriff had spoken. “Ya want ta talk about it?”
“Nope.” Was Johnny’s curt response, so Val had wisely just sat with his friend, knowing there were only three things that would get Johnny this upset, and since one of them was back east, that left Teresa or Murdoch. Val sighed. He knew how upset Johnny had been about that Collins fellow, because he had asked Val to check him out. So far, though, there just wasn’t anything on him. No wants, no warrants, no …anything. He felt like he had let Johnny down somehow.
A commotion outside drew Val’s attention. He glanced at Johnny, who was still buried in his tequila. “That sounds like those Parker kids raisin’ a ruckus again. Guess I’d better go calm ‘em down. I’ll be in my office if ya need anything.” Val said hopefully, and then shook his head when Johnny didn’t even respond. Val looked at Johnny for a second more, wishing he could say the right words, but finally gave up, jammed his hat on his head and walked out the door.
Johnny had stayed for several more hours, but for some reason he couldn’t get drunk. His mind was whirling with everything that had happened, but what had bothered him the most was Teresa’s blindness to Collin’s obvious violence towards her. There was no doubt in his mind that if he hadn’t intervened, Collins would have hit his sister. Why was she protecting him?
When he saw Sam’s buggy pull up across the street, he had gone over and asked about Collins. Sam had told him that he would be fine, although he would be laid up for quite awhile. Sam told him that he couldn’t be moved for at least a week, so he would be staying at Lancer.
“That figures,” Johnny had snorted. Sam had looked at Johnny with a troubled expression before turning and going into his office. Johnny had stood there watching Sam disappear and wondered if it was his imagination that Sam seemed a little cold towards him. His eyes narrowed, wondering what Collins and his beloved sister had told everyone had happened. He slowly mounted Barranca and headed for home.
Now as he sat on the hill overlooking the hacienda, he wondered what was waiting for him inside. He felt tired, but he knew his wish of going to bed and ‘discussing it’ in the morning wouldn’t come about. He thought back to the plan he had come up with earlier in the day before all of this happened. It still might work, he reasoned. Maybe even better now. He just hoped he could count on his father.
Johnny slipped into the kitchen door, and grabbed a plate of leftovers from the stove. He figured he was in for a long night, and he’d feel better if he had something on his stomach for the ordeal to come. He stood in the kitchen and scooped the food into his mouth and listened for any sound from the other room. When he was finished, he grabbed a glass of milk and walked cautiously into the Great room. His father was where he expected him to be, standing by the fire, staring at it blindly.
Johnny watched him for a moment, gathering strength for the fight he knew was to come. Then he purposely scuffed his boot on the tile, making enough noise to let Murdoch know he was there. Without turning around, his father spoke. “He’ll live.”
“I know.” Johnny replied.
Murdoch spun around. “How do you know?”
“Because I talked to Sam in town. Besides, unlike Collins, I hit what I was aimin’ for.” Johnny said calmly.
“So you weren’t trying to kill him.” Murdoch said it as a statement.
“No, Murdoch I wasn’t. Believe me, if I had wanted him dead, he woulda been dead. The only reason I didn’t put him under was because of Teresa. For some reason she cares about that Son of a Bitch.”
“So just because you didn’t kill him, you think it was all right?” His father stormed.
“No,” Johnny said tiredly. “ I don’t think it was all right. But he started it.”
Murdoch’s voice was deceptively calm. “That’s not what Teresa says.”
“And what DOES Teresa say?” Johnny asked.
“She says that you came riding up and attacked Luke for no reason. She said that they were having a minor argument, and that you went crazy.”
Johnny took a deep breath, striving desperately to hold on to his temper. “Whatever they were having, it wasn’t no ‘minor argument.’ Collins grabbed her by the arm hard enough to make her yell, and then he tried to hit her. That’s when I interfered, Murdoch. Not before.”
Murdoch looked skeptically at Johnny. “She never said that Luke tried to hit her, and she said that you attacked Luke without provocation.”
“I don’t know why she won’t admit that he was gonna hit her, but I know what I saw, and for me, that was reason enough to go after him.”
“If you were mistaken about what was happening it wasn’t, and Teresa insists you were. She said she tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen to her.”
“It’s kind of hard to listen to somebody when you’re tryin’ ta keep somebody else from tearin’ your head off.” Johnny spat.
“Teresa said that Luke would have stopped; that you were the one that was pushing the fight.”
Johnny dropped his head. “Did she tell you that Luke drew his gun first, or does she blame me for that, too?”
“She said that Luke drew his gun in self defense after you attacked him, but that you shot him for no reason.” Murdoch raged.
“NO REASON!! I suppose him tryin’ ta blow my brains out wasn’t reason enough for your precious ward!”
“He tried to shoot you?” Murdoch asked in surprise.
“Yes, he tried to shoot me. If I was an inch taller, we wouldn’t be havin’ this conversation right now. I guess Teresa conveniently forgot that part.”
“He beat you to the draw?” Murdoch asked skeptically.
Johnny sighed. “It’s pretty hard ta beat anybody when you’ve got an hysterical female hangin’ on ta your gun arm and you’re doin your best ta keep her from getting hurt.”
Murdoch looked towards the fire and sighed. He hesitated a moment, then spoke. “Teresa said you were the one that hurt her; that you purposely knocked her down.”
Johnny froze, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten. “Does she really believe that?” He asked, almost to himself. He looked at his father. “Do you believe that?”
Murdoch glanced at his son and then looked back at the fire, as if afraid to look in Johnny’s eyes for fear of what he might see. “Did you?”
Johnny had known that this conversation was going to be painful, but this was more than he had expected. He couldn’t believe his father thought he’d do anything to purposely hurt Teresa.
Johnny dropped his head and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I pushed her, to get her away from us when we was fightin’. She was tryin’ ta get between us, and I didn’t want her in the middle of it. If I hurt her, I didn’t mean to.”
Murdoch sighed and shook his head. “I told you to stay out of it.”
Johnny’s temper flared. “What was I supposed to do? Just ride off and let him hit her, or worse? Murdoch what’s the matter with you? Why are you so afraid of puttin’ your foot down all of a sudden? You never have been before. Collins wants somethin’, and he’s not gonna stop till he gets it. I just haven’t figured out what he’s after yet. But he’s not what you and Teresa think he is, and I’m sick of havin ta tiptoe around that spoiled brat just ‘cause she thinks he’s God’s gift. She don’t know any better, but you do. You never cared if Scott or I was mad at ya if you thought we shouldn’t be doin’ somethin, and I can’t figure out why you’re so scared of that little girl. But I’m tellin’ ya right now, I ain’t gonna stay around and let somebody I care about get hurt without tryin’ ta do somethin’ about it. And if she gets mad at me, that’s too damn bad!”
Murdoch clenched his fist around the glass, and then threw it at the fireplace. “I am not scared of her, I just don’t want to lose her!”
“But you were never afraid of losin us, were you?” Johnny said in a soft voice. Johnny waited, desperately wanting to hear his father deny it. When Murdoch didn’t answer, Johnny turned and left the room, setting the untouched glass of milk on the table by the sofa.
Johnny tiredly climbed the stairs to his room and walked by the guest room where he knew Collins was staying. He heard Teresa call his name, but he was in no mood to argue with her tonight, too. He passed the room without even slowing down. He went into his room and shut the door, then sat down at the table and began to write a letter to Scott. When he was done, he sat at the table for a long time, looking out at the ranch and thinking about better times. He sat there for an eternity, but finally with a sigh he got up then went to the closet and started rummaging around.
Scott stood on the knoll and looked down at the bustling city below. At one time, he had loved this city, had loved the commotion, the parties, the social life. And now it seemed boring and trite. The city itself seemed diminished somehow. Diminished and dirty and insignificant. He couldn’t imagine ever living here again, or anywhere in the world but Lancer. He hadn’t realized how much that place had gotten under his skin until he came back here. Everything he saw he compared to the ranch, and so far nothing had come close to measuring up. Especially the people.
He sighed. The men he had spent the most time with when he had lived in Boston now seemed like hopeless snobs. Trying to impress themselves and everyone else with their money and their manners, while doing nothing significant with their lives. Unable to even comprehend real problems because they had been so sheltered their whole lives. Unable to sympathize with anyone who wasn’t in their social class, simply because they had never had to cope with the problems that those people suffered every day of their lives. They considered themselves open minded and fair, but they were anything but. Anyone who wasn’t in their social circle was ostracized, although usually fairly subtly. Since coming back, he had been able to see the whole social scene from an outsider’s point of view, and it wasn’t pretty. He couldn’t wait to get back to the real life waiting for him in California.
He glanced down at the newly etched headstone. Not much there to mark a man’s life. A birth date, the year of death, and a name. Nothing to tell the casual observer anything about the person; whether he was good or bad, wise or foolish. William had been a good man. A man who deserved more in life than he had gotten, but who never complained and never made excuses. A man who had done the best he could with what life had handed him. A man who was always fair, who never judged or blamed other people. Scott had hoped so desperately that somehow William could meet his brother. They had a lot in common.
Scott took one last glance at the headstone and headed back towards the street at the bottom of the hill. His grandfather had been aghast when he said he wanted to walk home, but Scott had been adamant. He needed time to think. He once more had postponed his departure for the funeral, and just this morning his grandfather had requested he stay one last week, so they could visit some mutual friends and spend some time together that wasn’t marred by sitting at a dying man’s bedside. Reluctantly, Scott had agreed. He knew that William’s death had hit his grandfather hard; he seemed to have aged ten years in the last several months. And Scott knew in his heart that he would never come back to this place. He suspected that Harlan knew it too.
He had to admit, his grandfather seemed resigned to his going back to California, although Harlan certainly wasn’t pleased with the idea. His Grandfather continually compared Boston to California, thinking to change Scott’s mind, but it had just the opposite effect. Scott shuddered at how close he had come to staying here and following in his grandfather’s footsteps as head of Garrett Enterprises. He had come so close to telling that Pinkerton agent just what Murdoch Lancer could do with his thousand dollars. If he had, he never would have made the trip on his own, and he never would have found out he had a brother.
A dark shadow crossed Scott’s features. Johnny. He wondered how he was doing. His last letter wasn’t very reassuring. He knew without a doubt he was needed at home, but he was confident that his brother could handle any trouble. After all, Murdoch knew that Johnny was very good at reading people; it was just a matter of time before his father realized that something was very wrong with that Collins character. Besides, young love had a way of disappearing as fast as it appeared. In all probability, Teresa had gone on to someone else by now, and Collins was ancient history.
Murdoch entered Luke’s room and watched as his ward sat by the man’s bedside, holding his hand. His mind went back to a time not long ago when his ward had sat in a similar pose with his younger son. He sighed, wondering what had gone so wrong to put the two young people so much at odds with one another.
“How is he?” Murdoch asked.
“About the same.” Teresa whispered.
“Sam said he’d be just fine in a week or so.”
Murdoch dropped his head. “Johnny wasn’t trying to kill him.”
Murdoch caught his ward’s eyes. “Johnny said that he was just trying to defend you. Is that true?”
It was Teresa’s turn to drop her head. “Yes.” She whispered. She brought her eyes back up. “I said some things, Murdoch. Some hateful things.” She hesitated. “I need to talk to Johnny. Could you watch Luke for a few minutes?”
“I think he’s out with Barranca.”
Teresa looked knowingly at Murdoch. “You fought, didn’t you?”
Murdoch ran his fingers through his hair. “Not exactly. I was trying to find out what happened, and things just…….well they just…..” He stopped.
Teresa sighed. “They got out of hand, as usual. You both lost your tempers.” She dropped her head again. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Murdoch nodded. “Johnny won’t be out there long, it’s cold tonight. Why don’t you wait and talk to him when he comes in? I’ll leave the door open so you can hear him.”
“What about you? Are you going to talk to him, too?” Teresa asked.
Murdoch nodded his head. “I’ll talk to him in the morning. We both need some time to calm down.” He dropped his head. “He asked me a question, and I didn’t answer him. I have to make sure he knows the answer.” He looked back at his ward, then reached over and kissed the top of her head. “Good night, darling. If you need anything, just call me.”
Teresa nodded her head. “I’ll be OK.” She smiled tremulously. “I’ve had plenty of practice.”
Murdoch smiled sadly; he knew it was true. Teresa had had to grow up fast after her father died. He just hoped it hadn’t been too fast. He turned and walked out of the room, glancing out the window towards the barn. He hoped Johnny would come in soon. The only time he really slept soundly anymore was when he knew that all three of his children were safe in their own beds. He hadn’t had a really good night’s sleep since Scott left.
After Murdoch left the room, Teresa sat at Luke’s bedside, thinking about what had happened. He hadn’t really been going to hit her, she was sure of that. He was so gentle, and always behaved like a gentleman. She didn’t know why he had gotten so angry. They had been having a very minor disagreement about some silly play that he had taken her to see, when Luke had looked up and apparently seen Johnny approaching. That’s when he had lost his temper. And for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why. She laid her head back down on the bed, waiting impatiently for Johnny to come in. Within a few minutes, the events of the day had caught up to her, and she was fast asleep.
The next morning, Murdoch looked in on Luke, and found Teresa in the same position that she had been in the night before. He walked over to the bed and looked at the man who had, knowingly or not, brought so much strife to their family. Apparently he had not awakened during the night. Murdoch felt his forehead and found it cool. As Teresa stirred, he smiled at his ward. “He’s fine, why don’t you come down and get something to eat and then go lie down for a while. I’ll have Maria come sit with him while you’re resting”.
She glanced at Luke, and then nodded. She got up and stretched, then winced as her back muscles complained about the uncomfortable sleeping position. She held her back for a moment, and then followed Murdoch downstairs. The odor of bacon and coffee greeted her, but she really didn’t feel hungry. She was so worried about Luke, and she felt horribly guilty about the things she had said to Johnny. She knew he had been trying to protect her; he had just been mistaken as to how. She sighed. She’d probably have to wait until he came home for dinner before she could apologize. He never came home for lunch when he was upset. Looking back, she realized he hadn’t been home much at all in the last several months, and with a sudden realization, she realized she was the cause.
She pushed her meal around as she thought, and hoped that somehow things could work out and Luke and Johnny could be friends. She didn’t know what she would do if they couldn’t. She guessed she and Luke would have to move away from Lancer when they got married, after all, it WAS Johnny’s ranch, at least a third of it. But the thought of leaving Lancer made her heart lurch. And surprisingly, Luke had told her several times that she belonged here and that it was a wonderful place, and that it almost felt like home to him, too. She just hoped she could make things right between the two men.
“Did you talk to Johnny last night?” Murdoch asked, after watching her for a few moments.
She looked up guiltily. “No. I fell asleep.” She saw the look of disappointment on Murdoch’s face. “Did you get a chance to talk to him?” She asked hopefully.
Murdoch shook his head. “No. I thought I’d catch him at breakfast, but he’s already out working.” He sighed. “You know how he is when he’s upset. He doesn’t make it very easy to find him.”
Teresa nodded. Johnny’s answer when things got too volatile was to back off and make himself scarce for a while. Murdoch thought it was anger that made him do it, but she thought it was more of a defense mechanism. She thought that somewhere in the back of Johnny’s mind he always expected Murdoch to kick him out, and his leaving was just a way of getting away until things cooled down. She always felt sad that he felt so insecure about Murdoch’s love. She finished her bacon and went upstairs to rest, determined to talk to her brother as soon as she saw him.
Sam came out to the house a little after noon. By then Luke was awake, although still groggy. Sam confirmed his diagnosis of a concussion as well as the bullet wound, and recommended he stay in bed for at least a week more. As he was still in quite a bit of pain, Sam gave him some laudanum to help him sleep. When he was done tending Luke and his patient had fallen asleep, Sam came downstairs and joined Teresa and Murdoch for lunch. He watched the two people who he knew as well as his own family, and knew that they were both troubled.
“Do you two want to talk about it?” He asked.
Murdoch looked up at the doctor in surprise, and then he shook his head and grinned. “I guess we’ve just been under a lot of stress lately.” He said.
Teresa shook her head. “Things just got a little out of control.” She said.
Sam nodded his head. “I guess so.” He hesitated. “Teresa, did you mean what you said yesterday, that Johnny had shot Collins down for no reason?”
Murdoch looked at his ward sharply and Teresa turned red. “No, not exactly.” She said softly.
“I know it may be none of my business, but that just doesn’t sound like Johnny, and you accused him of some pretty serious things.”
Teresa dropped her head. “I know. He was just trying to protect me, I know that now. He thought Luke was going to hurt me.”
Murdoch scrutinized Teresa. “Was he?” He asked, remembering what Johnny had said.
“No!” Teresa said adamantly. “Luke would never hurt me. Johnny just….. he saw…. He misunderstood, that’s all.” She finished lamely.
“Teresa, if Luke EVER hit you, Johnny would be the least of his worries, do you understand?”
Teresa nodded, unable to meet Murdoch’s eyes. “He wouldn’t.” She said softly.
Murdoch wasn’t convinced, but let it drop for now, determined to have a more detailed talk with his ward later. He thought of something else that Johnny had said. “Did Johnny shoot first?”
Teresa once more ducked her head. “No.” She said simply.
Murdoch tried to keep his anger in check. “You told me yesterday that he had. That was one of the reasons I was so hard on him.”
Teresa shook her head. “I’m sorry. I was so angry with him. But Luke drew first.” She hesitated, and then said in a rush, “But he was just trying to defend himself. Johnny was so enraged. And Johnny had attacked him, not the other way around! He also pushed me down.” She explained petulantly.
“Johnny said he merely shoved you out of the way to keep you from getting hurt.” He watched Teresa, and when she didn’t respond, he asked. “Is that what happened?”
Teresa nodded reluctantly.
Murdoch realized that Johnny had been telling the truth about everything last night. He looked at his ward in disbelief. “And even after Luke fired, you kept hold of his gun hand?”
“I didn’t want him to kill Luke.” She said quietly.
“But it didn’t matter if Luke killed your brother!” Murdoch finally exploded. He caught Sam’s eyes. “You told both Sam and I a bunch of lies, and I treated Johnny pretty badly because of it. I believed you. I didn’t think you would stoop so low as to lie about what happened. You have been treating your brother badly for quite a while now, and I have turned a blind eye, thinking he must be doing something to deserve it. But it WILL stop, Teresa, is that understood? I want you to apologize to Johnny as soon as he gets back, and start treating him with respect!”
Teresa nodded, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“When will he be back, Murdoch?” Sam asked.
It took a minute for Murdoch to calm down enough to concentrate on the doctor’s question. “He should be back in time for supper. Maybe you can stay till then? He asked hopefully. Sam always had a calming influence on his family.
Sam nodded thoughtfully. “I can stay. I just thought he would be gone longer. I must have misunderstood,” he said in confusion.
Murdoch and Teresa both looked at Sam, dread licking at their hearts.
“Misunderstood what?” Murdoch asked hollowly.
Sam returned the rancher’s look. He hesitated, realizing the implications. “I saw Johnny in town early this morning. He was buying……ammunition. I thought he said……” Sam stopped and looked at his friend hopelessly.
“What did he say, Sam?” Teresa pleaded.
Sam closed his eyes. “He said…..that he was going to Mexico……”
Scott held the letter in his hands and stared at the writing. It had come three days ago, but he had been so busy he had just had time to sit down and read it today. He had gotten other letters from his brother while he had been here, and to tell the truth, Scott had put off reading this one because he knew that Johnny would ask him once more to come home. And as much as he wanted to, and as much as he missed his brother, he just couldn’t right now.
He read it over rather quickly, and then he sat down heavily in the chair and re-read it, hoping that somehow the words would change. He couldn’t believe what his brother had written, and he couldn’t believe what had been happening while he was gone. He felt a sudden spurt of anger at his brother for not telling him the truth in his previous letters. He had hinted at problems, but never come right out and explained just how bad things had become. Scott had known there was more to the situation than Johnny was telling him, but he had allowed himself to believe it was just minor irritations, and that his brother was handling everything.
He crumpled the letter in his hands and threw it against the wall. He was so angry he couldn’t see straight. Just wait until he got his hands on that brother of his. He would shake him until his teeth rattled. His shoulders slumped. That is he would if he ever saw him again. He jumped to his feet and began pacing around the room. There had to be SOMETHING he could do.
He walked heavily down the stairs, his mind whirling. Part of him screamed to go back, but he knew that by now Johnny was already in Mexico, and finding him would be an impossibility. And right now, he had no desire to go back to the ranch and see either Murdoch or Teresa, and he certainly didn’t want to see Collins. Unlike Johnny, he was afraid he WOULD shoot that man down, and with very little provocation.
He stomped into the kitchen and sat down. It seemed as if the fates were conspiring against him. He had tried to go home several times, but each time something had prevented it. Then, after William’s death, he had agreed to stay for one more week and spend some time with his grandfather. He had agreed because in his heart, Scott knew that he would never come back here to this place. It no longer held his heart.
That was two weeks ago, and now he was stuck here for God only knew how long. If his grandfather had taught him one thing, it was responsibility. He couldn’t leave. Not now. He banged his hand on the table, cursing the fates for the umpteenth time.
