Part Two

by  JEB


         “Good morning Sheriff,” Frank Key said as he walked in the door.  “I’m Frank Key.  I’ve been hired to represent Mr. Lancer in court.”

           “Mornin’,” Val replied.  “What can I do you for?”

           “I’d like to visit with my client if that’s all right with you.”  Holding his coat out away from his body he added, “You can see I’m unarmed but if you’d like to search me for hidden weapons that’s quite all right.”

           “That won’t be necessary,” Val said.  “Your reputation precedes you.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about you since you set up shop in Green River.  I can’t let you in the cell with him but you can take this chair and sit outside the door to talk with him.”

           “Thank you Sheriff Crawford,” Key said. “I’ll take you up on your offer.  Might I trouble you for some privacy while I speak to my client?”

           “I can’t leave you alone with him but I can sit at my desk in here while you talk.”  Val grimaced, “The last thing I need right now is the Wilsons finding out that I left my prisoner unattended while a complete stranger had a talk with him.”

           “I understand completely,” the attorney said.  “That’ll be just fine.”

           Val put a straight-backed wooden chair in front of the door to Scott’s cell and then left the attorney and his client to speak privately.

           “Good morning Scott,” Key said.  “I’m Frank Key.  Your father has hired me to represent you at your trial.”

           Scott sat up.  He’d been lying on the cot trying to stay warm.  The days were turning chilly now that October was here.  “Nice to meet you Mr. Key.  I only wish it were under different circumstances.” 

           “That’s quite all right Scott.”  Taking a notebook and a pencil out of his pocket Key proceeded to quiz Scott.  “Now tell me about yourself.  Your father tells me that your maternal grandfather raised you.  In Boston wasn’t it?”

           “Yes, sir.”  Scott grimaced.  “I know now that Murdoch tried to bring me home and that my grandfather thwarted every effort he made.  But I also had a good home.  Plenty of food, warm clothes.  A room I could call my own.  I had several trips to Europe and attended Harvard.”

          “When did you join the army?”

          “When I was eighteen.  I wanted to join before then but Grandfather objected.  When I was old enough I joined anyway.  Grandfather wasn’t very happy about it but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. I wouldn’t allow him to pay a substitute to take my place – not when so many men were sacrificing everything to serve their country.”

          “And you became a Lieutenant in less than a year?  How was that possible?”  Key knew the answer very well; he’d wired Washington, D.C. and inquired of a friend in the War Department about Scott’s record.  It was, to say the least, exemplary.

          “I don’t like to brag about it sir,” Scott said.  “Let’s just say I was in the right place at the right time.  Or maybe it was the wrong place at the right time.  I couldn’t stand by and let my men be slaughtered so I led a few charges.  I was promoted in the field several times.”

          Key scribbled a few notes as the blond Lancer talked.  His dark, curly head nodded several times as he did so.  “Now tell me about the events that led up to your capture.  I believe you were at the siege and battle of Vicksburg?”

          “Yes.  It was a couple of months later that I was taken prisoner.  My men and I were on a routine patrol and we ran into a large contingent of Confederates.  They overran us.  I was wounded in the shoulder and my horse was killed.  When it fell I was pinned under it.”

          “And the boy, Peter Winslow, he tried to help?”

          “Yes.” Scott’s eyes clouded over at the thought of the twelve-year-old standard bearer.  “Peter was a very brave boy.  He knew I was hurt and tried to get me out from under my dead horse.  But he wasn’t strong enough.  I tried to get him to flee but he refused.  He stayed right by my side the whole time and was captured at the same time.”

          “What were the men like that took you prisoners?”

          “The Captain in charge of the infantry patrol was decent enough.  He saw to it that my wound was taken care of and that we had enough water and shared what little food they had with us.”

          “How long did it take before you arrived at Cahaba?”

          “I don’t know exactly.  I think about a week or so.  I was rather ill at the time.”

          Key scribbled some more notes.  Some were things that Scott had mentioned that he felt were important.  Others were notes to himself – questions that he wanted to ask Murdoch Lancer and other people about Scott.

          “One more question Scott – did you kill Charles Wilson?”

          “I don’t know,” Scott answered.  “I was angry enough to when I saw him on the street and I was certainly angry enough to when Peter was killed.  But I honestly don’t remember if I killed him or not.”

          Key nodded and smiled.  The younger man was honest; there was no doubt about that.  Cloudy memory or not he admitted that he had been angry enough to do it even if he didn’t remember whether he had or not.

          “Well that’s enough for today.  I’m going to ask some questions around town before I go back to my office.”  Key rose from his chair.  “You rest and take it easy.  I’ll be back tomorrow and every day until the trial starts.”

          “Do you know when that will be?” an anxious Scott asked.

          “I understand the Circuit Judge will be here in four days.”

          “Good.  I want to get this over with.”

          “Keep your chin up Scott.  We’ll lick this thing.  I believe very strongly that you’re innocent of the charge and I’ll do my best to convince a jury.”

          Leaving the cell area he took the chair with him.  Val was seated at his desk looking at wanted posters when the attorney returned his extra chair.

          “All done?”

           “For now.”  Key studied Val’s face closely.  “I understand you and Johnny Lancer are good friends.  Is it very hard on you having to lock up his brother?”

          “Yeah – you might say that.”  Val stared at the lawyer.  “Listen I may complain about Scott Lancer being a fancy dresser and all that but I really have nothing but high regard for him.  He came out here from Boston after serving in the Army for two years and proved himself to his father, brother and all their hands.  I hear tell he even sobered up an old retired marshal by the name of Kansas Bill Sharpe.  Found the old man’s grandson out in the woods while fishing with his father, Johnny and Jelly Hoskins.  Scott took the boy to Onyx, which is up in the Lava Hills.  Found Kansas Bill had become the town joke as well as the town drunk and sobered him right up so that his grandson could at least meet him.”

          “This Kansas Bill – is he still around?  Would you know where I might be able to get in touch with him?”

          “Scott said that the old man and his grandson were headed for Oregon.  I don’t rightly know where exactly.”

          “Hmm,” Key said.  “I think I’ll send a few wires and put some feelers out.  If this Kansas Bill was as well known as you indicate someone must know where he is.  Scott could use him as a character witness.”  Putting his hand out to shake Val’s he said, “I told Scott I’d be back every day until the trial starts.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

          “Yes sir.  I’ll be here.”


          “How’s Scott?” an anxious Teresa asked as she came out the French doors.  “Cipriano came back an hour ago and said there was some trouble when you got to town.  Is Scott ok?”

          “He’s fine darling,” Murdoch reassured his ward.  Mike Wilson did jump him but Jim Talbot came along and helped Val break up the mob that was behind him.”

          Johnny, black eye, scrapes and all dismounted and handed Barranca’s reins to Ramon who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to take charge of their mounts.  

          “Johnny what happened to you?”

          “Aw nothin’.  I just got a little mad when Mike jumped Scott.  Scott’s back was turned.  If it weren’t for that sprained ankle and being taken by surprise Scott could have handled that big mouth any day!”

          “You got in a fight with Mike Wilson?  In Green River?  What did Val have to say about that?”

          “Nothin’.  He and Mr. Talbot broke us up and Val sent Mike and his pals on their way.  Val promised to keep a close eye on them.”

          “Well come inside and let me put something on that eye and clean those scratches.”  Taking her “brother” by the hand she led him into the great room where she made him sit on the sofa while she got some hot water and clean cloths to clean him up and some ice in a towel for his eye.

          “What?  No beefsteak for my eye?” Johnny complained when she returned.

          “Sam says ice does just as good a job and doesn’t waste a perfectly good piece of meat.”

          “Murdoch did you get a lawyer for Scott?” Teresa wanted to know.

          “Yes darling I did.”

          “Is he good?”

          “I don’t know if he’s good or not Teresa.  Jim Talbot recommended him – said he was new in town.  You know that we’ve never needed a lawyer that handles criminal cases before.”

          “We shouldn’t now,” Teresa said.  “That Mike Wilson was always a bully when we went to school together.  I can’t see that he’s changed much.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he killed his cousin himself and tried to blame Scott for it because he hates that Scott and Johnny are so popular and Scott won that shooting contest at the fair.”

          “It’s not nice to judge people without proof Teresa,” Murdoch chided her.  “I know Mike and his father aren’t very popular with anybody in the area but that doesn’t mean that he would murder someone.  Especially not a member of his own family.”

          “Teresa’s got a point Murdoch.  I think I’ll have a talk with Mike,” Johnny said determinedly.

          “No you won’t.  You’re going to let the law handle this.  This isn’t a time for you to act on your own the way you did when you and your brother helped Charlie Poe rob the train to get those land grant papers before they could reach Sacramento.  Let Mr. Key do his job.”


        Frank Key did his job well.  After speaking to Scott and to Val he started inquiring around Green River.  The banker was quite happy to expound upon Scott’s sterling qualities.  However, being as Murdoch Lancer did his banking there, Key wasn’t too impressed.  The man struck him as the kind that would say anything and do anything to keep Murdoch Lancer’s accounts in his bank.

          Mayor Higgs, who also owned the general store, was only slightly better.  It seemed that some time ago, a young man by the name of Clay Criswell had ridden into town and taken the job of sheriff while Val Crawford was laid up.  At first he’d seemed like a good choice.  Crime was down.  Everyone had to check their guns when they came into the saloon.  But Criswell butted heads with the wrong Lancer when Johnny, angry over his friend’s replacement and the new man’s arrogance and his seemingly effortless handling of the rowdier elements in town, clashed with him.  Eventually, thanks to Lone Crow’s children, Johnny and Murdoch learned that the man was a crook who was in the process of robbing the town blind.  The mayor discovered it too late as did Zeek the barber.  With the guns of most of the men in town locked up in the jail cell and no key available it was up to Johnny and Val, while Murdoch was off rounding up some of their hands to help, to put a stop to it.  No, he wouldn’t call on the mayor either.  He was still smarting over his being made a fool of.

           The Widow Hargis over in Spanish Wells was another matter entirely.  She readily admitted that she had misjudged Scott during the incident with Zee, a young woman Scott apprehended in the process of escaping from the robbery of the widow’s store.  Frank was hard pressed not to laugh when he heard the widow tell him about chasing the robber out of her store with a broom and the abuse that the younger woman, Zee, had inflicted on Scott in the form of a bitten finger, a kicked knee and an attempt to blow his head off with a shotgun.  Zee’s masquerade as the daughter of a notorious outlaw by the name of Tom Mangrum came to a halt when the man himself exposed her as a phony.  The widow would make an excellent character witness.

           The people of Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells and Green River were, by turns, amused and fascinated by the sight of the young attorney in his suits riding around the countryside on a dappled gray mare in English tack.  Nobody in any of those towns, save Scott himself, had ever seen such gear on a horse – unless it were Maura Talbot who had grown up in Ireland and never even knew there was such a thing as a western saddle until she arrived in the states.  But his friendly grin and firm handshake soon won many people over.  Even the Mexicans liked him.  His curly hair fascinated some, especially the children.  Most had never seen such curly hair.

           In Morro Coyo Frank Key met Señor Baldomero who owned the dry goods store where Scott had gone to purchase new clothes the morning after his arrival in California at his father’s ranch.  Baldomero was very pleased when the lawyer made an attempt to converse with him in Spanish.  Better than that was the fact that he laughed at his own mistakes when the elderly shopkeeper pointed them out to him.  Frank was impressed with Señor Baldomero’s story of how Scott had been put upon by three members of Day Pardee’s gang and still given a good accounting of himself.

           Stopping at the telegraph office in Morro Coyo he sent a wire to Washington, D.C. to the War Department to get information on Scott’s military service.  Another wire went to a very important personage whose identity would be revealed much later.  

          Two days before the trial he rode out to Lancer to talk to Murdoch and Johnny.  Also to interview the ranch hands about Scott.  Murdoch saw him as he arrived and left the corral by the barn to greet him. 

          “Mr. Key.  Welcome to Lancer.  How’s the investigation going?”

           “Slow but I’m lining up what I believe to be some good character witnesses for Scott’s defense.  I talked with the Widow Hargis.”  Key laughed.  “She’s quite the character.  Is it true that she chased a thief out of her store by way of the window by chasing him with a broom?”

           “Yes.  Johnny and I were parked in front of the feed and grain while Scott was loading the wagon.  Scott was inside at the time but Johnny and I saw the whole thing – more or less.  The man went in the door and came out the window with her swinging a broom at him and yelling.”

