by  JEB


“I’ll kill you!  No matter how long it takes I will hunt you down and kill you!” 

          Little did Scott Lancer, 20, know that those words would come back to haunt him nine years later when the man he threatened suddenly turned up dead in Green River, California when a chance meeting rekindled the flames of intense anger. 


Vicksburg, Mississippi – July 4, 1863 

          The siege of Vicksburg was over.  Gun smoke hung over the city like a malevolent storm cloud.  The residents, many half starved from lack of adequate food, were partly relieved and partly apprehensive.  They’d heard many stories of how brutal the Union soldiers were when they conquered an enemy stronghold. 

          Eighteen-year-old Scott Lancer, grandson of a prominent Boston businessman and newly commissioned Lieutenant in the Union Army, directed his men as they searched homes for hidden weapons and, even more importantly, Confederate soldiers and Union deserters.  Tall, slim and blond with blue eyes Scott cut, in the eyes of the young ladies of Vicksburg, a dashing figure.  Of course, they couldn’t tell their mamas that.  Scott was the enemy.  Such a shame he was wearing a blue uniform instead of Confederate gray. 

          “That’s it for this house, Lieutenant,” a bearded sergeant said.  “Nobody hiding and no weapons of any kind.  Just a couple of scared women.” 

          “All right,” Scott replied.  “Let’s move on to the next block.”  Tipping his hat to the two women who had exited the house he said, “Ladies, sorry to have disturbed you but it’s our duty to search for weapons or men that might be used against us.”  Then he turned his bay to the right and led his unit on toward the next block. 

          All day and half the night they searched.  His unit turned up little except some ancient fowling pieces and a dueling pistol or two.  Finally, ready to drop from exhaustion and the heat, they camped in the center of the city.  Twelve-year-old Peter Winslow, standard-bearer to Scott’s outfit, made his bed next to Scott whom he adored.  It amused Scott that this boy, six years his junior, had attached himself to him the way he had but he did nothing to discourage the boy.  In fact, he had taken to looking upon Peter as a younger brother and looked after him as best he could.  He allowed no one in their unit to tease the boy unless it was just that and not mean spirited.  In the heat of battle he had made sure that the youngster was out of the line of fire as best he could.  As a result Peter now looked up to Scott, as he would have his older brother – if he’d had one. 

          For the next six weeks it was the same thing with little change.  As the company moved forward they checked houses for weapons, ammunition and deserters from either army.  Things went along fine until mid September.  On September 15 a rebel raiding party ambushed Scott’s cavalry unit. 

          Amid the screaming of musket and rifle fire Scott and Lt. Dan Cassidy, among others, could be heard giving orders to their men.  Two hours later the unit had scattered despite the efforts of their lieutenants to keep them together.  Cassidy, a slightly older man than Scott, was prevented from coming to his aid.  Swept away by the tide of panic stricken men Cassidy would not see Scott for almost a year.  And he would barely recognize him. 

          Fifteen minutes into the battle, Cassidy and many of the others no longer in sight, Scott was wounded in the right shoulder by a Confederate infantryman.  He could have escaped, wound and all, if not for his horse being hit and falling.  The dying animal pinned Scott beneath him. 

          “Lieutenant Lancer!” Peter cried.  “Don’t worry, sir, I’ll get you out of there.”  The boy grabbed Scott under the arms and tried to pull him free but it was no use. The slightly built youth was not strong enough. 

          “Peter,” Scott said.  “Listen to me boy.  You get yourself out of here.  I don’t want you hurt.” 

          “No, sir, I won’t go,” the loyal boy said.  “I’m staying with you – no matter what!” 

          In less than ten minutes the skirmish was over and Scott, Peter and half a dozen others were taken prisoner.  The commander of the patrol was decent enough and bound up Scott’s wound before sending his prisoners on their way to Cahaba Prison near Selma, Alabama.  It was an experience that Scott would swear he’d never forget as long as he lived. 


          Cahaba, or Cahawba as the natives used to spell it, was located on the banks of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers.  The nearest town, Selma, was five miles southwest of Montgomery. 

          The building was nothing more than a cotton warehouse, 16,000 square feet in size with a tall brick wall surrounding it.  The warden, a man by the name of Captain H.A.M. Henderson, greeted the prisoners.  He himself was a humane and fair officer.  Abuse of the prisoners was not tolerated if he was aware of it.  Any guard caught, or reported, abusing prisoners was soon dismissed from duty.  This didn’t stop some of them however.  The warden couldn’t be everywhere at once and one guard in particular, a man named Charles Wilson, delighted in tormenting those smaller and weaker than himself.  This same man, for reasons known only to himself, took an instant dislike to Scott the moment he heard about his education and upbringing.  He set out to make Scott’s life miserable every chance he got. 

          “You, college boy,” Wilson focused his attention on Scott two days after his arrival at Cahaba.  “You ain’t so smart gettin’ yourself caught like you did.  What happened?  That fancy school of yours didn’t teach you how to avoid an ambush?” 

          Scott pointedly ignored the man, concentrating instead on ignoring the throb in his injured shoulder. 

          “What’s the matter with you boy?  You deaf or somethin’?” 

          When Scott still ignored him he reached down and shook him eliciting an unwilling gasp as pain shot through his wounded body. 

          “Hey!  You leave Lieutenant Lancer alone you rebel trash!” young Peter Winslow grabbed at the guard’s arm. 

          The guard shook the boy’s hand off and backhanded him in the face.  The slap was heard several feet away but none of the other guards within hearing distance or close enough to see what was happening did anything.  They were all afraid of Wilson who stood 6’4” and over 200 pounds.  He had a reputation as a brawler and would use any excuse to start a fight.  Many of them had already felt his wrath when they had tried to interfere with his “pleasure”. 

          Weakly Scott tried to defend the boy but fell back in defeat when Wilson shoved him.  “Leave the boy alone!  He’s done nothing to you.” 

          “So you can talk.  When the boy learns some manners I’ll leave him alone,” Wilson sneered.  So saying he slapped Peter again.  The boy fell back stunned with blood trickling from his bottom lip where it had smashed against his teeth. 

          Scott put his arm around the stunned boy glaring up at Wilson.  “Touch him again and I’ll make you sorry you were ever born!” 

          “Not in your condition you ain’t sonny boy!” Wilson sneered. 

          Just then one of the other guards warned Wilson that the warden was coming.  It wasn’t true but this guard wasn’t about to allow Wilson to abuse a twelve-year-old child.  Wilson hastily backed off and left his prisoners alone. 

          “Are you all right Peter?” Scott asked his blue-gray eyes dark with concern. 

          “Yes, sir,” the boy answered.  “I’m all right.” 

          “That was a brave thing you did, Peter, but foolish.  I don’t want you to antagonize him.  He’ll think nothing of hurting you or anyone else he takes a dislike to.” 

          “But Lieutenant Lancer I couldn’t let him hurt you!  You’re wounded!” 

          “Be that as it may,” Scott said.  “I don’t want you to do anything to make him angry.  Understand?” 

          “Yes, sir.” 

          “Good, now lie down here next to me.  It’s getting late and you need your rest if you’re going to take care of me.”  Scott gently ruffled the boy’s strawberry blond hair. 


          Scott’s wound healed in a fairly short amount of time.  It wasn’t serious and it had been treated right away.  Peter’s care had gone a long way toward that recovery.  The boy had scarcely left Scott’s side the whole time.  After a brief three-day period of fever Scott was well again and the shoulder wound healed soon thereafter.  The same could not be said for young Peter Winslow. 

          Try as he might the boy could not stay out of the way of the vicious guard who found an excuse to strike or kick the boy every chance he got.  It was all because he couldn’t get a rise out of Scott.  No matter how much he tried to provoke Scott the Bostonian refused to accommodate him by lashing out.  Wilson took his frustration out on the boy.  Finally, it all came to a head and when it was all over one of them would be dead. 

          It was November and the weather was getting cold.  Firewood had to be brought in from old fields to build cooking fires in the open area in the center of the prison yard.  This consisted of green sap pine or decayed oak.  None of which was very good.  Peter was on his way back from one of the fields with a load of wood that was much too large for him to carry.  But he was a plucky boy and determined to do his share in the work of keeping himself and his fellow prisoners warm and fed and healthy.  Though the death rate at Cahaba was low compared to many other camps, there was still the threat of cholera or typhoid fever due to the contaminated water supply. 

          On his way back to the campsite Peter lost control of an oversized log of pine that he was carrying and it fell on Wilson’s foot as the guard hovered waiting for a chance, any excuse he could find to lash out at the boy.  The brutal guard lashed out with a curse and struck Peter in the head. 

          “You filthy little Yankee heathen!  I’ll teach you to drop wood on my foot!” 

          Again he lashed out and again Peter’s head snapped to one side.  Scott was a quarter of a mile away when he saw what was happening.  He dropped his load of wood and rushed toward his young friend and the guard.  He was too late.  Just as he arrived Wilson’s blow sent Peter staggering backward.  He tripped over the same log that he had dropped on the guard’s foot and fell.  His head struck a rock and he was still. 

          Scott dropped to his knees at the boy’s side and reached out to him.  His hand came away from the boy’s head sticky with blood.  Wiping it frantically on his uniform pants he checked for a pulse.  Finding none he put his head down on the boy’s chest to listen for his heart beat.  Again nothing.  Peter Winslow, aged twelve years, four months and sixteen days, was dead.  His skull fractured when his head struck the rock.  Wilson could torment the boy no longer. 

          For a long moment Scott knelt there stunned.  Then, as the unfairness and cruelty of it all hit him, he hung his head and cried like a baby.  Not for very long though.  Anger took the place of grief and he got to his feet.  Turning toward Wilson who was grinning at the sight of the “college boy’s” grief he spoke with a quiet fury. 

          “The boy’s dead.  You’ve murdered him.” 

          “The little punk was asking for it,” Wilson declared still baiting Scott. 

          It worked.  This time Scott was unable to contain his fury.  He launched himself at the guard pummeling him with his fists just as hard and as fast as he could.  A crowd gathered.  A couple of the guards tried to pull Scott off but he was so caught up in his anger that he shook them off as if they were pesky mosquitoes.  Finally one of them rapped him on the head with the butt of his musket.   Scott fell to the side stunned.  

          As the “fight” was ending Warden Henderson came along having heard the commotion in his office.  He got the full story from the men and boys who had witnessed Wilson’s constant tormenting of Scott and Peter.  He ordered the boy’s body taken to the infirmary and a coffin built.  He would personally pay for the boy’s body to be shipped home to Concord, Massachusetts and write a letter to the boy’s parents explaining, as best he could, what had happened. 

          Scott was given a week in solitary.  It did nothing to cool him off.  He fumed the whole time and plotted how best to repay the brutal guard for what he had done.  He was, however, allowed to testify at Wilson’s trial.  Wilson was acquitted of murder, which was only right.  As much as he had taken a serious dislike to Scott and tormented him and the boy it had, technically, been an accident.  It took four men to hold Scott back when the verdict came in. 

          “I’ll get you Wilson!  You hear me?  You’re dead!  I’ll kill you!  No matter how long it takes I will hunt you down and kill you!” 

          Charles Wilson just grinned maddeningly at his former prisoner.  Then he collected his pay and left.  Scott would meet up with him nine years later and those words would come back to haunt him. 

          A few months later Lt. Dan Cassidy and several of the other men that were in Scott’s company were brought into the camp.  Approximately one year before the end of the war Lt. Cassidy, senior officer by means of length of time in grade, planned an escape.  The night before the escape was to happen he took ill and was taken to the camp hospital.  The escape attempt resulted in the deaths of sixteen men.  Men whose deaths Scott would take the blame for in Cassidy’s mind though it would come out later that Cassidy himself, in the grips of delirium, had revealed the plan himself. 

          When the war ended Scott went home to Boston to his grandfather.  Half starved and almost one hundred pounds lighter than when he had gone into the army, Scott was a year regaining his health and the weight he’d lost.  Harlan Garrett took his grandson to their family doctor to have a physical but no amount of food or medication for a lingering fever or chills could relieve Scott of the nightmares about young Peter Winslow’s tragic death or quench the burning hatred he had for the man who had caused it. 


September 1872 

          Scott Lancer turned up his jacket collar against the unseasonably chilly wind that was blowing.  His younger brother, dark haired Johnny, wrapped his arms around himself.  Johnny, half Mexican, had been taken by his mother from his home at Lancer when he was still a toddler.  He’d grown up in the warmer climate of the border towns of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and was still having trouble adjusting to the cooler climate of California. 

          “Hey, brother, let’s go to the cantina and get some lunch.  I’m freezin’!”  Johnny yelled to be heard over the gusting wind. 

          “We have to go to the bank first Johnny,” Scott patiently told his brother.  “If we don’t make this deposit for Murdoch he’ll have our heads when we get back to the ranch.” 

          “Aw come on,” Johnny wheedled as only annoying younger brothers can.  “You can do it after lunch.” 

          “Do what after lunch?” another male voice was heard behind them. 

          “Hey Val!” Johnny yelled. 

          “Hello, Val,” Scott said. 

          Sheriff Val Crawford asked again, “Do what after lunch?” 

          “Make this deposit for Murdoch at the bank,” Scott explained.  “It seems that my little brother is suddenly starving or freezing – depending on whether the wind is blowing or not.” 

          “I vote for starving,” Val said with a grin.  “Seems to me like Johnny’s always hungry or needs a drink.” 

          Johnny pretended to pout as his older brother and his friend teased him.  But in reality, though they’d had a little bit of a rocky start to their relationship, he adored his older, blond haired, college-educated brother. Both boys had been raised on stories of what an ogre their father, Murdoch Lancer, was.  Both young men had arrived at Lancer at the same time and discovered that they had a brother.  Neither Scott’s grandfather nor Johnny’s mother had told either of them that they had a brother.  Now the brothers shared a closeness that many siblings who had the exact same set of parents never achieved in a lifetime.  There was nothing that Scott would not do for Johnny and vice versa. And Val Crawford, sloppy dress and all, was a good friend.  And anyone who thought Val was a sloppy dresser ought to see what his housekeeping was like.  So far, though, only Johnny and Lone Crow’s children had seen it and the kids didn’t care.  As long as Sheriff Crawford, the “meanest white man alive” bought their mother’s Indian blankets they didn’t care what his house looked like. 

          The grin was back on Johnny’s face as his brother gave in.  To the cantina they went.  As soon as they were all through eating dessert it was off to the bank.  The wind was blowing fiercely and dust from the streets made visibility poor and got into the eyes of the few brave souls who ventured out into them.  Horses tethered at the hitching racks and hitched to wagons and buggies stamped their feet nervously. 

          When they exited the bank they headed over to the General Store.  Teresa had given them a list of items she needed.  They didn’t dare go home without them.  Val left them as they went in that direction.  The last thing he wanted right now was to encounter their mayor of Green River – a pompous old fool who disregarded warnings about keeping too much money in the store making him a likely target for thieves. 

          In the General Store they encountered Jim and Maura Talbot.  The Talbots were neighbors and Maura had nursed the boys through a bout with pneumonia back in the late winter and tended to Scott’s scratched face just prior to Easter when Johnny had brought him in to see about an arm broken in a fall from his horse.  She had also driven them home when Sam Jenkins, the areas only doctor, forbade him to ride while suffering the effects of a concussion sustained in that fall. James Alexander Talbot, Alex to his wife who had a brother James, was a tall blond.  His wife was short with brown eyes and red hair. Maura was extremely fond of both boys and often these days she found herself wishing that they could have grown up with her three sons.  That was not to be as neither of the Lancer boys had been raised at the ranch.  And Maura and Jim’s three sons had all died during the war so there was no chance for friendship now as young men. 

          “Good morning Scott, Johnny,” Jim said with a smile.  “How’s things at Lancer?” 

          “Just fine Mr. Talbot,” Scott answered with a smile of his own and an answering handshake.  “We just came from making a deposit at the bank for Murdoch.  He’s got his eye on some prize Herefords down around Santa Barbara but still lacks a couple of hundred dollars on the purchase price.” 

          “Good Herefords are hard to come by out here.  Your father, I hope you boys know, is a visionary.  Not too many ranchers are enamored of them but your father showed me the literature and the statistics he gathered when he first thought of switching to them from shorthorns and convinced me that they were the way to go.  I’m glad I listened too.” 

          “I hope you don’t tell the ‘old man’ that,” Johnny said with a grin.  “He’d get an awfully big head if you did.” 

“Too late Johnny,” Jim laughed.  “I told him that years ago.” 

Maura laughed too and then turned her attention to the younger Lancer.  It was an ongoing battle of sorts that she would offer to cut his hair.  She loved to tease him about how shaggy he was getting. 

“Now John Luis Lancer!  That’s not nice!  Your father is a very wise man and you know it!” 

“Yes ma’am,” Johnny grinned.  “If you say so.” 

“I do!  And by the way when are you going to come over and let me cut that shaggy head of hair you’ve got?  It’s disgraceful!” 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Johnny drawled.  “I reckon maybe some time soon.  I’ve been pretty busy you know.” 

“Yes, we know, little brother,” Scott jibed.  “Busy chasing every pretty girl that attends the church socials or the town dances.”

“Or sitting in the saloon drinking beer and playing cards perhaps?” Maura asked with raised eyebrows. 

“Or hanging around the sheriff’s office with Val swapping tall tales and corrupting the speech of Lone Crow’s kids?”  Jim Talbot threw his two cents worth in. 

“Hey!  What chance do I have with the three of you ganging up on me?” Johnny protested with a grin.  Everyone, including himself, knew he was guilty of everything they accused him of. 

“None,” Maura said pertly as she kissed his cheek fondly.  “That’s the whole idea alannah.  We must keep you on your toes!” 

So saying she and Jim made their way toward their waiting wagon and departed.  Scott and Johnny went into the General Store to see about Teresa’s list of supplies.  On the way they passed Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop. 

Wilson, a habitual drunk who fancied himself a gunslinger and hung out with other such types, had been a thorn in the Lancers’ side since the day he and his father had arrived in Green River little more than a year ago.  His father, Pierce, was a noted bigot who had barred Johnny’s entry into the shooting contest at the valley’s fair a few months earlier only to have Jim Talbot and Val Crawford effectively bar his son and friends forcing him to allow Scott to enter in Johnny’s place.  Scott had won by a very narrow margin.  The highlight, to the boys but not to handyman Jelly Hoskins, had been when Jelly’s gander, Dewdrop, had stirred up a ruckus at the fair.  Both boys had won a fair amount of money off of Jelly in the process but had donated it toward repaying the parties who lost eggs, chickens or vegetables in the chaos.  Much as they loved to tease the bewhiskered old man they didn’t think it was fair that he should have to pay all those damages.  After all, it wasn’t Dewdrop who killed the chickens – it was somebody’s unattended mongrel dogs that were running around the fairgrounds without leashes or supervision!  As they passed the gunsmith shop Pierce Wilson and another man exited and the Lancers, unable to stop in time, bumped into the two men. 

“Excuse me,” Scott said politely.  “I didn’t mean to bump into you.” 

Much as he disliked the man Scott’s good manners came to the fore in the situation. 

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going Yank?” the other man snarled.  “Are you all right cousin?” 

“Fine,” Wilson replied. 

Scott looked at the other man intently.  There was something very familiar about him and his voice.  He stood about six feet four inches, slightly shorter than Murdoch Lancer who was, at six foot five, the tallest man in the area.  He had black hair cut very short, a moustache and a full beard.  He looked to weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds. 

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Scott asked. 

“My cousin is new in Green River,” Pierce Wilson said.  “Charles, these boys are Scott and Johnny Lancer.” 

“I believe we’ve met somewhere before,” Scott insisted as his brother eyed him curiously.  Scott sure did seem to know this guy.  He was polite but tense as he looked the man over. 

“Not unless you’ve been to Selma, Alabama,” Pierce Wilson said.  “Charles lived there until just after the war.”  The Green River Wilson knew that his cousin had been in the army but he had no idea that he’d been a guard at a prison camp. 

“Selma, Alabama,” Scott mused.  “I was in a prison camp near there – Cahaba.  Selma was the closest town.  There was a guard there named Wilson.” 

Scott frowned as he tried to visualize the man whom, nine years earlier, he had threatened to kill after the death of his young friend Peter Winslow.  This man had a beard and a moustache.  The guard at the camp had been clean-shaven.  That guard was a big man but not quite as heavy as the man standing in front of him. 

As Scott mulled this over the Wilson men started to leave.  Scott watched them as his brother watched him.  Johnny’s sapphire blue eyes were very dark with concern.  Scott was not himself.  He never, ever brought up his wartime service in front of the family.  Not since the mess with Dan Cassidy had been straightened out. 

Watching them leave Scott suddenly did recognize Wilson.  There was his voice, his accent but most of all there was a gesture he made – a certain swinging of his arms and the way he flexed his fingers as he walked.  The guard at the camp had made a point of doing that as a means of intimidating some of the inmates – those who were easily intimidated.  That was one of the reasons he had hated Scott.  He knew that the young Lieutenant would not be easily intimidated (growing up with his domineering grandfather had cured him of that early on) so he had taken it out on the boy. 

Johnny was two steps behind his brother as Scott went after the two men. And Mike Wilson, exiting his shop, was a step behind Johnny, as Scott charged the man he knew as a killer.  Though the boy’s death had technically been an accident in Scott’s mind it had been murder and he’d sworn to avenge young Peter’s death no matter how long it took. 

“You!  Charles Wilson!  I remember you now.  You were a guard at Cahaba.  You’re the one who murdered a twelve-year-old boy just because he dropped a log on your foot.  A log that was too big for him to carry!”  Scott ranted. 

“Scott?”  Johnny caught up with his brother. 

Scott didn’t even seem to notice that his brother was standing right behind him.  His handsome face was twisted in a mask of fury.  Charles Wilson wore a sneer on his bearded face. 

“If you recall correctly sonny boy,” Wilson said trying to get a rise out of the older Lancer, “I was cleared of that murder charge.  The court said it was an accident.” 