Johnny reined Barranca up on the hill overlooking Sonora. It amazed him how quickly he had slipped back into his old habits. It was almost like he had never been away. He had holed up for a week before he crossed the border and practiced, and then practiced some more, until he was satisfied. It seemed when he was at Lancer he never had time to hone his skills, and even when he did, he didn’t practice they way he really should. He knew how much Murdoch hated it. But now he had to get his edge back, and Murdoch wasn’t around to cast disapproving looks at him.
Part of him wanted to wait until dark and just slip into town. Johnny Lancer didn’t want trouble tonight. He was tired and just wanted a soft bed after spending the last couple of weeks sleeping on the hard ground. He had gotten soft, that’s for sure. But sneaking into town wasn’t the way Johnny Madrid would do it, and it was time to put Johnny Lancer behind him. He needed to get back into shape. With a sigh, he undid the safety on his gun, and pulled on the soft leather glove. Then he urged Barranca forward.
He walked his horse straight down the center of the street, seemingly at ease and relaxed. It was a total deception. Johnny was coiled tighter than a spring; all his senses were on high alert. He hadn’t been in this part of the country for almost two years, but some things never changed. He subtly scanned the windows and doorways surrounding the street, but so far everything was quiet. He hoped it stayed that way.
He walked Barranca up to the local cantina, and swung down, keeping his gun hand free. Taking a last glance around, he walked up to the doors, and after peering inside for a moment, pushed his way inside.
Conversation came to a halt as several of the men studied him, but in a moment the conversations picked back up. He figured that meant several things, one; they knew WHAT he was, two; they didn’t specifically know WHO he was, and three; there was no one in the bar at the moment looking for trouble. He relaxed slightly and stepped over to a table and sat with his back against the wall, studying the rest of the occupants.
He sat there for a little over an hour, watching the men that came and went. No one offered to sit with him, and he didn’t ask anyone to join him. He decided he would stay in the cantina another hour, and then get a room for the night and turn in. Johnny grinned to himself. For somebody supposedly trying ta drum up some business, he sure was happy to admit defeat and turn in. He was beginning to think he just might avoid any problems when two men entered, sending his senses on high alert.
The two men walked to the bar and ordered a couple of drinks, then turned and perused the crowded bar. Their eyes lit on Johnny almost at once. Sighing in regret, he picked up his drink with his left hand and casually took a sip, while locking his eyes on the two men. They stood staring back for several moments, and then turned and asked the bartender a question. He glanced at Johnny and shrugged. Johnny smiled. At least these two were bright enough not to start anything without finding out if they were biting off more that they could chew. But unfortunately for them, they asked the wrong man. The bartender didn’t know him.
As they approached, Johnny mentally geared himself for the upcoming fight. He had hoped he could avoid it this first night, but fate just wasn’t on his side. Maybe, though, just maybe he could prevent it.
“Hey you, half-breed.”
Johnny looked up at the man, his eyes like ice.
The man hesitated a second in the face of that glare, then mentally shook himself. “I’m talkin’ to you.”
Johnny continued to watch both men, and calmly took another sip of tequila.
“You’re sittin’ in our chair, half-breed.”
Johnny stared back, not saying a word.
The first man’s eyes narrowed. “You deaf, or just stupid?”
Johnny finally shrugged. “Just don’t want ta waste my bullets, that’s all.” He took another sip.
“Do you know who you’re talkin’ to?” The second man asked.
“Nope, and neither do you. Back off, boys.”
The first man looked hesitant for a second, and then once again let his pride get in the way. “All right, outside.”
Johnny dropped his head for a moment, and then stood up. He walked over to the bartender, and said in a soft voice, “next time somebody asks ya, the name is Madrid, Johnny Madrid.” Then he turned and walked outside.
Teresa walked in to Luke’s room with a tray and set it down on the table. Walking over to the window, she took the drapes and pushed them open, allowing the sun and some fresh air to enter the room. As she had every time she went near a window in the last week, she looked hopefully up the drive, willing her brother to be there. She could almost imagine the palomino loping gracefully towards the house. Then she blinked and the image was gone. The road and the surrounding land were empty, just like his room. She gazed out for a moment, then turned and walked back over to the table where she picked up Luke’s coffee cup.
“How are you feeling this morning?” She asked.
Luke nodded his head, watching her intently. He knew that her feelings for him had changed subtly since that day, and he was desperate to win her back. “Teresa, I’m sorry.”
Teresa was watching her hands as they stirred some cream into his coffee. “It wasn’t your fault, it was mine.” She said softly. “I shouldn’t have yelled at him the way I did. I said some things to him that I would give anything to take back.”
Luke dropped his head. “I shouldn’t have pulled the gun, but I ……… I was afraid. He seemed so angry, and with his reputation …….. ” Luke shook his head. “Teresa, if I could take back what happened, I would. But I WAS just defending myself. Johnny attacked me, remember? For no reason.” He watched her intently.
Teresa slowly brought her eyes up to meet his. She had thought a lot this last week about what Johnny had said. “Johnny said he started it because you were going to hit me.” She said in a challenging voice, watching his face.
Luke shook his head vehemently. “Teresa, I love you. I would never hit you. You believe me, don’t you?” At her continued silence, he tried again. “Teresa, I don’t know what he saw, but you KNOW I wouldn’t do that. Johnny was just confused.” He could see her wavering, the events of that day clouding in her mind.
Teresa sighed. She had been so certain that day that Luke would never hit her. It wasn’t until afterwards and Johnny had suggested it that she had begun to wonder. She looked at Luke again, and saw the kind, gentle man that she had come to love. Johnny must have been mistaken. He had to have been. She smiled and held out her hand to Luke. “I know. I’m sorry I’ve been so distant. I’m just worried about Johnny.” She dropped her head. “Murdoch is taking this so hard, and Scott……well, when Scott finds out I don’t know what he’ll do. But it’s more than that. Murdoch is afraid he’s gone back to fighting. And if that’s the case……” her voice trailed off.
Luke nodded his head and squeezed her hand. “He’ll come back. He probably was just upset. You told me he’s disappeared before.”
Teresa nodded absent-mindedly, before Luke’s words registered, and then she looked at him strangely.
Luke caught the look and cocked his head. “What?” He asked.
Teresa shook her head. “Nothing. I just don’t remember telling you that.”
Luke smiled. “Of course you did. When we first started courting, remember?
Teresa shrugged her shoulders. It wasn’t important. “It doesn’t matter. Now eat your breakfast. Sam said you could come downstairs this afternoon.” She turned and walked out of the room, and Luke’s eyes followed her as she disappeared.
Johnny rode into Reynosa one week later. He was tired, hungry, and dirty. This part of the country wasn’t Madrid’s normal territory, so he was hoping that he could get what he needed and get out without any more gunplay. Since entering Mexico, he had been in a half dozen gunfights; more if you counted those two clowns that had started something with him up in Sonora as two separate fights. It seemed as if every gunfighter in the country was bound and determined to try their luck.
He checked into the hotel, asking the desk clerk the questions he’d asked everybody he had seen in the last thousand miles or so. The clerk shook his head, and Johnny sighed and took the key to his room. He watched as the clerk carelessly scanned the register, his eyes widening and then shooting up to catch Johnny’s. And Johnny knew his hope for a peaceful evening had just gone up in smoke.
Later that evening, he was once more firmly ensconced in the local cantina. He’d had a bath and a shave, and at least felt human again. He shook his head. He didn’t know how he had lived like this for so long before. Living at Lancer had spoiled him. He was used to getting cleaned up and getting three square meals every day. Teresa always made sure his clothes were washed and mended, and there were fresh sheets on his bed. She sure did spoil him, that’s for sure. Then his eyes darkened as he remembered the way they had parted and the things she had said.
He thought back to that day. He just couldn’t understand what was going on. He KNEW Collins was going to hit her. He couldn’t have been mistaken about that, could he? Could he have been mistaken about everything?” Teresa had been so sure. HAD he been overprotective? He sighed. It wouldn’t do any good to sit here and second -guess himself. What was done was done. He would stick with his decision.
He wondered again what Collins was up to. What he was after? He guessed it could have been him all along, but he wasn’t sure why Collins would have waited and gone to the trouble of courting Teresa and making friends with Murdoch if that were the case. Maybe Collins WAS after him, but he had fallen for Teresa in the meantime. But if that were the case, if he really cared for her, why was he going to hit her? If he really was going to hit her. His mind whirled in an endless circle. He felt as if the answer had to be right there in front of him if he just thought about it hard enough. But he HAD thought about it endlessly in the past weeks, and he still couldn’t figure it out. He wished Scott were here. Scott was smart, he’d know what Collins was up to, Johnny was sure. But Scott was thousands of miles away in Boston.
Johnny was brought out of his musings when a couple of men walked into the bar and immediately started sizing him up. Johnny put down his drink and sighed. It was time to go back to work.
Scott was overwhelmed. He had no idea his grandfather’s empire had such vast holdings. The last several weeks had been a revelation to him. He was trying desperately to keep up with all of the bookwork, as well as trying to learn about Garrett’s various businesses in order to run them intelligently. Thankfully, his Grandfather believed in hiring very competent people, so he was able to ask for advice, but the ultimate decisions were up to him. He had been lucky so far. He didn’t think he had made any irreversible errors.
He put down the pen and leaned back in the chair, rubbing his eyes. He would never have believed it, but he actually missed those dirty, smelly, stupid cattle. He’d rather spend all day getting one of those creatures out of a mud hole than doing bookwork. Especially if Johnny were helping him. A small smile formed when he thought of his younger brother. He sure did miss him. He sighed deeply and looked at the pile of papers yet to be examined. Finally, he decided he needed a break. He stood up and grabbed his coat and hat off the rack. “I’m going for a walk.” He announced to a startled Eleanor. He strode out of the office and shut the massive door. Taking a huge breath of air, he headed for the park, where he could at least pretend he was in the wide -open spaces.
As he walked, he felt the tension gradually leave him. Exercise was great for relieving stress. Maybe that was why he had been so relaxed at Lancer. Well, that and his brother. Johnny had a way of making any situation seem not as serious as it was. They were a perfect combination, and he missed Johnny’s easy- going attitude. He allowed himself the small luxury of thinking about him. He wondered where he was, and if he was all right. He couldn’t believe that Johnny had actually gone to Mexico, even if he understood the reason. Every day he rushed to the mailbox to see if there was a letter from his errant brother, but so far, there had been nothing.
He had received one letter each from Murdoch and Teresa, reassuring him that except for Johnny missing, everything was normal, but since then he hadn’t received anything. In Murdoch’s letter, he learned that Luke had moved into the hacienda, and was helping Murdoch with some of the chores. His father had said that he had been ill for a week or so, and that Luke had taken over and done a wonderful job of keeping the ranch going during that time. Teresa had sent a letter at the same time, and expressed much the same opinion. Scott shook his head. He wondered if he and Johnny had both been wrong about the man. He was glad that Murdoch had someone he could rely on, now that his two sons were absent.
As he walked, Scott thought about his future. He knew that he wouldn’t stay here, but leaving was impossible at the moment. It would be a lot easier on him if he knew just how long he’d have to stay. His Grandfather’s doctors said that the old man might be able to resume some light work in a month or two. The problem was, the work that needed to be done wasn’t light, and probably contributed to the heart attack that had felled him. Running a company like Garrett Enterprises required a quick and decisive mind, and stress came with the job. There was no doubt in Scott’s mind that his grandfather was no longer capable of running anything. He didn’t even appear interested in what was happening in his empire; something that concerned Scott to no end, and convinced him that his Grandfather’s condition was serious.
As he walked back, he was no closer to a solution than when he started. As much as he wanted to go back to California, there was no one else to run Garrett Enterprises. If he left, it would crumble and fall, leaving his Grandfather penniless. And according to Murdoch and Teresa’s letters, he wasn’t needed at home now. They were doing just fine without him. He sighed and stuffed his hands further into his pockets. Then why didn’t things feel fine?”
Murdoch watched from his desk as Luke talked to one of the hands, gesturing about what needed doing. When Luke was done, he walked towards the house, hitting his hat against his leg the way Johnny used to do. Murdoch’s mind wandered to his son. It had been one month since Johnny had disappeared, and they still had no word from him. He couldn’t believe that Johnny would actually go back to fighting, but that is apparently what he had done. Val had heard some stories from some cowboys passing through that Johnny Madrid was rebuilding his reputation in a spectacular way down in Mexico.
Murdoch had questioned Val at length, and had then decided to go down there to try and find him. Luke was doing a good job of running the ranch, and besides, there wasn’t that much to do this time of year. He needed to at least talk to Johnny, to let him know that he DID care, and see if the rift was reparable. He realized that Johnny’s leaving probably had more to do more with him than Teresa. He regretted the things he had said, but more specifically, the things he hadn’t. But Johnny HAD been wrong. Luke had bent over backwards since then to help them out. He was respectful and courteous, and Murdoch had watched the man carefully with Teresa, and had never seen any indication of a temper.
Murdoch had planned on going down to Mexico to find Johnny two weeks ago, but had caught a bug from one of the children they had visited at the orphanage a day or two previously. Sam said that several children in the orphanage had been ill with similar symptoms. Murdoch couldn’t remember ever feeling quite as sick, but luckily he had only been bad a few days and then started slowly recovering. He still wasn’t one hundred percent though, and had been taking things easy. He counted himself lucky; one of the children at the orphanage had died.
“Mister Lancer?” Luke called.
Murdoch swung around in his chair.
“The East pasture is checked out, and we can move that herd up there anytime you say.”
Murdoch nodded. “Go ahead and tell the men to move them as soon as possible. We need to get them on that new grass right away.”
“Yes, sir. Oh, I was wondering if we should let some of the men go; there isn’t that much work right now.”
Murdoch shook his head. “The men stay. Lancer takes care of their own, and those men are loyal. We’ll find something for them to do.”
“Yes, sir.” Luke answered. He hesitated. “I was wondering if you’d reconsidered my request.”
Murdoch looked at the man standing in front of him. “I have thought about it some more, but the answer is still the same.”
Luke dropped his head, hiding the disappointed look in his eyes. “I wish you’d reconsider. Teresa and I really don’t want to wait.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Maybe not, but you will. I won’t stand for Teresa to be hurried into this. She’s still very young, and I want her to be sure. If you still feel the same way towards each other in six months, you will have my blessing.”
Luke nodded, and then turned and walked out. There was no way he was going to wait six months to get what he wanted.
Johnny had been in Monterey for three days, and still hadn’t found anything out. He was beginning to think that Collins hadn’t been down here at all. Johnny had started in Sonora, and worked his way down through Chihuahua and Reynosa, plus a dozen smaller towns on the way. And so far, nothing. No one had heard of Collins, and no one seemed to recognize his description. Johnny was getting discouraged, to say the least. All he had succeeded in doing was adding a few more unwanted notches on his gun. He would stay another day or two here, and then head down towards Leon, the second place that Collins had mentioned. If he didn’t find out anything there……. He let his thought trail off. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it.
He sat at a table in one of the town’s small cantinas and watched the other occupants of the room. He had his feet up on a neighboring chair, and seemed entirely at ease, but he no longer felt like he belonged here. The men he had once shared a common bond with seemed lost and hopeless. He took another sip of beer and thought about Scott. He missed his brother. Hell, he missed his whole family, even Teresa and the Old Man. He snorted. He must be off his rocker to think like that after the things that they had said, but it was true. And he was beginning to worry about Scott. He had sent him several letters and one telegram since being down here, and hadn’t received one word back from him, even though he’d told his brother where he’d be. He knew his brother wasn’t in any danger back in Boston, but he wouldn’t put it past Scott’s Grandfather to intercept his brother’s mail. He’d done it before.
He decided he’d go on down to Leon, and if he couldn’t find out anything there, he’d either go back to Lancer and find out what was going on or head to Boston and catch up with Scott. Johnny grinned. He could just see the old man Garrett’s expression if he showed up in Boston. He’d probably have a heart attack.
Johnny watched as an older man entered the cantina and looked around as if seeking someone. He spotted Johnny and swept his hat off of his head while cautiously approaching.
“Buenas Tardes, Senor” Johnny said, hoping the man didn’t want to hire Madrid’s gun. He didn’t have time to get sidetracked.
The man nodded. “BuenosTardes. You are Senor Madrid, Si?”
The man nodded again. “I heard you were seeking information about a gringo going by the name of Collins.”
Johnny sat up quickly, his boots hitting the floor. He grinned to himself. So much for Madrid’s legendary coolness. “Do you know of him, senor?” He asked the old man.
The man nodded once more. “There was a man who came through here almost six months ago. He went by the name of Collins. He had brown hair, and a small scar, here,” he gestured with his hand to his cheek.
It was Johnny’s turn to nod. “That is the man. Do you know anything about him?”
“Si, senor.” The man’s eyes turned dark. “I know much about him.”
Teresa sat at her desk, writing a letter to Scott. She missed him terribly and hoped he’d come home soon. They all needed him home desperately, it seemed as if nothing had gone right since he’d left. First Johnny went to Mexico, and then Murdoch had gotten sick. She knew it was her fault that Johnny had left, but she didn’t know how to fix it. She needed Scott.
In the last several weeks, she realized now just how badly she’d treated Johnny, but there was nothing she could do until he came home. And deep down, she knew he would, especially if Scott were here. She still loved Luke, she was sure, but she also knew that Johnny had only been trying to protect her. Johnny had been mistaken when he had thought Luke would strike her, but it was just a mistake, and she shouldn’t have gotten so upset. Luke was a good man; she just had to convince Johnny of that.
She didn’t know what she and Murdoch would have done if it weren’t for Luke. With both of his sons away, it was difficult for Murdoch to keep up with all of the ranch work. Johnny and Scott had lightened their father’s workload immensely, and not just physically. The ranch hands had gone to the brothers for small decisions regarding the ranch, and Murdoch had only been bothered when something couldn’t be decided by Johnny or Scott or both. With the two younger men gone, the hands once more came to Murdoch for decisions.
In the month since Johnny had left, Murdoch had run himself into the ground. First he had suffered through that illness that he’d picked up at the orphanage that seemed to stay with him forever. And even though he’d basically recovered from that, he was still not as strong as he once was. Sam had warned him repeatedly to take it easy, but Murdoch was just as stubborn as his sons when it came to admitting any weakness. Unfortunately Teresa noticed that he definitely seemed weaker. She frequently caught him rubbing his forehead, so she knew he was suffering from headaches, and his stomach seemed upset regularly. But what frightened Teresa the most was that a few times he had seemed confused. It only lasted a minute, but it was enough to convince her that Murdoch was indeed pushing himself too hard.
Since Murdoch no longer took an interest, Luke had begun to take over a lot of the everyday decisions concerning the ranch and he delegated the day’s chores to the men. Cipriano and Jelly were somewhat miffed, but Luke seemed to be doing a good job, and they took his orders out of respect for her. After all, if she and Luke were going to be married, he would have a larger part in running the huge spread.
Teresa looked absently out the window, daydreaming about the day that she and Luke would be married. Luke had wanted to get married right away, but Murdoch had put his foot down, and even though Teresa would never admit it to Luke, she was glad. She wanted a long courtship, and besides, she wanted both Scott and Johnny there at her wedding. Her expression turned sad. She hoped Johnny would come home soon. They hadn’t heard anything from him for two months. Murdoch didn’t mention him any more, but a part of him seemed to have died since his youngest son had left. He no longer cared as much about the ranch, and spent hours just staring out the window, as if willing his son home. She thought a lot of Murdoch’s illness could be helped just by Scott and Johnny once more being where they belonged – at Lancer.
She looked down at the letter, hesitating. Luke had been so adamant not to bother Scott with their problems. He said Scott would be home as soon as he could, and it would just make him feel guilty to tell him he was needed here. She looked at the letter again, and then firmly sealed it. She hoped Scott would come home once he read it. She didn’t want him to feel guilty, but the plain truth was, they needed him. She knew Scott must be very busy, because she hadn’t received an answer to any of her letters yet. She hoped Scott would answer this one.
She walked downstairs to the Great Room and laid the letter on the desk for Luke to mail next time he was in town.
Scott told himself he would spend one more hour on the books and then turn in. He hadn’t gotten much work done today, his thoughts were running around like the squirrels that played in the trees outside the window. He had been back here now for over three months, and he was becoming decidedly uneasy. When he had talked to Johnny before he left, he had promised he wouldn’t stay here. And he had no intention of staying more than a week or so. But somehow, that week had stretched into months. He leaned back in his chair and thought. He really hadn’t been doing much of that lately, he hadn’t had time. Since he had arrived, it seemed he had gone from one crisis to another - first William, then his Grandfather, and then various emergencies involving Garrett Enterprises. It seemed as if every time he was considering leaving, something happened to make him stay. Coincidence? He was beginning to wonder.
He didn’t see how his Grandfather could have manipulated William’s illness short of poison, and he didn’t think even Harlan would stoop that low. And his Grandfather’s heart attack? That couldn’t be faked, could it? The catastrophes that had kept his attention since then, however, certainly could be. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. He was just too tired to think right now. Tomorrow he would go for a nice long walk and try to figure things out. He smiled wryly. That is, if there wasn’t some sort of emergency to keep him from it.
