The Journey Home
“Come on, Johnny. You know Murdoch wanted us to head right back after the sale.”
Johnny looked at his brother in frustration. “Come on, Scott. We don’t get away from the ranch that often. Don’t you want ta enjoy yourself for a day or two? Murdoch doesn’t have ta know we bought all the stock we needed the first day here. He’s expectin’ us ta stay for at least a week.”
Scott hesitated. Actually, he had been prepared to talk Johnny into staying, but he decided it was definitely better if Johnny felt it was his idea to stay and he had talked Scott into it. That way, if anything went wrong or if Murdoch somehow found out, Scott could make his little brother feel guilty. Scott tried to hide a smile. This was working out much better than planned. He had heard so much about San Francisco that he was looking forward to doing a little exploring. “All right, I won’t tell if you really want to stay,” he said, putting just the right amount of resignation into his response as he waited for an answer.
Johnny studied his brother critically, but he did want to explore a little bit. Finally, he grinned. “Deal. Where do ya want ta go first?” Johnny asked enthusiastically.
Scott shrugged, but he knew exactly what he wanted to do first. In Boston he had often dined on the very best seafood. In fact, he had eaten so much he had almost become tired of it. Almost, but not quite. He hadn’t had any since leaving Boston, and his mouth was already watering at the thought. He looked at his brother questioningly, “Do you like seafood?”
Johnny looked at his brother suspiciously. “Seafood?”
“Yes. You know, lobster, crabs, fish.”
“I know what it is; I just don’t think I would enjoy eatin’ anything that has that many legs.”
“What does the number of legs have to do with anything?”
Johnny shivered dramatically. “Would you eat a spider?”
Scott couldn’t really follow his brother’s analogy, but he finally sighed when he saw his brother’s resolute expression. “All right, fish don’t have ANY legs. How about giving them a try? I mean, you HAVE eaten fish before.”
“Yeah, enough ta know I’d rather eat a spider. What’s wrong with beef? Hell, I’ll even settle for chicken.”
“Come on, Johnny. Try something new. I promise you’ll love it.”
“Last time you said that was when you tried ta get me to wear plaid pants.”
“I tell you what, if you agree to let me pick the restaurant and you order something new, I promise I’ll never make you wear plaid.”
Johnny thought for a moment, and then grinned. “And you won’t ever wear plaid again, either, right? And you’ll throw away those pants?”
Scott glowered at his brother. “Those pants HAPPEN to hold some very fond memories for me.”
“Uh huh. And spiders have some very creepy memories for me.”
“Crabs are not spiders!”
Scott shook his head in defeat, wanting his seafood much more than he wanted those pants. Besides, his little brother didn’t need to know that they had already disappeared, compliments of Teresa. “All right, the pants go.”
“Good. Since your buyin’ I’ll let you pick the restaurant, but hurry up and decide. I’m starving.”
Scott walked over to the front desk of the hotel they were staying at and talked to the desk clerk for a moment, then returned to his brother.
“The clerk had two suggestions. One is a very fancy restaurant with fancier prices that has good seafood, and the other has excellent food at cheap prices.”
“What’s the catch with the second one?”
Scott shrugged. “The first is in the best area of town, and the second is in what the clerk described as a more colorful section.”
Johnny grinned. “Well, since you’re buying, I SHOULD say the most expensive would be fine, but I think it’s more important to me to have excellent food than to make you miserable.”
Scott nodded. “All right, excellent food it is.”
The two brothers left the hotel and walked toward the waterfront, discussing the purchases they had made at the beef action. Murdoch had sent them to San Francisco to buy some new breeding stock for the ranch, and they had arrived the day before yesterday, expecting to have to attend the whole week of the sale to find what they wanted. Instead, several large lots of exceptionally good stock came in at the first of the auction, and the two men managed to blow away their bidding competition and win the animals.
Johnny and Scott had wrangled good naturedly over what stock to buy, and instead of compromising, they had each picked out a bull and numerous heifers and cows to go with them. They had made a bet with each other as to whose animals would produce the best calves, the winner having to do the other one’s chores for three months. Of course, Johnny had also purchased a few head of horses that seemed too good to pass up, something that Murdoch had been adamant they were not to do. They wondered briefly what their father would say about them spending double what had been allowed, but only briefly. They just felt too good about their purchases.
Johnny looked around uneasily. “Where is this place, anyway?”
“The clerk said it was at the end of Wharf Street by the water. Looks like we’ve got a few blocks to go.”
Johnny nodded, but as they walked along, he slipped the safety off of his gun. The clerk hadn’t been joking, but ‘colorful’ wasn’t exactly the word he would have used to describe the surroundings. This place was as bad as any border town, and Johnny had the feeling he should have opted for the expensive fish.
“There it is!” Scott exclaimed.
Johnny nodded; the feeling that this was a mistake stronger than ever. “Hey, Scott, I’m not real hungry. How about if we head back to the hotel?”
Scott stopped and looked at his brother in concern. “Everything OK?”
Johnny shrugged. “I just have a bad feeling about this, that’s all.”
Scott nodded. “All right.”
Johnny hung his head for a moment, and then shook his head slowly, knowing how much his brother was looking forward to this. “No. We’re already here, we might as well eat. Not much can happen inside a restaurant.”
Johnny studied the menu thoroughly, but he didn’t see any beef or chicken anywhere. With a sigh, he put it down and looked around while his brother perused the menu avidly. Johnny’s gaze was drawn to several men slouched lazily against the bar. The gunfighter’s eyes narrowed as he studied them. The men were nonchalantly studying the others in the room, reminding Johnny of a pack of wolves trying to decide which steer to pick out from the herd. The men weren’t gunfighters, in fact as far as Johnny could tell, they weren’t even carrying guns. They were dressed like sailors, but it didn’t matter what they wore; Johnny recognized them for what they were. They were predators who made their living preying on the weak.
“So what are you going to order?” Scott asked his brother.
Johnny dragged his eyes back to his brother. “What?”
“What are you going to order?”
Johnny shrugged disgustedly. “All they have is fish.”
“And spiders,” Scott grinned.
“So what are you going to eat?’
Johnny shrugged, distracted once again by the men. He looked around at the other customers and noticed that he and Scott were the only ones that weren’t obviously sailors. Johnny figured if there WAS trouble, they certainly couldn’t count on any help from anyone else. He and Scott were on their own.
Out of habit, Johnny glanced around for any other exit, but the only one he could see was the front door, although he figured there was probably a back exit through the kitchen. From the way the building was moving, he knew it had been built on a dock and wondered just where the back door would lead them. He made a mental note to go out the front if at all possible in the fight that he was sure to come. His attention was drawn back to the men at the bar, who returned his stare calmly.
“What’s wrong?” Scott asked quietly. Scott followed his brother’s gaze toward the men standing at the bar. He studied them carefully, but didn’t see anything too unusual. He looked back at his brother questioningly.
Johnny’s head dropped and he studied the menu again. “Nothin’. Let’s eat and get outta here.” He shook his head in frustration. “Is there ANYTHING on this menu that doesn’t have fins or look like a spider?”
“Well, there’s Calamari,” Scott said lightly.
“I’ll take it!”
“Johnny, I was kidding.”
“Well I’m not. That’s what I want.”
“I don’t think…”
“Don’t think, Scott, just order.”
Scott watched his brother for a moment, wondering about Johnny’s sudden dark mood, and then he signaled the waiter. The man quickly took the order, and Scott leaned forward again. “Johnny, do you want to leave?”
Johnny hesitated and then shrugged. “No, I guess we can eat.” His fingers started drumming nervously on the table.
Johnny’s unease was beginning to rub off on Scott, and he looked around once more. No one seemed to be paying any attention to them, and Scott looked back at his brother. “I think it is rather unlikely that anyone would try anything. After all, we’re obviously well armed, and they aren’t even wearing guns.”
“They don’t have to wear guns ta be dangerous. There’s somethin’ wrong with this place.”
Scott looked around and noticed the men seemed to be watching them again. As soon as they noticed he was looking at them, they turned around and started talking quietly. Scott kept his eyes on them, and a few seconds later the men’s appraising gaze was slowly drawn back to Scott and Johnny.
Scott felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. He hesitated only a moment before reaching into his pocket and pulling out some bills. He threw them on the table then stood up, and Johnny looked at him quizzically.
Scott shook his head. “Come on, brother, let’s get out of here.”
Johnny didn’t argue, but stood up and stared at the men at the bar before following Scott out. Once outside, Johnny guided his brother over to the side of the building, motioning him to be quiet. Scott stood silently, trying to listen for any sounds, but the night remained quiet, except for the muted sounds from within the restaurant and the soft slapping of the waves coming from underneath the docks The two men stood there for several minutes until Johnny was satisfied no one had followed them out of the restaurant. Finally he stepped out and the two men headed back toward the hotel.
Both men kept their hands on their guns the whole way, and cautiously glanced back over their shoulders from time to time. Night had fallen while they had been in the restaurant, and the surroundings took on an even more sinister appearance in the dark. The street was deserted and it seemed as if they were in a totally different world. They both knew that in this section of town, no one would interfere if they were attacked.
They had only gone a few blocks when they heard the sound of some footsteps coming from behind them. The sound echoed along the street as the person hurried in their direction. The two men stopped, and the footfalls came to a slow halt. The brothers started walking once more, and the sound of the footfalls resumed. Johnny and Scott both melted back behind a building and waited for the confrontation as the footsteps came closer and closer.
As the unknown person approached, both men drew their guns and stood poised for a fight. The footsteps approached their hiding place, and then hesitantly walked off. The two men were just starting to relax when they heard the person approaching once again, only this time there were two sets of footsteps. The footfalls stopped right in front of where Scott and Johnny stood, and the brothers looked at each other, waiting for the right moment to make their move.
“All right, come on out,” a voice commanded.
Johnny took a last look at his brother and then cocked his gun, the sound echoing in the silence.
“Don’t even try it, boys. Just come on out, and nobody will get hurt.”
Johnny glanced at Scott and then cautiously stepped out into the open. His eyes widened when he recognized the uniform of a policeman on one of the men standing in front of them. The other man was dressed like a sailor, and Johnny recognized him from the restaurant.
“What are you gentlemen doing out here in this part of town?” the officer asked.
“We were merely trying to get something to eat,” Scott replied. “Is there something wrong, officer?”
“No. But just make sure you’re careful. There have been a lot of men shanghaied from around here lately.”
“You were in the restaurant,” Johnny observed to the second man.
He nodded. “Yes, I was. Several of us have been working undercover trying to find out who’s behind the ring that has been kidnapping men.”
“Ya mean we didn’t have ta leave our meal after all?”
Scott smiled. Leave it to Johnny to worry about a skipped meal.
“I’m afraid that’s right,” the policeman said. “There were more undercover men in that bar than sailors.”
Scott slapped Johnny on the arm. “You and your feelings! I was about to have the best meal of my life. Next time, I’m at least going to finish my meal before we have to take off.”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, this damn city has my radar all screwed up. There’s more water in the air than in the lakes back home, people dress funny, and everybody eats spiders.”
Scott tried not to laugh when he saw the identical expressions of disbelief on the other men’s faces.
“Spiders?” they asked in unison.
Scott shrugged. “My brother has a thing against crabs and lobsters.”
“Oh.” They glanced sideways at the dark haired man and then the policeman shrugged. “Well, we just wanted to make sure you boys made it back to your hotel all right. We didn’t like the way some of the men were looking at you and we figured they might try to rob you at the very least.”
Johnny stared at the policeman. “We can take care of ourselves.”
“I’m sure you can under normal circumstances. But this gang doesn’t exactly play fair.”
“Neither do I,” Johnny assured him.
Scott hurriedly jumped in and turned toward the policeman. “What do you mean?”
The officer shrugged. “We’re not sure exactly how they do it, but we believe they drug their victims before somehow smuggling them out to the waiting ships. Before it only happened once in a while, but this gang has it down to a science. We believe numerous men are involved.”
“Just how many men have been shanghaied?” Johnny asked.
“That we know of, approximately two hundred men have disappeared this year.”
“TWO HUNDRED!” Scott looked at the men in disbelief. “And no one has been able to stop them?”
The policemen’s faces turned purple. “We’ve done our best. We’ve staked out every bar and dive in that part of town, but we can’t come up with anything. Men just keep disappearing.” He shook his head. “Anyway, we’re doing our best to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. You’re obviously not from around here. Where are you staying?”
“The Lexington,” Scott answered.
“That’s not very far from the precinct station. We’ll stroll back with you.”
Scott nodded. “That’s very nice of you, but since our first meal was interrupted, we’re going to have dinner first. The hotel suggested The Blue Crab.”
“Why don’t they have a ‘Blue Steak,” Johnny grumbled.
The policeman nodded, deciding to concentrate on conversing with Scott and ignoring Johnny. “The Blue Crab is one of the finest restaurants in the city, and only about a block from the hotel. We’ll walk with you and then go on to the precinct house.”
“Why are you so worried about us?” Johnny asked.
“As I said, there has been a rash of kidnappings in this general area lately, and we’re doing everything we can to prevent any more. There’s safety in numbers.”
Johnny nodded, and the four men strolled back toward the hotel, but even though they had an escort, Johnny still kept a sharp eye out for any trouble. The closer they got to the restaurant, the more he relaxed. This was obviously a high class section of town, and policemen were in evidence in every block. Their two friends left them a short ways away from the hotel, and Johnny and Scott continued on to the restaurant.
By the time they reached the restaurant, Johnny and Scott were starving, and Johnny really didn’t care WHAT they served. It was late enough in the evening that they didn’t have to wait, and they were seated immediately by the window overlooking the bay.
To Johnny’s relief, the restaurant served steak and he ordered the biggest one on the menu while his brother settled for lobster.
“This is much better than that calamity stuff.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. “Calamity?”
“Yeah, you know, that stuff ya had me order in that other restaurant.”
Scott smiled. “I think you mean calamari.”
“Whatever.” Johnny looked at his brother suspiciously. “Just what is it you were gonna have me eat, anyway?”
“I’d rather not say. Besides, I told you that I was kidding. YOU were the one that insisted on it.”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, I figured it couldn’t be as bad as fish or crabs.”
Scott smiled. “Let’s just leave it at that, OK?”
“All right, as long as you promise I don’t have ta eat any fish the whole time I’m here.”
“I promise. I’ll even let you pick the restaurant tomorrow.”
“Deal. Actually, this steak is pretty good, and since you’re payin’ anyway, I think we should come back here.”
“I’M PAYING! Who said I was paying?”
“You are, since if ya don’t I’ll tell Murdoch how my big brother insisted on stayin’ another week instead of goin’ home and helpin’ with the work.”
“ME? You’re the one who insisted on staying!”
Johnny shrugged. “I know. But you’re the big brother. You should know better.”
Scot took a deep breath. “All right, you win. I’ll pay, but ONLY if you order calamari tomorrow. I promise it’s not fish.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “All right. But if it has fins I get ta shoot ya.”
Scott smiled. “Deal.”
The next morning, Scott and Johnny slept in, reveling in the fact that they had nothing pressing to do and no one who would yell at them for wasting time. They finally got up about nine, then went downstairs for a leisurely breakfast.
Scott sat back in his chair. “Well, what do you think we should do today?”
Johnny shrugged. “I don’t care, as long as it has nothin’ ta do with fish.”
Scott sighed. “Well, that takes out most of San Francisco.”
“Ya mean all they have here is fish?”
“Well, it IS a seaport.”
Johnny shivered. “Next time, the auction had better be in the desert.”
“Come on, it’s not that bad.”
Johnny’s expression left no doubt about how he felt about that statement, and Scott finally gave up. “So what do you want to do?”
“We could go back and look at some more stock,” Johnny said innocently. “They should be sendin’ some more horses through there today.”
“We’re in SAN FRANCISCO and you want to go check out some horses!”
“Well, yeah. Nothin’ else ta do.”
Scott shut his eyes and shook his head slowly. “All right. But we’re not buying anything, and tomorrow we’re going to do what I want to do, even if it involves fish!”
“Deal. Hurry up, the sale’s already started!”
Late that afternoon, the two men returned to the hotel. Scott was congratulating himself on the fact that he’d managed to limit Johnny’s purchases to only three more horses. He wasn’t sure how they were going to explain the horses to Murdoch, but he had to admit, Johnny had managed to get a real bargain on some fine horseflesh. He just hoped Murdoch saw it that way.
“Ya ready ta eat?” Johnny was standing by the window and watching the ocean as Scott changed his clothes.
“As soon as I get cleaned up.”
“Well what’s takin’ you so long? I was done a half of an hour ago.” Johnny was bouncing up and down, eager to be off.
Scott shook his head at his brother’s boundless energy. “Are you that eager to get to the restaurant? Remember, you’re ordering Calamari.”
“Hell, Scott. I don’t care WHAT I order. I’m starvin’.”
Scott smiled. “I’m holding you to that.” Scott finished buttoning his shirt and grabbed his hat and coat. “All right, let’s go.”
Johnny dove for the door and went flying through it, and Scott followed at a more sedate speed. By the time they reached the street, Scott caught up with his little brother and they headed toward the restaurant.
“Hey, Scott. What do ya think Murdoch will say about those horses?”
Scott smiled. “I don’t think he’ll say anything. I think he’ll just shoot you and be done with it.”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah, that’s what I figured, too. But why do you think he’ll be upset? Those horses will improve our stock.”
“You know how Murdoch feels about it. He thinks improving the cattle herd is much more important.”
“Well, then he should be happy. We got some good cattle, too.”
“What about the money we spent?”
Johnny shook his head. “Well, ya can’t have everything.”
“We might not have ANYTHING if we can’t convince Murdoch we did the right thing.”
Johnny’s shoulders slumped. “You sure know how ta ruin my good mood.”
Scott wrapped his arms around Johnny’s shoulders. “You’ll feel better after you eat.”
Johnny nodded. “I guess.” He nodded at a policeman who passed them on his rounds, and the lawman nodded back. “I sure feel better about eatin’ here, anyway. The other place might have had good food, but I had an awfully bad feeling about it.”
Scott shrugged. “Actually, I thought maybe we should go back. After all, if it was full of policemen, it can’t be TOO dangerous.”
“Count me out. I’ll stick with The Blue Crab. I have no desire to see the world, ESPECIALLY from a boat.”
Scott shook his head. “Your problem is that you have no sense of adventure.”
“I have plenty. I just don’t want ta go for an unexpected boat ride.”
“Ships. They’re not boats, they’re ships.”
“Whatever. They float, and that’s enough ta make me know I don’t want nothin’ ta do with ‘em.”
Scott shook his head in frustration. “Why don’t you like the water?”
“I like water just fine. In fact, I think it’s safe ta say I couldn’t live without it.”
Scott rolled his eyes as Johnny continued. “I just don’t like feelin’ so trapped, and on a boat, there ain’t no place ta go. Ya can’t even jump off.”
“You don’t mind traveling by train, and you can’t exactly jump off of one of those, either.”
Johnny shrugged. “Sure ya can.”
Scott stopped and looked at his brother. “Are you talking from experience?”
Scott shook his head, not sure he wanted to know the details. “So why don’t you like fish?”
Johnny shivered eloquently. “They’re slimy.”
“Not when they’re cooked!”
Johnny shivered again. “I ain’t gotten that close to ‘em ta find out.”
Scott sighed. “You’re impossible!”
Johnny laughed. “Thanks.”
Scott stopped outside the restaurant. “Now remember. Calamari!” he told Johnny sternly.
Johnny nodded, and the two men entered the restaurant, and they were once again seated by the window. Johnny immediately ordered a bottle of tequila.
“A BOTTLE?” Scott asked.
“Well, since you’re so all fire eager for me ta eat that Calamity stuff, I figure it’s probably somethin’ I’ll need ta be drunk ta get through.”
“Don’t you think a BOTTLE of tequila is a little bit of overkill?”
Johnny shrugged. “Better ta be safe.”
Scott gave up. “All right, but don’t you dare drink so much I have to carry you back. You’ll be on your own!”
“Don’t worry about me. YOU’RE the one that’ll be in trouble.”
“Cause if that stuff is as bad as I think it will be, I’m gonna shoot ya, and it’s awfully hard ta walk with a bullet in your head.”
Scott snorted. “If you drink that tequila first, I have nothing to worry about. You won’t be in any shape to even pull the trigger.”
Johnny shrugged. “Either way, I’ll be outta my misery.”
Johnny looked suspiciously at the plate that had been placed in front of him. Scott was right; it didn’t have fins. He took his fork and moved it a little, then glanced at Scott, who was busily ignoring him. Johnny looked at his plate again then grabbed a piece of bread and took a bite. He stirred his vegetables around a bit, then took a cautious bite and gulped down a shot of whisky. Johnny glared at the glass and then at his brother. Scott’s fancy restaurant didn’t even stock tequila.
Scott looked up at his brother and raised his eyebrows. “Remember the deal we had. You promised to eat Calamari.”
Johnny shook his head. “Actually, the deal was that I’d ORDER Calamari. I never promised ta eat the stuff.”
Scott shook his head. “Welcher.”
Johnny shook his head. “Well, I WOULD eat it, but then I’d have ta shoot ya. Your choice.”
Scott shook his head. “Never mind.”
Johnny moved the piece of seafood once more with his fork. “Just what IS it, anyway?”
“Like I said, never mind.”
Johnny nodded. “You’re probably right. I just can’t believe my own brother would want me ta eat somethin with that many legs.”
Scott stared at Johnny. “I remember a certain brother of mine that made me not only drink tequila, but made me swallow a WORM!”
“What’s wrong with that? They don’t have legs OR fins!”
Scott shook his head in defeat. “All right, go ahead and order a steak, but YOU can pay for it.”
Johnny shook his head. “Actually, I’m not very hungry.”
Scott put his fork down and stared at his brother. “Are you all right? You were starving a few minutes ago.”
Johnny shrugged. “It’s that stupid whisky. I just feel a little funny.”
“Maybe we’d better leave,” Scott said worriedly.
“No, I’m fine. Go ahead and eat your food.” He picked up another piece of bread and took a bite, then noticed his brother was still staring at him. “I TOLD ya I’m fine.”
“You look a little pale.”
“Would ya eat already?”
Scott turned his attention to his food and ate as quickly as manners allowed, sneaking quick glances at his brother the whole while. Johnny wasn’t even making a pretense of eating anymore, but merely sitting with his eyes closed. Scott decided he definitely look a little green around the gills. He knew better than to ask Johnny again; he knew his brother would say he was fine, but that did nothing to relieve Scott’s mind. He had learned that Johnny wasn’t always completely honest about the state of his health.
Scott threw some money down on the table and stood up. He walked over to Johnny and took hold of his arm. “Come on, brother,” he whispered. “Let’s get out of here.”
Johnny valiantly rose to his feet, and the two brothers escaped the restaurant with only a few stares and pointed looks. Once outside, Johnny felt a little better and shrugged away from his brother’s grip.
“I’m OK, Scott. Let me go.”
“Are you sure?”
“I said I’m fine. I just got some bad whisky. Let me sit in the fresh air a minute.”
Scott guided his brother to a nearby bench and Johnny crumpled onto it. Scott sank down next to him, concerned. “Maybe we’d better get you to a doctor.”
Johnny shook his head, but the blinding headache he’d developed made moving his head distinctly uncomfortable. He sat with his head down and took a couple of deep breaths, then slowly brought his head up. The scene in front of him swayed and bobbed, and he scrunched his eyes shut once more.
Scott watched his brother with growing concern. He didn’t think Johnny was going to make it back to the hotel anytime soon, at least under his own power. He looked around for some help, but the policemen who had been so numerous when they had entered the restaurant had all disappeared, and he realized it was probably time for the shift to change.
He scanned the surrounding businesses, hoping one was still open, but they were all locked tight. Then he saw that one of them actually belonged to a physician. There was a small light in an upstairs room, and Scott turned to Johnny. “Can you make it across the street?”
“Yeah,” Johnny mumbled. Scott grabbed his arm and helped him to stand, then manhandled his brother across the street. He propped Johnny up next to the door and knocked loudly. When there was no answer, he pounded once more.
“Just a minute, I’m coming!” came a voice from within. A second later the door opened cautiously, and an elderly man poked his head out. “What’s wrong?”
“My brother is very ill. May we come in?”
The man studied the two, then the door swung open and he led the way to a tiny room off of the entryway. “Put him down in here.”
Scott guided Johnny to a bed and then disentangled his brother’s arms from his. Johnny fell back and closed his eyes. Scott felt a sense of panic as he realized just how bad Johnny had to be feeling to allow himself to relax in a strange place.
“I’m Doctor Potter. It looks like your friend had a little too much to drink at the restaurant.”
Scott shook his head. “Not enough to do this. He’s sick.”
“What’s his name?”
“Johnny. He’s my brother.”
The man nodded and then proceeded to examine his patient. After a few moments he straightened up. “It looks like he might have gotten some bad seafood.”
Scott shook his head. “No, he didn’t touch his meal.”
The doctor frowned. “What did he drink?”
The doctor nodded. “He probably got some bad booze. It happens.”
“The Blue Crab is a good restaurant.”
The doctor shrugged. “It still happens. Leave him here to sleep it off.”
Scott shook his head. “I can take him back to where we’re staying.”
“I wouldn’t. He probably can’t even walk by now, and the hotel is a long block away. Besides, the night air certainly won’t do him any good, it might make him sicker.”
Scott sighed and looked around. There certainly wasn’t space for him to sleep in this room. “Do you have a room where I can stay?”
Potter shook his head. “Unfortunately, I’m full up. There’s been a lot going around lately. Go back to the hotel and go to sleep. You can come back first thing in the morning. He’ll be fine by then.”
Scott cast a worried eye on his brother, then went over and squatted down next to his brother. “Johnny, did you hear what the doctor said?”
Johnny nodded. “I heard. Go on, I’ll be fine. I just want ta sleep.”
Reluctantly Scott stood up and nodded to the doctor. “I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
Potter nodded. “He’ll be in good hands.”
Scott walked slowly back to the hotel, reluctant to leave his brother, but knowing that there simply wasn’t room at the doctor’s office to stay the night. The doctor had been confident that Johnny would be fine, and Scott wasn’t really worried about his brother. As he walked, Scott shook his head slightly. Something about the encounter was bothering him, he just wasn’t sure what. Finally, he decided to stop thinking about it for awhile. Maybe then it would come to him. He nodded to several policemen who were once more on the beat. He thought briefly about asking them if they knew if Doctor Potter was a good physician, then decided he was being silly.
Scott hesitated just outside the door of the hotel, wondering if he should go back to the doctor’s office, and then with a shrug, he entered the hotel. He would get a few hours sleep and see his brother in the morning. As he prepared for bed, he still had the nagging feeling that something was wrong, but he decided it was just his protective feelings for his little brother that were making him nervous. If something had been wrong, Johnny would have told Scott to stay, but he hadn’t. Scott lay down and stared at the ceiling, then finally drifted off to sleep.
Scott woke up with a start. He KNEW something had been bothering him, and the answer had come to him while he slept. The doctor knew too much. Potter had known he and Johnny had eaten at a restaurant, and he had known exactly where they were staying. Scott cursed softly; he should have listened to his instincts and stayed with his brother. Something was wrong. He threw on his clothes and tore out of the room and down the stairs.
Scott ran the whole way to the doctor’s, knowing in his heart that he would be too late. He reached the building where Doctor Potter had been the night before, and realized the sign was gone. He pounded on the door anyway, but when it was apparent that it wouldn’t be opened, he kicked it in with a crash. The small room where Johnny had lain the night before was empty, and he turned and ran into the other room, searching desperately for his brother. It soon became apparent that no one was there and he headed upstairs.
By the time he reached the third floor, he was near panic. He stopped in the middle of the floor and tried to think. He couldn’t believe he had been so stupid. If he had just thought last night, he would have figured it out. He walked over to the window and looked out at the water. “Where are you, brother?”
His eyes were drawn to a small skiff being rowed out to a ship anchored in the bay, and his eyes narrowed. All of the stories of men being shanghaied came crashing back to him, and he realized again just how stupid they had been. They had thought that if they were together, nothing could happen to them. He snorted. Just like a wolf pack cut out an individual, the men who were behind this had separated him from his brother.
His attention was drawn back to the small boat as it drew alongside the larger vessel, and he watched as two men climbed the makeshift ladder to the ship. He sighed deeply and forced himself to think. The first thing he needed to do was to contact the police, and then he was going to go down and check out every single ship in the bay. There was no way he was going to let them take Johnny away from him. He thought briefly of sending Murdoch a telegram, but he didn’t want to waste the time. Besides, there was nothing their father could do from Lancer, and by the time he could get here, it would be all over, one way or the other.