“It was murder and you know it.  You had it in for me and you took it out on the boy when I wouldn’t take your bait!” 

“Oh, grow up kid,” the former guard said.  “I had a trial – you were there.  The court found me not guilty.” 

“I know what the trial outcome was!” Scott shouted.  “I also know that most of the other guards were afraid of you!  They wouldn’t testify against you in case you won!” 

Johnny tried to get his brother’s attention.  “Scott?  What’s going on?” 

“I take it you and Mr. Lancer know each other?” Pierce Wilson asked his cousin. 

“Yeah.  The Lieutenant was a prisoner in the camp I was assigned to.” 

“What’s this about you killing a kid?” Mike joined in the conversation. 

“Some Yankee trash kid fell and hit his head on a rock.  The Yankee college boy here thinks I did it on purpose.” 

“Did you?” Pierce asked. 

“No.  Stupid little boy kept stumbling over his own feet.  The inquiry said it was an accident.” 

“That’s a lie and you know it!  You tormented the boy every chance you got until you finally got an opportunity to do something more.  When he dropped that log on your foot you hit him so hard he fell and hit his head!  You killed him!” Scott could take no more.  He reached for Wilson as if to pull him closer and shake the truth out of him. 

Wilson deftly, with a speed surprising in such a big man, dodged Scott and gave him a shove of his own.  Scott caught himself on the nearby hitching rail.  Johnny quickly put himself between his brother and the Wilsons.   Val Crawford, two streets down, started toward them just as things really broke loose. 

The two older Wilson men started to walk away.  Mike, the youngest, stood his ground and swung on Scott as he tried to approach the others and prevent their departure.  From then on things happened so fast nobody was quite sure who did what but before Val could get to them Johnny caught a fist in the forehead and staggered back.  As he did so his boot heel inexplicably broke off throwing him off balance.  As he fell he struck his head on one of the posts holding up the wooden roof of the shop.  The blow rendered him unconscious.  Blood seeped from a three-inch gash on his right temple. 

“Here now!  What’s this all about?” Val waded into the fray that was starting to break out again.  He grabbed Scott by the arm and pulled him away from the others.  Scott’s face was red with fury – not just from recognition of Charles Wilson but that his brother, an innocent by-stander more or less, had been struck down. 

“Lancer started it Sheriff!” Mike Wilson insisted.  “He assaulted our cousin here.  Made all kinds of false accusations!” 

“Is that right Mr. Wilson?  Scott here started it?” 

“That’s right.  My cousin and I were just walking down the street when young Lancer came after us accusing Charles of all sorts of dreadful things.” 

“That’s not quite right Sheriff,” one bystander in the crowd that had gathered said.  “Scott made some comments but Mike there threw the first punch.” 

“That’s the way I saw it,” said another man – a cowboy from the Talbots’ ranch. 

“Naw.  Young blondie there threw the first punch,” said still another. 

“Oh great!  Can’t even get everybody to agree on what happened,” Val said disgusted. 

Then he noticed Johnny on the ground.  “Scott look after your brother.  Get him over to the Doc Jenkins – he’s in town today.” 

Val’s words drew Scott’s attention back to his younger brother.  He had been so caught up in the heat of the argument that he hadn’t realized that Johnny was hurt. 

“Johnny?”  Scott’s voice was husky with concern. 

“Take him to Doc Jenkins Scott.  I’ll be over there in a few minutes.”  Val helped Scott lift Johnny into his arms ensuring that the younger brother’s head was resting on Scott’s shoulder.  “As for you three,” Val said, “vamoose!  Mike get back to your shop or be on your way to wherever you were going.  You two,” he indicated the older Wilsons, “go on about your business but stay in touch.  I’ll want to talk to you after I see how Johnny is.” 


          Dr. Sam Jenkins, a tall thin man in his early fifties, looked up as Scott entered the office carrying his brother in his arms. 

          “Scott?  What in the world?” 

          “It’s Johnny Doc,” Scott said unnecessarily. 

          “I can see that.”  Sam crossed the room and opened the door to another room.  “Bring him in there and put him down on that bed.” 

          Scott did as he was told and stood there with his hand on his brother’s forehead smoothing the dark hair back from his face. 

          “Stand back Scott.  Let me get a look at him,” the older man said as he closed the door and approached the bed. 

          Scott reluctantly backed away but he didn’t go very far.  He watched Johnny anxiously for signs of recovery as the doctor began his examination. 

          “What was it this time?”  Sam sounded an awful lot like Murdoch and Scott flinched. 

          “He got knocked into a wooden post.” 

          “Oh?”  Sam didn’t press the issue just then.  The “boys”, as he and their father thought of them, were normal healthy young men – well normal high-spirited young men who sometimes got carried away with their horseplay. 

          “Ow!”  Johnny yelped.  Sam had just touched on the lump that was forming on his head. 

          “So you’re awake are you?” Sam smiled. 

          “Who wouldn’t be with you manhandling them?” Johnny retorted in a weak voice.  He was conscious but his eyes were tightly closed against the light. 

          “Well quit your complaining and lie still until I’m done with you,” Sam told him severely.  “This is why you’re my most difficult patient.” 

          “Johnny?”  Scott moved forward anxiously as Sam got a basin of hot water and a clean cloth with which to clean Johnny up. 

          “Yeah, brother?” 

          “I’m-I’m sorry about all this.”  Scott was feeling extremely guilty over what had happened.  “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt.” 

          “S’ok Scott.  I know you didn’t.” 

          Sam returned and made short work of cleaning the wound on the side of Johnny’s head.  The patient flinched as the hot water touched it and nearly jumped out of his skin when Sam applied some whiskey to disinfect it with.  Sitting up was difficult since he was dizzy but it was necessary Sam said in order for him to put a few stitches in the gash.  In twenty minutes time Sam had finished his examination and had Johnny patched up and ready to go.  

          About the time he was done Val came in.  He’d been delayed because he was talking to witnesses to the altercation that the Lancers had been involved in.  The consensus of opinion was that while Scott may have initiated the argument he most certainly did not throw the first punch.  Most of the witnesses said that he seemed extremely agitated and that Johnny was trying to calm him down and find out what was bothering him so much that he would act the way he was.  All of the witnesses, however, agreed that it must be something pretty extreme because normally Scott only lost control when his brother, or another family member, was in danger. 

          “Doc?  How is he?” 

          “He’ll be fine in a couple of days Val.  He just hit his head.” 

          “Can’t hurt Johnny Lancer by hitting him in the head.  I shoulda checked that post for damage.  Seems like his head’s a whole lot harder than that wood.”  Val, relieved that Johnny was ok, couldn’t resist making a wisecrack.  It didn’t, however, draw the kind of response he would have liked.  Johnny just glared at him and Scott, well he just looked miserable and winced when Val made the remark about the damage to the post. 

          “John I want you to go home and go straight to bed….ah, ah, ah no arguments young man,” Sam said with a stern look and a shake of his finger.  “At least two days bed rest to get rid of the headache and make sure there’s no concussion.  Scott you see to it now.” 

          “Yes sir,” Scott said.  “I will.” 

          Johnny wobbled a bit when he stood up.  Scott and Val both were right there to take hold of him and help him along.  Fortunately there would be no arguing that he was ok to ride Barranca home because they’d driven the wagon into town.  Teresa’s idea of a small list consisted of half a wagonload of flour, molasses, yard goods, thread, sugar and various and sundry other items.  The boys did their shopping at Señor Baldomero’s store in Morro Coyo.  While the ladies had to travel to Green River for their clothes, if they didn’t make them themselves, the men had to travel to Morro Coyo for theirs. 

          Within five minutes Johnny was in the back of the wagon resting against a couple of sacks of flour.  A new blanket was thrown over him to keep him warm.  The wind was still quite strong and it was cooling the air rapidly around the valley.  Val saw them off with a word to Scott that he would be out to see him later about the encounter with the Wilsons.


          The wind that had plagued the boys in town was still blowing when they pulled into the yard at Lancer.  Scott had hesitated briefly before passing under the arch with the family name on it uncomfortably aware that he had to explain to his father that it was his inability to control his temper, over something that had happened almost ten years earlier, that had caused his younger brother to be hurt.  He was still angry over the death of the boy, Peter, but losing his temper and practically attacking the man he held responsible when he encountered him in Green River was not the smartest thing he’d ever done.  And now Johnny, lying pale against the supplies in the back of the wagon was paying the price for his lack of control. 

          “Well, now it’s about time you two got through lollygagging around in town,” Jelly Hoskins said when he saw the wagon approaching.  Then, noticing that Scott was alone on the wagon seat, “Where’s Johnny?” 

          “Right here Jelly,” Johnny’s pain-filled voice answered him. 

          “Johnny?”  The old man rushed over to the wagon.  Taking one look at Johnny’s pale face and the bandage wrapped around his head he ran to the French doors leading to Murdoch’s study.  “Boss?  Teresa?  Better come out here.  Johnny’s been hurt.” 

          His summons brought the Lancer patriarch, all six-foot-five of him out of the house in a hurry.  On his heels, dressed in jeans and an oversized work shirt was Teresa O’Brien – Murdoch’s ward and adopted sister to the two boys.  Maria, the matronly Mexican housekeeper was right behind her. 

          “Scott?  What happened son?”  Murdoch wanted to know. 

          “There was a fight – of sorts.  Johnny got hit and fell into one of the posts holding up the roof of Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop.” 

          “I take it you’ve already been to see Sam?” 

          “Yes, sir.”  Scott hesitated but then took the plunge.  “It’s my fault sir!  I lost my temper over something that happened a long time ago and Johnny got hurt defending me!” 

          “I see,” Murdoch said.  “We’ll talk about this later – after we get your brother upstairs to bed.” 

          “Yes, sir.” 

          “Jelly give me a hand here,” Murdoch reached out to help Johnny down.  “Ok son?” 

          “Yeah, fine,” Johnny said but he was wobbly just as he’d been in town. 

          “Come on boy, put your arm around my shoulder.  Your dad’s got you on the other side.  Let’s get you up to bed.” 

          The two women quickly went back into the house, up the stairs and into Johnny’s room to turn down the bed and lay a nightshirt out for him.  His father and Jelly half carried him into the room and stripped him of his boots and such and got him into the nightshirt.  Once he was settled Murdoch pulled the covers up to his younger son’s shoulders. 

“Ok Johnny?” Murdoch asked laying one of his big hands on his son’s forehead. 

“Yeah.”  Drooping with exhaustion it was all Johnny could do to keep his eyes open yet he had to say something to his father.  “Murdoch? Tell Scott it’s not his fault would ya?  It was an accident.  I got my boot heel caught in a crack on the sidewalk.  That’s how I fell.” 

“All right.  You just get some rest now.  We’ll talk later.”  

“’Member…. Murdoch,” Johnny said between yawns.  “It’s… not his fault.  Don’t let him blame ….himself.” 

“All right,” Murdoch said with a sad smile. “I’m just glad it’s not your past this time and that it was an accident.  I’ll talk to him.  Now just sleep, son.” 

 Jelly decided that he was going to sit with the boy for a while.  Nothing Murdoch or the women, who had come in as soon as he was changed and in bed, said would change his mind.  It wasn’t long before Johnny’s blue eyes closed and the events of the afternoon caught up with him.  He was fast asleep ten minutes after he was put to bed. 

          Meanwhile Scott had turned the wagon and supplies over to two of the other hands.  Walking into the great room he seated himself in a chair by the fireplace waiting for his father to return from putting Johnny to bed.  Guilt kept him from going to his brother’s room at the present time.  That and wanting to explain to his father.         


          When Murdoch Lancer entered the great room his older son didn’t even look up.  Sitting in that chair by the fireplace Scott was staring into the flames unmoving.  He was lost in his memories – memories stirred up by a chance encounter ten years after the death of a young boy. 


          No answer.  Murdoch walked over to the table and poured two glasses of brandy.  From the look on Scott’s face he could use a drink right about now.  There was an awful lot of guilt in the look on his son’s face.  And something else.  Remorse?  Sadness?  Fright?  He wasn’t sure.  Maybe the brandy would loosen the boy’s tongue. 


          Scott looked up his blue-gray eyes haunted looking. 

          “Here drink this.  You look like you could use it.” 

          Scott took the proffered drink wordlessly and turned back to stare into the fire once again. 

          “Johnny’s going to be all right you know.  It’s just a minor bump on the head – for him that is.” 

          Scott said nothing but continued to stare moodily into the fire. 

          “Come on – cheer up.  Your brother’s not mad at you.  He said to tell you it was an accident. He caught his boot heel in a crack in the sidewalk.  That’s how he fell.” 

          “But he wouldn’t have had to duck back if I’d just kept my temper!”  Scott was mad at himself. 

          “Want to tell me what happened?  Johnny only said it was an accident. He didn’t say what caused the accident.”  

          “We met up with someone from my past.  From my time in that prison camp.” 

          “Someone like Dan Cassidy?” 

          “Worse.  One of them – a former guard at Cahaba.  A man I swore to kill almost ten years ago.” 

          “Go on.” Murdoch could sense that Scott needed to get this out of his system. 

          “You know I spent a year, six months and twenty days in that camp.  It wasn’t as bad as Andersonville or some of the others.  The camp commander was a fair man but some of the guards were anything but.  It was September of ’63 and Vicksburg had fallen just a couple of months earlier.  My company was on patrol and we were ambushed by a Confederate patrol.  I was wounded and my horse was shot out from under me.  I couldn’t get free.  Peter Winslow tried to help me.  He wouldn’t leave.” 

          “Loyal was he?” 

          “Very.  Murdoch…Murdoch …Peter was only a boy.  He’d turned twelve just before he joined our company as standard-bearer.  But he was as brave as any seasoned soldier.  He stayed right by me.  Tried to get me out from my dead horse but he wasn’t strong enough.  He was almost as tall as me but very slim.  Still in that gangly stage you know?  He was all skin and bones but he tried.  But I was pinned under my horse and he couldn’t free me.  He refused to leave my side.  We were taken prisoner along with a half dozen others.” 

          Murdoch didn’t say a word.  He made himself comfortable in another chair nearby and listened to Scott’s account of his capture.  Not having raised the boys he knew little of their past.  Maybe this time he would learn something important about his oldest.  It certainly seemed that way.  Something about the events of the afternoon had loosened his normally reserved Boston raised first born. 

A Captain Pemberton headed the patrol that took us prisoner.  He was decent enough.  He saw to it that my wound was taken care of.  He delivered us to a transport that took us to Cahaba.” 

“Where is Cahaba Scott?  I don’t recall hearing about it.” 

“It’s near Selma, Alabama.  It took us about a week to get there.” 

“And you were wounded at the time?  How bad was it?”  Murdoch was trying to draw his normally reticent son out of his shell.  So far it was working. 

“Yes.  In the right shoulder.  I was told I ran a fever for three days.  They think it was the traveling that did it but there was no choice.  They didn’t dare stop and let us rest.  Some of us might have escaped or there might have been a Union patrol nearby.  By the time we got to Cahaba I was pretty well on my way to healing but still weak.” 

“Where does this guard come in?” 

“We arrived at the camp in late September.  It wasn’t bad as prison camps go and the commandant was a decent enough person.  But he couldn’t be everywhere at once.  This one guard, Charles Wilson, took a dislike to me for some reason.  He’s a big man – not much shorter than you and runs to fat.  He found out about my college education and used it as an excuse to ridicule and torment me.  I tried to ignore him but that only made him madder.  Peter tried to protect me but that just made Wilson mad and when I didn’t respond or react to what he did to me he tried to provoke me by hitting Peter or tripping him or insulting him.  Peter was only a kid.  He didn’t control his temper very well and he didn’t like the way I was being treated.  He played right into Wilson’s hands and Wilson took full advantage of it. 

A couple of weeks later the weather started getting cold and we had to go out collecting firewood – such as it was.  We had to get it from the old fields nearby and it was mostly green sap pine or decayed oak.  It didn’t make for very good fires so we had to gather quite a lot of it in order to have a decent fire for cooking or to keep warm. On one of these expeditions, in November, Peter was dragging this oversized log and trying to carry some smaller stuff at the same time.  I was about a quarter of a mile away gathering small stuff – my shoulder was still somewhat tender at the time.  The men knew I wasn’t as healed as I said I was so they all decided that they’d take care of the big stuff until I was up to it.  Apparently Peter couldn’t hang on the small stuff and the log at the same time and he lost his grip on the log.  It fell on Wilson’s foot and he hit the boy….” 

Murdoch’s knuckles whitened on the pipe he’d picked up as he listened to Scott’s story.  He had a feeling he knew what was coming by the way Scott’s face paled and the shudders causing his shoulders to tremble. 

“He hit the boy several times until he finally fell and hit his head on a rock.  Wilson killed him and I wasn’t able to stop it!  I was blind with rage Murdoch!  I attacked him and I would have killed him if some of the others hadn’t pulled me off.  The warden came along and gave me a week in solitary while he investigated.  I was called to testify at his court martial but he got off on murder charges.  They found him guilty of manslaughter and discharged him.  I swore I’d kill him for what he did and I meant it.” 

Murdoch’s grip snapped his pipe in two when he heard this part of the story.  He put the two pieces in an ashtray on the table next to him before looking up at his son.  When he looked back at Scott’s face he could see tears running down the younger man’s cheeks. 

“Then when we ran into him in Green River today I lost control!  All I could think of when I saw him with Pierce Wilson was how he murdered that boy.  A twelve-year-old boy Murdoch!  Used him for a punching bag because I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting when he hounded me.” 

Murdoch rose from his chair to stand beside his distraught older son.  He put his right hand on Scott’s right shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. 

“I accused him of murder right there on the street and he just laughed at me.  It made me so angry I wanted to shake the truth out of him and that’s when Johnny got hurt.  Mike jumped into the fight and I guess he hit Johnny or maybe his father did or….I don’t know but I do know it’s my fault Johnny’s lying up there in bed.” 

“Scott, son,” Murdoch said softly.  “Johnny knows you didn’t intend for him to get hurt.  He insists it was an accident.  We all know you wouldn’t intentionally hurt him.” 

“It doesn’t change the fact that I’m responsible for him being confined to bed for a couple of days.  And it doesn’t change the fact that I couldn’t keep Charles Wilson from killing that boy!” 

Murdoch could see there would be no talking Scott out of his guilty feelings right now so he let the matter drop.  Maybe when Johnny was on his feet again he could convince his brother. 


Dinner that night was a quiet affair.  Johnny had been given some soup when he woke up early that evening and was sleeping again.  Everyone else sat at the table eating and lost in their own thoughts.  Teresa’s attempts to engage Scott or Murdoch in conversation failed so miserably that she finally gave up. 

Scott’s thoughts were on his brother part of the time and the guilt he felt over Johnny’s injury.  Other times he was back in Cahaba watching Wilson cause Peter Winslow’s death.  Or he was in Green River meeting up with Wilson for the first time in almost ten years and accusing him of murder.  And seeing his brother lying on the boardwalk still and pale with blood running down the side of his face from the gash he got when he hit the wooden post. 

Murdoch’s thoughts were on his injured son, ranch business and trying to think of a way to bring Scott out of his melancholy.  Scott was normally such a cheerful person that seeing him all torn up inside was hurting his father as well.  Unfortunately, Murdoch couldn’t come up with anything, but that didn’t mean he’d stop trying.  There had to be a way to get Scott to see that Johnny’s injury was nothing but an unfortunate accident. 

Everyone turned in early that night.  Each one stopping to look in on the invalid before going to their own rooms.  Scott, near tears again, sat by Johnny’s bed for a good fifteen minutes before retiring for the night. 


“No.  Stop.  Leave him alone.  Peter!” 

A restless Murdoch Lancer, returning from his study where he’d gone to select a book to read until he was sleepy, was passing by Scott’s room when he heard his son’s restless thrashing and the harsh muttering as he relived the Winslow boy’s death. 

“No.  Peter.  Peter!  I’ll kill you for this!” 

“Scott!  Scott!” Murdoch shook his son’s shoulder in an attempt to rouse him.  “Wake up Scott.  You’re not at Cahaba any more.  You’re safe at home – at Lancer.” 

Scott’s smoky eyes blinked open and he looked at his father in confusion.  Murdoch poured a glass of water from the pitcher sitting on the small table by the window. 

“Here.  Sit yourself up and have some water.” 

Scott did as he was told but it was more from habit of following orders than because he wanted the drink.  His face was pale and his hair mussed more than usual.  He wasn’t normally such a restless sleeper.  His hands were shaky. 

“Murdoch?”  Teresa, having heard the noise, came into the room.  “Is Scott all right?” 

“He’s fine Teresa.  Why don’t you go check on Johnny and make sure he’s sleeping all right.” 

Teresa looked at her guardian in confusion.  To her things did not appear to be all right with Scott but she went to do as Murdoch had asked.  Maybe in the morning she’d get more out of him.  It was obvious that Murdoch wanted to talk to Scott alone.  She left the room and went to check on the invalid who was sleeping soundly.  In the two years since the boys had come home to live with their father they’d all nursed Johnny through more injuries and nightmares.  Nightmares about people from his gunfighter past coming back to haunt him.  But Scott was usually the calmer of the two and had seldom, if ever, had any nightmares – even about his wartime service. 

“Feeling better now?” Murdoch asked concernedly. 

“Yes,” Scott answered with a weak smile. 

“Good.  You had me worried.” 

“I hope I didn’t wake Johnny up.” 

“Don’t worry about your brother.  We’ll all see to it that he gets the rest he needs.” Murdoch frowned at his older son.  “But what about you?  What will it take to get you to sleep without waking up the whole household?” 

‘What it will take,’ Scott thought to himself, ‘is knowing that Charles Wilson is paying for what he did to Peter.’  But he didn’t voice these thoughts to his father.  Instead he replied, “I’m fine Murdoch.  I’m sorry I disturbed you.  I’ll just read for a few minutes to relax and then go back to sleep.” 

Murdoch rose.  He wasn’t sure he believed Scott but now wasn’t the time to press the issue.  “All right.  I’ll see you at breakfast.  Good night son.” 

“Good night Murdoch.” 