           Just as they finished the discussion on the Widow Teresa, wearing an orange skirt and a white blouse came down from the house.  She’d seen Key arrive and was curious to know who their visitor was.  She hadn’t been to town since Scott gave himself up to Val – it was too distressing for her to think of him in jail accused of a murder she knew he didn’t commit.  Knew but couldn’t prove any more than anyone else could right now.

           “Mr. Key this is my ward Teresa O’Brien,” Murdoch said as she approached.  “Teresa this is Scott’s lawyer Mr. Frank Key.”

           “My pleasure Miss O’Brien,” Key said taking her hand and pressing his lips gently to it in a courtly gesture.

           “Mr. Key.” Teresa acknowledged the introduction.  “How’s Scott?”

           “He’s fine Teresa.  Sheriff Crawford is looking out for him very well.  He almost fusses over him like an old mother hen.”

           “Who fusses like an old mother hen?” Jelly arrived on the scene having exited the barn just in time to hear that statement.

           “Speaking of mother hens,” Murdoch mumbled under his breath.  As Jelly drew closer though he said, “Mr. Key this is Jelly Hoskins.  He works for us.”

           “Mr. Hoskins.”

           “Mr. Key.  How’s the boy holding up?”

           “He’s all right.  Sheriff Crawford has been very diligent in keeping the Wilsons away from him and tries to cheer him up.”  Turning to Murdoch he said, “The sheriff doesn’t believe Scott is guilty.  He wants you all to know that.  But he had to lock Scott up or he’d have a riot on his hands.  Scott wants to be sure that you all understand that he bears no ill will toward Sheriff Crawford.  He understands that he’s just doing his job.

           What I’d like, Mr. Lancer, is to talk to your employees.  I want to hear what they have to say about your son.  No offense but it must be without your being in the room.”

           “I understand,” Murdoch said.  “Why don’t you start with Jelly here and I’ll see if I can find Cipriano and some of the others that have been here long enough to know Scott.  You might talk to Maria, our housekeeper, when you’re through with Jelly.  If the truth were told I think she’d have to admit that Johnny is her favorite but she takes good care of all of us.”

           “Jelly,” Teresa said,  “why don’t you take Mr. Key into the dining room?  He can sit at the table and take notes while he talks.  I’ll go find Maria and tell her that he wants to speak to her too.”  So saying the young woman left the men and went toward the house.


          Fifteen minutes later Frank Key and Cipriano were seated at the table in the great room.  Cipriano appreciated the younger man’s efforts to speak Spanish but graciously agreed to English since it was easier.  His friendly manner put the lawyer at ease – not that Frank was nervous but his Spanish was very rudimentary and it would take some time before he was very fluent in it.

          “Señor Cipriano how long have you worked for Mr. Lancer?”

          “Many years now.  Since he bought the estancia.”

          “How long ago was that?”

          “Almost thirty years ago señor.”

          “So you knew Scott’s mother?”

          “Sí Señor.  The Señora was a beautiful woman.  And very kind to all of us.  She did not hate us or distrust us because are Mexican.”

          “You know, I’ve never understood that myself, sir,” Frank told the Segundo.  “I guess I’m a lot like other members of my family who didn’t understand slavery and disliked it greatly even when it was legal.  However, that’s neither here nor there.”

          Cipriano looked puzzled.  “No importante.” Frank explained.

          “Ah.”  Cipriano nodded his understanding.

          “So you’ve worked for Mr. Lancer for almost thirty years.  You were here, then, when Day Pardee and his bunch tried to take over the valley.  I’ve heard a lot about that in Morro Coyo.”

          “Sí.  It was a very bad time.  Señor O’Brien, he was killed, and the Patron, he was badly hurt.  That is why he sent for Señor Scott and Juanito.  He needed their help and he wanted his sons home where they belong.”

          “Go on.  Tell me about Scott.  I understand that his grandfather raised him back in Boston.  How did he take to life on a ranch?  It must have been very hard for him at first.”

          “Sí, it was,” the Segundo agreed with a nod.  “He already rode very well but riding a horse trained to work cattle is very different from what he was used to.  It took him a little time to learn the new way.”  Thinking hard he added, “Learning to rope a cow or a horse was hard too.  And some of the men, they think he does not know what he’s doing so they don’t listen to him very much.  The men that were here during the raid – they listened to him very much.  Especially after he lay the trap for Pardee and his bandidos.  When they see those men ride into Señor Scott’s trap they have mucho respect for him.”

          “Tell me about that day.”

          “The Patron’s sons had just come home the day before.  The bandidos they burned a field and killed a man and his wife who lived nearby.  Señor Scott heard his father say that I knew the mountains.  I told him sí – like the back of my hand.  He took some of us and we rode into the mountains – just far enough to let those men think that we had taken their bait.  Then we doubled back through the pass that I knew.  It is very rough but we did it and got back in time to be in place when the bandidos attacked.  Juanito, we thought he had joined them but when they attacked he was out in front on his horse running for his life and shooting at them.  He led them right into Señor Scott’s trap.  We lost several men but they did as well.

 Then Juanito he was shot in the back by Pardee, who was their leader, and fell from his horse out in the front yard.  We thought he was dead   But Señor Scott was going to go out and get him anyway.  The Patron he stopped him but then Juanito - he moved!  He started shooting at the bandidos.  Señor Scott told us to cover him and he ran out firing his rifle very quickly and started to help Juanito to safety.  I ran out with him and helped him pull his brother to safety by a tree.  Then that bad man – that Pardee – he was going to shoot Señor Scott but Juanito saw him and cried out.  Señor Scott shot him and the others, when they see this, they run.  The fight was still over.

          “Sounds like a very exciting and nerve wracking time.  Tell me Cipriano, have you ever seen Scott lose his temper – get very angry with someone?  Threaten them?”

          “Only once, señor.  A vaquero was seen abusing his horse by Juanito.  When Juanito confronted him the man tried to beat him up.  When Señor Scott came along he stopped it.  He tell the man that if he ever try that again he would kill him with his bare hands.  Then he took Juanito to the house to have Señorita Teresa fix him up.”  The Segundo’s dark eyes flashed with anger as he remembered that incident.

          “So the only time you’ve seen him angry enough to kill was when his brother was in grave danger.  Would you say that that’s typical of him?  That he only gets angry enough to threaten to kill someone when someone he loves is in danger?”

          “Sí, that is right.”

          “And those men that refused to listen to him – how long did it take before they knew they were wrong?”

          “Not long.  Señor Scott worked very hard to learn how to rope and brand and all the things that he needed to learn when he say he will stay.”

          “Thank you Señor,” Key said shaking Cipriano’s hand.  “I won’t keep you from your work any longer.”

          “De nada, Señor,” Cipriano responded.  “It is nothing.  Please – tell Señor Scott we are praying for him and we will be there at the trial.  My wife – she sends her love to him.”

          “I will, my friend, I will,” Key replied as the older man left.


          The interview with Maria went just as well.  It was obvious to Key that these people who worked for the Lancers were loyal, honest and hard working.  That Johnny was, as they put it, “one of them” because of his Mexican heritage was completely understandable.  But Scott had wormed his way into their hearts by his courtly manner, appreciation of their work – especially Maria’s cooking and the effort he had put forth into learning the skills necessary to live on a ranch.  This was no spoiled rich man’s son – this was a young man who, though he was more educated than many of them, wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.  No job was too tough or too dirty for him.

          Jelly, too, was full of praise for the young man.  He openly admitted to how he’d taken the sack of money dropped by the bank robbers two years earlier.  Because he’d been taking care of eight lost and orphaned boys, he’d needed the money to buy food and clothes for them.  Despite this Murdoch Lancer had stood up for Jelly and hired him on at the rate of $1.00 a day to repay the court imposed fine for breaking out of the jail.  Jelly had decided to stay on even after all eight boys were adopted by families in the area.  He was an important part of the Lancer family now.  So much so that a wise cracking cattleman who had dared to make fun of Jelly’s “bankroll” that had consisted mostly of corncob, got dumped on the floor and his drink poured in his face by an irate Scott.  A very calm, but still very angry, Scott.  The rest of that story would come out in court.

          As Key started to leave the ranch, stopping to talk to Murdoch about the trial due to start in just a couple of days, Maria came out of the kitchen with a paper bag in her hands. 

         “Señor Key, please – take these to Señor Scott for me.  They are his favorite cookies.  Maybe they will help cheer him up.”

          “I will Señora and I’ll be sure to tell him that you made them especially for him.”

          Maria flashed him a brilliant smile and went back to her baking in the kitchen.

          “She’s a wonderful woman Mr. Lancer,” Key said.  “She’s very fond of your boys.”

          “I know,” Murdoch responded with a smile.  “She’d spoil Johnny rotten if she thought she could get away with it.  And she fusses at Scott about being too skinny.”

          “Well, the trial starts in two days, Mr. Lancer.  Please have someone bring Scott a pair of dress pants or a suit.  And a tie.  He needs to make a good appearance.”

          “I’ll have Johnny bring them in tomorrow.  He’s been itching for a chance to go visit his brother but we’ve been very busy.  With Scott in jail on top of having men who are injured or ill and some that quit a few weeks ago, we’re short-handed.  Johnny’s been trying to make up for it by doing both his and his brother’s work.  It’ll be good for him to take the day.  The rest of us, Teresa, Jelly and myself will be in the day of the trial.”


          “Hey brother,” Johnny said as he approached the cell where Scott sat on his bunk looking gloomy.  “How ya holdin’ up?”

           “Johnny.  I’m all right,” was the response he got.

           “Sure ya are.  You know that Mr. Key, I think he’s gonna do a real good job.  He’s been all over Green River, Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells askin’ about ya and us and the Wilsons.  I hear he even sent a couple of telegrams though what was in them is a secret – for now anyway.”

           “Yes.  He’s been in to see me a few times too.”

           “Teresa and Maria pressed your suit for you.  They made me carry it in this carpetbag so it wouldn’t get all wrinkled up again.”  Johnny handed his brother the outfit he pulled out of said carpetbag.  “Oh, and Maria sent you these cookies.  She figures Val,” Johnny shot a teasing glance at his friend, “would have either confiscated or eaten all the ones she sent in yesterday with Mr. Key.”

           Scott smiled, “Tell Maria I said ‘thank you’.  She’s been trying to keep my spirits up by sending treats with everyone who comes into town.”

           “Hey Val how about some of that lousy coffee you make?  Still makin’ it in a fryin’ pan or did you break down and spend the money on a new coffeepot?”

          “For your information, Mr. Wise Guy Johnny Lancer,” Val retorted, “I only use a fryin’ pan at home.  Got me a real coffeepot for the office.”

           “Then bring me some will ya?  I want to talk to Scott.”

           “Too lazy to get your own?”

           “Val.”  Johnny’s tone was warning now.  He wanted to talk to his brother privately for a few minutes.  “Your trial starts day after tomorrow.  Have you remembered anything yet about where you were when Wilson was killed?”

           “So far all I remember is a windstorm and getting hit with a tree branch just before Mr. Talbot found me.  I still don’t know where I was or what I was doing the night that Wilson was murdered”

           “Has Doc Jenkins been in to see ya?”

           “Yes.  Several times.  He says the lump on my head is gone and my ankle is almost back to normal.  The scratches are healed too.  But he can’t tell me when my memory will come back.  He says there’s nothing that will help.”

           “Guess we’ll have to see how good a lawyer this Mr. Key really is.”

           “Yes, I don’t see any thing else we can do,” Scott agreed.

           “Here ya go Johnny,” Val approached with the coffee.  “But this is the last time I’m servin’ ya.  Next time you can get your own!”

           “Thanks.”  Johnny drank the coffee down quickly using it to wash down a couple of Maria’s cookies.  Then he rose from the chair he was sitting in and put it back by Val’s desk.  “I’ll see you tomorrow Scott.”  Turning to his friend the sheriff he said, “How about buying me a beer?  Seems to me you owe me at least one or two.”

           “Can’t.  Not while I’ve got a prisoner – you know that,” Val reminded his friend.  “I’ll buy you a dozen beers once this trial is over and done with.”

           “Sure you will,” Johnny laughed putting his brown hat on his head.  “See you when I come in to visit Scott tomorrow.”

           He went out the door and headed for the Longhorn.  He wanted to get an idea of public opinion in his brother’s case.  He figured the saloon would be the best place to hear what was being said.  If nothing else, Thad, the bartender, might have heard something important.  In a few days it would turn out to be a very profitable visit.