As he was thinking, his eyes wandered around the desk and finally came to a stop at the locked third drawer. Since he was a child that drawer was never left unlocked. When he had been fifteen, he had come in one time while his Grandfather was looking at papers in that drawer, and he had been soundly chastised.
He reached down and fingered the drawer, wondering if he should look. A part of him felt guilty, but another part thought that if he really WAS going to have to run Garrett Enterprises for a while, he needed to know everything, even company secrets. And he had the very uneasy feeling there were things in that drawer that might tell him what was going on. He knew where the key was, he had known for years. The question was, was he willing to destroy his Grandfather’s trust in him by looking? He thought of Johnny, alone when he had needed his brother the most, and William, who had died a very untimely death, and he slowly got up and took the key from under the portrait of his mother that hung in Harlan’s study.
An hour later, Scott was deeply engrossed in the files. He discovered that his Grandfather had actually known where Johnny was while Murdoch was looking for him, and that Harlan had kept a very detailed file on both Murdoch’s and Johnny’s activities for years before they were reunited. He also kept a ledger, where he wrote payments to different individuals, usually identified by initials. The only recent one that Scott found interesting was a payment of five hundred dollars wired to Mexico five months previously. The ledger said cryptically:
‘$500 to L.D. for J.M.’ He assumed the J.M. reference was about Johnny, because his Grandfather never called Johnny by anything but Madrid. But it was mighty slim evidence. It could have been for anything, or even about someone else totally. Lots of people had those initials. And besides, who was L.D?
He looked once more in the drawer, but there was nothing else of interest. A few more folders on various business deals, a small medical book, some photographs, and some deeds to various properties. The only thing remotely interesting was some sugar in the bottom of the drawer, probably put there absentmindedly by his grandfather after adding some to his coffee while working. Scott had seen Harlan put things in strange places numerous times growing up. Smiling slightly, he shook his head and took the sugar and placed it on the tea tray next to the desk where it belonged. Sighing, he closed the drawer and carefully re-locked it. He had been almost certain that the drawer would hold the answers he was looking for. Evidently he was wrong.
As he looked out the window, he saw the man that delivered the mail. He got up and went to the door, eager to find out if there was a letter from his family.
The man handed him a stack of mail, and then tried to take one back. “Sorry, sir, I don’t know how that one got through.” He said.
Scott glanced at the letter and saw that it was addressed to him. “No, it’s not a mistake, it came to the right place.”
The man tried to take the envelope once more. “Yes, sir, but Mister Garrett was adamant that he didn’t want any letters from California or Mexico delivered to the house. He said he would pick them up personally at a later time.”
Scott refused to let go of the envelope. “This letter is addressed to ME, and I want to see it. And how many letters are ‘waiting’ for Mister Garrett to pick up?”
The man looked decidedly uncomfortable. “I really don’t know, sir. Quite a few, I guess.”
“Give this to me, and I will come down and pick up the rest shortly. Mister Garret has been ill, so he can’t pick them up himself.”
Then man reluctantly released the envelope. “I hope Mister Garrett feels better soon, Sir.”
Scott nodded absently as he tore open the envelope. It was from Sam, and he couldn’t figure out why the Doctor would be writing. He read the letter through quickly, and then marched up to his Grandfather’s room. He pushed the door open with a bang, and watched as the form on the bed turned toward him. “I see your manners have certainly taken a beating since you went to California.” Harlan said.
Scott approached the old man, trying to keep his temper in check, but failing miserably. “How DARE you intercept my mail.”
Harlan sat up in bed, a confused look on his face. “What are you talking about, Scotty?”
Scott took a step closer. “You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, and my name is SCOTT.” Scott waved the letter in Harlan’s face. “You had ALL of the letters from California and Mexico……..” He stopped abruptly as he gazed at his Grandfather in disbelief. “How did you know?” He whispered. “I never told you. How did you know Johnny was in Mexico?”
Garrett sat up straighter. “Scotty…Scott, listen to me. I stopped the letters from California after William died. I thought you were going back and I was going to forward them to you, that’s all.”
Scott shook his head. “No, Grandfather, that’s not all. How did you know?” His expression turned hard as he remembered the note in the ledger. “And who’s L.D?”
Garrett turned white, and then set his mouth in a firm line. “You are accusing me of something? You’re the one that broke into my personal desk!”
“Don’t change the subject, Grandfather! You are the one that did wrong. Do you know what this letter says? It says that MY FAMILY had been trying to get in touch with me for weeks. Murdoch is very ill, and I’m needed home at once. What did you do, bribe the telegram office too?”
As Scott watched, his Grandfather threw back the covers on his bed and Sprang to his feet. “Now you listen here, Scotty, you belong here, not in that God –forsaken place.”
Scott watched his grandfather, noting his agility when he sprang from the bed. “You faked it, didn’t you? You were never sick.” He said flatly.
Harlan looked dazed for a moment, and then grabbed his chest. “Help me Scotty, I can’t breathe.”
Scott stood still as he watched his Grandfather. “It won’t work this time. I’m leaving, today!”
Harlan looked petulantly at his grandson as Scott turned and walked towards the door. “You’ll be back. There’s nothing there for you. That half - breed isn’t even there any more, he ran away with his tail tucked between his legs and he won’t be back. And you have no claim on Lancer; you’ve been gone too long.”
Scott swung around and stared at his Grandfather. “What do you mean, I have no claim?”
“It was part of the contract you all signed. Murdoch put it in there for Madrid; he was afraid he’d leave and tie up the property. If either you or that half –breed leave the ranch for more than three months, you’re no longer entitled to anything.”
“Murdoch wouldn’t do that,” Scott exclaimed.
“If he’s dead, he won’t be able to stop it. You won’t have anything; you’ll starve unless you come back here.”
Scott stared at his Grandfather for a long moment. “Then I’ll starve, but I will NEVER come back here.” He turned and raced out the door. He had to get home.
Johnny waited restlessly for the telegraph office to open. He had ridden back up to Sonora in less than a week, stopping only to get a few minutes shuteye and give Barranca a much-needed rest. Although he hated going back to that place, it was one of the few places in Mexico that had a telegraph office. He had to warn Scott and let him know what was going on as soon as possible. He just hoped it wasn’t too late, but he couldn’t be sure, he hadn’t heard from anyone in over three months.
As he was waiting, he went over in his head how he should word the telegram, and where he should send it. He was afraid if he sent it to Green River and Scott weren’t there yet that Murdoch would just ignore it. On the other hand, he was afraid to send it to Boston because he had the distinct feeling that the Old Coot was intercepting Scott’s mail and telegrams. Finally he decided to send it to both places, just in case.
Johnny took out his watch once more and cursed the lack of attention to time so common in Mexico. He smiled slightly, remembering the trouble Murdoch had had trying to break him of that very trait. Time was never very important to a gunfighter, but Johnny knew without a doubt that he was no longer comfortable in that profession. Murdoch and Scott had broken him of more than his habit of being late. He was no longer Johnny Madrid, at least in his heart; he was Johnny Lancer, rancher.
Shoving the watch back in his pocket, he once more resumed his restless pacing up and down the sidewalk. He hoped it was early enough that anyone looking for trouble was still asleep; most people in his line of work slept late. But he’d still have to be careful, Sonora had more than its share of gunslingers and murderers. No matter what he felt on the inside, on the outside he was still Johnny Madrid. After he sent the wire he planned on hightailing it back to Lancer as soon as he could. The last thing he needed was to get into another gunfight. He hoped that for once he would catch just a little bit of luck.
At last he saw the chubby telegraph operator approach and hurried over to meet him. The man was in no hurry, however, and by the time he got the small office open, the blinds pulled up, his papers in order and a pot of coffee started, another fifteen minutes had passed. Finally, he stood with his pencil poised, waiting to take down the message. Five minutes later, the messages were successfully sent, and Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. He had done everything possible to make sure his family was warned.
As he walked out of the office, he was wondering what Scott would think of his message. He wondered whether his brother would believe him, and then he felt ashamed. Scott had never doubted him and he wouldn’t this time; but he was worried how Scott would react to the information he had sent. He was afraid that Scott would somehow blame him for being the bearer of such bad news. Well, he guessed he’d have to cross that bridge when he came to it. Yes, Scott would believe him, he was sure. But Murdoch and Teresa were a different story. He was afraid they wouldn’t believe anything against Luke without solid proof, and he hadn’t been able to get that. But he did have a story that made sense, and a wanted poster on a man that looked remarkably like Luke Collins.
He saw the ground rush up to greet him before he even heard the shot, and he realized he’d screwed up. He had been concentrating on his brother, on his family. He had forgotten exactly where and who he was, and his last thought was that at least he’d sent the telegrams.
Murdoch sat in the chair in his room, looking out the window at the scene below. People, cattle, horses. They all combined to make the calmingly familiar scene. It seemed as if there were new faces down there, but he wasn’t sure. He’d have to go see. He was tired of staying up here in his room and he didn’t know why everyone was trying to keep him here. He needed to talk to Scott, but for some reason, Scott wasn’t here. He was in……..the name of the place eluded him, but it didn’t matter. Teresa had reassured him that his son would be home soon.
He was grateful for her help, and for the comfort and stability she brought. The young man that she was seeing was very helpful, too. He was taking care of the ranch as if it were his own. Murdoch had managed to make his way downstairs a few days ago, and watched as Luke took care of the mountain of bookwork that came with running a ranch the size of Lancer. Murdoch’s eyes closed. As soon as Johnny came home he could take over the books. He was good at it and had done the books almost from the time he returned home. Murdoch’s brow furrowed. Was it Johnny that had done the books? Or Scott? He sighed. He couldn’t really remember.
He looked up as Tessie entered the room with his coffee and some rolls. His headaches had gotten so bad lately that food just didn’t interest him much. Sam had come and examined him last week, or was it the week before? Murdoch shook his head. Time was all a confused jumble in his mind.
“Thank you, Tessie.” Murdoch said as she handed him his coffee.
The girl looked like she just might cry, and he wondered what was bothering her. “Are you and Luke fighting?” He asked gently.
“No Murdoch, We’re fine. I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
Murdoch smiled. “I’ll be fine. Sam said I needed to rest, that’s all.” His smile faded. “When is Johnny coming home?” He asked.
The girl’s face crumpled some more. “I don’t know. Soon, I hope.” She hesitated. “Luke wanted to know if you’d sign this.” She said, holding out a piece of paper to him.
He looked at her briefly before turning his attention to the paper. “What is it?”
Teresa dropped her head. “It’s a paper saying that you give your consent for me to marry Luke.”
Murdoch looked closely at the girl. “I thought we had decided that it would be best for you to wait a few months.”
“We did.” She said quietly.
“Did you change your mind?”
Teresa shrugged her shoulders but wouldn’t meet his eyes.
Murdoch smiled. He hated to see his daughter unhappy. “I tell you what. As soon as Scott and Johnny come home, I’ll sign it, OK? I think they should be here don’t you?”
Teresa gave him a smile, then reached over and kissed his cheek. “Yes, and thank you.”
Murdoch nodded. “When is Johnny coming home?” He asked, for the thousandth time.
Scott stepped off the stage and sighed deeply. He was almost home, but he’d probably spend the night in town. The stage had lost a wheel halfway here and had been delayed for hours. Now it was dark and the moon was hidden by clouds, not a good time to travel, even on a well – known road. Besides, he could get a hot bath and a decent meal and then leave bright and early the next morning. He grabbed his bag from the stage driver and headed toward the hotel, with visions of prime steak in his mind. The clerk at the desk looked up as Scott walked in.
“Mr. Lancer.” He said pleasantly.
Scott nodded at the man. “Good evening. I’d like a room, please.”
“Yes, sir.” The clerk pushed the register towards him and watched as he signed. He hesitated a moment, unsure, and then decided to speak. “I’m real sorry about your loss, Mister Lancer.”
Scott froze. The pen suddenly felt too heavy in his hand and he put it down. He looked back up at the man. “What?” He said dazedly.
The clerk was decidedly uncomfortable. “Well, it being so sudden and all. I know how close you were to him.”
Scott’s mouth went dry. “When?” He managed to croak out.
The clerk shrugged his shoulders. “ From what I understand, it was a couple of weeks ago. Val could probably tell you more.”
Scott closed his eyes. The letter from Sam had been dated three weeks ago. He pounded his hand on the desk. Damn Harlan. His father had died and he hadn’t been here. Hadn’t even known there was a problem until it was too late. He wondered if Johnny was home yet, or if he even knew. He thought briefly of heading for the ranch tonight, but if it had happened several weeks ago, he guessed the need for haste was gone. “Thanks,” he told the clerk woodenly as he turned and headed for the stairs.
He sat on the edge of the bed, food and bath forgotten, and thought about his father. They had locked horns quite a bit when they first met each other, especially Murdoch and Johnny. But things had gotten better. The hate he had harbored toward his father had changed to respect, and finally to love. He knew Johnny felt the same way, even though he and their father still had their issues. He wondered how Teresa was coping, and wondered if Luke was still hanging around. He guessed he’d find out tomorrow. He cursed his grandfather again for his deceit.
He thought again of Harlan’s deception, and was angry with himself for falling for it for so long. His grandfather had stooped to a new low as far as Scott was concerned, and he just hoped that Harlan had nothing to do with William’s death. He hoped that his grandfather had just taken advantage of the situation to prolong Scott’s stay. Well, Scott thought, it worked for a while, but in the end it blew up in Harlan’s face. Scott knew now that nothing would ever get him back to Boston again. He had said his last good-bye to his grandfather.
He wondered if Harlan really thought that Scott would lose his claim on the ranch because he’d been gone, and he realized where he had heard that information. Scott knew that it had originally been part of the contract, and for the reason his grandfather gave. When he had first arrived at the ranch, after the fight with Pardee, Scott himself had told his grandfather that bit of news. But Murdoch had changed it within a few months of the two brothers coming back; he had changed it right after the incident with the wild horses when Johnny had left. Scott hadn’t bothered to enlighten his Grandfather; it was none of his business. And he sure wasn’t going to correct his assumption now, that was for sure.
He went over to the window and looked absently out. Things were changing so quickly. He had just wanted to return to the ranch and continue with his new life, and now that life had changed. It wasn’t fair. He was just beginning to know his father, he had needed more time. But as hard as it was for him to accept, he knew Johnny would take it harder. Johnny needed Murdoch. He needed that stability in his life. His brother would be devastated, but together, he knew they would get through it. He sighed. Now the running of the ranch would fall on his and his brother’s shoulders. He hoped they would make their father proud.
He was just turning away from the window when he spotted Sam’s buggy coming slowly down the street. He debated whether to wait and talk to him in the morning, or to go down tonight. But he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep until he knew for sure what had happened, so he decided to give the doctor a few minutes to get home, and then he would go talk to him.
A half of an hour later, he slipped on his jacket and headed for the door. Sam was just sitting down with a cup of coffee when Scott walked in. The doctor looked up and smiled slightly. “Scott, I’m glad you’re back.” He hesitated, and the smile left his face. “Scott, I don’t know if you heard…….” His voice trailed off.
Scott’s head dropped and he nodded his head. “The clerk at the hotel told me.”
Sam nodded his head and came over and put his arm around the young man. “I’m sorry. He was a very special man, and I know how much you’re going to miss him. We all are.”
Scott felt the sting of tears and he dropped his head once more. “I know. I just feel glad I got to know him. But when I think of all those wasted years, years that we could have been together……”
Sam nodded. “I know he felt the same way. And I know he loved you very much.”
Scott nodded once more. He swallowed hard and then continued. “And I feel so guilty that I wasn’t with him when it happened.”
Sam sighed. “Scott, you know there wasn’t anything you could have done.”
Scott looked at the doctor. “Did he suffer?”
Sam looked at Scott for a moment before slowly answering. “From what I understand, it was quick, but I really don’t know.”
Scott’s eyes darkened. “What do you mean, from what you understand? You weren’t there?”
Sam shook his head in confusion. “Scott, calm down. You know I couldn’t have been there. We just found out yesterday.”
It was Scott’s turn to look confused. “Yesterday? I was told he died several weeks ago.”
Sam nodded. “That’s what Val was told.”
“All right Sam, what’s going on? My father dies three weeks ago, and you say you just found out yesterday?”
Sam looked at Scott in horror as he realized the mistake. “Scott, Murdoch is very ill, but he’s not dead.”
Scott looked in confusion at the doctor. “Then who are we …….” Realization hit. “Oh my God, no. Not Johnny?” When he saw Sam’s quiet nod, he sank to the waiting chair. “How?”
Sam’s head dropped. “Val’s friend said he was ambushed. He never had a chance to draw his gun. Scott, I’m sorry.”
Scott sat dazed in the chair as Sam’s words sank in. He had thought his father had died, and he had been grief stricken. But knowledge that the one he had lost was Johnny had thrown him into shock. Sam handed him a cup of coffee laced with brandy. “Here, Scott, drink this.”
Scott obediently drank the liquid without thought, burning his mouth in the process, but never feeling the pain. The ache that was in his heart overrode every other feeling he had. His head dropped in despair, and tears silently fell onto his lap. He couldn’t lose his brother. Not now, when he was just getting to know him. He needed his brother. He needed Johnny. He felt Sam’s hand on his shoulder and was thankful for the support. He knew the old doctor had cared about his brother, too.
Scott dragged himself back to reality and sighed deeply. “What about Murdoch? How bad is he?”
Sam shook his head. “He’s pretty bad, Scott. I think he’s had some small heart attacks. He’s confused, and has been getting progressively worse. He hasn’t been thinking clearly for some time now. He’s weak, and he’s not eating very much. There’s not a whole lot I can do for him.”
Scott stared at the doctor; the prospect of losing both his brother and his father was very real. “Will he die?”
Sam shook his head once more. “I don’t know. We’ll have to take it one day at a time.”
Scott thought that he just might be in the middle of a nightmare. Sam’s words were eerily reminiscent of William’s doctor back in Boston. And William had died. First William, then Johnny, now Murdoch, and his grandfather was as good as dead to him. It just couldn’t be happening.
“How’s Teresa?” Scott asked after a long pause.
“She’s holding up. Luke is helping her.”
Scott looked up when he heard the strange note in Sam’s voice. “What’s wrong?”
Sam shook his head. “I’m not sure. I just don’t like him very much, but I have nothing to base that on. Just a feeling.”
Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “You and me both, Sam. There’s been nothing but trouble since he showed up. He’s the reason that Johnny went down to Mexico in the first place.”
“I know. I was there when Murdoch and Teresa found out he had left. They had both said some pretty mean things to him and were regretting them.”
Scott snorted. “I bet. They always regretted the things they said to him – when it was too late. Now it’s really too late, and they’ll never be able to tell him they were sorry. I hope they can live with that.”
Sam sighed. “I guess he had every reason to run off.”
Sam stared hard at the old doctor. “Is that what you think? That he ran off?”
Sam looked surprised. “Didn’t he?”
Scott shook his head. “He went down there to see if he could find out something about Collins. Collins told him one time he had spent time down in Mexico. He knew Murdoch and Teresa would never believe him without proof, and he was going to try to get some. He was trying to figure out how to go down there without Murdoch taking his head off, and he told me that Murdoch would probably take care of it. I didn’t know what he meant at the time.” Scott smiled sadly. “I guess Murdoch is pretty predictable. He and Teresa gave Johnny just the excuse he needed.”
“You need to tell them that he didn’t leave because of them, Scott.”
“Why should I?” Scott spat. “Let them feel guilty. They should. Teresa told him she hated him when he was just trying to protect her. And now that he’s dead, she’s sorry? And what about Murdoch? He’s treating Collins better than he ever treated Johnny.” Scott ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
“Scott. I don’t think Murdoch has been thinking clearly for a long time. At least since Johnny left. I don’t think you can hold him accountable for his actions right now.”
Scott sighed as the anger towards his father left. “He’s really that bad?” He asked.
“I’m afraid so. He doesn’t even know me sometimes. He’s called Teresa by the wrong name several times, and he’s even…….” His voice trailed off.
Sam looked down. “Last time I was there, he thought Luke was Johnny.”
Scott’s eyes closed. When would he wake up? “What’s happening with the ranch? Are Cipriano and Jelly taking care of things?”
Sam sighed. “No. Cipriano left several weeks ago, and Luke fired Jelly almost a month ago.”
Scott’s mouth dropped open. “He can’t ‘fire’ Jelly or Cipriano; they’re family. Besides, who gave him the authority to fire anyone?”
“Evidently, Murdoch did. He told the men that Luke was in charge and to do what he told them.”
“And Teresa allowed Collins to get rid of Jelly?”
“Actually, I don’t think she knew about it until after he was gone. And she’s been too busy taking care of Murdoch to notice much about what’s going on with the ranch.”
Scott was overwhelmed. He didn’t know what to think. Sam saw his confusion. “Scott, why don’t you go back to the hotel and get a good night’s sleep. Then in the morning I’ll go with you out to the ranch. I need to check on Murdoch again anyway.”