With that decided, he started to turn away from the window when his attention was caught once more by the ship he had been watching. The two men climbed back down into the skiff, and between them lifted a large bundle and manhandled it with some difficulty up the rope ladder. Scott stared at the scene, realizing that bundle looked suspiciously man shaped. He froze for a second, and then turned and ran down the stairs and out of the house.
As he sprinted toward the water, he looked around desperately for any sign of a policeman, but once more they were conspicuously absent. He reached the end of the dock and looked around frantically for a small boat to take him out there. There was nothing in sight, and he looked up again, trying to judge the distance. As he watched, he saw a flurry of activity on board, and Scott realized the ship was preparing to sail. In desperation, he looked around once more, but there wasn’t a boat or a person in sight.
Scott quickly slipped off his boots and hat. He started to undo his holster, then thought better of it. It would probably be ruined by the water, but he still hated to swim out there completely unarmed. He decided that even if it wouldn’t fire it could be used as an effective club. He dove into the water.
He was only about halfway when he heard the unmistakable sound of an anchor being raised, and he tried to increase his speed. If the ship left, Scott knew he would never see his brother again. He fought the water desperately, but the cold was seeping into his bones and slowing him down, and the water was rough, even inside the bay.
He glanced up again, and was relieved to see the ship only a few hundred feet ahead. He put his head down and concentrated on his stroke. When he figured he should be only fifty feet or so from the ship, he chanced a glance upwards. Instead of fifty feet, the ship was at least a hundred, and moving away fast. He stopped his futile struggle and watched in disbelief as the ship carrying his brother headed out to sea.
Scott watched the ship until it left the harbor, not even feeling the icy water as it numbed his limbs. Finally, the ship was out of sight, and he turned around and looked at the shore that had seemed so close a few minutes ago. He realized that the tide was carrying him out to sea, and in his present condition, there was no way he could fight the current back to the dock. He looked around and his eyes settled on another ship only a hundred yards or so away, and anchored in the general direction that the tide was taking him. He wasn’t even sure if he could make that, but he would try.
Scott had only gone a few feet when he realized he’d have to get rid of his gun and holster. He tread water while his numb hands struggled with the water soaked buckle. Finally, he was able to pull it loose, and his holster sank to the bottom of the bay. He headed toward the ship once more, but a feeling of indifference had come over him. The beginnings of hypothermia was taking its toll and numbing more than his body.
He struggled onward, his strokes losing their smoothness and becoming choppy and erratic. His mind started wandering, and he cursed himself once more for not seeing through the whole scheme. No wonder the policemen couldn’t catch the kidnappers. Who would suspect that an elegant restaurant like the Blue crab would have anything to do with the disappearances? Scott wondered if the hotel was in on it, too, and as he thought, he even wondered about the policemen. He figured at least some of them had to know about it; it was just too convenient that they were never around when help was needed.
His thoughts turned toward the doctor, and Scott questioned whether he was really a physician at all. Panic briefly returned as he wondered if his brother was all right. His head told him that the kidnappers would make sure he was, at least until he was on board ship, but it still didn’t ease his mind.
Scott moaned softly. This whole thing was his fault. If he hadn’t insisted that Johnny eat seafood, they would be safe right now. His poor brother would be like a fish out of water on that ship, and Scott wouldn’t be there to help him. Between Johnny’s ignorance of anything to do with the ocean, his abhorrence of seafood and his temper, his prospects looked pretty grim. He would never survive a long ocean voyage.
Scott continued to head for the ship, but as he glanced up, he saw that he hadn’t made much progress. His body was starting to refuse to obey his commands. He wondered briefly if his body would be found, and he realized that it probably wouldn’t be. The tide was inexorably dragging him out to sea, and once beyond the bay, his body would either sink or be eaten by sharks.
He felt sad that his father would never know what happened to his sons; but he realized that Murdoch would probably at least guess Johnny’s fate. He hoped that his father would be able to somehow find Johnny, but Scott realized that was not probable. Once the ship left the harbor, there was no way of tracking it, especially with no name to look for. It was hopeless, and Scott felt the last bit of fight go out of him. He took one last look at the ship, then ceased his struggles and let himself slip beneath the waves.
Murdoch rode into Green River and stopped his horse in front of the telegraph office. He walked in and nodded to Clancy, the elderly operator. Clancy held his hand up indicating that Murdoch should wait, and the rancher watched as the old man jotted down the incoming message. When Clancy was done, he stood up and walked to the counter.
“Howdy, Mr. Lancer. What can I do for you?”
“I need to send a telegram to the Lexington hotel in San Francisco. Address it to Scott or Johnny and just ask them when they’re returning.”
“All right. You going ta wait for a reply?”
Murdoch shook his head, and then changed his mind. The auction should have been over at least a week ago, and there was still no sign of his boys. He figured they might have wanted to stay and see the sights, but even so, they should have been home by now, and he felt a little irritated that they hadn’t even sent him a wire telling them they were all right. He wasn’t really worried about them, after all they were together, and the two of them made a formidable team. Still, he would rest better knowing they were safe.
“Yes, I guess I’ll wait. I’ll be at the saloon.”
Clancy nodded, and then went back to work. Murdoch watched for a moment, then turned and walked over to the saloon.
As he entered, he saw Val sitting at a corner table, and went over to join him. Val saw his approach and kicked a chair out for his friend, then looked at him quizzically. “What’re you doin’ in town this time of the day?”
Murdoch took off his hat and sat heavily in the chair, then gestured for a drink. “I sent a telegram to San Francisco; the boys aren’t back yet.”
“They ain’t? Have you heard anything from them?”
Murdoch shrugged and nodded to the bartender as he set down a mug of beer on the table. “They sent me a wire the first day they were there, telling me where they were staying. That was two weeks ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.”
“When were they supposed to be home?
Murdoch shrugged and took a sip of his drink. “The auction usually doesn’t last more than a week, and even if they decided to stay and see the sights, they should have been home by now.”
Val nodded thoughtfully. “I hope they weren’t stupid enough ta go down by the waterfront and get themselves shanghaied.”
Murdoch snorted. “Come on, Val, even Scott and Johnny know better than that.”
Scott opened his eyes, and the first thought he had was that he was suffering from a concussion. He had had enough of them to know the familiar dizziness and sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He lay quietly, waiting for his surroundings to stop moving. After several minutes, however, he realized that it wasn’t his head that was making him dizzy. The room was moving. He shut his eyes and tried to quell the queasiness in his stomach and partially succeeded. He swallowed hard several times, then slowly sat up, trying to get his bearings.
There were large bins surrounding him, piled high with grain, and at first he thought he had fallen asleep in one of the Lancer graineries, but it didn’t look quite right. Besides, as far as he knew, their silos didn’t move. He looked around again, and realization started to sink in.
The damp sea smell and the familiar movement told him that he was on a boat, and the darkness and the size of the area he was in told him that he was in the hold of a ship. He was confused at first because he couldn’t remember how he got there, but then his memory began to return. He still couldn’t remember getting on the vessel, but he did remember swimming after the ship that was carrying his brother away.
Scott shut his eyes against the memory of the ship fading into the distance. He hadn’t even been able to see the name of the vessel, and he knew that the chance of finding his brother was almost nil. This ship must have been following the one that Johnny was on; maybe the sailors on this one knew the name and destination of the one carrying his brother.
This ship had obviously picked him out of the water and saved his life. Hopefully, they would be mooring shortly and he could start looking for his brother. If he had to, he would even charter a ship of his own. Hell, he would even buy one if he had to. There was no way he was going to let his little brother suffer through an ocean voyage.
He struggled shakily to his feet, wondering why he had been put in the hold instead of a cabin. They had obviously fished him out of the bay and prevented him from drowning, but had then dumped him in with the cargo. When they docked, Scott was going to give the captain a piece of his mind.
Scott stumbled forward trying to find his sea legs in the lurching vessel. The hold was packed with grain and other cargo and obviously ready for a long voyage. He spied the steps leading out of the hold and headed for them, looking around as he walked. He reached the stairs and then looked around once more. His eyes were gradually adjusting to the dim light and they focused on a figure lying several feet away. He squinted, trying to see the man’s features. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he scrambled over to his brother.
Scott quickly checked Johnny for injuries and although he couldn’t find anything obvious, his brother was deeply unconscious.
Scott picked his brother’s head up. “Johnny!”
“Johnny! Johnny, wake up!” Scott shook his brother gently a few times and was finally rewarded with the sight of two bright blue eyes looking up at him.
“Go ‘way, Scott,” Johnny slurred. “I just wanna sleep.”
“Wake UP!” Scott shook him again.
Johnny tried to swat away his brother’s persistent hands, but his ineffectual slaps went unnoticed.
“Johnny, we’re in trouble!”
“When aren’t we?”
“Come on, brother, wake up!”
“Tell the Old Man he can yell at me later. Right now just let me die in peace. I have a hangover the size of Texas.”
“Johnny! We’ve been SHANGHAIED! And if we don’t get off this ship RIGHT now, we’ll NEVER get home!”
Johnny blinked several times and looked around in confusion. “Where are we?”
“WE ARE ON A SHIP! Headed God only knows where!”
“A SHIP? Johnny bolted upright then grabbed his brother for support. “Quit movin’ Scott. You’re makin’ me even more dizzy.”
“I’M not moving, the ship is,” Scott ground out.
Johnny struggled to his feet and stood with his eyes closed for several seconds, then nodded to his brother. “I’m OK. Let’s get out of here.”
Scott grabbed his brother’s arm and guided Johnny toward the stairs leading to the deck. “You wait here until I see what’s up top.”
Johnny closed his eyes once more and stood swaying unsteadily while Scott climbed the stairs and cautiously peeked out. Scott really couldn’t see anything, and he took a cautious step onto the deck.
There wasn’t a whole lot of activity on board, and Scott noticed the men weren’t wearing uniforms, so it had to be a private vessel. He looked up and studied the sails and realized they were on a large clipper ship. That was definitely bad news. The clipper ships were large ships built to deliver cargo quickly around the world. Wherever this one was headed, it wasn’t anywhere close. He watched for several minutes, trying to decide whether to show himself, but the decision was made for him when his brother pushed past him and ran to the rail, obviously sick.
With a sigh, Scott followed his brother, the need for secrecy gone. Scott put his hand on Johnny’s back until he was finished, and then Johnny moaned and turned around, the green tinge to his skin obvious.
Scott looked at Johnny sympathetically. “Take it easy, brother, you’ll be OK.”
“Am I still on the ocean?” Johnny asked, without opening his eyes.
“Then I AIN’T gonna be OK.”
Scott patted Johnny on the back, and looked out over the churning sea. He looked around in all directions and he felt his heart sink. He turned back toward his brother, silently agreeing with Johnny’s observation. There was no land anywhere in sight.
Murdoch took out his watch and glared at it before stuffing it back into his shirt pocket. He had looked at it at least a dozen times, and if he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn his watch had stopped.
Val shook his head and motioned for the barkeeper to bring another round. The bartender brought over another pitcher of beer and cleared the empties off of the table.
Murdoch drank his beer without even tasting it “What the hell is taking so long for a reply? It’s been two hours.”
Val shrugged. “Maybe the boys are out. If so, it might be a while. Don’t mean there’s somethin’ wrong.”
“If those boys are out gallivanting around while I’m sitting here worrying….” he shook his head.
Val shrugged. “It would still better than knowin’ they’re in trouble.”
“You’re right.” Murdoch snorted. “Besides, they’d BETTER be ok. I want to kill them myself from making me worry like this.”
Val smiled. “They’ve probably been having too much fun ta worry about sendin’ a telegram.”
Murdoch glowered at his friend. “I hope for their sakes that’s not the case.”
Val shook his head. He knew that for all of his bluster, Murdoch was worried sick about his boys. He might chew their tails when they got back, but he also knew that the rancher would give anything to make sure his sons were safe.
Both Val and Murdoch looked up as Clancy ran into the saloon, waving a piece of paper.
“Mr. Lancer, it came!” He ran up to the table and the rancher grabbed it out of his hands, then hurriedly read it.
“Well?” Val demanded,
Murdoch brought his eyes up to his friend. “They checked out of the hotel ten days ago.”
Val felt his heart drop. His friends should have been home a week ago, even if they’d taken their time. He looked cautiously at Murdoch and was surprised to see his friend calmly studying the telegram. He was afraid it was the calm before the storm.
“Val, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep an eye on the ranch while I‘m gone.”
Val looked at the rancher quizzically. “You goin’ ta San Francisco?”
Murdoch nodded. “I’ll be leaving in the morning. If the boys show up or you hear anything, you can reach me at the Lexington.”
Val shook his head. “I think ya better get somebody else ta watch the ranch.”
Murdoch’s brow furrowed. “Why?”
“Cause I aim ta go with ya. If those boys ARE in trouble, ya might need some help.”
Murdoch smiled. “Thanks, Val. I appreciate it.”
Val nodded. “I’ll see ya in the morning.”
The two men rode into San Francisco two days later and went directly to the Lexington. As soon as they checked in, they asked to see the manager, and several minutes later they were sitting in the man’s office.
The manager leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “I’m sorry Mr. Lancer, that’s all I can tell you.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Someone HAS to remember SOMETHING!”
“I’ll ask the rest of the staff, but your sons were only checked in for a day, and with all of the guests that stay here, I doubt if anyone remembers them.”
“Ya might wanna start askin’ the girls,” Val suggested. “I bet they’d remember.”
The manager’s eyebrows went up. “Sir, we don’t run that kind of an establishment.”
Val shrugged. “Didn’t say ya did. I was just sayin’ that any females workin’ here would be liable ta remember the boys.”
Murdoch shook his head and turned toward the manager. “I would appreciate it, and I’d also appreciate it if you would tell them I’d like to talk to anyone who might have seen them.”
“Of course. Anything we can do to be of service.”
“I would like to look at the register, if you don’t mind.”
The manager nodded. “Of course.” He stood up, and Val and Murdoch followed him out of the room and into the main lobby. They walked over to the main desk and the manager grabbed the register and spun it around. Murdoch eagerly scanned the book and quickly found his boys’ signatures. There was no doubt they had checked in, however they hadn’t initialed the book when they had checked out.
Murdoch pointed that out to the manager, and the man shrugged. “The room fee was paid in advance. There was no reason for them to sign out.” He shrugged. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”
“I assume their room was empty after they left.”
The manager nodded. “I’m sure it was. Anything unusual is always reported, and I didn’t hear of anything.”
“Would you double check?”
The manager nodded once more and held out his hand. “Good luck, Mr. Lancer, I’m sure your sons will turn up safe and sound.”
Murdoch shook the man’s hand and then looked at Val. “I guess we’re going to have to try and figure out where they went. Our first stop is the auction grounds, and then we should check out the local restaurants. Somebody somewhere HAS to have seen them.”
Val nodded. “Yeah, but the trick is findin’ that somebody. San Francisco is a mighty big town.”
“Maybe we should split up.”
Val snorted. “I don’t think so. I really don’t have a hankerin’ for an ocean voyage.”
“Don’t you dare say that! The boys are here somewhere and will turn up, you’ll see!”
Val sighed and dropped his head. “I know. I’m sure the boys are fine. They’re probably back at Lancer by now.”
Murdoch’s head dropped miserably. “No, you’re right. I didn’t meant to yell. I’m just worried and afraid and I don’t want to give up hope.” Murdoch looked at Val pleadingly. “You don’t really think that’s what happened to them, do you?’
Val sighed once more. “I don’t know. I hope not. But no matter what happened to them, we’ll find them.”
Murdoch nodded. “I don’t care what it takes. I’m not going to lose them again.”
Scott waited until Johnny had nothing left in his stomach, then turned and looked around. No one seemed to be paying them the slightest bit of attention except for one sailor, who was watching them intently. Scott snorted. It wasn’t like he and Johnny could cause much trouble against all of these men, and escape was obviously out of the question.
The sailor walked over to them and looked them up and down. “My name’s MISTER Gibbs. I’m third mate on this here ship. I’m warnin’ you right now, you keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told, and you MIGHT survive. You complain about how you got here or how you’re treated, and I’ll kill you myself, is that clear?”
Scott drew himself up to full height and stared at the man. “No, it isn’t. What you did was illegal, and we have no intention of just accepting it.”
The man smiled evilly. “Like I said, you have a choice. You either relax and cooperate, or you’ll wind up dead, and I really don’t care which. I don’t want you causing me any trouble with my men or my superiors.”
Scott kept his eyes locked on the man. “Like I said, what you did was…”
The man lunged forward and grabbed Scott by the shirt. “You listen to me,” he snarled. “You keep your mouths shut and do what I tell you to do.”
Johnny swung around and lunged toward the man, but Gibbs was easily able to sidestep the dizzy gunfighter, and the sailor landed a heavy punch to Johnny’s stomach, causing him to spin back toward the rail.
Scott punched the man in the mouth, sending Gibbs flying backwards. Scott watched the man warily as the sailor stood up, but Gibbs’ eyes were focused on something behind Scott. “Remember what I told ya,” the sailor whispered before turning and walking off.
Scott went over to his brother. “You OK?”
Johnny nodded without looking up. His head was still hung over the rail, and Scott felt a deep sympathy for his brother. He had been seasick once, and it certainly wasn’t fun.
Scott turned and watched warily as a small group of men approached. He knew that in Johnny’s condition they were in no shape to even defend themselves. The men studied them for several moments, and then a tough looking character with a full beard took a step forward.
“My name is Mister Gunn. I’m the first mate, and exceptin’ for the captain, my word is law on this ship.” He looked the two men up and down. “I don’t suppose you know anything about sailin’?” he spat.
Scott locked his eyes on the man. He had done a little sailing in a friend’s small schooner, but he wasn’t about to admit it to this lout. “No.”
“Figures,” the man growled. “”Well, just keep your eyes and ears open, work hard and do what you’re told, and you’ll get along OK.”
Johnny was finally able to turn away from the rail. “We have no intention of ‘doing what we’re told.’ If you know what’s good for you, you’ll turn this ship around and take us right back ta where ya found us, and we MIGHT let YOU live.”
Scott closed his eyes for a second when he heard his brother’s words. He should have known there was no way Johnny would accept this gracefully, he just hoped he wouldn’t wind up getting himself killed. Scott saw the Mate’s face darken, and Scott took a step toward his brother. “Easy, Johnny, we aren’t even armed,” he whispered.
Johnny turned and looked at his brother, and Scott was surprised to see the nearest thing to panic he’d ever seen on Johnny’s face.
“It don’t matter, Scott. No way I’m stayin’ on this boat.”
The Mate got in Johnny’s face. “You WILL do what you’re told, and you WON’T cause any trouble, or you’ll feel the taste of the lash, and that’s NOT an idle threat. I don’t allow troublemakers on my ship.”
“Then I guessed ya picked the wrong men ta shanghai!” Johnny shouted.
Scott grabbed Johnny’s arm before things escalated. He was sure the Mate had meant what he’d said, and they were not only unarmed, they were badly outnumbered.
The Mate scowled at Johnny. “Just because you got drunk and made a mistake, you’re not gonna get outta it that easy. Next time, don’t be so careless.”
Johnny managed to take a step forward. “I wouldn’t call getting’ drugged in a fancy restaurant careless.”
Gunn snorted. “Is that your story?”
“It’s the truth.” Scott looked up and saw Gibbs standing behind the First Mate, a furious expression on his face.
Gunn shook his head. “Ya still didn’t have ta sign aboard. It was your mistake.”
“We didn’t sign up! Last thing I remember was bein’ at the doctor’s, then I woke up on this ship!” Johnny turned toward Scott. “How did YOU get here?”
“We fished him outta the bay,” the Mate offered. “He woulda drowned if we hadn’t a picked him up.”
Johnny looked at his brother in disbelief. “What the heck were you doin’swimmin’ in the bay?”
“TRYING to find you,” Scott muttered.
“Wouldn’t usin a boat been a little easier?”
Scott glared at his brother. “Gee, I don’t know. I never thought about it,” Scott replied sarcastically.
Johnny looked at his brother cautiously for another second, and then turned toward the mate. “It don’t matter. Neither one of us signed up for this trip, so just turn this tub around and take us back to San Francisco.”
The Mate turned purple. “In the first place, the PEGASUS is NOT a tub, she’s a brand new ship, and secondly you DID sign up. I have your mark on a piece of paper. It’s not my fault that you were drunk when you signed it.”
“MARK? Mister, first of all, if I wanted ta sign somethin’, I’d sign it. I wouldn’t make a mark. Secondly, I couldn’t GET drunk enough ta sign up for a sea voyage.”
The mate smiled. “OK, then we’ll let you off at our next port.”
Johnny nodded. “Good.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “And just where would that be?”
Gunn shrugged. “Australia.”
Johnny opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Scott was afraid his brother’s next move just might get them into major trouble, so he quickly stepped between Johnny and the First Mate.
“You must be planning on stopping somewhere else,” Scott protested to the sailor.
“Sure, on the way back.”
“You’d better be joking,” Johnny said flatly.
The Mate glared at the gunfighter. “We are not planning on stopping between here and Australia at all.”
“How long until we get there?”
Gunn shrugged. “With any luck, we should reach Sydney in four months.”
Johnny shut his eyes and shook his head. “And another four months to get back, right?”
Gunn smiled wryly. “Actually, from Sydney, we’re going on to China and then Africa, and finally England. Then we’ll reverse the route and come back, but even with no delays it will be at least two years before we make it back to San Francisco.”
Scott put his hand out and held on to his brother, sensing that his brother was getting ready to launch himself at the Mate. “Maybe we can get on another ship once we reach Australia, one that’s going back to the States.”
The Mate shrugged. “That would be up to the Captain. After all, your friend here DID sign up for the whole voyage.”
“I TOLD ya, I didn’t sign up for nothin’,” Johnny raged.
Gunn shrugged. “That’s not what Gibbs says, and I have your mark on the contract.”
Johnny took a step closer to the sailor. “I TOLD Ya…” Scott grabbed his brother’s arm and interrupted. “We’d like to talk to the Captain,” Scott said.
Gunn shook his head. “Sorry, the Captain will be too busy, at least the first day or two, to talk to anyone, and he doesn’t have time to listen to his sailors’ complaints the whole way. That’s my job.”
“We ain’t your sailors, and if ya know what’s good for you, you’d better start listenin’,” Johnny threatened.
Scott shot a glance at his brother and shook his head slightly before turning back toward Gunn. “Look, we are not here because we want to be. My brother was shanghaied, and I certainly didn’t sign up for any voyage. You admitted to picking me up out of the bay. We need to get back to our family, and we’ll make sure we make it worth your while.”
The Mate sighed. “Look, I’m sorry, but there’s no way this ship is going to be turned around. We’re going for a new speed record to Australia, and I’m afraid turning around or stopping at another port would destroy any hopes we have of setting that record.”
“You can set that record a different time,” Scott suggested.
“No, we can’t. There are three buyers interested in this ship at the end of the voyage, and if we don’t make the record, or close to it, the owners will lose money.”
“How much money?” Johnny demanded. “Maybe we can make it up to ‘em.”
Scott smiled slightly at his brother’s obvious desperation.
Gunn shook his head once more. “It goes beyond money. It’s also the builder’s reputation on the line. This ship and this run are extremely important to the owners. I’m afraid you’re going to Australia, and because we need every able bodied sailor to man the ship, you’re going to have to work for your keep.”
“The hell we are,” Johnny spat.
Gunn glared angrily at the young man. “I am TRYING to be patient, but you’re going to have to be reasonable. I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter. At this point, you are part of the crew, and if you don’t work, you’ll be punished severely. We can’t afford to have the crew deciding what they will and will not do and any crew member that defies orders will be whipped or keel hauled or worse. I strongly suggest you make the best of things. Now if you’ll report to Mr. Gibbs, he’ll show you what to do.”
“I believe that Gibbs is the man that shanghaied my brother, and we’d appreciate it if we could work for someone else,” Scott said.
Gunn shook his head. “Sorry, but Mister Gibbs is the Mate in charge of job assignments and also new sailors. If you do what he says and work hard, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble. On the other hand, if you try to slack off or don’t follow orders, you’ll have a VERY rough time. And as for him being the one who allegedly shanghaied you, you’d better not accuse him of anything without proof, or he’ll make your life miserable.”
“And if we DO get proof?” Johnny challenged.
Gunn looked at Johnny for a long time, and then finally answered. “IF you can really prove someone shanghaied you, that sailor would be punished severely, but like I said, you’d better have proof or YOU’LL be the one who will be in trouble. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work.”
Scott watched as the Mate walked away, and then cautiously turned toward his brother, expecting him to be furious. Instead, Scott was surprised to see Johnny looking out over the rail with a very forlorn expression on his face. Scott put his arm on his brother’s shoulder. “Well, it looks like we’re going on a trip.”
Johnny nodded slowly, his attention trained on the unending expanse of ocean. “I’m gonna get that proof, Scott. I’m gonna make him pay for this.”
Scott sighed. “I’ll help you. But until we do, we have to accept our situation as best we can. The Mate wasn’t kidding, Johnny. When I was in Boston, I heard lots of stories about the brutal punishments dished out on ships. We’re going to have to make the best of things, and you’re going to have to keep that famous temper of yours in check. We don’t even have any weapons and we’re badly outnumbered. We don’t have a hope of winning any fight, and all that defying them will do is to get us killed.”
“I ain’t stupid, Scott.”
“I know, but I also know your temper. Like I said, we’ll have to make the best of things until we can get out of this mess.”
Johnny finally turned his attention to his brother. “Easy for you to say. You LIKE the ocean.”
Scott smiled. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I doubt it.” Johnny looked out at the ocean, his color turning green once more, and he headed for the rail as his brother watched in sympathy.
Scott waited until his brother was once more feeling a little better before putting an arm around him and guiding him away from the rail. “Don’t look down, Johnny. Look out at the horizon. It makes the motion a little bit better.”
Johnny swallowed hard and shook his head. “The only things that’s gonna make this better is if we run aground.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Neither is they way I feel. I’ve drunk a whole bottle of tequila and haven’t felt this bad.”
Scott smiled wryly. “It’ll go away. You just have to get used to the motion of the ship.”
Johnny shook his head once more. “It ain’t gonna happen. Scott, there’s no way I can take two years of this. I think I should just throw myself overboard right now and be done with it.”
“That’s not funny, either.”
“I ain’t laughin.’ The problem is, I don’t think I even have the strength ta climb over the rail right now.”
Scott looked up as Mister Gibbs approached with a deep frown on his face. “I told ya to keep your mouths shut,” the Mate growled.
Johnny looked at him defiantly, but a warning glance from his brother silenced him.
Gibbs smiled unpleasantly. “I’m gonna teach you a little about listenin’ to your betters.” He handed Scott a bucket and a couple of brushes. “I expect this deck to shine. Every last inch of it. If you plan on getting any sleep, you’d better get busy, because you’re not getting any until it’s done.”
“My brother’s sick,” Scott protested.
Gibbs smiled. “Then he’d better get better real quick, hadn’t he? Now get busy!” The Mate turned and walked off, chuckling as he went.
Johnny glared at the man’s back, but his stare lacked some of its usual intensity due to his weakened state. He turned his gaze on his brother, and then with a sigh, he grabbed one of the brushes.
Late that evening, they finally finished up, and both men were exhausted. Scott was also starving, but just the mention of food made his brother turn green again. The seasickness was gradually abating, but Johnny was still miserable. Scott thought briefly about getting something to eat, but all Johnny was interested in doing was crawling into bed, and Scott didn’t want to leave him. He knew his brother’s knack for getting into trouble, and he had no intention of giving him the chance. Scott figured he could eat in the morning, and with any luck, Johnny’s stomach would have calmed down by then, too.
The two men entered the cramped crew’s quarters below deck, and Johnny stopped dead. The whole area was smaller than the bath house at Lancer, and several dozen bunks were stacked in rows clear to the ceiling. The bunks themselves were barely as wide as a man’s shoulders and most were not long enough to lie full length on. The dank and stale smell of the salt water mixed with the stench of unwashed bodies made Johnny bolt up the stairs to the fresh air, with Scott following reluctantly behind. With a sigh, Scott watched as his brother once again leaned over the rail.
Scott waited until his brother seemed a little better. “I’m sorry, Johnny.”
Johnny lifted his head from the rails and looked blearily at his brother. “For what?”
“For getting you into this mess.”
Johnny shook his head in disbelief. “Why do you think it was your fault?”
“If I hadn’t insisted on getting some seafood, we never would have been in this fix.”