          They say old habits die hard and this was especially true in Johnny’s case.  He stopped in the doorway of the Longhorn Saloon and looked things over cautiously before entering.  Years of living in border towns, with a price on his head or some two-bit gunslinger wanna be out to make a name for himself, had honed this instinctive habit to a fine edge.  He seldom, if ever, entered such a place without checking it out first.  On those occasions when he didn’t do it himself Scott did it for him. Johnny made him do it because he felt that Scott was too trusting at times.

          Everything looked peaceful.  Johnny could see some of the hands from the Talbot’s place there.  A couple from the Moreno’s and three from a ranch closer to Morro Coyo were sitting at a table near the front window playing poker.  One of them looked up, saw Johnny and waved him over.  Johnny turned him down however. What he wanted to do was hang out at the bar nursing a beer and listening to what was going on.

          “Johnny, how’s your brother,” Thad Peterson, the bartender, asked.

          “He’s ok I guess.  This murder charge has us all on edge,” Johnny sighed.  “It would help if he could remember where he was that night.  But so far all he remembers is the tree branch hitting him just as Mr. Talbot found him.”

          “That’s gonna make it rough at the trial isn’t it?”

          “Yeah, yeah it is.”  Johnny glanced in the mirror to see what was happening in the rest of the room.  “The Talbots are real upset.  They’re the only real witnesses to the murder and every time someone asks them about it they can only say they ‘don’t know’ or ‘don’t think’ it was Scott. All they really saw was a tall blond with a limp.  And when Mr. Talbot found Scott he was limping around on a sprained ankle.  The limp is almost gone now but that don’t help Scott none.  He can’t remember when or how he hurt that ankle.”

          “That’s a shame.  You know most of my customers think Scott’s innocent.  Most of the regulars that is – except the one and I don’t think I need to tell you who that is.”

          “No.  Where is Mike tonight anyway?  He’s usually in here spouting off about Scott ain’t he?”

          “Haven’t seen him tonight.  The hands from the Double Bar T and the Rocking Star have been here for a while.  So have the fellas from the Morenos’ place.  Not too many strangers tonight.  All except that one fella sitting at that table in the back.  He’s been in here every night for a week or more. No – more like two weeks.  Orders a beer or two and sits in that corner watching and nursing his beer.  Doesn’t even mingle with the girls.  And believe me they’ve tried everything.  He just doesn’t pay any attention to them.  Strange if you ask me.”

          The garrulous bartender kept up a running commentary in between serving drinks or supplying new decks of cards to replace those that were worn out and easy to mark.  Johnny, meantime, kept surreptitiously eyeing the stranger by way of the large mirror hanging behind the bar.  The more he looked at him the more something didn’t ring true.  But he couldn’t put his finger on it.

          Deciding to see if he could get a better look and maybe get acquainted Johnny took his beer and headed for the stranger’s table.

          Giving the man one of his most engaging grins Johnny approached the man’s table.

          “Pretty busy in here tonight.  Mind if I join ya?”

          “I prefer to drink alone,” the stranger said.

          “Sorry.  Don’t mean not harm,” Johnny said not willingly backing off just yet.  “You’re sittin’ here by yourself and the place is pretty crowded.  Thought you might like some company – bein’ new in town and all.”

          “What makes you say that?”

          “I ain’t seen you around before – that I can remember.  I know most of the hands at the ranches around here.”  Johnny held out his right hand.  “Name’s Johnny Lancer.”

          The other man ignored him.  Johnny waited a few seconds for him to acknowledge the introduction then dropped his hand.  Alarm bells were going off in his head but he didn’t know why.  It wasn’t the first time he’d met someone that didn’t act very friendly and probably wouldn’t be the last.  But there was something about this guy that had his instincts screaming.  There was something wrong about him.

          Deciding not to press the issue Johnny took his beer and went back to the bar.  Thad was busy with other customers so Johnny downed his beer and left stopping briefly to speak to the poker players who could shed no more light on the stranger than he had been able to glean from Thad.  Once outside he released Barranca from the hitching rail out front and mounted.  But he did not turn Barranca toward home.  Instead he turned him toward an alley across the street where he could keep an eye on this stranger and see if he could find out anything useful.  For some reason he couldn’t get it out of his head that this man had something to do with the murder of Charles Wilson.  If he told Val, however, he knew he’d get laughed at.  Val was not a man to work on instinct or someone’s gut feelings. He’d need proof anyway before he could charge the man with anything.

          Johnny’s patience was rewarded.  He and Barranca hadn’t been in that dark alley watching and waiting for more than fifteen minutes when the man came out.  Even from across the street Johnny could see that the man walked with a pronounced limp.  And under the lamplight his hair looked to be dark.  But that didn’t stop Johnny from thinking.  He watched as the man limped slowly back toward the boarding house at the end of town.  There he lost him as the stranger entered and went to his room.  Frustrated when the man didn’t come back out after half an hour Johnny turned Barranca toward home.  He’d talk to Murdoch in the morning, if there were time, before they left for the temporary courthouse and the start of Scott’s trial.  The old school house had been requisitioned since Green River didn’t have a courthouse.

          Inside the boarding house the stranger tried to shake off a feeling of being watched.  He was none too happy that the dark-haired Lancer brother had approached him trying to be friendly.  There was something in that kid’s eyes that made him nervous.  He was known to be an ex-gunfighter but that didn’t worry him.  There was something else.  The ex-sergeant decided that he’d better keep a low profile for a few days.  But nothing was going to keep him from being at that trial.  He wanted to see the Lieutenant pay for his “crime” of not protecting all those in his work detail.


          The temporary courthouse was packed when the Lancers entered the next morning.  Friends, neighbors and interested bystanders were all there to watch the trial of Scott Lancer for the murder of Charles Wilson.

          Many of those from Green River knew of the bad blood between the Lancers and the Wilsons and had heard the story of how Charles Wilson had been a brutal, bullying guard at Cahaba Prison when Scott was a prisoner of war.  Many of them believed that Scott had every reason to kill the man and was within his rights if he really had.  None of them would have put up with the man getting away with killing a twelve-year-old child – even if it were somewhat of an accident.

          Murdoch and his family entered the courtroom grim-faced and nervous.  Teresa looked to be on the verge of tears.  Murdoch’s face was set in granite while Johnny’s sapphire blue eyes constantly scanned the courtroom looking for potential troublemakers.  Most specifically he wanted to be sure that Pierce and Mike Wilson got nowhere near his brother.  They took seats directly behind the table where Frank Key sat waiting for his client to arrive.  Key was impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit with a white shirt and a black string tie.  He had a writing tablet and several sharpened pencils on the table in front of him.  He was well prepared with notes he’d taken and a list of witnesses he intended to call including Cipriano and Jelly.  The Talbots would be subject to cross-examination.  He knew they were sympathetic to the Lancers but bound by their word and the law to testify to what they’d seen.

          When Val and Scott entered the room you could have heard a pin drop.  Scott stood straight and tall looking straight ahead yet he was as pale as he’d been during his illness the previous spring.  Val looked the way he always did.  Like he’d slept in his clothes – which was the truth since he’d spent the night at the jail sleeping in the empty cell next to Scott just in case there was trouble.

          As they arrived Teresa reached out to hug her “brother” while his father and brother clapped him on the shoulder and tried to reassure him that they knew things would work out all right.  Scott returned the hug Teresa gave him but with little enthusiasm.  He walked and acted like a man shell-shocked.  He still had no memory of where he’d been before Jim Talbot found him.  The most he remembered was being soaking wet, having a sore ankle and getting hit with the tree limb.  He didn’t remember his horse running away during the storm or setting out from the cabin the next day on foot.  He still couldn’t remember the note he’d left Johnny even though they’d shown it to him.  He knew it was his handwriting but he didn’t remember writing it.

          The prosecuting attorney was a man named Stuart Copeland.  He’d been practicing law in various towns and cities in the San Joaquin Valley for thirty years.  A graduate of Yale College, which would in 1887 become Yale University, he’d steadily made himself unpopular with many residents due to his overbearing manner.    On top of that he thought a lot of himself and never failed to mention his background and education.  He was the son and grandson of successful lawyers.  His great-grandfather had attended Yale at the same time as one of the college’s most famous alumni – the martyred Nathan Hale.  Copeland loved to remind people of his family’s prestigious background.

        The Talbots arrived a few minutes after the Lancers and made their way to the seats directly behind them.  Jim gave Scott a reassuring squeeze of the right shoulder after shaking hands with Murdoch and Johnny.  Teresa was given a kiss on the cheek.  Maura lost no time in kissing both boys on the cheek and Teresa was given the same treatment.  Murdoch greeted her with a kiss on the cheek, which she accepted gladly from her old friend.

          “All rise.”  The bailiff announced the entrance of the judge just as the Talbots reached their seats.

         The judge, Owen Pickering, was fifty-five, tall with red hair that was somewhat gray at the temples and a solemn manner - but not without a sense of humor or a sense of justice.  He wasn’t terribly fond of Prosecutor Copeland but was forced to work with him.  He kept Copeland on the straight and narrow and allowed no theatrics or other shenanigans in his courtroom.  He was a no-nonsense man when the situation called for it but loved to have little opportunities to poke holes in the prosecutor’s ego.  He took his seat at the table in the front of the room.

“Court is now in order.  The Honorable Judge Owen Pickering residing.”

The Judge banged his gavel on the table twice.  “Be seated.”

The spectators, witnesses, defendant and lawyers all took their seats.  Pickering shuffled some papers in front of him for a moment or two and then looked up.

“Is the prosecution ready to proceed in the matter of the State of California vs. Scott Lancer?”

“We are Your Honor,” Copeland replied.

“Is the defendant present?”

“Yes sir,” Scott replied.

“Is the defense ready to proceed?”

“Yes, Your Honor, we are.”  Key spoke out clearly so all could hear.

“We’ll hear opening statements at this time.  Mr. Copeland you go first.”

“The state intends to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that the defendant, Mr. Scott Lancer did with malice aforethought plan to ambush and murder the deceased Mr. Charles Wilson.  We will offer evidence that the defendant knew the deceased from years ago when he was incarcerated in a Confederate Prison Camp.  That the deceased Mr. Wilson abused the defendant and all other prisoners in his custody until one day a fellow prisoner was accidentally killed.  At that time Mr. Lancer swore that he would, if it took twenty years of waiting and watching, kill Mr. Wilson for what he perceived to be a cold blooded killing.  The deceased Mr. Wilson was relieved of his duties at the prison camp and disappeared from Mr. Lancer’s life.  Then, just about two weeks ago, a chance encounter on the streets of this great little metropolis brought these two antagonists together again.  After a brief but violent confrontation on the main thoroughfare they went their own way only to have Mr. Wilson turn up dead – shot to death in an alley.

 We will call witnesses to the murder and present other evidence pointing to the fact that Mr. Lancer has a violent temper and a history of such unwarranted attacks.”

 Johnny leaned over toward his father with a confused look on his face.  “What’s he sayin’ about Scott?”

 Murdoch whispered, “He says he intends to prove that Scott hated Wilson enough to plan to kill him from ambush.  He’s going to tell them about how Scott was in that prison camp and that Scott planned to kill Wilson for killing the boy I told you about.  He wants the jury to believe that Scott was wrong about young Peter being murdered and, that after that meeting in Green River the other week, Scott intended to kill Wilson to get revenge for Peter’s death.”

 “Oh.  Why doesn’t he just say that?”  Johnny asked now that he understood the lawyer’s dictionary-like vocabulary.

 “He did,” Murdoch said.  “He just likes to show off all the big words he knows.”

 “Sssh.”  Teresa shushed them.

 Both Lancer men turned their attention back to the front of the courtroom.  Frank Key had risen and was about to make his opening statement.

 “Your Honor, Gentlemen of the jury I intend to prove to you that the defendant, Scott Lancer did not set out to kill Charles Wilson.  Oh, yes, I know the prosecuting attorney has witnesses but those witnesses themselves will tell you that they didn’t see enough to make a positive identification.  I intend to call witnesses who will tell you that the defendant is, in fact, an extremely good-natured young man who is polite, kind, generous to a fault and far more patient with people and events than the prosecution would have you believe.  These witnesses will testify to the fact that Scott Lancer has to be pushed very hard and very long under normal circumstances before he loses his temper.  The events leading up to this chance encounter on the main street of Green River would try the patience of a saint and then some.  I intend to call witness after witness to show that Mr. Lancer did not and could not have killed Mr. Charles Wilson.”

 After the longwinded speech of the prosecuting attorney Frank Key’s simple eloquence was a breath of fresh air.  After a brief pause while the person taking the official record of the trial got caught up, the prosecutor called his first witness.

 “The state calls Mr. James Talbot.”