Scott nodded. “I’m too tired right now to think, anyway. I’ll see you in the morning.” He turned to leave but as he reached the door, he turned back for a moment. “Thanks, Sam. For everything.”
The next morning, Scott was up early; actually, he had never gone to bed. He had sat up all night thinking about his brother and worrying about his father. He had decided that whatever Luke was after, he could wait until after Scott had seen to his father. Murdoch was the important thing right now. The ranch would just have to survive without him for a while.
As Scott and Sam drove out to the ranch, Scott was planning on exactly how to handle Luke. At this point, as much as he’d like to confront him, he had no hard evidence, so he thought the best thing to do would be to let Luke continue to run the ranch. After he knew for sure what was going on with his father, then he could worry about the other problems. He just didn’t have the energy to fight Teresa and Luke over what he was sure would be a vicious argument.
As they got closer to the buildings, Scott became uneasy. So far he hadn’t seen one familiar face. He should have recognized at least a few of the hands, but they were all complete strangers. And although the vaqueros that usually worked on Lancer carried rifles, these men all wore sidearms. Scott’s feeling of unease intensified.
The buggy pulled up in the yard and Scott jumped down and headed towards the house. Before he could get there, the door flew open and Teresa came running towards him and flung herself into his arms. “Scott.” She sobbed.
Scott held her for a moment without saying anything. He was still angry with her for the way she had treated his brother. After a moment he gently but firmly pushed her away. “Where’s Murdoch?” He asked.
“Upstairs. Scott, I’m sorry.”
Scott turned and looked at his sister. “You should be.” He said, and then turned and strode up the stairs to see what awaited him.
Scott pushed open the door to his father’s room and looked inside. His father was sitting by the window looking out into space. He approached Murdoch slowly, and then bent down and looked in his father’s eyes. Murdoch started slightly, and then looked at the young man standing next to him. A slow smile erupted on his face.
“Scott.” He said softly.
Scott smiled, relieved that his father recognized him. “Murdoch. How’re you feeling?”
Murdoch nodded. “I’m fine. Just sleepy.” He looked up at Scott. “When is Johnny coming home?”
Scott froze. He hadn’t bothered to ask if Murdoch had been told about his youngest son, he just assumed he had. He hesitated, unsure of what to say.
“He was here yesterday, you know.” Murdoch said dreamily. “He brought me some papers to sign.”
Scott’s brows furrowed. “What did you sign, Murdoch?”
Murdoch smiled. “Don’t worry about it Scott, it wasn’t anything important, I’m sure. Besides, Johnny will take care of everything. He told me everything would be fine.”
Scott was just opening his mouth to reply when there was a light knock on the door and Sam walked into the room. “How is he?” Sam asked.
“I’m not sure,” Scott said slowly. “He said Johnny was here yesterday. He said he had Murdoch sign some papers.”
Sam sighed as he came and took Murdoch’s pulse. “Murdoch, do you know who I am?”
Murdoch looked up in indignation. “Of course I do. You’re Sam Jenkins.”
The doctor looked at Scott and shrugged. “How do you feel, old friend?”
Murdoch closed his eyes for a moment. “Tired.”
“Is your stomach still upset?”
“Do you know what day it is?”
Murdoch shook his head.
“How about what month?”
Again, Murdoch shook his head.
“Do you know who the president is?”
Murdoch opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it before once more shaking his head. “Lincoln? He said hopefully.
Sam patted him on his shoulder. “You just rest, Murdoch. We’ll get you feeling better soon.”
Murdoch nodded, and then asked hopefully. “When is Johnny coming home?”
Scott looked enquiringly at Sam, but the doctor shook his head at him. “He’ll be home soon, Murdoch.”
Murdoch nodded. “I think I’ll take a nap.” He said drowsily, as got up shakily and stumbled towards his bed. Scott helped him down and then covered him with a blanket.
When they were once more outside the room, Scott turned towards Sam. “No one told him?”
Sam shook his head. “No. I’m not sure he’d understand anyway. I’d prefer he be more aware when he is told.”
“And what if that never happens?”
Sam sighed. “I don’t know. Scott, I’m sorry you had to come home to all of this. Take care of yourself, and I’ll be out to check on Murdoch again tomorrow morning.”
Scott watched the doctor walk slowly down the stairs and heard him say a few words to Teresa. When Sam had left, Scott turned and went back and sat next to Murdoch’s bed. He really didn’t want to see Teresa, and he sure as heck didn’t want to see Luke. He watched his father as he slept. What could have caused such a strong man to suddenly become this weak and dependant? It was like watching William all over again.
The doctors back in Boston thought it was just age with William, but Murdoch wasn’t that old. And Sam had also mentioned that he thought Murdoch might be having small heart attacks. Just like William. He couldn’t see how they could be related, however. The two men had never even met. How could they be suffering from the same mysterious illness? If it were some sort of plague, he would have heard of other people getting sick. But he hadn’t heard anything unusual. And the only people that seemed to be getting sick were people that he knew.
He froze as that idea whirled around in his mind. Could the illnesses of the two men somehow be related? But how? He went over the symptoms in his head. Progressive confusion, sleepiness, upset stomach, muscle cramps, weakness. It had to be a coincidence, didn’t it?
As he was trying to think, a small tap on the door announced Teresa’s entry. She came in, balancing two trays. “I brought you something to eat,” she said with a small smile.
“”Put it on the table. I’m not hungry.”
Teresa set the trays down and came up to the bed. She leaned down and felt Murdoch’s forehead, then straightened up and looked at Scott. “Do you think you can get him to eat?” She sighed. “I haven’t had much luck, and when he does eat, it usually comes back up.”
Scott looked out the window. “I hear Luke fired Jelly and Cipriano.”
Teresa looked down. “Cipriano just left one day. He didn’t give a reason, but Luke didn’t fire him.”
Scott turned to stare at the girl. “What about Jelly? Did he ‘just leave’ too?”
“Jelly was being difficult. He wouldn’t do what Luke said, and he was talking bad about him behind his back.”
Scott looked at her in amazement. “Jelly did that to everyone. You know how he always complained about people. Teresa, he was family!”
Teresa looked down and bit her lip “All I know is what Luke said.”
Scott’s temper flared. “That’s all you’ve known for a long time. When are you going to wake up and start taking a good look around you? This whole family is in shambles because of you. My brother is dead because of you.” Scott turned and faced the window once more.
Teresa’s eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t want Johnny to go. I wish I could take the things I said back, but I can’t. I’d give anything to have him back. I’m sorry.”
Scott snorted, but still didn’t turn around. “You should have said that to Johnny, not me.” He lowered his voice. “I could forgive almost anything of you, Teresa. You’re just like my own sister, but I’ll never forgive you for costing me my brother. Now get out. I want to be alone with MY father.”
Scott listened to the sobbing girl retreat down the hall. He felt sorry for her, but what he had said was the truth. He couldn’t forgive her, not when Johnny was lying in some unmarked grave down in Mexico.
With a sigh, he reached down and picked up Murdoch’s hand and held it. The hand that used to be so strong, so nimble. Now it was just the hand of a weak old man. Scott studied it, and then his eyes fastened on his father’s fingernails. They were such an odd color. He had never noticed it before, had they always been like that? He remembered thinking the same thing about William’s nails. He looked closer. He knew they hadn’t been that way before. He would have noticed it. Something was wrong. His father and William both suffered from the same mysterious malady. What was going on?
Once more, Scott didn’t sleep. He was trying to cope with what his mind was telling him. The only logical explanation for the two men’s similar and very unique illnesses was that the same thing caused it. And if the same thing caused it and it wasn’t contagious it almost had to be deliberate. And if it were deliberate, it had to be poison. It was the only conclusion he could draw. But why? And who? Harlan was of course the obvious suspect when it came to William’s death, but he hadn’t been anywhere near Murdoch. And the only ones that head been attending to Murdoch were Teresa and Sam.
He knew it wasn’t Sam, and as angry as he was with his sister, he knew Teresa would never harm Murdoch. Luke? But Collins didn’t know Harlan. Collins was from Mexico. Scott stopped dead as he thought of something. Mexico. Where Harlan had sent five hundred dollars to someone with the initials L.D. Were Collins and his grandfather somehow connected? He shook his head. He’d take one thing at a time. Maybe he was jumping to conclusions. He’d run it by Sam when he got here; there was probably a perfectly rational explanation for the coincidence. And there was probably some reason Murdoch’s nails had turned dark. Maybe it had something to do with his heart attack.
It was well past dawn when Teresa entered with a tray. “How is he?” She asked.
“About the same.” A thought occurred to him. “Who made that food?”
Teresa shrugged. “I did, why?”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “No one else prepared anything?”
Teresa looked confused. “No, why?”
Scott sighed. “No reason.” He reached over and took the coffee off of the tray, then added some sugar and cream. “Thanks. I’m going to let Murdoch sleep. I’ll see if he’s hungry when he wakes up.”
Teresa hesitated, and then turned to leave. Right before she left, another thought occurred to Scott. “Where is Luke?”
She turned back to answer. “He went in to pick up the mail. Why?”
“How long has he been gone?”
Teresa shrugged once more. “He was gone when I got up this morning. He left a note. Why, Scott?”
Scott shook his head. “Never mind, it isn’t important.”
Teresa nodded and looked at her brother for a moment before leaving. She wondered if things would ever be back to normal. Then she realized with finality they never would. Not without Johnny. She turned and went to her room, where she threw herself down on the bed and cried.
Sam didn’t show up until almost eleven. By then Scott had worked himself up to the point where he thought he’d burst. The more he thought about it, the more plausible his idea became. He had though about all of the little coincidences and how Harlan had manipulated him. He was sure that somehow Luke and his Grandfather were connected. As soon as Sam entered the room, Scott jumped to his feet and then went and shut the door behind the doctor. Sam looked at Scott with curiosity. “What’s going on?”
“Where are Teresa and Luke?” Scott asked, ignoring the doctor’s question.
Sam thought for a moment. “Teresa is downstairs in the kitchen. I didn’t see Luke. He must be out working.”
Scott nodded. “All right, but keep your voice down.”
Sam glanced over at Murdoch and then back to Scott. “What’s going on?”
“That’s what I want you to tell me!” Scott retorted. “Listen. Are you TOTALLY sure that it’s Murdoch’s heart that’s causing this?”
Sam looked confused for a moment. “No. I can’t be sure. But the symptoms point towards it.”
“All of the symptoms?”
Sam looked thoughtful for a moment. “No, not all of them. There are some symptoms that don’t tie in, but he could have more than one thing going on.”
Scott couldn’t wait any longer. “Like poison?”
Sam looked startled. “Poison? Where did you get that idea?”
Scott sighed and shook his head. “William had the same exact symptoms. Dizziness, headaches, confusion, nausea. It just seems like too big a coincidence to me.”
Sam shook his head slowly. “Scott, all of those symptoms can be explained by natural means.”
Scott walked over and picked up his father’s hand. “What about this? William had the same discoloration on his nails. And I can vouch that neither of them had it before.”
Sam came closer and examined the nails. “It is unusual.” He looked at Scott. You say the man you went back to see had the same thing?”
Scott nodded. “I think both he and Murdoch were deliberately poisoned.”
Sam’s eyebrows shot up. By whom? The only person that was at both places was you!”
“I haven’t figured it all out yet, but my money is on Luke and my Grandfather. They’re in this together somehow.”
Sam looked down at Murdoch. “I guess it’s possible. I would need to take some blood and hair samples.” He looked up at Scott. “Those are awful serious charges. How sure are you?”
Scott thought back to Harlan’s subterfuge and to Luke’s insidious take over of the ranch. He looked back at the doctor. “I’m sure.”
“All right. I’ll get the samples. But it will be a few days till we know. And even then, we may not be sure. If I were you, I wouldn’t say anything to anyone until we know. And in case you’re right, don’t let Murdoch have any food you haven’t prepared yourself.”
Scott nodded. “I won’t.”
Sam collected the samples that he needed and then turned to leave. “Scott, if you’re right, you could be in danger. You watch your back, do you hear me?”
Scott swallowed a lump in his throat as he thought about his brother. Johnny had always watched his back, but he had let Johnny down. He hadn’t been there when Johnny needed him. Scott nodded at Sam. “I will.”
A few minutes after Sam left, Murdoch woke up. He looked around groggily for a few moments, and then spied Scott. “Good Morning.”
Scott smiled. The thought of Murdoch Lancer thinking high noon was anywhere near morning was absurd. “Good morning, sir. How do you feel?”
Murdoch’s brow furrowed as he thought about the question. “All right. What day is it?”
Murdoch shook his head in confusion. “I don’t remember going to bed.”
“It’s OK, Murdoch, you’ve been sick, but Sam and I are trying to make sure you get better.”
Murdoch nodded his head absently. “When will Johnny be back?” He asked.
Scott thought about what Sam had said, but he didn’t want to keep lying to his father. He had to know sometime. He took a deep breath. “Johnny isn’t coming back, Murdoch.”
His father’s head shot up and he looked at Scott. “Yes, he is. He told me he was. He told me he would be back soon.”
Scott swallowed hard. No matter how angry he had been at Murdoch over Johnny, he didn’t want hurt the Old Man any more. He walked over to the bed and knelt down next to his father. “Johnny isn’t mad at you. But he can’t come back.”
Scott dropped his head. “He got shot.” He hesitated as he looked into his father’s troubled eyes. “He’s dead, Murdoch.”
His father shook his head and said in desperation. “He can’t be. I just talked to him last night. He had me sign some papers, remember?”
Scott took Murdoch’s trembling hand in his. “You’re mistaken. It wasn’t Johnny. Johnny died three weeks ago.”
Murdoch continued to protest. “No, he’s not dead! He can’t be!”
Finally Scott stopped trying to convince him. Sam had been right; he should have waited to tell him. But he was worried about what papers Murdoch was talking about. “What papers did Johnny have you sign, Murdoch? Do you remember?”
Murdoch shook his head distractedly. “I don’t know. He told me to sign them.” He looked up at Scott. “Johnny wouldn’t have me sign anything bad.”
Scott sighed. “No, Murdoch, I know. But think. It’s important. What did he have you sign?”
Murdoch sighed. “Something about my will.”
Scott froze. “He had you change your will?”
Murdoch nodded his head tiredly.
“How? How was it changed?”
“I don’t remember. But it’s not important. Johnny will take care of everything. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt us.” Murdoch’s eyes slipped closed once more and Scott stood up, a feeling of dread slicing into his heart.
The rest of the day Scott only left Murdoch’s side for necessities. Much to Teresa’s confusion, he insisted on fixing Murdoch’s tray and taking it up to him. In Scott’s opinion, Murdoch seemed slightly improved, although he still couldn’t shed any more light on the mysterious papers he said he had signed. Murdoch said he really hadn’t paid attention, which didn’t sound like him at all. Scott hoped his father was just confused and he hadn’t really signed anything, because if he had, it could be catastrophic. Scott would have to remember to ask their lawyer next time he was in Stockton about possible ramifications. He thought about his father’s confusion and all the problems it could cause. He realized that if it kept up, he would have to try to get Murdoch declared incompetent to protect the ranch. He just hoped it wasn’t too late.
Throughout the day, Murdoch kept insisting that Johnny was alive, and asking Scott when he’d be back. Scott had quit trying to tell Murdoch that Johnny was dead; his father became so agitated he was almost violent whenever Scott mentioned it. But Murdoch’s continuous insistence that he had seen Johnny just the other night was wearing Scott’s nerves to a frazzle and he was about at the end of his endurance.
At dinnertime, Scott was shaken out of a light doze when Teresa brought in a tray and set it on the table. He looked over at Murdoch who was sleeping soundly, as he had been throughout most of the day. It seemed to Scott that even though his father seemed slightly less confused when he was awake, he was sleeping almost constantly and refusing to wake up. He hoped it just meant that his body was healing and that he wasn’t getting weaker. He sure hoped Sam would get back here soon with the results of those tests. He was drawn out of his musings by Teresa’s voice.
“How is he doing?”
Scott sighed. “He’s been sleeping for most of the day.”
Teresa looked at her brother. “Scott, you have to be exhausted. I’ll watch him for a while. Go get some rest.”
“NO!” The response was sharper than Scott meant it to be and he immediately lowered his voice. “I’m fine, really.” He pointed to the tray that she had brought up. You can take that back to the kitchen. I’m not hungry.”
Teresa shook her head. “You have to eat, and Murdoch needs to eat something, too.”
Scott nodded his head. “I know. I’ll go fix him something a little later, when he wakes up.”
Teresa put her hands on her hips. “What’s wrong with MY cooking?” She asked.
Scott shook his head. He really didn’t want to get into anything with her until he had proof. “Nothing.” He said tiredly. He looked at the tray that contained sandwiches, some soup and bread. “Did you make all of this?”
“Yes, of course” She said in bewilderment. “Scott, what’s going on? Why do you keep asking me who made the food?”
“No reason. Look, Teresa I’d just like for you to leave us alone, all right. I’ll take care of Murdoch.”
“I’m just trying to help.” She said slowly.
“Well I don’t need your help right now, and neither does Murdoch. Now please go.”
Teresa stared at him for a few more seconds before turning and running from the room.
“Scott?” Murdoch’s voice was still weak but stronger than Scott had heard it since he’d been home. Scott went over to his father’s bedside.
“How are you feeling?” He asked.
Murdoch nodded. “Better. You shouldn’t have yelled at her.”
Scott bit the retort that was on the tip of his tongue. “Are you hungry?”
At Murdoch’s nod, Scott picked up the tray. “Good. I’ll go get you something to eat. I’ll be right back.”
Murdoch looked in puzzlement at the tray his son was holding. “I thought Teresa just brought that in.”
Scott nodded. “She did.” He said hesitantly as he wondered just how much he should confide in his father. But the memory of his father scoffing at his and Johnny’s idea that Collins was dangerous crept into his mind and he decided not to say anything. Instead he made an excuse. “But I thought you’d enjoy something a little different.” He turned around and headed for the door before his father could question him further. “I’ll be right back.” He said as he left the room.
As he passed Teresa’s room he heard her crying softly. Normally he would have tried to give her some comfort, but this time was different, and for once her tears had no effect on him. He had more important matters to think about, and her feelings weren’t exactly top priority with him right now. Not after everything that had happened.
Scott quickly fixed a new meal for his father, wondering if Maria had left too. There was no sign of the woman that had been a Lancer fixture for so many years. Scott shook his head. He wondered if ANYTHING would ever be back to normal.
When he brought the tray up to Murdoch, he found the older man standing staring out the window at the dark night.
“You all right?” Scott asked.
Murdoch nodded his head and turned around. “I was just wondering where Johnny was. He said he’d be back soon. I hope he’s all right.”
With a sigh, Scott put the tray down on the table, slamming it slightly in frustration. “Here, Murdoch. Why don’t you try to eat something? He said through clenched teeth. Murdoch’s insistence that Johnny was alive was wearing thin, and served to keep Scott’s hold on his emotions at constant risk.
Obediently, Murdoch took the tray and sat down on the bed, putting the tray on his lap. He grabbed the coffee, and peering into the cup, looked at Scott questioningly. “Where’s the sugar?”
“We’re out.” Came his son’s curt reply.
Murdoch hesitated a moment, wondering why Scott seemed so upset, and then he started in on his supper. For the first time in a long time, he felt like eating. Soon after he had finished, his head started to nod and within a few moments he was asleep. Scott came and removed the tray and covered him up with a blanket. He hoped his father really was getting better and it wasn’t just his imagination.
Scott went and sat back in the chair and looked out the window. There were so many things to take care of. If Murdoch really were on the road to recovery, he needed to take care of Collins. If Sam found that Collins really were guilty of poisoning Murdoch, getting rid of him would be easy. And even if the doctor didn’t find any indication of poison, Collins was still out of here. Scott was in charge of this ranch for the time being at least, and he would say who stayed and who went. Collins had no authority. And if Teresa didn’t like it, she could leave with him. Scott wasn’t going to be intimidated.
He thought of the other chore that needed taking care of and swallowed a sob. He’d have to go down to Mexico and bring Johnny’s body back. There was no way his brother was going to stay down in Mexico. He belonged here. He sighed. Unfortunately, that would have to wait until this mess with Collins was straightened out and he was sure Murdoch was getting better.
Scott put his head in his hands. He was so tired.
Scott woke with a start. He wasn’t sure what had awakened him. He looked over at Murdoch, who was apparently sleeping soundly. He went over and lit the lamp at the table and looked around, but at first didn’t see anything out of place. Then he noticed a cup of tea that had been partially drunk. Cursing, he grabbed the cup and smelled it, but all he could smell was the familiar scent of Teresa’s herbs that she used to help them sleep when they were sick. Slamming the cup down, he strode to the door and yanked it open.
“Teresa!” He bellowed.
A moment later, Teresa’s head appeared from her room. “What’s wrong, Scott?” She asked as she hurriedly wrapped her robe around her and headed towards him.
“Did you give him this?” He asked angrily, pointing to the cup.
Teresa looked at the cup in confusion. “Yes. I thought that he might be thirsty, and you were sleeping…..” Her voice trailed off as she saw the rage in his eyes.