“If I remember correctly, I’M the one who suggested going back to that restaurant the second night.”
Scott shook his head. “It’s still my fault.”
Johnny grinned. “I shoulda known you were the one who spiked my drink.”
Scott shook his head. “It’s not funny, Johnny.”
“I never said it was. But it also wasn’t your fault. Besides, if you hadn’t tried ta help me, you would be safe on land.”
Scott shook his head. “But…”
“Look, Scott, I ain’t gonna spend the next two years fightin’ you about whose fault it was. It’s gonna be hard enough without us arguin’ the whole time. I promise we can fight about it once we’re home, but first we gotta GET home.”
Scott nodded reluctantly. “It looks like it will be a while.”
Johnny shrugged. “Then I guess we’ll have ta wait ta fight.”
“Why are you taking this so calmly?”
Johnny sighed. “And just what am I supposed to do? You made it pretty clear that fightin’ is out, and I have no intentin of gettin’ myself whipped. I have no idea what bein’ keel hauled is but I’m sure it ain’t much fun, either.”
Scott shook his head. “I just figured you’d be angrier than you are.”
“I AM angry. Just about angrier than I’ve ever been, but I ain’t stupid, either. I aim on getting’ revenge for this, but ta get revenge I have at be alive.”
Scott stared at his brother and nodded. “Just make sure you remember that when things get tough.”
Johnny smiled wryly. “That’s why I brought you along, ta remind me.”
Scott slapped his brother on the shoulder. “Thanks.”
Johnny’s smile faded and he studied his brother. “What were you doin’ in the harbor anyway?”
“I told you, I was trying to find you.”
“I know, but why were you swimmin’?”
Scott sighed. “I realized that there was something wrong with the doctor. When I went back to his office, you and he were both gone. I was standing at the window, trying to figure out where to start to look for you, and I saw a body being hauled into one of the ships. I thought it was you, so I ran down to the docks. I realized that the ship was getting ready to set sail, and there were no boats in sight.”
“So you jumped.”
Scott shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t suppose you let anyone know what was goin’ on before you jumped.”
“I didn’t exactly have time,” Scott ground out.
“Ya shoulda stayed where you were at. At least one of us woulda been safe,” Johnny said angrily.
Scott nodded. “OK. If you swear to me that you wouldn’t have done the same thing, I’ll admit I was wrong.”
Johnny glared at his brother for a moment, and then shook his head with a sigh. “Where the hell is Australia, anyway?”
Scott sighed. “Australia is quite a bit south of China.”
“That tells me hell of a lot,” Johnny grumbled. “Where’s China?”
Scott shrugged. “It’s west of here.”
Scott nodded as Johnny grabbed the rail and tried desperately to keep from being sick again.
“Scott, don’t nod, just talk,” the gunfighter pleaded.
Scott put his hand on his brother’s shoulder in sympathy. “Yes, it’s west, and Australia is southwest of here.”
Johnny brought his head up and squinted at the sun. “Then how come we’re goin’ southeast?”
Scott looked up at the sun for a moment, then shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe they’re trying to catch some current or something.”
Johnny looked at his brother forlornly. “Is it REALLY gonna take us four months ta get there?”
Scott nodded slowly, but as Johnny gave up and turned back toward the rail, Scott’s brow furrowed. He had read an article on clipper ships in the newspaper a year or so ago, and he could have sworn that he had read that the voyage to Australia took considerably less time than that. He couldn’t quite remember the details, however, and he finally shook his head. The mate had to know what he was talking about, and certainly had no reason to lie. Scott shook his head once more; he must have been mistaken, but four months DID seem like an awfully long time.
He looked over at his brother in sympathy. He sure hoped that Johnny’s seasickness abated soon. He was beginning to worry about him; Johnny had been sick since they had been on board. Scott smiled sadly. If he got as seasick as Johnny did, he wouldn’t like the ocean, either.
Scott looked up warily as Mister Gibbs approached. “I see your friend still ain’t feelin’ good,” Gibbs smirked.
Scott stood straighter. “No, he isn’t, but I’m sure he’ll feel better soon.”
“I hope you learned your lesson about talkin’ outta turn.”
Scott glared at the mate. “We have no intention of letting you walk all over us.”
Gibbs snorted. “You better get used to it, ‘cause the two of you are about at the bottom of the pecking order around here.”
Johnny managed to turn around and smile coldly at the mate. “I’m sure that won’t last for long.”
Scott shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. We have no intention of being treated like slaves.”
Gibbs grinned. “Until you prove useful, that’s about all you are. You don’t have any rights unless I tell ya you do.”
Johnny took a step forward, and Scott grabbed his arm. “Johnny, don’t,” he said quietly.
Johnny stopped, but continued staring at the mate. “You might just find out you’ve messed with the wrong people this time,” he said quietly.
Gibbs laughed. “Oh, I’m sure you’re real tough, but I’m tougher, and don’t you forget it.”
Scott once more restrained his brother. “Look,” Scott said. “We did our work today, now just leave us alone.”
Gibbs smiled. “That a threat?”
“Maybe,” Johnny shot.
Scott shook his head as he held his brother’s arm. “No, it’s not a threat, it’s a request. My brother isn’t feeling well, and we’re both very tired, and if you expect us to work for the next four months that it’s going to take us to get to Australia, you’d better make sure we’re ABLE to work.”
The mate’s eyes narrowed. “Four months?” he snorted. “It don’t take four months ta get ta Australia.”
Johnny’s eyes lit up. “Yeah? How long does it take?”
Gibbs shrugged. “Little over a month.”
Scott’s brow furrowed. “That’s not what Gunn said.”
“That’s MISTER Gunn to you.”
“All right, MISTER Gunn,” Scott ground out. “But that’s still not what he said.”
Gibbs shook his head. “You musta been mistaken. Anyway, just make sure you’re up early tomorrow. I wouldn’t want ta have ta get rough. And like I told ya today, keep your mouth shut unless you’re asked a question, understand?” He glared at the two men, then stalked off in the direction of the cabin.
Johnny glared at the man’s retreating back as Scott looked thoughtfully out at the water. “Why do you think the First Mate lied?”
Johnny turned around and shrugged. “How do I know? Good news for us, though. One month is a whole lot less than four.”
Scott nodded distractedly. “Maybe.”
“Maybe what? You don’t think it’s good news? We can be back at Lancer in two months instead of eight.”
Scott sighed and looked at his brother. “Maybe, and maybe it’s Gibbs that’s confused.”
Johnny glared at his brother. “You sure know how ta ruin a good mood.”
Scott shook his head. “How are you feeling?”
Johnny let out a long sigh. “Better, I guess. Things aren’t movin’ around quite as much.”
“Feel like eating anything?”
Johnny shuddered. “No, but I know you do. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.”
Scott was tempted; he was starving, but he had no intention of leaving his brother alone. “No, actually, my stomach isn’t the best, either.”
Johnny smiled. “You’re a lousy liar. Go on, I have no intention of jumpin’ overboard, at least not yet.”
Scott’s eyebrows quirked up. “I don’t want to take the chance of anyone helping you over, or you helping anyone else over.”
Johnny smiled. “It’s nice ta know you have so much faith in me. Go on, go eat. I promise I’ll be here when ya get back.”
Scott hesitated, then figured he could grab a bite and be back in fifteen minutes. With a last look over his shoulder, he headed toward the galley, hoping he could find something to eat at this late hour.
Johnny watched his brother, then turned back toward the rail. His stomach still felt like it was doing flips, but it had calmed down quite a bit, and he no longer felt like his head was spinning around. He looked out at the ocean, and admitted to himself that it was pretty. Looking at the endless water reminded him for some reason of the desert. It took time to get used to the endless sand and learn how to survive in that hostile environment, and Johnny had the feeling the ocean did, too. He just hoped he wouldn’t be on it long enough to find out.
Johnny looked out at the ocean and inhaled the fresh sea breeze. His queasiness was beginning to abate somewhat, and he thought he just might survive, as long as he didn’t have to go back to the crew’s quarters. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to adjust to that. He hated having a lot of people around when he slept, and he hated a closed in feeling, and the cramped sleeping quarters would ensure he didn’t get any sleep.
He looked around, wondering if he could sleep above deck anywhere. The night was cool, but not cold, and he figured with a blanket or two he could handle it better than going below deck. He walked over to some crates covered with a tarp, and saw a pile of spare sails in between the boxes. The crates blocked the wind, making a cozy nest, and Johnny smiled. He had slept in a lot worse, and it would definitely be better than sleeping in the stifling and smelly crew’s quarters. He thought his brother just might agree.
He crawled into his private cave, hoping his stomach wouldn’t start acting up again, then he smiled wryly. If it did, at least he wouldn’t be far from the rail. He looked out the small gap between the crates, knowing he’d better watch out for his brother, because if he Scott didn’t find him when he came back, he was liable to jump overboard to go looking for him.
He saw a pair of legs walk by, and was on the verge of calling out when he realized they didn’t belong to his brother. A second pair of legs came into view, and the two men stopped and started talking.
“All right, what’s going on?” Mr. Gibbs demanded.
“What do you mean?” Gunn’s voice was quiet.
“You know exactly what I mean. Most of these sailors are too stupid to even know which way is up, but I know we’re not headin’ in the right direction.”
After a hesitation, Gunn’s voice started again. “We’re heading south.”
Gibbs snorted. “Yeah, but we’re also headin’ east. Australia’s west. What’s goin’ on?”
A longer hesitation this time, then a soft sigh. “Have any of the men said anything?
“A couple of ‘em, nothing major. I told ‘em we’re trying a different route. They’ve bought it so far, but I still want ta know what’s goin’ on.”
Another sigh. “The owners changed their minds at the last minute. We figured we could wait until it was too late to tell the crew that we’re now trying for a new speed record to New York.”
“NEW YORK!” Gibbs shouted.
“SHH! Keep your voice down. The crew doesn’t have to know yet.”
“They’ll mutiny. No one goes around the horn this time of year!”
“You’re out of your mind,” Gibbs muttered. “I told the men that I signed that we were going to Australia!”
“Maybe, but it’s too late now.”
“So that’s why you couldn’t get enough men ta crew before I signed on.”
“That, and we didn’t have time. We only learned our destination a few days before we sailed. Up until then, we were supposed to be going to Australia, and we weren’t supposed to sail for another two weeks. The owners ordered the change in destination and ordered us to start immediately, because another clipper was going to leave shortly, and the owners wanted us to arrive first. We had already signed some of the men up, and simply didn’t tell them about the change in plans.”
“The men aren’t gonna like it!”
“The men don’t have a choice!” Gunn snarled.
“When are you gonna tell ‘em?”
“I’m going to put it off as long as possible. No sense asking for trouble.”
“And what am I supposed to tell them if they ask?”
“The same thing you have been telling them,” Gunn replied.
“”I guess most of men will buy it, but those two new men might not. They don’t seem exactly stupid.”
“It doesn’t matter. They’ll do as they’re told, just like the others. If they or any of the crew refuse to cooperate, they’ll be charged with mutiny and shot.”
“I still don’t like it,” Gibbs muttered. “I never would have signed up to go around the Cape this time of year.”
“It doesn’t matter what you like,” Gunn snarled. “You signed up just like the rest of them. At least MOST of them,” he said suggestively. “What do you think will happen if I let the captain know how just HOW you got those last two men?”
“You ORDERED me to get men any way I could.”
“Doesn’t mean I wanted you to shanghai them,” Gunn said innocently. “Besides, no one else knows that, and Captain Oliver and I go way back, so you’d better just keep your mouth shut.”
Johnny heard some more footsteps and both men fell silent. A second later, Johnny recognized his brother’s voice.
“Have you seen my brother?”
“No, but he couldn’t have gone far,” Gibbs smirked.
Scott swore softly, and his footsteps disappeared. Johnny wanted to call out, but he knew he would be in big trouble if the two mates found out he’d overheard them. A minute later, the two men walked away, still talking quietly. Johnny waited until he could no longer hear them, then cautiously crawled out if his hiding place and hurried to find his brother. He finally located him on the other side of the ship, and Scott’s relief was evident.
“Where did you go? You promised you’d wait for me there.”
Johnny smiled. “Worried I’d jumped?”
“Do that again, and you won’t have to jump, I’ll push you.”
Johnny looked around, then leaned toward his brother. “I overheard the mates talkin’.”
“Well, good news! We ain’t goin’ ta Australia. We should be home in no time!”
“Where ARE we going?”
Johnny smiled. “New York!”
Scott stared at his brother. “I hate to break the news to you, but I happen to KNOW that takes about four months.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open and he looked at his brother mournfully. “Are you sure?”
Scott nodded. “I looked into it when I was going to come to Lancer, but came cross country instead.”
“Why didn’t you go by sea?”
“Because it was the wrong time of year to go around the Horn.”
“What the hell’s the horn? What horn? Gibbs said the same thing. I didn’t know what he was talkin’ about.”
“Cape Horn. The southernmost tip of South America.”
“What’s so bad about that?”
Scott hesitated, not wanting to tell his brother, but figuring he had a right to know. “This time of the year, there’s a good chance a ship will sink trying to round it. We would have been better off going to Australia.”
Johnny sighed. “That figures. Just my luck.”
Murdoch glanced over at Val and took a deep breath, then pushed open the batwing doors into the small restaurant. He glanced around, his fierce scowl immediately causing many of the occupants to look away. Val followed as Murdoch marched up to the bar. The rancher glared at the bartender.
“Give me a beer.”
The bartender glanced at Val. The lawman nodded. “The same.”
The bartender slammed the two mugs down on the bar, and Murdoch placed a twenty dollar bill on the bar. “Keep the change.”
The bartender swept up the money without missing a beat. “What do you want to know?”
Val smiled into his beer. The man was no dummy.
Murdoch stared at the bartender. “I’m looking for two men.”
“Yeah? What two?”
“A blond about twenty five and a dark haired man a few years younger. They probably came in about two weeks ago.”
The bartender shrugged. “Take a look around and take your pick.”
“These two would have come in together, and they weren’t sailors,” Val offered.
The bartender shook his head. “Still doesn’t ring a bell.”
“The dark haired man wore his gun low.”
“Nope, don’t remember anybody like that.”
Murdoch looked around in frustration and then raised his voice. “I’m looking for two cowboys that came in here about two weeks ago. Both of them in their twenties, one blond, one dark haired. I’ll give fifty dollars to anyone who can give me any information about them.” He dug in his wallet, and Val immediately grabbed his arm.
“Not here, Murdoch,” Val whispered urgently.
Murdoch shrugged away from his friend and held up a fifty dollar bill. Several of the men looked at the money with interest, but no one made a move. “We’re staying at the Lexington if anyone remembers anything later.”
Val took his friend’s arm and pulled him toward the door. Once outside, Val angrily turned on Murdoch. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Trying to get us killed?”
“I’m TRYING to find my sons!”
“Yeah? Well if you’re not careful we’ll be findin’ ‘em all right, we’ll end up right alongside ‘em.”
“GOOD!” Murdoch roared.
Val shook his head. “Murdoch, we have ta find ‘em, but we can’t help ‘em if we get shanghaied or killed. We have ta be careful.”
“I don’t have TIME to be careful! If we don’t find them soon, I’m afraid we never will.”
The sheriff heard the fear in the rancher’s voice and he knew that Murdoch was on the verge of panic. He put his hand on his friend’s arm. “We’ll find ‘em, Murdoch.”
“I’m just so worried. I don’t want to lose them again.”
Val nodded. “I know. But they’ll be OK. They’re together.”
Murdoch looked at his friend, the pain showing in his eyes. “I know, and that’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now.”
Val looked around cautiously. “All right, let’s go back to the hotel, and keep your eyes open. I don’t trust that bunch one little bit.”
Murdoch nodded morosely. “I guess that wasn’t the brightest thing I ever did.”
Val smiled. “No, but it sure proves you’re related ta Johnny.”
Murdoch snorted, but couldn’t keep a small smile from forming. “Remember to remind me of that next time I yell at him for acting before he thinks.”
Murdoch sighed deeply. “I WILL find them, Val.”
Val nodded. “Yes, we will. Now let’s get back to the hotel before one of that bunch gets greedy.”
The two men had only gone a short way when they heard footsteps behind them. They stopped and waited, both men with their hands on the butts of their guns. Finally, a figure in a uniform appeared out of the fog.
“Gentlemen,” the policeman greeted them.
Murdoch relaxed, although Val’s hand remained on his Colt.
“I heard you were looking for two men.”
Murdoch nodded eagerly. “Yes. Did you see them?”
“I believe I did. Two men came down here about two weeks ago. They matched the description you gave, and they said they were staying at the Lexington.” The policeman smiled. “The dark haired young man definitely didn’t think much of seafood.”
Murdoch nodded eagerly. “That had to be them.”
“Why are you looking for them?”
“They’re my sons. They disappeared,” Murdoch explained.
“What are your names?
“I’m Murdoch Lancer, and this is Sheriff Val Crawford.”
The policeman looked at Val appraisingly, “Sheriff?”
Val nodded. “I thought I could help find my friends.”
The policeman shook his head. “We warned them to be careful; there have been a lot of disappearances lately.”
“Can you give us any idea of where to look?” Val asked.
“The only places they mentioned were the Lexington and the Blue Crab.”
“The Blue Crab?” Val asked.
The policeman nodded. “It’s one of the best restaurants in the city. About a block from your hotel.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Did they mention ANYTHING that might help us find them?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Murdoch’s head dropped and Val knew his friend was about at the end of his rope. He doubted if Murdoch had gotten more than a few hours of sleep in the last week, and the sheriff knew that Murdoch’s judgment was starting to be affected. Val took the rancher’s arm once more. “Come on, let’s go back. We can go out and look again tomorrow.”
“NO! WE can at least check out that restaurant tonight!”
“Murdoch, we have to rest. One day won’t make any difference.”
The policeman caught Val’s eye and shook his head slightly. “How long have they been missing?” he asked gently.
Val shrugged. “We’re not sure, but they were due home about two weeks ago.”
“And where’s home?”
The policeman shook his head once more. “Mr. Lancer, go back to the hotel and rest. Whatever happened to them happened quite a while ago. If they WERE shanghaied, they and the ship are long gone.”
“Then we’ll FIND the SHIP!”
The policeman shook his head sadly. “Where? Ships leave here for all over the world. Most of them never return.”
Murdoch looked at the policeman until comprehension finally dawned, and Val caught him just as he collapsed.
Scott watched as Johnny climbed up to the top of one of the masts and undid a snarl in one of the lines. It was dangerous work, and a sudden gust could easily topple a man back onto the deck. Not many men were willing to do it, but Johnny was trying to prove himself, and as usual, he hadn’t thought about his safety before he volunteered. Scott gasped involuntarily as a particularly strong wave hit the ship, causing the mast to sway precariously. Johnny quickly grabbed onto a rope and waited for the worst of the movement to stop before trying once more to reach the snarled line.
They had been aboard the Pegasus for exactly one month, and it seemed like a year.
The first few days had been extremely hard, especially for Johnny. Everything was unfamiliar, and Johnny felt extremely vulnerable without his gun. Johnny wasn’t used to being the one who didn’t know anything, and Scott knew that his brother’s ego had taken a pretty good beating.
Everything was strange to the gunfighter. Scott had tried to help him adjust, but things were only a little less strange to Scott. The one bright spot for Johnny was that so far they hadn’t had to eat any seafood. The journey was young enough that there was still plenty of fresh meat and fruit available at mealtime. Scott knew that wouldn’t last, but he had no intention of enlightening his brother about that.
Scott cringed once more as a gust of wind snapped a nearby sail and sent it whipping into his brother. Johnny deftly grabbed the cloth and used it to steady himself and then went after the line once more. Scott glanced over to where the First Mate was standing and watching. Since Johnny had told him about the conversation between the two mates, Scott didn’t trust any of them, but they had been treated fairly, at least so far. He and Johnny had finally been allowed to meet the captain, under the watchful eye of Mister Gibbs. The Captain had been sympathetic, but he had adamantly refused to turn around to take them back. The Captain had also told them that they had to work, as the loss of two hands would be an extreme hardship on the whole crew. Scott has asked the man about their destination and the length of the voyage, but Captain Oliver had immediately changed the subject and Scott knew better than to push, especially with Gibbs glowering at him and fingering his knife.
Scott and Johnny had finally resigned themselves to be sailors, at least until they could find a ship to take them home. Captain Oliver had assured them that they could probably find a ship bound for San Francisco once they reached their destination. Scott chuckled. He knew Johnny would rather walk than set foot on another ship. Unfortunately, Scott and Johnny had agreed that the Captain might have other plans, and New York might not really be their destination, either. If they DID have to sail home, Scott figured they would probably have to work for their passage and knew they’d have a better chance of getting hired if they at least knew a little about sailing.
After an initial period of mistrust, he and Johnny had gotten along fairly well with most of the crew. The only one who was openly hostile was Mr. Gibbs, who took every opportunity to warn them against causing trouble. Scott was surprised that his brother hadn’t decked the man yet. He figured it was just a matter of time, because he knew that Johnny could only hold his temper for so long before something exploded, and Scott occasionally saw Johnny Madrid watching the Mate with a contemplative look.
Scott looked up and shaded his eyes as Johnny finally reached the line and yanked the knot free. A moment later, Johnny was shinnying down the mast to drop the last few feet and land next to his brother. Scott just shook his head. “Please don’t volunteer for that again, at least when I’m watching.”
Johnny smiled and shrugged. “Wasn’t that hard, Scott. Sort of like ridin’ a bronc.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, but a horse is only a few feet above the ground, and even you occasionally get bucked off.”
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah, but here I can land in nice soft water instead of a hard corral.”
Scott snorted. “I hate to break the news to you, but from that high up, the water would definitely NOT be soft.”
Johnny looked at him suspiciously. “No?”
Johnny shrugged again. “It’s still better’n helping the cook.”
Scott smiled wryly. The first few days Johnny had been too sea sick to do much of anything, and had been assigned to help the cook. Scott thought his brother’s spectacular improvement after that had been due to the fact that Johnny hated to do dishes. As the new men, they were still assigned the worst jobs, but as their skill improved, so did the jobs. Lately, even Gibbs hadn’t gone too far out of his way to make their life miserable, but Scott figured the man was just biding his time.
At the moment there wasn’t anything to do, so the two brothers went to the bow and sat on a rolled sail and looked out over the waves. Scott was surprised at how much Johnny enjoyed watching the water. When he was off duty, Johnny would stay there for hours, just looking ahead of the ship, the wind in his face.
Scott shook his head. “I didn’t think you liked the ocean.”
Johnny shrugged. “I like watchin’ it.” He grinned slightly. “Feelin’ the wind in my face reminds me of ridin’ Barranca at full speed.”
Scott smiled sadly. He should have known his brother’s mind was far away. He put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “We’ll get back there.”
Johnny nodded. “I know.” He dropped his head. “Do ya think Murdoch figured out what happened?”
Scott nodded slowly. “Our father’s not dumb. I think he’ll have a pretty good idea.”
Johnny nodded. “I bet he’s worried.”
“I’m sure he is.”
“I hope everybody’s ok,” Johnny said softly.
Scott sighed and gripped his brother’s arm tighter. “They are, and you’ll be able to see for yourself soon.”
Johnny nodded. “I miss them.”
Scott decided he needed to change his brother’s mood. He smiled. “Remember that when Murdoch chews your tail for buying those horses.”
Johnny slanted a look at Scott. “You mean the horses that YOU made me buy?”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Yes, those horses.”
Johnny smiled. “Don’t worry, I will.”
Murdoch sat at his desk and looked out at the yard. He supposed he should go out and supervise the branding and culling of the calves, but he really didn’t care. The last month he had spent every waking moment trying to figure out a way to find his boys. He knew they were alive, the problem was, he didn’t have a clue where they were, and that about killed him. For all he knew they could be hurt and stranded somewhere, with no way to get home or contact him.
He and Val had spent two weeks in San Francisco tracking every lead and haunting every place the boys could have gone. Except for the policeman, no one had seen anyone answering their descriptions. It was like they had never been there. Murdoch knew that SOMEONE had seen them and either wasn’t talking or had simply forgotten, and he had passed out fifty dollar bills like candy, but he hadn’t received one solid lead. Every single one had led to a dead end.
He had bribed the harbor master over two hundred dollars to look at the harbor records. Val and Murdoch had pored over them for almost a whole day, noting every single ship that had left during the whole time the boys had been missing. Murdoch still had the list, and he looked at it for the hundredth, no the thousandth time. He knew without a doubt that his sons were on one of those ships.
The paper listed exactly one hundred and fifty three ships that had left in that time. He and Val had decided to rule out the ones that were headed to New York, even though there was a slight possibility the boys were on one of those. Murdoch prayed they were, but he doubted it would be that easy. Of the others, twenty eight were headed for England, fourteen were going to other European ports, seventeen were sailing to the orient, fourteen were going to Africa, ten to Australia, and the remaining were headed to various other ports or islands.
There was no way Murdoch could go to all of those places. All he could do was to wait and pray that his boys would get a chance to escape. He had gone to the bank and explained the situation to old Mr. Cory, the manager. He had made sure that the man had understood that if the bank received a request for a money transfer from Scott or Johnny from anywhere in the world, he was to honor it. He didn’t want his boys stranded and unable to get money to come home.
He shook his head slowly. He would do anything; give up anything, to get his boys home. He cursed himself for the words he had told his boys that first day. He knew without a doubt they weren’t true. He would give up this whole ranch and spend the rest of his life living in a hovel if he could just have his sons returned to him.
He was trying to be optimistic, but the truth was, the chances were he would never see his boys again. While he and Val had been in San Francisco, they had spoken at length with the policemen, and Murdoch had learned that only a very small percentage of men ever returned home after being shanghaied. And of the ones that DID return, the average time they were away was around five years.
Murdoch shut his eyes and tried to shut out the reality. There was a chance that Scott would make it through; his elder son was used to harsh discipline and the structure of the military, which would stand him in good stead on a sailing vessel. He also knew how to hold his temper.
Johnny, on the other hand… Murdoch shivered. He knew how much Johnny hated the ocean and ships in particular. Murdoch also knew that his young son’s temper would probably be his undoing. Johnny wouldn’t take kindly to anyone barking orders to him, and Murdoch knew from experience that his son wouldn’t obey ANYONE without question. Murdoch was afraid that Johnny would get himself into trouble, and if that happened, he knew Scott would back his brother up. The chances were they would both be killed. He dropped his head and said a quick prayer.
Murdoch looked up as Teresa entered the room, a cup of coffee in her hand. He smiled at her as she handed the cup to him and sat down on the edge of the desk.
“Your supper is still on the stove.”
Murdoch nodded slowly. “Thanks, sweetheart, but I’m not hungry. I’ll grab something later.”
“Murdoch, you know Sam said you were getting too thin. You have to eat.”
Murdoch took a deep breath and looked back out of the window. “I’m just not hungry, I don’t know why.”
“Yes you do,” she said softly.
Murdoch dropped his head and nodded and then she took his hand in hers. Teresa looked at him earnestly. “They’ll come home, I know it.”
Murdoch looked at her for a long moment, and then nodded. “I know it too. It’s just so hard waiting, not knowing where they are or if they’re OK.”
Teresa smiled. “You know how they take care of each other. They’ll be fine.”
“I hope so, darling. I hope so.”
“Are you and Val still going back to San Francisco next week?”
Murdoch nodded. “We both agreed to keep trying. If we can figure out how they were taken, or by whom, we might be able to find out where they went.”
She looked at him worriedly. “You be careful. I don’t want to lose you, too.”
Murdoch smiled. “Don’t worry, Val won’t let me be careless. Besides, nobody wants an old man to work their ship.”
“You’re not an old man!” she said indignantly.
Murdoch smiled sadly. “I’ve never felt so old. If I can’t find those boys…” he let the sentence trail off and he turned back toward the window, staring out at the yard once more.
Teresa watched him sadly. If Johnny and Scott didn’t come home, she had the feeling she was going to lose Murdoch, too. He was right; he had aged ten years in the last few months.
“How’s your steak?” When he didn’t get an answer, Val looked up and saw the rancher studying the men at a nearby table. Val looked over and saw the two men were about the same age as Johnny and Scott, and the sheriff smiled sadly. His friend’s mind was miles away.
The rancher’s head finally swung toward the sheriff. “Val, what were you saying?”
“I just asked you if you liked your steak.”
Murdoch looked down at the untouched piece of meat. He stared at it for a moment, then pushed the plate away. “I don’t know, Val. I’m not very hungry.”
The sheriff shrugged. “You’re missin’ a good meal.”