 Reluctantly Jim Talbot rose from his seat and made his way to the witness stand.  He didn’t like the way Copeland was trying to set Scott up as a murderer using his testimony.  The acting bailiff presented him with the Bible and swore him in.  The Lancers, Teresa, Jelly – who was sitting behind them next to the Talbots, and other members of their household tensed up.

 “State your name and occupation for the record please,” Copeland said.

 “James Alexander Talbot.  I own the Double-Bar-T ranch.”

 “Mr. Talbot would you tell the court where you were on the night of September 20th?”

 “My wife, Maura, and I were at the home of Brad Ingersoll and his wife Sharon.  We had dinner with them.”

 “What time was that?”

 “Dinner was at five.  We left there around eight.”

 “What happened when you went to leave?”

 “When we got outside and into our buggy the wind had picked up and it was threatening to rain.  It had gotten cloudy and the wind was picking up.”

“Go on.”

“Well, we’d driven in in the open buggy rather than a covered one and Maura was afraid we would get soaked before we got home.  I went back to the Ingersolls’ to borrow a tarp to hold over us until we got home.  To try and keep us dry.  By the time I got back it was starting to thunder and lightning.  Maura was having a little bit of trouble keeping the horse calm so I grabbed hold of its bridle until it settled down again.  Then I got into the buggy and we started to drive home.”

“How far did you get?”

“How do you mean?”

“How far did you get before you heard the gunshot?”

“We were driving down Main Street and got as far as the Barber Shop and the General Store.  There was a tremendous clap of thunder but just before, maybe a few seconds before, I heard the sound of a gunshot.  It seemed like it had come from the alley between the stores.”

“What did you do when you heard the shot?”

“I grabbed a lantern from the buggy and went down the alley to investigate.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw two figures – one standing and one lying on the ground.”

“Could you identify them?”

“Not really.  The one that was standing appeared to be leaning over the one on the ground.  He took off when I approached with the lantern.”

“Were you able to identify this person?”

“Only that he was tall and blond.”

“I see.  And what about the person on the ground?”

“When I got right up to him I saw that it was Charles Wilson.”

“And what did you do then?”

“Well, my wife was coming into the alley but I stopped her.  I told her to run and get the sheriff.”

“How long did it take before he arrived?”

“Not long.  Maybe five minutes.”

“What did you do while you were waiting for him to arrive?”

“I kept the crowd that was forming away from the body.”

“Did you say anything to them?  About the murder that is?”

“Just that it was Charles Wilson and he was dead.”

“Did you tell them who you saw?”

“No.  I did not identify Scott or anyone else by name.  I couldn’t because I didn’t get that good a look at the man and that’s what I told the crowd that gathered.”

“Later on did you add anything to that?  When Sheriff Crawford came out to see you and asked you and your wife if either of you had remembered anything else?”

“The night of the murder that’s all I remembered.  When Sheriff Crawford came out a few days later I remembered that the man had a limp.”

“Thank you Mr. Talbot.  That will be all.”

Frank Key rose to conduct his cross-examination.

“Mr. Talbot have you known my client very long?”

“No sir.  I’ve only known Scott since he came out to California to live with his father.”

“That night in the alley – did you ever tell the sheriff that you thought it was Scott Lancer that you saw standing over the dead man?”

“No, sir, I did not.  I told him, as I told the prosecutor, all I could see was that it was a tall blond male.”

“Do you know if my client walks with a limp?”

Jim smiled.  He could see where Key was leading.  “To the best of my knowledge, having known the lad for just over a year I would say no – he does not walk with a limp.”

“Thank you Mr. Talbot.  No further questions.”

“Redirect your honor,” Copeland wasn’t going to let this opportunity get away from him.  “Mr. Talbot you say that the defendant does not walk with a limp yet when he came into the courtroom this morning he was limping.  How do you explain that?”

“It’s because of an injury to his left ankle.”

“So you concede that the defendant does indeed limp.”

“He does now but not as a general rule.”

“No further questions your honor.”  Copeland was frowning.  He’d not expected that answer.  Jim Talbot had gone further in his answer than he had wanted him to.

“The witness may step down,” Judge Pickering said.  “Call your next witness Mr. Copeland.”

“The state calls Sheriff Valentine Crawford.”

The spectators all started to snicker.  Some even ventured to laugh out loud. Val’s real given name had never been known to anyone but a select few.  Even Johnny, his best friend, had no clue that Val’s real name was Valentine.  Despite the gravity of the situation Johnny nearly fell off his seat laughing.  Even Scott, nervous as he was, had to smile at that. 

“Order!  I will have order in this court!” Judge Pickering banged his gavel on the table in front of him twice.  However, those who were closest to the front of the room could see that even he was smiling.  But that didn’t mean he was going to allow the situation to get out of hand.

It took a couple of minutes but eventually the room was quiet again.  Val, face red from embarrassment, took his seat.  The sight of Johnny’s smirking face and Teresa trying to restrain her giggles made him scowl.  Maura Talbot just smiled at him.  She would scold Johnny later.  She considered it her right as his surrogate mother.

As with Jim Talbot the bailiff swore Val in and made him repeat his name and occupation.  Then the prosecuting attorney started his questioning.

“Sheriff Crawford please tell the court what you witnessed on the night that Charles Wilson was murdered.”

“I didn’t witness nothin’,” Val said.  “I was in my office when Miz Talbot came to fetch me.”

“What time was that?” Copeland inquired.

“Oh, I reckon it was around eight o’clock.”

“And what did Mrs. Talbot say to you when she came to get you?”

“She said that she and her husband might have witnessed a murder and that there was a dead body in the alley between the General Store and Zeek’s.”

“Zeek being the man that owns the Barber Shop?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Val agreed.

“What did you find when you arrived at the scene of the crime?”

“There was a whole crowd of people standin’ around at the head of the alley.  Mr. Talbot was there talkin’ to them and tryin’ to keep them from gettin’ underfoot.”

“And what did Mr. Talbot say to you when you arrived.”

“Not much.  Just that he’d seen a tall, slim and blond man run from the alley when he approached with his lantern.”

“And did he identify this person by name?”

“No he did not!”  Val was indignant.  “I just told ya!  Mr. Talbot said he saw a tall, slim blond and that’s all he said!   He didn’t name any names!”

By the time Prosecutor Copeland had questioned and re-questioned Jim Talbot and Val on what they saw the night that Charles Wilson was murdered it was noontime.  The Judge recessed court until one o’clock warning the men on the jury not to discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom.

Val took Scott back to the jail but left the door to his cell unlocked.  It was his jail and nobody was going to tell him how to run it.  He didn’t believe for a minute that Scott was guilty and he wasn’t about to lock Teresa up when she came to visit.  Nor would he deny her the privilege of sitting with her brother while they ate lunch.  Murdoch joined them but Johnny wandered over to the saloon again.  He was curious to see if that stranger was still around and what he was up to.  He thought maybe he could find out a little more about him.


After the lunch break it was Maura’s turn to testify.  The bailiff swore her in and she was seated. 

“Please state your full name for the court.”

“Mrs. Maura Catherine Talbot.”

“And where do you live Mrs. Talbot?”

“You know perfectly well where I live Stuart Copeland!  At the Double Bar T with my husband Alex!”

“Please Mrs. Talbot,” Judge Pickering said.  “Just answer his question.  And you, Mr. Copeland, refrain from asking ridiculous questions that you already know the answers to.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Copeland said.

“Mrs. Talbot would you please tell us your version of what happened the night of September 20th?”

“As my husband said we came into Green River to have dinner with the Ingersolls.  Dinner was at five and we started to leave around eight.  We had driven into town in the open buggy because it had seemed like such a nice night.  When we went to leave the wind had started blowing hard and it was sprinkling.”  Maura paused for a second to catch her breath.  “I was worried that it was going to storm and that we would get soaked before we got home – it takes us an hour or better depending on the road conditions.  Alex went back to the Ingersolls’ and borrowed a piece of canvas – a tarpaulin – from Brad to cover us until we got home.

 We were delayed for a moment or two because the horse was frightened somewhat by the storm.  After we regained control of him Alex got into the buggy and we started off.  There was a brilliant flash of lightning and a very loud clap of thunder just as we reached Zeek’s Barber Shop.  Almost immediately after the thunder died down we heard a gunshot.  It seemed to come from the alley between Zeek’s and the General Store.  Alex stopped the buggy in front of the Barber Shop and took the lantern he had hanging on the buggy to light our way and went into the alley.  As he walked down that alley he saw two figures, one standing and one lying on the ground. The one that was standing ran away when they saw us.”

“How close were you to the alley?”

“Not close at all.  I was sitting in the buggy when Alex told me to drive over and fetch the sheriff.”

“Could you see who the person was that ran away?”

“No, I could not.”

“Mrs. Talbot you just stated that you heard a gunshot and you saw two figures in the alley.”

“I did.”

“You were at the mouth of the alley by the barber shop?”

“Yes, I said that I was.”

“How good is your eyesight Mrs. Talbot?”

“I don’t need glasses if that’s what you mean.”

“Then why is it that you couldn’t identify the person that ran away?”

“Because he was too far away for me to see,” Maura answered.

“You and your husband both testified that it was storming and there was a lot of lightning did you not?”

“Yes, we did and there was.”

“Yet you say that you couldn’t identify the man you saw running from the alley.”

“No, I couldn’t see the man that ran away.”

“But surely the lightning lit up the scene.”  Copeland was about to get an earful from an outraged witness.

“You listen to me you puffed up popinjay!” Maura exclaimed.  “I said I was in the buggy at the entrance to the alley.  I also said that the person who was standing ran off when they saw us approach.  They were at the far end of the alley.  How do you expect me to recognize or identify anyone from that distance may I ask!  You’re so full of your own self-importance that you’d do anything to make yourself look good even if that means convicting an innocent lad of a crime he wouldn’t and didn’t commit!  Just remember ‘Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall!’”

The courtroom burst into laugher again.  Maura Talbot was known far and wide for being a woman who spoke her mind.  Whether she was nursing or advising or just conversing she spoke the truth and nothing but the truth.  She blamed it on her Irish temperament.  Her father had been an outspoken critic of the English rule during the potato famine and she’d inherited much of her personality traits from him.

Judge Pickering pounded his gavel several times shouting, “order in the court” before he was able to regain control.  Much as he agreed with Maura he had to reprimand her for her outburst.

“Please, Mrs. Talbot – Maura – control yourself.”

“I’m sorry Your Honor,” she said.  “But he makes me so angry sometimes!”

“I know.”  The judge turned to the Prosecuting Attorney, “And you, Mr. Copeland, stop badgering your own witness.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” he said in a subdued tone.

“Have you any more questions for this witness Mr. Copeland?” Judge Pickering asked.

“No, Your Honor.  I’m through with her.”

“Very well.  Mr. Key do you have any questions for this witness.”

Rising to his feet Frank Key smiled and said, “No Your Honor.  Mrs. Talbot has already answered the questions I would have asked her.”

“Very well then you may step down Mrs. Talbot.”

Looking at the clock and seeing that the Prosecuting Attorney had taken quite a while to continue his questioning of the first three witnesses Judge Pickering decided to call it a day.  Court would resume at nine in the morning.

Scott was led back to his cell after getting a hug from Teresa and a hug and a kiss from Maura.  Prosecutor Copeland was not happy with this but it made no difference to Maura.  She was fully on Scott’s side and had no intention of treating him any differently now than she ever did.


When court recessed from the day Johnny took leave of his family and friends and headed for the saloon.  He had a feeling that the unfriendly stranger would be hanging out there again and he wanted to take another crack at him.  If that failed them he would find a way to quietly observe him without being noticed.

He was in luck.  The stranger was sitting at that same table in the back of the room.  A bottle of whiskey and a glass sat on the table in front of him.  Johnny, seemingly nonchalant and surprised, wandered over to the man.

“Looks like we meet again,” he said with a grin.

The other man merely grunted in response to his statement.

“Say, the place is pretty crowded this after noon.  Would it be all right if I sat at your table with you to drink my beer?”

The ex-sergeant looked at the ex-gunfighter and decided it might be safer to let the kid have his way than to try and keep putting him off.

“Name’s Johnny Lancer.”

“Yeah, I know,” the other man said.  “You told me last night.”

“Oh yeah,” Johnny laughed and took a sip of his beer.  “I forgot.”

They were both silent for a minute then Johnny spoke up again.  “Sure is cold for this early in October don’t ya think?  Wasn’t like this down the border towns where I grew up.  I still can’t get used to it.”