As the door closed quietly behind his father Scott got out of bed and lit the bedside lamp. Despite his brave words to his father there was no way he was going to be able to get back to sleep tonight.  He waited fifteen minutes for his father and Teresa to get back to sleep and then quietly slipped out of his nightshirt and into pants and a shirt.  He padded silently across the hall to his brother’s room and made himself comfortable in a chair next to the bed.  The moonlight shining in the window made Johnny look much younger than his years.  Scott was thought that the former gunfighter looked like a sleeping child no older than ten or twelve years old right then.  He spent the entire night there slipping back into his room only when the black night started to turn into gray dawn.  He didn’t want his father to know that he’d been up all night. 

Splashing cold water on his face he pulled on socks and his boots, grabbed a hat, jacket and his gun belt and walked down into the kitchen for a cup of coffee to drink while he waited at the table for breakfast to be served.  Maria looked at his suspiciously.  It wasn’t unusual for Scott to be up early, he’d adjusted well from his Boston lifestyle to life in California, but in her mind Señor Scott was much too cheery for someone who had been so concerned about Juanito the day before.  This wasn’t like him.  Something was wrong. 

For his part Scott went through the day trying to act as cheerful as he normally did.  He worked around the barn mostly, checked up on his brother a few times who looked at him in the same suspicious manner that Maria had.  Years of experience in reading peoples emotions, hidden though they may be, had Johnny reasoning to himself that something was wrong.  Unfortunately the headache he had and Sam Jenkins’ decree that he spend at least two days in bed kept him from acting on it as he would have liked.  Lunchtime found Scott sitting under a tree by himself.  At dinner he sat at the table with his father and Teresa.  Fortunately Teresa’s excited chatter about the new filly that Cipriano was training for her took up most of the dinner conversation and he wasn’t forced to act as if he knew Johnny was on the mend and nothing was wrong.  

But that night the nightmares started in again.  In his dreams Scott saw Wilson’s leering face and heard his mocking laughter from the confrontation on the street in Green River.  Unlike the night before nobody heard him when he cried out.  They were in their rooms sound asleep with the doors tightly closed. 

As he had the night before Scott rose and dressed and went to his brother’s room.  Sitting silently in the chair next to the bed he watched his brother sleep envying him.  Sleep would prove to be elusive again that night. 

“Scott?”  Johnny’s drowsy voice roused Scott from his reverie. 

“Yes, Johnny,” Scott smiled wanly.  “It’s me.” 

“Everything ok?” 

“Everything’s fine.  Just go back to sleep.”  Scott adjusted the blankets on Johnny’s bed so that they were covering him well against the night chill coming in through the open window.  

“Ok.”  Johnny was too tired to argue.  His eyes closed and the long dark lashes fanned out across his cheekbones. 


Murdoch wasn’t the only one to notice that something was wrong with Scott.  Late the next afternoon Jelly noticed too and asked his employer about it. 

“Boss?  Something wrong with Scott?” 

“Why do you ask Jelly?” 

“’Cause he’s walking around here lookin’ like he’s feelin’ lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.” 

“To tell you the truth Jelly I’m not sure.”  Murdoch frowned remembering Scott’s bad dreams of a few nights ago. 

“Ain’t only that,” the bewhiskered handyman said, “He’s lookin’ more peaked than Johnny and he ain’t even the one that was hurt!” 

“I know.  He tries to act like nothing’s wrong but I think he’s still feeling guilty over what happened to Johnny.  I’ll try to talk to him again.  See if I can get him to open up.” 


Late that night Scott slipped quietly into his brother’s room.  This time he didn’t stay for more than a few minutes.  He made sure Johnny was sleeping comfortably and turned to leave.  On his way out of the house he left an envelope with Johnny’s name on it sitting on his own bed – a bed that would not be slept in - where somebody’d be sure to see it when in the morning.  It was the first day Johnny was to be allowed out of bed per doctor’s orders.  Sam Jenkins had stopped by shortly after supper that night and pronounced Johnny fit for light work. 


“Good morning Murdoch,” Teresa said with a smile and a kiss to her guardian’s cheek. 

“Well, good morning yourself Miss O’Brien.  And to what do we owe the honor of this chipper mood this morning?” 

“Johnny’s getting out of bed and no longer a patient,” she replied pertly.  “At least he’s not an invalid any more. Sam did say he could do some light work for the next few days.  Of course his idea of light and Johnny’s idea of light are probably very different.” 

“You’re probably right.  But, don’t worry darling, I’ll see to it that Cipriano keeps him busy enough to keep from getting bored and at the same time not overdo it.” 

“Aw Murdoch,” Johnny entered the room on the end of that statement.  “Sam said I could go back to work.  Why do ya gotta have Cipriano watching me?” 

“Because if I don’t you’ll climb right up on a bucking bronc and do some permanent damage to yourself.”  Murdoch wasn’t going to let his son wheedle his way into working with the horses or anything else overly strenuous his first day out of bed.  “You’d better follow Sam’s orders or he’ll make you pay one way or another.  You don’t want both of us after your hide do you son?” he asked with a small smile. 

“No, sir.” 

“Where’s Scott?  Shouldn’t he be here eating with the rest of us?” Johnny wanted to know. 

“Yes, he should and I have no idea where your brother is.”  Murdoch was a little concerned but not overly so.   If Scott were finally sleeping right again he would cut him some slack for missing the morning meal.  He’d looked positively ill yesterday.  Pale and with dark circles under his eyes.  “He didn’t sleep well the last couple of nights so maybe he’s sleeping in a little.” 

“I think I’ll go wake him up,” Johnny said with a twinkle in his eye.  “Can’t let him slip back into his old ways.” 

It was obvious that Johnny was feeling better the way he bounded up the stairs to the second floor.  Even his father’s “Johnny” in a stern tone that told him he needed to slow down couldn’t take the bounce out of his step or the mischief out of his eyes.  He was about to give his brother a very difficult time about sleeping in after the rooster had crowed – or so he thought. 

“Hey Scott!  You gonna sleep all day?” Johnny opened the door to his brother’s room.  “The rooster crowed….”  Johnny’s voice broke off when he saw his brother’s bed neatly made and an envelope on Scott’s pillow addressed to him.  Tearing open the envelope he quickly scanned the contents of the note enclosed within and then ran back down the hall and back downstairs just as fast as his feet could carry him.  “Murdoch!” 

The distressed sound of his younger son’s voice brought the patriarch into the hall in a hurry. 

“Johnny?  What’s wrong?” 

“It’s Scott!  He’s gone!” 

“Gone?  What do you mean gone?”  Murdoch was confused. 

“I thought he was just sleeping a little late,” Teresa said as confused as the senior Lancer. 

“No.  I called him and when he didn’t answer I opened the door.  His bed ain’t been slept in and this note was on his pillow addressed to me.  But it’s really for all of us.” 

Murdoch took the note Johnny handed him and read it aloud so Teresa could know what it said too.  Scott’s neat script filled the page. 

“Dear Johnny, 

          I’m sorrier than you can ever know about what happened the other day.  I never wanted to be the cause of you being hurt.  Seeing Wilson in Green River the other day has dredged up a lot of old and painful memories.  I’m not a lot of fun to be around right now and I’ve not been able to keep my mind on my work.  I can’t get the memory of Peter Winslow’s murder out of my mind. 

 If I know Murdoch he’s done some investigating and he knows that Wilson was acquitted of murder though they found him guilty of manslaughter.  A dishonorable discharge was not enough punishment for what that man did.  He purposely baited that boy trying to get to me.  I’m as much at fault for Peter’s death as Wilson but Wilson struck the blow that felled Peter. 

I think a piece of me died when that boy was killed.  Nightmares that I thought were quelled have come back again.  I haven’t eaten and I haven’t slept in the three days since I saw him on the street.  I’ve acted abominably toward some of the men and I lost control when I saw Wilson again.  I swore, ten years ago, that I’d kill the man and I meant it. 

        I have to get away for a while and think things through.    I don’t want to bring trouble on you, Murdoch, Teresa, Jelly, Cipriano or any of the others.  Please don’t try to find me.  I’ll be back when I’m ready to be a civilized human being again. 

I love you all. 

                                            Your brother                       


        Teresa looked at her guardian, the man she thought of as a second father, with tears in her eyes.  “Murdoch?  What does he mean he had to get away?  What’s wrong with him? Where would he go?  He’s coming back isn’t he?” 

        Murdoch pulled the girl to him in a hug.  “I think he means he’s upset and frustrated by what happened in town the day Johnny was hurt.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him though.”

        “You told him it was an accident didn’t you?” Johnny asked his father.  “It wasn’t his fault what happened to me.” 

        “Yes, Johnny, I told him.  It didn’t seem to make a difference.  He shared some things with me about his time in the Army during the war.  Something that happened when he was a prisoner of war.  I don’t think he wants me to share it with anyone else though.  I had a difficult time getting him to open up to me about it.  He’s kept it hidden inside for years.”

         “You are going to look for him aren’t you?” Teresa wanted her “big brother” back. 

         “His note says not to but we won’t let that stop us,” Murdoch reassured her.  “We’ll find him and bring him home.”

         Johnny was on his way out the door when his father called him back.

         “And just where do you think you’re going?”

         “To look for Scott.”

         “No you’re not.  No horseback riding for a couple of more days.”

         “But Murdoch Scott could be miles away by then!  Even back in Boston!”

          Teresa started crying again when she heard the word “Boston”.  “Murdoch?”

        “Don’t worry honey.  We’re still going to look for him.”  Murdoch gave the girl another comforting hug.  “As for being miles away by then I have a feeling he’s already miles away.  He must have left that letter and slipped out last night while we were all sleeping.”  

        This tugged at an uncertain memory in Johnny’s mind.

        “Murdoch I think Scott was in my room last night.  I was real groggy but I’m pretty sure he came in.  Maybe even the night before.”

         “It wouldn’t surprise me Johnny.  He was pretty upset about what happened to you.  He’s even having nightmares about that boy’s death.”

         “What boy? That Peter something he mentioned in the letter?” Johnny asked.

           “Yes.  Peter Winslow.  He was a young boy in Scott’s company during the war.  He died in the prison camp.  Scott doesn’t believe it was an accident.”

           “Scott’s letter said you probably did some investigating.  Did you?” Johnny wanted to know. 

          “I’ve sent some inquiries.  I haven’t gotten any answers yet,” Murdoch replied. 

          “You tellin’ the truth old man or trying to hide something?” Johnny was suspicious of his father.  He knew Murdoch had developed connections all over the country and it shouldn’t have taken more than a day or two to find out what he wanted to know. 

          “I haven’t heard anything back yet!” Murdoch snapped. 

          “Stop it you two!” Teresa exclaimed.  “The important thing is to find Scott and bring him back.” 

          “You’re right Teresa,” Murdoch said to his ward. 

          “Sorry Teresa,” Johnny apologized.  “I can’t just sit here and do nothing though,” he continued frustrated.  “I’m going to see if anybody’s seen him.” 

          “I’ll go ask Maria,” Teresa declared. 

          “That’s a good idea.  Maybe he left her a note when he took some food.  If nothing else she may have an idea of what he took.  It might tell us how long he intends to be gone.”  Murdoch sent his “daughter” off to the kitchen to see the housekeeper. 

          “Johnny, why don’t you check with Cipriano.  Maybe he saw or heard something during the night.” 

          Johnny hurried off to find the Segundo.  If Cipriano hadn’t seen anything then maybe one of the others had. 

          “Jelly?  Jelly!” Murdoch called to the handyman who was working nearby. 

          “Yeah, boss?” 

          “Jelly have you seen Scott today?” 

          “No boss.  Not that I can recollect.  Why?” 

          “It seems that the trouble in town the other day has disturbed him more than we thought.  He left Johnny a note sometime between the time we turned in and breakfast this morning saying that he had to get away for a few days.” 

          “You want I should round up some of the fellas and start searching for him?” 

          “No, Jelly,” Murdoch told him.  “It wouldn’t do any good.  We don’t know what time he left or which direction he went in.  Johnny’s checking with Cipriano to see if he’s seen or heard anything.” 

          “Cip’s a good man.  If he knows anything he’ll tell Johnny.” 

          “Yes, but the trick is to keep Johnny off of horses for the next two days until Sam says he can ride again.  He wants to go searching for his brother and he’s pretty upset with me for telling him he can’t ride.” 

          “That ain’t gonna be easy.”  Jelly stewed silently for a minute.  He loved both boys as if they were his own but somehow Johnny, maybe because of the events of his growing up years, was more special to him.  Kind of like the orphaned boys he’d been taking care of when he first met the Lancers.  “Johnny still looks kinda peaked.  Maybe I should fix him up with one of my tonics.”  

          “I know but it’s for his own good.  We don’t want any setbacks in his recovery.  I’ll have a talk with Cipriano later – after Johnny’s through.  He’ll keep an eye on him for me. And no tonics or we’ll have a full scale rebellion on our hands!” 

        “But Murdoch….” 

        “No tonics Jelly and that’s final!” 


        In Green River Val Crawford had his hands full.  Mike Wilson and his cronies had gotten drunk and broken up the saloon for the third time in a month.  Val was getting sick and tired of locking Mike up only to have his father come along and bail him out.  And there wasn’t anything Val could do about it.  As long as Pierce Wilson continued to pay the fines and pay for the damage done by his son he’d have to let the man out.  But if he crossed swords with the Lancers again he knew he’d have more trouble than he could handle.  There was no love lost between the two families.  Pierce Wilson was a bigot.  Mike was a drunk who parroted his father’s attitude.  Johnny Madrid Lancer was a favorite target since he was half-Mexican. 

         More than once there’d been a clash between the Lancers and the Wilsons.  The most serious one had been around Easter when Scott had had a broken arm.  Mike had gotten drunk and obnoxious and Scott had paid the price when he tried to break up the fight.  With one good arm Scott was handicapped and an unseen blow had knocked him into the bar and into oblivion.  It wasn’t serious, fortunately, and Pierce had been forced to pay for Scott’s doctor bill when Sam got through examining him.  But there’d been bad blood between the younger members of the families ever since.  It wouldn’t surprise Val if Mike had deliberately missed Scott and swung on Johnny.  But the witnesses to the fight couldn’t be sure who had swung on whom or what exactly Scott was trying to do.  Some thought he was just trying to detain the man, others said he threw the first punch while others insisted that Mike had started the whole thing.  It was enough to tax anyone’s patience let alone the irascible lawman of Green River. 

        And Val wasn’t too terribly impressed with Charles Wilson either.  Clash with Scott Lancer or no clash the man seemed to irritate a lot of people.  He had proven himself to be every bit as much of a bully as Scott was heard to have said and he was not making himself very popular with the citizens of Green River or the wandering cowboys who passed through from time to time looking for work at area ranches before moving on again.  The problem was that the man intimidated people.  More than once since his arrival Val had arrived on the scene of a fight only to have the other parties involved refuse to press charges.  Val was about ready to lose his mind.  It wouldn’t be much longer before he’d truly regret ever having laid eyes on the man. 


        “Any luck Johnny?” his father asked when Johnny returned from talking to Cipriano.

        “No.” Johnny replied gloomily his eyes downcast.  “It looks like Scott left in the middle of the night just like you said.  Nobody saw or heard anything.”

        “Is his horse gone?”

        “Yeah, old Charlie’s gone and so is Scott’s saddle.  And Ramon says there’s a coupla bags of oats and corn missing.  Looks like big brother’s gone prepared for a long stay.  Sure wish I knew where.” 

        “Murdoch!” Teresa joined the men in the courtyard.  “Maria says there’s several cans of beans missing.  And a half dozen loaves of bread and some biscuits.  Butter, two jars of strawberry preserves, a big piece out of the roast beef that was left over and some ham.  And some other supplies and some pots and such.  Enough to keep him fed for several days.”

        “No doubt about it then,” Murdoch sighed.  “Scott intends to be gone for a while.  And if nobody knows when he left or which direction he went in we don’t even know where to start looking.”


        “No Johnny.  Not until Sam says you can ride again.”

        “But Murdoch that’s my brother we’re talkin’ about!”

        “I know and he’s my son and I’m worried too.  But we’d be foolish to go rushing off in all directions when we have no idea where to even begin looking.”  He sighed again.  “We’ll just have to let Scott work this out for himself.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll only be a couple of days.  Or maybe someone will spot him somewhere and let us know.”

        The two young people looked at each other in dismay but they had to recognize the wisdom in Murdoch’s words.  Without a clue as to which way Scott went there was no way to try and pick up a trail.  And with his time in a cavalry unit during the war he was bound to have picked up a few tricks from the scouts on how to hide his trail anyway.


          The topic of their conversation was, indeed, many miles from home.  He’d slipped out of the house, leaving the note on his pillow around one o’clock that morning.  In the four hours plus before anyone was stirring he’d appropriated enough foodstuffs and feed for his horse to last him a week or more if he were careful – which he intended to be.  And he didn’t have much appetite right now anyway.  Thoughts of Wilson and memories of how he’d baited, abused and finally killed a twelve-year-old boy tormented his sleep and virtually every waking hour.  He hoped that by getting away he could work it out of his system - the nightmares and the hatred. 

        In 1861 when the war broke out he’d been a pampered rich kid attending Harvard University.  At sixteen he’d been anxious to do his part to put down the southern rebellion as his friends and teachers called it.  Many of them were taking a leave of absence or leaving their posts all together to answer Mr. Lincoln’s call for volunteers.  But his grandfather, for all intents and purposes, was his guardian and refused to let Scott leave school.  But in 1863, as soon as he turned eighteen, he defied his grandfather’s wishes and joined up.  Smart, cool under fire and a fair strategist he soon advanced to the rank of Lieutenant.  A couple of brave acts on the field of battle had earned him a battlefield commission not unlike George Armstrong Custer “The Boy General”.  But Scott did not take wild, reckless chances like Custer.  His bravery under fire, rescuing a fallen major, had moved him up through the ranks quickly. 

        Then, shortly after the fall of Vicksburg had come the skirmish that landed him in the prison camp along with young Peter Winslow and several others.  And with that interment came the abuse of one Charles Wilson.  When his father’s invitation, or summons some might say, had come Scott had jumped at the chance to get away.  Boston wasn’t that far from Concord where Peter was buried and his family, including five older brothers lived.  It was too painful to risk running into them while he still blamed himself for Peter’s death.  Peter’s family didn’t feel that way but it made no difference.

        Now Scott was settled and had the family he’d always dreamed of and longed for.  A father who truly did love him in spite of what he’d been told growing up, a little brother and a little sister.  And Jelly was like a kindly old uncle.  He hated to put them through this but he felt it was for the best.  He couldn’t risk lashing out at them or letting them see him suffer or hear him cry out at night in the throes of a nightmare.  They deserved better.  They especially deserved better than to have someone who would gladly kill a man with his bare hands living around them.  No.  He had to get this out of his system before he went home. 

        Onward he traveled until he came to an extremely remote cabin that his father had told him about. Nestled in a valley high up in the mountains it was one that rarely got used except in the spring or fall when someone when deer hunting.  And the season for hunting deer was still a month and a half away.  Plenty of time for him to work things out. 

        It was late afternoon by the time Scott arrived at his destination.  In getting settled the first thing he did was to take the food and utensils he’d hastily packed and put them in the cabin.  Then he built a fire with plenty of dry wood that wouldn’t throw off a lot of smoke.  He didn’t want to attract anyone’s attention to the fact that he was there.  Lastly he tended to his horse stripping the saddle, bridle and blanket off of the chestnut gelding and giving him a good rubdown.  Leading it into the lean-to that stood adjacent to the cabin he gave the horse a measure of oats and pulled some of the tall grass that stood lush and green in the vicinity.  A bucket of water for the horse and a bucket of water for his use in the cabin and he was ready to settle in for the night.  In the morning he’d decide whether to stay there or move on somewhere else. 

        The cabin was relatively clean considering that it was seldom used.  Scott did a little cleaning up with a tattered old shirt that he found and put a couple of clean blankets, that someone had kindly kept wrapped in an old sheet to keep them clean, on the bunk.  He heated water for coffee and made himself a sandwich from the beef.  A couple of cookies that he had also taken from the kitchen comprised his dessert.

        An hour after dark Scott took a chair from the table in the cabin and brought it outside.  The air was cool and the dark sky was studded with twinkling stars.  He found himself wishing that Johnny were here to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere with him.  His little brother still suffered from nightmares at times due to his former life as a gunfighter.  ‘Sometimes,’ Scott thought, ‘those dreams are about his mother.  He doesn’t talk about her much any more but I sure do get the idea that she died when he was pretty young.  And it might have been a violent death.  Never does do any good to try and get him to talk about it though,’ he thought with a sigh.  ‘But then again I’m not exactly sharing my worst nightmares with him right now either.’ 

        Scott sat there enjoying the night breeze and the animal sounds, including the sound of his horse munching on the grass he’d pulled for him, for about half an hour before fatigue caught up with him and he started nodding off.  Sensibly he rose and went back inside securing the door as he did so.  Sitting down on the bunk he removed his boots, curled up on his side and fell asleep – for a couple of hours.  Then the nightmares started in.  Only this time the nightmares involved his brother and the incident in town that had left him injured and bedridden for a few days.  He did wonder how his baby brother was and then had to smile to himself.  If there was anything Johnny hated it was when Scott called him “baby brother”.  Knowing this Scott sometimes gave into the urge to use it just to give Johnny a hard time.  These peaceful thoughts relaxed him and he fell asleep again not to awaken again until daybreak.


        “How much will it cost this time Sheriff?”  The speaker was Pierce Wilson come to bail out his drunken son yet again. 

        “Fifty dollars fine and another seventy-five for damages to the saloon.  He broke several chairs, a table and the window.  Not to mention the glasses that were broken and the whiskey and beer that was wasted.”

         “Not a problem Sheriff. I have the money right here.”

         “If you don’t start keeping a lid on that son of yours,” Val said as he got up and crossed the room to unlock Mike’s cell, “I’m a gonna have to lock him up until the circuit judge comes through in another month.  I’m gettin’ fed up with him and his drunken brawls.  Some time in a jail cell might cool him off.” 