Murdoch shook his head. “We’ve been tracking down every lead and every clue. It’s like they just vanished into thin air.”
Val shook his head. “We’ll figure it out. Somebody had to have seen something, somebody KNOWS something. We just have ta keep digging.”
Murdoch nodded. “I thought we would find out something here. The boys ate here at least twice. In fact, this was the last place they were seen. Maybe the restaurant had something to do with it.”
“I think the other place looked a lot more promising.”
“Yes, it did. But the police have been staking it out since before the boys disappeared. Besides, the boys might be a little careless, but they aren’t stupid. I doubt if they would go down to the waterfront, but even if they did go down by the docks, you can bet that Johnny would be ready for just about anything. The boys would be on guard down there. No one could take them by surprise.” Murdoch looked around the posh restaurant and shook his head. “But here….This would be the last place anyone would be on their guard.”
Val looked around and slowly nodded. “You’re right, but it sure doesn’t look dangerous. Do you really think something happened to the boys here?”
Murdoch sighed. “I don’t know. I just know that it would have to be something unusual for anyone to get the best of Scott and Johnny if they were together.”
“Well, with all those policemen around, I don’t think they were simply overpowered. A fight would draw too much attention. They had to have been taken by surprise.”
“But HOW?” Murdoch asked. “What happened?”
Val shook his head. “I don’t know, but we’re going to find out.” He looked down at his steak and pushed it away. “It’s late. Maybe we should head back to the hotel.”
Murdoch shook his head in frustration. “Not yet. I want to stay here for a little while longer. See if we can see anything strange.”
Val smiled. “Then ya better eat, or they’ll kick us out.”
With as sigh, Murdoch pulled his plate back toward him and took a small bite.
Val leaned back in his chair and glanced back over at the two young men at the table next to them. They were talking quietly and the sheriff noticed that one of them had stopped eating. He watched for a moment, then turned his attention back to his own food.
A half of an hour later, the two young men stood up and made their way to the door. Val watched them as they left and was just turning back to the table when he saw one of the men stumble and his friend grab his arm. Val smiled; evidently they’d had a little too much to drink.
“You’re right, Val, the food is good here.” With a sigh, Murdoch looked around. “I guess nothing’s going to happen. Let’s go.” He stood up, but Val remained seated, staring at the empty table where the two men had been sitting.
“Murdoch, how much did those two guys next ta us have ta drink?”
“I have no idea, why?”
“Cause I only remember ‘em gettin’ one bottle.”
“There’s over half a bottle left, and one of ‘em’s actin’ awful drunk.”
Murdoch shrugged. “Maybe they’d had too much before they got here.”
Val shook his head. “I don’t think so. They sure didn’t act like it.” Val turned and looked at Murdoch. “Somethin’ else is wrong.”
Murdoch stared at the sheriff for a moment, then threw some money on the table. “Let’s go.”
The two men hurried out of the restaurant and looked around for the two young men. After a moment, they saw them walking toward the hotel, one man obviously helping the other man. Murdoch and Val hurried toward the two men. When they had almost reached them, the two young men swung around to face their attackers and Val and Murdoch stopped and raised their hands.
“We don’t mean ya no harm,” Val said.
“What do you want?”
Murdoch took a step forward. “What’s wrong with your friend?”
“None of your business.”
Murdoch shook his head. “My sons disappeared over six weeks ago. The Blue Crab was one of the last places they were seen.”
The first man stared at Murdoch for several minutes. “My friend ate something that didn’t agree with him. He’s sick.”
Murdoch looked around and saw a light on in a nearby building. “There’s a doctor’s office. We can take him there.”
A half of an hour later, the three men left the doctor’s office. The young man nodded. “Thanks for your help, and I hope you find your sons. I’m going to go back to the hotel and I’ll check on Pete in the morning.”
As the young man walked off, Murdoch sighed. “I guess that was a dead end. He really had eaten something bad.”
“Maybe,” Val observed.
The rancher looked quizzically at his friend. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything.” Val shook his head. “I’ve seen Sam examine people a bunch of times. This guy didn’t even take the patient’s pulse. He knew what it was right away. How?” Val looked around. “And another thing, did ya notice there’s no law around? All of the policemen have disappeared.”
Murdoch looked at the lawman thoughtfully. “Feel like staying up tonight?”
Val nodded. “It sounds like a plan ta me.”
Murdoch nodded. “Maybe we’ll get lucky for a change.”
Johnny stood at the bow next to his brother, the wind whipping around them. “What do ya think?” Johnny asked quietly.
Scott shook his head. “I don’t know. Mutiny is punishable by death.”
Johnny snorted. “From what I hear, so is goin’ around the Horn.”
Scott grimaced. He knew his brother was more sympathetic to the crew, and was leaning toward siding with them. Because of his military training, Scott was more comfortable siding with authority. They’d have to figure out which side they were on soon, though. “Johnny, if we join the crew in the mutiny, in the eyes of the law, we’ll be guilty for everything they do. Not only will they commandeer the ship, they’ll almost certainly kill the officers. Someone will eventually talk, and even if we had nothing to do with it, we’ll be wanted for murder. Besides, they won’t be able to dock anywhere in the States. Lord only knows where we’ll wind up.”
Johnny turned toward his brother. “But if we side with the officers, we’ll get killed along with ‘em, or we’ll die goin’ around the Horn.”
Scott nodded. It didn’t look good no matter what they did. “I just don’t know if I can go along with cold blooded murder, even if I think what the Captain did was wrong.”
Johnny dropped his head. “Yeah, I guess. But it was still a dirty trick.”
“The thing is, I don’t think it was really him as much as it was the owners. The Captain seems like a decent enough guy,” Scott said.
Johnny shrugged. “Maybe.” He grinned. “But I can’t kill the owners.” After a moment, his face darkened. “Another thing is that I HATE the thought of bein’ on the same side as Gibbs. I’d just love ta be able ta take that worm down.”
Scott nodded. “You and me both, but for now, we’ll have to concentrate on staying alive.” He watched as his brother nodded reluctantly. He had to admit, he never would have thought that Johnny would be able to hold his temper for as long as he had. The fact that Gibbs and Johnny were both still alive spoke volumes for Johnny’s effort to maintain his self control.
Johnny sighed. “Well, we’d better make up our minds soon, because I have the feelin’ things are going to explode any time now.”
“Agreed.” Scott turned and looked out at the water. It had been getting progressively rougher and the winds had been picking up for the last several days. They were nearing the Horn, and the crew’s grumblings had been getting louder in proportion to the rising sea.
The Captain had finally broken the news to the crew a week ago, and for several minutes after the pronouncement it had looked as if there would be a mutiny on the spot. With plenty of threats from the officers, the crew had gradually dispersed, but the complaints hadn’t stopped. Since then, Scott and Johnny had heard the whisper of mutiny everywhere.
Scott glanced at his brother and smiled slightly. Johnny had finally overcome his seasickness and actually seemed to enjoy the roughening seas. His brother was hanging over the rail, watching a pair of dolphins as they played in the bow wake, and even the cold spray didn’t seem to bother him. Johnny looked up and closed his eyes, letting the wind ruffle his hair, and Scott knew his brother was back on the ranch, on the back of his beloved horse.
They had slept on deck since they had started the voyage, and so far it hadn’t been too bad. The crates and the extra sails blocked the wind and did a passable job of keeping the cold out, but it was getting progressively colder and the seas rougher. Scott was afraid that before too long they would be forced to retreat to the crew’s quarters. Scott wasn’t looking forward to that, and he was afraid Johnny would choose to stay on deck, even if it meant freezing to death.
After a moment, Johnny opened his eyes and turned back toward his brother. “I never thought I’d say this, but this is the one part of bein’ on the ocean that I could get used to.” He looked back over the ocean. “I don’t think I’d ever get tired of watchin’ the waves and feelin’ the wind.”
“Well, if we do go around the Horn, I think you’ll get your fill of both.”
“So what are we gonna do?”
Scott shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t think I could go along with murder.”
Johnny nodded reluctantly. “I sure wish I had my gun.”
Scott smiled wryly. “You and me both. I don’t feel very comfortable being totally unarmed.”
“Well, not totally,” Johnny grinned as he pulled out a large knife from his boot.
“Where did you get that?” Scott asked in surprise.
“A poker game.”
“Where was I?”
“If I remember correctly, you were sleepin’.”
“Is that where you went last night?”
Johnny nodded. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“And what did you use to get into this game?” The two men had talked about joining in one of the many card games that were prevalent on the ship, but neither of the men had anything to bet with.
Johnny shrugged. “I bet we would take care of a couple of the other men’s chores for a day.”
Scott snorted. “Well for YOUR sake, I’m glad you won. I would have hated to have watched while you handled those chores by yourself.”
“Come on, Scott. You know you would’ve helped me.”
“You, little brother, are sadly mistaken.”
Johnny grinned. “I doubt it.”
Scott shook his head, knowing his brother was right. “Well, how about trying to win your gun back?”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “None of the crew have any guns, at least that I know of.”
“No, they don’t. But I saw a gun cabinet in the officer’s quarters, and since Gibbs is in charge of it, I’d be willing to bet your gun is in it.” Scott shrugged. “Even if they’re not, I figure any gun would be better than none.”
Johnny thought for a few seconds, and then a slow smile appeared. “I wonder if the officers would be interested in a game of five card stud.”
Johnny and Scott crouched under the tarp and tried to keep it from blowing away. The wind was picking up by the minute, and they were trying desperately to keep warm. Scott shook his head and looked at his brother, but was met with a stubborn shake of Johnny’s head. Johnny was refusing to go inside, but Scott was afraid if they stayed out here for much longer, there was a real chance they would be washed overboard. Both of them were exhausted and chilled to the bone, and Scott knew they had to get inside and warm up. They had just been relieved by another shift after fighting the wind whipped sails for almost ten hours straight, and if the sea became much worse, they’d be working again soon.
Scott grabbed an edge of the tarp that had been torn out of Johnny’s hand and hung on.
“Come on, Johnny. We can’t stay out here much longer, and you know it.”
Johnny shook his head stubbornly. “You go on in if ya want.”
“I’m not going to leave you out here.”
Johnny reached down and patted the side of his hip. “I’ll be just fine,” he grinned.
Scott shook his head. “Your gun won’t stop you from being washed overboard or catching pneumonia.”
Johnny shrugged. “I ain’t goin’ down in that rat hole. If you wanna go, that’s your business. I’m just fine right here.”
Scott snorted. “Sure you are. That’s why your hands are so numb you can’t even hold the edge of the tarp.”
Johnny looked at his brother and sighed. “I hate it down there, Scott.”
Scott reached out and grabbed his brother’s arm. “I know, but with any luck we’ll fall asleep and you won’t even know where you are.”
Johnny resisted the pressure on his arm for a moment, and then with a sigh, he stood up. “All right, just for tonight.” He let go of the rest of the tarp he had been holding, and the wind caught it and snapped it against the crates. Johnny looked out at the seas and whistled. “Boy, they weren’t kidding when they said it was rough goin’ around the Horn.”
Scott shook his head. They were still quite a ways from the tip, and he knew they were in for weather that made this look calm, but he decided not to say anything. He had the feeling they wouldn’t be sleeping outside for quite a while, though.
The two men made their way to the crew’s quarters, hanging on to whatever they could to keep their balance. The boat was bucking like a bronc, and loose articles were slamming around dangerously. Scott grabbed a rail and started down the narrow steps to the area below decks, and he sighed in relief as the wind was cut off suddenly. It was still damp and cold, but the wind was no longer cutting through him like a knife. He thought briefly of a nice hot tub of water, and then shook his head. No sense torturing himself.
Johnny was one step behind him as they entered the crew’s quarters, but both men stopped in surprise as they stepped into the small room. They had obviously interrupted a meeting, and from the looks on the crew members’ faces, it was an unwelcome interruption. More surprising still, Mister Gibbs was in the center of the group of men. He glowered at them for a moment, then spoke.
“We’re havin’ a private meetin’. You’d best be on your way.”
“It’s cold outside, and we just came down here to sleep.”
“Why now? You never have before.”
“Because,” Scott said through clenched teeth, “it’s never been so cold up there before, and the wind is getting worse.”
One of the men slammed his fist down on the table and turned towards Gibbs. “I told ya we waited too long. We’re too close to the Horn. We shoulda taken over a week ago.”
Gibbs shot a warning glance at Scott and Johnny, and then shook his head. “It’s not too late. We can turn the ship around, but first we have to get control.”
“You plannin’ a mutiny?” Johnny asked calmly.
“Maybe, the first man said cautiously. “You in?”
Johnny looked at Gibbs, who was glaring at them expectantly, and the gunfighter shrugged. “What have ya got in mind?”
“We’re gonna dump the officers overboard, then take over the ship,” one of the crew explained eagerly. “There’s no way we’re going around the Horn.”
“You gonna dump Gibbs here overboard, too?” Johnny asked with a smirk.
“No, it was his idea!”
Johnny and Scott turned and looked at the mate, who was still glaring at them. “Is that a fact,” Johnny said.
“Yes, it is!” Gibbs growled. “I shoulda been made first mate on this voyage.”
“So now you’re going to make sure you’re captain.”
“What’s it to you?”
Johnny shrugged. “Nothin. But it seems like maybe goin’ around the Horn has nothin’ ta do with why you want to take over.”
Scott nodded and turned toward the men. “You really want to follow someone like this? Someone who’s willing to murder innocent people to get ahead? He’s out for himself.” Scott turned toward the furious mate. “And where do you plan on going after you take over the ship? Did you explain to them that they can never go home when it’s all over?”
“We’ll manage,” the mate replied.
“Where will you get supplies? The word will get out, and you won’t be able to dock anywhere. If you do, you’ll be hanged for murder.”
“Then we’ll have ta take what we want from other ships!”
“You mean you’ll become pirates?” Scott asked.
The crewmen looked back and forth uneasily. “You never said nothin’ about becoming pirates,” one of the men said.
“It doesn’t matter!” Gibbs growled.
”Of course it doesn’t,” Johnny smirked. “As long as ya don’t care you’ll be hunted for the rest of your lives. Of course, it’s worth it so you can have a ship and a crew ta boss around. I have the feelin’ you’d be a pretty mean captain.”
“You stay out of this! It’s none of your business!”
One of the men shook his head. “Lancer here has a point. I ain’t willin’ ta be a pirate. Besides, I have family in the States. I guess I’ll take my chances with the Horn.”
One by one the other men nodded their heads, as Gibbs tried unsuccessfully to undo the damage Johnny and Scott had done. Finally, he gave up and glared malevolently at the two men. “You never should have crossed me,” he snarled. “I’ll get even, see if I don’t.”
Chapter Twenty One
Johnny didn’t think Gibbs was stupid enough or brave enough to try anything when he and Scott were together, but he still kept his gun in his hand as he slept. He was glad he had been able to win his own gun back in a poker game, and he had even won one for Scott, but he still knew they’d have to be careful. Gibbs had meant it when he had sworn revenge, and Johnny knew the mate would try something sooner or later. At least for now it didn’t look like the crew would be joining him on a mutiny, although Johnny also knew that could change. The men were angry at the deception that had taken place, and they were scared. A bad and very volatile combination.
Johnny sighed. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about with the weather, now they had to watch their backs all the time. Maybe they should have just kept out of it, but in his heart he knew Scott was right. He couldn’t go along with cold blooded murder. And now that he knew Gibbs was behind the mutiny, it made their decision to side with the officers the only smart one. Johnny didn’t trust Gibbs, and he knew he could never side with the man.
Johnny snuggled in deeper under the covers and listened to the waves as they hit the hull. He had become used to the unceasing movement of the ship, and it no longer bothered him. In fact, he had almost come to like it. The ocean was so wild and untamed, and he loved to watch the powerful waves and the strong winds. He wondered if Scott was right and he’d no longer feel that way once they had reached the Horn. He couldn’t imagine the weather getting much worse than it already was, but he knew his brother was seldom mistaken. At last Johnny drifted off, the movement of the ship lulling him into a peaceful sleep.
He hit the floor with a grunt, and rolled against the far wall. As he came awake, he didn’t know at first where he was or what was happening. His first thought was that Gibbs was attacking him, but he realized a moment later that it hadn’t been a man that had dumped him so unceremoniously onto the floor. He tried to sit up, but the wildly rolling ship wouldn’t let him. A second later, his brother smashed into him and sent him rolling once more. Johnny grabbed one of the tables as he rolled by, grateful it was strapped down. He watched as Scott latched onto one of the bunks, and the two men stared at each other, their eyes wide.
Scott finally managed to lurch to his feet and made his way drunkenly over to his brother. Johnny wedged one of his feet against the table and the other against the wall, and pulled himself up. He grabbed his brother as Scott once more careened into him, and the two men danced wildly before managing to get their balance.
“What’s going on?” Johnny shouted. “Are we sinking?”
Scott shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think we’ve probably hit a storm.”
“I THOUGHT we were in a storm this evening before we turned in,” Johnny growled.
Scott smiled ruefully. “Afraid not, little brother. THIS is a storm.”
“Obviously,” Johnny grumbled.
Scott fought to put on his outerware and boots, then lurched toward the hatch. “Maybe we should go out and see what’s going on. They might need help.”
“Go out? In THIS?” Johnny cried in disbelief.
Scott shrugged. “Would you really rather stay down here?” He turned and climbed awkwardly up the steep stairs.
After a moment, Johnny shook his head resignedly and shrugged into his oilskins, then followed his brother. When he reached the top, the wind hit him with a force that almost pried his hands loose from their grip. He gasped as the knife –like wind tore through his clothes and the wind -whipped spray stung his face and hands. He stood for a moment, trying to catch his breath, then lurched onto the deck and grabbed wildly for a handhold as a wave crashed over the rail and drenched him.
He looked around for Scott, and saw his brother trying to struggle to his feet a few yards away. Johnny fought his way over to his brother and grabbed him with one hand while he hung onto the rail with the other. Scott finally fought his way upright.
Johnny nodded. “Are you still sure we should be up here?”
“No, but the captain just called for all hands on deck.”
“Figures,” Johnny snorted. Another wave, larger than the first, came looming out of the darkness, and the two men grabbed onto the rail with both hands and hung on for dear life. They tried to shout a warning to another sailor, who was just coming out of the cabin, but the wind grabbed their words and stuffed them back in their throats. Johnny and Scott watched in horror as the wave caught the man and slammed him back down into the hold.
Johnny ducked as another wave came crashing down on top of them, almost tearing them loose from the rail. Johnny spluttered as the water drenched his mouth and nose, and he fought to breathe. He turned away and pulled on Scott’s arm. “We’ve got ta get away from the rail, or we’ll be goin’ swimmin’.”
The two men fought their way over to one of the cabins, and stood next to it, grateful for the small bit of shelter it offered. The fought to keep their grip on the building as the ship rocked and bounced wildly. They heard the first mate’s shouted orders to bring in the sails, and watched as some of the sailors scrambled to obey. It was obvious more hands were needed, and after looking at each other for a moment, Scott and Johnny made their way to the scene of the battle.
Chapter Twenty Two
Johnny slept fitfully, his legs jammed on either side of the bed in a vain attempt to keep him from rolling out and landing on the floor. The ship creaked and moaned in protest at being tossed about by the angry sea and the waves pounded into the side, causing the ship to shudder violently. Every few seconds the ship rode to the top of a wave, giving those on board a feeling of weightlessness, but the next second the ship would crash to the bottom of the trough with an impact that could jar teeth loose.
The storm had been raging for six days now, and all of the men were exhausted. Johnny and Scott had long ago stopped being afraid; their fate was in God’s hands and there was nothing they could do if the vessel sank. The men had, of necessity, pulled together to try and get through this, and there was no more talk of mutiny, although both Scott and Johnny gave Gibbs a wide berth.
Johnny tossed and turned, listening to the sea batter the ship, and wondered how much longer the storm could last. They were woefully under manned; four men had been swept overboard, and five had been injured badly enough to put them out of commission. That meant double shifts for everyone, and the men’s judgment and coordination were suffering, causing more accidents.
Johnny tried to drift off to sleep, but it was almost impossible. As soon as he drifted off and his body relaxed, the ship had a nasty habit of dumping him onto the floor. Both he and Scott had taken several bad falls, both below decks and above, but although they were bruised, so far they had been lucky and hadn’t suffered any broken bones.
Scott watched where his brother lay, wondering if Johnny was more successful than he was at sleeping. He was bone tired, and cold to boot. He didn’t think he’d ever warm up again. He smiled wryly as he remembered his wish for a hot tub of water, and realized that now he’d give anything for just a hot cup of coffee. The cook hadn’t been able to start a fire for several days because of the danger of the fire spreading on the violently lurching ship. Scott couldn’t even remember the last time they had eaten a decent meal.
With a sigh, Scott shifted to give his long body a little more room, being careful not to let go completely as he moved. He closed his eyes in a vain attempt at sleep, but the very knowledge that he would have to get up and go back to work within a couple of hours made sleep almost impossible. He carefully turned over and fought the bunk to get comfortable. He was finally dozing off when he heard one of the crew struggle down the stairs. He tensed as he waited for the inevitable, and after a moment he felt a hand on his arm. “You’re wanted above decks.”
With a deep sigh, Scott sat up and looked over at his brother. Tired blue eyes met his and with a wry smile, Scott started to pull on his storm gear. When they were both ready they headed for the stairs and after taking a deep breath, Scott pushed the hatch open.
The two young men worked side by side, doing whatever was necessary. The sails were the primary concern, and they spent a lot of time either taking them in or letting them out. In this wind the ropes had a mind of their own, and snarls and tangles were common. Occasionally a line would be swept out of a man’s hand and go skittering along the deck like a live thing, ready to ensnare a sailor and pull him overboard or wrap around an unwary neck. It seemed to Scott and Johnny that the entire ship was waging a war against the crew, and at this point it was uncertain who was winning.
Scott and Johnny had stopped thinking and were working automatically. The days and nights had become blurred in their minds as they worked for several hours at a time, and then collapsed in their bunks, too tired to even undress. There they tossed and turned in a vain attempt to rest before they were once more roused to work. Cold soup and biscuits were wolfed down when time afforded, and time ceased to have any meaning. It seemed they had always been fighting the raging sea, and they always would be.
Johnny looked up, thinking he had heard a different noise above the growling of the wind. He listened several seconds but the noise didn’t come again, and he went back to trying to untangle a line that had managed to become wrapped around one of the masts. He glanced over and saw Scott working several yards away, folding a sail to be mended once the storm died down.
Johnny tugged at the line, ignoring the drenching he received every few seconds from the waves crashing over the deck. As one of the waves struck he heard a cracking sound, and stopped once more to try to figure out where it was coming from. After the wave receded, the noise stopped once more and he went back to his chore.
The wind gusted violently, causing the ship to dip hard to starboard, and Johnny grabbed a nearby handhold automatically as he waited for the ship to right itself. A second later a huge wave hit, and the ship dipped further. The unsettling crack sounded again, and Johnny stopped once more. He caught his brother’s eye, and he knew by Scott’s expression that he had heard the noise, too. The ship sluggishly righted itself and the wind caught one of the sails and the ship jerked forward.
This time the cracking sound came like a gunshot, and everyone on deck stopped and stared. The main mast folded in the middle and crashed toward the deck, the sails billowing as they fell, and the trailing lines snaking toward the deck.
Johnny watched as the mast fell, then his eyes tracked the path the plummeting object would follow and his eyes locked on his brother, standing frozen as the mast descended.
Chapter Twenty Three
Scott dove out of the way as the mast crashed to the deck just inches from his head, and Johnny landed next to him a split second later. The brothers locked eyes, and after a moment, a small grin formed on Johnny’s face.
“Wasn’t that a pretty desperate way ta try ta get outta work?” Johnny asked calmly.
Scott snorted, then lurched to his feet, holding out his hand to his brother. Johnny grabbed on and struggled upright. They were getting their sea legs and gradually getting used to moving around on the rocking deck. They no longer had to hold on continually to stay upright. Johnny smiled wryly. “We shouldn’t have any trouble stayin’ on our feet next time we have too much ta drink in Spanish Wells. Hell, Murdoch won’t even know we’re drunk.”
Scott nodded seriously. “Maybe this experience will come in handy after all.”
Johnny chuckled, and then sobered as he looked at the damage caused by the storm. They both stared at the shattered mast, wondering just how they were going to ride out the rest of the storm without the main mast. Their eyes went to the remaining sails, and saw that they were in pretty poor shape, too. The mast had torn several on the way down, and the wind had wreaked havoc on the others.
A moment later, the deck was swarming with hands, all trying to clear away the debris and fix the rest of the sails enough to control the ship. The deck tossed and swayed like a wild thing, and the men fought valiantly to keep their footing. It took several hours in the bitter wind to safely secure the remains of the mast and fix the damage done to the canvas when it had fallen. The rest of the sails would have to wait. There was no way to change them in this storm. The ship was no longer a thing of beauty and grace, but a crippled survivor, trying desperately to make its way home.
When they were finally done, Scott and Johnny stood in the lee of the pilot house and sipped scalding coffee. At the crew’s insistence, the captain had finally told the cook to keep a pot of hot coffee on at all times, even with the threat of fire. The men seemed to think being without something hot to warm their chilled bones was worse than the possibility of sinking, and Johnny and Scott heartily agreed. Having the hot liquid to warm them up made this situation almost bearable.
Johnny lifted his head and gazed out over the water. “Wind’s dyin’ down a bit.”
Scott stuck his head around the building and was met with a blast of icy air and he hurriedly ducked back behind the windbreak. “How can you possibly tell?”
Johnny shrugged. “Just feels like it.”
“It doesn’t feel any different to me,” Scott grumbled. “It’s still cold as hell.”
Johnny sighed and gulped down the last of his coffee. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He shook his head regretfully. “I can’t wait ta get back ta California. At least there I didn’t have ta worry about freezin’ ta death.” He shook his head once more. “I would kill for a pan of Maria’s tamales and chili right about now.”
Scott put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You know what, little brother? So would I. I wouldn’t even mind scorching my tonsils a little bit.”
Johnny looked at him in surprise. “Yeah?”
Scott nodded solemnly. “Yes. Johnny, we’ll be home soon. As soon as we’re around the Horn, things should pick up, and then we can worry about trying to explain to Murdoch why we’ve been goofing off all this time.”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah. I wonder if that stock has been delivered yet.” He shuddered dramatically. “Maybe we’ll choose ta go back ta sea, after all.”
“Somehow, I doubt that.”
Johnny grinned. “Yeah, me too. Even getting’ yelled at by Murdoch don’t seem too bad after this.” He sighed. “Let’s go get some shut eye while we have a chance. I have the feeling it ain’t over yet.”
Scott nodded and drained the last of his cup, then led the way down the stairs to the crew’s quarters. They both still hated the place, but there was no way they could sleep above board, not in this weather. Besides, for the last week they had been too exhausted when they had finally crawled into their bunks to worry about much of anything. Scott dove for his bed, and Johnny jumped up and settled in the one on top, and they were both deeply asleep within minutes.
Scott’s eyes came open sometime later, and he lay in his bunk, trying to figure out what was different. A moment later, he sat up and grabbed Johnny’s foot. “Hey, brother, wake up!”
Johnny bolted up and looked at Scott worriedly. “What’s wrong?”
Scott smiled. “Nothing.”
Johnny looked around in confusion, then a smile broke over his face and he jumped down and headed for the stairs. The two men made their way onto the deck and looked around. The sun was shining and the sea, although still choppy, wasn’t in the wind- maddened state it had been in for the last several weeks. The wind that blew was almost balmy compared to the icy blasts they had been used to. Men were scurrying around deck, trying to fix the damage that had been down, and the ship no longer looked as though it might sink at any time.
The first mate nodded at them as he walked by. “Looks like we made it, boys. We’re around the Horn, and the storm managed to push us in the right direction. We’re ahead of schedule, and if we can figure out how to fix this mast, we have a good chance of beating the record.” He strode off, whistling, and Scott and Johnny exchanged glances and grinned at each other. It looked as though they would be home soon, after all.
Chapter Twenty four
Murdoch stuffed another shirt into his suitcase and then shut the lid and snapped the buckles shut. He looked up and smiled at his ward. “Are you all packed?”
Teresa nodded. “My suitcases are already in the buggy.”
Murdoch took a deep breath. “Then I guess we’d better be going. The train leaves in two hours, and I don’t want to be late.”
The girl reached over and took his hand. “They’re ok. I know they are.”
Murdoch nodded. “I know. It’s just the waiting.”
Teresa smiled. “They’ll be so surprised when we’re there waiting for them.”