“Look kid,” the ex cavalryman snarled, “I said you could join me.  I didn’t say I wanted to talk so shut up why don’t you?  Better yet finish your beer and leave!”

“Sure mister.  Sorry I bothered ya.”  Johnny drank his last couple of swallows and then went to the bar for a refill.  To kill time and keep an eye on the unfriendly stranger he joined a poker game that the Double Bar T hands and a couple of Green River men had going.  Five hands later and twenty dollars richer Johnny saw the stranger get up and leave.  There was a strange look on his face in Johnny’s opinion.  He seemed to be awfully satisfied about something. 

Johnny waited a couple of minutes and then cashed in his chips.  Picking up his hat and donning his buckskin jacket he made his way outside to pick up the stranger’s trail.   He spotted him halfway down the block toward the jail.  A little fearful that this guy had something in mind for his brother Johnny picked up his pace so as to be closer to him.

 Two doors away from the jail the man stopped, looked around to see if he was being observed.  Johnny ducked into a doorway out of the man’s line of sight.  The ex-soldier then threw a salute in the general direction of Scott’s cell and then crossed the street and continued on toward the boarding house.  Johnny came out of the doorway and watched the man as he walked down the street.  What he had just witnessed made no sense to him whatsoever.

 “Hey Val,” Johnny said as he entered the Sheriff’s Office a couple of minutes later.  “How’s Scott?”

 “Why don’t you go see for yourself?”

 Johnny left his pistol on Val’s desk without being asked.  He and Val had agreed that it would be best if he did in case the Wilsons or the Prosecuting Attorney decided to pay him a visit while Johnny was there.  They didn’t want anything to ruin Scott’s chances of having visitors because of a broken rule about guns, other than the sheriff’s, in the cell block.

 “Hey brother.  How ya doin’?” Johnny asked Scott.

 “Ok I guess.  The trial could have gone worse I suppose.”

 “Darn right it could.  Hey wasn’t Mrs. Talbot great?  She really told old Copeland off didn’t she?”  Johnny grinned at the memory.

 “Yes, she did,” Scott had to smile.  “She’s quite a lady Mrs. Talbot.”

 “Say Scott, I’ve been talkin’ to a guy that’s new in town.  He seems awfully interested in what’s happening but he sits in the back of the saloon listenin’ more than talkin’.  In fact he’s down right unfriendly.  But the funny thing is that just a few minutes ago I saw him standing just a few feet away from here and aim a salute toward your window.  Do you suppose you know him from somewhere?”

 “I don’t know.  What does he look like?”

 “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe around forty.  Dark hair.  Dark skin.  Clean shaven.”

 “Johnny that could be anybody.  Does he have any scars or any other marks that would make him stand out?”

 “Well, he walks with a limp.”

 “I see where you’re going with this little brother.  You think that this man could be the killer.”  Scott smiled wanly.  “I appreciate what you’re trying to do Johnny but both Mr. and Mrs. Talbot said the man they saw flee the alley had blond hair.  But thanks for trying.  Your mysterious stranger is probably nothing more than a drifter passing through town.”

 “Maybe.”  Johnny wasn’t convinced.  He was suspicious of this man and he was going to keep an eye on him.


 Court convened at nine the next morning.  The prosecution called Pierce Wilson to the stand first.  As soon as he was sworn in Prosecutor Copeland started his questions.

 “Mr. Wilson how were you related to the deceased?”

 “He was my cousin.  My Uncle David’s oldest son.”

 “I see.  Were you two close when you were children?”

 “Yes.  We were like brothers.”

 “Tell the court, if you would, about the altercation on the street between your cousin and the defendant.”

 “Charles had arrived in Green River two days earlier.  He had come to visit for a few days.  We hadn’t seen each other for about ten years.  Not since before he joined the army.”

“Go on.”

“We had decided to have some lunch and were headed for the hotel dining room.  As we left my son’s shop the Lancer brothers came along.  Scott Lancer bumped into my cousin.  Then for no reason at all he accused my cousin of murdering someone named Winslow.  He only stopped fighting when that half-breed brother of his fell and hit his head.”

“So the defendant attacked your cousin without provocation?”

“That’s right.”

“He’s lyin’,” an outraged Johnny shouted.

“Order.  Sit down Mr. Lancer or I will have you ejected from this courtroom,” the judge told him.

Murdoch took Johnny by the shoulder and forced him down to his seat again warning him to be quiet or the judge would be sure to have him removed.

“Is it for this reason that you believe that the defendant killed your cousin?”

“Not just that.  He threatened him right there on the street.  Said he should have killed him ten years ago.”

“How did your cousin react to this threat to his life?”

“He laughed it off at first.”

“At first?”

“Yes.  But a few nights later he came home and told me that someone had taken a shot at him.”

“Did he say who it was?”

“No.  He didn’t see the person.”

“But you believe it was the defendant.”

“Yes.  I believe that Scott Lancer killed Charles.  Killed him because he hated him.”

“No further questions.”

Frank Key rose to start his cross-examination.

“Mr. Wilson let me extend my condolences on the loss of your cousin.  It must have been a terrible blow since you were so close.”

“Yes, it was,” Pierce said.

“Now then Mr. Wilson.  You say that Scott Lancer started a fight on the street of Green River with your cousin simply because they bumped into each other?”

“That was just the start of it.  He bumped into Charles and then, when he recognized him, he accused him of murder and attacked him.”

“Interesting,” Frank walked over to the defense council’s table and picked up a piece of paper.  Then he turned back toward the witness stand.  “Mr. Wilson I hold in my hand a list of names.  Names of men, some of whom live in Green River and others that either work in the area or own businesses here, who will swear, under oath, that Scott Lancer did not start that fight with you and your family.”

“They’re either liars or they didn’t see it right.”

“Would you call Thomas Baldwin a liar?  The editor of the Green River News?  He’s on this list.  So is Brad Ingersoll.  So are several of the Double Bar T ranch hands.  They all witnessed the fight.  They all agree that while Scott reached for your cousin Charles managed to evade Scott.  But, as you and he were walking away, your son Mike turned around and threw the first punch.  And in the ensuing fistfight Johnny Lancer was hit by a stray punch and fell striking his head on a wooden post.  A blow which knocked him out and sent him to the doctor’s office.”

“That’s not what happened.  Young Lancer threw the first punch!  We were lucky to escape unscathed.  If Sheriff Crawford hadn’t come along when he did there’s no telling what would have happened!”

“Let’s talk about your cousin’s past for a moment shall we?  What was he like when you were growing up?”

“He was my best friend.  We went camping and hunting and fishing together.  We spent a lot of time at each other’s homes.”

“He joined the Confederate Army when the war broke out didn’t he?”

“Objection Your Honor,” Copeland was on his feet in a hurry.  “The victim’s military service has nothing to do with the matter at hand.”

“It goes to credibility Your Honor.  Mr. Wilson says that his cousin was an innocent victim of a man on a rampage.  I intend to offer evidence that that is not the case.  That the man’s army career has a lot to do with what happened on September 20th.”

“I’ll allow it.  But get to the point quickly Mr. Key.”

“I will Your Honor.  Thank you.”  Frank turned back to the witness.  “How did he do in the army Mr. Wilson?”

“He served with honor and distinction,” Pierce declared.

Frank walked back to the witness table, put down the paper he was holding and picked up another one.  Then he turned back to Wilson.

“Your Honor I have here a wire from Captain H.A. M. Henderson, late of the Confederate Army and the commander of Cahaba Prison near Selma, Alabama.  This is the camp where Scott Lancer was held prisoner for over a year.  Mr. Wilson’s cousin was a guard at that camp.  In it he confirms everything that I’ve been told about my client’s time in that prison.

Charles Wilson was a guard there.  For reasons known only to himself, he singled out then Lieutenant Scott Lancer for harassment and harsh treatment – harsher than any other prisoner under his control.  Furthermore Sergeant Wilson frequently, and with deliberate actions, tormented a twelve-year-old boy who had been in Lieutenant Lancer’s command.  A boy whose only crime was that he was a Yankee and he was loyal to his Lieutenant.  Wilson deliberately focused his abuse on that boy in the hopes of getting my client to do something that would permit him, as a guard, to inflict severe punishment.  For the two months before that boy’s death, after his imprisonment, Wilson tripped, kicked, punched, slapped or otherwise abused that boy.  Then, one day in November, while gathering wood for a fire, the boy accidentally dropped a log on Sergeant Wilson’s foot.  Sergeant Wilson’s reaction was to curse the boy and slap him.  He slapped him so hard the second time that the boy fell and hit his head and died.

 Yes, my client, attacked Charles Wilson – at the prison camp and on the street but under extreme circumstances and he was punished for it.  He spent a week in solitary confinement and then was permitted to testify at the sergeant’s court martial.  Wilson was found guilty of manslaughter and received a dishonorable discharge from the army.  What have you to say about that Mr. Wilson?”

 Pierce Wilson was silently fuming.  He hadn’t known that.  All his cousin had told him just before the fight on the street of Green River was that some Yankee kid had tripped over his own feet and fell – striking his head on a rock and dying.  It didn’t take him long to decide what he was going to say.  He was convinced that Scott was guilty and he was going to say so.  If he could nail the half-breed in the process so much the better.

 “It’s lies!  I knew my cousin.  He would never do such a thing.  Somebody made that up and put it in his record!”

 “Lies Mr. Wilson?  In an official Army record?  Even if we don’t agree with the Confederate states and their secession and everything else that was considered a reason for secession and war surely you don’t think a Government official would just make all that up?  Just choose your cousin at random to take the fall for something that was an accident that never should have happened?”

 “It’s lies I tell you!  And I wouldn’t put it past that half-breed gunslinger brother of his to have threatened somebody to put that in there!”

 Frank Key was taken a little aback at this.  He didn’t know, not that it mattered to him, that Johnny was considered a half-breed or that he’d been a gunfighter.  He’d have to talk to the Lancers afterward about that.  He didn’t like being blindsided.  But, to be honest, he had to admit that nobody else he’d talked to had mentioned it either.  If it wasn’t important to them then why was it important to this witness?  He recovered quickly.

 “It’s all right here Mr. Wilson.  And I might add that Captain Henderson is a Methodist minister – a man of God.  And a man who would never dream of doing what you’ve just accused him of.  I have no more questions for this witness Your Honor.”

 Johnny was silently fuming.  Wilson’s testimony acted like a match touched to a fuse attached to a bundle of dynamite or a keg of TNT.  Sooner or later he was going to blow.  His father was watching him but he was trying to pay attention to the testimony as well.  He knew that Wilson hated Johnny simply because Johnny’s mother had been a Mexican but to accuse him of threatening somebody to falsify a legal document – that was going to cost Wilson dearly.  There was such a thing as slander and slander suits and Wilson was setting himself up dearly for it.

 After Pierce Wilson’s testimony the judge called for a recess so everyone could have lunch.  The Lancers and their friends adjourned to the jail to have lunch with Scott and Val.  Scott was still pale.  He’d forbidden Val to tell anyone but he was still having nightmares only now it was the stress of the murder trial that was causing them.  He’d managed, somewhat, to put the dreams behind him during the days that he’d been up at the cabin.  There was something so calming and peaceful about Hawk Valley.  Now, however, thrust into the middle of this messy trial, the nightmares were back and he was losing weight again. The sooner this trial was over and done with the better.


 The first witness called to the stand after the noon recess was Mike Wilson.  As soon as he was sworn in and seated Prosecutor Copeland asked him to tell his version of what had happened during and after that chance encounter on the street.

 “Mr. Wilson – Mike – please tell the court your version of what happened the day that you, your father and your cousin encountered the defendant and his brother on the street here in Green River.”

 “Well, sir, it’s like my father said.  Cousin Charles had come to town just a few days before and wanted to spend some time with us.  Pa hadn’t seen him in about ten years.  I don’t rightly remember him myself.”

 “Yes, yes, go on,” Copeland urged.

 “Well, we had lunch at the hotel dining room.  When we were through we went to my shop.  I had a rifle I was working on for a customer and Charles was curious about it.  I showed it to him and we talked for a few minutes.  Then Father and Charles left the shop.  When they got outside Scott Lancer bumped into Charles.  When he recognized him a few seconds later he attacked him.”

 The fuse had reached the TNT.  Johnny, sitting behind his brother and Frank Key exploded.

 “That’s a lie and you know it Mike Wilson!” he shouted.  “Scott just wanted to talk to him.  You threw the first punch!”

 “Order!  I will have order in this court!”  Judge Pickering pounded his gavel on the table and shouted.  “Sit down Mr. Lancer!  Sit down or I will have you removed from this court room!”