        “Is that all Sheriff?” 

        “Yeah, that’s all – for now.”

         Pierce Wilson gave his son a withering look as he exited his cell.

        “We’ll be seeing you around Sheriff.”

        “Darn right you will!” Val retorted.  “I’m going to be keepin’ a close eye on you Wilsons – all three of ya!”

        Once out of earshot of the Sheriff’s Office Pierce Wilson tore into his son about the embarrassment he was causing him.

        “Must you get drunk every night?  You’re not only costing me a fortune in fines and reputation you’re disgracing the family name!”

        “Embarrassing you?  I suppose you’d like it better if I were like that city boy Scott Lancer!  He never gets drunk in public.  He never breaks up a place.  He’d never embarrass his father!  Phooey!  It’s enough to make me sick!  Attacking Charles was the first wrong thing he’s done since he came to this valley!  And he doesn’t even get arrested for it.” 

        “He might have if you hadn’t swung on that half-breed brother of his and knocked him into that post.  Scott was so worried about his brother that he forgot all about Charles for the time being.” 

        The two Wilson men walked, or rather one walked and one staggered, toward their home on the edge of town.  Their cousin Charles was not at the house when they arrived.  Neither one was particularly worried until he came in looking frightened.

        “Charles?  What’s wrong?” Pierce asked his cousin.

        “I’m in serious trouble.”

        “What kind of trouble.  There’s someone in this town that knows who I am.  What I did in that prison camp.” 

        “We already know that.  It’s Murdoch Lancer’s son Scott.”

        “Maybe.  Maybe not.  Somebody took a shot at me tonight when I was coming back to town from the Johnson place.”

        “Did you see who it was?”  Mike asked.

        “No.  It was dark and they were too far away.”

        “You’d better tell the Sheriff.  Incompetent though he may seem to be he’s the only law we have in this town.”

        “No.  That won’t be necessary.  I’m sure now it must have been an accident.”  However, the bearded man’s tone and facial expression belied his attempt at confidence.

        The Wilson men retired for the night but it wouldn’t be many more days before Pierce would regret allowing his cousin to shrug off the apparent threat to his life.


        Three days after Scott left home Johnny was pronounced fit to ride by Sam Jenkins.  The first thing the brunet did was head for the barn and saddle Barranca.  In less than ten minutes he was riding through the gate headed in the direction of the spreads east of Lancer.

        “He’s sure in a hurry to ride again,” Sam commented.  “Keeping him off that horse for five days must have been hard on all of you.”

        “There’s more to it than that Sam,” Murdoch told the physician.  “He’s worried about Scott.  You see two days after Johnny was hurt Scott left in the middle of the night with enough food for himself and his horse for several days.  He left a note apologizing to Johnny for what happened and said he needed some time to himself.”

        “Sounds like Scott’s carrying a heavy load of guilt Murdoch,” Sam said.

        “Yes, he is,” the Lancer patriarch sighed.  “He was having nightmares and lost his appetite and was losing sleep.  He was in bad shape.”

        “Too bad this thing with the Wilsons has got him so worked up.  That Pierce Wilson and his son have been nothing but trouble since the day they moved to this valley.  I was talking to Val Crawford before I came out here and he said that he’s locked Mike Wilson up almost every night this week.  Pierce has spent a considerable amount of money keeping his son out of jail and has even had to bail his cousin out once or twice.  The saloonkeepers are ready to close up their places when they see them coming.  They’ve all had to replace tables, chairs and glassware and one even had to replace a mirror.”

        “It’s not the fight in town, Sam, when Johnny got hurt that has Scott so upset.  It seems that Pierce’s cousin Charles was a guard at Cahaba Prison Camp in Alabama during the war.  Scott told me that the man brutalized and murdered a twelve-year-old boy in front of the entire camp.  He threatened to kill him then – in fact he did try.”  Murdoch felt perfectly comfortable in telling his old friend this.  “I did some investigating on my own.  It seems that Wilson was in the habit of singling out certain prisoners for reasons of his own and making their life miserable.  As far as my friend could tell he picked on Scott because he was young, an officer and had a college education.  The boy that was killed he picked on because he was loyal to Scott and he wanted to get at Scott.  There were others too.  But Scott is the only one to have openly attacked him at the time and now, nearly ten years later, he met him on the street in Green River.  All those awful memories came back and Scott just lost control of himself.  Johnny just got caught in the middle trying to protect Scott.” 

        “Well, if I hear anything,” Sam said as he got ready to leave, “I’ll let you know.”

        “Thanks Sam,” Murdoch said shaking hands with the other man.


          Scott spent a lot of time reflecting on his life as a rich man’s grandson.  Smiling bitterly he remembered how his grandfather had always told him that his father, Murdoch Lancer, hadn’t wanted him after his beloved Catherine’s death and so had left him to her father and servants to raise.  Not until about a year after he came to California at his father’s invitation, and because he needed his help, did Scott learn the truth.  Murdoch was devastated yes – but Harlan Garrett had merely taken the child and what meager belongings Catherine had had with her when she died and left immediately for Boston without ever allowing Murdoch to lay eyes on his son.  A son he had waited for since he and Catherine had married three years earlier. A son that he would try to retrieve five years later when in a more stable financial position only to be thwarted by threats of a prolonged custody battle which would be upsetting to the little boy. 

        At age eighteen Scott had felt himself enough of a man to ignore his grandfather’s wishes and orders and join the army and rose through the ranks quickly to Lieutenant.  He tried not to dwell on the last year and a half of the war – the time he was in the prison camp because he knew if he did he might never go home.  His bitterness would poison his family and he didn’t want that.  Neither did he really want to kill Charles Wilson but the impotent rage he felt when he thought of how that man had deliberately taunted and baited him by using Peter coursed through him whenever he thought of that time. 

         Meeting his brother had certainly been a surprise.  If his grandfather knew that Murdoch had remarried and had another son he never said anything.  Scott laughed now when he thought about how he, the fancy dan as one of Day Pardee’s men had tagged him, was dressed and the contrast between him and this stranger who turned out to be his brother.   He’d come a long way from that image. 

        Now he dressed pretty much like any other cowboy on the range – only maybe a little more eastern in style.  Teresa had seen to that very quickly after his arrival.  All it took was one comment “We’ll have to get you some new clothes for living out here” coupled with his plaintive “What’s wrong with my clothes” and Johnny’s “They just ain’t the style” for him to realize how right they were when he looked around at the others.  Even his father, the struggling but successful rancher didn’t dress like a city dude.  Señor Baldomero and Teresa had taken care of his wardrobe problems. 

        As the sun set the sound of a night bird roused Scott out of his reverie.  He got up from his seat by the stream that ran about a half mile from the cabin and went back to get his supper started.  He’d caught several trout and planned on frying them up.  After supper the dishes washed Scott took the chair outside the door of the cabin again and starred up at the constellations.  It seemed to calm him down when he did this.  In fact this whole time away from his family, much as he loved them, seemed to be doing him a lot of good.  By nature he wasn’t necessarily a solitary man but solitude was what he needed to sort through his mixed emotions.  Anger, sorrow, frustration all boiled around inside of him.  He couldn’t go back until he was sure that he could control it and accept the fact that Wilson had told the truth – to a certain extent.  It may or may not have been an accident, Peter’s death, but the court-martial only found him guilty of accidentally killing the boy.  His boorish behavior had cost him his job.  There’d been enough complaints before the boy’s death and others came forward after his death to cause the warden to fire the man.  Fortunately his replacement had been a much kinder person.


        It was a very discouraged Johnny Lancer who returned home that night.  Nobody he’d talked to among their ranch hands, the neighbors or any of their ranch hands had seen anything of Scott.  Some hadn’t seen him since the Saturday before – almost a week ago.  Supper was a dismal affair.  Johnny was anything but cheerful and the same went for his father and Teresa.  Scott’s leaving and not being able to find him upset them all. 

        It was the same thing all over again for the next four days.  Johnny and Murdoch tried to attend to the ranch and, at the same time, look around for any signs of which direction Scott had gone.  On the fourth night, a rainstorm blew in and nobody at Lancer could have possibly foreseen the effect it would have on their lives for the next week.


        “Oh, dear, Alex,” Maura Talbot said to her husband as they left Green River after visiting with their friends the Ingersolls for dinner.  “It looks like it’s going to rain and us with the open buggy.  It was such a nice night and now we’ll get soaked.” 

        No sooner had she spoken than a flash of lightning lit up the night sky and the crash of thunder drowned out his reply.  The buggy horse shied and would have bolted if not for Maura’s steady hands on the reins and Jim’s strong one on the bridle.  The rain held off just long enough for Jim to get a tarp from their friends to cover them and keep them halfway dry until they got home.

        As they were passing by the alley between the general store and the barbershop the sky was lit up by another flash of lightning.  The crash of the thunder that followed almost, but didn’t quite, drown out the sound of a gunshot.  Startled Jim stopped the buggy and both he and Maura stared intently into the alley.  Jim hopped down and started to enter lighting his way with a lantern that had hung on the buggy to help light their way home.  Another flash of lightning illuminated the alley and he saw a man on the ground, dead or dying by the looks, and another man, tall, blond and slim leaning over him.  The blond, face hidden in the shadows, saw Jim and Maura and ran off.

        “What is it Alex?” Maura asked her husband.

           By this time Jim had reached the man on the ground.  He found Charles Wilson dead on the ground – shot in the chest at close range.

           “Maura,” he called to his wife.  “Drive over to the sheriff’s office and get Val.  It’s Charles Wilson – he’s been shot and he’s dead.”

          “Alex, that wasn’t Scott Lancer we saw leaving the alley was it?” Maura asked fearfully.

          “I don’t know love.  Go get Val.  I’ll keep the crowd away.”

          The crowd was a group from the saloon as well as the mayor who’d been working late in his store.  Jim Talbot was savvy enough to know that if they got to walking around in the alley they’d obliterate any tracks or other evidence that Val could use to try and determine who the killer was.

          Maura hurried away forcing her way through the gathering crowd of people attracted by the shot.  Jim stood up to his full six feet plus height and faced the crowd.  He put every bit of authority into his voice that he’d had when he was a father to three headstrong growing boys.

          “Folks, back off now!  There’s nothing you can do here.  Back off and leave room for the sheriff to get through.  My wife’s gone to fetch him.”

          “Who is it Jim?” one of the men in the crowd asked.

          “Pierce Wilson’s cousin Charles if I’m not mistaken,” Talbot answered.  “I’ve only seen the man from a distance once or twice.  We were never formally introduced.”

          The crowd murmured when they heard this.  The Wilsons were not the most popular family in the town, let alone the valley, and they knew there’d be trouble.  Many of them had witnessed the fight between the Wilsons and the Lancers.

          “Who killed him?”

          “How was he killed?”

          “Did Scott Lancer have anything to do with it?”

          The questions came fast and furious.  Jim Talbot answered them as best he could without giving anything he knew, or thought he knew, away.

          “I don’t know who killed him, he was shot and I don’t know if Scott, or any of the Lancers, had anything to do with it.”  He was a little irritated and had a sneaking suspicion that this was how Val felt some days.  His sympathy was entirely with the sheriff.

          “Let me through!”  a strident male voice said.  “Stand aside and let me through.”

          Pierce Wilson, followed closely by his son, had arrived.  Someone in the crowd had left and went to him at his store telling him the news.  He looked harried and distressed. Mike looked slightly inebriated which was par for the course - but not falling down drunk or belligerent.  Not yet anyway.

          “What happened?” the senior Wilson wanted to know.

          “Someone shot him and that’s all I know,” the rancher told him.  Truth be told he knew a little more than that but given the bad blood between the Wilsons and his friend’s sons he wasn’t about to say any more?

          “Scott Lancer do this?” Mike wanted to know.

          “I don’t know for sure who did this,” Talbot said.

          Val arrived on the scene just then followed closely by Maura.  She looked very distressed and Val looked harried.  Both knew in their hearts that if Charles Wilson were dead who was going to get the blame  - especially given what little bit she and Jim had witnessed.  She prayed she was wrong but the glimpse they’d gotten of the assailant had immediately brought Scott to mind.

          “Here, here, back up and let me through.  Outta the way you!”  Val pushed his way through the crowd to Jim Talbot’s side.  “What happened Mr. Talbot?”

          “I don’t know exactly Val,” Jim answered him.  “Maura and I were leaving the Ingersolls.  It started to storm so I went back inside to get a tarp to try and keep us dry until we got home.  There was a flash of lighting and clap of thunder and we heard a shot coming from the alley.  I took the lantern and approached the person lying on the ground.  There was another person in the shadows.  I didn’t get a good look at him.  All I could tell you is that he was about my height, slim and had blond hair.”

          “Uh-huh.  Go on.”

          “That’s it really.  The other person, presumably the killer, saw me and the lantern and ran off in the other direction.”

          “Sheriff I demand you go out to Lancer and arrest Scott Lancer for murder!” Pierce Wilson said.

          “Now hold on just a minute!” Val was indignant to say the least.  “I can’t go arresting someone without any evidence!”

          “What kind of evidence do you need Sheriff Crawford,” the senior Wilson asked.  “Scott Lancer is tall, slim, blond and he hated my cousin!  You saw the fight he got into last week.”

          “I saw nothing of the kind,” Val retorted.  I was two streets away when it happened and the witnesses didn’t agree on what happened!  If you recall correctly, and I’m sure you do since you have such a long memory, some of the witnesses said that Mike, here, started it as much as Scott did.  Now go home.  Doc Jenkins will take care of the body and you can make arrangements with Fowler for the burial and such.”

          The crowd dispersed quickly when Val turned on them telling them all to go about their business.  Jim and Maura Talbot he asked to come back to his office with him.  There they would tell him, once again, what little bit they saw.  Both would fret all the way home about what they had witnessed.  Granted a lot of men were tall, blond and slim but how many of them had been in a fight with the dead man in the last week?  In the morning Val would ride out to Lancer to talk to Scott – or so he thought.


        When the storm struck Johnny had just returned home from another fruitless day of searching for his brother.  He knew Scott didn’t want to be found but he felt that this was ridiculous!  It had been nearly a week since he left home and they hadn’t had any word from him.  Johnny fretted, much like Teresa had been, that something had happened to him and they wouldn’t know about it until too late.

        “Johnny?” Teresa’s voice cut into his thoughts.


        “Do you want another piece of pie?” she asked him.

        “No.  I think I’ll just turn in.”  So saying he got up from the table and went upstairs.

        “He’s really taking this hard isn’t he Murdoch?”

        “We all are darling.”

        “Yes, but Johnny seems to be blaming himself.  Is it because of his accident or because he can’t find any trace of him and he thinks he should?”

        “A little of both maybe.  Scott blames himself for Johnny’s injury and Johnny blames himself for Scott leaving.  My sons are both very stubborn young men and it’s hard to change their minds about anything.”

        Despite her own sadness Teresa had to smile.  “I wonder where they get it from?” she teased her guardian.


        Upstairs Johnny had not gone to his room.  Instead he had gone to his brother’s room.  More than he could ever express in words he missed his brother and wished with all his heart that he knew where to look for him.  Scott being the neat person that he was had left his room nearly spotless.  Looking through his brother’s wardrobe he found that Scott had only taken his oldest clothes.  All his good clothes were still there.  Far back in a corner Johnny found a work shirt that Scott had either overlooked or just decided not to take.  Removing it from it’s place the brunet took it and went over to the his brother’s bed.  Holding it close, like a child would hold a security blanket, he wept silent tears of misery.  It was there that his father found him, illuminated only by the lightning from the storm raging outside. 

        Walking over to the bed Murdoch sat down beside his younger son and put his right arm around the boy’s shoulders.  “Missing Scott aren’t you son?”


        “We’ll find him Johnny.  Somehow, somewhere, we’ll find him.”

        “But where Murdoch?” Johnny wailed.  “I’ve covered every inch of ground on this ranch as far as the foothills to the San Benitas and I can’t find a thing.  Not one little trace or track of where he might have gone.”

        “Starting tomorrow we’ll start looking again.”

        “But the storm will have wiped out any tracks by then!” Johnny protested.

        “We’ll ask everyone who knows him if they remember anything, anything at all about what Scott said or did that night before he left.”

        The tall rancher meant it sincerely.  He was lonely without his older son.  As much as he loved Johnny and Teresa he missed the intellectual stimulus that he got from Scott when they discussed politics and world affairs.  Those were subjects that just didn’t interest the two youngest members of the family.  And having Scott missing again was bringing up painful memories of all the years he spent without him when Scott was growing up in his grandfather’s home in Boston.  He didn’t want to relive those years ever again. 

        “You’d better get to bed Johnny.  It’s going to be another long day and this storm is probably going to make quite a mess to be cleaned up.”

        “Yes sir,” Johnny mumbled.  “In a minute.”

        Murdoch clapped his younger son on the shoulder and left the room.  In his own room he quietly gave vent to his own frustration at not being able to find his older son, not seeing this coming – Scott having been so depressed about what had happened in Green River, and his futile efforts to keep the two youngest members of the family cheered up.


          Maura Talbot sat in front of the mirror on her dressing table brushing her long red hair a pensive look on her sensitive face.


        “Yes, dear?”

        “You don’t think that was really Scott that we saw do you?”

        Coming over to where his wife was seated Jim put his arm around her shoulders.

        “I don’t know what to think.  All I got was a very short look at a man that was tall, slim and blond.  I didn’t get a look at his face.”

        “I know.  And neither did I.  But that description fits Scott so well.”

        “It fits a lot of other men in this valley besides Scott Lancer my love, including me.”

        “That’s true.  I do hope that Val is able to talk to Scott and sort things out.”  Maura finished off the braid she was putting in her hair after having brushed it.

        “I’m sure he will now come to bed.”



        For September it was an unusually severe storm.  It struck so suddenly and with such force Scott had no time to prepare for it.
        He was watering his horse when the first bolt of lightning was seen followed closely by the first clap of thunder.  The gelding, normally a very placid animal, was always nervous in a storm no matter how minor. 

When the second bolt of lightning struck a tree in their path as they walked back to the shed where he’d been spending his nights after grazing in the nearby field or Scott’s mindless wanderings as he fought his warring emotions, Charlie went berserk.  Scott had not time to tighten his grip on the lead rein before it was pulled out of his hand, leaving painful rope burn, and the gelding took off for home.  Not the cabin, no, but back down the mountain and through the fields and pass and every other bit of territory that they’d passed through on the way up. 

“Hey you fool horse!  Come back here!” Scott shouted trying to make himself heard over the storm. 

It was a wasted effort.  Two minutes after he broke away from Scott the chestnut was out of sight and Scott was getting soaked.  As he headed back to the cabin on the run, after ascertaining that there was no danger of fire from the damaged tree, Scott hoped that he’d find the horse in the morning.  Little did he know that there would be worse trouble facing him by the time he got home than just a runaway horse.


 The storm raged all night finally stopping just before dawn.  The roads were a muddy mess and so was Val Crawford by the time he reached Lancer.  Already grim from the task that lay ahead of him after the events of the night before, his mood was not improved by the time he arrived.  Halfway to the Lancer’s ranch Pierce Wilson and his son joined him determined to confront Scott over the death of their relative.  Irritated Val spoke to the Wilsons addressing Pierce rather than Mike. 

“Look Wilson I don’t need you comin’ along to make sure I do my job!”

“Sheriff your friendship with Lancer’s half-breed brother doesn’t exactly make you the most unbiased person in this matter.”

“You sayin’ I won’t arrest Scott if I don’t like what he has to say?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“Well I got news for you Mr. Wilson iffen I don’t like what he has to say or he can’t be provin’ his whereabouts last night I will arrest him same as I would anybody else. “  Then he glared at him.  “And don’t you be referrin’ to Johnny Lancer as a half-breed in my hearin’ unless ya want to be swallowing your teeth real soon!”

Sullenly the other man nodded.  His son, for once in his life, was silent.  He’d been on the receiving end of one of Val’s punches a time or two and had no desire to risk it right now.  There was, of course, no way of telling how long that would last.

An hour after sunrise they rode under the great arch and into the courtyard.  Murdoch heard their horses and exited the house through the red velvet covered French doors.  Johnny was right behind him.

“Val.  What brings you out here at this hour of the morning?” he asked.

“I need to talk to Scott, Mr. Lancer.  Is he still around or is he off checkin’ fences or something?”

“He’s not here at all Val.  Why do you need to talk to him and what do those two,” he asked indicating the Wilsons, “have to do with why you’re here?”

“Mr. Wilson’s cousin, the one Scott had the ‘argument’ with last week was murdered last night.  I have a couple of eyewitnesses who saw a tall, slim blond man in the alley right after it happened.”

“Val,” Johnny protested.  “That description – well it fits a lot of men in this valley.  Mr. Talbot for one.”

“Yeah, I know,” Val replied.  “But…

Before he could finish Pierce Wilson jumped into the conversation.

“For your information half-…gun-hawk Jim Talbot and his wife are the witnesses!”

“Val?  Is that right?” Murdoch queried.  “Did Jim and Maura say it was Scott that they saw?”

“No!” Val glared at the two Wilsons.  “They only said that it was a man and that he was tall, blond and slim.  Like you said that description fits a lot of men in this area.”

“How many of them accosted Charles on the street?” Mike asked.  “How many of those tall, blond men knew him from his time as a guard in that prison camp?”

“I told you two to stay out of this,” Val said to both Wilsons.  “Now shut up!”  Turning back to the Lancers he asked, “Can you tell me where I can find him?”

“No, I’m afraid not Val,” Murdoch said regretfully.  “Scott was so upset by what happened to Johnny during that altercation and the fight itself that he took off for parts unknown.  He said he’d be back when he could think and act like a civilized human being again.”

“You ain’t got no idea where he went?”

“No.  Johnny’s been trying to pick up a trail and we’ve asked all the hands and most of the neighbors but nobody’s seen any sign of him.”