Scott slammed the cup down on the table. “Damn it!” He raged. “I told you to stay out of here.” He spun towards her. “Where’s Collins?”
She shook her head. “I guess he’s sleeping. Why? Scott what’s wrong?”
Scott went over and felt Murdoch’s pulse. It seemed normal. Running his fingers through his hair, he turned towards her again. “Did you make the tea yourself?
Teresa nodded hesitantly.
“Collins wasn’t around?”
“No! Scott, WHAT’S WRONG? Why are you asking me those questions?”
“He’s asking because he probably thinks that his father’s been poisoned.”
Both Teresa and Scott swung towards Collin’s voice. “Isn’t that right, Lancer?”
Scott stood up and faced the man standing in the doorway, and noticed he was wearing his gun even at this late hour. He cursed to himself that he had taken his own off. “Yes.” He said simply
Teresa looked at him in horror. “Scott, how could you think that? He’s just sick. Sam said it was his heart.” She hesitated for a moment as realization hit her. “You think that I poisoned Murdoch?” She asked in disbelief.
“No,” Collins said. “He thinks I did.”
Teresa’s eyes darted between the two men. “Of course he doesn’t think that, Luke. Everyone knows how helpful you’ve been.” She looked at her brother. “Scott, tell him that isn’t what you think.”
The strain and exhaustion of the last week had finally caught up with Scott, and he jumped in with both feet. “I’ll tell you what I think. I think Mr. Collins here is working for Harlan Garrett. I think my grandfather hired him to get rid of Johnny so I would stay back in Boston, and I think Collins is using you to get control of the ranch. I think that Harlan told him that if Johnny and I were both gone for three months that we lost our claim to Lancer, and he thought that with Murdoch out of the way, you would inherit the ranch. The only problem is, Murdoch changed that part of the contract. Harlan was wrong.”
Collin’s eyes darkened. “You’re lying, Lancer. As soon as that old man there kicks the bucket, Lancer will belong to Teresa. And as soon as we’re married, it’ll be mine.”
Teresa’s mouth flew open. “Luke, what are you saying?”
Collins turned towards her. “What I’m saying is that your brother is right. Garrett hired me to get rid of Johnny one way or the other. I planned on killing him, but that filthy half- breed was just too damn fast.” Collins laughed. “He should have finished me off then and there, huh, Scotty? But then Teresa here would have been mad at him, and he didn’t want that.” He turned to Teresa. “He cared more about what you thought of him than he did about saving his own hide. His running off to Mexico got him killed just as dead as if I did it. Thanks, honey.”
Teresa was shaking her head in disbelief at Luke’s words. “But you love me.” She said weakly.
Collins laughed. “Love? You? No way. I used you, just like your dear departed brother told you.” He laughed again.
“That’s all Garrett hired me to do, get rid of your brother. He figured with Johnny out of the picture, he could keep Scotty in Boston indefinitely. But after I got here, I saw other possibilities.”
He looked at Teresa’s shocked expression. “Do you really think I was interested in you?” He laughed. “I knew that with both his sons out of the picture, Murdoch would leave the ranch to his beloved ward. All I had to do was marry you, and the ranch would be mine.” He looked at Teresa coldly. “And all you had to do was meet with an ‘unfortunate accident’ an appropriate length of time after our wedding. The only problem was, the old man wouldn’t sign the papers to give us permission to wed, and I had to keep the old goat alive until then.” Luke smiled. “But he finally signed them.” He looked at Teresa coldly. “You and I are getting married, DEAR.”
Teresa found her voice. “I’m not marrying you!”
Collins smiled. “Too late. The priest will be here first thing in the morning, and I have Murdoch’s permission right here in my pocket.” His eyes darkened as he reached out and grabbed her arm. “And if you do ANYTHING to try to stop it, or if you don’t act like a perfectly happy bride, I WILL come up here and kill the Old Man, understood?”
“You’re not marrying Teresa.” Scott said quietly. “Give it up, Collins. Sam is checking out the samples now. Pretty soon everyone will know what you were trying to do.”
Luke smiled once more at Teresa. “Will they? Teresa is the one that fed him. She prepared his meals. I wasn’t even around the kitchen. Everyone knew she was upset with him for not allowing us to get married. I had nothing to do with it. Any jury would find her guilty.” He looked back at Scott. “By the way, I picked up a telegram from your dear departed brother a few weeks ago. He was on to the whole thing. Just thought you’d like to know that.”
Scott took a step closer. “It won’t do you any good. That clause that Harlan told you about was changed. It doesn’t matter how long I stayed away, I’m still part owner.”
Collins laughed. “Not if you’re dead. With all the Lancers out of the way, my loving wife here will inherit the ranch.”
Teresa found her voice. “You won’t get away with it.”
“Sure I will. Who’s to stop me? Johnny’s dead and gone, The Old Man is out of his mind, nobody will believe Teresa here, and unfortunately, Scotty won’t be around to tell his side of the story.” Collins smiled. “There’s no one to stop me. And by tomorrow it will be too late.” He pushed Teresa away from him and drew his gun. “Say good-bye, Scotty,” he said as he pulled the trigger.
Teresa ran towards Scott as he crumpled to the floor but felt her arm grabbed roughly and she was jerked back against Collins. “Where are you going, honey?”
“I have to help him,” she sobbed, as she struggled against the iron grip.
Collins laughed. “Won’t do you any good. He’s dead.”
“Let go of me!” Teresa turned toward the man holding her and bit him, hard. She saw the hand come up to hit her, and she watched in disbelief as it descended, sending her sprawling on the floor, blood coming from a split lip. She watched Luke warily as he approached.
“Now you listen to me little girl, and you just might survive this. It’s almost morning, so you are going to go get dressed in your best clothes, and you are going to mind your manners and do everything I say. And when the priest gets here, you will behave like a perfectly loving bride. Because if you don’t, the last surviving member of your ‘family’ won’t live to see another sunrise. Understand?”
Teresa looked at him defiantly. “What difference does it make? As soon as you and I are married, you’re going to kill Murdoch anyway.”
Collins shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. The arsenic will keep him pretty confused and he won’t be much threat. If you want to spend the rest of your life taking care of him, I guess that’s your business.”
“And the rest of my life won’t be that long.” She said, watching Collin’s eyes.
Again, he shrugged. “It depends,” he said, leering at her “On just how cooperative you are.”
Teresa scrambled up off the floor. “Don’t you come near me!”
Collins laughed. “Don’t worry. I can wait for our honeymoon later. Now go get dressed.”
Teresa started towards Scott and Collins grabbed her once more, forcing her out of the room and earning her another blow. “Go get dressed, NOW!”
Teresa left the room, shaking so badly she could hardly think. Johnny had been right all along. And Scott. Why hadn’t she listened to them? Now she was in a nightmare with no escape. Collin’s men were all around the house. If she tried to leave, they would surely catch her. She went into her room and locked the door. She walked over to the window and looked out. She saw the ranch that she loved so much and realized that it had survived rustlers and fire, land pirates and drought, only to be destroyed by one stupid girl.
Teresa tried desperately to think of some way out of this mess; some way to get help to Scott, but her mind was a blank. She wasn’t even sure he was still alive. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts, but she couldn’t get past the thought that she had killed her family. Every single one of them. She knew that no matter what Collins had said, he wouldn’t leave Murdoch alive, there was no reason. She bowed her head and her spirit finally broke. The tears rolled down her face. She deserved everything that Collins had planned for her, and she resigned herself to her fate. If he was going to kill her, so be it. She didn’t care any more. But in the meantime she was going to try to help her brother.
Cautiously, she went to the door and looked out. Collins was nowhere in sight. She crept silently back to Murdoch’s room and pushed the door open. Scott was still lying on the floor. Murdoch apparently hadn’t moved, probably still asleep from the tea she had given him. She hurried over to Scott and knelt down next to him, feeling his pulse. Even though he had lost a lot of blood, his pulse was still strong, and she heaved a sigh of relief. Quickly she went to the drawer and grabbed a shirt out of the dresser and folded it to make a bandage. There was nothing she could do about the bullet if it was still in him.
Tearing open his shirt, she saw where the bullet had entered his upper chest and pressed the makeshift bandage down on the wound. Using another shirt, she bound it tightly to try to stop the flow of blood. As she worked on the wound, Scott’s eyes fluttered open and he looked at her in confusion for a moment before slipping back to the welcoming darkness.
Val sat at his desk, thinking about his friend. The letter had been delivered to him a few minutes before, but he had made no move to open it yet. Johnny must have sent it shortly before he died, and Val wasn’t even sure he wanted to read it. He and the gunfighter had surprisingly hit it off almost immediately and had quickly become close friends. He knew how hard Johnny had tried to give up his past, and how much it had cost him. Val sighed. He didn’t really know what happened that last week or so before Johnny left, but he knew that Murdoch was probably to blame. The Old Man could make Johnny feel lower than a tromped on snake.
He fingered the envelope with Johnny’s distinctive handwriting. Maybe he should just let it go. He turned it over in his hands, trying to decide. Finally, he tore open the envelope. A piece of paper fell out, along with a short letter. He glanced at the paper and his eyes got wide. Grabbing the letter, he began to read. By the time he was done, his heart was racing. Thinking quickly, he grabbed his hat and his rifle and headed out the door. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do, but he wasn’t going to let his friend down.
Teresa didn’t even raise her head as Collins entered the room. She felt as if she were in some kind of dream, aware of what was going on around her, but detached. She felt cold. Collins reached down and grabbed her, forcing her to her feet. “Come on,” he said roughly. “I told you to get dressed. It’ll be light soon.” He turned her towards him and cursed when he saw her battered face. “And find a veil. I don’t want the Padre seeing you like that.” He smirked. “He might get the wrong idea.”
Teresa wrenched her arm away from him. “I won’t marry you.”
Collins eyebrows went up. “Do you want me to kill both of them right now? And you too?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she sobbed. You’re going to kill us anyway. And I’m not going to let you get Lancer.”
“I’m going to get Lancer one way or the other. Nothing’s going to stop me now.”
“Don’t count on it, Collins.”
Teresa and Luke both whirled toward the sound of the voice.
She swung around as the words and the familiar voice cut through her lethargy like a knife. “Johnny!” She tried to run to him, but Collins grabbed her back.
“Stay out of it, Madrid” Collins growled. “I’ve got your father’s written permission to marry this girl.”
“Let her go.” Johnny said quietly. “You ain’t got my permission. Besides, it won’t do ya any good. I got Murdoch to sign an addendum to his will the other night. I rode all the way to Stockton to make sure our lawyer had it in his hands, and I just got back. If something happens to Teresa, all of her property goes back to the ranch. Her husband receives nothing.”
Collins looked suspiciously at Johnny. “You’re lying.”
“No, he’s not.” Came Murdoch’s weak voice from the bed. “I signed it to protect Teresa.”
Collins looked furiously between the two men. “It doesn’t matter. With the three of you out of the way, I can take it over by force if I have to. I’ve done it before. I’m going to have this ranch, one way or the other.”
Johnny looked over to where Scott was trying to sit up, blood soaking his shirt and then he looked at the damage done to Teresa’s face. “You’re a dead man, Collins.” Johnny said coldly. “The only part of this ranch you’re going to get is a six foot deep hole.”
“You can’t stop this, Madrid.”
Johnny was hoping that Collins would let his sister go, but Collins wasn’t stupid enough to give up his edge. He kept Teresa next to him as he turned and faced Johnny. “Drop the gun, Madrid, or I’ll kill the girl.”
Teresa struggled against her captor. ‘Don’t Johnny. He’ll kill me anyway.”
Johnny hesitated, weighing his chances. Collins was waving the gun around in the air, a fatal mistake. He knew he could drop him before the man could bring it around to shoot, but Teresa’s head was only inches from where Johnny had to make his shot for an instant kill. And this time, Johnny knew he’d have to kill the man. If Teresa couldn’t forgive him, so be it. He just hoped she knew not to move or he might hit her instead of Collins. He took a deep breath and blocked out everything but the fight.
“I said drop it! NOW!” Collins ground out.
Teresa tried to wrench free and as Collins gun came up towards her, Johnny took the shot.
As Collins crumpled, Teresa ran to Johnny without a backwards glance. Sobbing, she threw herself at him. Johnny spun away from the girl, leaving her standing forlornly in the middle of the room, and went to where Scott was. He knelt by his brother and looked under the bandage. “How’re ya doin?”
Scott attempted to smile. “Just fine, and you?”
Johnny nodded. “All right.”
“Johnny. I knew you weren’t dead.” His father interrupted, swinging his feet over the edge of the bed. “They wouldn’t listen to me.”
Johnny looked at Scott who looked back at him sheepishly. “He was saying so many things. I thought he was confused.” He grabbed his brother by the arm. “I’m glad he wasn’t.”
Johnny smiled sadly at his brother. Murdoch’s voice interrupted. “Johnny, I need to talk to you……”
“Later, Old Man.” Johnny replied coldly. He turned back to his brother and pressed the bandage firmly against the wound. At the sudden sound of horses pounding into the courtyard he jumped up and drew his gun. He went to the window and cautiously looked out as a barrage of gunshots sounded. “Looks like Val’s come to rescue us,” he said calmly as he returned to his brother, ignoring the two other people in the room.
Val rode into the Lancer courtyard with over a dozen hastily sworn deputies. Sam followed a few minutes behind in his buggy. Many of the men that had been hanging around for the last several weeks decided that it might be a good time to return to Mexico and fled. One very angry Val and his men quickly overpowered the few that didn’t run. One deputy and several of Collin’s men were injured in the brief skirmish, but no one was killed. Once the prisoners were secured, Val ran to the house, afraid of what he would find. Sam was just pulling up in his buggy, and Val motioned him to come on in.
Val entered the house cautiously, wondering where everyone was. As he approached the stairs, he heard familiar voices, and he ran to the room, skidding to a halt as he took in the scene.
Johnny looked up at the sheriff from Scott’s side “Where’s Sam?”
“He’s right behind me,” Val answered. He looked at Johnny. ‘I thought you were dead.”
Johnny shook his head. “Bullet grazed my head. I guess they didn’t check too close, I woke up at the undertaker’s. Scared him outta year’s growth.”
“How did you know to come, Val?” Asked Murdoch.
“I just got the letter Johnny wrote.”
Scott looked at his brother enquiringly.
Johnny sighed, and then explained to his brother “I wrote Val ‘cause I wanted to make sure SOMEBODY got it. I had the feeling Harlan was intercepting the ones I sent to Boston, and evidently Collins had been intercepting the ones here, plus the telegrams. I found out he was working for your Grandfather.” He dropped his head. “I’m sorry Scott. He was paid to get rid of me so you would stay back in Boston. Only Collins decided it would be much more profitable to take over Lancer. With you and I both out of the picture he figured it’d be easy. And he’s done it before. He’s wanted for murdering a wealthy rancher down in Mexico. He went by the name Luis Degas down there.” He looked down.
Scott put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “It’s not your fault. And I’m sorry, too.”
Teresa cut in. “Johnny, I am SO sorry. I had no idea,” she sobbed.
Johnny didn’t respond at first but then stood up and said quietly without turning around. “Scott and I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen. You didn’t trust us.” He looked at his father. “Neither one of you did. You thought I was just tryin’ ta cause trouble.” He turned once more to Teresa and looked her full in the face. “You told me you hated me.”
“I didn’t mean it!” She tried to grab him again but he turned away.
“Yes, you did.” He said simply as he knelt back down by his brother.
“Johnny, please, listen to me.” His father started.
Madrid turned and faced Johnny Lancer’s father. “I told you later, Old Man!” he snarled.
Sam came into the room and after glancing around went over to where Scott was sitting propped up by the wall. He examined him briefly and then turned to Johnny. “We need to get him into bed. And by the way, I’m glad you’re all right.”
Johnny nodded at Sam as Val came over and helped Johnny lift Scott and take him to his room.
Sam turned towards Teresa. “Get some bandages and hot water and then come in and help me.” As the girl turned to do as she was asked, Johnny’s voice came from down the hall.
“I’ll help ya, Sam. Don’t need her help.”
Teresa looked stricken. “I’ll get the bandages and bring them up.” She said hollowly as she turned and fled.
Johnny stayed with Sam as he removed the bullet from Scott’s chest and sewed him up. As the doctor put in the last stitch, he glanced up at Johnny. “He’ll be OK.”
Johnny nodded. “I know.”
Sam shook his head. “Are you all right?”
Johnny looked up at the doctor. “Yeah. I’m always all right.” He said flatly.
Sam put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “Johnny…….”
The gunfighter snatched his arm back. “I said I’m OK. Let it be.”
Sam looked worriedly at the young man. He saw something in Johnny’s face that he hadn’t seen in a long, long time. He saw Madrid.
Sam left Johnny sitting by Scott’s bedside and went in to check on Murdoch. Teresa was sitting on the bed, holding his hand. She glanced up as Sam walked in. “How is he?” She asked.
Teresa looked startled. “Johnny wasn’t hurt too, was he?” She asked anxiously.
The doctor sighed and shook his head. “No. And Scott will be fine. He’ll have to stay in bed for a while, and he won’t be able to work for several weeks, but he should heal quickly.” He walked over to the bed and grabbed Murdoch’s wrist. “How are you feeling?”
Murdoch nodded. “All right. Tired.”
Sam looked at Teresa. “I’ll leave a detailed list of the foods that I want Murdoch to eat. They’ll help to get rid of the arsenic. Also, all the food you have in the house needs to be dumped unless it’s unopened. Don’t take any chances on anything.”
Teresa nodded her head. “I’ll get some food from the cookhouse.”
Sam turned once more to the rancher. “Do you know what day it is?”
Murdoch shook his head.
“What about the month?
“What’s the name of the town I’m from?”
Murdoch hesitated. “Spanish Wells? No, wait………Green ……Green….” Murdoch slumped back in the bed. “I don’t know.”
Sam nodded. “It’s all right. You’re getting better. Hopefully the effects will gradually disappear. I want you to stay in bed as much as possible and just relax; don’t push yourself. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you and Scott.” He got up to go. “Don’t worry, I’ll see myself out.”
As he walked out of the hacienda, he couldn’t help but wonder if things would ever be the same for this family. He was worried about how this would affect each and every one of them.
It was almost noon before Teresa got up enough courage to approach Scott’s door. Murdoch was sleeping soundly and she had gone downstairs and made lunch after getting some food from the cookhouse. She balanced the tray on her arm as she quietly knocked at the door. Getting no response, she entered and approached the bed. Scott was sleeping peacefully, his blond hair tousled and falling onto his forehead. She reached over and brushed it back with her hand, studiously avoiding looking at Johnny who was sitting at the edge of the bed. The tray rattled slightly as she set it on the table, betraying her shaking hands.
“Take it out. I ain’t hungry.” Johnny said.
“You have to eat.” She said quietly.
Teresa took a deep breath. “About the same. Sam says he’s getting better, but he’s still sleeping most of the time, and he’s still confused.” She looked up hopefully. “Why don’t you go see him?”
Johnny shook his head. “Later.”
Teresa looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Are you going to talk to me?
“Will you at least LOOK at me?”
“Johnny, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it when I said I hated you, and I know now that I should have listened to you and Scott. “I’m sorry.” She waited a few moments, but when Johnny didn’t respond, she turned and left.
Johnny took a deep breath and bent over the bed to check Scott’s bandage and to make sure there was no sign of fever. Satisfied, he once more moved back to the chair, ignoring the tray of food on the table.
Later that evening, Johnny finally left his brother long enough to go downstairs. Scott had awakened for an hour or so, and the two brothers had discussed what needed to be done about the ranch. After Scott fell asleep again, Johnny quietly slipped from his room. He peeked into his father’s room, and saw that he too was asleep, so he went to the kitchen to make himself some dinner and was both surprised and relieved to find Maria there.
“Do you know where Cipriano is?” He asked the housekeeper.
“Si,” she answered. He went to work at his cousin’s ranch in Los Angeles.”
Johnny nodded. “Can you get word to him and ask him to come back?”
“Si, but I do not know if he will come.”
Johnny nodded. “ I don’t blame him. Tell him Luke is gone and that for now Scott and I are in charge, all right?”
“Si, senor, I will tell him. And it is good you are back.”
Johnny nodded. “Gracias.”
She turned back to the stove and dished up a large plate of tamales and handed it to him. With a grin, he took it to the table and started in. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten anything but trail food. He sighed. It was just too easy to get used to this place.
The next morning Johnny was up bright and early, and after talking to Scott he went out to the barn to try to figure out what was needed. There were a couple of the old hands left, and he rounded them up and told them that the first priority was to get all of the permanent hands back or replaced as soon as possible. He kept a bare skeleton crew to work the ranch and sent the others with orders to bring back as many of the old hands that they could. He also told them to try to find Jelly and bring the old man back even if they had to hog-tie him. As he watched the men ride off, Johnny was just thankful that it wasn’t a busy time of year.
After checking up on the men and fixing as many problems as he could, he rode back into the courtyard around noon and went in to check on Scott and Murdoch. As he walked by his father’s room, he glanced in and saw that Sam was checking him, so he continued on to his brother’s room.