 Johnny was in no mood to take orders from the judge.  Mike Wilson’s bald faced lies had him steaming and he was ready, willing and able to take the gunsmith on and pound him into the ground just as he had done the day Scott turned himself in to Val.  No amount of talk from his father, brother, Teresa, Jelly or Cipriano could calm him down.

 “Sheriff Crawford,” Pickering bellowed, “remove Johnny Lancer from the courtroom and see that he does not return until he can sit there quietly.

 The Wilsons exchanged smirks that did not go unnoticed by Frank Key, as Johnny was escorted from the room.  Val had his hands full trying to get Johnny to leave.  A look from him to Murdoch had the senior Lancer on his feet assisting him and trying to calm his angry son.

 “Let me go!”  Johnny fumed as he struggled to free himself from the other men’s grips.

 “Not until ya calm down,” Val retorted.

 “Johnny you’re not helping Scott any by losing your temper like that,” his father told him.

 “But he’s lying through his teeth Murdoch!  That ain’t the way it happened!”

 “You know that and Scott knows that and there are plenty of others in that court room who can testify that Mike’s lying.  But you need to calm down.  Now have a seat over there,” Murdoch said indicating a chair outside of Val’s office, “Or go over to the cantina.  But don’t come back until you’re ready to sit calmly.  Judge Pickering won’t hesitate to throw you out again.”

 Grumpily Johnny did as he was told and went over to Val’s office to wait.  The lawman himself had gone back into the courtroom as soon as Murdoch took over his son.  As Johnny headed toward Val’s office Murdoch turned and went back into the courtroom.  Scott was looking anxiously back toward the door for his father’s return.  He hoped that Johnny and Murdoch hadn’t clashed too harshly over this.

 “He’s gone to Val’s office to wait,” Murdoch answered his older son’s unasked question.  “He’s got to cool off for a while.  You’ll see him later.” The eldest Lancer gave his son’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

 “Mr. Lancer!  Do you guarantee that your other son will not return until he’s able to control himself?”

 “Yes, Your Honor.  I’ve sent him off to cool down.”

 “Very well.  See me after this session to pay his fine for disturbing the proceedings.”

 “Yes, Your Honor.”  Murdoch sat back down with a grim smile.  It was worth it to see the look on Mike Wilson’s face when Johnny exploded.  The would-be gunslinger had looked terrified – probably thought Johnny was going to pound him into the ground again.

 “Proceed Mr. Copeland.”

 “So your cousin was visiting and when he left your shop he was minding his own business when Scott Lancer attacked him on the street?”

 “Yes, sir.”

 “Thank you.  Your witness Mr. Key.”

 Frank rose from his place at the defense table and approached Mike.  He smiled but it was the smile of a warrior who has chosen his target.

 “Mr. Wilson, your father testified much the same way not very long ago - this very morning as a matter of fact.  At that time I countered his testimony with a list of names of witnesses who said otherwise.  Would you care to hear them again?”

 “No.”  Mike was sullen.  He didn’t like this lawyer with his fine manners and his ways of making his father look like a fool.

 “Well then tell me this – if you and your family members were the ones who were attacked on the street how is it that the three of you escaped unharmed but the defendant’s brother was injured and had to be taken to Dr. Jenkins’ office?”

 “He got in the way of his brother’s punches I guess.”

 “Really?  That’s not what Mr. Baldwin or Mr. Ingersoll said.  They told the sheriff that you threw the first punch and that Johnny Lancer was only trying to protect his brother when you attacked my client from behind.  Furthermore it is my understanding that the day my client turned himself in you and some friends were hanging around the Sheriff’s Office waiting.  You’d all been drinking pretty steadily and that you attacked Mr. Lancer from behind.”

 “That ain’t so!”

 “No.  Then why would Johnny Lancer have – what’s the expression I want?  Oh yes – mopped up the ground with you?”

 “’Cause the half-breed has a nasty temper just like his brother!”  Mike was determined to pin this on the Lancer boys.

 “Mr. Wilson I can call a dozen witnesses that will swear that the only time either Lancer brother loses his temper that badly is when someone he cares about is in grave danger.  Perhaps Johnny Lancer felt that his brother was in serious trouble.  That you were going to harm him.”

 Prosecutor Copeland rose to object but Frank smoothly withdrew the question and concluded his questioning of the witness.  The prosecution rested its case at this point. They had no other witnesses.

 Frank Key’s first witness for the defense was Scott himself.  This stunned everyone in the room but Frank needed Scott’s testimony to set up Sam’s.  The good doctor would testify about Scott’s memory problems.

 Scott, tall, slender and pale stood straight and tall as he was sworn in.  Those who knew him best were shocked at his appearance.  Scott was slim but now his clothes seemed to hang off of him and there were dark circles under his eyes.

 “Scott can you tell us what happened the day that you met the former prison guard, Charles Wilson, on the street here in Green River?”

 “Well, Johnny and I had come into town to do some errands for the ranch.  We had to make a deposit at the bank and pick up some supplies at the General Store.  It was cold and windy and Johnny was complaining about it and about being hungry.  Sheriff Crawford came along and teased him about how he was always hungry or needed a drink.”

 “Go on.  What else can you tell us?”

 “We, the three of us, had lunch at the cantina.  Then we took care of the deposit and went to the General Store.  While we were in the General Store we bumped into the Talbots and stopped to talk for a few minutes.  When we came out I accidentally bumped into someone and that someone turned out to be Charles Wilson only I didn’t recognize him at first.  It wasn’t until they, the Wilsons, were walking away that I realized who the third man was.  He had a certain way of swinging his arms like he was carrying a club – which he did while he was a guard at Cahaba.”

 “What did you do when you realized that you knew him?”

 “I’m afraid I got a little rough because I was angry.  All I could think about was how he’d killed Peter.”

 “Who was this Peter you speak of?”  Key knew the answer but he wanted the jury and the spectators to hear it.

 “Peter Winslow.  He was a standard bearer in my company during the war.”

 “What was so special about Peter Winslow that you would be so angry nearly ten years later?”

 “Peter was only a boy of twelve.  And Wilson bullied him like he bullied everybody else only more so because I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting when he tried to hound me!”

 “I know it’s painful for you but tell us what happened the day Peter died.”

 “We were collecting wood for fires.  There wasn’t much around that was any good. Mostly green sap pine or rotten oak.  But it was all we had to keep warm or cook with.”

 “I see.  Go on.”

 “The work detail split up.  Peter found a few small branches but then he found a log that was really too big for him to manage.  When he was dragging it back to the prison he lost his grip on it and the log fell on Wilson’s foot.  Wilson backhanded the boy twice.  The second blow knocked Peter off balance.  He…”  Scott’s voice trailed off and his eyes glistened with unshed tears as he remembered this.  “He fell and hit his head on a rock.  Wilson murdered him as surely as if he’d set out to do it on purpose.”

 “How did you react when you saw this?”

 “I was about a quarter of a mile away.  When I saw Peter fall I ran to him.  I found the blood on the back of his head come off on my fingers.  I lost all control, forgetting that I was a prisoner, and attacked him.  I would have killed him if the other guards hadn’t pulled me off.”

 “What did the warden have to say about this?”

 “He put me in solitary confinement for a week.  When Wilson’s court-martial was held I was allowed to testify.  He got off on manslaughter charges and received a dishonorable discharge.  The other guards had never gotten up the nerve to testify against him.  They were afraid they’d be transferred to the front lines themselves for being party to the boy’s death.”

 “And what was your reaction?”

 “I threatened to kill him.  I told him I’d hunt him down if it took me twenty years.  I hated him for what he’d done.  Not what he’d done to me – I could take that.  I hated him for bullying Peter and causing his death.”

 “What happened when you recognized him that day in Green River?”  Frank was ready to get into Scott’s actions of that particular day.

 “When I realized who he was I confronted him.  I told him I remembered him.  We got into a shouting match and he tried to walk away after telling his cousin that ‘some Yankee trash kid’ fell and hit his head on a rock.  He laughed about it.

 The two oldest Wilsons started to walk away but I stopped them.  I wasn’t through talking.  Then all of a sudden punches were being thrown and Val – Sheriff Crawford – was there and my brother Johnny was lying on the boardwalk unconscious.  Witnesses said afterward that it was hard to tell exactly what happened.  Johnny told me, after I got him home that day, that it was an accident.  He got his boot heel caught in a crack in the boardwalk and fell.  When he fell he hit his head on a support post for the overhang on Mike Wilson’s Gunsmith shop.”

 “What about the night of the murder?  Where were you?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Can you explain that?”

 “I have no memory of that night or several nights prior to the murder of Charles Wilson.  Everything that happened since Johnny was hurt and I brought him home is lost to me.”


 “Yes sir.  I remember that day in town and I remember Johnny being hurt and bringing him home.  I remember a storm and my horse running away but I don’t remember what night that was.”

 “You’re walking with a slight limp.  Can you tell the court why?”

 “Dr. Jenkins says I twisted my ankle.  I don’t really remember that either.”

 “What do you remember between the day you encountered Charles Wilson on the street and the day you turned yourself in to Sheriff Crawford?”

 “Like I said.  I remember bringing Johnny home.  I remember a storm and my horse running away.  And I remember being hit with a tree branch just as Mr. Talbot found me walking near Wolf Creek.  But that’s it.”

 “No further questions your honor.”

 “Mr. Copeland – your witness.”

 “Thank you Your Honor.”  The Prosecutor rose and approached Scott sitting in the witness chair.

 “Mr. Lancer you say that you only wanted to talk to Mr. Wilson is that right?”

 “Yes, that’s right.”

 “Yet a fight broke out.”


 “Who threw the first punch?”

 “From what I remember and what I’ve been told Mike Wilson did.”

 “You’re sure about that?”

 “Yes sir,” Scott affirmed.  “I admit that I grabbed Charles Wilson and spun him around but I didn’t throw any punches at him at that point in time.  I was yelling but I wasn’t physical.”

 “Then how do you explain your brother being hurt?”

 “Johnny was trying to protect me and break up the fight before it got started.  But I didn’t see what happened to him.  He was behind me.  When Sheriff Crawford broke up the fight he pointed out that Johnny was lying on the boardwalk unconscious.  I picked him up and brought him to Dr. Jenkins office.  When the doctor was through with him I brought him home.”

 “Where were you the night that Charles Wilson was murdered?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “You don’t know?”

 “No sir.”

 “Convenient isn’t it?”

 “No sir, it’s not convenient to not be able to remember where I was.  I received relatively minor blow to the head around that time.  Dr. Jenkins said that I was also suffering from hypothermia and the combination of the two plus exhaustion robbed me of almost a week of memories.”  Scott was seething inside.

 Looking toward the jury Copeland said, “You would have us believe that you have amnesia yet you can remember who you are and what you were doing in the days before the murder?”

 “Yes, sir, that’s how it is.”

 “Seems mighty convenient to me,” Copeland sneered.

 “Objection Your Honor!” Frank was on his feet.  “Is the Prosecutor asking a question or stating an opinion?”

 “Sustained.  Mr. Copeland either ask a question or dismiss the witness.”

 “No further questions Your Honor.”

 “Very well then.  You may step down Mr. Lancer.”

 “The defense calls Dr. Samuel Jenkins,” Frank Key announced next.

 Sam rose from the seat he’d taken near the Lancers and made his way toward the front of the room.  As soon as he was sworn in he took his seated and waited for Scott’s lawyer to start.

 “Dr. Jenkins my client is well known to you isn’t he?”

 “Yes, he is.  I’ve treated Scott – the defendant – and his brother for various ailments and injuries for the last two years or so.”

 “Where did you get your degree in medicine from Dr. Jenkins?”

 “Columbia University in New York City,” Sam replied.  “It was founded in 1754 as King’s College with a charter granted by King George II of England.  It was the first American Medical school to grant an M.D. degree.  That was in 1757.”

 “That’s quite a prestigious school.  I take it you studied long and hard to earn that degree.”


 “Would you please explain to the jury just what it is that my client is suffering from?  In simple terms please.”

 “In simple terms Scott is suffering from a cloudy memory.  It’s not total amnesia in that he remembers who he is and knows where he is.  He remembers his family and friends but he’s lost approximately a week of time due to a combination of factors.”

 “Let’s back up a moment shall we doctor?  Were you recently called to the Lancer ranch to treat my client?”

 “Yes, I was.”

 “Can you tell us why?”