“Sheriff he’s lyin’,” Mike Wilson burst out in disbelief.  “Why I’ll bet you that Eastern dandy is in the house.”  Dismounting from his horse before Val could stop him he added, “I’m going to search it until I find him!”

Attracted by the noise Teresa, Maria and one of the other women, Juanita, appeared at the French doors.  All three women were dismayed to see the Wilsons.  Val was a friend as well as the sheriff of Green River so he was more than welcome as far as they were concerned.

Mike started toward the doors only to be stopped by Johnny’s hand on his arm.

“You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Johnny growled at the gunsmith.

“Get your filthy hands off of me half-breed,” was the response he got.

Shaking Johnny’s hand off he started toward the French doors again.  The three women backed away.  Neither Wilson was popular with the Mexican community and Mike had always been a bully that Teresa feared.  One of the few things she had feared growing up.  She’d always gotten along well with the other children at school.  Mike, however, was older, bigger and heavier and he liked to throw his weight around.

“I said ya ain’t goin’ in there!”  Johnny stated more firmly this time.

“And I told you to get your filthy hands off of me half-breed!”

Being called a half-breed had never set well with Johnny Madrid Lancer.  He’d heard it all his life while he was growing up.  To hear it from the mouth of this habitually drunken bully was more than he was going to take.  He yanked Mike around and let him have it in the mouth.  Mike spit blood and swung on Johnny.  Before Murdoch or Val could stop them, or anyone else that was nearby for that matter such as Cipriano who was nearly as big a man as Murdoch, the two young men were in a knock down drag out brawl.

Val dismounted from his horse as quickly as he could and tried to wade into the fray.  Murdoch grabbed his son but Johnny was so enraged that Murdoch couldn’t hold onto him for long.  Val had no better luck holding onto Mike.  There seemed no way to keep the two combatants separated.

Pierce Wilson, seeing his son on the losing end of the battle drew his pistol.  He had every intent of shooting Johnny if that’s what it took and he would have only Jim Talbot had ridden up unnoticed by anyone in the Lancer courtyard and pulled his own pistol out.  Reacting quickly the other rancher reached over and gave Wilson’s wrist a hard rap with his pistol.  The storekeeper’s gun hit the dirt next to his horse as he howled in pain and grabbed his injured wrist.

“Stay out of it Pierce!  Let Val and Murdoch handle it!”

Slowly but surely Murdoch and Cipriano got a good grip on Johnny and kept him from going after Mike again.  Val and Randy Davis, a Lancer ranch hand, got hold of Mike and pulled him away from Johnny.

“Now I’ve had just about enough of you Wilsons interfering in my job and causing me problems!” Val declared.  “Now you git on your horse, Mike, and you and your father head on back to Green River.”  Turning to Murdoch he said, “If you want to press charges against these two for trespassing, Mr. Lancer, you can see me in my office this afternoon.”

“That won’t be necessary Val,” Murdoch replied.  “As long as they never set foot on this ranch again without an invitation.  And I want an apology from Mike for his insulting Johnny.”

“No,” Mike said. 

“Sure you don’t want ta reconsider your attitude Mike,” Val asked.  “Mr. Lancer here doesn’t have ta press charges if he don’t want ta but I can press charges against ya myself for interfering with my job.”

“I’d be glad to testify to that in court Val,” Jim Talbot spoke up.

“No.” Mike was not about to give in.

“Last chance.”

“I’m sure my son is very sorry for accusing the half-…” the look he got from Val stifled that part of Pierce Wilson’s comment.  “If you say your son is not home then I believe you.”

“That’s very kind of you I’m sure,” Murdoch said sardonically.

The Wilson men wisely took their leave of the others.  The two Lancers, Val Crawford, Jim Talbot and Cipriano watched them closely.  Two of Murdoch’s ranch hands rode with them as far as the road back to Green River.  When they were gone the remaining men returned to the reason for Val’s visit.  But not until Jim Talbot got a “thank-you” from Murdoch and Johnny for his intervention in the explosive situation just now resolved.

“Thanks Jim,” Murdoch said shaking his friend’s hand.

“No problem,” the other rancher said.  “I never did like Pierce Wilson or his son.  People like them are what made it hard for Maura’s family to find work when they immigrated to this country.  “You see Johnny, it’s not just people like you, those of mixed heritage that have had people prejudiced against them.  When my wife and her brothers immigrated to the United States back in the forties, during the potato famine, there were signs in windows everywhere saying ‘No Irish Need Apply’.  They were only considered good enough to be domestic help – servants like Maria and Juanita.  And they weren’t necessarily treated well either.”  Turning to Murdoch he asked, “ Mind telling me what that was all about?”

“Val here came out to speak to Scott about the murder in town last night.  Apparently Pierce Wilson and his son don’t believe that Scott isn’t here.”

“He tried to force his way into the house,” Johnny said.

“And then you lost your temper,” Val added.  “Ya should have let me handle Mike.  That’s what I get paid for.”

“Man’s got a right to protect his family and property don’t he?” Johnny asked.  “Besides Scott really ain’t here.  He left in the middle of the night about a week ago and we ain’t heard from him since.”

“Johnny’s been all over the ranch trying to pick up a trail but it’s been no use.  And I’m afraid that storm last night wiped out any tracks we may have overlooked.”  Murdoch looked at his friend.  “Val says you and Maura saw the killer.”

“Yes,” Jim admitted.  “But not very well.  All I know for sure is that it was a tall, blond male.  And that description, my friend, fits a lot of men in this valley including me.  I never saw his face.  I told Val that last night.”  Sudden realization came upon him.  “So that’s what Pierce and Mike were doing here.  They think it was Scott because of that incident in town last week.”

“That’s exactly it Mr. Talbot,” Val said.  “Look, Mr. Lancer, if Scott should show up I really do have to ask him where he was last night.  Until I’ve talked to him and found out where he was, and most importantly, if anyone can back his story up, I have to consider him a suspect.”

“I understand Val,” Murdoch said sadly.  “I wish I knew where he was.”

“Well, I’d best get on back to town and try to defuse whatever trouble the Wilsons are causing now.  I wish to heck they’d move away and give some other poor slob the headache of keeping them in line!  I’m sick of ‘em!”

So saying Val mounted his horse and turned back toward Green River.  Once beyond the stone arch he spurred his gelding to a lope and then a gallop kicking up clods of mud from the road as they went.

Jim Talbot stayed a few minutes longer.  He’d originally come to speak to Murdoch about a hunting trip they took annually.  Neither one of them knew at the time that their discussion would lead to the discovery of the missing Lancer.


What was to be a long hard trek for Scott began at daybreak the same morning that Val and the Wilsons arrived at Lancer looking for him.  With a sigh of frustration and aggravation he packed what was left of his foodstuffs into his saddlebags, donned his hat, jacket and gun belt and started off toward home.

The path was slick with mud and he slipped more than once as he went along.  More often than not, early on, he managed to stay on his feet but dropped his saddlebags.  If he held onto the saddlebags he slipped and fell – to one knee at least.  It was all very discouraging and annoying.  He swore to himself he was going to pick out a new regular mount when he got home – one that didn’t spook during a storm.

By the time he’d been walking for a couple of hours he’d only managed to cover about three miles.  And that was on the easy part of the walk.  It would get rougher as he got down further.  The owners of the cabin, a family by the name of Montgomery, had made the area around the cabin inviting enough but there wasn’t much they could do about the access to the cabin.  It was three miles of winding, twisting, boulder lined path from the top of the ravine to the bottom of the valley.  Scott was exhausted by the time he reached the top.

Resolutely he only sat for fifteen minutes and started off after wiping his brow and having a swallow from his canteen.  This time he slipped and slid all the way down.  Two-thirds of the way down that first hill his feet went out from under him and he slid the rest of the way down the muddy path on his back.  And that was just the beginning of his troubles.


At 10:00 AM that same morning Val Crawford was ready to shoot someone.  To be specific he was ready to shoot Pierce Wilson or his drunken, loud-mouthed son.  All morning long, ever since he’d had the misfortune to catch up with them on the road back to Green River, he’d had to listen to them complain and accuse and just plain annoy him over the fact that Scott hadn’t been found at the ranch.  That Scott Lancer was the only one with a reason to kill Charles.  That Murdoch Lancer knew perfectly well where his son was at and that he and his rotten gunslinger son were hiding the blond Lancer somewhere so nobody could find him.

“Sheriff!” an excited male voice said from the doorway to the office.  “There’s a fight down at the saloon.  You’d better come quick!”

With an impatient groan Val rose from his chair behind the desk and followed the man, a ranch hand from the Thompson ranch, to The Longhorn.  Inside he found Pierce and Mike Wilson in a fight with several cowhands.

“Here now!  Break it up!  Break it up I said!”  Val waded into the middle of it and with a couple of good punches had Mike Wilson laid out flat on the floor and the senior Wilson backing away from him with his hands out in front of him.

“All right sheriff, all right,” the middle-aged storekeeper said.

“Who started it and what’s it all about?” Val demanded to know.

A babble of voices all spoke at once.

“Wilson did.”

“Mike threw the first punch!”

“Mike was shootin’ his big mouth off about Scott Lancer being a killer!”

The younger Wilson was coming around.  Val motioned to the man’s father to help him up and told them to take a seat at a table where he could keep an eye on them.  Then he turned to the cowboys.

“All right now, one at a time.  You, Tim Kelly, you go first.”

Tim Kelly was a young cowboy, twenty-three years old who was employed by the Talbots at their ranch. A tall, husky redhead he was in town to do some errands for his employers and had stopped in to have a cold beer before heading back to the ranch.

“I was standing at the bar having a beer when those two walked in,” he said indicating the Wilson duo.

“Go on.”

“Mike started tossing back the shots of whiskey in spite of his father’s protests.  Then he started sayin’ that Scott Lancer killed that cousin of theirs.  Some of us took exception to that and told him that he ought to shut his mouth.  That there was no proof that Scott was responsible for his cousin’s murder.”

“And then what happened?”

“He got real belligerent and he took a swing at me.  Zach tried to stop him so Mike swung at him instead.”


Zach Chandler, a short dark-haired puncher who worked for the Thompsons, spoke up.  “That’s what happened sheriff.  Mike there didn’t like it because most of us took Scott’s side in the argument.  He got real nasty like and started taking on everyone.  Throwin’ tables and chairs and glasses and whatever else he could get his hands on.”

“Mike?  What have you got to say for yourself?” Val asked the younger Wilson.

Pierce Wilson spoke up, “I say that Scott Lancer killed my cousin and that you’re letting him get away with murder.  That you’re letting your friendship with that half-breed brother of his cloud your judgment.”

“And I say I’d better not hear you say it again!” Val snapped.  “The witnesses, such as they are, to the murder can’t identify Scott positively.  And they can’t identify anyone else either!  Mr. and Mrs. Talbot only said that the person they saw leaning over your cousin’s body was a tall, blond male.  That describes about fifty or so men of all ages living in this here valley not to mention a good many strangers that are passing through at any time!”  Giving Pierce Wilson his most menacing glare he added, “If I hear one more time that you’re accusing Scott Lancer of murder, Mr. Lancer and Johnny of covering up for him or anything else…if you cause me, or the Lancers, any more grief before this murder is solved I’m going to lock you up until it is over!  Do you understand me?”

Wilson and his groggy son just sat there silently fuming so Val repeated himself.

“I said do you understand me?!”

“Yes,” Pierce answered grudgingly for both of them.

“Good.  Now get that drunken fool gunsmith you call a son out of here and go about your business.  You have a store to run.  Take him home to sleep it off and then git back to it!”

Pierce rose from the table and took his son by the arm.  None too gently he steered him toward the door throwing nasty looks at Val all the way.  The sheriff of Green River just ignored him and watched to see that they did as he’d just ordered.  Then he ordered each of the cowhands involved in the fight to pay two dollars each toward repairing the damage to the saloon and then go back to their places of employ.  The Longhorn’s owner said he’d get most of the money out of the Wilsons later.  After all, it was Mike who had started the fight that caused all the damage to begin with.  He wanted no money out of the Thompsons – they were a well-liked and respected family, like the Lancers.


           By the time the sun was setting that afternoon Scott was footsore and hungry.  His high-heeled riding boots were not made for walking long distances in.  The route that he was taking to get home was rough and long.  There were no shortcuts.  The cabin was deliberately built in a somewhat difficult to reach area because that’s where the best hunting was.

          Wearily he gathered some wood and built a campfire in part to keep warm and in part to keep any unwanted four-legged visitors away.  Sleep was practically unknown to Scott that night.  With no blanket he had to keep the fire going.  He’d nod off for a couple of hours only to rouse when the fire had died down and the cold mountain air was getting to him.  He was more than ready, mentally at least, to get started in the morning.


           “Ow!”  One more time Scott was slapped in the face with a tree branch.  He was, four days after he left the cabin, bruised, dirty, hungry and on the ragged edge of exhaustion.  If he could have seen himself in a mirror he would have seen dark circles under bloodshot eyes set in a thin and pale face bearing several scratches.  His food had run out two days ago – there hadn’t been all that much left anyway – and he’d been subsisting on water and any berries he recognized as edible from the lessons he’d had with Johnny.  Johnny.  Right then he’d have given anything to hear his little brother’s voice.  Even if it meant listening to him tease him about being a greenhorn and letting his horse run away from him.  He longed for one of Teresa and Maria’s hearty meals.  He longed for the intellectual stimulation of a political or civics discussions with his father.  To hear Jelly’s voice protesting as the brothers teased him about his gander Dewdrop and the bird’s propensity for causing trouble.  Most of all he longed for a hot bath and a week’s sleep in his own bed. 

          Determinedly he ignored this most recent indignity and pressed on.  Eyes watering from the pine needles he never saw the sudden drop where the path he was on crossed over that stream where he’d been fishing just a few days ago.  Down he went into water that was icy cold, waist high and rapidly flowing.  The splash he made would have scared away any trout that a fisherman upstream or down might have been angling for.  Quickly he rose from beneath the water coughing and spluttering and crawled out on the other side. 

          It didn’t take long for him to realize that he was in more trouble.  When he’d fallen Scott had twisted his left ankle – not badly but enough to slow him down considerably.  He soaked the swollen joint in the cold water for a few minutes and wrapped it with his neckerchief to support it.  It was a struggle to pull the boot back on but if he didn’t do it now the ankle would be so swollen he’d never be able to put it back on until it was completely healed. 

          He made camp early that night and attempted to dry his clothes out.  He sat by the fire in damp clothes shivering and wishing for a nice hot cup of coffee.  Or cocoa.  Even tea, which he detested.  His teeth chattered and he finally fell into an uneasy sleep with his arms wrapped around himself in a futile effort to keep warm. 


“Alex?  Are you sure you’ve got everything?” 

Jim Talbot smiled indulgently at his wife.  Every time he and Murdoch had made this trip over the last twenty years it was the same thing.  She was always sure he’d forgotten blankets (thought there were always some at the cabin) or he didn’t have enough bacon, bread, flour, salt, lard or clean clothes.  Did he have enough utensils and pots and pans? 

“I’m sure Maura my love,” he answered the diminutive love of his life.  “You’ve asked me a dozen times already.  Now I’ve got to get going if I’m going to get there before dark.  It’s a long ride and I don’t want to camp out on the way this time.” 

“But are you sure….” 

“Maura!” he was a little exasperated.  “Maura, dear, I’m sure I have plenty.  I’m not going up there to stay for a week.  I’m only going up to make sure the place is in good repair.  If it needs any major work I’m going to make notes and send someone up to do the repairs later.  Murdoch’s not going to want to go hunting until this business with Scott and the Wilsons is cleared up.” 

“I know but I can’t help worrying about you.” 

James Alexander Talbot loved his wife with all his heart and soul.  And having been married to her for thirty years he knew what was at the bottom of her fears.  Every now and again, not very often but just once in a while, she feared losing him as they had lost their three sons.  He remembered all too well how the boys had gone off to war smiling and chipper and excited.  They’d been proud to serve their president and their country.  Maura had tried not to let her tears show when they left but they had.  And then, one by one, they were gone.  Forever.  Dead of wounds or infection.  Never to marry and have children of their own.  It was for this reason that he encouraged the Lancer boys to visit as often as they wanted.  It was almost like having Blair, Rory and Kendall underfoot again as they had been so often when they were growing up.

 “Now don’t you be fretting lass,” he said with a kiss to her cheek.  “I’ll be home in a couple of days.  I’m just going to go up and leave the supplies.  I’ll check the place over and be on my way home tomorrow.”  He turned and mounted his big brown and white paint and headed off into the bright September morning.


 It was close to dark by the time Jim Talbot arrived at that cabin.  The first thing he did when he got there was to strip the packhorse, a chunky black mare, of its load and placed it on the ground outside the lean to.  In the semi-darkness he never even noticed the fresh horse droppings or that there was still part of a bale of hay in the back. Neither did he notice Scott’s saddle, which with his horse having run off, the young Lancer had left behind rather than try to carry it.   When Jim was through with the mare he untacked the paint and then gave both of them a quick, but thorough, grooming.  Taking a pair of buckets hanging on nearby pegs he went down to the stream and got fresh water for his horses.  A bale of hay and a small measure of oats and the horses were settled for the night. 

The horses tended to he took another bucket, this one sitting just outside the door to the cabin and went down to the stream to get some water for himself.  He placed it on the floor by the fireplace and then, because the interior of the cabin was so dark at this point he looked for the lamp and matches that should have been on the mantle when not in use.  They weren’t there and he couldn’t understand it until he turned and saw the lamp sitting in the middle of the table.  The box of matches was sitting right next to it. 

“Now that’s strange,” he said to himself.  “What are they doing on the table?  They’re not usually there unless someone’s been staying here.”

Shaking his head he turned back toward the fireplace to see about starting a fire to make some supper with.  He was taken aback to see that the fireplace was full of ashes and there was wood stacked next to it.  Another scene that was inconsistent with a cabin that had supposedly been empty since mid-July when he and the Lancers had come up here to go fishing.

 Then he noticed the unmade, but obviously slept in bed.  Taking a look around the cabin he could see, now that the lamp had been lit that there had been a visitor to the cabin – and very recently.  The floor had obviously been swept and there were dishes sitting on the table that he hadn’t paid attention to at first that had been recently washed, dried and neatly stacked.

 Taking another match he lit a lantern and went outside to have a look around.  The storm had of a few nights ago had left the yard a muddy mess but he could see some hoof prints that led toward the stream at a leisurely pace and as he got closer to the water he could see that the tracks leading away from the bank were much wider spaced as though the animal had been running.  One look at the tree that had been struck by lightning and Jim could see that horse and man had been caught in the storm unexpectedly.  From the looks of those tracks the horse must have spooked and run off.  It wouldn’t occur to him for a few more minutes that the owner of the horse might be in trouble.

 Turning back he stopped by the lean to where the horses were stabled to ensure that they were settled for the night.  The light of the lantern lit the dim interior of the stable and it was then that he saw the saddle and blanket sitting in the back with the bridle looped over the saddle horn.  He entered the lean to, shoving his gelding gently aside, and bent to examine it.  A close look showed it to be a quality stockman’s saddle.  An even closer look with the lantern hanging right over it revealed the Lancer “L” that was tooled into the skirt of the saddle.

 “Scott!” Jim exclaimed.  Rushing out of the lean to he started calling Scott’s name.  “Scott!  Scott Lancer!  Where are you boy?”

 There was no answer.  Shining the lantern around the yard he could see footprints, no more than a few days old, leading down the path that led to the rough trail in and out of the valley.  It was a miracle that his horses’ tracks hadn’t obliterated Scott’s all together.  Going out of the yard the tracks were fairly steady.  It was apparent that Scott was carrying some sort of a load but nothing very heavy.

 With a heavy heart he turned back toward the cabin.  It was too dark to start looking now.  The trail back to the ranches was rough, winding and far too treacherous to attempt on horseback or afoot in the dark.  He’d have to wait until morning.  But come first light Jim Talbot fully intended to be on the way down that trail to find his friend’s missing son.


 Bone chilling cold seeped into Scott’s bones that night.  He had no blanket and his clothes were still damp.  He couldn’t seem to absorb enough heat from the fire he’d been able to start using matches he’d had the foresight to wrap well in oilcloth.  He slept fitfully and started painfully on his way again as soon as the sun was up.  His swollen ankle ached terribly but he ignored it the best he could.  It made him tired to be favoring it all the time but what choice did he have?  With no horse, no food and no help in sight he had to keep moving.  Nobody knew where he was.  Or so he thought. 


 The sun had barely risen over the mountain when Jim Talbot started off on Scott’s trail.  Partly on horseback and partly on foot the neighboring rancher followed Scott’s trail.  He could see where Scott had slipped and slid down the first slope.  His boot heels had dug gouges in the earth when he tried to stop himself.

 Here and there Jim could see where Scott had stopped to rest.  Where the brush was thickest he found a scrap of Scott’s bright blue shirt.  By midmorning he arrived at the stream where Scott had slipped and injured his ankle.  He’d had to back track a few times but it was getting easier to follow him. The tracks indicated that Scott had somehow been injured.  They also showed that he was getting tired.  Instead of going in a fairy straight line Scott was starting to stagger and wander off the beaten path.  At the last campsite before the stream he found Scott’s empty saddlebags.  Picking them up he put them on his own mount before picking up the trail again.

About an hour later Talbot could see that the tracks were getting fresher.  Scott had slowed down quite a bit.  Whether from hunger, fatigue or injury he couldn’t tell for sure.

“Getting tired aren’t you son?” he said to himself.  “Scott!  Scott Lancer!  Where are you?  It’s Jim Talbot Scott.  Can you hear me?”

The wind was beginning to pick up again and the air was turning cool even at the lower elevation they were in now.  Jim’s voice was carried away on the wind that blew his words back at him.  That didn’t stop him though.  He kept following the trail Scott had left and calling out to the younger man.  About every ten minutes he stopped to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

“Scott?  If you can hear me stay put.  I’m coming to you.”  Jim shook his head in discouragement.  “If this wind doesn’t die down he’s going to be in a lot more trouble Pinture.  I’ve got a feeling that boy is half starved, cold and very sore. Maybe even frightened.”  Nudging the horse into as fast a walk as he dared without losing the trail he started off again.