The rancher smiled back, knowing she was doing her best to keep him from worrying, but she wasn’t entirely successful. “According to the owners of the ship, they should be landing within the month.” He shook his head. “I can’t wait to see them.”
“And give them a tongue lashing for all of those horses and cattle they bought?” Teresa teased.
Murdoch’s grin got wider. “Of course, but I think I’ll hug each of them first.” The stock the boys had purchased had been delivered several weeks after they had disappeared. At any other time, he would have blown up at the extra money the animals represented, but this time he had come perilously close to crying. He didn’t need anyone to tell him that the cattle had been purchased in an uncharacteristic bout of over enthusiasm by his older son, while the horses were undeniably Johnny’s doing. The animals were cherished simply because they were the last link he had to his missing boys.
After looking quickly around, Murdoch picked up the suitcase and headed toward the stairs. Cipriano and Jelly were waiting outside, and he gave each of them some last minute instructions. He had never been gone for as long as he figured he’d be away this time, but it didn’t matter. Whatever happened at the ranch would happen with or without him, and right now the ranch wasn’t his top priority.
He helped Teresa into the buggy, and Jelly clucked to the horses to make them move out. Murdoch never even noticed when they passed under the arch; his thoughts were far away.
While they were in San Francisco, he and Val had actually helped to break a very sophisticated kidnapping ring. After they had become suspicious of the doctor who had treated the young man from the restaurant, they had kept an eye on the fake physician’s storefront office. Early the next morning, they had seen men arrive to carry the unconscious young man to the ship, and they had been shocked to see a policeman overseeing the whole thing. Luckily, there were only a few men with the policeman, and Murdoch and Val had easily gotten the drop on them. After that, things had gone fairly quickly. The young man’s friend had appeared, and shortly after that, some other policemen who weren’t in on the scheme. The physician and his cohorts had been escorted to jail, and the policemen who weren’t in on the scheme had been grateful for the break in the case.
Murdoch made sure the newspapers were given the whole story, and it resulted in even more arrests. Eventually the plot was shown to encompass six policemen, the phony physician, and workers at both the Lexington Hotel and the Blue Crab restaurant. Murdoch and Val had been allowed to talk to all of the men involved, and had finally found out the name of the ship that had taken Johnny away.
The manifest filed with the San Francisco harbor master showed that the ‘Pegasus’ had left the harbor at approximately the same time the boys had disappeared. Unfortunately, the crew was not listed by name, but they had been assured by one of the men involved that Johnny had been aboard when it sailed. No mention had been made of Scott, but in his heart Murdoch knew the two were together. At first, Murdoch had been relieved that the boys weren’t headed toward a foreign port, but after talking to numerous sailors, that relief had turned to dread. The ship was heading around the Horn, and Murdoch was warned that going around the Horn at any time was dangerous, but at this time of the year it was almost suicidal.
Murdoch refused to even entertain the thought that the ship might not make it, and even before returning to Lancer he began making plans to meet his boys when they finally docked in New York. Val had offered to go with him, but Murdoch decided to take Teresa with him instead. He had sorely neglected her the last several months, and figured they could leave a little early and they could see the sights while they waited for the ship. He was almost desperate to do SOMETHING; he couldn’t stand to stay at Lancer one more day.
Now they were on their way, and only now Murdoch allowed himself to have doubts about his sons’ survival. He knew how dangerous and cruel the sea could be. On his way over from Scotland, the ship he was on had sailed into a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic. For almost two weeks, Murdoch had been convinced that they were going to sink at any time. He had been terrified the whole time; a fact that he had never told anyone. Since then, he had vowed never to set foot on a ship again. He shuddered when he thought of his boys on the ship with no escape.
The train ride to New York was long and boring. By the time they arrived he and Teresa were exhausted. They checked into the hotel, and both immediately sent for baths to be brought to their rooms. After cleaning up, they had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and Murdoch tried desperately to keep his mind on what Teresa was saying, but it was difficult. He glanced out the dark window, and knew it was too late to go ask about the ship tonight, but it still took all of his control to keep from running out of the hotel and heading for the docks.
He shook his head, knowing he was being unreasonable. Even if the ship set a new record, it wouldn’t be arriving for at least another week at the earliest. He mindlessly answered Teresa with a nod, and wondered if he could survive another week or two of waiting and not knowing. He was afraid he just might go crazy, if he wasn’t already.
Chapter Twenty Five
Johnny looked longingly at the receding coastline. They had anchored in a small bay along the South American coast to make necessary repairs and try to find some fresh food. He and Scott had seriously discussed jumping ship, but they had quickly abandoned the idea. The jungle looked almost impenetrable in this section of the continent, and they had no idea if there were any people anywhere close. The prospect of walking home up the length of the South American coast was daunting, to say the least.
The other crew members had told them that the only people within thousands of miles were headhunters who lurked in those jungles. Johnny had been skeptical until his brother confirmed that he had read the same thing in some book. Most of the crew harbored some serious superstitions about this part of land, and told tales not only of headhunters, but of monsters that roamed the jungles and feasted on unwary travelers. At least Johnny thought they were superstitions, but after hearing his brother confirm the headhunter story he wasn’t so sure.
The crew had managed to make some of the repairs, but there were no trees suitable for replacing the broken mast near the coast, and the men had refused to venture into the interior. They had finally settled for trying to repair it by tying a strong young sapling alongside of it. It still wasn’t as strong as it should be, but the captain said it should hold.
While they were on the island they had found some fruit trees, and the men had feasted on that treat and on a wild boar that one of the men had managed to shoot. No one suggested sleeping on land, and every night the men willingly came back on board. One sailor had failed to appear after saying he was going to look for food, and the stories of man eaters had once more circulated. The nervous crew had insisted that the ship leave immediately, and the captain had grudgingly agreed, leaving the missing crewman to his fate.
Now they were heading quickly away from land, and Johnny felt a moment’s regret and wondered if they had made a mistake. He glanced up at the darkening sky and knew they were in for another storm, and he’d much rather face it on solid ground. He was also worried about Gibbs. The storm had kept everyone too busy to worry about revenge and petty squabbles, but now he was afraid that the mate would try something. He glanced at his brother and knew he was thinking the same thing, but it was too late now. Hopefully, their next stop would be New York, and from there, Lancer seemed just a short journey away. Johnny couldn’t wait to get back, even if Murdoch did take his head off over those horses.
Johnny watched for another moment as the shoreline disappeared completely, then he went back to work The sky continued to darken as the ominous clouds rolled and boiled in the sky. The sun finally slipped below the horizon, and the clouds blocked the light from the moon and the stars. The ship made its way blindly in the pitch black sea, and all of the men waited nervously for the inevitable onslaught of rain and wind.
The storm broke suddenly and the rain pounded the deck unmercifully. A shout caught Scott’s attention and he headed for a small group of men who were trying to secure some lines that were whipping dangerously about the deck. Johnny watched him go, and for some reason a feeling of dread settled over him. Head hunters or not, he thought they might have made a big mistake by staying on this ship. He watched his brother for another second before turning back toward the edge, where he leaned over and checked the lines attached to the belaying pins along the rail. The wind was roaring in his ears and blocking all other sounds, but he felt a presence behind him. Johnny started to turn, but before he could react, he felt himself being lifted up and out. As he plunged toward the water, he saw Gibbs smiling face looking down at him. He tried to yell, but the cold water closed over his head and cut off his scream.
Scott turned around, thinking he had heard something above the screeching wind, and saw Gibbs standing where his brother had been a moment ago. Scott glanced up and down the deck, expecting to see his brother, but he was no where in sight. He frowned as he continued to look, but Johnny had disappeared. His gaze swept back toward the mate, and then he saw Gibbs look over the rail and grin. The implication slammed into him like a sledgehammer, and he bolted toward the mate.
He hit Gibbs midsection and sent them both spinning toward the rail. Gibbs fell on his butt and skidded a few feet away, and Scott immediately looked overboard. The pitch black sea revealed nothing, and Scott cursed.
“Johnny!” he yelled, knowing there would be no answer.
Scott continued to scan the blackness for several seconds, then turned furiously toward the mate. “Where is he?”
Gibbs laughed as he lurched to his feet. “Now where do ya think he is?”
Scott landed a solid punch to the mate’s head, and Gibbs spun back toward the rail. He teetered precariously for a moment, then lost his balance and plunged overboard.
Scott had no time to gloat, and he felt panic engulf him as he realized they were leaving his brother behind at an alarming rate. It would soon be impossible to find him in the blackness. He knew that turning the ship around in these seas would be almost impossible, but they had to try.
“MAN OVERBOARD!” he yelled. When he saw several heads turn towards him, and he knew they had heard him, he reached down and heaved some of the large pieces of wood and planking they had used for repairs overboard. A second later, Scott jumped up on the rail and after taking a few deep breaths, he dove after his brother.
Chapter Twenty Six
The cold water took Scott’s breath away when it flooded over his body as he plunged under the waves. He fought his way to the surface, looking desperately for his brother, but the high waves made it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. He had become disoriented in his plunge, and he fought to orient himself. He flailed in the water, trying to catch sight of the ship. He spun around several times, and finally caught a flash of light that disappeared in an instant. He immediately headed in the opposite direction, bound and determined to find his brother.
He fought the waves, but he was lucky just to stay afloat as the sea tossed him around like a cork. The ten foot swells continually dunked him and he could still see only a few feet from him in any direction. He struggled to keep going, but he couldn’t tell what kind of progress he was making; if any. He wasn’t even sure if he was still headed in the right direction. In the total darkness it was easy to get turned around. He continued to swim, hoping Johnny was somewhere ahead of him but knowing the odds of finding him in this nightmare were almost nil. The storm raged around him, and lightening and thunder crashed as the rain came down in sheets, making it impossible to figure out where the sea ended and the air began.
He fought valiantly, but gradually his strokes became more erratic as the cold seeped into his bones. The dying hope of finding his brother plus the cold and exhaustion had taken their toll. He stopped and tread water for several seconds, then shut his eyes and lackadaisically started out once again. He no longer knew which direction he was going, but he figured it really didn’t matter. Only sheer stubbornness kept him going.
Quite a while later, Scott bumped up against something hard. It took a moment for his muddled brain to register the fact that he had hit something, and then he grabbed desperately on to the object. He saw in amazement that it was one of the pieces of debris he had tossed overboard. The broken hatch cover wasn’t big, but it would hold him.
It took him quite a while to clamber aboard the unstable and wildly moving raft, but he finally managed it, only to have it turn turtle a moment later. He once more fought to gain a perch on the slippery wood and after a long battle he lay on it, exhausted. He soon found, however, that he couldn’t relax. The waves tossed the wood around like a cork, and a moment’s inattentiveness meant another dunking and a hard fight to regain his life raft. Even when he paid attention, he found himself unceremoniously dumped into the icy sea several times an hour. Sleep was impossible, and he huddled miserably on his small hatch cover, waiting for daylight.
After a long and exhausting night, the sun finally appeared in a cloudless sky. The wind had died during the night and the sea was almost calm. Scott was too tired and miserable to even care. He knew that the chance of his brother surviving the night was slim. Even with the help of the raft, Scott had barely made it.
He finally raised his eyes and scanned the horizon. He looked for several minutes, but saw only the endless sea. He wondered if the ship had even bothered to turn around to try to find them. Even if they had, he figured it wouldn’t do much good. They could have passed within a short distance of him the night before, and he wouldn’t have seen them. He doubted the captain would spend too much time looking for them; after all, the odds of finding anyone in that sea were remote. No, he figured, he was on his own.
He started to put his head down once more when a flash of color in the distance caught his eye. He strained to see what it was, but it had disappeared in a trough. It was several minutes before he saw it again, and a wild surge of hope leaped up in his mind. He desperately started to paddle in the direction of what he prayed was his brother.
It was difficult to paddle the makeshift raft and guide it at the same time, and his progress was frustratingly slow. It seemed as if for every yard he made forward, he was pulled two yards back. Gradually however, the object came closer and he realized with relief that it was the figure of a man, still struggling feebly in the water. Even as he fought to get closer, he marveled at the stubbornness of his brother to survive. It wouldn’t be the first time his will to live had made the difference between life and death.
Scott immediately felt better. He figured if he and Johnny were together they could get through almost anything. He felt a surge of adrenaline shoot through him and the raft made steady progress toward the lone and struggling figure.
He desperately paddled the last several yards, anxiously calling Johnny’s name, but the exhausted man was using all of his strength simply to stay afloat and didn’t answer. Scott finally reached the man, and reached down and grabbed him by an arm. The man’s face turned toward him, and Scott looked in stunned disbelief as the features of Mr. Gibbs became visible. He had a fleeting thought of just letting go of the semi conscious man and letting him drown. After all, he was the sole reason he and Johnny were in this predicament, and Scott wasn’t feeling particularly charitable, especially with his brother still missing. After a long and bitter argument with his conscience, however, he grudgingly dragged the man on board. He scanned the empty horizon once more, but the reality of the situation finally sunk in, and by the time the sun sank once more, his hope of finding his brother finally died.
Chapter Twenty Seven
The raft seemed a little more stable with both men on it, and with the calmer sea there wasn’t much danger of it tipping. The night passed uneventfully, and as soon as the sun came up, Scott began to continually scan the horizon. He hoped against hope that he would see his brother, but he knew in his heart it was hopeless.
He looked at the other man who lay on the raft. Gibbs was only now starting to come around, and Scott once more felt like pushing him overboard, but he knew he could never live with himself if he did. Scott’s head came up and he looked at the endless ocean. He doubted if he’d have to worry about living much longer, anyway.
The sun rose higher in the sky and Scott licked his lips, his lack of water already starting to show, A moment later Gibbs moaned and rolled over, causing the raft to tilt and spilling both men into the water. Scott came to the surface and grabbed at the bobbing cover. He was surprised at how much effort it took to climb back on, and he realized just how much the fight with the sea the night before had weakened him.
He lay on the raft, panting, while Gibbs fought weakly to clamber aboard. “Help me,” the mate gasped. Scott glared at him for a moment, and then with a sigh, reached down and offered the sailor his hand. Scott fought to keep the raft stable as the extra weight of the sailor caused it to rock wildly. Finally, both men were once more aboard, and the mate lay gasping. He started to roll over, and Scott growled, “Don’t MOVE!”
Gibbs glared at him for a moment, then cautiously sat up. “Where are we?”
Scott looked at the man in disbelief. “Where does it LOOK like we are?”
Gibbs glanced around, then his eyes settled back onto Scott. “YOU threw me overboard!” he accused.
Scott glared at the man. “No, I didn’t. You fell.”
“After you hit me!”
“You pushed my brother overboard!”
Gibbs glared sullenly at the other man. “It was an accident.”
Scott was too tired to argue. “Just shut up, or I WILL throw you overboard!”
“I need water,” Gibbs complained.
Scott chose to ignore him and went back to scanning the water.
“I need water!”
Scott didn’t bother to
take his eyes off of the horizon. “Shut up!”
Finally, Gibbs became silent and buried his head in his arms. Scott continued watching the sea for several hours, but the sun and the waves worked on him and he finally sank down and rested his head on his arm. When he finally fell asleep, he was closer to being unconscious.
The water closed over his head, and he came up fighting, disoriented and confused. His head broke the surface of the water and he saw Gibbs as he tried to paddle the raft away from him. With an oath, Scott put his head back down and headed for his only hope of survival. He reached it quickly and grabbed the side. Immediately, Gibbs hit his fingers and made him let go.
Scott let go and tread water. For a moment panic overtook him, but he forced himself to think calmly. He knew that Gibbs couldn’t be reasoned with, so he didn’t even try. Instead, he suddenly lunged toward the raft, tipping it up and sending Gibbs into the water. While the mate thrashed around wildly, Scott took advantage of the situation and hauled himself to safety. This time when Gibbs asked for help, Scott managed to ignore him. He watched indifferently as the mate struggled to regain the safety of the raft. He had no desire to help him, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to try and keep him off either. It was in God’s hands. They were both in God’s hands. He just hoped his brother was, too.
The sun reached its zenith and Scott lay in a stupor, not quite daring to close his eyes and totally relax. He occasionally lifted his head and looked lackadaisically out at the ocean. The wind had died, leaving the sea totally calm. He could see for miles in any direction, but there was nothing out there. Just endless water and what he thought were a few pieces of flotsam in the distance.
Scott put his head down and thought about his brother. He still refused to believe he was dead, although his mind told him otherwise. It just wasn’t fair, somehow. Johnny hated the ocean. It was almost as though he had had a premonition. Scott raised his head once more and looked out, his eyes not really seeing. They were looking at something that could no longer be seen.
Scott licked his lips again. He had heard somewhere that it made it worse to lick your lips when they were dry, but it hardly mattered now. He figured they’d get a lot drier. He wondered how far away from the coast they were, and he squinted up at the sun. He saw in surprise that the current seemed to be pushing them slowly in the direction he figured land would be, but he had no idea if they were two miles out or two hundred. One thing was for sure, they wouldn’t get there by relying on the almost non existent wind. He tentatively dipped his hand in the water and began to paddle.
Scott glanced at Gibbs, who hadn’t moved since he had managed to clamber aboard, and for that Scott was grateful. He looked out once more, and noticed that there seemed to be more pieces of debris around them than before. Apparently, without the storm and the waves to toss things in different directions, the current was pushing everything the same way. Hopefully, that direction was toward the coast.
He dropped his head once more, and despite his best efforts to stay alert, he dozed off. When he awoke it was almost sundown. He looked over at Gibbs, who was apparently asleep or unconscious, and Scott really didn’t care which. Scott turned his attention toward the ocean and saw that several pieces of the debris had come closer.
He stared at one of the larger pieces as he thought once more of his brother. He could almost see Johnny’s features on the pile of flotsam that was floating near and he shook his head to rid himself of the apparition.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Scott gazed at the sun, squinting his eyes as the large orange orb headed down toward the horizon. Right now the prospect of it disappearing delighted him, but he knew that within hours he would probably be praying for the return of its warmth.
He brought his eyes back down and looked disinterestedly at the debris floating around them. He stared at the nearest clump and suddenly he sat up, nearly swamping the raft. He looked closer, then dove over the side and swam frantically in that direction. He reached the pile and grabbed frantically at his brother, who was slumped over the debris.
Scott grabbed his brother’s face and turned it toward him. “Johnny!”
Johnny’s eyes fluttered open. “Hey, Scott.”
Scott closed his eyes in gratitude and said a quick prayer of thanks. He tread water as he assessed the situation. The debris that Johnny had used to keep him afloat barely had kept his face out of the water, and the rest of his body had remained submerged. Scott looked over to the hatch cover where Gibbs was still slumped and made a decision. Scott grabbed Johnny around the shoulders. “Come on, brother, we’re going for a swim.”
“Swim? I don’t think so, Scott.”
“Yes, come on.”
“Don’t think I can,” Johnny slurred.
With a sigh, Scott took a firmer grip on his brother and headed for the makeshift raft. It took him longer than he thought it would, but he finally reached the hatch cover. With a huge effort, he shoved his brother as far onto the raft as he could, then he clambered aboard. He rested for a second, then grabbed his brother and tried to pull him fully onto the hatch cover.
Immediately, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to work. The cover was just not big enough or heavy enough to support the full weight of three men. Scott realized that the most that it would support without tipping or sinking was two, with another hanging on. Johnny had been desperately hanging on to his precarious perch for forty eight hours, and Scott knew his brother was about at the end of his strength.
“Gibbs! Wake up!”
The mate started awake and looked around in confusion. “Huh?”
“You need to help me get Johnny on the raft.”
Gibbs squinted at Scott, and then glanced down at Johnny. “There ain’t no room.”
“No, there’s not,” Scott ground out. “That’s why we’re going to take turns in the water.”
Gibbs snorted. “Not likely.”
Scott loomed over the mate. “You can either help me get my brother on board, or you can join him in the water.”
Gibbs jerked sullenly to his knees and crawled over to Johnny and took a hold of an arm, while Scott slid into the water. Scott pushed his brother while Gibbs pulled, and together they managed to get Johnny on top of the cover. Scott reached out and put a hand on Johnny’s chest, feeling reassured by the steady beat of his heart.
The hours went by, and Scott began shivering uncontrollably. The water was cold and he knew he couldn’t last much longer. Johnny was gradually becoming more aware and Scott smiled as he looked up and saw two blue eyes appraising him. “Hey, Johnny, how’re you doing?”
Johnny snorted softly. “Just fine. How about you?”
Scott nodded. “Fine, thank you.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed as he realized that his brother was in the water. “What’re you doin’ in there?”
“The raft won’t hold all three of us.”
“Three?” Johnny looked around and caught sight of the third passenger and his eyes darkened. “Just my luck. How did he get here?”
Scott smiled. “I threw him overboard.”
Johnny looked at his brother quizzically. “Then what are you doing here?”
Scott shrugged. “I jumped.”
“AGAIN? I would have thought you’d have learned your lesson from last time.”
Scott smiled and shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, I thought you might like some company.”
Johnny shook his head. “Wasn’t the smartest thing ya ever did.”
Scott grinned. “I wouldn’t say that. At least we’re together.”
Johnny’s head dropped. “I wish we weren’t. At least one of us woulda made it back. Ya shouldn’t of jumped.”
Scott shook his head. “I’m really not in the mood to argue. You’re stuck with me, and that’s that.”
Johnny nodded, then dragged himself over and slipped into the water.
“What are you doing?” Scott exclaimed.
“Thought it was my turn. Your lips are turnin’ blue.”
“Actually it’s Gibb’s turn.”
Johnny nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure he gets his turn.” He grinned. “I’d rather take my turn now, before it turns any colder. Gibbs can have the late shift.”
Scott nodded and sprawled tiredly on the raft, too exhausted to even move. He was afraid if the raft tipped now, he’d never be able to make it back on board. He lay on his back, watching the stars and wondering what Murdoch was doing. He knew that by now their father had guessed what had happened to them, and he wondered if he had given them up for dead. Part of him wished he had; he figured they’d never be able to survive, and the quicker Murdoch accepted the truth and went on with his life, the better.
Scott turned his head and watched his brother, who was holding gamely on to the raft, his head resting on the side and his eyes closed. He thought they should each take turns of an hour in the water, so none of them became too cold or weak. He had learned a few tricks of navigation from a friend that sailed regularly, and Scott turned his attention to the sky. He noted the position of the moon, and he figured where it should be when it was Gibb’s turn.
Johnny suddenly jerked upright and looked around. “What the…”
Scotts head came up. “What’s wrong?”
Johnny shook his head in puzzlement. “Nothin’, I guess. I musta bumped into somethin.”
Scott looked around but could see nothing. “What was it?”
“Don’t know. Don’t see nothin’.”
Scott sat back uneasily. “It was probably just a piece of wood or something.”
Johnny looked around nervously. “Yeah, I guess.” He bit his lip. “At least I hope so.”
Chapter Twenty Nine
Johnny put his head on the raft, willing himself to remain calm. He knew in his heart that whatever had bumped into his leg wasn’t a piece of debris. He had never seen a shark, but he’d heard plenty of stories about them while he had been on the ship. One thing that he’d been told was that thrashing around was a sure way to attract the fish, so he forced himself to remain still, although every part of him was screaming to try and get his body out of the water and onto the raft.
Johnny knew he needed to get his mind off of whatever it was that had bumped him, so he looked at his brother. “So where do ya think we are?”
Scott looked out at the black ocean. “I have no idea. Probably somewhere off the coast of South America.”
“Think there’s any chance of us hittin’ land?”
Scott hesitated. He knew that the chances of them either being rescued or somehow finding dry land was remote, especially on their makeshift raft. There was no way to guide it and it would tip in any type of rough sea. It looked pretty grim, but he wasn’t going to tell his brother that. “Sure, there’s a good chance.”
Johnny’s eyes bored into him, a glint of amusement showing, despite the circumstances. “Uh huh.”
“Well, look on the bright side. At least we won’t have to work round up this year.”
Johnny smiled wistfully. “Ya know what? It doesn’t sound so bad right about now.”
Scott sighed. “No, it doesn’t. Guess we’ll just have to wait until next year.”
Johnny locked eyes on his brother. “Yeah, next year.”
“How are you doing?” Scott asked his brother anxiously.
“Ok. How much longer?”
Scott glanced up at the moon. “Another twenty minutes.”
Johnny nodded, then jerked again and looked frantically around. “There’s somethin hittin’ my legs again.”
“Can you swing your legs aboard?” Scott asked worriedly.
“Not without swampin’ ya.”
Scott scooted to the edge and tried to see what was bumping his brother, but whatever it was was well hidden in the dark sea. “Is it still there?”
“Don’t feel nothin’ now,” Johnny replied.
Scott took a breath of relief, but he was still worried and he glanced at the moon once more. For some reason it hadn’t moved in the sky. Johnny still had twenty more minutes in the dark water.
Both Johnny and Scott waited tensely for whatever it was to return, but gradually they both relaxed a little bit. Johnny turned his attention from the sea and looked up at his brother. “Do you think they’ll turn around and look for us?”
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know. It would be hard to find us. That storm last night probably blew us well away from the ship. They wouldn’t even know where to start.”
Johnny nodded. “That’s sort of the way I had it figured, too. Even if they look, it’ll take a lot of luck.”
Scott smiled. “Well, we’ve been lucky so far.”
Johnny snorted. “I ain’t sure I’d agree with ya on that.”
“Well, we’re alive!”
“Sort of,” Johnny replied. He looked up at his brother and froze. Scott was staring at something behind Johnny, and the look on his face left no doubt that what he was seeing was not good.
Johnny whirled his head around just as the huge fin disappeared under the water. A second later, Johnny felt the water surge around his legs as the giant beast swam past.
“Give me your hand!” Scott screamed.
Johnny started to reach out, then pulled back. “It won’t hold! I’ll dump all of us!”
Scott reached down and pulled his pistol out of the holster and pulled the trigger repeatedly, but nothing happened.
“Don’t waste your time! The powder’s wet! It won’t fire,” Johnny shouted as he twisted frantically around, trying to look in all directions at once. He couldn’t see anything, and somehow, that bothered him more than anything. He wanted to be able to see his opponent. He tried to curl his legs up so they wouldn’t be as tempting of a target, but he knew it probably wouldn’t matter.
He turned again, and finally caught sight of the fin, cruising about fifty yards out. As he watched, it changed directions once again and came toward the raft, sinking under the water as it neared. Johnny waited, trying not to breath, and this time he felt a sharp bump that pushed him sideways and tore his hands off of the raft.
“Johnny!” Scott shouted as he grabbed desperately for his brother. He managed to catch hold of Johnny’s arm and pull him close as the shark disappeared once again. Both Scott and Johnny looked frantically around, but the sea was once again still.
“Are you all right?” Scott asked worriedly.
Johnny reached down and felt his leg, then brought his hand up out of the water. He stared at the bloody hand for a moment, then answered his brother. “I don’t think so.”
Scott reached down and helped Johnny get his upper body on the raft, then glanced up at the moon. He was relieved to see an hour had passed and it was Gibbs’ turn, but at this point, it didn’t matter. Johnny was coming aboard, one way or the other.
“GIBBS! Your turn!” Scott shouted. “Get in the water!”
Gibbs snorted. “I ain’t stupid! I seen what was goin’ on. No way I’m goin’ overboard now!”
“Yes,” Scott replied more calmly than he felt. “You are.”
“Wanna bet?” Gibbs sneered.
Scott crawled over to the mate and tried to push him over, but Gibbs fought back.
“You can’t make me go overboard now! It’s murder, plain and simple!”
Scott glanced over at his brother, who was still looking around desperately for a reappearing fin. Scott turned back to Gibbs. “I don’t care WHAT you want to call it, it’s your turn. Johnny already took his, and so did I.”
He shoved Gibbs once more, and Gibbs fought desperately to keep from going into the water. As they struggled, Scott heard Johnny’s panicked shout.
“He’s back, and he’s got company!”
Scott frantically fought with Gibbs, but the hatch cover couldn’t handle the rapidly shifting weight of the two men. Overbalanced, the raft flipped up, throwing all of them into the sea.
Scott hit the water and was fighting his way to the raft before he had even come all the way to the surface. He reached the raft and looked frantically around for his brother. Johnny was several feet away, but as Scott watched the gunfighter reached the raft and grabbed on.
“We’ve got to get on opposite sides,” Scott yelled.
Johnny nodded his understanding and made his way over to the opposite side from where Scott was. Together they managed to hold the hatch cover down as they scrambled aboard. The whole process had only taken seconds although it had seemed like hours. Their adrenaline had helped them overcome their exhaustion and had allowed them clamber onto the raft with no help. They had each expected to feel the sharp teeth of a shark at any time and were surprised they had made it onto the raft without mishap. The two men lay there panting, then cautiously raised their heads. Gibbs was swimming clumsily several feet away, heading for the raft.