 “Scott had been missing for about a week when Jim Talbot found him out by Wolf Creek.  Just as Jim reined his horse he said a branch from a pine tree was dislodged from the trunk and fell.  When it fell it struck Scott a glancing blow on the side of his head.  Jim brought the boy home to his family and they sent for me.

 When I arrived I found him in bed, unconscious.  He was, in addition to the blow to the head, suffering from exhaustion, had twisted or sprained his left ankle.  He had numerous cuts and bruises, his feet were covered with blisters from walking in high heeled boots intended for riding only and he was slightly hypothermic.”

 “Could you explain what hypothermia is?”

 “Hypothermia is a lowering of the body temperature.  Not as you would want to do it for a fever but it’s a condition in which the body temperature becomes too low.  The victim can suffer from confusion.  They’re so cold they stop shivering and don’t realize how cold they are.  They’re prone to walk around with a jacket unfastened when it should be.”

 “What are the results?  Is there a treatment?”

 “If it’s mild hypothermia the patient can be warmed up by being given warm fluids to raise the body temperature from the inside. And a warm, but not hot, bath also helps.  The most severe cases often result in death.”

 “And my client was suffering from this?”

 “Yes.  As I said he had a mild case.  As I understand it when Jim found him he was so confused that all he could say was that he wanted to go home.”

 “Objection Your Honor.  Hearsay.”


 “That’s all doctor.  Thank you.”

 Rising to his feet the pompous prosecutor approached the medical man.  “Dr. Jenkins is it possible that the defendant is faking this memory problem?”

 “It’s possible but I don’t think so.”

 “Why do you say that?”

 “I’ve come to know the Lancer boys well since they came to live in California with their father.  As I said before I’ve treated them for various ailments and injuries.  And I studied medicine at one of the premiere medical schools in the country.  It would be, in my opinion, very hard for him to keep up the act if it were an act.  He would be bound to make a mistake and say or do something that would disprove his claim of memory loss.”

 “But it could be done.”

 “It could but…”

 “The defendant is accused of murder.  Most men would say or do anything to avoid a hangman’s noose.  Don’t you think that faking memory loss would be among those things they would try?”

 “Scott Lancer isn’t faking.  And when did you become an expert in medical matters Stuart Copeland?  Have you got a degree in medicine?  From an accredited medical school such as Columbia?”

 “I’m not the one on trial here Doctor.”

 “No. But maybe you should be!”  Sam was angry.  He’d never liked Stuart Copeland much and his presumption that Scott would be faking his memory problems just irritated him more than he could say – in mixed company that is.

 “Thank you doctor.  That will be all.”

 Murdoch, Teresa and the others were steaming over the insinuation that Scott was faking his memory loss.  Those closest to him knew that not knowing where he was the night that Charles Wilson was killed was tearing him apart.  He almost had himself convinced that he had killed Wilson.  Scott just sat at the defense table, eyes downcast.  Not a word or a sound did he make as he was accused of faking his memory loss.

 Frank Key’s next move was to call forth an arsenal of character witnesses.  Some, Jelly and Cipriano, would testify in person.  Others, like Kansas Bill Sharpe, had sent letters due to their inability to be there because of ill health or other commitments.

 Kansas Bill’s letter spoke glowingly of how Scott had faced down Col. Anders and his crew to sober him up so that he could meet his grandson.  Neither had had any idea when they first met that they would end up being good friends after Bill saved Scott from serious injury or even death, at the pleading of his grandson Willy, when Anders men dragged him behind a horse up and down the street of Onyx because he’d interfered with their little game.

 The Widow Hargis told about how Scott had reluctantly taken the job of deputy, after three thieves tried to rob her store, only to be physically abused by his prisoner – a young woman by the name of Zee.  Zee had told everyone she was the daughter of outlaw Tom Mangrum prompting all the witnesses against her to recant their statements.  But Scott had stood his ground and charged her with assault.  In the end Zee realized that she couldn’t do anything to hurt Scott and they’d parted on good terms.  Prosecutor Copeland tried his best to discredit her as a foolish old woman only to get the same reaction he’d gotten from Maura Talbot – comparison to a peacock though rather than a popinjay.  The poor judge was forced to pound his gavel and practically yell himself hoarse to quiet the courtroom after that little episode.  Secretly though he was very amused by the two women.


As the afternoon wore on Johnny sulked over at Val’s office.  He wanted to be there for his brother but there was no way he was going to keep quiet while Mike Wilson sat on the stand and lied about Scott. 

He was looking at some old wanted posters, for lack of anything better to read in that disaster area that Val called an office, when the door opened and several men in blue cavalry uniforms entered. 

“Excuse me would you be the law in this town?”

 Johnny’s blue eyes twinkled in spite of his worry for his brother.  He thought it was hilarious to think that he might be mistaken for the sheriff. 

 “No, sir.  That’d be Val Crawford.  He’s over at the old school house.  There’s a murder trial going on.”

 “Yes, that’s why we’re here.”  The man, bearing the insignia of a Captain, turned and went to the door.  “He’s not here General.  He’s over at the trial.”

 A small man, not much over five feet tall, wearing the insignia of a senior officer entered the office.

 “May I ask who you are sir?” he said.

 “Johnny Lancer.”

 “Any relation to Scott Lancer?  Lieutenant Scott Lancer?”

 “Yes, sir,” a puzzled Johnny replied.  “He’s my brother.  You know Scott?”

 “I should say I do.  He served under me in the cavalry during the war.”

 Suddenly Johnny realized that the man standing before him was the same man in the picture Scott had in his room – General Philip Henry Sheridan.  Nicknamed Little Phil due to his small, five-foot-five, stature.

 “You’re General Sheridan!” he exclaimed.

 “You know about me.  Good.  But I must say that you come as a surprise.  I didn’t know that Lieutenant Lancer had a brother,” Sheridan said.

 “Long story General.  We only met a couple of years ago.”

 “I see.  Now tell me what kind of a mess that Lieutenant of mine has gone and gotten himself into!”  Sheridan’s voice had the ring of authority – even more than Murdoch’s when he was issuing orders to his hands or his sons.  “What’s all this nonsense about him killing a man in cold blood?”

 Johnny quickly and thoroughly explained about the events of the last month up to and including Scott’s disappearance and attempt to walk home from Hawk Valley after his horse ran away.

 “So your brother has short-term memory loss and can’t remember where he was?  Is that right?”

 “Yes sir,” Johnny replied.  “Doc Jenkins said at first that it was the exhaustion and the cold – he’s got some big fancy term for it – that caused the memory problems.  And the messed up speech.  Now he says the blow to the head has caused the problem.”

 “If I know Lieutenant Lancer right about now he’s blaming himself for the whole mess.”

 “I think so General.  He looks sick.  He don’t act like himself at all.”

 “Now, Johnny is it?”  Johnny nodded.  “Now Johnny has anybody found out where your brother was during that time he was missing?”

 “Mr. Talbot said he found Scott’s saddle and bridle in the lean-to at the hunting cabin we use in Hawk Valley.”

 “Did he say how long it appeared they’d been there?”

 Johnny thought long and hard for a moment his brow creased in a frown line as he did so.  Then all of a sudden it came to him.

 “No sir!  Nobody asked him that.  We were just happy to see Scott.  We put him to bed and had Doc Jenkins look him over but we never did ask Mr. Talbot how long he thought Scott had been staying there.”

 “How long did this Talbot fellow stay at the cabin you just mentioned?”  Sheridan was forming a plan in his head.

 “I think he said something once about only staying overnight.  It’s a long ride to that cabin and it was almost dark by the time he got there.  That area is too rough and wild to be running around at night.”

 “Captain Taylor!”

 “Yes sir,” the other officer said.

 “Have Sergeant Morris come in here!”

 “Yes sir!”  The captain, a tall redhead, went to the door.  Seeing the man he wanted he called him in.

 Sergeant Daniel Morris was a six-foot, two hundred pound brunet with a moustache and a full beard.  Some called him a bear of a man because of his broad shoulders and deep gravelly voice.  His teeth gleamed white below the moustache.

 “Yes General sir?  You wanted to see me sir?”

 “Yes, sergeant.  This is Johnny Lancer – Lieutenant Lancer’s brother.  I want you to go with him to Hawk Valley.  There’s a cabin up there.  Lieutenant Lancer spent some time at that cabin prior to the murder that he’s been accused of.”  Sheridan smiled grimly.  “You’re the best tracker and scout I’ve ever worked with.  I want you to go with Johnny and check that cabin and the surrounding area out.  See if you can ascertain how long the Lieutenant was there.”  Turning to Johnny Sheridan asked, “Has anyone been to that cabin since your brother was brought home?”

 “No sir, not that I know of.”

 “Good.  Then you and Sergeant Morris make tracks right now and get up there.  I’m headed over to the trial.”

 Johnny didn’t argue.  General Sheridan’s idea made perfect sense and he was kicking himself that nobody, including himself, Murdoch or Val, had thought to ask Jim Talbot how long Scott had been there or gone to check it out for themselves.  It could have solved the mystery of whether or not Scott could have been in Green River the night Wilson was murdered.  Not ten minutes later he had saddled Barranca, whom he’d left in care of the livery stable, and the sergeant had a fresh horse and they were on their way.

 It would take them the rest of the day to get there at the very least.  Hawk Valley was a good day’s ride from Lancer if not more and from Green River it was even further.  Johnny just hoped that the wind and the rain that they’d had hadn’t destroyed any evidence of Scott’s visit.  Little did he know that that would be the least of his worries for the mysterious stranger, the real killer, had recognized General Sheridan and, hiding in an alley by the Sheriff’s Office out of sight, had listened in on the conversation.  Even now, scant minutes before Johnny and Sergeant Morris left, he was on his way up to the cabin to destroy any evidence that might clear Scott.


In the courtroom Frank Key was still questioning people who had promised to be character witnesses for Scott.  And he was trying to discredit the Wilsons.  It had occurred to him that they had not questioned Val about his trip to Lancer, the morning after the murder, to question Scott only to find out that he was not home.

 “Sheriff Crawford when did you go out to the Lancer ranch to question my client about his whereabouts the night of the murder?”

 “The next morning.”

 “What happened when you got there?”

 “Before I even got there Pierce and Mike Wilson came along and insisted on coming along with me.”

 “Did you invite them along?”

 “No!  I did not!  I didn’t want, or need, them.  But they didn’t trust me to do my job,” he said indignantly. 

 “Why is that?”

 “Because his brother and I are friends.”

 “What happened when you arrived at the ranch?”

 “Mr. Lancer met me in the yard.  Johnny was right behind him.”

 “Go on.”

 “I told Mr. Lancer about the murder and that I needed to talk to Scott.  He said he wasn’t there.  I had no reason not to believe him but the Wilsons they got mad and accused him of lying.  Mike was going to search the house but Johnny got hold of him before I could make a move to stop him.  Then Mike made the mistake of throwing a punch at Johnny who fought back and beat him pretty good.  Miss O’Brien and the housekeeper were in the doorway looking nervous.  I guess the Wilsons had them worried.  Anyway Johnny was getting the upper hand when Pierce pulled his pistol.  I reckon he was going to shoot Johnny only Mr. Talbot come along and hit Pierce Wilson’s wrist with his own pistol, which made Wilson drop his, and told him to stay out of it.  Then Mr. Lancer and I broke up the fight.”

 The door in the back of the courtroom squeaked and the bright sunlight streamed in for a moment as General Sheridan and Captain Taylor entered the building.  A few heads turned but not many.  The two officers took seats in the back of the room.  General Sheridan’s name was known to many of them but only Scott Lancer had ever laid eyes on the man.

 Frank questioned Val for a few more minutes and then Prosecutor Copeland tried to discredit his version of what had happened the morning after the murder.  It didn’t do him any good. The gruff and disheveled lawman stuck to his story.  The Wilsons had been the aggressors and not the Lancers.

 The defense attorney had been expecting General Sheridan but had not said anything to the Lancers, as the General had not been able to give a specific time that he would arrive.  Now was the time for his most important character witness.

 “If it please the court I have one more character witness I wish to call.”

 “So be it but let this be the last one.”

 “Oh it will be Your Honor,” Frank smiled.  “I guarantee no other character witnesses will be needed.”  Turning to the back of the room and giving Scott an encouraging smile he announced, “The defense calls General Phil Sheridan!”

 A collective gasp went up from the gallery. As voices murmured all around the courtroom Scott turned around in shock and then jumped to his feet to stand at attention as his former Commanding Officer made his way to the witness stand.  General Sheridan smiled at Scott as he passed the defense table.  Scott didn’t sit down until his father and Val prompted him.  He was too stunned to move at the sight of the general being in Green River, California to testify on his behalf.