Over the sound of the wind, or perhaps under it, Scott thought he heard a voice calling his name.  But in his chilled, hungry and fatigued state he wasn’t sure and dismissed it continuing on his painful journey.   

His ankle throbbed more with each step he took but he grimly ignored it as he tried to cover the remaining miles between himself and home.  Once he was back at Lancer he would, he was sure, be cleaned up, fed and put to bed.  He wouldn’t even care if Sam Jenkins told him he had to stay in that bed for a week.    Visions of Maria and Teresa’s smiling faces as they placed a hot meal in front of him sustained him for a few minutes.  A dream of a hot bath and clean nightshirt and a warm bed helped him along for another ten minutes.  But the more fatigued he got the less anything helped.  He was beyond groggy.  He’d been without much sleep for a week now between the nightmares and this miserable hike after his horse ran away.  He was on the verge of collapse and didn’t even know it.  And he was close to delirium as well.

 The wind howled through the trees bringing down showers of pine needles, pinecones and small branches. Scott staggered as he wove in and out of the fallen branches.  More than once he got slapped in the face with a branch as he had just before his accident at the stream.  His eyes were streaming again and he couldn’t see where he was going very well.

 “Scott!  Scott wait!  It’s Jim Talbot son.”

 Jim had finally caught up with Scott but just as he did a gust of wind brought a small pine bough crashing down and it struck Scott a glancing blow on the side of the head.  He staggered back again dazed.

 “Scott!  Easy son I’ve got you.”  Jim dismounted his paint quickly and reached out to the younger man.

 “Mr. Talbot? What….”  Scott’s mind shut down and everything went blank.  He pitched forward into his neighbor’s arms.

 The tall rancher, just an inch taller than Scott, caught him as he fell and eased him gently to the ground.  He gave him a quick going over and was dismayed to find the blond Lancer’s face scratched and a bump forming where the tree limb had bounced off his head.  Even worse the young man looked half starved and his clothes were damp.  His skin was icy.

 Blessing his dear wife for her insistence that he bring extra blankets he took two of them from behind his saddle.  He’d grabbed a couple of those blankets when he’d left the cabin.  Instinct had told him that they might come in handy and he was mighty glad that he’d followed that instinct.  Quickly he removed Scott’s damp jacket and wrapped two of the blankets around him.  Taking his handkerchief and some water from his canteen he cleaned up the scratches as best he could.  They weren’t too many more miles from Lancer and he wanted to get the boy home to his family.

 “Scott.  Come on boy wake up.  I’ve got to get you home.”

 “Mr. Tal….” Scott was very groggy.  He couldn’t keep his eyes open.

 “That’s right Scott. It’s Jim Talbot.  Come on now.  Your family’s worried about you.” 

           Putting Scott’s left arm around his shoulder and his right one around Scott’s waist he half carried the younger man over to where his paint waited patiently.  It was a little bit of a struggle, Scott being only an inch shorter than himself, but Jim got him up into his saddle and quickly mounted behind him.  Once settled himself, behind the saddle, he made sure the blanket was wrapped around Scott’s shoulders well before turning his horse toward the trail that would take them the final five miles to the road to Lancer.


 “Señor Lancer!  Señor Lancer!  Come quick!  It is Señor Scott’s horse!”

 Murdoch came out of the house and Johnny from the barn at the sound of Cipriano’s excited voice.  The Segundo was, as a general rule, a pretty calm person but the urgency in his voice drew them to the courtyard just as Charlie was caught and brought to a halt by the tall Mexican man.

 “That’s Charlie all right,” Johnny said.  “But where’s Scott?  Where’s his saddle?”

 “I do not know Juanito.  The horse, he came running into the yard just as he is.  No bridle, no saddle, no Señor Scott.”

 Murdoch stood from where he had bent over to check the horse’s legs.

 “I can’t find anything wrong with him.”

 “Something’s happened to Scott, Murdoch!  I know it!  He wouldn’t let his horse just up and run off on him.”

 “I know, Johnny, I know.”  Turning to his Segundo Murdoch asked, “Did you see where he came from Cipriano?  Which direction?”

 “No, Señor.  I was watching the men work with the new horses when I heard this one run into the yard.”

 “Murdoch?” Teresa came from the house.  “Isn’t that Scott’s horse?  Is he here?”

 “Yes and no darling.  It’s Scott’s horse but he’s not with him.  It looks like old Charlie here ran away.”

 “Then Scott’s out there somewhere on foot?”  Teresa’s eyes brimmed with tears.  “You have to go find him Murdoch!  He could be hurt!”

 “We don’t know which way the horse came from Teresa.  I want to look for him but where would I start? We have no more idea of where to look than we did the morning we discovered he was gone.”

 The Lancer men, Cipriano and Teresa all stood lost in their thoughts for a moment before Cipriano offered to take the horse to the barn and tend to him.  Murdoch turned him over to the Segundo and Charlie was on his way to a good grooming and fresh hay and water.


Holding an extremely groggy and exhausted Scott in front of him Jim Talbot turned his horse onto the road between Green River and Lancer approximately an hour after he’d found Scott near the trail.  He was half a mile down the road when he heard a voice hail him from behind. 

“Mr. Talbot!  Hold up there!” 

It was Val Crawford.  On his way back to Lancer to see if Scott had returned yet he came upon the rancher and his semi-conscious passenger. 

“Where’d you find him Mr. Talbot?” Val asked. 

“About five miles from here.  Looks like he’s been walking for several days.” 

“Scott?  It’s Val.  Can you hear me?” 


“It’s Val Scott.  Where’ve you been?”


“Yeah.  Where’ve you been for the last week?”

“Went away.  Had to get away.”  Scott’s eyes opened briefly then closed again.  The smoky blue orbs were bloodshot and glazed.

“You’re not going to get anything out of him Val,” Jim told Crawford.  “He hasn’t been awake for more than thirty seconds at a time since I found him.”

“I need to ask him some questions about Wilson’s murder,” Val protested.

“I know that and Murdoch will realize that but there’s no sense in trying to talk to the boy now.  He doesn’t even know where he is,” Jim reasoned with the sheriff.  “The best thing you can do right now is find Sam Jenkins and send him to Lancer.  Scott’s going to need to be checked over.  I don’t know if he’s hurt badly or just tired.  He got whacked by a tree branch just about the time I caught up with him.  And he seems to have an injured leg.  His tracks showed him favoring his left leg.”

“What tracks?  Where’s he been all this time?”

“I found evidence that he’s been staying at the cabin where Murdoch and I go hunting up in Hawk Valley.  There are signs of a bad storm up there and a tree got struck by lightning. The cabin’s undamaged and the lean-to but I saw tracks that indicate a runway horse.  I’d say Scott’s been walking for at least three days trying to get home from there.”

“Hawk Valley?  That’s a good….”

“I know! It’s a long way from here,” Jim said.  “Now, please, Val, go find Sam!  I’m taking Scott home to his family.”

“Yes, sir!”

Val turned his horse and spurred him into a gallop.  He had a pretty good idea where Sam was.  He’d heard something in Green River about an accident at the Bar L.  Hopefully whoever it was wouldn’t need Sam for long.

Mindful of the precious burden he held in front of him Jim Talbot signaled his horse to begin walking again.  His shoulders and arms were beginning to ache from holding Scott’s dead weight and keeping him in the saddle.  He was enormously relieved when the Lancer arch came into view.


 "Hey Boss!  Look!”  Jelly had spotted the horse carrying double just as he cleared the gate.

 “Scott!”  Murdoch’s cry was one of relief and shock as he exited the French doors of the house.

 “Jelly?  What is it?”  Johnny came around the corner of the barn where he’d been saddling Barranca intending to try and pick up Charlie’s trail back to where the horse had left Scott.  Spotting the incoming horse with the extra rider slumped over its neck he stopped dead in his tracks.  “Scott!”

 Jim Talbot reined his horse to a stop next to where Murdoch was standing.  He dismounted stiffly.  Scott was still drifting in and out of consciousness and occasionally mumbling something incoherently.

 “Jim where did you find him?” Murdoch asked as Johnny approached on the run.

 “About five miles from the Green River road,” Talbot answered. “ I’ve been tracking him for two days.  He’s been staying at the cabin in Hawk Valley.  Apparently his horse ran away from him.  There’re signs that there’s been a bad storm there.  A tree got struck by lightning.  I’m thinking that Scott’s horse spooked when the tree got hit and ran off.  I’d say Scott’s been walking for at least three days.”

 “Let’s get him in the house,” Murdoch said. 

 “Easy with him,” their neighbor said.  “He’s had a rough time of it.  A tree branch hit him a glancing blow just as I caught up with him.  He’s also suffering from hypothermia – his skin’s icy cold.  I cleaned up the cuts as best I could.  And I think he’s hurt one of his legs.  His tracks showed him favoring the left leg some.”

 “I’ll send someone into town for Sam,” the Lancer patriarch said.

 “No need Murdoch.  I met Val Crawford a couple of miles back and sent him to get him,” Jim explained.  “Hopefully he’ll find him quickly and get him here.  Meanwhile I think the best thing you can do for Scott is to get him into his own bed.  Get those damp clothes off of him.  Teresa or Maria could warm up some broth for him but I doubt he’s going to be able to manage much.  He’s barely been conscious for more than thirty seconds at a time since I found him.”

 “Home.  Wanna g-g-g-g-go home.”

 “Scott, listen to me brother,” Johnny said.  “You are home.  Mr. Talbot found you and brought you home.”

 “Johnny?  Ok?”

 Johnny looked at his father in confusion.  “Yeah, brother, I’m ok.”

 “Johnny?  Want to go home Johnny.”

 “It’s ok big brother,” Johnny consoled him.  “You are home.”

 Murdoch and Jim Talbot carried Scott into the house and up to his room.  In short order they had him cleaned up, in a warm, dry nightshirt and tucked into his bed.  Johnny pulled a chair up to the bed and sat by his brother’s side while they waited for Sam to arrive.

 Watching his brother sleep Johnny whispered softly, “What did you do to yourself now Boston?”


 Downstairs Murdoch broke the news to Teresa and Maria that Scott had been found.  The two women gathered medical supplies, hot water, soap and a basin so that Sam would be able to clean up and examine Scott as soon as he arrived.  Then Teresa joined the bedside vigil with her other “brother”.

 Fortunately Val’s memory was good.  Sam was in the process of leaving the Bar L when he got there.  Now, instead of heading back to Green River, he was arriving at Lancer to see to his latest patient.

 His examination took thirty minutes and was very thorough.  His report to the family was not as good as they would have liked but perhaps, better than they expected.

 “His biggest problem, Murdoch, is exhaustion.  From the looks of him I’d say he hasn’t slept well in, oh, about a week.  Perhaps not that long but only he can tell us for sure.  He’s got a mild case of hypothermia.”  Looking at Jim Talbot he said, “He has you to thank that it’s no worse, Jim.  If you hadn’t found him when you did there’s no telling how sick the boy would be.”  Turning his attention back to an anxious, but grateful family, he continued.  “His left ankle is twisted but it appears that he knew enough to soak it in cold water right off and his bandaging job was good.  His foot would be a mess of cuts and bruises if he hadn’t put that boot back on.  As it is both feet are going to be sore for a while.  They’re a mass of bruises and blisters.  None of them are overly serious.  I’ve put some ointment on them and wrapped them up.”

 “What about that lump on his head Sam?” Jim asked.  “That tree branch only grazed him but it left quite a lump.”

           “It’s hard to say,” Sam answered.  “Until he wakes up we won’t know much about that.” Turning to the family he said, “What he needs most is sleep.  After that he’ll need plenty of hot nourishing soup for a few days.  And milk and eggs.  Things like that and herbal teas will go a long way toward restoring his strength and his energy.  I’d say he’s lost a good ten or fifteen pounds since last week.  Scott’s not very big to begin with and I don’t like this weight loss on him – not one bit.”

           There was a knock at the door and Jelly poked his head into Scott’s room.

           “Excuse me, boss, but Sheriff Crawford is here and he insists on talking to Scott.”


           “Sorry Mr. Lancer, sir,” Val said, “but I do need to ask Scott some questions about the murder of Charles Wilson.”

           “What do you think Sam?” Murdoch asked the physician.

           “I’d rather he didn’t.  Scott needs his rest but I suppose a couple of questions won’t hurt.”

           “I’d better be going Murdoch,” Jim Talbot said. “Maura will be wanting to know that Scott is home safe.  She’s been fretting since he left home.”

           “Thanks, Jim – for everything,” Murdoch said as his friend left.

           “Sure.  Any time.”  Jim left the room and headed for his own home where an anxious surrogate mother would be glad to hear that the boy was back home.

           Turning to the doctor Murdoch said, “What do you think Sam?”

           “Hmm, two minutes and only two minutes Val,” the medical man said.  “The boy is completely exhausted and has a minor head injury as well.  I doubt he’s going to make much sense.”

           “Scott.  Scott.  Wake up son,” Murdoch tried to rouse his exhausted offspring.


           “Wake up.  Val needs to ask you a couple of questions.”

           The blue-gray eyes flickered open but didn’t focus.

           “Scott can you tell me where you’ve been?”


           “That’s right, where have you been for the last week?”

           “Home…Want to go home.”

           “You are home,” Val told him.  “Where have you been for the last week?”

           “Been away…Johnny hurt…my fault…”

           “No, big brother,” Johnny jumped in.  “It wasn’t your fault.  Can you tell us where you’ve been?”

           It was no use.  In his extreme fatigue Scott couldn’t focus on who was speaking or what they were saying.  Sam put a stop to the questioning.

           “That’s it Val.  No more.”

           “But Doc…”

           “No more Val!” Sam was emphatic.  “He doesn’t know where he is and he doesn’t recognize anybody.  He won’t be up to answering any questions for a few days.  Now go on back to your office and keep a lid on the town.”

           “Well, when can I talk to him then?”

           “I don’t know yet.  I’m going to monitor him closely.  His injuries don’t appear to be serious but until he’s rested enough to talk coherently – sensibly – I can’t say for sure.  I’ll let you know in a few days.”

           Murdoch saw Sam to the door while the two youngest Lancers sat by Scott’s bedside.  Maria had been alerted that Scott would require lots of rest and some good nourishing soup when he awoke so she had a kettle of chicken soup simmering on the back of the stove. They had only to tell her that Señor Scott was awake and she would dish up a large bowlful for him right away.

           The other employees, including vaqueros and cowboys, would do what they could to lighten the boss’ workload and keep things running smooth.  The Boston bred son had endeared himself to the hands by his willingness to take on any task, no matter how hard, unfamiliar or dirty, and keep at it until it was completed.  The women were won over by his smile and his manners.  He never failed to compliment Maria or Juanita, whichever one was doing the cooking, on the meal.  Or on how clean and comfortable his room and his clothes were.  Whatever it took Lancer’s loyal employees would do it if it helped Scott get well or allowed his father and brother to stay by his side until he was fully recovered.


           “What do you mean you can’t talk to him?!” Pierce Wilson thundered.

           “Just what I said,” Val retorted.  “I can’t talk to him – for a while.”

           “And why not?”

           “Because the doc says he’s suffering from exhaustion and something called hypothermia.  I don’t rightly understand all of it but it all comes down to the fact that Scott Lancer is very ill right now.  He didn’t even know that he was home.”

           “Those Lancers will do anything to protect that soldier boy,” Mike said.  “How do we know it’s not a trick?”

           “You callin’ Doc Jenkins a liar?” Val asked.

           “No,” Mike said.

          “Then you must be callin’ me a liar.”

           “Of course not Sheriff,” Pierce Wilson said smoothly.  “We know you’re honest.”

           “Darn right!” Val exclaimed indignantly.

           “When will you be able to talk to him?”

           “When Doc Jenkins says it’s ok.  Probably in a couple of days.”

           “A couple of days!”  It was Mike again.

           “Yeah a coupla days!”  Val was getting very tired of repeating himself.  “Look, there’s nothing you, or I, can do to speed things up.  When the doc says I can talk to Scott I will.  Until then you two get out of my office and go about your business.  Leave the investigatin’ to me.”


           Jim Talbot rode into his yard around three that same afternoon.  Tired, dusty and hungry but happy that his friend’s son had been returned to the loving arms of his family.

           “Alex, dear, you’re home earlier than I expected.”  Maura came from the house at the sound of her husband’s horse entering the yard.

           “Yes, I had to leave earlier than expected.”  He dusted himself off some before embracing his wife.  “When I got to the cabin I found signs that someone had been using it.  I followed those tracks around the yard and found a saddle - a saddle belonging to Lancer in the lean-to.  Maura, my love, I found Scott.  He’s exhausted, slightly hypothermic and has other minor injuries, but he’s safe at home in his own bed.”

           “Oh, thank God!” she exclaimed in relief.  “I was so worried when Johnny told us Scott had left home because of what had happened in town.”

           “I know you were.  I was too.  Scott’s a strong lad and a smart one.  It’s not like him to take things to heart like that.  I wish we could be sure he’s not the man who killed Charles Wilson.”  He headed off her indignant protests, “I know darling.  I don’t want to believe it either but we have to admit it doesn’t look good.  He wasn’t home when Wilson was murdered and I don’t know how long he was at the cabin in Hawk Valley before I went up there.  He could have been in Green River and then gone to the cabin.  We won’t know until he wakes up.”


          A soft moan from the man in the bed drew Johnny’s attention to his brother.  It seemed like Scott was starting to awaken after being asleep for two solid days after Jim Talbot found him trying to get home from the cabin in Hawk Valley.

           Excited Johnny got up from the chair and ran to the head of the stairs to summon his father and the others who had been waiting so anxiously for this moment.

           “Murdoch!  Hey Murdoch – he’s waking up.  Get up here!”

           Johnny ran back to Scott’s room and was seated in the chair just as the smoky gray-blue eyes started to flutter open.  Murdoch, Teresa, Jelly and several others including Cipriano and Maria were there no more than a minute after Johnny summoned them.

           “Hey, big brother,” Johnny coaxed.  “It’s time you opened them eyes again.”

           “Huh?”  Scott’s eyes opened but it took a moment before the faces before him started to come into focus from the fuzzy blur.

           “Scott? How do you feel son?”  Murdoch smiled.

           “Scott?  We were so worried.” Teresa’s voice joined the others.

           “Señor Scott, you have been sleeping a long time now.”  Maria smiled at the Patron’s elder son.  “You are hungry no?  I will get you some soup.”

           “Señor Scott,” Cipriano smiled.  “The patron and Juanito were very much worried when Señor Talbot brought you home on his horse.  It is good to see you are awake.

           “It’s about time you woke up,” Jelly blustered.  “You been lollygaggin’ in this bed for two days now.  Time you were getting up to do your share of the work around here.”

           “Murdoch?”  Looking around Scott saw the enormous grin on his brother’s face and the smile, with tears, on Teresa’s.  “How..Where…”

           “You’re home Scott,” Murdoch told him.  “Jim Talbot found you five miles from the road to Green River.  He brought you home.”

           “Green River?”  Scott’s face showed confusion.

           “Yeah, brother,” Johnny confirmed.  “What were you doing way out there on foot?  How’d Charlie get away from you?” 

          “What’s the matter Scott?” his father asked.  “You looked confused.”

           “I guess I don’t understand.  Why would Mr. Talbot be bringing me home?”

           “Your horse came in without you day before yesterday,” Murdoch told him.  “Don’t you remember trying to walk home?”

           “Walk home?  From where?”  Scott’s voice was getting panicky as he started to rise.

           “Calm down brother.  It’s all right.”  Johnny put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and pushed the half risen Scott back to his pillow.

           “Don’t you remember Scott?” Teresa asked.  “You left in the middle of the night two days after Johnny was hurt in town.  Mr. Talbot said he saw signs that you were at the cabin up in Hawk Valley.”

           “No, I don’t,” Scott said.  “Why would I go there?”

          Murdoch and the others looked at each other in concern before he answered his son.

           “You were upset.  The day Johnny was hurt you told me a little bit about Charles Wilson.  You saw him on the street in Green River when you and Johnny went to do some errands.  He was with his cousins – Pierce and Mike.”  Murdoch went on.  “You got into a fight of sorts and Johnny got hurt.  After we put him to bed you and I had a talk and you told me about Wilson, Cahaba and Peter Winslow.  How he caused the boy’s death and you swearing you would get him.  You had nightmares that night.  The next night you left Johnny a note saying that you had to get away for a while and do some thinking.  You’ve been gone a week.”

           “Mr. Talbot went up to the cabin, Scott,” Johnny told his brother.  “He was going to look it over to see if it needed any repair.  So it would be ready for our next hunting trip in a few weeks.  When he got there he saw signs that someone had been there before him.  Then he found your saddle and tracks of a runaway horse.  The next morning he found your tracks and found your saddlebags by Wolf Creek.  Then he found you a few miles from the Green River road.”

           “Don’t you remember any of this Scott?” Teresa asked him.

           “I remember seeing the Wilsons in town,” Scott said slowly.  “And I remember Johnny being hurt and bringing him home.  I even remember a little bit about our talk, Murdoch,” He said to his father.  “But I don’t remember going to Hawk Valley or Wolf Creek.”

           “None of it?” Johnny asked.

           “No.  Last thing I remember very well is bringing you home.  I don’t remember leaving you a note or leaving or anything else after that until I woke up here in my room.”

           Murdoch and the others exchanged looks of dismay.  Scott didn’t know about the murder and he certainly wouldn’t be able to clear himself if he didn’t remember what he’d been doing or where he’d been since he’d left home the previous Wednesday night.  The sound of a buggy pulling up in front of the house ended any further conversation with the invalid.  Sam had arrived to check on his patient.

           “Well, I see my patient is finally awake,” Sam remarked as he walked into Scott’s bedroom after being admitted to the house by Maria.  “How are you feeling Scott?”

           “A bit confused,” was the answer.  “I’m told I’ve been away for something like a week but I don’t remember anything about it.”