“Hey, Scott. How’re ya feelin?”
Scott smiled at Johnny. “OK.”
“Has Sam checked ya out yet?”
Scott nodded. “He says I’ll live.”
Johnny smiled. “Good ta here that. There’s lots of work waitin for ya. I don’t plan on doin’ it all myself.”
“Well, you’ll just have to get along as best you can for a while. Sam said at least another two weeks before I could ride.”
Johnny sighed. “Well, you’d better at least be able ta do the bookwork before then. I draw the line at doin’ the books.”
“I should be able to manage that.” Scott watched his brother. “Sam said that Murdoch was gradually getting better.”
Johnny shrugged. “I guess.”
Scott’s head dropped. “You haven’t spoken to him?”
Johnny shook his head.
“Don’t you think you should?”
Johnny sighed. “I really don’t have anything ta say to him right now. Or Teresa either, for that matter. And I sure don’t wanna listen to their apologies. I think it’d be best if I just take care of runnin’ the ranch till you get back on your feet. When you’re all better, then I’ll figure out what I’m gonna do.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean ‘what you’re going to do’?” Scott asked suspiciously.
Johnny dropped his head and sighed. “Nothin’ Scott. I just meant how I was gonna handle Murdoch and Teresa.”
Scott watched his brother carefully. “Are you sure that’s what you meant?”
“Sure Scott, what else would I be talkin’ about?”
“I don’t know, brother. But you’d better not have any ideas about leaving.”
Johnny looked up at his brother and smiled. Scott thought it was just about the saddest smile he’d ever seen.
“Jelly, do you know where Johnny is?” Scott asked as he walked into the barn.
“”Who knows? That boy don’t stay in one place more’n an hour or so. If ya ask me, you’d better get him ta slow down a mite. He’s gonna run hisself into the ground at the rate he’s goin. And while yur at it, see if you can sweeten up his disposition a little. He’s been as testy as a bull on the prod lately. Chewin’ everybody’s tails. Almost think it was Murdoch instead a Johnny.”
Scott nodded in agreement. For the last three weeks Johnny had been running the ranch by himself. Scott barely saw him anymore. But when he had seen him, he didn’t like what he saw. Johnny came home for dinner and then would disappear up into his room. He would leave before dawn in the morning and be out all day. But Scott didn’t think the dark circles under his brother’s eyes was all from exhaustion. His eyes held a haunted look that Scott didn’t like at all. Something was bothering him, that’s for sure.
“Jelly, would you saddle Charlie for me?”
“Sure. Are you gonna go talk some sense inta that boy? I tried, but he darn near bit my head off. He ain’t hisself at all.” The voice faded into the distance as Jelly went to get Scott’s horse. Scott thought about what he’d say to his brother. For the last three weeks, Johnny had said the bare minimum to Teresa and Murdoch. Scott knew that Johnny needed to talk to both of them, but so far that hadn’t happened. Johnny really wasn’t talking much to anyone; he told the men what to do each morning and answered their questions, but that was all.
And there were other changes that made Scott uncomfortable. It was as if the last two years hadn’t happened. Johnny was acting like he did when he first came to Lancer, and it worried Scott. He was back to wearing his gun in the house, and Murdoch’s attempts to have him remove it just earned his father hostile stares and sullen looks. It was time for Scott to talk to his little brother and find out what was going on.
For over an hour, Scott played catch up with Johnny. Finally, just when he was about to give up, he saw Johnny down in a gully trying to get a calf out of some mud. He rode up to his brother, making sure to make enough noise so Johnny would know he was there. “Need some help?”
“Nope. And you’re not supposed to be working yet.”
Scott watched as his brother finally freed the calf and then climbed up the bank. Scott reached into his saddlebags and drew out a sack. “Time for lunch.”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t have time. And besides, I’m not hungry.”
Scott dismounted and stepped in front of Johnny. Please, brother. Talk to me.”
Johnny tried to go around and Scott reached down and grabbed Johnny’s left sleeve. He froze as the gun was out and pointed at him before he had time to think. The two brothers locked eyes for a long second before Johnny holstered the colt with an oath and turned to leave.
Scott was shocked that Johnny had actually drawn on him. Even in the beginning it had never happened. Something was terribly wrong, and Scott knew with total surety if he didn’t talk to his brother now, he would lose him.
“Johnny, we need to talk.”
“Johnny, PLEASE! Talk to me.”
To Scott’s relief, his brother finally slowed down and stood there, obviously thinking.
Scott grabbed the forgotten sack and walked over to his brother. “Come on, Johnny. Let’s have lunch.” Scott held his breath until his brother finally heaved a sigh and turned towards a nearby tree.
After they had finished, Scott expected Johnny to jump up and try to leave, but his brother sat back against the trunk and closed his eyes.
Scott watched him for a moment. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nothin’ ta talk about.”
Scott continued to watch him and he finally knew. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” He saw Johnny’s lack of response and closed his eyes, wondering how to stop it.
“I can’t do it again, Scott.”
Scott looked up in confusion. “Do what?”
“Change.” Johnny’s voice was so soft Scott had to strain to hear him.
Scott shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Johnny took a deep breath. Do you know how hard it was for me to become Johnny Lancer? Johnny smiled softly. “It’d be like you tryin ta become a slob.”
“But you ARE Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny shook his head slowly. “No, I’m not. Not anymore. Maybe I never was. I just know I can’t do it again. Besides, all Johnny Lancer got me was hurt, one way or the other. When I’m Madrid, I can keep my guard up. I can close myself off, I don’t have ta feel anything. I don’t let myself get close enough to anyone ta get hurt.
“Even me?” Scott said quietly.
Johnny turned tortured eyes to Scott. “I don’t belong here and you know it. How many times has Madrid almost gotten you killed?
“I don’t know,” Scott retorted. “But I DO know how many times he’s saved my life.”
Johnny sighed. “Scott, I don’t have any choice in the matter. I CAN”T change back and forth, and if I keep tryin’ to I’m gonna end up dead.”
Scott jumped to his feet. “And how long do you think Johnny Madrid is going to stay alive? If you go back to fighting now, you’ll be dead before you’re thirty.”
“Well, that comes to us all, doesn’t it, brother.”
“Quit acting like it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to let MY brother go off and get himself killed. I’ll follow you if I have to and bring you back.”
Johnny looked at Scott for a long time. “Johnny Lancer is already dead, if he ever existed at all. Johnny Madrid is the only one left alive.” He looked down. “Look Scott, I appreciate it. And you know I’ll always care about you, but you need to stay here and take care of the Old Man and Teresa. Johnny Madrid don’t need anybody.” He jumped up and headed for Barranca, leaving Scott feeling as if his world had just collapsed.
“So I don’t mean anything to you, right?” Scott said desperately.
Johnny stopped, his shoulders sagging. “You know that’s not true. But I’ve been tryin’ the last couple a weeks and Johnny Lancer is long gone. I’ve tried, I really have.”
“All right, fine. So he’s gone. Then Johnny Madrid can stay here and be my brother.”
Johnny smiled in spite of himself. “It ain’t that easy, Scott, and you know it. Besides, I don’t think Murdoch would be real happy with that arrangement.”
“Then we won’t tell him.” Scott said brightly.
Johnny laughed shortly. “I think he’d figure it out.”
Scott became serious. “You need to talk to Murdoch and Teresa.”
“For what? I know exactly what they both think of me. I don’t need to hear it again.”
Scott sighed. “At least talk to them Johnny. Give them a chance to explain.”
Johnny turned and looked at his brother in disbelief. “Explain what? Why Murdoch doesn’t trust me and why Teresa hates me?”
Scott shook his head. “Johnny, I know they hurt you. They hurt both of us. But neither one of them meant it, and I think that deep down you know that. I’m not making excuses for either one, but Teresa was in love and couldn’t see past the stars in her eyes. You know she’s never had to deal with anyone who was totally dishonest before. All she was guilty of was being in love and being stupid. You know she never meant for any of us to get hurt. And Murdoch just has a knack of putting his foot in his mouth and saying things that he doesn’t mean. But they love both of us, I know that.”
“So you’re willing to forget everything that happened, everything that was said, just like that?”
Scott shook his head once more. “No. I’ll never forget what happened, and neither will you. But Murdoch and Teresa won’t either. Sam said that Murdoch would always have problems because of that arsenic, that he’ll have occasional mental lapses, and he’ll never be as strong as he was. And Teresa will have to live with what she did to all of us for the rest of her life. Things will never be the same as they were before, they can’t be. And Teresa will never be that innocent and naive again. She learned a hard lesson.””
“Scott, I just don’t know if I can ever feel the same way about them. I don’t know if I can……” he hesitated and then said softly, “love them any more. I know I can’t trust them.”
“Then don’t.” Scott said. “But don’t leave the only good thing you’ve ever had because of their stupidity. Don’t throw your life away because of their mistakes. You and I will always be brothers and we can still be friends. And if you can’t trust me, I’ll understand.”
Johnny looked at his brother angrily. “You know I trust you.”
Scott returned his brother’s glare. “I thought that Johnny Madrid didn’t trust anybody,” he said softly.
Johnny walked over to Barranca and buried his face in his horse’s mane. “I don’t know what to do, Scott. I’m just so tired of the whole thing. I don’t want to leave, but I think it’s just going to keep happening over and over. I get so tired of having ta prove myself all the time.”
“Johnny, do you WANT to go back to fighting?”
Johnny shivered and then shook his head. “No.”
“Then don’t. Don’t let Madrid win. Don’t let everyone that’s ever hurt you win. You can fight this, I know you can. You’ve been hurt badly by people you thought you could trust, and it’s going to take a while to get past it. But if you want to, I know you can do it. You’ve done it before.”
Johnny looked up at his brother. “What about you? You were hurt too. Can you get past what your grandfather did?”
“I don’t know.” Scott said honestly. “I know I’m going to try, and I know I’ll need help. Maybe together we can get past this, because we can rely on each other. No matter what anyone else does, I know I can always trust you. And I promise I’ll never betray you. We’ll take it one day at a time. Deal?”
Johnny searched Scott’s eyes for a long while, and then held his hand out to his brother. “Deal.”
“Are you going to talk to Murdoch and Teresa?” Scott asked.
Johnny sighed. “Not now. Give it some time, OK?”
“You promise you won’t leave? I don’t want to have to camp out in Barranca’s stall for the next year.”
Johnny smiled. “I’d just tell him ta tromp on ya if I wanted ta go.”
Scott snorted. “Thanks. So much for trust.”
Johnny swatted Scott with his hat. “Let’s go back to the house. I’ve done enough work for today. And since I’m the boss right now, I’m giving myself the day off. If you’re real nice to me, I might give you the day off, too. Want ta go into town?”
Scott raised his eyebrows and looked at his brother. “I don’t know. Do you think Murdoch will find out?”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Yep.”
Scott grinned. “Let’s go.”
As they loped towards the house Scott felt better than he had in a long time. Finally it seemed as if things might start turning around for him and his family. He had been under a lot of stress the last several months, and now he just wanted to relax and enjoy himself for a while. There were still a lot of problems ahead he knew, but at least he wouldn’t have to worry about waking up and finding Johnny gone. He felt a weight lift and for the first time in a long time, felt hopeful that things could finally go back to some semblance of normal.
As they approached the house, he saw a buggy parked out in front. He glanced over at Johnny and found he was now riding with Madrid. Scott sighed. He wondered how long it would be before things REALLY got back to normal.
Scott led the way into the house, with Johnny hanging back and taking in the scene. Murdoch was seated on the couch and two strange men were seated across from him. They glanced up as Scott and Johnny walked in the room, and all three men stood.
One of the men came up to Scott. “Scott Lancer?” He asked.
Scott glanced at his father, and he felt a jolt of fear when he looked in the Old Man’s face.
“Yes, I’m Scott Lancer.”
“I’m inspector Caldwell of the Boston Police department. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your Grandfather’s death.”
Chapter Thirty- Eight
Scott sank into a nearby chair. “My Grandfather’s dead?”
The inspector nodded. “I’m afraid so, Mr. Lancer.”
“Well, that’s what I need to talk to you about.”
Scott looked up at the inspector. “I don’t understand.”
“Were you aware that Mr. William Cosgrove was poisoned?”
Scott shook his head slowly. “Not at the time. But after I came back here and found my father was being poisoned, I thought that he might have been also.”
The inspector nodded. “The doctor that was treating Mr. Cosgrove became suspicious. Evidently he did some tests and found out that he had been poisoned, however by then Mr. Cosgrove had already passed away some time before. The doctor notified us, and we went out and questioned Mr. Garrett, and he told us that you alone had been taking care of Mr. Cosgrove.”
Scott looked up in shock. “He told you that?”
“Yes, sir. The implication being, of course, that you were the one that had given the victim the poison.”
Scott felt Johnny’s hand on his shoulder, and was thankful for the support. He couldn’t believe that his Grandfather would actually try to place the blame on him in order to save himself.
Johnny spoke up. “Scott wasn’t even back there when all of this started. Old Harlan started poisoning William long before Scott showed up.”
The Inspector nodded. “I know. The doctor said the tests showed that the poisoning had been going on for quite some time, well before Mr. Lancer arrived. That lets Mr. Lancer out as a suspect in Mr. Cosgrove’s death.” He looked at Scott. “Do you know HOW Mr. Garrett was giving the poison to the victim?”
Scott shook his head.
“It seems as if the arsenic was mixed with sugar and put in the victim’s tea.”
Scott turned white. “Sugar?” He said weakly. “My god……..” he looked up at the inspector. “How did my Grandfather die?” He asked softly.
The Inspector was watching Scott closely. “I think you know, don’t you? Do you want to tell me?”
Scott shook his head in disbelief. “I found some sugar in a drawer. He was always leaving things where they didn’t belong, especially when he was working, so I thought nothing of it. He’d be concentrating on some important business matter and not pay attention to anything else. When I found the sugar, I thought that was what had happened. I never thought there was really a reason for it to be under lock and key.”
“What did you do with the sugar that you found? Did you move it?” The Inspector asked.
Scott nodded slowly. “I put it on the tea cart, where I thought it belonged.” He looked up at the man. “I had no idea…….’ His voice trailed off.
“Mr. Garrett ingested a large amount of arsenic and died rather quickly. He was found by his housekeeper in the parlor, where he had obviously been drinking a cup of tea when he collapsed. The tea and the sugar were tested and found to contain massive amounts of arsenic. Death would have been occurred very quickly.
Scott looked like he just might be going into shock. “When?” He asked woodenly.
“Apparently Mr. Garrett passed away the day following your departure.”
Scott shook his head. “I didn’t know. I never would have hurt him on purpose.”
The Inspector watched him for several moments. “Mr. Lancer, I am inclined to believe that you couldn’t have known. Besides, the housekeeper stated that she normally freshened everything on the tray each morning, but hadn’t that morning because of a minor emergency. If you lived with him for any amount of time, you would have known that, and assumed the sugar would be disposed of before Mr. Garrett had a chance to drink it.
Actually, Mr. Garrett knew that we were investigating Mr. Cosgrove’s death. It is entirely possible that he panicked, knowing we had found him out. The death will be officially listed as a suicide, and for all we know, it very well could have been. Mr. Garrett was not a stupid man.”
“Wanna bet.” Johnny muttered.
The second stranger stood up. “Mr. Lancer, I am Colin Underwood, Mr. Garrett’s attorney. Let me give you my condolences on the death of your Grandfather. You will need to sign some papers, but you are the designated heir to his entire estate. I need your instructions on what you want done with his holdings. Are you planning on moving back there? I would strongly advise that you go back for at least a little while even if you plan to liquidate Mr. Garrett’s assets.”
Scott looked up to see Johnny watching him intently. Scott knew that without someone looking out for his best interests, the estate would dwindle considerably. To protect himself, he needed to go back.
Scott made his decision and looked up at the lawyer. “I will sign over power of attorney in matters concerning my Grandfather’s estate to you. I am not going back to that place, ever. Just keep me posted and do your best.” He said firmly, and he watched his brother relax.
“But Mr. Lancer….” The attorney started.
Scott shook his head. “I’m not going back. I have more important matters to take care of right here.”
“All right Mr. Lancer.” The lawyer said hesitantly. “I will draw up the necessary papers immediately, but I still advise against it.”
“Do what you need to do. And in the meantime, I’m sure Murdoch and Teresa will see to your comfort. Now if you’ll excuse me, my brother and I have an appointment in town.” Scott stood up and glanced at his brother. “Let’s go.”
The two brothers walked out, leaving a perplexed and slightly miffed Murdoch to entertain the guests.
On the way into town, Johnny looked over at his silent brother for the hundredth time. Finally he decided to ask. “Want to talk about it?”
Scott shook his head. “I killed him, Johnny. I don’t care what he did, he was still my Grandfather. I’m not sure if I can handle knowing I killed him.”
Johnny sighed. “Scott, like the inspector said, you don’t know that for sure. Old Harlan knew that they were on to him, and he sure couldn’t have handled prison. He probably just decided to take the easy way out. And Scott, even if that’s not what happened, it was an accident that he brought on himself. You had no way of knowing what was going on, or that the sugar was laced with arsenic.”
Scott sighed. “Then why do I still feel guilty?”
Johnny smiled. “Just your nature, I guess.” He became serious. “Scott, it wasn’t your fault. None of this was.” He hesitated, biting his lip and watching Scott.
Scott saw his brother contemplating him and pulled Charlie to a stop. “What?”
Johnny ducked his head. “If you need to go back to Boston…….”
Scott interrupted him. “No. I NEED to stay here to keep my little brother out of trouble. OK?” He nudged Charlie back into a gentle lope.
Johnny smiled as he sent Barranca after his brother. “I thought I was keepin’ you out of trouble.”
“I’m not the one that went and got himself killed down in Mexico.”
“No, you just got yourself shot in California.”
“Yes, but that was part of my master plan……”
As the two brothers bantered back and forth as they headed towards town, Scott knew this was just a brief respite. He still had to get Johnny to talk to both Murdoch and Teresa. And he had to somehow convince Murdoch that if he didn’t say the right things, that he would lose both of his sons.
Murdoch limped slowly up the stairs to his room. Thankfully, his guests had decided to go to bed early, citing an early departure time in the morning as their excuse. Murdoch had wanted to wait up for his sons, but exhaustion had overcome him, and he also decided to retire.
He was tired of being an invalid, but Sam had warned him that the road to recovery would not be an easy one, and that he was lucky to be alive. He shook his head. The whole episode was a blur in his mind. He could remember certain events as clearly as if they had happened yesterday, while others remained in a kind of fog. Still others he had no conscious memory of at all.
Looking back, he could see how insidiously Luke had wormed his way into power. The whole thing had been a well -orchestrated plan, first by Harlan, and then by Luke himself. And he had certainly made it easy for them. He shook his head once more. If only he had listened to his sons. He stood by the window, looking out at the land he had worked so hard to tame. The buildings, the pastures, the stock all spoke of his dedication and judgment. But somehow, that judgment had become clouded. He knew he wouldn’t have made that mistake earlier in his life. What had happened? He bowed his head as he thought about the mistakes he had made, and how he could change them.
He finally went to his bed and lay down, but he couldn’t stop going over what had happened. And he knew that he still wasn’t thinking clearly. There were times in the last several weeks that he had stopped because he had forgotten what he was doing. He had read a contract that had been sent to him for some beef, but he hadn’t been able to make sense of it at all, and finally sloughed the task off to Scott, with an excuse that his son needed something to do.
Perhaps even more frightening, he couldn’t make up his mind about which tasks seemed the most important around the ranch. When he had told the boys what to do the other day, he had told Johnny to clear out a gully so it wouldn’t flood before fixing a fenceline that was down. Johnny hadn’t said a word, but Scott had gently suggested that maybe the gully could wait; that it wasn’t likely to flood in high summer, and there were steers escaping through the broken fence. As soon as Scott had said it, he knew his son was right, but he had tried to bluster his way through anyway.
He had watched his sons together this afternoon, and realized that although he may still call the tune, he was definitely the odd man out. He had the sneaking suspicion that they were just allowing him to think he was in charge, and doing what they wanted. Which, although he would never admit it, might be a good thing at this point. He knew that neither Johnny nor Scott would ever do anything to harm the ranch or anyone on it.
The truth was, he was scared. He couldn’t trust his own judgment anymore, and never knew when he would have one of his momentary lapses. He thought that was the most frightening, and also the most dangerous. He could do something at anytime to imperil the ranch or the people on it, and he wouldn’t know until it was too late. As he lay there in the dark, his mind was whirling with thoughts on how to fix the problem, and finally the answer came. He didn’t know if he could do it, he didn’t know if he was that strong, but if he didn’t, he took the chance of losing everything. He finally shut his eyes and moaned softly. Sleep didn’t come at all that night.