Scott sat up and made a move to go overboard when he felt Johnny’s hand on his arm. “No,” Johnny said simply.
“He needs help.”
Johnny nodded at a large fin homing in on the thrashing man. “He needs more help than we can give him,” Johnny said quietly.
A moment later, the mate’s shrill scream pierced the air, and more fins appeared. The water around the raft boiled furiously, turning red. The mate’s screams became more shrill, then were cut off abruptly as he was pulled beneath the surface.
Scott and Johnny sat there for a long time, not saying anything, but knowing how close it had been. It could have just as easily been one of them, and it almost had.
Scott shivered as he remembered the sight of the large shark heading for Johnny. He had never felt so helpless in all of his life. He had known he was going to have to watch as his brother was torn apart right in front of him, but thankfully that hadn’t happened. Instead, Gibbs was the one who had been lost. Scott shook his head. He should feel guilty, but right now all he felt was thankful that he hadn’t lost his brother.
Scott scooted over to Johnny and looked at his leg. His brother’s trouser leg was in tatters and stained red. Scott cautiously lifted the material away from the skin and studied the wound. Instead of the slash he was expecting, it looked as if all of the skin had been scraped off of the outside of his lower thigh. The wound was seeping blood and was angry looking, and Scott felt helpless to do anything to help it. They had no medical supplies, and wrapping it in their salt soaked clothing seemed like a bad idea. The best they could do was to try and keep the wound dry. Even as he thought it, the wind kicked up and sent a wave slopping over the two men.
Scott closed his eyes and lay back on the raft, but the occasional wave that washed aboard kept him from sleeping. Finally, the two men hit on the idea of sitting back to back and using each other as a backrest. In their slightly less precarious positions they managed to catch a few winks now and then, but mostly they just sat and tried to stay warm The night passed slowly and neither man said much, each lost in his own thoughts.
The dawn broke bright and sunny, with only a slight breeze. The warmth felt good, but both men knew that would quickly change. They were both dehydrated and another day in the broiling sun just might do them in.
Scott scanned the horizon for any sign of a boat or land, but there was nothing but ocean surrounding them. With a sigh, he dropped his head on his arms and tried to doze. Johnny pulled his gun from his holster and broke it apart, then grimaced when he looked inside. The ocean had already started to corrode the works, and if it weren’t taken care of immediately, it would be useless.
Johnny tore a piece of cloth from his already torn trousers and tried to wipe the rust off of his gun, but it was hard work. He really needed some grease, and there was none to be had. He carefully took all of the bullets out of their chambers and wiped them off, then tried to clean the individual chambers. He snapped the gun back together and tried to roll the cylinder. It moved sluggishly and Johnny sighed and broke the gun open once more. He figured his pistol was pretty useless out here, but at least it gave him something to do besides thinking about how thirsty he was.
The sun slowly moved through the sky and by mid afternoon both men were suffering badly from the heat. Scott looked longingly at the water surrounding them and finally scooted over to the edge. He cautiously rolled over and started lowering himself into the water.
“What the hell are you doing?” Johnny yelled.
“Cooling off,” Scott responded.
“Did you forget about the sharks?”
“No. But I haven’t seen anything since last night.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re not there.”
Scott shook his head and finished lowering himself into the cool sea. “I don’t plan on going swimming. I just want to cool off for a minute.”
“Scott, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Neither do I, but if I don’t do something to cool down, I’m going to have a heatstroke, then I’ll really be in trouble. Just keep your eyes open.”
With a sigh, Johnny scooted over and scanned the ocean for any sign of sharks, but the sea remained quiet. Several minutes later, Scott dragged himself out of the water, and after arguing with himself, Johnny undid his gunbelt and slid into the water. The salt immediately made his wound start to sting, but he ignored it and let the water cool him off.
The day passed slowly and the men became more and more miserable as they took turns dunking themselves. The water gave them a slight reprieve from the sun, but the sun and the wind dried their clothes almost immediately. Once dry, the salt in their clothes and on their skin made them itch unmercifully. In between soakings they continued to scan the water for any sign of life, but the sea remained silent and empty as the sun finally sank beneath the horizon once more.
Chapter Thirty One
The day dawned hot and sunny. Johnny continued to work on his pistol, but he figured he was wasting his time. He wasn’t even sure it would work anymore. The contact with the salt water was causing the metal to corrode faster than he could stop it. Without any oil he knew he was fighting a losing battle, but he was determined to try to keep the gun in working condition for as long as he could. He snorted. Besides, there was nothing else to do.
After he finished cleaning the Colt he raised it and aimed it at an imaginary target. He looked idly down into the water, hoping a shark or two would happen by about then. He sure wouldn’t mind sending a few of those damn things to Davy Jones’ locker. Instead he saw several large fish nosing curiously around the raft. He watched them for several minutes, then realized that with any luck he just might be able to catch some food. He slowly brought his pistol to bear on the largest one and pulled the trigger.
To his surprise, the fish jerked quickly and then dove straight down as the bullet tore into it. Johnny thought briefly about going in after it, but a large flash of silver coming up from the depths changed his mind. Evidently the sharks were still around. He shot at the massive predator, but it quickly dove out of sight after the wounded fish, apparently uninjured.
The shots caused Scott to sit up suddenly, and Johnny fought to keep his balance. He had no desire to go swimming now. “Watch out, Scott!” Johnny tried to shout, but his voice came out weak and cracked. Scott sat back when he realized there was no emergency and finally the raft stabilized. Johnny sank back in relief. The constant effort of keeping his balance on the unstable raft was wearing him out as much as the lack of water. If something didn’t change, he knew that neither one of them could last much longer.
Johnny shifted carefully. His leg felt as if it were on fire, and he was hot and miserable. He had the distinct feeling he was working on a pretty good fever. The gunfighter glanced over at his brother but Scott was gazing out at the water, lost in his own thoughts.
Johnny cautiously leaned over and lifted his torn pant leg away from his thigh where the shark had scraped him. The wound looked angry and raw, and the ring of red around the edges confirmed his diagnosis of infection, but he was unable to figure out a way to clean the festering sore. It looked like he’d just have to ride it out. He just hoped that he wouldn’t get delirious; they didn’t need him thrashing around and dumping them both in the water. With a sigh he tilted his head back, trying to get a kink out of his neck, but the bright sun speared his eyes and he once more dropped his head.
Johnny looked over at Scott and realized his brother was suffering even more than he was. Even with all the time they had spent on the ocean, Scott’s fair skin still burned if he was out in the sun too long. On the ship, Scott had been forced to wear a hat and long sleeves, but both of them had lost their hats when they went overboard. Johnny’s skin handled the sun better, and although Johnny was uncomfortable, Scott was already burned severely. Scott’s face was red and blistered, and his lips were swollen and raw. Johnny licked his own lips and realized his were probably just as bad.
Johnny snorted softly; he had been stranded in the desert more than once, and more than once he had thought he would die in the endless sand. Somehow, however, this was worse. There was water all around them but they couldn’t drink it. It was like a torture that some sadistic creature had thought up. Surrounded by water and unable to drink, food all around them, but well out of reach, and for the icing on the cake; devilish monsters waiting to eat them if the tried to get relief from the sun. The desert at its worst wasn’t half this bad. He raised his head and looked hopefully around, hoping that somehow land would miraculously appear, but the sea remained stubbornly empty.
The worst part of it was they couldn’t even go where they wanted. At least in the desert you could choose which way to go to try to find help. He looked around for several minutes, then looked at his brother.
Scott turned bleary eyes toward him.
“Where do ya think we are? Think we can paddle toward shore?”
Scott raised his head and squinted at the sun, then looked around disinterestedly. “I don’t know. I can’t see any land. We could still be a hundred miles from shore.”
Scott’s voice sounded like his mouth was stuffed with cotton and Johnny knew they couldn’t last much longer. They had to get food, and more importantly water, soon or it would be too late.
“We could also be ten. It’s better than doin; nothin’ and just waitin’ ta die.”
Scott nodded. His brother was right. They couldn’t just give up, but it was so hard to move or even think. Finally he worked his way cautiously to his knees. He looked at the sky once more, then nodded to his left. “Land should be that way.” He dipped a hand in the water and started to paddle. After a moment, Johnny took a position on the other side of the raft and joined his brother.
The two men paddled automatically, but the sun beat down unmercifully and the lack of rest and water took their toll quickly. Their actions became more and more erratic and finally ceased altogether. They lay across the raft and stared at each other, too exhausted to even talk. As the sun finally set, the wind picked up and the seas roughened, tossing the raft around as if deciding which way to push it. Finally, as the sun once more disappeared, the wind made up its mind and the raft skittered across the top of the water, losing all of the ground the two men had fought so hard to gain.
Chapter Thirty Two
Scott startled awake as he realized the sun was once more searing into his eyes. He had been dozing fitfully; not really sleeping, but resting as much as possible on the rocking raft. He cautiously stretched his legs, and immediately felt his muscles protest the motion. His enforced immobility had his muscles screaming in agony. He kneaded his legs, trying frantically to stop the spasms, but it was several minutes before the cramps finally abated. Scott knew that dehydration was also causing the spasms, and he knew that if he and Johnny didn’t get water soon, they would die.
He cautiously moved his legs around a little bit, then looked out at the empty ocean. After scanning the horizon for several minutes, he turned his attention to his brother. Johnny was apparently asleep, and Scott certainly wasn’t going to wake him up, but he had no idea how his brother could possibly relax completely on the rocking raft.
Scott studied the ocean once more, hoping he could make land magically appear just by concentrating. He let his eyes wander over the seas, looking for anything at all that could help them. After several minutes, he thought he saw something in the distance. Whatever it was disappeared behind a wave, then reappeared several seconds later. Scott kept his eyes on the object, unsure of just what it was. As it was pushed closer by the waves, he could make out a rounded shape. His first thought was it was a man’s head, but he soon dismissed that notion. As it came closer, he saw that it was some sort of small object floating on the surface, but it took him several more seconds to realize just what he was looking at.
Johnny heard a large splash and jerked upright. He glanced around, wondering what he’d heard, and it took several moments for him to realize that Scott was no longer on the raft. He turned quickly around, nearly capsizing the raft in the process, and caught sight of his brother swimming rapidly away from the raft.
Johnny watched as his brother grabbed an object, and then turned and started swimming back toward him. Johnny felt relief as he realized Scott was after something and hadn’t gone crazy from the sun, and he turned his attention to the surrounding ocean, making sure there were no sharks around. When Scott got closer the raft, Johnny reached out and offered his hand. Instead of holding out his own hand, Scott plunked the hard won object in his brother’s grasp. Johnny threw it on board without even looking at it, then reached down and hauled his brother aboard.
When they were both safely on the raft, the two men lay there, unable to move. The rush of adrenaline that had driven both of them was now gone, and exhaustion once again took over. Finally, Scott forced himself up, and he scooted over to his hard won prize.
Johnny raised his head and looked at his brother. “What the hell did you do that for?”
Scott held up the object. “Do you know what this is?”
Johnny shook his head, too tired for games.
“This is a coconut!”
Johnny looked at him blankly and Scott continued. “Food, and hopefully, drink.”
Johnny crawled over to his brother and looked at the object. “Doesn’t look real appetizin’.”
“We have to crack it open. The meat and juice are inside.”
Johnny took the coconut from Scott’s hands and felt it. “It’s awfully hard. How’re we gonna open it?”
Scott looked around thoughtfully. “Maybe we can use your head,” he kidded.
Johnny tried to smile, but he felt his lips crack with the effort, and he settled for a grimace. “How about your gun? You haven’t been cleanin’ it, so it should be rusted pretty solid by now.”
Scott nodded and drew his revolver from its sodden holster. He tried the chamber, but Johnny was right; it was welded shut. There was no way to remove the bullets. Next he aimed it out at the empty sea and pulled the trigger. When he was finally convinced there was no danger of it being fired accidentally, he grabbed it by the barrel and brought it down on the coconut.
After several attempts, the nut finally cracked, and Scott held it eagerly up and drizzled some of the juice into his mouth. He handed it over and Johnny took a few swallows, then Scott took another turn. When the juice was gone, they finished cracking it open and split it apart. Johnny dug his knife out of his waistband and dug into the meat. It was slightly salty from being immersed in the ocean for so long, but to the two brothers it was wonderful. They studiously scraped every last speck of meat from the nut, then carefully set the shells aside. They might prove useful later, although they had no idea for what. After they finished their meager meal, the two men both sat up and looked eagerly for more coconuts, certain they would find at least one more, but the sea remained empty. Long after dark, they finally gave up and lay back, exhausted.
That night the wind picked up once more and sent the raft skittering along the top of the water like a giant bug. The men spent all night fighting to keep their balance on their small raft, but they were both dumped into the water several times. When the sea finally calmed down, right before sunrise, both men fell onto the raft, nearly unconscious. By the time the sun came up once more, neither man even cared.
Sometime later, the sunshine turned to clouds, and slowly the rains started. The gentle drops that hit their faces seemed no different than the constant spray from the waves, so neither man even bothered to open their eyes. After over an hour of rain, the sun once more took charge of the sky, searing the men with its heat and wringing the last bit of moisture from their bodies. The exhausted men never even noticed.
Chapter Thirty Three
The huge wave washed over the raft, dumping both of the sleeping men into the water. They thrashed around in confusion for several seconds before spotting the raft and making their way towards it. As soon as they got near, the wind whipped it away in a game of tag. The chased the craft for almost fifteen minutes before the sea took pity on them and let the catch it.
After climbing aboard, they sat, too exhausted to even talk. Even that small exertion had severely winded them, and the short rests they received no longer did anything to help them regain their strength. Finally, Scott raised his eyes to where the sun was disappearing in the sky. The wind had picked up, and was whipping the sea into froth. The small raft bobbed and lurched as the wind decided which direction to blow, and the exhausted men merely hung on. As the sun set, the wind picked up even more, and it took all of their concentration to keep from capsizing. Even as they fought, their sodden clothes did nothing to keep the chill away, and their teeth were soon chattering uncontrollably.
After an hour or so, the sea finally calmed to the point where they could let go, although the wind and current was sending the raft racing along toward the west. Scott noted idly that they were finally going in the direction they wanted to go, not that it really mattered anymore. They couldn’t survive more than another day without water.
Scott sat on the raft, oblivious to everything but his searing thirst. Gradually, however, he was aware of a sound intruding above the roar of the wind and the sea. He shook his head, trying to clear his ears, and listened. At first he thought it was the crash of distant thunder, but the noise was too regular. His muddled mind couldn’t quite figure out what he was hearing, and he lay down in exhaustion. A second later, he popped up and tried to look in the direction of the sound.
The gunfighter turned bleary eyes in the direction of his brother, but didn’t answer.
“Do you hear that sound?”
Johnny shrugged and shut his eyes once more.
“I think it’s waves.”
“So? We’ve been hearing waves the whole time,” Johnny forced out.
Scott strained to see in the moonlight. “No, I mean waves breaking on shore. Listen, can’t you hear it?”
Johnny sat up straighter, forcing himself to stay calm and be objective. After a moment, he nodded. “Sure sounds like it.” He turned around and tried to see, but the moon remained hidden behind clouds and the churning sea blocked their view.
The gusting winds swept the raft along the surface of the water, and the steady booming sound came closer. Both men strove to see their destination, but it wasn’t until the raft tottered for an instant on the crest of a wave that Scott finally caught a glimpse of what was causing the noise. He paled as he saw huge waves breaking on rocks a hundred feet or so in front of them. If there was land beyond, it was well hidden in the darkness.
He sat back and stared at his brother. “We’re in trouble.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, Johnny stretched his swollen lips in what he thought was a smile. “Ya mean we haven’t been up ta now?”
Scott shook his head. “The waves are breaking on what looks like a coral reef.”
“I don’t think there’s any way we can get this raft across without breaking up.”
“So what do we do?’
Scott shook his head. “I don’t know. We might stand a better chance by trying to swim through, but if we lose the raft and there’s no land on the other side of that reef…” He shook his head again.
“You’re the expert. What do you think we should do?”
Scott thought a moment. “If we had heard it sooner, I’d say we should have tried to paddle away from it until daylight, when we could see what we were doing, but it’s too late for that now. We could never make any progress against the wind and current. We have no choice but to go over the reef. So, I think we should stay with the raft as long as possible. Maybe, if we hit it just right, we can skim over the top and we won’t capsize.”
Johnny shrugged. “Since we don’t have a choice, it sounds like a plan.”
Both men turned and watched the approach of the reef. As they got closer, the waves got bigger and bigger. Scott estimated they were about thirty feet high, and he knew if they crashed down on the reef from that height, they would be destroyed. He glanced at his brother, and Johnny was calmly watching the huge waves. Scott smiled slightly. Johnny had the right idea. This was entirely out of their hands, and they would either make it across or they wouldn’t. When he felt a giant wave grab their boat, he said a short prayer, then grabbed onto the side of the raft as he felt it being lifted up and up toward the sky.
After climbing for what seemed like an hour, the raft hung suspended in the air for a spit second, and everything stopped. Then it crashed downward as the wave broke. Scott hung on gamely as the raft flew toward the trough and hit the bottom with a neck wrenching jolt, then in the next instant the small craft was being swept up once again. Scott barely had time to register that they apparently had missed the main part of the reef when another wave caught them up and twisted the raft sideways. The wind grabbed at the wood and flipped it up, throwing the two men into the churning sea as the raft crashed toward the bottom.
Chapter Thirty Four
Scott was dumped into the water and felt his body hit the sharp coral. He bounced and skidded along the bottom, unable to even figure out which way was up. He rolled and twisted as the current swept him along, and he finally felt the bottom beneath his feet. He gave a mighty shove, and a second later he popped to the surface, gasping for breath. As soon as he could breathe again, he looked around for his brother, but couldn’t see more than a few feet away. He glanced around one last time, then started away from the reef, praying his brother had made it, and praying he was headed toward land.
He had swum almost a hundred yards before the sound of the waves crashing on the reef faded enough that he was able to hear a softer sound. This time the waves he heard sounded more like the ones he had heard at the beach on a summer day, and he fought his way toward the reassuring sound.
As the waves grabbed his body, he relaxed and allowed the sea to carry him the rest of the way. After all of the violence it had shown, the sea finally decided to be merciful, and gently deposited him on a soft sandy beach. Scott lay there for a second, then rolled over and came face to face with his brother.
“What took ya so long?” Johnny drawled.
Scott grinned, feeling his lips crack once more at the effort, but not caring. They were safe. Both of them. The two men lay in the sand for quite a while, until the cold forced them up. Scott looked around the beach, then focused on the nearby jungle. At least the wind wouldn’t be as bad in the vegetation. He lurched to his feet, wobbling as he tried to regain his equilibrium after so long on the moving raft. With Johnny behind him, he made his way slowly to the edge of the jungle and plopped down at the base of a large tree. A second later, his brother sat next to him. The two men huddled together, grateful to be on dry land and out of the wind, and they soon fell into an exhausted slumber.
The harsh cries of some large bird woke the two men the next morning, and Scott watched as several bright blue and gold birds feasted on nuts in the tree above. Seeing them eat reminded him just how hungry he was. He briefly entertained the idea of climbing the tree to get to the nuts, but the birds were eating at least a hundred feet up, and Scott knew he would never make it that far. He nudged his brother. “Let’s see if we can find something to eat and drink around here.”
Johnny nodded and rose unsteadily to his feet. Scott noticed his brother was limping badly, and made a mental note to check Johnny’s leg. He realized he wasn’t exactly in great shape himself. The trip over that coral had ripped him up pretty badly, and he had several sizeable gashes and numerous smaller cuts and scrapes. The sea had done a passable job of cleaning them, but as soon as they found some water, they’d have to clean their wounds thoroughly before they became infected.
They had only walked a short distance when they heard the sound of running water. They headed for it, and were rewarded with the sight of a small spring erupting from some rocks. The water looked clean, but at that point, neither man really cared. They stooped down and gulped several handfuls before stopping and allowing their stomachs to get used to the offering. It was touch and go for a moment, but finally their stomachs decided to accept the water on a trial basis. They waited several minutes before swallowing any more, and it was a good half hour before they had drunk all they wanted.
Feeling much better, the two men simply sat for a while.
“Now what?” Johnny finally asked.
“Well, unless we’re on an island, we must be on the coast of South America. I’m not sure exactly where, but wherever we are, we have a hell of a walk ahead of us.”
“Ain’t there no trains?”
Scott shook his head. “I’m afraid there aren’t even any stages or telegraph lines this far down. We’re on our own, at least until we get a lot further north. The thing is, if we’re very near the tip, we’d be better off going back down and then going up the west side of the continent. There are more towns, and one of them might have some transportation. The problem is, we don’t know where we are. I’d hate to head south if we were close to the north end of the continent. We’d be walking forever.”
Johnny though for a minute, then shrugged. “Seems like it’d be pretty stupid ta head the wrong way, specially since we have no idea where we are in the first place. At least if we go north, we should be home eventually.”
Scott nodded in agreement. “Then north it is.”
Suddenly, they heard a loud crashing in the jungle in front of them. Both men stared apprehensively toward the sound, but whatever made the sound refused to show itself. The crashing became louder, and then an animal’s obvious scream of fear and pain sounded loudly in the bush before it was abruptly cut off and all was still once more.
Johnny drew out his pistol and checked it, then frowned in disgust. “I have ta clean it before we do anything else. That salt water just about ruined it.”
Scott nodded in agreement. “I think that might be a wise move.”
The two men sat on the rocks and Scott watched as Johnny did his best to patiently clean the corrosion from his gun.
“Scott, those stories the crew was tellin us about man eatin’ monsters and people that eat other men. Are they true?”
Scott shrugged. “Both headhunters and cannibals are supposed to live in this jungle, according to the writings of explorers. As for animals, I’m sure there are plenty of creatures in this place that could kill us and they probably aren’t all big. The problem is, we’re totally in the dark as to what is and isn’t dangerous.”
Johnny nodded, then flashed a grin at his brother. “Just like a certain Boston dandy who thought that strange insect with a stinger on its tail was interesting and wanted ta pick it up and study it.”
Scott nodded seriously. “Exactly. Only this time, we’re both greenhorns.”
Chapter Thirty Five
Scott and Johnny went back to the small spring and drank all of the water they could hold, then started walking north. At first the vegetation was sparse, but as they walked, it gradually became denser until they were fighting their way through the brush.
Scott looked up at the canopy far above them, hoping to see the sun so he could make sure they were still heading in the right direction, but the trees were too thick for more than a small amount of light to filter through. He wiped the sweat off of his brow and looked around, hoping to find an easier way through the jungle, but the greenery surrounded them. He hoped he was still heading north, but it was hard to tell without the sky to guide them.
After several hours, Scott called a halt in a small clearing. Johnny hadn’t been saying much, and that worried him. He knew his brother would never complain if he were really hurting, but if Johnny was feeling all right he’d be good naturedly grousing about everything. Scott sank down on the ground and watched as his brother hesitated before slowly lowered himself into a sitting position. Scott watched him for several seconds, noticing the pallor of his brother’s skin and the tightness around his mouth.
“All right, let’s see that leg.”
Johnny looked up in surprise. “It’s fine.”
“Sure it is. Now let me see it.”
Johnny shrugged. “What for? Nothin’ we can do about it, anyway.”
Johnny glared at his brother for several seconds, but Scott’s gaze didn’t waver, and finally Johnny shrugged. He peeled the torn pant led away from his leg, and Scott gasped softly when he saw the infected leg. He scooted over to his brother and examined the wound more closely. Finally he straightened up.
“Well brother, that’s one heck of an infection you’ve got there.”
Johnny snorted. “Really? I never woulda guessed.”
Scott sighed. “We have to find some clean water and try to wash it off.”
“Little late for that, ain’t it?”
“Look, we have to do something!” Scott snapped.
Johnny looked at his brother in surprise. “Take it easy, Scott.”
Scott ran his hand through his hair, then took a deep breath. “Sorry, I’m just worried.”
Johnny put his hand on his brother’s arm. “I know, so am I. But at least we’re on dry land and we have a chance now.”
Scott nodded slowly. “You’re right. We just have to keep our heads and not do anything stupid.”
“Like getting an infection?” Johnny quipped.
In spite of himself, Scott grinned. Johnny’s answer reassured him that his brother wasn’t critically ill, at least not yet.
Scott wiped the sweat off of his face once more and looked around. “We have to find something to eat.”
Johnny nodded, although he wasn’t particularly hungry. The infection was doing a good job of making his stomach feel queasy. “There has ta be somethin’ ta eat in this place.”
Scott shrugged. “I’m sure there is, but it’s just a matter of finding it.”
Johnny nodded once more and studied the trees with a critical eye. “Those monkeys don’t have any trouble findin’ food,” he observed.
Scott squinted his eyes and looked up. He watched the animals scamper about for a while, then turned toward his brother. “They’re eating bananas. I wonder where they found them.”
Johnny pointed to a bunch of fruit hanging from a nearby tree, almost fifty feet up, then shook his head. “I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I’m up for a climb like that.”
Scott shook his head sorrowfully. “Me either. I guess we’ll have to find something a little closer to the ground.”
“Maybe we can convince those monkeys ta give some to us,” Johnny suggested thoughtfully.
Scott snorted. “Brother, if you can pull that off, I’ll never doubt your ability with animals again.”
Johnny grinned as he studied the animals, then he turned toward his brother. “Is the saying ‘monkey see, monkey, do’ true?”
Scott looked at his brother in confusion. “I have no idea.”
Johnny smiled. “Well, I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
Scott shook his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Johnny looked around and picked up a few small rocks. He lurched to his feet and watched the monkeys as they romped through the trees. As they got closer, Johnny reared back and took aim, then threw the rock at the nearest monkey.
“You missed,” Scott observed.
Johnny shrugged. “Nope. Didn’t mean ta hit him.” He took aim once more and sent another rock sailing into the trees. The monkeys chattered angrily as Johnny once more let fly. The angry animals scampered back and forth among the branches, loudly scolding the two men.
“Why are you trying to get those monkeys angry?” Scott asked calmly.
Just then a banana went sailing by Scott’s ear and another piece of fruit fell at his feet.
“That’s why,” Johnny grinned.
Scott looked at his brother in disbelief as fruit of all kinds rained down on them from above. Johnny calmly picked up a red fruit and bit into it. “Not bad,” he commented.
Scott chuckled as he picked up the bounty graciously given them by the monkeys. “I will never doubt you again, brother.”
“You’d better not,” Johnny happily agreed.
Scott and Johnny sat down and began enjoying the unexpected feast, their mood lightening as they ate.
“I have no idea what most of these fruits are, but they sure are good,” Scott observed.
Johnny nodded. “I don’t know when anything has ever tasted so good.”
“Well at least we know we won’t starve.”
Johnny nodded. “All right, I did the hard part, now it’s your turn.”
Johnny nodded. “It’s your turn ta be useful.”
Scott looked at him quizzically and Johnny’s face suddenly became serious. “Scott, get us the hell out of this jungle and get us home!”
Scott smiled. “I’ll do my best, brother, I’ll do my best.”
Chapter Thirty Six
Murdoch picked at his food, trying hard to keep up the pretense of not being worried, but he knew Teresa wasn’t fooled. He glanced over at his ward and noticed she was also doing an admirable job of shoving her food around without actually eating. He doubted if either one of them had eaten one full meal since they’d been in New York. They had made a pretense of having fun; they had attended plays and eaten at fine restaurants, but Murdoch couldn’t remember even one detail from any of their outings, and he doubted Teresa could, either.
These last few weeks had been the hardest in his life, but he had the horrible feeling that it was going to get worse. The Pegasus had been due in New York last week, but so far there was no sign of her. He had gone down to the docks every day, and every day he was told the same thing; there was no news, and the ship would probably show up at any time. At first, Murdoch had believed them and he had remained upbeat. As time wore on, however, a sense of doom began to descend.
The people he had talked to in San Francisco when he had first found out about his sons’ fate certainly had done nothing to ease his fears. On the contrary, it seemed as if they had delighted in telling him all of the horror stories of what other shanghaied men had gone through. They pointed out that of the hundreds of men that disappeared every year, only an extremely small percentage were ever seen again. The more people he talked to, the more remote the possibility of his sons coming back to him seemed. He had almost given up then, but in the back of his mind he knew how stubborn his sons could be, and he knew that both of them had survived things that other men wouldn’t have.