           “Well, we’ll talk about it after I look you over.”  He waved everybody else out of the room.  “I’d like to examine and talk to my patient privately.  Everybody out.  You too Johnny,” he added when Johnny tried to dig his heels in and stay.  “You can all come back in a few minutes.”

           Half an hour later Sam had checked Scott’s pulse, respiration and eyes.  He’d listened to his lungs and inspected the lump on the side of his head.  The scratches that the tree branches and brush had left were cleaned and disinfected again.  Other than being a bit thinner than Sam would like to see him he was in pretty fair condition.  When he was through he allowed the family to come back in.  Maria had gone down to the kitchen to make sure that the soup she’d prepared for Scott was ready and Cipriano and Jelly had returned to their duties outside of the house.

           “Well Sam?” the anxious father asked.  “How is he?”

           “He’s doing very well Murdoch.  That lump on his head has gone down some and he looks much more rested.”  Sam smiled at the anxious family as Johnny and Teresa took seats next to Scott’s bed.  Scott himself was propped up on several pillows, still pale, still with dark circles under his eyes, but awake and coherent.  “The sleep he’s had did him some good.  He’s a little underweight but don’t feed him anything heavy for a few days.”

           “Maria’s got chicken soup simmering on the stove,” Teresa informed the doctor.

           “That’s fine.  Soup and eggs and toast for a couple of days – just until his stomach gets used to solid food again.”  Looking at his patient he said, “I’d hazard a guess, Scott, that you haven’t eaten much since you left home over a week ago.  That’s not good.  I want you to have a bowl of soup now and some eggs later.  Then back to sleep.  You seem to have been walking quite a while before Jim Talbot found you and it’s going to take maybe a week before you’ll feel like doing much.  That ankle you twisted is going to keep you off a horse for the next week.  Be sure, when you get up, that you take it easy going down the stairs and keep it propped up on a stool.  Use a cane to help get you around.”

           “What about my memory loss?” an anxious Scott asked.

           “There’s nothing anyone can do about that Scott.  You’re lucky that pine bough only struck a glancing blow.  You could have total amnesia instead of just a cloudy memory.  All you can do is relax.  Eventually you should remember everything.”

           Sam closed his bag and gave the family final instructions on what Scott was and wasn’t to do for the next week.  They all swore to keep him from overdoing and to make sure he followed the doctor’s orders.


           After lunch Murdoch and Johnny went to Scott’s room to talk.  It was time to break the news to him about Wilson’s murder and how he was a suspect. Neither one of them relished this job.  They found the blond finishing the lunch that Maria had brought up to him.

           “Murdoch.  Johnny.” Scott wiped his mouth with the napkin and took a sip of the glass of cool lemonade that was on his tray.  “What brings you two up to see me in the middle of the day.  Don’t you have enough work to do?”

           “Scott….son….” Murdoch was having a hard time coming up with the right words.

           “Scott there’s trouble in Green River and you’re right smack dab in the middle of it.”  Johnny was able to get that much out.

           “What kind of trouble?” Scott asked his father.  “Why do you two look so serious?”

           “Scott – Charles Wilson is dead.”

           “Wilson?  Dead?”  Scott was stunned.  “When did that happen?”

           “Two days after you left.  The Saturday night after you left.”

           “What does Val have to say?  Were there any witnesses?”

           “Yes, there were witnesses.  They said the man they saw leaning over the body was tall, blond and slim.  They didn’t really get a good look at him.”

           “And Val thinks it was me?”  Scott was getting worried.

           “Not necessarily,” his father reassured him.  “But the witnesses are very reliable.”

           “Who are they?”

           “Jim and Maura Talbot,” Murdoch told him reluctantly.

           “Mr. and Mrs. Talbot?!”  Scott was stunned.  “But they know me.  They know I wouldn’t do anything like that!”

           “The trouble is, brother, that you’re the only tall, slim blond that had a reason to hate Charles Wilson or want him dead,” Johnny told him.  “And then there’s that fight you had on the street.”

           “Scott,” Murdoch told him patiently.  “Jim and Maura didn’t say it was you.  They only said that the person they saw was tall, slim and blond.  As Jim pointed out to Pierce and Mike that description fits a lot of men in this valley – including himself.”

           “Val’s gonna be here to talk to you this afternoon,” Johnny told his brother.  “He was here when Mr. Talbot brought you home but you couldn’t stay awake for more than a couple of seconds at a time and you weren’t making any sense.”

           “Don’t worry about it Scott.  Val has been very vocal in standing up for you since there’s no way to prove you did it.  The evidence is all circumstantial.”  Murdoch tried to reassure his son.


          Val Crawford rode into the courtyard at Lancer around two o’clock that afternoon.  Dusty and even a bit more disheveled than usual, he knocked at the door and was admitted to the house by Maria.  Cipriano’s nephew, Raul, took the sheriff’s horse to the barn to rest and have some water while his owner talked with the older Lancer son.

           Scott was sitting in the Great Room with his left leg elevated by several pillows on a footstool while he rest in one of the easy chairs.  He was still pale and looked tired but even at that he didn’t have the gray look of someone who was exhausted beyond endurance.

           “Scott.  You’re lookin’ better than the last time I saw ya.” Val said upon entering the room.

           “Thank you.  I feel somewhat better.  My family tells me I walked quite a distance before Mr. Talbot picked me up and brought me home.”

           “Yeah, well that’s what I gotta talk to ya about,” Val said with some reluctance.  “Where were you for the last week – especially last Friday night around nine o’clock?”

           “I don’t know.”

           “What do you mean you don’t know?” Val asked.

           “Just what I said.  Apparently the tree branch that hit me in the head has caused me to lose a few days.  I don’t remember anything from the time I brought Johnny home last Wednesday until I woke up in my room late this morning.”

           “Nothin’ at all?  Not where you’ve been – what you were doin’?”


           “Ya know that’s not good.  Charles Wilson was killed last Friday night. The suspected killer was tall, blond and slim – just like you.  You had an argument with him on the street just two days before he was killed.  You were heard threatening him.”

           “I know.  I was very angry.”  Scott hung his head in embarrassment.  “I don’t usually lose my temper like that but it just angered me – frustrated me that that man was allowed to walk the streets after what he did ten years ago.”

           “Can you tell me about it?” Val asked.

           “What’s the point?  He’s dead, I argued with him on the street, the description of his killer sounds like me and I had every reason to want him dead.  That makes me your prime suspect doesn’t it?”

           “Well, yeah, but I’m willin’ to hear your side of the story.”

           “Val, all I can tell you is that I didn’t do it.  But I can’t prove it because I don’t remember where I was the night he was killed.”

           “You don’t remember nothin’?  Nothin’ at all about where you were?”

           “He already answered that question Val,” Johnny’s voice cut in.  Dusty, tired and hungry he had come in from the range a little early in order to spend time with his temporarily invalided brother.  “Why can’t you just take his word for it?”

           “It don’t work that way Johnny,” Val answered.  “If he can’t prove to me that he didn’t do it then I’m goin’ to have to arrest him for killin’ Charles Wilson.”

           Johnny looked murderously at his friend the sheriff.  “He says he didn’t do it and that’s good enough for me!”

           “Gentlemen!”  Murdoch’s voice cut in before the argument could get out of hand. 

           “Sorry Mr. Lancer,” Val apologized.  “But I have to ask these questions whether Johnny likes it or not.”

           “I know.  But you know that Scott’s memory is cloudy right now.  He can remember where he was the day of the fight but after that nothing until he woke up in his room here at the ranch.”

           Sighing in frustration Val stood up to leave.  “I’ll do what I can to head off the Wilsons,” he said, “but I sure hope your memory comes back soon Scott or we’re both going to be in trouble.”

           “You and me both Val,” Scott sighed.  “You and me both.”


           “He’s lying!”  Pierce Wilson stated vehemently that he didn’t believe Scott’s story of a cloudy memory.  “And Murdoch Lancer and that half-breed son of his would lie to protect him!  I demand you arrest Scott Lancer for the murder of my cousin Charles!”

           “You don’t demand nothin’ from me Mr. Wilson,” Val told him in a quietly menacing tone.  “I’ve talked to Scott and I’ve watched his face while I did.  I believe him.  He don’t remember anythin’ after bringin’ Johnny home the day of the fight on the street.”

           “You mean to tell me,” Mike Wilson said, “that he doesn’t remember one single thing after that fight?  Then how do you know he’s not the one that killed Charles?”

           “I don’t but I don’t know that he did and I also don’t believe that he did.  He was mad, sure, but that don’t make him a killer.  He’s not some punk looking to make a name for himself or somethin’.  He’s a former Army officer and a respected rancher. And he’s my friend’s brother – a friend I would trust with my life.”

           “A gunslinger!”  Pierce snorted with disdain.

           “A former pistolero who sold his gun to survive after his mama died so he could survive,” Val retorted.  “Now you two get out of here and don’t let me see your faces darken my doorstep gain lessen I send for you!”

           At the vehemence in Val Crawford’s voice and the look in his eye the Wilson decided that they’d better make themselves scarce.  But they weren’t through talking – not by a long shot.  Anybody who would listen to them would get an earful about the incompetent sheriff who let murderers walk around scot-free.  Who wouldn’t even listen to accusations against the prime suspect.


           In the Longhorn saloon a man sat in solitude at a back table listening to the babble of voices around him including those of the Wilsons who had come in after their talk with Val.  As expected, they were sounding forth on the fact that Val had not arrested Scott for the murder of their relative.  More than a week had gone by and still the man they believed responsible was walking around free to come and go as he pleased.  The fact that he had been found suffering from hypothermia, a bump on the head and a sprained ankle meant nothing.  The Lancers couldn’t prove when Scott had been injured and Scott couldn’t, or wouldn’t in their opinion, tell anyone where he’d been before Jim Talbot had found him.

           Smiling to himself the stranger listened.  He was very happy with the results of his work.  Twelve years ago he’d been a Union Army sergeant pushing hard for promotion to Lieutenant.  Then along had come this upstart rich kid who’d proved himself more than once on the field of battle and had taken the glory away from him.  That Scott had not sought it for himself meant nothing to the man.  Then, shortly after the fall of Vicksburg, he was among those who were taken prisoner with Scott Lancer.  The harsh treatment of Charles Wilson had been felt by all and this former prisoner blamed Lieutenant Lancer when he’d suffered a badly broken leg on a work detail that Wilson had overseen.  The camp doctor had done the best he could but the prisoner was left with a permanent limp.  In the mind of the injured man Lieutenant Scott Lancer had not done enough to protect him or any of the others.  If he had he wouldn’t be crippled and Peter Winslow wouldn’t have been killed.  Now if that sheriff would only arrest the Lieutenant and charge him with murder things would be perfect.

          Rising from his table he settled his hat on his head.  It wouldn’t do for anyone to notice that his walnut dye was working away from his scalp and that the blond roots were beginning to show.  His plan to remain undetected as the real killer depended on his appearing to have brown hair.  Slowly he limped to the door listening as Pierce Wilson once more ranted about Val Crawford’s inability to do his job properly and being in the Lancers’ pocket.

          “I still say Scott Lancer is guilty as sin.  You all know how he hated my cousin!  You saw him attack him on the street.”

          “From what I hear your cousin taunted him,” one cowboy jeered.  “I had a friend that was in the army during the war.  He was a prisoner at Andersonville.  He’s one of the lucky ones who survived that place.  The stories he tells are enough to sicken you.”

          “Yeah, but those Lancers think they’re better than the rest of us,” Mike Wilson responded.  “Always walkin’ around with their noses in the air lookin’ down on the rest of us.”

          “That ain’t so and you know it Mike Wilson!” exclaimed a Double T Bar ranch hand.  “Why the Lancers are among the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sometimes I wish I’d gone to work for them instead of the Talbots thought the Talbots are great to work for too.”

          The argument continued as the stranger left the saloon and headed toward the hotel where he planned on using the walnut dye on his hair again.  It was important to keep it looking brown.


          “Mornin’ Miz Talbot,” Val said as he rode into the yard at the Double Bar T.

          “Good morning Val,” Maura said with a smile.  “What brings you out here so early?”

          “Well, ma’am,” Val said remember his manners and removing his hat, “I was hopin’ to talk to you and Mr. Talbot about the night of the murder again.  See if you remember anythin’ you mighta left out.”

          “Well, I’m not sure that we do but, please, come in.  Jim has given the men their orders for the day but decided to have one last cup of coffee before joining them.”  Maura led the way to their kitchen where her husband sat at the table with a cup of coffee just as she’d said.

          “Good morning Val,” Jim said with a smile.  “Have a seat.”

          “Thank you Mr. Talbot,” Val said doing just that.

          “Maura get the man a plate.  He must be hungry.  Riding out here so early he must not have taken time for even coffee.”

          “I’m already doing it dear,” Maura said as she returned with a plate laden with nicely browned buttermilk biscuits, fried ham, two eggs fried sunny side up and fried potatoes.  “The butter and honey are on the table Val.  Help yourself and eat up.”

          “Thank you.  It looks good.”

          “So what brings you out here at this early hour Val?”  Jim asked curiously.

          “I wanted to talk to you and Miz Talbot,” Val said in between bites.  “I wondered if you remembered anythin’ – anythin’ at all that ya might have forgotten to mention the night that Charles Wilson was killed.”

          Maura adjusted her russet brown skirt as she seated herself at the table with the coffeepot in her right hand ready to fill a cup for Val.  Her husband set his cup down and looked at Val quizzically.

          “What brings this on Val?  We already told you what we saw.”

          “I know,” the lawman said as he finished a swallow of Maura’s hot coffee.  “But this murder is driving me crazy.  And Scott not bein’ able to remember where he was ain’t helpin’ any.  The Wilsons are hotter than the Lancer cook’s hottest tamales about him walkin’ around free.  I gotta find some proof that he did or didn’t do it or they’re going to cause a lot of trouble in Green River.”  Looking at his neighbors he said, “Please, tell me again just what you saw the night that Charles Wilson was killed.”

          “We were in Green River to have dinner at the Ingersolls,” Maura started.  “And when we got ready to leave, I think it was around nine-thirty, it was starting to rain.  Alex went back to the Ingersolls to get a tarp to put over us.”

          “Yes, it had started out to be a beautiful night so we drove the open buggy into town,” Jim added.  “I wasn’t more than a couple of minutes getting the tarp from Jim.  As we started to drive toward home the storm really hit.  Thunder, lightning and a lot of wind but not much rain at first.  When we drove by the general store and the barbershop there was a very bright flash of lightning that startled me as I was lighting the lamp on the buggy.  Then there was a very loud crack of thunder but over, or under, the sound of the thunder I heard the sound of a gunshot.”  Jim paused to take a swallow of his own coffee.  “I looked into the alley and saw someone lying on the ground.  As I approached I saw a man, tall and blond and fairly young flee the scene.”

           “That’s all I saw too Val,” Maura said.  “I wish I could say I saw the man’s face but I didn’t get that good a look at him at all.”

           “Are you sure there ain’t somethin’ you’re forgettin’?” Val asked.

           “Like what?” Jim responded.

           “A scar?  Something unusual about his clothes?  The way he moved?”

           “Moved.”  Jim frowned.  “Moved.  A limp.  He had a limp.”

           “Mr. Talbot that ain’t much help.  Scott’s sittin’ at home with his left ankle wrapped up usin’ a cane.  The Wilsons’ll just say that that proves he’s guilty.  They’re already convinced he’s responsible.”  Val rose to leave.  “Much as I hate to I’m gonna have to arrest Scott for the murder of Charles Wilson.”

           “Must you arrest him Val?” Maura asked her brogue thickening in her distress.  “Scott’s a good lad.  You know he wouldn’t commit out and out murder.”

           “Yes ma’am.  But I ain’t got a choice now have I?”

           “I wish we’d never gone to dinner at the Ingersolls that night,” Jim lamented.  “I feel like I’ve betrayed my best friend.  If we’d stayed home I never would have been driving past that alley and witnessed the killer running away.”

           “Yeah, I know what ya mean Mr. Talbot,” Val sighed.  “This ain’t gonna help my friendship with Johnny none.”


           “You can’t be serious!” Johnny was furious.


           “Val you’re talkin’ about my brother!  Scott didn’t do it!  You know he didn’t do it!”

           “I don’t know that and I don’t believe it either Johnny.  But what can I do?  Your brother here fits the description of the killer.  I gotta bring him in or there’ll be talk.”  Val was frustrated with trying to get his friend to understand that he was just doing his job.

           “It’s all right Johnny,” Scott said quietly.  “Val’s right.  If he doesn’t bring me in, or I don’t turn myself in there will be a lot of talk and it could hurt Lancer.  Or you and Murdoch and Teresa.  And he could lose his job.”

           “Yeah, that’s right,” Val agreed.  “Look I don’t want to do this but I got no other choice.”

           “We’ll go in with you,” Murdoch said.  “I don’t want Pierce Wilson thinking that we’re giving up on you.  A show of support in face of his opposition will go a long way toward letting the people of this valley know where we stand.”

           “Scott?”  Teresa tried to speak but overwhelmed by sadness and worry she ran from the room crying.

           Scott, with the help of his cane, limped over to the door to get his hat and jacket.  Johnny followed close behind his brother his shoulders slumped in temporary defeat.  Alerted by the sound of Teresa’s crying and the men’s voices Maria had informed Cipriano and the other ranch hands of the events that were transpiring.  Cipriano had brought the buckboard around to the front of the house.  If Señor Scott had to go into town it was best that he ride.  The elder Lancer son’s ankle was obviously still hurting him.  Cipriano himself would insist on driving so that Johnny and Murdoch could ride their horses.

          Maria gave Scott a peck on the cheek and pressed a bundle of her best biscuits on him.  The other ranch hands that were in close proximity to the house stood around with angry, sullen looks on their faces that their friend and employer was being carted off to jail – no matter that he was going willingly to save his family great embarrassment and the lawman his job. 

          “Fine thing,” Jelly grumbled.  “Arresting an innocent man.  You oughta be ashamed of yourself Sheriff!”

          “Jelly,” Murdoch said, “Val’s only doing what he has to do.  We’re going to get a good lawyer and fight this.”

          Teresa came from the house, tears streaming down her cheeks, carrying a bundle of clean clothes for Scott.  Putting them in the back of the buckboard she flung her arms around her “brother” and hugged him pulling back only when he gently removed her arms from around his neck.

          “It’ll be ok Teresa.  You’ll see,” he said reassuringly.  “It won’t take long to prove that I didn’t do this.”

          “But how can you if your memory of where you were doesn’t come back?” she wailed.

          “I don’t know,” he admitted, “but I will.  Somehow I’ll prove that I didn’t do it.”

          “Scott…better come along now son,” Murdoch said.  “The sooner we get this over with the better.”

          Slowly, painfully, sprained ankle still bothering him some, Scott climbed into the buckboard beside Cipriano.  As they drove off he looked straight ahead struggling to keep his composure as he left the home he couldn’t be sure of seeing again any time soon – if ever.

          All the way into Green River Cipriano muttered to himself in Spanish over the injustice of the accusations against Señor Scott.  He’d been on the receiving end of many insults from the Wilsons, especially the senior Wilson, since coming to work for Murdoch Lancer.  He, like many of the other Mexicans who lived and worked in the valley, preferred to do business with Señor Baldomero in Morro Coyo as much as possible.  But Pierce Wilson had the only dry goods store in the area and the only ladies dress shop was owned by Polly Ingersoll, daughter of the Talbots' friends, and that too, was in Green River.  The patron did not often allow Señorita Teresa to drive into town on her own.  He preferred to have at least two ranch hands with her if her “brothers” could not go.  He had not known the patron’s older son for very long but he knew him to be a good man and did not believe for one minute that he was guilty of what the Wilsons were accusing him of.  To shoot someone in self-defense he could believe but not murder.  No, it was not possible!

          Behind them Johnny brooded as he followed the buckboard on its journey to the jail.  He wanted nothing more than to swoop down on his brother, pull him up behind him on Barranca and spirit him away where Val and the Wilsons couldn’t find him.  But he knew that his brother would never stand for it.  Nor would his father.  But how could anyone believe that his kind, gentle, mannerly and inherently good-natured brother would commit cold -blooded murder?  It was inconceivable to him.

          Murdoch’s thoughts were similar to Johnny’s.  He didn’t believe Scott was guilty of murder but how were they going to prove it.  Scott’s cloudy memory hadn’t cleared up very much.  He dimly remembered his fall in Wolf Creek but couldn’t remember what day it was that that had happened.  Nothing else from his time in Hawk Valley had come back to him.  He still had no memories of anything in between bringing Johnny home almost two weeks ago and waking up in his room.

          Val’s thoughts were along the same lines.  He wished more than anything that Scott would remember when he arrived in Hawk Valley and how long he’d been there.  He didn’t want to arrest Scott – he believed he was innocent but what choice did he have?  Unless he could find someone else who fit the description that he could investigate and question he had to keep Scott locked up.  He was the only person he knew of, right now anyway, that fit the description of tall, blond, slim and walking with a limp.  It stuck in his craw that he had to do it because of the Wilsons.  He didn’t like the Wilsons.  Like many others he’d disliked them from the day they arrived in Green River but they hadn’t, so far anyway, done anything that would allow him to force them to leave town – permanently.

          What was probably Val’s worst fear came true when the group arrived in town.  Somehow word had gotten out that he had gone to take Scott into custody.  Pierce Wilson, his son Mike and the few friends that they had were all standing in front of the saloon as they passed by.  By the time the buckboard pulled up in front of the sheriff’s office the crowd had joined them.

          “It’s about time you brought that back-shooting killer into jail Sheriff!” Pierce Wilson exclaimed.

          “I told ya I’d arrest him if I had to Wilson so shut your mouth.”  Turning to his “prisoner” he said, “Come on Scott let’s get you inside.”

          Johnny dismounted Barranca and moved around to get close to his brother.  As he did Mike Wilson, drunk as usual, started in on Scott.  Scott was getting down from the buckboard and reached for his cane as his ankle still wasn’t supporting him as well as it should.