Teresa lay in her bed, looking up at the ceiling. As she had every night since Luke had been killed, she was crying herself to sleep. She couldn’t believe the grief she had caused her family. She had never intended to hurt any of them, but that is just what she’d done, and in a big way. She couldn’t believe now how blind she had been to Luke’s faults. Looking back, she realized she should have caught on to him before things had gotten so bad for her family; but she had kept hoping she was imagining it. She kept thinking that he would change back to the way he had been when they first met. He could be SO wonderful to her, and in the dark recesses of her mind, she had wondered if she could ever get anyone else that loved her like he did. So when he would get angry, she would tell herself that it was her fault, that she must be doing something wrong. She realized now that she had only been fooling herself.
She cringed when she thought of how Johnny had tried to protect her that day at the beginning, and how she had turned on him and told him she hated him. Closing her eyes, she now knew the truth; she didn’t hate him, but she was angry with him for trying to make her see the truth of what Luke was. And a part of her also hated herself for the way she was allowing Luke to treat her. She kept telling herself that it wasn’t that bad, that he really did love her. She was so afraid of losing the only man who had ever seemed interested in her that she let her fears overshadow everything else.
As she tossed and turned, she wondered if there was anything she could do to make things better. She was under no illusion that Scott and Johnny would ever care about her again. She had destroyed that relationship. She had thought briefly of leaving, but that idea had been quickly dismissed. She had nowhere to go, but more importantly, she couldn’t start to make things up to them if she left. No, she would stay here and take the frosty looks and pointed dismissals as her punishment.
Unless they threw her out, she thought, which would be a real possibility if Scott and Johnny were in charge. But she knew that no matter how angry Murdoch was with her, he would never allow it. No, she had made up her mind to stay and try to make up for some of the hell she had put them all through. She would cook and clean, and take care of them. She would put her own wants and needs aside and concentrate on taking care of them. She would pay them back the only way she could. She just hoped that it was enough, and that eventually they would at least stop hating her.
The next morning, Murdoch came down to breakfast bound and determined to talk with Johnny before his son started his chores. He knew he needed to make things right with his son. He had treated him badly, and Murdoch knew it. Murdoch shook his head. He didn’t know why he and Johnny locked horns so much. It seemed like whenever he and Johnny were around each other, there were harsh words or misunderstandings. He wanted that to stop, and he made up his mind to do his best to make sure it didn’t happen any more.
He never had to worry about that with Scott. He and his older son seldom, if ever, fought. And Scott and Johnny were best friends; even when they argued, it never went beyond a certain point. No, it was the combination of he and Johnny that was like kerosene and fire. Murdoch smiled slightly. And Scott was the water that put out the flames most of the time. Well, he would talk to Johnny and see if they couldn’t come to some sort of understanding.
As the three men ate, Murdoch decided to get his younger son to stay and talk after the day’s work was discussed.
“What are you planning on doing today, Johnny?”
His son looked up at him warily. Murdoch usually just ordered him to do something. He couldn’t remember a time when his father had actually asked him what he was going to do. Johnny picked up his fork. “I’m planning on checking the water holes in the north and west pastures, make sure they’re holding up. Then Scott and I were going to check out the fenceline between Lancer and the Taylor’s place. Seems like they’ve been getting a lot of strays on their land.”
Murdoch nodded his head before turning to Scott. “And what about you?”
Scott glanced at his brother before answering. “I’m goin to go up to the North pasture this morning with the work crew and try to get that windmill working again. Then, as Johnny said, we’re planning on checking the fenceline.”
Murdoch was quiet a moment, and then faced Johnny. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you a minute before you leave.”
“Ain’t nothin’ ta talk about, and I got work to do.”
When Murdoch heard Johnny’s tone of voice, his own voice became sharp. “There IS something to talk about, and I want you to stay.”
Johnny glared at his father. “No.”
Scott tried to defuse the situation that he saw escalating. “Johnny, why don’t you just go ahead and talk with him. You know you need to. I’ll take care of the water holes, and then I’ll meet you in the North pasture.”
Johnny threw down his fork and glared down at his meal. “I got nothin’ ta say to you, Old Man. I’m takin’ care of your work, and that’s all you care about, so let it be.”
Murdoch felt his temper rising. “That is NOT all I care about. I care about you and your brother. And it’s not MY work; it’s what needs to be done to keep this ranch operating. YOUR ranch.”
Johnny looked at his father in disbelief. “My ranch? Since when? When have I been allowed to make even ONE decision regarding this place? When have you ever even taken my advice? This is YOUR ranch, Old Man, your ranch and your son’s there.” He said, pointing at Scott.
“Your name is on the deed! You’re just as much an owner as Scott or I.”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah, right.” He dropped his head. “It don’t matter, like I said, there’s nothin’ ta discuss.”
Murdoch lowered his voice slightly. “We need to discuss what happened.”
“Why?” Johnny shot back. “I know exactly what happened. You didn’t trust me to make a decision regarding Collins. In the back of your mind, you thought that I was either makin’ it up, or I was the one startin’ something.”
Murdoch jumped to his feet. “That’s not true!” He bellowed.
“Yes, it is.” Johnny said calmly. “And don’t tell me you care about me. I know exactly how much you care. You didn’t care if I left, as long as your darling Teresa didn’t get her feelings hurt. You’ve been lookin’ for a chance ta get rid of me ever since I got here. It must have really disappointed you when you found out I wasn’t dead after all; that you couldn’t have your perfect family.
“Johnny, don’t.” Scott implored.
“Don’t what? Tell the truth? All I’ve ever been to him was a liability. The only time he’s been glad I was here was when I could use that gun of mine to protect this ranch or one of his family. The rest of the time he wishes I was gone.”
“Johnny, that’s not true. You’re my son. I’ve always wanted you here.”
Johnny dropped his head. “That’s just the problem, Murdoch. The son you wanted doesn’t exist. In your head, you keep thinking that you can somehow get rid of Madrid and Johnny Lancer will take his place. But it won’t happen. I AM Johnny Madrid, but you just can’t accept that. You expect me to be Madrid when it comes time to defend one of you, and then you want me to just lock him up somewhere where he can’t embarrass you or remind you of the past when he’s not needed. It doesn’t work that way, Murdoch. Madrid will always be in me. If he weren’t, Johnny Lancer would have been dead long ago.”
Johnny shook his head. “Like I told Scott, I can’t change back and forth any more. I tried, I really did. I tried to be who you wanted me to be, but it was a lie. And let me tell you somethin’ else Old Man. If Johnny Lancer had been here instead of Madrid, we’d all be dead right now, and Collins would have your precious ranch. I know you can’t accept Madrid, and you never will. And that’s your right. I told Scott here that I wouldn’t leave, at least for a while, and I won’t. But don’t be pretending I’m anything to you but a hired gun that you keep around to protect what you really care about, OK? I’m tired of listening to your lies and pretending that I don’t see the difference between the way you treat Scott and me. I ain’t stupid.”
Johnny looked at his brother. “I’m goin’ out and check those water holes. I’ll see ya later.” Without another glance at his father, Johnny turned and walked out the door.
Johnny had just reached his horse when he felt a presence behind him. He knew it wasn’t Jelly; the old man never snuck up on him any more, and he could still hear Murdoch’s and Scott’s voices coming from the house. Whirling, he had his gun out and aimed in less than a heartbeat, and Teresa froze as the gun stopped inches from her face. With an oath, Johnny holstered the gun and turned away from the girl. “You know better than that, don’t ever sneak up on me again.” Johnny ground out as he grabbed Barranca’s reins and prepared to mount.
“Johnny, please, go back in and talk to him. I heard what you said in there, and you’re wrong. Murdoch does love you.” She dropped her head. “We all do. Please, Johnny. We’re sorry. We both are, we made a mistake.” As Johnny swung up on his horse, Teresa tried once again. “Johnny, PLEASE!”
Johnny didn’t look at the young girl as he answered. “Yeah, you made a mistake all right. And so did I, and I’m not plannin’ on repeatin’ it.” He spurred Barranca away from the house, leaving Teresa watching him with tears running down her face.
Inside the house, Murdoch was under attack by his older son. He was already regretting his words, and wondering once again just how things had gotten out of control so quickly.
“Why can’t you ever keep your temper? What Johnny didn’t need is for you to start yelling at him.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I didn’t mean to, but when he started in with those lies, I couldn’t help myself.”
Scott froze and glared at his father. “Is that what you really think? That everything he told you was a lie?”
Murdoch dropped his head. “No. I meant when he said that I didn’t care, that I didn’t accept him, and that I treated him differently than you. None of that is true.”
Scott shook his head. “If you really believe that, Sir, then there is more wrong with your thinking than we all thought. You had better go lie down and think about it. And if you don’t come up with the right answer, you will lose both of us. Because I’m telling you right now, when Johnny leaves, and he WILL leave if things don’t change, WHEN he leaves, I WILL go with him.” Scott spun on his heel and stalked out of the house to go find his brother.
Murdoch sat there for a moment and thought about what Scott had said. His eyebrows went up. It sounded suspiciously like he had just been sent to his room.
As he stood there, he realized that what Scott said was the truth. If he didn’t do something to make his younger son feel more loved and trusted, he would lose both of them. And losing either one of them was not an option he was willing to take, no matter what Johnny thought. Did Johnny really think that the only reason Murdoch wanted him there was to protect the ranch? Did he really think that he wasn’t trusted, wasn’t loved?
Murdoch put his head in his hands. He DID love Johnny. But he realized that at least part of what his son had said earlier was right. He wanted Madrid gone. He didn’t want his son to have to be Madrid anymore. Every time he saw the transformation, it tore at his soul. It reminded him of just how badly he and Maria had failed the boy. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust him, and he certainly wasn’t ashamed of him, but the presence of Madrid made a mockery of the hopes and dreams he had once had for his younger son.
He had never meant Johnny to feel his anger and shame over the way he had allowed his son to be raised, but evidently he had. He would have to get through to his son somehow that it wasn’t Johnny he was mad at; it was himself.
With a sigh, he realized he would have to put his plan into motion. Most of him didn’t want to do it. He thought that a large part of him might die when it was all done, but the last several months had proved to him that he really didn’t have a choice. If he wanted to keep everything he had worked so hard to get, if he wanted to keep his family intact, it would have to be done, like it or not. It was time.
He listened as the sound of Scott’s horse faded into the distance, and then he went to his desk and took out an envelope that he had prepared several days before. He turned it over and over in his hands, unwilling to take the final step. Finally, with a burst of resolve he grabbed it and walked out to the barn. He found Jelly working on some tack that needed mending, and he stood and watched the old man for a moment. He could tell that he wasn’t happy; he had probably seen both Johnny and Scott take off in a fit of anger. Jelly was protective of both the boys, but he was especially so of Johnny.
Murdoch’s suspicions were confirmed when the handyman looked up at him and then right back down without acknowledging him. With a sigh, Murdoch approached. “Jelly.” No answer.
“Jelly, I need you to do me a favor.”
The old man stopped and looked at him in disbelief. “A favor? Why don’t ya ask one a yur boys ta do it?”
Murdoch sighed. He certainly wasn’t going to make this easy. “I think you know why. And besides, this concerns them, and I don’t want either one to know about it right now.”
Jelly’s eyes narrowed. “What are ya plannin’ on doin’ this time? Plannin’ on getting’ rid of both of ‘em now?”
Murdoch shook his head. “No one is leaving, except maybe Johnny if you don’t do what I ask. Now are you going to listen to me?” That got his attention, Murdoch thought with satisfaction.
Jelly looked at him suspiciously. “What do ya want me ta do?”
Murdoch nodded, and told the old man. “I need you to take this into town and mail it immediately.”
Jelly once more looked suspiciously at his boss. “How’s that gonna stop Johnny from leavin?
Murdoch smiled. “Trust me, Jelly. Now will you go on? I don’t want the boys to know about it yet, so do you think you can keep your mouth shut about it for a while?”
Jelly raised his chin and glared at Murdoch. “If it’s one thing I ain’t, it’s a gol -darned chatterbox.” He grabbed the letter out of the rancher’s hand and stalked back to one of the stalls, where he proceeded to saddle his horse, muttering to himself the whole time. Murdoch watched him for a few moments, and then turned and walked back into the house. Maybe Scott was right. He really was tired. Maybe he’d go lie down for a little while.
Supper that night was strained, as it had been every night since Johnny had come back. Teresa had made all of his favorites, but he barely acknowledged her. His father he tried to ignore completely, and only talked to him when he was asked a direct question. The only one he was civil towards was Scott, and even then, Madrid was firmly in control.
The silence was wearing Murdoch’s patience and temper thin, and he tried once again to pull Johnny into a conversation. “How are the waterholes holding up?”
Irritated by his abrupt answer, and wanting reassurance on just what ‘all right’ meant, Murdoch asked another question. “Will they make it though summer?”
“The smaller ponds will probably be dry before we get more rain, but the larger ones are fine.”
Murdoch tried a different subject. “Did you find a break in the fence line next to the Taylor’s?”
“Yep. Several, in fact. I fixed them.”
Murdoch tenaciously tried again. “Do you think many of our cattle strayed off?”
Johnny put down his fork and stared at his father. “No, I don’t, or I would have gone after them. Now are you done so I can eat?”
Murdoch bit his tongue and looked at Scott. “How did the windmill work out?”
“Just fine. I need to get a part in town, but it should be up and working no later than tomorrow.” He went back to eating.
“What kind of part. Maybe we have something around here.”
“A cog, and no, we don’t.” Scott helped himself to some more potatoes.
Murdoch remembered some news Sam had told him. “Are you planning on going to the dance this Saturday?”
Murdoch finally gave up on his uncommunicative sons and shook his head, wondering desperately how to get his family talking. He looked up and saw Teresa gloomily stirring her food. “Teresa, this is an excellent dinner. Thank you.”
Teresa brightened up slightly, and then glanced over at Johnny, who didn’t even look up. Immediately the spark left her eyes once more and her head dropped. “Thank you.” She said woodenly.
Murdoch finally admitted defeat, and concentrated on his own dinner, while listening to the deafening silence surrounding the dinner table. It took all of Murdoch’s willpower not to send all three of his pouting children to their rooms, and he knew it would be a long time before things got anywhere near back to normal in the Lancer household.
After dinner, he went in to the Great room and had his solitary glass of scotch, while Johnny and Scott once again disappeared upstairs. Teresa went to the kitchen to help Maria clean up, and then she too retired for the night. Murdoch sat downstairs for almost an hour in the lonely dark before he climbed the stairs to his room. As he passed Teresa’s room, he heard a muffled sob. Knocking lightly, he slowly pushed the door open and saw his ward sitting by the window.
“Are you all right?” He asked softly.
“Yes.” Came the muffled answer.
He approached and stood beside her, looking out at the nearby mountains. “Beautiful, aren’t they,” he said.
She nodded mutely, tears running down her face. “Oh, Murdoch, I’m so sorry. I’ve ruined everything.”
He put his hand on her shoulder and sighed. “It was my fault as much as yours, I’m afraid. I should have stopped it in the beginning. I never should have let you continue to see him after both Scott and Johnny warned me about him. I should have put my foot down then, and none of this would have happened.”
She looked up at him in puzzlement. “Why didn’t you?”
Murdoch slowly shook his head. “I was afraid of losing you.” He said simply.
Teresa looked at him in shock. “Losing me? How?”
Murdoch smiled at the young girl. “I was afraid you’d get angry and run off if I didn’t give you at least a little freedom.” He dropped his head. “When you told me I was treating you like a prisoner, I realized it was the same thing Johnny’s mother had said before she……” his voice trailed off as he looked at the girl. “I couldn’t lose you, Teresa. I would never forgive myself.” He looked down.
Teresa was shaking her head. “I would never leave, at least not willingly. I’m not like Maria. I didn’t really mean it.” She dropped her head. “I said a lot of things that I didn’t mean. And I behaved very badly to all of you, especially Johnny.” Tears once more formed in her eyes. “He’ll never forgive me, I know. But he’s changed, towards everyone. He’s afraid to trust again, and it’s my fault. I’m so sorry.” She buried her head in her hands and wept.
Murdoch knelt down and held her until the tears slowed. “Teresa, you’re not the only one that made a mistake when it comes to Johnny, so did I. I hurt him too. I was so worried about losing you, I didn’t let him know that I couldn’t lose him or his brother, either. We’ll just have to find a way to get him back. We’ll have to keep trying until we win, that’s all.”
“Do you think we can?”
“I hope so, darling. I’m going to do everything I can to prove to him how much I really do care. If he can never trust us again, I guess we’ll have to live with that. I guess we deserve it, and at least he knows he can count on Scott. But I’m going to make sure he knows that I trust him.”
She looked up at the man who she loved so dearly. “You don’t hate me?”
Murdoch smiled slowly. “No, I don’t hate you. And I don’t think Johnny does, either.” He looked down. “You learned a hard lesson, Teresa. We both did.” He looked at her with a serious expression on his face. “From now on, if I think you’re doing something harmful, I WILL put a stop to it. And I will NEVER tolerate you slapping or hitting either Scott or Johnny again. Is that understood?”
Teresa dropped her head and nodded. “I won’t. I’m so ashamed of how I acted, and I’d do anything to take it all back.” She looked back up at Murdoch. “I’ll never do anything that will hurt any of you, I WILL listen to what my family says from now on, and I will NEVER strike any of you again. I promise.” She hesitated. “And Murdoch, thank you.”
He squeezed her shoulder. “Now let’s figure out some way to get Johnny back to his normal ornery self, OK?”
“OK.” For the first time in a long while, a trace of a smile showed on the girl’s face, and she felt hopeful that someday she’d have her family back.
Johnny was working by himself. He preferred it so he wouldn’t have to worry about making small talk or try to figure out what somebody else was thinking. And he preferred it because he wouldn’t have to work at being Madrid. The strain of the last several months was beginning to tell on him. It was harder and harder to keep the Madrid mask on all of the time, but he was determined not to let it slip again. There were times when he missed the joking and kidding around that used to be commonplace, but was now conspicuously absent, but mostly he missed the feeling of family. Now it was like living with strangers. He and Scott got along, but he studiously avoided Murdoch and Teresa whenever he could, and if the truth be told, he missed them.
He was still angry with them, and hurting from their behavior, but he didn’t hate them. It had taken him a while to figure that out for sure, but he knew in his heart he still cared about them. He thought that it might just be easier if he didn’t. Then he wouldn’t be missing them all the time. He could just forget about them and the hurt would eventually go away. Instead, seeing them every day was like an open sore that kept getting picked at. It just wouldn’t heal.
He sighed and looked up at the mountains. He knew he’d have to make a decision soon. He couldn’t continue on like this. He had told Scott that he couldn’t keep switching back and forth from Madrid to Lancer, but he hadn’t reckoned on how persistent and stubborn Johnny Lancer could be. He kept trying to pop up at the oddest times, and it was getting to be more and more of a chore to keep him tied down.
He laughed to himself. The Old Man had tried so desperately to get rid of Madrid, and now Johnny Lancer had joined the fight. He wasn’t sure which one would eventually win, but he figured if he stayed here, he would put his money on Johnny Lancer. That was the problem. If he stayed, he knew that Madrid would once more start to fade into the background, and he wasn’t sure he wanted that. Nobody messed with Madrid, nobody hurt him. If he stayed, it meant opening himself up to more hurt.
On the other hand, to keep Madrid alive, he knew that he’d have to leave, and soon. He’d have to go back to the life he lived before coming to this ranch. When he had been down in Mexico this last time, he knew in his heart he didn’t have the stomach for it any more. He didn’t have the drive or the ambition, he didn’t have the desire. If he went back to fighting, he knew Scott was right. He’d be dead long before he reached thirty.
But he really couldn’t handle getting hurt again. It was as simple as that. He couldn’t stay here, knowing his father didn’t trust him, would never trust him. He couldn’t stay and be treated like just another hired hand, his opinions and ideas not counting for anything. He had tried, just like he promised his brother, but it wasn’t working. He had given it his best shot and failed. No, it was time to move on. He’d finish this job tomorrow and tell Scott tomorrow evening that he would be leaving the following morning. There was no reason to wait any more. Nothing would ever change.
He squinted up at the sun and figured it was about lunchtime. He’d head back and see what Teresa had for lunch. Teresa. He shook his head as he mounted Barranca. He knew she had been bending over backward to make things right with him, and he hadn’t given an inch. He was still hurt over the things she said, but in his heart he knew she hadn’t really meant them. Scott was right; she was young and stupid, but she wasn’t mean. But for some reason, her betrayal hurt the most. He expected it of Murdoch, but Teresa’s venom had taken him by surprise. He just didn’t know if he could forgive her.
As he rode back to the house, he knew that no matter how angry he was with her, he’d always regret it if he didn’t at least talk to her before he left. He didn’t want her feeling guilty about him leaving and he made up his mind to talk to her at the first opportunity.
That chance came much faster than he thought it would. Johnny knew Scott was working quite a ways from the house this week and wouldn’t be coming home for lunch. When he arrived, Maria was out in the bunkhouse, trying to clean up the mess the men regularly left. Johnny smiled as he listened to her muffled curses and descriptive language as she tried her best to get the men’s home in some sort of order. He walked into the house and saw Teresa just putting the finishing touches on a chocolate cake. He sighed, knowing the cake was for him.
“Where’s Murdoch?” he asked.