The main thing that had kept his hope alive, however, was the belief that they were together. He had no proof, but he thought it was likely, and he knew that his sons would do literally anything to save the other one. That knowledge had gone a long way towards keeping him sane. Separately both Scott and Johnny were formidable opponents against an enemy, but together, his sons were almost invincible. Anyone messing with one of them would have the other to contend with as well, and that is what kept his hope alive in his heart, when his mind told him that it was hopeless.
With a deep sigh, he pushed his plate away from him and sat back. Teresa immediately looked up, and the misery in her eyes was obvious. He smiled at her and reached over and patted her hand. “They’ll be all right,” he said to reassure himself as much as his ward. She smiled hopefully, but he could tell she didn’t really believe him.
“Are you done eating?” he asked gently.
She looked at the expensive meal sitting untouched on her plate and nodded guiltily. “I’m sorry. I guess I wasn’t very hungry.”
He shrugged and nodded toward his own plate. “Neither was I. Come on, let’s go back to the hotel and try to get a good night’s sleep.”
Murdoch woke up in a good mood. Today would be the day he would be reunited with his sons. He vowed he was going to stay hopeful. He quickly washed up, almost deciding not to take time to shave, but then figured he wanted to look his best for the reunion. He whistled as he scraped the beard from his face, then he donned his best pants and shirt before stepping to the next room and tapping lightly on the door.
Teresa opened the door almost at once, and from the look on her face, he realized she had also chosen to be optimistic. Her smile cheered him even further, and he gallantly offered his arm to the girl. They went downstairs and ate a leisurely breakfast before setting out for the docks. Murdoch normally didn’t let Teresa accompany him, but today he decided to let her tag along. Nothing bad could happen today, and he wanted her to be there when they were finally reunited with Scott and Johnny.
The buggy slowly made its way to the docks, the traffic and crowds hindering its movement. It took all of Murdoch’s self control to keep from jumping out and racing ahead on foot, but he managed to remain at least outwardly calm. After what seemed like hours, the buggy finally pulled up by the docks, and Murdoch and Teresa immediately headed for the harbormaster’s office.
The man looked up as the man and woman walked in.
“Mr. Lancer, I’ve been expecting you.” He hesitated. “We have some news.”
“They’re here?” Teresa squealed happily.
The harbormaster shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” He turned his attention to Murdoch. “Another ship docked last night.” His eyes dropped. “The Lady Mae came through a storm down by the Horn and suffered damage. The day after the storm, they came across a lot of debris, apparently from another ship.” His voice became soft and he avoided the man’s eyes. “Although they did an extensive search, they only found one survivor, who died before they docked. He told them that he was a mate on The Pegasus and that she sank in the storm. The mate said she went down in a minute or two, and he hadn’t seen any other survivors before the Lady Mae picked him up.”
He brought his eyes up to the rancher. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer, but I’m afraid your sons went down with the ship.”
Murdoch simply stared at the man, his mind refusing to comprehend the words the harbormaster was saying. He knew the man had to be wrong. His sons couldn’t be dead, they just couldn’t. There had to be some mistake. He shook his head in disbelief, and never even noticed when Teresa uttered a small moan and collapsed.
Chapter Thirty Seven
Scott swept angrily against the thick vegetation, the sweat pouring off of him in buckets. He swatted ineffectually at the numerous bugs that were drawn to his sweat, trying desperately and unsuccessfully to keep them out of his mouth and eyes. He was itching all over his body from the numerous bug bites he had suffered, but he was trying not to scratch at them or his other wounds. So far, he had been lucky and none of his cuts from the trip over the coral were infected, but he wasn’t willing to take a chance. He knew that scratching a wound was one of the worst ways to infect it. Even so, he gave in and rubbed his arms and legs roughly when the incessant itching became too much for him.
He and Johnny had been fighting their way through the jungle all day, and he figured they had only gained a couple of miles. He was totally exhausted, and he could only imagine how Johnny felt. He glanced back at his brother, reassuring himself that Johnny was still managing to keep up. He knew his brother’s leg was badly infected, but there was nothing they could do about it. He just hoped Johnny could fight off the infection soon.
Scott ducked as a large leaf swung back and nearly hit him in the face, and he felt something land on his head. He swept it off with his arm without looking, and it flew back in his brother’s direction. He immediately heard a curse from his brother. Scott stopped and looked around, and saw that Johnny was studying something on the ground.
“Scott, look at this,” Johnny said in wonder.
Scott turned around, and his face paled as he saw what he had swatted from his head. “I’ve never seen one anywhere near that big,” Scott observed as he watched the huge green beetle lumber along the floor of the jungle.
Johnny shook his head. “Can you imagine what Teresa would do if she saw that thing?”
Scott shook his head and smiled at the thought. “Maybe we should bring it home for her.”
Johnny grinned. “We’d never eat again. You know how she hates bugs.”
Scott snorted. “That’s not a bug; that’s an elephant.”
Johnny shivered dramatically. “I’m glad it was your head it was on and not mine.”
Scott smiled evilly. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll get your turn. I’ve never seen so many different kinds of insects.”
“Not just insects, birds, too. And I’ve seen dozens of lizards and a couple of different kinds of snakes.”
Scott nodded. “The Amazon is known for it’s profusion of plant and animal life.”
“Think any of those snakes we saw were poisonous?”
Scott nodded. “I’m sure they were. Probably some of the insects are, too.”
“Thanks for that information. It made my day.”
Scott shrugged. “We just have to be careful and watch what we’re doing.” He looked around. “We’d better start looking for something to eat soon.”
“I ain’t hungry.”
Scott looked at his brother in alarm. The only time Johnny wasn’t hungry was when he was unconscious. “Well, whether you are or aren’t, you still need to eat.”
Johnny shrugged. “I guess. I could sure use some water, though.”
Scott nodded. “We should come to another river soon. Let’s go.”
Scott headed off through the greenery, worried about his brother. Johnny was drinking water almost continually, and was still thirsty. He was also flushed, and Scott knew his brother’s fever was going up dangerously.
Thirty minutes later, they came to a slow moving stream. Scott stared at it for a few minutes, then turned upstream, hoping to find a spring where the water would be a little cleaner. The stream gradually widened, becoming even more stagnant. Scott looked at the green water in distaste. They needed water, but drinking from this was inviting disease. He glanced back at his brother, and knew they needed to find clean water and a place to rest soon.
Finally, Scott saw a smaller, quick moving stream emptying into the larger one from the opposite side, and he stopped and nudged his brother. “Let’s try over there.”
Johnny nodded and immediately stepped into the water. Scott could tell from his brother’s glazed eyes that Johnny was going on willpower only, and wasn’t thinking clearly. Johnny took another couple of steps, and suddenly the water in front of him exploded. Johnny jumped backwards, bumping into Scott and causing them both to struggle to keep their feet. Scott fought for his balance and pulled Johnny back just as he was about to fall down. A huge animal lunged at them once more.
This time, both men lost their balance and fell heavily, then scrambled frantically towards dry land as the animal advanced, it’s mouth open to show rows of dagger sharp teeth. Scott managed to lunge to his feet first, then grabbed Johnny around the waist and pulled him backwards as the animal advanced. The two men floundered in the mud, fighting their way toward shore. Even as he was fighting to survive, it crossed his mind that his brother must be very ill to have been taken by surprise like that.
The animal watched them retreat for several seconds before finally giving up and turning back toward the water. The two brothers scrambled further up the bank and then sat, breathing heavily.
“What the hell was that?” Johnny panted.
“Crocodile,” Scott answered shortly.
Johnny shook his head. “Cute. And here I was worryin’ about bugs,” he said with a wry smile. “You got any more surprises for me?”
“I’m sure there’ll be plenty of surprises, and most probably won’t be good. I think, brother, that we’d better be suspicious of everything.” He studied Johnny worriedly. “And right now, I’m suspicious about that leg of yours. We need to find some clean water.”
Johnny nodded, and after several minutes he lurched to his feet and followed his brother back down toward the water.
Chapter Thirty Eight
Late that evening, Scott found a large tree that had fallen over and had created a hollow underneath it. As soon as they stopped, Johnny plopped to the ground without even looking, and Scott looked at him worriedly. His bother was very ill and getting weaker by the minute. Scott knew Johnny had been going on willpower and sheer stubbornness for quite a while, but he was about done in. Scott knew they should have stopped sooner, but he had wanted to get further from the water before stopping.
Earlier, they had finally managed to find some clean running water that had looked fairly safe, and they had both drunk their fill and then had bathed as best they could. The stream was small enough that they knew there were no crocodiles in it, but neither man lingered in the water for long. They were too aware that they were completely ignorant of the jungle’s dangers, and they knew that water could harbor hidden dangers as well as the land.
After they were done, they had followed the stream for a little while, but the thick vegetation was impenetrable that close to the water and the insects buzzing around were so thick that it was almost impossible to breathe, so they had reluctantly headed inland. It took them a while to get far enough away for the insects to abate slightly, and Scott feared they would never go completely away. Most were simply nuisances, but enough of them bit or stung to make it miserable.
Scott glanced uneasily over at his brother. Johnny was breathing heavily and was pale. When Scott had called the halt, Johnny had sunk to his knees immediately, then rolled over onto his side and fell asleep immediately. The only problem was that Scott was afraid it was more of a matter of losing consciousness than sleeping. Scott knew his brother’s leg was badly infected, but without any medicine, Scott didn’t know what to do about it. He had tried to clean it off in the water, but the leg was so painful Johnny could hardly bear to have him touch it. Scott scooted over and felt Johnny’s head, and he wasn’t particularly surprised at the heat emanating from it. He sighed deeply.
Scott bowed his head and said a quick prayer. If Johnny’s fever didn’t break soon, they were going to be in big trouble. He knew that he needed to bring Johnny’s fever down, but the heat in the jungle made that almost impossible. Even though there was plenty of water around, it was as warm as bath water. Even at night the heat was oppressive, and the humidity made it seem even hotter.
Scott looked back at the small hollow he had found under the tree. At least he hoped it was empty. Cautiously, he took a stick and probed underneath the tree, dislodging several large insects, but nothing that looked too dangerous. The heat made a shelter unnecessary, but sleeping on the ground in the open made Scott feel too vulnerable to unknown dangers. The hollow provided a little protection, anyway.
When he was satisfied there was nothing harmful in the little cave, he started pulling some leaves from a nearby plant and using them to line the hollow for some additional protection. When he was done, he looked over at Johnny once more, and debated whether to go and try to find some food. After a moment, he decided it would be better to wait until morning. It was almost full dark, and stumbling around blindly in the jungle wasn’t a particularly pleasant thought. Besides, he knew Johnny wouldn’t eat anything, and he was just too darn tired to even chew.
He went over and squatted next to his brother and sat for a while, listening to the night sounds and thinking about home. He wondered if Murdoch had given up on them yet, and that thought saddened him. He hoped their father would accept that they weren’t coming home, and go on with his life. Even though he knew he and Johnny would keep trying, he also knew the odds of them getting out of this jungle alive, let alone back to Lancer, were slim.
With a sigh, he stood up and prepared to drag Johnny into the shelter. He reached down and grabbed his brother under the armpits, and immediately let go with a hiss of pain. Concerned, he knelt down and looked at his brother carefully, wondering what had caused the pain in his hands. When he didn’t see anything, he reached out and touched Johnny again, and immediately felt pains shooting up his arms. He turned his hands over and was shocked to see that they were covered with large blisters.
He stared at the blisters that covered his hands and went up his arms almost to his elbows, right to where he had pushed his shirt sleeves. He cautiously touched a finger to one. The pain was immediate and enormous. He gasped aloud, and noticed that the blisters were getting bigger, spreading out until they were touching. His arms and hands were beginning to throb, and the skin was stretching alarmingly. He felt panic start to engulf him as he watched his arms and hands swell like balloons. He was afraid if he moved, they might pop. He thought frantically about what might have caused it, then looked suspiciously at the neatly spread leaves in the cave.
Several minutes later, the swelling started to go down slightly, leaving bright red blisters covering his hands and arms. They were still painful, but it was bearable, and his arms no longer felt like they might explode. Scott said a quick prayer of thanks they hadn’t gone to sleep on his makeshift mattress, then he lay down next to his brother. In spite of his resolve to stay awake and keep watch, he was soon sound asleep.
Scott woke suddenly, although he wasn’t sure what had awakened him. He glanced over at his brother, noticing that Johnny was still sleeping soundly. Scott felt a moment’s unease; wondering if his brother was unconscious. He scooted over and touched Johnny’s shoulder, realizing his hands were still swollen and painful. When his brother didn’t respond, he shook his arm.
Scott felt panic starting to engulf him when he realized that his brother was unconscious, and he looked around, trying to figure out what to do. Even in his panic, though, some inner sense told him there was something else wrong. He glanced back at his brother, and he suddenly felt a sharp prick on his arm. He looked down, trying to see what it was, and his eyes widened in surprise, then he slowly fell against his brother.
Chapter Thirty Nine
Scott lay slumped across his brother, awake but unable to move. The sounds of the jungle had stopped, and silence surrounded him. As he lay there, he tried desperately to figure out what was wrong, but his mind wasn’t quite as sharp as it should be. He finally remembered that he had been shot with a dart, and he decided there must have been something on it that was causing his symptoms. He had read somewhere that the natives in these jungles used all sorts of poisons and potions for many different reasons, and apparently some of the locals had used some sort of drug to render him helpless. He wondered if Johnny had been shot as well, even though his brother had already been unconscious.
He finally heard a small rustle in the nearby bushes, and then he watched in alarm as a small group of natives came into his line of vision. They cautiously entered the clearing, their spears at ready. Scott tried to sit up, but he was unable to even turn his head. The only thing that he could move was his eyes, and his inability to move frightened him. He watched as the strange men approached and prodded him with their spears, then apparently satisfied that he was helpless, they stood and talked excitedly among themselves. The men seemed to be arguing, and Scott watched as they waved their hands and shouted back and forth. Finally they came to some sort of agreement, and several of them walked over and easily picked Scott up and started through the jungle with him.
Scott strained his ears to hear anything that would tell him that they were also taking Johnny along, but the natives moved silently through the vegetation. He was worried about where he was being taken, but he was more worried about Johnny. He knew there was no reason his brother would have been left, but the thought that they might be separated almost caused him to panic. Scott closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. Right now there was nothing he could do to help either himself or Johnny, and besides, it could be worse, he thought with dark humor. At least his arms were no longer hurting him.
It was a strange feeling to be hauled along like a sack of potatoes and not be able to move or even feel anything. The few times he had been carried when he was awake he had always been distinctly uncomfortable, but this time he felt nothing at all. He said a silent prayer that the drug would eventually wear off, but even if he did, it looked like his and Johnny’s journey home just might be over. The natives certainly didn’t seem very friendly. Gradually a feeling of lassitude came over him, and he dozed.
Scott was jarred awake when his body hit the ground. His eyes flew open but it took several moments for him to remember where he was and what had happened. All he could see in his limited field of vision was a forest of brown legs. With great effort, he managed to turn his head up. He felt light headed and disoriented, but his first thought was relief that whatever drug had been used was starting to wear off. His relief at finally being able to move was short lived. His gaze moved slowly up from the feet of the closest man to the native’s waist, and there his eyes focused on the decorations hanging from the native’s belt. A string of shrunken heads bobbed and nodded at him, and Scott stared at them for several seconds before giving into his weakened condition and passing out.
Scott swam up out of the darkness and his eyes instantly focused on his brother’s face, several feet away. A feeling of relief washed over him as he realized they were still together. “Johnny.”
“Scott, I can’t move!”
Scott heard the panic in his brother’s voice and hurried to reassure him. “Johnny, it’s ok. It will wear off.”
“How do you know?” Johnny’s voice was calmer, but he still sounded worried.
“Because it’s already starting to wear off. Before, I couldn’t speak or move my head. Now I can, and I’m starting to regain feeling in my feet and hands.”
“What the hell happened?”
Scott looked at his brother sharply when he heard how weak his voice was. “Evidently we were captured by some of the natives. They shot us with some sort of poison that paralyzed us temporarily.”
“I guess that answers my next question,” Johnny said glumly.
“I was gonna ask if they were friendly.”
Scott thought back to the shrunken heads. “No, I have a feeling they’re definitely not.” He studied Johnny, noting his flushed cheeks and the glassy look in his eyes, and decided his brother was still suffering from a fever. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’d feel just fine if we could get outta here.”
“Well, since neither of us can move at the moment, I’m afraid that any escape attempts will just have to wait.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
The resignation in his brother’s voice made Scott look at him once more, and he saw Johnny’s eyes closing. “Hey, you ok?” he asked softly.
There was a pause before Johnny finally sighed. “Sure. Just tired, that’s all. I think I’ll rest for a little while,” he said as his eyes slipped shut.
Scott watched worriedly as his brother quickly fell asleep. He knew that Johnny had to be very ill for him to give in to unconsciousness when they were both in danger. Scott knew he was being illogical, but right how he was more worried about his brother’s condition than he was about their predicament. He slowly managed to inch his way over to Johnny’s side, and finally, weakened from his efforts, he slumped against his brother and gave in to his own exhaustion.
Scott’s eyes flew open, wondering what had awakened him. He felt a jerking motion, and he tried to make sense of it. It was dark inside the hut, but a small stream of moonlight came in through a gap in the roof, illuminating where Scott and Johnny lay. Scott sat still for a moment, but the movement continued, and Scott finally realized in horror that it was coming from his brother’s body. Now that he was more awake, he was aware of the intense heat also arising from Johnny. Scott managed to get into a sitting position and frantically turned his brother’s face toward him.
Johnny was unconscious and mumbling incoherently. The heat coming up from his body was intense and Scott tore off his brother’s shirt in a vain attempt to cool him off. He looked frantically around for a container of water, but the hut was bare. Johnny was jerking uncontrollably, and Scott knew his brother was having a seizure, probably from his fever. Sam had told them a long time ago that with Johnny’s tendency to spike a temperature, a convulsion was likely whenever he was ill. Up to now they had been very lucky and they had managed to avoid it, but it looked as thought Sam hadn’t been kidding.
Scott knew he needed to get Johnny’s fever down immediately, and he yelled, hoping to get someone’s attention. After several attempts brought no response, Scott gave up and merely held his brother, praying for the convulsion to stop. After what seemed like hours, the seizure finally began to abate and Johnny’s breathing evened out. Scott wasn’t sure if Johnny was asleep or unconscious, but he was at least grateful the convulsion seemed to be over.
The hut gradually became lighter as daylight finally dawned. Scott hoped that he could get some help for his brother once someone came in, but in his heart he knew it was unlikely. Whatever these natives had planned for them, he doubted if healing Johnny was on their agenda. Maybe with any luck, Johnny would remain comatose for whatever awaited them. He unconsciously held his brother a little tighter, waiting for what was to come. He felt at peace, knowing they had done their very best to get home. He glanced down once more, and was startled to see two bright blue eyes looking back at him. “Hey,” Scott said. He smiled, thinking that it was just like Johnny to do things the hard way.
Johnny licked his lips before answering. “Hey,” he croaked.
“Welcome back.” Scott studied Johnny and realized with dismay that his brother’s fever was still with him, and this was just another calm in the storm. Soon Johnny would be unconscious again. “How’re you feeling?”
Johnny merely nodded. Speaking just took too much effort. He looked at his brother and smiled slowly. “Looks like things haven’t improved much. I don’t suppose you have some water hiding anywhere.”
Scott slowly shook his head. “Sorry. He grinned back. “Besides, I remember you telling me not long ago that you never wanted to see water again.”
“I lied,” Johnny whispered.
“I’ll remember that next time I’m trying to get you on a boat.”
“Scott, if you can get us out of here and anywhere near a boat that can take us home, I promise I’ll be the first one on board.”
“That’s a promise, brother. But first we have to get out of here. Any ideas?”
“Where’s my gun?” Johnny asked in an almost panicked voice.
Scott shook his head. “I have no idea. It must have fallen out, or they took it. It was the first thing I thought about.”
Johnny closed his eyes and sighed, then looked down at his own legs. “I still can’t move very much. I can feel my legs, but that’s about it. They still don’t seem ta be workin’.”
Scott nodded. “Mine either. I can move my arms, though.”
Johnny tried and found he could move his hands. “Well, that helps. But unless we can walk, it don’t look too good. I have the feelin; we’d draw some attention tryin’ ta crawl outta here. We’ll just have ta wait until we can move before we try somethin’.”
“I hope we have that much time.”
Johnny looked at his brother quizzically. “What makes ya think they’re gonna kill us? They haven’t really hurt us yet.”
Scott shrugged, debating with himself on whether to tell his brother what he had seen. Finally, he decided it would be stupid not to. “They’re head hunters.”
“Head hunters? What do ya mean?”
“It means that they kill their enemies and collect their heads.”
Johnny’s eyes got big. “How do you know?”
“I saw them.”
“Saw who?” Johnny persisted.
“I saw the heads when they brought us into the village. You were still unconscious. Several of the men were wearing heads dangling from their belts.”
Johnny looked at his brother uncertainly. “Isn’t that a little clumsy? I mean, they should take a lesson from the Indians. At least scalps are easier ta carry.”
Scott shook his head. “They shrink the heads first. They’re only about the size of an orange when they get done.”
“Are you makin’ this up?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
“I wish I were, but I’m not. It’s the truth.”
“How do ya shrink bone?”
“Johnny, I have no idea, but that’s not really our problem,” Scott said in exasperation. “Right now, I’d say our main concern is to get out of here before we find out about their techniques first hand.”
“Any suggestions on how we can get away when we can’t even walk?”
“No,” Scott sighed. “I was hoping you could come up with something.”
Johnny shook his head, then Scott looked at him speculatively. “You speak Spanish. Maybe you can talk to them.”
“What makes you think headhunters can speak Spanish?”
“Well, the Portuguese settled around here. They harvest sugar, and they must have had some contact with the natives.”
“I hate ta point out the obvious, but Portuguese ain’t Spanish.”
“No, but they’re similar. Maybe similar enough to make yourself understood.”
“And what do I say?” Johnny asked sarcastically. “Now that I can talk to ya, don’t eat us?”
“They aren’t cannibals. They’re headhunters.”
“What law says they can’t be both?”
Scott started to answer, then sighed. Johnny might be right, and knowing their luck on this trip so far, he probably was.
Chapter Forty One
Throughout the long night, the two men waited. They could hear the natives outside shouting and chanting, and they figured it was just a matter of time before they were invited to the party.
“That’s what Indians do,” Johnny observed. “They’ve got ta work themselves up to do their dirty work.”
“Any chance they’ll all get drunk and forget what they have planned?”
Johnny chuckled. “Nope. Just like for the Indians, it’s probably the highlight of their year. Not like much happens out here in the jungle. I doubt if they get many visitors.”
“Well, I certainly won’t visit them again. Their hospitality is definitely lacking.”
“Brother, I don’t think you’ll have ta worry about it.” Johnny sighed and tipped his head back. “I wish I still had my gun. Those natives would never know what hit them.”
Scot nodded. “I know, it was the first thing I thought of, but they must have taken it.”
Johnny grinned. “Well, we can at least hope that whoever took it gets a real big surprise when they start fooling around with it.”
Scott smiled. “I don’t suppose with our luck we could hope for it to happen soon.”
Johnny snorted. “Not in a million years. We just ain’t that lucky.” He hesitated a few moments, then looked at his brother. “I wonder what Murdoch’s doin’ right about now.”
“Worrying about us.”
“Guess he’s done that most of his adult life, hasn’t he?”
Scott nodded. “Yes, I suppose he has. All that time I thought he didn’t care he was probably going through hell.”
“I spent so long hating him,” Johnny said softly.
“So did I.”
“I’m glad I got ta know him. I’m glad I know the truth.”
Scott nodded. “This is going to be hard on him. He’s so stubborn, he’ll never give up trying to find us.”
Johnny nodded and shut his eyes. “He’ll give up eventually. He ain’t stupid.” Johnny sighed softly. “I’m gonna close my eyes for a while. Let me know if anything exciting happens.”
Scott watched in despair as Johnny gradually lapsed into unconsciousness once more. The blond said another prayer and his own head lolled as he let his exhaustion overtake him. A feeling of peace had come over him. He knew they couldn’t do anything about whatever was going to happen, and he just hoped whatever the natives had planned would be quick. He wasn’t afraid of dying; he had faced death more than once, but he didn’t know if he could handle watching his brother die, especially if it was a slow death. He said another prayer, then drifted off to sleep.
Scott jerked upright as several men entered the hut and grabbed his arms. He saw that it was light outside, and the chanting had stopped. It was deathly quiet and Scott knew it was time to find out what the natives had planned for them. He still couldn’t move his legs, so the men dragged him outside and dumped him on the ground, then returned for Johnny. When they returned, Scott saw that his brother was still unconscious, and he was grateful that Johnny would probably be spared the knowledge of what was going to happen.
Johnny was dumped next to Scott, then both of them had their arms roughly tied behind their backs. Any hope that he might be mistaken evaporated. If the natives were friendly, they certainly wouldn’t tie them. Johnny’s shirt was already off, but the natives ripped Scott’s shirt off and threw it from person to person. The natives began yelling wildly once more and shaking their spears, and then they began to circle the two men.
Scott’s eyes closed, and he tried to make his final peace with God. He thought of his father and hoped Murdoch could go on with his life, although he knew the older man would be devastated. The three men had become unbelievably close since Scott and Johnny had come home, and none of them had any doubt about their feelings toward the others. Scott felt an overriding sadness that their lives together would be cut so brutally short. He had waited his whole life to get to know his father, and now he knew the short time they’d had together was all he was going to get. He felt even sadder when he thought of his brother. Johnny didn’t deserve to die like this. He deserved to enjoy the happiness Scott knew he’d found at last.
Two of the natives approached, and Scott watched them warily as they began to daub paint on his naked torso. Two others were doing the same thing to his brother. The men took their time and drew numerous intricate designs on Scott’s chest and back, then moved up and started decorating his face. Scott looked over and saw that Johnny’s face was almost totally covered with the paint.
The natives stood back and admired their handiwork. Evidently, they felt their work was complete, and they grabbed the two men and dragged them over to where a man was sitting on a raised platform. Scott hadn’t seen the man before, and realized that this must be the chief. He couldn’t get a good look at the man, because every time he tried to raise his eyes, he was cuffed and made to lower his head. In the short glances he managed, however, he knew there would be no mercy here. The man was a massive giant and was dressed in an ornate cape decorated with feathers and beads, but it was the man’s expression that Scott noticed. The chief’s face was hard and without emotion, and the old woman sitting next to him had a look of excited anticipation.
Scott tried once more to roll away from his captors, but was cuffed and pushed back. Scott closed his eyes once more, wishing they’d get on with whatever they had planned for them. He was dragged back, and his head was pushed to the ground once more. He raised it just in time for him to see one of the natives grab Johnny’s head and hold it up as another man approached with a long knife. Scott struggled fiercely, but was no match for the men holding him.
“JOHNNY!” Scott yelled, and received a blow for his efforts. He didn’t want to watch, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of the scene unfolding before him. He watched as his brother’s eyes fluttered open and Johnny looked in confusion at the man on the platform. The man with the knife stepped behind Johnny and yanked his head back. Scott watched in horror as the native put the knife to his brother’s throat, and Johnny’s blood began to darken the dirt as Scott felt his own head yanked back.
Chapter Forty Two
Murdoch walked slowly around the room, picking things up and studying them, then placing them carefully back down. When he was finished, he looked around the room, gazing at the bed for a long time. He could still feel his son’s presence. He could still smell the aftershave that he wore and the aroma of his favorite brand of cigar, although now even the scents were beginning to fade. Murdoch stood for several minutes, just as he had in his other son’s room, then he walked out and quietly shut the door. The click of the door had a sound of finality about it, and he flinched, then shuffled down the stairs, feeling like an old man. He walked over to the sideboard and poured a drink with shaking hands.
“Are you ready?” Teresa asked softly.
Murdoch’s head dropped. No he wasn’t ready. How could he possibly be ready for something like this? He had put it off as long as he could, but it still wasn’t long enough. It would never be long enough. He kept telling everyone that he was waiting ‘just to make sure’, but that was a lie, and he figured that the rest of them knew it. In his heart he had known they were dead for quite a while now, but he had couldn’t take the final irrevocable step. He couldn’t bury them.
He brought his head up and tossed back the entire glass, then turned toward his ward and smiled wanly at her. She smiled back, then came up to him and put her small hand in his. “Everyone’s waiting,” she gently urged. He nodded and gave her hand a squeeze before turning and walking out of the house. Murdoch stepped blindly into the waiting buggy, mindlessly leaving Teresa to her own devices. Cipriano stepped down from the front of the buggy and helped her up, then resumed his seat and clucked to the team. Murdoch sat back and let his mind wander as the horses headed out of the yard and up the hill.