          “How’s it feel pretty boy?  Your daddy can’t keep you out of jail any longer.  You’re gonna get a little taste of real justice now.  And I’m gonna give it to you.”

          Before Scott could register that a blow was coming his way and duck Mike swung a roundhouse right that took him high on the right temple – almost in the exact spot where the tree branch had hit him a few days before.  Scott’s vision went dark and he heard ringing in his ears.  He never felt his father and Cipriano’s arms as they caught him before he fell and hit his head.  He never heard Val yell as several others tried to join in the so-called fight.

          Johnny, incensed by the attack on his brother, sprang at Mike Wilson and soon the two of them were in the street exchanging blows.  Mike was definitely getting the worst of it as his reflexes were considerably hampered by his alcohol consumption that day.  He landed one or two blows that hit Johnny’s left cheek leaving a small cut and one to his shoulder but the punches that Johnny was dishing out were in the process of turning his opponent’s face into a bloody mess.            All of a sudden there was a gunshot and everyone stopped in their tracks except the two combatants.

          “Break it up!  Break it up!  Next man that tries anything gets a bullet in the knee!” Jim Talbot had ridden into town, and seeing that Val was overwhelmed while Murdoch and Cipriano were trying to get Scott safely inside the jail, had fired a shot over the heads of the crowd.            “Johnny!  Stop it!  That’s enough!  Don’t kill him!”  Jim, at six-feet-two towered over the younger Lancer son and managed to pull him off the younger Wilson whose father stood glowering on the boardwalk facing Val Crawford’s gun along with the rest of the crowd.

          It took some doing but Jim finally penetrated the rage that had manifested itself in Johnny and pulled him off.  Bruised and bleeding, the two young men were finally separated.  Johnny’s face was somewhat bruised and had the one cut on his left cheek.  His blue and white sprigged shirt was dusty and the right sleeve was torn at the shoulder.  Mike’s face was a mass of bruises and blood ran down his right temple from a cut.

          “That’s enough you two!” Jim stated emphatically.  “Johnny you get yourself inside and see how your brother is.  Mike you and your father would be wise to leave well enough alone.  You keep prodding the Lancers like that and nobody’s going to be able to hold Johnny back.”  Getting an affirmative nod from Val he gave Mike a shove in the direction of his shop.  “Now go tend to your business and let Val attend to his.  You’ll be lucky if you don’t face charges for attacking an unarmed man – especially since that man is already injured and didn’t see you coming.”


          Inside the jail Murdoch and Cipriano had seated Scott on the bunk in one of the cells.  He was sitting there with his head down on his hands while his father and the Segundo got cold water and a clean cloth to make a compress for the bump he still had.

          “Scott?  Are you all right son?”  Murdoch’s voice was anxious.

          “Yes,” came the pained whisper.  “I’ll be fine.  What happened?”

          Cipriano swore in Spanish while Murdoch explained, “The Wilsons were waiting with their friends.  Mike attacked you before anyone could do anything to prevent it.”

          “Murdoch?”  Johnny entered the jail in need of a clean up himself.  “Scott all right?”

          “He’ll be fine Johnny,” his father reassured him.  Turning to his elder son he said, “Here Scott, take your jacket off and lie back.  Cipriano’s got a cold water compress for your head.”

          Val entered his office at this point.  “Well?  How is he?”

          “He’ll be all right.  A little closer to that bump on his head and I don’t know what would have happened.  Where are the Wilsons?”

          “Jim Talbot and I sent them packing.  If you want to press charges I’ll be more than happy to bring Mike in and lock him up in the cell next to Scott’s.”

          “No, angry as I am I can kind of understand.  They had a family member killed not that long ago.  They’re angry and they’re frustrated because his killer hasn’t been brought to justice.”

          “They’re convinced that Scott, here, is the guilty party,” Val said.  “Nothin’ I say makes any difference to them.”

          “Maybe I am,” came a quiet voice from the cell.

          “Scott!  You don’t mean that!” Johnny came to sit by his brother’s side from where he’d been cleaning up after his fight with Mike Wilson.

          “You’re just discouraged son,” Murdoch said.  “That blow to your head that’s fogging up your memory has you upset.”

          “No, it’s not that – not just that,” Scott said.  “Think about it Murdoch – I fit the description of the killer, I hated Charles Wilson and threatened to kill him.  When I saw him on the street I almost tried to carry out my threat.  After Johnny was hurt I went away and had no contact with anyone that we know of for about a week.”

          “You were at the cabin in Hawk Valley.  We know that for sure,” Johnny said.  “Mr. Talbot said he saw signs that you’d been there.”

          “But when did I get there and how long was I there?”  Scott’s frustration and worry was evident in his voice.

          “I don’t know but we’ll find out or we’ll figure it out,” Murdoch reassured him with a pat on the shoulder.  “I’m going to find you a good lawyer.  It’ll be their job to figure out how to clear you of this mess.”

          “Here brother,” Johnny said as he stood up.  “You just lie back here with this compress and try to relax.  We’ll be back to see you later.”

          Scott slowly nodded and closed his eyes as his father and brother left the cell.  He flinched when the cell door was closed and locked behind them.  Val stood there looking sympathetically at him for a moment before following the others into the outer room.

          “Murdoch, I’m worried,” Johnny said to his father.  “This ain’t like Scott – to be so down in the mouth.”

          “I know.  We’ve got to clear him of this charge and the sooner the better.”

          “I sure hope you can Mr. Lancer,” Val entering the room as Murdoch finished speaking.  “I don’t like having Scott locked up for something I don’t believe he did but I don’t have the say so over whether or not he’s guilty.  That’s up to a jury to decide.  You’d better go see about getting him a good lawyer.”

          The Lancers left the sheriff’s office together and encountered Jim Talbot still outside keeping a watchful eye on things.  His actions were not a reflection of his opinion of Val Crawford’s abilities but, rather, a friend’s watchful eye.  Val had done what he had to but the Wilsons would push things to the limit and beyond.  And Val’s limits were getting shorter with each encounter.  One of these days he was going to explode.

          “Murdoch how is the boy?” Jim asked.

          “He’s a bit shaken up but otherwise he seems all right.  Physically anyway.  Emotionally he’s not too good right now. He’s starting to believe that he might have killed the man.”

          “That’s nonsense!” Jim exclaimed indignantly.  “Anyone who knows him knows that he wouldn’t kill a man in cold blood like that – no matter how angry he was about something in the past.”

          “You know that and I know that,” Murdoch said, “but Scott’s memory being clouded like it is has got him convinced that he could have done it and doesn’t remember.”

          “I agree with Mr. Talbot,” Johnny chimed in.  “No way would Scott have killed that man.  I don’t care how angry he was.  He just wouldn’t do that!”

          Murdoch put his arm around his younger son’s shoulders.  “You don’t have to convince me Johnny.  It’s your brother we have to convince.  And we have to find a way to prove to him, as well as to everyone else in this valley, that he didn’t.”

          “You’ll need a good lawyer Murdoch.  There’s a young fellow just moved into the area that might do.  Your own lawyer is no criminal lawyer – his specialty is civil law.”

          “What’s his name?  Where can I find him?” Murdoch asked his friend.

          “His name’s Frank Key.  He’s got an office over on Oak Street.”

          “Thanks Jim.  For everything,” Murdoch shook his friend’s hand.  “Come on Johnny.  Let’s go see that lawyer and get things started.”


          The law office was a good-sized suite of rooms but so crowded with file cabinets and boxes and miscellaneous other furniture such as desks and chairs that it seemed smaller.  Several young men in suits and high collared shirts stood at cabinets filing or removing large envelopes and folders with papers and an older woman, perhaps in her mid-fifties sat at a desk in front of a door with a glass top painted with the name F.S. Key III Attorney at law.

          Approaching the woman Murdoch asked, “Would Mr. Key be available?  I wish to speak to him about taking a case.”

          “The woman raised green eyes to him and aid, “He’s with another client at the moment.  Won’t you have a seat?” She indicated two captain’s chairs several feet away.  “I’ll see if I can find out how much longer he’s going to be.”

          So saying she rose from her desk, knocked lightly on the door and, at the faintly heard “come in”, opened the door and entered the other office closing the door behind her as she did so.  She was back out in a moment’s time and told Murdoch that her employer would be with him shortly.

          Five minutes later, as Johnny sat fidgeting in the chair next to his father’s, the door to the inner office opened and two men stepped out into the outer room.  The older man, about six feet tall and fifty years old shook hands with the younger one and nodded at Johnny and Murdoch as he left.  Once he was out the door the younger man, around thirty-five years old, approached the two Lancers.

          “Good afternoon sir,” he said.  “Mrs. Bryant says you wish to speak to me about a case.  Won’t you gentlemen step into my office?”

          The Lancers rose from their chairs and followed the man into his office.  It was small and neatly furnished with a desk and three chairs.  A small kerosene lamp with a green shade sat on one corner of the desk.  Much like the great room at Lancer bookshelves lined the walls.  On one wall, between two windows, hung a picture of a young boy in old-fashioned clothing.  There was no name to identify the subject.

          Seating himself behind the desk the young man, whose dark hair was quite curly, introduced himself to Murdoch.  “I’m Frank Key.  And you are?”

          “Murdoch Lancer.  This is my son Johnny,” the Lancer patriarch said as they shook hands.

          “What can I do for you Mr. Lancer?” Key inquired.

          “I need to hire a lawyer for my son.”

          Looking at Johnny Key asked, “What did you do to be in need of a lawyer young man?”

          “Oh no!” Murdoch hastened to explain.  “Not Johnny.  My other son Scott.  He’s been arrested for a murder he didn’t commit.”

          “Mr. Lancer I’m afraid everyone says that.”

          “You callin’ my brother a liar mister?” Johnny’s temper flared at the implication.

          “Johnny!”  Murdoch reprimanded his younger son.

          “That’s quite all right Mr. Lancer.  It’s good to see that he cares.” Key wasn’t disturbed at all by Johnny’s outburst.  “Why don’t you tell me what you know?”

          “My son Scott was in the Union Army during the war.  Shortly after the siege of Vicksburg his patrol was ambushed and Scott, along with about a dozen others, was taken prisoner.  He was sent to Cahaba Prison in Alabama and spent a little over a year there.  The warden was decent enough and a Methodist minister besides.  But there was a guard there, a Charles Wilson, who took an instant dislike to my son because of his grandfather’s wealth, position and Scott’s education.  He went out of his way to torment him, to try and goad him into a fight. 

          There was a twelve-year-old boy attached to Scott’s unit as a standard bearer - a Peter Winslow.  The boy had taken a strong liking to Scott and stuck with him when my son’s horse fell on him during the skirmish.  Scott was wounded and unable to use his right arm.  Peter tried to free him but was unsuccessful.  Rather than run when he had the chance the boy stayed with Scott and went to the prison camp with him.”  Murdoch paused.

          “Go on,” Key said.

          Murdoch continued, “The guard could see how much Peter liked Scott and how Scott protected the boy as much as he could.  He turned his attention from Scott to Peter.  Found fault with the boy for everything.  Scott says he slapped him around for every little transgression the boy committed or that Wilson could think to accuse him of.  It all came to a head one day as the prisoners were collecting firewood.  The boy accidentally dropped a substantial piece of wood, a log Scott said, on Wilson’s foot.  The man struck out at the boy and finally hit him so hard that he fell and hit his head on a rock.  The fall killed him.  Scott was so enraged by this that he attacked the guard.  He was put in solitary confinement for a week.  At the court-martial Wilson was acquitted of murder but lost his job as a guard.  Scott swore to kill the man for what he’d done. 

         So to Scott’s eyes the guard got away with murder,” said Mr. Key.

“Yes,” said Murdoch.  “Then a few weeks ago Scott and Johnny ran into Wilson on the street.  He was here visiting his cousins - Pierce Wilson and his son Mike.  There was a fight on the street and Johnny, here, was injured when he hit his head on a wooden post.  Scott felt extremely guilty about what happened and left home in the middle of the night a couple of nights later.  During the time that he was gone and no one knew where he was, Charles Wilson was killed here in Green River.  The witnesses, our neighbors Jim and Maura Talbot, were only able to say that the man they saw standing over the body was tall, slim and blond.  They have never said that it was Scott whom they saw.  Unfortunately, none of the other tall, slim blond men in this area had any reason for wanting Wilson dead.” 

          “I see.  And what does Sheriff Crawford have to say about this?”

           “He didn’t want to bring Scott in.  He doesn’t really believe that he’s guilty but he had no choice.  The Wilsons were making a lot of noise about the sheriff being paid off by me to keep my son out of jail.  Scott willingly came in with Val today to turn himself in.  The Wilsons were waiting for us when we arrived and Mike attacked Scott when his back was turned.”  Murdoch hesitated for a moment and shared concerned looks with Johnny who’d been sitting silently while his father laid their cards on the table.  “Scott’s case won’t be an easy one Mr. Key.  You see he doesn’t know where he was at the time of the murder.  Our neighbor, Jim Talbot, has found evidence that he was at a hunting cabin in Hawk Valley but didn’t take the time to try and figure out how long he’d been there.  He found evidence that Scott’s horse had run away and that Scott was trying to walk home.  Just as he caught up with him strong winds blew a weakened pine bough down on him.  It struck him a glancing blow on the head.  Scott fainted into Jim’s arms from the blow and from exhaustion.  He’s got a sprained ankle and a lot of scratches as well.  The worst part is that he doesn’t remember leaving home or how he got home.”


          “Not total amnesia.  Dr. Jenkins says it’s just a cloudy memory and it should get back to normal eventually.  The blow to his head and exhaustion combined to cause the lapse.  Apparently it’s more psychological than physical.  He was in pretty rough shape when he was found.”

           “I see.  He has no memory whatsoever of where he’s been?”

           “None whatsoever of where he was the night of the murder.  So far he’s only remembered falling in Wolf Creek but not when that was.”

           “Has Scott ever shown violent tendencies before?”  At Johnny’s bristling look he amended that statement.  “What I mean is does it take much to get Scott angry or was this a rare occurrence?”

           “Normally Scott is very quiet and calm,” Murdoch said.  “The only times I’ve seen him lose his temper is when someone he loves is in danger.  He nearly attacked a man that threatened his brother a couple of years ago.  The man attempted to provoke a fight by threatening to shoot Johnny for breaking out of jail.  I had to restrain him but he calmed down quickly enough when I pointed out that that was what the man wanted him to do.”

           “Has he many friends around here?  Is there a special girl?”

           “Scott’s got lots of friends,” Johnny declared.  “But there’s no one girl he’s seeing.”

           “All right.  What can you tell me about the witnesses to the murder?”

          “Jim and Maura Talbot have been friends of mine for many years,” Murdoch told the attorney.  “Jim bought his place a couple of years before Scott’s mother and I came out here.  His wife tended to Catherine when she was ill before I sent her away for her own safety.  She attended Johnny’s mother when she gave birth to him.”

          “You were married more than once?”

          “Yes.  Scott’s mother became very ill shortly before he was due to be born.  I sent her away because there were raids in the valley and I feared for her safety.  She gave birth on deserted road in a broken down wagon and died soon after.  A few years later I met and married Johnny’s mother.   Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last.  She left in the middle of the night a couple of years later and took Johnny with her.

          Maura and Jim Talbot are good friends.  They were the first people I went to when I discovered that Johnny and his mother were missing.  They’ve remained good friends ever since.  We’ve worked round ups together, cattle drives, formed the Cattlemen’s Association, entertained and been entertained at each other’s homes.”

          “Scott’s maternal grandfather took him away before I could get to his mother and raised him in Boston.  He came to live with me two years ago.”  Murdoch’s look told the lawyer that enough was enough on that painful subject.  “About a year ago Harlan came out for a visit.  He brought Scott’s ex-fiancée with him.  He blackmailed Scott into leaving California and returning to Boston by paying two young men, whose father I killed in self-defense twenty-five years ago, to convince Scott that I had murdered their father.  Apparently the money he offered them wasn’t enough and they tried to ambush Harlan as he and Scott drove to catch the train at Cross Creek.  Scott was wounded in the attempt.  Johnny took his brother to the Talbot’s place because it was close by while I went after Harlan.  Maura Talbot tended to his wound and settled him in a guest room to rest while Jim and some of their hands went with Johnny to help me.

          A couple of weeks later Scott started having headaches and became very ill.  First with influenza and then with pneumonia.  Johnny and Teresa also came down with the influenza.  Teresa, my ward, had a very mild case.  Johnny and Scott became seriously ill and Maura stayed at Lancer nursing them until they were both back on their feet again.  Her onion poultices broke up the congestion that was slowly killing Johnny.  She was the first one to attend to Scott last Easter when he fell and broke his arm.  She brought the boys home in her buggy due to Scott’s concussion.  Jim and Maura both were on the fair committee last summer.  Scott had been ill with a cold and wanted a little revenge on his brother for all the teasing…” Johnny had the good graces to grin sheepishly at the thought of that little episode.  “Well, let’s just say that Jim settled Pierce Wilson’s hash over whether or not Johnny and certain others could enter the shooting contest and Maura helped Scott get even with his brother for his nonsense.

          They’re wonderful friends and neighbors and I’m sure it must be tearing them apart that they’ve helped point the finger at Scott for this murder.  Maura’s been a surrogate mother to the boys for the last three years.  Jim and Maura had three sons that would be the same age, roughly, as my sons.  All three died during the war.  I mourned their loss as much as they did when the word reached California.  Maura was with one of the boys when he died of pneumonia after being wounded.  I think, in some ways, having my two sons back home again, has been a blessing as much for them as for me.”

          After an hour of conversation Key agreed to take the case.  Murdoch and Johnny were vastly relieved.  Murdoch’s own lawyer was fine for business matters and civil actions but he was no criminal lawyer.  Key’s background was criminal law.  His family lived in the Baltimore area but he’d decided to strike out on his own in new territory.

          The wind was picking up again as Murdoch and Johnny departed the office on Oak Street.  Barranca and Murdoch’s horse had their hindquarters humped in protest.  Both were somewhat nervous and kept sidling away as trash blew against their legs.  It was all their owners could do to mount them.

          “Sure hope Scott’s warm enough in that cell,” Johnny yelled over the whistling wind to his father.  “It’s gettin’ cold out here again.”

          “I’m sure Val will take good care of him,” his father replied.  “We’d better get home and let everyone know that we’ve found Scott a good lawyer.”

          “You really think this Mr. Key will be good?”

          “Johnny, there’s something about that young man that I like.  I think he’ll do just fine.”


           A cold wind blew in the cell from the outside.  Scott sat in silent misery while Val fed his pot bellied stove more wood in an effort to warm the office up some.  Seeing his silent prisoner shivering Val gave Scott his jacket and a pair of extra blankets that he had.

          “Here.  Can’t have ya freezin’ to death on me now,” he said gruffly.  “Your brother and your father would have my hide if anythin’ happened to you while you were in my custody.”

          “Val?  Do you believe I’m guilty?”  Scott asked his brother’s friend.

          “No.  I don’t believe you’re guilty.  But it’s a good thing that you came in willingly – it gives those Wilsons less ammunition in their campaign to railroad you.  But don’t you worry none – that ain’t gonna happen to one of my prisoners!  No siree bob!  You’re safe here.  And you’ll get a fair trial.  Your father’s gone to find you a lawyer.” 

          Just then an extremely strong gust of wind caused a dead tree limb to break loose from a large old oak tree outside the jail.  The resultant crack caused Val to whirl around and draw his pistol before going to the door and outside briefly to investigate.  Scott, however, started violently and went pale.  A scene from his journey back from Hawk Valley flashed before his eyes.  In his mind’s eye he saw Jim Talbot rein up his horse not two feet away from him just as a pine bough hit him on the side of the head.  

          “Just an old tree branch.  Guess I’m a mite jumpy what with the Wilsons makin’ so much noise around here lately,” Val grinned sheepishly as he re-entered the building.  When he got no response from his prisoner he turned and saw Scott sitting there staring into space.  “Hey Scott, you ok?”

           “I just remembered something,” Scott said.

           “Something that’ll help prove your innocence?”

           “I don’t know.  That tree branch breaking like that made me remember getting hit with one.  Mr. Talbot found me just as I got hit.  It was cold and it was very windy and I was near Wolf Creek  That’s all I can remember.”

           “Do you remember when it was?  Think man!  It’s important!”

           Vainly Scott tried to remember exactly when it happened.  It was no use.  The memory was gone as quickly as it came.

           “No.”  Scott shook his head.  “I can’t remember when.  I only know what I was told.”

           “Well, it’s a start anyway,” Val said in an attempt to reassure the other man.  “I’m sure it’ll all come back to you.  I just hope it’s long before the trial.”

           “Me too.”


           The next morning the mysterious stranger was hanging around the Longhorn Saloon again.  Standing on the boardwalk near Mike Wilson’s gunsmith shop he’d seen the Lieutenant and his family come in.  Smiling to himself he’d watched as Mike Wilson had attacked Lieutenant Lancer when his back was turned.  Silently he’d cheered when Wilson had landed a blow on the side of the lieutenant’s head that felled him.  Smiling broadly, safe because no one noticed him, he’d seen the blond collapse into the arms of the two older men.  He knew one to be Lieutenant Lancer’s father Murdoch.  A big shot in the valley from what he’d heard.  The Mexican man he’d heard referred to as Cipriano.  Apparently he worked for the Lancers.  The small dark haired man on the Palomino he’d learned was Johnny Lancer.  The lieutenant’s younger brother.  He’d heard it said that he used to go by the name of Johnny Madrid and that he’d been a gunfighter.  Well, that was of no consequence to him.  All he wanted was to see Lieutenant Scott Lancer pay for his “crime”.

           His head itched where the dye had dried on his scalp but he resisted the urge to scratch.  Walking into the saloon he found himself a table in the back corner again isolated enough but with a good view of the room and where he could hear everything that was being said.  When the voluptuous red-haired saloon girl came over he ordered a bottle of tequila and sat back to enjoy it after sending her away with his payment.  He wasn’t in the mood for nosy female company.  He wanted to know how his plan was working out. 


Part Two


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