Startled, she spun around at the sound of his voice, and her hand caught the edge of the dish. It tottered, undecided for a moment before finally deciding to commit suicide and crashing to the floor.
Teresa stared at it for a moment, and then looked guiltily up at Johnny. “I’m sorry. I’ll start another one right away.” She knelt down and started cleaning up the mess. “Murdoch was tired and went to lie down about twenty minutes ago.” She stood up and threw the big chunks into the trash, and then reached for the broom.
Johnny sighed as he realized that before all of this happened, she would have taken his head off for making her ruin the cake. Now she was apologizing, and it made him upset that their relationship had deteriorated so badly. Johnny grabbed the broom before she could reach it, and started sweeping up the mess. “Don’t apologize. It was my fault, not yours. If anybody should know better than ta sneak up on somebody, it’s me.”
Teresa tried to take the broom from him. “No, it’s my fault, and I’ll clean it up.”
Johnny smiled sadly at his sister as they played tug of war with the broom. “Teresa, not EVERYTHING is your fault. I’m not gonna get mad at ya for yellin’ at me when I deserve it. Ya don’t have ta go tip- toein’ around me. I ain’t gonna bite ya.” He yanked the handle away from her and started sweeping.
Teresa watched as he swept, and the tears rolled down her face. “You still hate me.”
Johnny heaved a sigh and put the broom aside. He looked into her eyes, and was saddened by the wretchedness he saw in them. He reached out and pulled her over to the table. “Sit.” He ordered.
When she sat down in the chair, he perched on the table. “Teresa, I do not hate you. I was angry and hurt by the way you acted towards me. I trusted you, and then I found out I couldn’t trust you after all.”
Teresa nodded miserably. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry about everything.”
Johnny nodded. “I know you are. And I’m sorry about the way I’ve been treating you, but right now I can’t help it, understand?”
She nodded. “You want to punish me.” She said resignedly.
Johnny shook his head. “No. You’ve been punished enough. I’m not tryin ta make you miserable but I’m just not ready ta open myself up for more hurt right now. And the only way I can do that is ta keep my distance for a while. It’s something I’m gonna have ta figure out, OK? But I don’t hate you.”
“Johnny, I promise I’ll never act that way again. I know I don’t deserve it, but I want you to be my brother again.” She said pleadingly.
Johnny looked down. “I’ll always be your brother, Teresa. No matter what. Just give me some time, OK?” He said quietly.
She nodded slowly and a tear ran down her face.
Johnny smiled sadly as he looked at her. “And how about a smile once in awhile?”
She looked up at him and gave him a tentative smile. “Will you stay in here and eat while I start another cake?” Her chin quivered just a bit as she looked at him hopefully.
Johnny took a deep breath and he closed his eyes momentarily. “Sure.” He said finally. “Just as long as it’s chocolate, all right?”
That evening, Murdoch immediately noticed Teresa’s change in attitude. He looked at Johnny and wondered if he had anything to do with it, but his younger son seemed as uncommunicative as ever. He glanced at Scott, and didn’t see any great change there, either. Murdoch shook his head. Well, whatever the reason, he was thankful for small favors. At least one of his children seemed somewhat back to normal. Now if he could just get the other two to cooperate. He glanced at his sons, and once more tried to get a conversation started. He really wanted to talk to them and get their input on several matters involving the ranch. And like every other night, he failed dismally. He thought briefly of grabbing them and banging their heads together, but better sense prevailed. He again retired to the Great Room with some scotch and watched his sons disappear up the stairs.
Johnny hesitated outside his door and watched as his older brother disappeared into his own room. He knew that Scott was hurting over what happened; not just how Murdoch had dismissed his judgment, but also Harlan’s part in all of this. After a moment’s hesitation, he went to Scott’s door and knocked. When there was no answer, he opened the door and saw his brother sprawled on the bed.
“Hey, Scott, feel like talkin’?”
Scott shook his head. “Not tonight, Johnny, OK?” When he saw Johnny hesitate, he continued, “We’ll talk tomorrow, I promise.”
Johnny nodded as he turned to leave. “OK brother. But I’m holdin’ ya to that promise.”
The next morning, Johnny was out working bright and early. He had gone down to the kitchen early to grab a bite to eat, and found Teresa already had breakfast ready for he and Scott. He still hadn’t been much more than civil to the girl, but you would have thought she’d just won a million dollars by the mood she was in. Johnny sighed. He just hoped she didn’t feel too guilty when he left. He knew Scott would be upset, and probably angry with him for his decision, but Johnny knew he couldn’t survive the way things were. He figured he’d go back to Mexico and just drift, like he had done before. Like he had promised himself he would never do again.
He slammed the shovel into the earth and swore softly. Why couldn’t Murdoch trust him? Why couldn’t the Old Man show him some sort of respect? If his father would just listen to him once in a while, he knew that he’d probably stay. Even the slights and the arguments were worth it to have a place he could call home. And more importantly, a family. He shook his head. An impossible dream. Murdoch would never trust him to take care of business.
He grabbed the shovel once more and yanked it out of the dirt. He had planned on telling Scott tonight, but maybe it would be better to just leave. It sure would save a lot of arguing that he wasn’t in the mood for. He didn’t really care what Murdoch thought, not that the Old Man would try to stop him anyway, but he wasn’t looking forward to the confrontation with his brother. And if Scott couldn’t prevent him from leaving, he knew his brother would try to come with him. Johnny smiled at the thought of his Boston -bred brother drifting among the cantinas down in old Mexico. An even funnier thought was Scott trying to survive on the spicy foods. His poor brother would starve to death waiting for someone to give him something mild.
He looked up at the mountains in the distance, and his heart clenched. He had fallen in love with this place from the very beginning. It was going to be hard to leave, but he realized it would be a lot harder to stay with the way things were now. Johnny smiled to himself. Maybe he could fix it where the Old Man constantly needed his gun, and then he could stay and still be Madrid.
He looked up at the sound of approaching hooves, and smiled as his brother rode up and swung out of the saddle. He put down his shovel and walked over to a nearby log and sat down, motioning for his brother to join him. When Scott had settled on the log next to him, Johnny glanced at his brother and decided to get right to the point before he lost his nerve. “How’re ya doin’ Scott?” Johnny asked.
Scott’s eyebrows shot up at his brother’s question. “Fine, why?”
Johnny fingered the bracelet on his wrist as he answered. “”Cause I think this is affectin’ you just as much as it is me, only you’re not sayin’ much about it.”
When Scott didn’t answer, Johnny tried again. “I know it’s eatin’ you up inside, knowing all the problems Harlan caused. But it’s not your fault; you’re not responsible for what that old goat did.”
Scott sighed. “Then why do I feel so responsible?” He looked at his brother. “I should have figured it out. I should have guessed he was pulling something. But it never crossed my mind that he would actually stoop to murder to gain what he wanted.”
Johnny shook his head. “No way ya coulda known. And even if ya had, there was no proof he had done anything, not until it was too late.”
Scott hung his head. “I found the proof, Johnny. He had some arsenic in his locked drawer. I was looking for some kind of clue to tell me what was going on, and I found it and didn’t even realize it. I thought it was sugar he had simply misplaced.”
Johnny looked at his brother. ‘Ya couldn’t have known. It’s easy to know now, but at the time, it would have been almost impossible to know that’s what it was.”
“But if I had figured it out, all of this could have been avoided.” He jumped up and started pacing back and forth. “I had the chance to stop what happened and I just let it slip right past me.”
Johnny looked at his brother incredulously. “Is that what you think? That you could have stopped it?” He shook his head as he watched his brother pace.
Scott turned and stared at Johnny. “Don’t TELL me I shouldn’t have known what was happening; that I shouldn’t have been able to prevent it.”
“You’re right. Ya could have stopped it.”
Scott looked up sharply at his brother as Johnny continued. “And I coulda stopped it if I had killed that snake the first time. And Murdoch could have stopped it if he had listened to us about Collins and put his foot down with Teresa. And Teresa could have stopped it if she had used an ounce of common sense. Scott, it isn’t your fault. It isn’t really anybody’s. It just happened.”
Scott thought about what Johnny had said and sat down next to his brother. After a long while, he finally nodded. “I guess. But I feel so betrayed by what my grandfather did.”
Johnny dropped his head. “There’s a lot of that goin’ around.
Johnny looked at his brother carefully. “I just want ta make sure you’re OK, that’s all.”
Scott sighed . “I’m fine, Johnny, really. You’re the one that Murdoch and Teresa turned on, not me.”
Johnny nodded. “But Murdoch and Teresa weren’t exactly real trustin’ of you before ya left, either.”
Scott shrugged his shoulders and looked out at the distant mountain. “Murdoch was worried about Teresa, and just didn’t handle it real well, that’s all.”
Johnny watched his brother carefully. “You think I’m over reacting?”
Scott shook his head. “No! You have every reason to be angry with both of them. There is no excuse for the things either one of them said to you or for the way they acted towards you.”
“So if you’re not upset over the way they treated you, why are ya mad at them?”
Scott turned around and faced Johnny. “Because I just found my brother, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose him because of their stupidity.” As Scott watched Johnny’s expression, he knew that he was right. “You’ve decided to leave, haven’t you?” He said softly.
Johnny studied his bracelet. “I don’t know, Scott.” He said finally.
“I think you do. I think you’ve come to a decision, and are planning on leaving soon, isn’t that right?”
Johnny sighed and nodded without looking up.
“And just when were you planning on telling me? Or were you? Were you just going to write me a letter after you left, ‘By the way brother, I forgot to tell you I was leaving – it must have slipped my mind. It was nice knowing you.”
Johnny looked at Scott pleadingly. “Scott, don’t.”
“Don’t WHAT!” Scott fumed. “Don’t forget, trust runs both ways. I TRUSTED you not to take off, because you gave me your word. Maybe I made a mistake in trusting you, but I never thought that YOU’D betray me.”
Johnny shook his head. “I was gonna tell ya Scott, tonight.”
“As you were walking out the door, right?”
Johnny looked down and sighed. “And just what could you do about it if I told ya sooner? I’ve been thinkin’ about it a lot, Scott, and I can’t stay here. I’ve tried, I really have. But it just ain’t workin.”
“Then I’ll go with you,” Scott said quietly.
Johnny looked at his brother incredulously. “What are ya plannin’ on doin’? Becoming a gunfighter?”
Scott shook his head. “No, and neither are you.”
Johnny shook his head in confusion. “I told ya I can’t stay here, and that doesn’t leave a lot of choices.”
“Yes, Johnny, it does. You’re a rancher now, not a gunfighter, and you know it. You have a choice. You told me you didn’t want to go back to fighting, so don’t. You still own one third of this ranch. We can move to a different part of the ranch, and still be able to keep our distance from the Hacienda. We won’t have to deal with either Murdoch or Teresa.”
“So we live like strangers, in separate houses.” Johnny said softly.
Scott looked at his younger brother. “I know it’s not ideal, but at least we’ll be close, and maybe things will get better if you can get away from them for awhile.”
Johnny shook his head. “Murdoch will never go for it.”
“Well maybe he won’t have a choice. We DO own two thirds of the ranch.”
“Yeah, and he calls the tune, remember?”
“If it was between us leaving for good or living somewhere else on the ranch, you know he’d agree.” Scott said quietly.
Johnny dropped his head. “It’s not what I want.”
Scott put his arm around Johnny’s shoulders. “I know. It’s not what any of us want. But I think it’s the best solution under the circumstances.”
“You don’t have ta move out too.”
Scott smiled. “I want to. I want to be with my brother.”
“I do to, Scott. But I just don’t know if it’ll work. But I promise I’ll think about it, OK?”
Scott studied Johnny and knew that was the best he could hope for right now. “OK. We’ll work it out, you’ll see. It’s just going to take some time.”
Johnny nodded, then glanced over at his brother. “I’m gonna ride to the house and get some lunch. Wanna come?”
Scott shook his head. “I can’t. I’ve got to get back to that windmill before Mike manages to get it running backwards. But I’ll see you at dinner, all right?” Scott breathed a sigh of relief when Johnny nodded. At least he had kept his brother from bolting for one more day.
As Johnny rode up to the estancia, his mind was in still in a whirl, and at first he didn’t notice the strange buggy parked in front. When he did spot it, he turned Barranca so he could get closer to it. He studied it closely, and knew that he had never seen that particular rig or horse before. He sure hoped it wasn’t more bad news from Boston; Scott didn’t need any more heartache right now. The old goat Harlan had hurt him bad enough already.
He rode up to the front of the buggy and tied Barranca to the hitching post. Hearing horses approaching, he looked around and was surprised to see his brother riding in with Jelly. As Jelly split off and rode to the barn, Johnny leaned up against the hitching post and waited for his brother to get closer. “What’s goin’ on, Scott? Everything OK?”
Scott nodded. “I think so. Jelly said Murdoch wanted me to come home right away. Said there was some business to take care of and some papers that needed signing.”
Johnny’s brow furrowed. It sure sounded like there might be trouble. He reached down and undid the safety on his gun, and then waited for Scott to dismount. He let Scott go into the house first and then cautiously followed his brother into the Great Room. He glanced quickly around, but didn’t see anything out of order, and finally his eyes lit on his father.
Murdoch and another man were sitting and drinking some scotch. The man had his back to the two brothers, so Johnny couldn’t tell if he knew him or not, but he didn’t seem dangerous. Johnny noticed that Murdoch certainly didn’t seem frightened, but there was something in his body language that told the gunfighter that he was apprehensive or unhappy. Johnny braced himself for some more bad news, and came up and stood next to Scott.
Murdoch looked up and saw his sons. “Scott, Johnny, come on in. You know Mr. Rodwell.”
Johnny looked in surprise at the man as he turned around. Johnny’s eyes narrowed. Why did Murdoch want just Scott here to meet with this man? Why didn’t his father send for both of them, since whatever they were doing would probably affect them both? Or was the Old Man setting him up? Was he going to try to get rid of him once and for all? He tried to control his anger, but wasn’t entirely successful. And suddenly he realized the choice had been made for him. He wasn’t going to be slighted any more. He wasn’t going to wait around for the Old Man to get rid of him. It was time to leave. He spun on his heel and headed for the door.
“Johnny, wait! Where are you going?” Murdoch called after him. Scott turned and watched his brother head for the door, wondering what was going on. Murdoch got up as quickly as he was able and went after his younger son, telling Scott to stay with Mr. Rodwell. Murdoch reached the courtyard just as Johnny reached Barranca. With a trace of panic, Murdoch tried once more to stop him.
“Johnny! What’s wrong? Why are you leaving?” Murdoch shouted.
Johnny turned and looked at his father, his eyes like ice. “What do you care, Old Man? You don’t have to worry about changin’ any papers. I won’t be here.”
Murdoch grabbed Barranca’s bridle. “Why, Johnny? Why now? And what made you so angry? Please, son, talk to me!”
Johnny stood next to Barranca, his head down. “Why do ya think? You plan on cuttin’ me out so you don’t have ta worry about Madrid anymore. Ya coulda just told me, Old Man. Ya didn’t have ta go behind my back.” He reached down and tried to grab the reins from his father’s hands.
Murdoch clung desperately to the reins. “No one is cutting you out, and no one is doing anything behind your back. That’s not why Mr. Rodwell is here. Now come in and we’ll discuss this. Please.”
“If you weren’t doin somethin’ behind my back, why did ya send for Scott and not me?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
Murdoch shook his head in exasperation. “Do you have to take everything I say and do wrong? I knew you were coming in for lunch, you do every day. Scott had told me this morning, if you remember, that he wasn’t. I didn’t know Rodwell was coming today, so I couldn’t tell you in advance. If you hadn’t shown up soon, I would have sent someone after you, too.” Murdoch waited for some sign he had gotten through to his impulsive son.
Finally, Johnny’s grip on the reins slackened. “What’s he doin here? What do ya need a lawyer for?”
Murdoch finished pulling the rest of the leather from his son’s hands and re-tied Barranca. “I’ll explain everything, all right? Just come inside and listen.”
Reluctantly, Johnny turned and walked towards the Hacienda. He still suspected something, but at least he’d listen to what the Old Man had to say before taking off.
“Johnny! Good to see you again!” Mr. Rodwell stood and held out his hand.
After a moment’s hesitation, Johnny took it briefly before moving over to where Scott was seated and sitting down next to his brother.
“I was telling Murdoch how your quick thinking of getting that amendment to his will drawn up could have been very important if Collins had succeeded in his plan.”
Murdoch nodded his head. “I know. We all owe a lot to Johnny. He saved all of us, and the ranch. If it hadn’t been for him, we wouldn’t be here.” He looked at Johnny. “Thank you, son.”
Johnny ducked his head. He just wished Murdoch and Rodwell would get on with whatever they had planned. He looked at the lawyer. “So what’s being changed this time?” He asked suspiciously.
Mr. Rodwell glanced at Murdoch, and at his nod, he explained. “Murdoch sent me a letter several weeks ago. In it he explained what he wanted to do, and although initially I was against it, I can see that he is firmly determined to go through with it. After speaking to him, and learning of his reasons for proceeding, I now agree that it is probably the wisest course of action. Murdoch’s illness has resulted in some mental lapses that could prove catastrophic to the ranch and holdings, if things were allowed to remain as they are.”
The lawyer pulled out several papers from his briefcase and set them on the table in front of him. “I drew these papers up before I came, and all they need is your signatures to make it official.”
Johnny had had enough of the lawyer’s explanation that really hadn’t explained anything. “Make WHAT official?”
Mr. Rodwell looked up in surprise. “I though I made that clear. Your father is deeding his portion of the ranch over to the two of you. You’ll each be full partners, and your father will no longer have a claim on any of the property.”
Johnny glanced over at Scott, and saw the same stunned expression on his face that he was sure he had on his own. He turned towards his father. “This was your idea?”
Murdoch nodded slowly. “I realized that I was no longer competent to be running anything. And I have two completely competent and reliable sons who could take over.” He shook his head sadly. “You two don’t need me to run things any more. You’re both more than able to make any decision regarding this ranch.” He looked up at Johnny. “And I trust you completely to take care of it and of everyone in this family.” He dropped his head. “I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that. Please forgive me.”
Johnny felt his heart pull at the sacrifice his father was willing to make. He watched the Old Man closely and saw just how much this was costing his father. Of course, if he weren’t staying, it wouldn’t matter. Was he staying? Johnny looked over at his brother and after a long moment came to a decision. “And Scott and I have to sign those papers to make it official, right?”
The lawyer nodded. “Of course. Any changes to the partnership agreement have to be agreed upon by all of the parties, it’s part of the contract.”
Johnny folded his arms. “Well I ain’t signin’ nothin’.”
Scott looked over at his brother and smiled. He folded his arms in the same manner as his brother. “Nor I.”
Mr. Rodwell looked at them a moment, and then turned towards Murdoch. “It appears you have been outvoted.” He said, with a trace of a smile.
Murdoch glared at his two sons. “This needs to be done. Why are you being so stubborn?” He folded his arms just like his boys. “After all of the complaining you’ve both been doing about me calling the tune, I would think you would welcome this chance to get rid of The Old Man.”
Scott shook his head. “No, we just like to complain. Isn’t that right, brother?” He said, looking at Johnny hopefully. Scott held his breath as his brother studied his father while considering his answer. Scott saw the battle raging within Johnny’s soul, and knew that in a moment they would all know if they had a family or not.
Finally Johnny sighed and nodded his head. “Right. And if you weren’t around ta make my life miserable I’d have ta figure out somethin’ else to complain about.” He looked at Scott. “Besides, if the two of us have to agree on how to run the ranch, we’d probably kill each other within a week. Ain’t no way I’m gonna agree with anything Boston here says.”
Scott nodded and noted with pleasure that for the first time in a long time, he was seeing Johnny Lancer. “Actually, a week may be a very optimistic estimate. Johnny here isn’t the easiest person to get along with, you know.”
Murdoch looked back and forth between them and he also saw the change in Johnny. Inside, his heart leaped at the thought there might be hope for all of them yet. He knew there was a long way to go, and a lot of things he had to make right with both of his sons, but it was a start. At least he’d get the chance to try.
Smiling inwardly, he managed to fix the two of them with his best glare. “All right, since I’m still in charge, you’d better get your tails back out there and get to work. I won’t tolerate any more goofing off, understand? And even though I’m willing to let it go this time, the next time you refuse to do something, you’ll both be in BIG trouble, have you got that?”
Johnny looked back at him uncertainly, and as he and his father locked eyes, Murdoch realized his mistake and softened his tone. “Please,” he whispered, not really sure what he was pleading for, but knowing he needed to. “And maybe tonight….” Murdoch hesitated. “….The three of us can sit down and talk about what plans the two of you have for this ranch’s future. We need to start discussing things and jointly making decisions, the three of us together.” He looked pleadingly at both of them.
Johnny watched his father another moment and realized that his father was finally admitting that he needed his sons him as much as they needed him. Somehow, they would eventually work this out and become a real family again. He relaxed visibly, and turned towards his brother. Scott and Johnny exchanged glances, smiles hiding just below the surface. “Yes, sir.” They both answered, as they turned and walked out the door to their waiting horses.