He couldn’t believe they were gone. He had waited for them to come home for so long, and when they finally had, he had thought he would be happy forever. He had worried from the beginning that Johnny would be taken from him; the boy had a knack for finding trouble, but in his worst nightmares he never dreamed that he would lose them both.
When they had first disappeared, he had felt confident that they would come through this just like they had come through so many difficult and dangerous situations. They were together, and he knew how competent and stubborn his boys were. There was no doubt in his mind that they would somehow find their way back home.
As time went on, however, that confidence began to slip. And when he had been told that his boys went down with the ship, he had lost most of his hope. There was still that slim chance, however, that they had somehow escaped the fate of the other sailors. He had waited and prayed, his hope dying a little more every day, until he had finally been forced to admit the inevitable.
He had been gently prodded to have this service for the boys. He had been told that everyone needed closure, but that was a lie. Closure was something he definitely didn’t need. Until he buried them, he could still pretend they were coming home. He could still hope.
He glanced up the hill as the horses approached the top. He had picked this spot because he knew it was Johnny’s favorite place, and he knew Scott would want to be at his brother’s side. He hoped they had been together at the end, and the thought they were together gave him some small measure of comfort. He knew they would have wanted it that way. His boys had become so close in the short time they had been together. Closer than they would ever be to him, but for some reason that hadn’t bothered him. He was glad they had found each other.
The buggy slid to a stop, and he looked over to where two new headstones pushed their way out of the earth. He closed his eyes. It was too soon. He couldn’t do this. Cipriano gently grabbed his arm and guided him out of the buggy. Murdoch looked around at the many people gathered around and swallowed hard. He was dizzy and he felt like he just might throw up. His eyes found Sam’s, and then moved on to Val. The sheriff’s head dropped, but Murdoch thought he saw tears in the lawman’s eyes before his face was hidden from view. Murdoch watched as Val roughly rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, then turned and looked at the surrounding hills.
With a sigh, Murdoch looked down at the two headstones. He hadn’t ordered them; he hadn’t been able to. He walked woodenly over to the graves and stared down. He knew his boys weren’t really here, and that was another thing that hurt him. Sam had cautiously suggested that Murdoch have a service in the Bay, as the sea was their true resting place, but he had refused. He had shouted at the old doctor that Johnny would never forgive him, that his younger son hated the ocean, and he wasn’t going to have Johnny’s grave in that cold dark place.
He knew he was being irrational, but he didn’t care. His boys belonged here, at Lancer. It was their birthright. It was their home. He looked again at the headstones, and trying to be get his mind off of what they really were, he studied the ornate and richly carved stones. Finally, he let his eyes read the words inscribed on them and he felt his knees start to buckle. He couldn’t do this. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t fair. He wanted his sons back. Please Lord, he wanted his sons back.
Chapter Forty Three
Scott shut his eyes, resigning himself to the inevitable, when a loud shout snapped him out of his lethargy. Scott felt the pressure on his throat ease slightly, and after another shout, it disappeared entirely. He turned his head in confusion, wondering where the shout had come from, and he realized the old lady sitting next to the chief was the one who had yelled. She was studying Johnny intently, and Scott saw that his brother was lying on the ground, a puddle of blood surrounding his head. Scott wrenched free of the hands that were restraining him and dove toward his brother. He picked Johnny’s head off of the ground and turned him over, expecting the worst. To his relief, he saw that his brother had a deep gash on his throat, but he was still alive. Scott tried desperately to staunch the flow of blood with his hands, but the gash was too deep and continued to bleed.
Scott was pulled free of his brother and held securely, and Scott watched as Johnny was dragged up toward the chief. The old lady shouted an order, and the men holding Johnny grabbed his head and brought it up, showing the lady his face. The old crone stood up and approached Johnny, staring at him intently, and when Johnny’s eyes finally fluttered open, her own eyes widened and she chattered excitedly. The huge chief stood up, and he too studied Johnny’s face, then he turned and walked over to Scott. The chief wrenched Scott’s head backwards, and Scott met the man’s gaze calmly.
The old crone came up and said something quietly to the man, and the chief gave a command. Suddenly Scott found himself being lifted and carried toward a nearby hut by the men who had been restraining him. He craned his head and saw that his brother was also being carried, and he relaxed slightly. The two men were taken into the large hut, and carefully set down on pallets. The old lady barked some orders, and Scott watched as some of the natives scurried out and disappeared. Scott cautiously stood up and started for his brother, but he was gently restrained, and several women started rubbing something onto his cut throat, chattering excitedly. It stung fiercely at first, but was soon numb, and the bleeding stopped almost immediately. He looked over toward his brother and saw with relief that they were also tending his wounds, although it appeared they were having a little trouble stopping the bleeding. The cut on Johnny’s throat was deep.
The old lady came over, and after staring at Scott intently for several seconds she offered him a gourd filled with liquid. He glanced over at his brother, determined to get to him, but the offering made him pause. His thirst overcame his suspicion, and he tasted the liquid cautiously, then drank the cool fruit juice eagerly, emptying the container. In spite of his resolve to help his brother, Scott felt himself drifting off, and he realized he had been drugged.
Scott woke slowly, disoriented and confused. At first he thought it had all been a dream, but the chanting and alien sounds told him it was all too real. He closed his eyes, trying to make sense of what had happened, but it was too confusing. For some reason, he and Johnny had been spared, but it was too early to know if that was a good thing or not. Maybe the natives had something even worse planned for them. He shifted and looked over at his brother, and saw the old lady, dressed in feathers and beads, chanting and dancing next to Johnny. She occasionally stopped and shook a large rattle over Johnny’s body, shouting loudly, and then resumed her gyrations.
Scott felt his own neck, and realized that a makeshift bandage had been wrapped around it. Johnny sported a similar wrap, but was obviously unconscious. Even from where he was, Scott could see the flush to his brother’s face, and he knew that Johnny was still suffering from an infection. His glance traveled down his bother’s body, and he noticed that there were some leaves wrapped around his thigh where the injury was. Scott shook his head slightly; at least it looked as if the natives were trying to help, but he doubted they could do much without any modern medicine. Rattles and leaves could hardly stop a severe infection. Scott closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift back to oblivion.
Murdoch looked out at the ranch that used to be his life, and then he turned and looked at the picture of his sons that sat on his desk. He picked the photograph up and studied it for several seconds, then set it down carefully and buried his face in his hands. He knew the chores he needed to do were piling up; had been piling up for months, but his heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Cipriano had been running the ranch since the boys had disappeared, and Murdoch just didn’t feel like changing that. He was tired. Tired and hurting, and he didn’t want to stay here any more. Not without his boys. He felt as if his heart had been wrenched out of his body, and he felt like an old, old man.
He watched as Cipriano walked over and talked to a hired hand, then turned back toward the barn. Murdoch sighed softly. It wasn’t fair to his segundo to put all the work and responsibility on his shoulders, and Murdoch knew he’d have to make a decision soon. Lancer had been his whole world for almost his entire adult life, but it no longer consumed him the way it once had. There was no longer any reason to make it grow.
As he sat there, he realized the decision had already been made. He would sell the ranch and everything on it. There was no longer anything left here for him. His future was dead.
Chapter Forty Four
Scott looked down the rise at the small harbor down below, then glanced at his brother. “We made it.”
Johnny nodded. “Yep.”
Scott slanted a look at his brother. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Johnny asked.
“Well, am I going to have to hog tie you to get you on one of those ships?”
Johnny snorted. “Not likely.” He pointed to the vessels. “Those are the only way home we’ve got unless we wanna walk another billion miles, and I don’t know about you, but my feet are plumb wore out.”
Scott nodded. “I think mine wore out several hundred miles ago. I would have killed for a horse.”
“You and me, both. It was sorta funny we never even saw one until we were almost here.”
Scott looked down at his wrapped feet. “I don’t think I could have walked another mile.”
“Me either. I was startin’ ta try ta figure out how ta ride one of them Llamas we saw.”
“I don’t think it would have worked.”
“It was worth tryin’. My feet are so swollen they’ll never fit in cowboy boots again.” Johnny looked down at his feet and smiled wryly at his makeshift footwear. “I guess we ain’t exactly wearin’ the newest styles, are we?”
Scott grinned . “I think even my plaid pants might be better than what we’re wearing. What do you think?”
Johnny looked down at his tattered garments for several seconds before slowly shaking his head. “I don’t think so, Boston. Nothin’ could be that bad.”
“I don’t know, we don’t even look like civilized men anymore. Do you think they’ll even let us on board looking like this?”
“They’re not gonna care what we look like, as long as we can work. Besides, I ain’t takin’ ‘no’ for an answer. I’m gettin’ on one of those ships come hell or high water.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. “I would think you’d be a little hesitant about taking a cruise after what happened last time.”
“Scott, after traipsing across a whole continent and nearly bein’ eatin’ by both a crocodile and a snake as big as Barranca, after gettin’ attacked by spiders the size of dinner plates and enough ants ta cover Lancer; nearly losin’ my head to headhunters, gettin’ caught in quicksand, freezin’ my ass off crossin’ those damn mountains and getting’ snacked on by mosquitoes and every other type of bug the whole damn way, I DON’T think a little sea voyage will bother me none.”
“I believe that the spider was after me,” Scott observed.
“Yeah, well, he went after me when I tried ta knock him off your head.”
“I STILL have the bruise from where you hit me, too.”
“I thought you’d rather have a little bruise than a spider the size of an elephant on your head.”
“You didn’t have to use such a big branch to hit him with,” Scott groused.
Johnny shrugged. “I wasn’t takin’ any chances with none of the wildlife, not after that itty bitty snake I stepped on turned out ta be thirty feet long.”
“It was a little exciting to watch your reaction when you realized all you had seen was the end of its tail, and the rest of it was on a branch right over your head.”
“Yeah, well I wouldn’t talk if I was you. You were pretty upset when you woke up surrounded by ants that night. You was dancin’ around pretty good. Ya sorta looked like Teresa that time she saw a mouse in her kitchen.”
Scott snorted. “You would have, too, if you woke up covered with those things. If I hadn’t awakened when I did, I think they would have carted me off. There were enough of them to carry off a horse.”
Johnny shook his head. “If somebody had tried ta tell me about all of the things we saw, I never woulda believed ‘em. I woulda thought they were lyin’ for sure.”
Scott grinned at his brother. “So are you going to try to tell Val all about it when you get back?”
“He’d arrest me for bein’ drunk, even if I hadn’t had a drop,” Johnny snorted and dropped his head. “Of course, even Val’s jail doesn’t seem all that bad any more.”
Scott shook his head. “No, and Murdoch’s lectures seem almost bearable.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as ta say that,” Johnny argued.
Scott smiled and turned back toward the bay. “I never dreamed we’d make it this far,” he observed.
“We wouldn’t have, if those headhunters hadn’t helped us. We never woulda made it without their help.”
Scott shook his head. “I still wish we could have communicated with them better. I’m still not sure why they changed their minds about killing us.”
“I don’t know, and I wasn’t about ta bring up the subject in case they changed their minds, but I think it had ta do with our eyes. At least that’s what that old lady kept pointin’ at.”
Scott nodded. “It was the only thing that made sense. I don’t think they’d ever seen anyone with blue eyes before.”
“Well, whatever it was, we were still lucky,” Johnny said softly as he fingered the deep scar on his throat.
Scott nodded. “Do you think Murdoch’s given up on us?”
“What do you think?”
“How long do you figure we’ve been gone?”
“Too long,” Johnny sighed. “I don’t know, eight months, maybe.”
“That’s about what I figured, too. I guess he has. I sure wouldn’t blame him, though.”
“I wish we could let Murdoch know we’re all right.”
“Me, too, but there’s no telegraph office here.”
“I just hope that one of those ships down there is headin’ for San Francisco.”
“Well,” Scott mused, “I guess if we can’t find one going there, we could always take one that’s going to New York, then go cross country.”
“Then you’ll be goin’ by yourself. I’m gonna sit right here till I find one goin’ where I want it to. Ain’t no way I’m gonna try goin’ around the Horn again. We MIGHT not be so lucky next time.”
“Is that what we were? Lucky?”
Johnny nodded slowly. “Yeah, Scott, actually, I think we were.”
The two men watched the small port for several more seconds, then Scott turned to his brother. “You ready?”
“Yep,” Johnny grinned. “Let ‘er buck.”
Chapter Forty Five
Murdoch pulled his horse up to the hitching rack and slowly dismounted. With a soft sigh, he tied the bay’s reins to the rail, then turned and walked toward the lawyer’s office. He hesitated just outside the door, then taking a deep breath, he turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Anderson smiled coldly. “You’re late, Lancer.”
Murdoch bristled as he glanced at the clock over the lawyer’s desk. “Only three minutes. Don’t worry, you’ll get your hands on the ranch soon enough.”
Bill Jones, Murdoch’s lawyer, nodded. “The papers are all drawn up. All they need are your signatures.”
Murdoch looked back at Anderson. God, how he hated that man. If there was anyone else to sell Lancer to, he never would have allowed that idiot to buy it. The thought of his beloved ranch that he’d spent blood and sweat to build under the control of that man just about made him sick.
“Hurry, up, Lancer, I have work to do,” Anderson spat. “I can’t wait around all day for you to get up enough courage to do this.”
Murdoch looked at Anderson calmly. “I need some reassurance that the workers on the ranch will be able to remain.”
Anderson shrugged. “That’s up to them. I can’t afford the charity you’ve been handing out. In going over the books, I saw several things that need to be changed.” He shook his head. “You’re not much of a businessman, Lancer. I’m surprised you haven’t lost it before now, the way you run things.
“I’m not ‘LOSING’ it now. I decided to sell for personal reasons,” Murdoch snapped.
Anderson shrugged. “Whatever. I’m glad you finally admitted you’re just too old to run a spread the size of Lancer. Now it’ll be run right.”
Murdoch glared at the man another few seconds, but he just didn’t feel like getting into a fight with the man. It just wasn’t worth it. Murdoch shook his head slightly. Lately, nothing had been worth it. There wasn’t anything left worth fighting for.
Mister Jones shuffled through the papers, then placed them on the desk. “Murdoch? Do you still want to go through with this? It’s not too late to back out.” The lawyer reassured him, earning a glare from Anderson.
Murdoch shook his head slowly. “You’re wrong, Bill. It is too late, for everything.”
Jones nodded, knowing his friend wasn’t talking about the ranch. “If you gentlemen will please read them carefully, then sign, the transaction will be completed.”
Anderson eagerly walked over and grabbed the papers and began perusing them.
After several seconds, he looked up at the lawyer. “It says here that Lancer has two weeks to vacate. I want that changed to one week. I need to get started, and I don’t have time to wait for that old man to remove all of his things. If he needs some help, he can hire it done.” He smirked at Murdoch. “Or maybe he can ask some of those hands he’s been supporting to help him.”
Jones looked at Murdoch, expecting to see fire and brimstone coming from the man’s nostrils, but instead, the older rancher merely shrugged. “I can be out in one week,” he agreed.
Jones dropped his head and began to change the wording, and he felt a deep sorrow that Murdoch was obviously such a beaten man. The proud rancher was no longer in existence, and that saddened the lawyer. He and Murdoch had been friends for a long time, and the rancher had always been tough. Since his boys had disappeared, however, the Murdoch Lancer that Bill had known had gradually disappeared, leaving this shell of as man who now stood in this office.
Jones finished making the changes, then put the papers back. “Anything else? he asked Anderson sarcastically.
Anderson studied the papers once more, then shook his head. “No, I guess not.”
Murdoch stared at the papers as though mesmerized, but didn’t make a move.
“Murdoch,” the lawyer said gently.
Murdoch closed his eyes, then took a deep breath and reached for the papers. He perused the document casually, then nodded. “Everything looks fine.” He hesitated several seconds, then picked up the pen and hurriedly signed his name at the bottom of the page, then threw the papers at Anderson. “Here.”
Anderson smiled as he saw the signature, then abruptly stood up. “Gentlemen, I’ll be seeing you.” He turned toward Murdoch. “And I’ll expect you off of the ranch in one week, exactly.”
Murdoch nodded without looking at him. “I will be.”
As the door slammed behind Anderson, the lawyer studied his old friend. “Maybe you should have Doc check you out,” he suggested softly.
Murdoch shook his head. “No, I’m fine.” He looked out the window. “I really wish I weren’t,” he said softly. “I want to be with my boys.”
Jones swallowed a lump in his throat. The rancher’s pain was heartbreaking. “You have to be strong for Teresa.”
Murdoch nodded slowly. “I know. And that’s the only reason I haven’t blown my brains out.”
The rancher turned toward the lawyer. “Don’t worry, Bill. I’m not going to kill myself. Like you said, Teresa needs me.”
“Where are you planning on going?” the lawyer asked cautiously.
Murdoch shrugged. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Back east, I guess. Anywhere but out here. I don’t want to be reminded…” his voice trailed off, and he stuck out his hand. “Thanks, Bill, for everything.”
The lawyer shook his friend’s hand. “If you ever need anything, just let me know,” he offered.
Murdoch nodded. “Thanks, I will.”
Murdoch turned and walked out of the door, and the lawyer watched as his friend slowly climbed onto his horse. If he were a betting man, he’d bet that Murdoch would be dead within a year.
Murdoch topped the rise in back of the house for what he suspected would be the last time. He looked out over the empire that he had so painstakingly carved out, and wondered briefly if he’d made a mistake. Then he shook his head. No, he hadn’t. Lancer no longer held the magic that it once had. He didn’t regret selling it. The only regret that he had was that he hadn’t sold it long ago, and gone after his sons when they were younger. Maybe then things would have been different. Maybe then, he could be at peace.
Chapter Forty Six
Scott stood at the rail and watched as the ship entered San Francisco Bay. He couldn’t believe they had actually made it. He glanced over to where Johnny was expertly coiling some line and smiled. His brother had become a first class sailor, something that neither brother would have believed possible at the beginning of this little adventure.
Johnny looked up and his eyes narrowed. “What’re you lookin’ at?”
Scott smiled. “You. You actually look like you know what you’re doing.”
Johnny snorted. “I oughta. I’ve had enough practice.”
Scott nodded slowly as his brother joined him next to the rail.
“I never thought I’d be happy ta see this town again,” Johnny mused.
“We didn’t have a choice, not if we want to get back to Lancer.”
“I wonder if Murdoch will buy it if we tell him we’ve forgotten how ta wrestle steers and string wire.”
“Maybe. Of course, then he might buy a ship just to keep us busy.”
When his brother remained silent, Scott shot his brother a bemused look. “Or have you decided to be a sailor now?”
Johnny smiled and shrugged. “No, but it’s not so bad. This last voyage was pretty fun, actually. I could get used to it.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. After everything that had happened, he had decided that he didn’t like sailing at all, and here his ocean phobic brother was admitting that he could do it again.
“Well, let’s try not to do anymore sailing for a while, ok? At least no more unplanned trips.”
“Then we’d better be damn careful while we’re here,” Johnny observed.
“I plan to be. There’s no way I’m doing this all over again.”
Johnny nodded. “Ya know, Scott, as glad as I am ta be home, now that it’s over, I’m almost glad it happened. I mean…” his voice drifted off.
“It was a pretty grand adventure, wasn’t it?”
Johnny smiled slowly “Yeah, it was.”
When the last line was tied, the two brothers headed for the galley, where the captain was handing out the payroll. He looked up as Johnny and Scott entered the small room and he smiled.
“Are you sure I can’t talk you into signing on again? I can always use top hands, and China’s our next stop. It’s a pretty exciting place.”
Scott shook his head emphatically. “No, sir, we need to go home. I know our family’s worried about us.”
The captain nodded as he handed Scott an envelope. “Well, when you decide you’ve had enough of wrangling stupid cows, look me up.”
“Thank you, sir, we’ll do that.”
As they walked down the gangplank, Scott noticed his brother turn and look back at the ship one last time, and a worried frown appeared on his face. “Johnny, you’re not thinking of taking the captain up on his offer, are you?” he asked, only half joking.
Johnny shrugged. “What do you know about China?”
Scott’s eyes widened. “Enough to know that you’d hate it there,” Scott argued desperately. “They eat their fish RAW.”
After a moment, Johnny turned back around and smiled. “Well, maybe I could get used to it.” At his brother’s shocked expression, Johnny grinned. “No, I guess not. Of course, if the old man gets too unreasonable, I just might change my mind. Remember, we were sorta worried about how he was gonna react to all that stock we bought at the auction. Who knows, he might just chase us off with a shotgun.”
Scott nodded. “Well, if that happens, I’m afraid you’ll be on your own. I have no intention of ever setting foot on a ship again.”
Johnny grinned and grabbed his brother around the neck. “Scott, you just have no sense of adventure.”
Scott pulled away. “I think I’ve had enough adventure to last a lifetime. Right now, sitting in front of a roaring fire and reading a boring book sounds just a little bit like heaven.”
“I hope Barranca’s in good shape. The first thing I plan on doin’ is takin’ him for a nice long run,” Johnny said dreamily.
Scott grinned. “Let’s go home, brother.”
Johnny nodded toward the envelope in his brother’s hand. “Think there’s enough in there ta buy get us somethin’ ta get us home? I’m sick of walkin’.”
Scott shrugged as he looked in the envelope. “I don’t know. He didn’t have to give us anything. The deal was we’d be working for our passage and the new clothes.” He glanced down at his sailor’s garb. “Such as they are.” He dug back into the envelope, then smiled and pulled out several large bills. “It looks like he was pretty happy with us. It seems he gave us full wages.”
Johnny grinned happily. “Oh boy, we can buy us a good meal and a couple of horses. How about if we go back to the Blue Crab? I sorta got used ta eatin’ fish.”
“And spiders?” Scott asked sarcastically.
Johnny slanted a look at his brother. “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but a good lobster sounds pretty good.”
Scott shook his head. “Sorry. You’ll just have to learn to live with disappointment. The Blue Crab is definitely off of my list.”
Johnny managed to look disappointed. “Then how about a nice big juicy steak?”
“Now THAT sounds just about right. Let’s go check into a hotel and clean up. Tomorrow we can buy some horses and head home.”
“And we need ta send a telegram to the Old Man.”
“Well, let’s go. And dibs on the bathtub first.”
“Wrong, little brother. I think we’re going to splurge on two bathtubs tonight. Right after we devour a couple of steaks.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The two brothers grinned at each other, then headed toward the better section of town. An hour later, they entered the lobby of the Grand Hotel. By mutual agreement, they had decided against the Lexington, where they had stayed right before they had been shanghaied.
Scott walked up to the desk, and smiled inwardly as the man took in his sailor’s clothes. “We’d like a room.”
The man behind the desk shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but…”
Scott smiled and pulled out several bills. “Actually, I think a suite would be just fine.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Yes, Sir!”
Scott grinned. “And send up two baths, extra hot, and two of the biggest steaks you can find.”
“And a bottle of your best brandy,” Johnny added.
Scott grinned at his brother. “Now that’s the best idea you’ve had in a long time.”
Chapter Forty Seven
The two men topped the rise and looked down at the peaceful scene below. They had thought about stopping for a beer in Morro Coyo, but the closer they got to Lancer, the more eager they were to get home.
“It doesn’t look any different,” Scott commented.
“Think he’ll be surprised?”
Johnny snorted. “Maybe too surprised,” he said seriously as he pointed to two headstones surrounded by a low fence several yards away. “In fact he just might have a heart attack.”
The two men reined their horses over to the small graveyard and studied the headstones in fascination.
“Sort of creepy seeing your own epitaph, isn’t it?” Scott asked
Johnny nodded. “Maybe we should have made more effort to send that telegram.”
Scott shrugged. “The lines were down, and we would have had to go a hundred miles out of our way.”
“Yeah, but still…’ Johnny’s voice trailed off, then he grinned. “I wonder if he’ll be happy ta see us, or disappointed he’s not finally free of us?”
Scott grinned back. “I don’t know. Why don’t we go find out?”
Johnny looked at him for a moment, then spurred his chestnut down the hill, with his brother in hot pursuit.
Scott caught up to his brother and looked over and grinned at Johnny’s expression of pure bliss. Johnny grinned and yelled, “Sorta like standin’ in the bow of the ship.”
Scott laughed and spurred his horse faster.
Murdoch looked out the window, knowing this would probably be the last time. His week was up in a few hours, and he knew Anderson would be here promptly on time. His eyes focused on a trail of dust caused by horses coming down the slope, and he frowned as he glanced at the clock. Anderson was early. With a sigh, he took a last look at the great room he had loved so much, then walked over to the door to wait. His few possessions were already stored in a shed behind Sam’s house, and Teresa was staying with her friend for a few days.
When he heard the hoofbeats approaching, he took a deep breath, then jerked open the door. His mind didn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing at first, and then it finally registered.
“Oh my God,” he cried as he ran toward the two horses. He grabbed Johnny as he dismounted and almost knocked him off his feet as he hugged him tightly, then he tried to grab Scott. Scott and Johnny hugged their father back, then Johnny broke away.
“I guess this means you’re not too mad about that stock we bought,” Johnny quipped.
Murdoch looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then shook his head. “Thank God you’re all right!” he repeated.
He steered both of his boys inside, unwilling to let go of either one of them. When they were inside, he finally broke off and went over and poured three drinks. He motioned for Scott and Johnny to sit down, then handed them their drinks and sat in the chair facing them, unwilling to take his eyes off of them. He stared at them for several minutes, drinking in the sight of them. “What happened?’ he finally asked.
Scott glanced at his brother, then smiled. “It’s a long story, but basically, we were shanghaied, then we went overboard down by South America. It took us this long to get back.”
Murdoch nodded. “Val and I figured out that you’d been shanghaied, but I guess we were mistaken about which ship you were on.”
“Why is that?” Scott asked.
“The ship we thought you were on went down with all hands,” Murdoch explained. “Teresa and I went to New York to wait for you to come in, and that’s when we got the news that the ‘Pegasus’ had gone down.”
Scott shot a glance at his brother, who shook his head. “Actually, we were on that ship. We obviously managed to go overboard before it sank.” He looked at his brother. “I guess we were lucky after all.”
Johnny looked at his father quizzically. “How did you find out which ship we were on?”
“Several of the men in the shanghaiing ring told us.”
Scott grinned. “You figured out who kidnapped us?”
Murdoch nodded. “There were a lot of men involved, including several policemen. Workers at The Blue Crab and the Lexington Hotel were also indicted.”
“That figures,” Johnny said as he looked at his brother. “If you hadn’t insisted I eat SQUID, it never woulda happened.” Scott shrugged, and Johnny glared at him for a minute, but he was in too good of a mood for the glare to last. He smiled as he looked around the room. “It sure is good ta be home.”
Murdoch nodded, then his eyes widened. “Oh, no,” he murmured.
“What’s wrong?” Scott asked.
He looked up beseechingly at his son. “It’s gone. I sold it.”
“Sold what?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“The ranch. Lancer.”
“You SOLD it? Scott demanded incredulously.
Murdoch nodded his head. “I thought…I thought you boys were gone. I didn’t want to be here any more.”
Johnny and Scott looked at each other. “”There must be some way of gettin’ out of the deal,” Johnny finally said.
Murdoch shook his head. “It’s all legal. Anderson and I signed the papers at Bill Jones’ office.”
“You sold it to Anderson?” Scott asked in disbelief.
Murdoch nodded his head miserably. “I’ve ruined everything.”
Scott shook his head slowly. “I don’t believe you sold it.”
Murdoch looked at his son in confusion. “I told you, I thought you were dead.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Scott said. “I mean I don’t think you really sold it.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I don’t understand. Both Anderson and I signed the papers.”
“You’re right; you BOTH did, and we aren’t dead,” Scott said and slowly smiled.
Murdoch started to shake his head, then stopped and stared at his son. “I know what you’re thinking, but everyone BELIEVED you were dead. A court might not rule in our favor.”
Scott smiled. “Oh, I think they will. It might take a while, but one partner can’t sell property belonging to all three.”
Johnny smiled slowly as he patted his hip. “In the meantime, Anderson just might have a surprise if he tries ta take possession.”
Scott nodded. “I have no intention of letting that slimeball win.”
For the first time in a long time, Murdoch felt hope for the future, and a determination to fight for what was his. He wasn’t going to lose his home or his family again, no matter what. He knew that with his sons at his side, Lancer would always come out on top. Murdoch smiled. “Neither do I. We’ll fight this thing together, and we’ll win.”