 “Please state your name for the court,” Frank said to Sheridan.

 “Philip Henry Sheridan.”

 “And your rank sir?”

 “Brigadier General United States Army.”

 “Welcome to Green River General,” Key said.

 “Thank you.”

 “It’s an honor to have you in my courtroom General Sheridan,” Judge Pickering said.

 “Thank you Your Honor.  I wish I could say it was an honor to be here.  But it is an honor to testify on behalf of Lieutenant Lancer.”

 The pleasantries out of the way Frank Key proceeded to elicit General Sheridan’s testimony on Scott’s behalf.  “General Sheridan have you known my client for very long?”

 “Yes sir.  At the start of the war I was a Lieutenant and the Lieutenant was a private.  We both got promoted rather quickly.  He served under me until the day he was captured shortly after the siege and battle of Vicksburg.  He was on loan to General John C. Park at the time.  I deeply regretted the loss of Lieutenant Lancer.  He was a good officer and, more importantly, a good soldier.”

 “Would you describe his, shall we say, work ethic?  What was he like when he was on duty?”


As General Sheridan was testifying in Scott’s behalf Johnny and Sergeant Morris were riding fast and furious toward the cabin.  Johnny took the direct route that he believed his brother would have taken the night he left home.  Sergeant Morris was right on Barranca’s heels.  His mount wasn’t much to look at but the little bay had mustang blood in him and that made him tough.

 They were only halfway there when it got too dark to go on.  They made camp near Wolf Creek.  In the morning they would find evidence that Scott, or someone, had made camp there within the last two weeks. 

 Johnny and the sergeant were on their way right after first light.  There wasn’t much to do to break camp since neither had come prepared for an overnight.  But they made sure that there were no live embers in their campfire before saddling the horses and starting off again.


“Mr. Lancer would you please tell the court what you know of your son’s whereabouts the night of the murder?”  Prosecutor Copeland was still determined to prove that Scott had no alibi and was faking his problems with his memory.

 “I don’t know for sure – first hand.  Two nights after the fight in which his brother was injured Scott left home.  We didn’t see or hear from him again until Jim Talbot found him and brought him home.  He was unconscious more than anything.  He was also soaking wet and had a number of scratches and bruises on his face as well as a lump on his head.”

 “So your son, the defendant, has no alibi as far as your concerned.”

 Murdoch was livid.  “No!  I do not know where my son was but I know that he did not and would not kill that man.  This much I am sure of!”

 “That will be all Mr. Lancer.  Your witness Mr. Key.”  Copeland was sure he had won this round.  Nothing could help Scott after that damaging testimony.

 “Thank you.” Frank rose to his feet and approached Murdoch.  Not overly confident but knowing that he had some ammunition of his own.  “Mr. Lancer did your son say anything to anybody before he left home?  About where he was going or what he intended to do?”

 “He left a note for his brother.  In it he told Johnny how sorry he was that he’d caused him to be hurt.  That he was all mixed up about things.  That seeing Charles Wilson had brought back some awful memories that he thought he’d put behind him.  He’d been having nightmares again and had to get away.  He said he’d be back when he could act like a human being again.”

 “Is this the letter?”  Frank held up the letter that Scott had left Johnny.  They’d showed it to Scott but other than verifying that it was his handwriting he didn’t recognize it.  The little bits of memory that had come back didn’t include leaving this note for his brother.

 “Yes, that’s it.”

 “Would you read it for the court?  Just the last paragraph. “

 “’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 ask you, gentlemen of the jury, does that sound like a cold blooded killer to you?”

 Murdoch was dismissed and Jim Talbot was called to the stand again.  This time as a defense witness. 

 “Mr. Talbot when and where did you find Scott Lancer?”

 “A week after Charles Wilson was killed.  He was on foot near Wolf Creek.”

 “How did you know where to look for him?”

 “I didn’t at first.  There’s a cabin in a remote part of Hawk Valley that Murdoch Lancer and I stay in when we go hunting or fishing.  When I got there I saw signs that there’d been a bad storm and that someone had been staying in the cabin.  The more I looked around the more evidence I found.  Then I found a saddle belonging to Lancer, and a bridle, but not horse, in the lean-to that we shelter the horses in when we stay there.  Outside, near the little stream that runs close to the cabin, I found evidence of a runaway horse.  Those tracks led away from the valley.”

 “I see.  And what else did you find?”

 “I found footprints of a man wearing high heeled boots.  They also led away from the cabin.  I started following them.  I knew Scott was missing and he was the only Lancer unaccounted for at the ranch.  The further I went on the more I could see that he was obviously getting tired.  And it wasn’t hard to see why.  There was a trail where he’d slipped and slid trying to get up and down the path into the valley.  I found a piece of his shirt.  His saddlebags were left behind.  Things like that.  Just as I found him he got hit with a tree branch.  He was mostly unconscious all the way home.”

 “How long does it take to get to this cabin?”

 “The better part of a day.  It depends on what time of day you set out.”

 “Would you say it’s possible to make it from Green River to the cabin, or vice versa, in less than a day.”

 “No.  I’ve never done it in under six hours myself.  Sometimes I have to stop for the night en route and camp out.”

 “So then you don’t believe it’s possible for my client to have made it to Hawk Valley, come back, killed Charles Wilson and gotten back to the cabin in one night.”

 “No, I do not.”

 “Thank you Mr. Talbot.  Your witness Mr. Copeland.”

 Stuart Copeland rose to his feet and attempted to sway Jim Talbot away from his assurance that Scott could not have made that trip in less than six hours.  It didn’t do him any good.  Jim knew the area well enough to know that Scott would have either killed his horse, gotten lost or killed his horse and himself trying.  He wasn’t about to be persuaded, tricked or pressured into changing his story.

 During all this testimony Scott sat tense and still at the defense table.  His father and Teresa, along with General Sheridan and Captain Taylor sat behind him.  It was hard to tell, looking at the jury, whether it was going well for him or not.


 Arriving at the cabin the stranger with the limp dismounted from his exhausted horse.  Frantically he looked through the lean-to and the cabin to see what evidence there was that could clear the Lieutenant.  It couldn’t happen.  He had to pay for his lack of diligence and protection of those under his care in the camp.  He had to.

 Finding a journal he tucked it in his pocket to read later.  Then he took the kerosene from the lamp and splashed it around.  Lighting a match he set it on fire and went out to the lean-to to set it on fire.  It would be much easier since there was a lot of hay stored there under a tarp.  The hay would catch quickly.

 As he worked he was unaware that Johnny and Sergeant Morris were fast approaching the cabin until he heard the Sergeant’s horse neigh.  Then he heard and saw the two riders coming fast.  Racing to his own horse he pulled his rifle from its scabbard and ducked into some nearby trees.  Taking what he thought was careful aim he fired a shot at the approaching men.

 The shot went wild and only served as a warning.  Johnny and the sergeant wheeled their horses to the side and dismounted drawing their own weapons.  While more comfortable with his handgun, given his past profession, Johnny was just as good with the rifle when necessary.  The sergeant, of course, was well versed in the use of both weapons.

 “Did you see where the shot came from lad?” Sergeant Morris asked Johnny.

 “It came from the cabin if you ask me.  Look there’s smoke coming from it!”

 Another shot clipped a tree branch over Johnny’s head.  He retaliated by sending a shot of his own toward where he thought it had come from.

 “Look, I’ve gotta get over there and put that fire out.  There could be proof of how long Scott was here being destroyed.”

 “Aye, laddie, you’re right.”  Sergeant Morris’ grandparents had been Scottish and he’d picked up a lot of their speech pattern.  Besides, as Johnny was a good twenty years younger than he, the sergeant thought that gave him the right to call him “lad” or “laddie”.  “I’ll put a couple of shots over his head.  Let’s see if you can’t get around behind him while I keep him busy.  You’re right about that fire.  If he’s desperate enough to take shots at us and burn the cabin then we need to get it out and find out who he is.”

 So saying the sergeant took his army issue carbine and sent three shots in quick succession in the direction of the other shooter.  Johnny ducked around to the right keeping under cover of the trees until he got closer.  Signaling the sergeant that he was ready had three more shots winging their way toward the shooter.

 Johnny burst from cover and headed toward the cabin.  A lucky shot from the shooter nicked his left arm but didn’t slow him down.  He was far too angry at what was happening to slow down now.  Too close to finding the answers they all needed and the proof that his brother was not a cold-blooded murderer.

 Another shot from the sergeant distracted their quarry and Johnny was able to tackle him from behind.  Furious he pounded the man’s face and ribs.  The other man fought like a tiger but two against one, for Sergeant Morris now joined the fray, was too much and he lay winded and battered.

 Leaving him in Sergeant Morris’ custody Johnny ran in and extinguished the fire thereby saving the cabin.  Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of damage and he couldn’t be sure how long Scott had been there.  The lean-to was a lost cause.  Even Scott’s saddle and bridle were goners.  Too badly damaged to even repair.  Johnny and the sergeant, who had bound their shooter to a tree while they watched the fire to be sure no further damage was done, poured bucket after bucket of water on the remains of the lean-to to ensure that there were no live embers to start a flare up and thereby set fire to the woods.

 “Who are you and why did you shoot at us?  Why’d you set fire to the cabin?”  Johnny shook the man by his collar.

 “Easy lad, you’ll not be getting any answers out of him if you shake him to bits.  Let’s take him back to town and see if anyone recognizes him.”

 “I’ve seen him before,” Johnny told the sergeant. “He’s been hanging around town for at least a week.  Something bothers me about him but I don’t know what.”  Johnny frowned.  “There’s something about him that don’t sit right but I can’t put my finger on it.”

 “Well maybe your brother or the General knows who he is.”  Sergeant Morris hauled the prisoner to his feet again.  “Let’s get a move on lad.  It’ll take us the rest of the day to get back.”

 The three men mounted their horses and headed back to Green River.  As the sergeant had said it took them the rest of the day.  Court was about to adjourn for the day when they walked in.

 “What’s the meaning of this?” Judge Pickering bellowed as the struggling prisoner was pushed ahead of Johnny and Sergeant Morris to the front of the courtroom.  “John Lancer you’ve been banished from this courtroom!  What are you doing back here?  Who is this man?”

 “I’m sorry Judge,” Johnny said, “But I think this fella’s the real killer.  The sergeant and I found him up at the cabin in Hawk Valley.  He’d set fire to it and the lean-to and took a couple of shots at us when we rode up.”

 “Looks like he got you,” Murdoch commented looking at the bandage Sergeant Morris had insisted on putting on Johnny’s arm.

 “It’s nothin’,” Johnny said.  Turning to his startled brother he said, “Do you recognize this guy Scott?”

 “Nooo,” Scott said puzzled.  “I don’t think so.”

 “Think brother,” Johnny urged.

 “No.  I don’t think I do.”

 “How about you General?” 

 “Little Phil” studied the prisoner.  “He looks somewhat familiar but there’s something wrong.”  He looked harder.  “What’s your name mister?  Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

 “No.  I don’t know you and you don’t know me.”  The prisoner was adamant but his voice was stirring up memories in General Sheridan’s head.

 “I do know you don’t I?  I know your voice.  But you’ve changed your appearance.  You used to have a beard and a moustache.  And your hair wasn’t dark – it was blond.”

 The prisoner gave a fierce twist and wrenched himself free of Johnny’s grip.  Turning he swung a nasty right that caught Johnny on the side of the head and sent him flying.  As he fell he struck his head on the prosecutor’s table and went limp.

 “Johnny!”  Teresa screamed and tried to rush to her brother. 

 Scott reached him first.  The sight of his brother going down like that was bringing back some bad memories.  All of a sudden he could remember everything.  His mind went back to the camp and forward to the fight on the street, leaving the note for Johnny and his horse running away.  The long walk home and Jim Talbot finding him.  He didn’t remember anything about the ride home.  He’d been too exhausted and the hypothermia had taken its toll.

 The fleeing prisoner was brought down before he got more than five feet from the door.  For all his size Cipriano was very quick and he and Sergeant Morris teamed up to bring the prisoner down.  In the struggle the journal fell out of his pocket.  Cipriano picked it up and handed it to Scott when they got back inside.

 Johnny wasn’t unconscious for long – he was more dazed than hurt.  But he was fighting mad.  It took his father and Val to hold him back from the re-captured prisoner.

 “General Sheridan,” Johnny addressed his brother’s former commanding officer.  “You say this guy used to be a blond?”

 “I believe so.  Why?”

 “Well,” Johnny drawled, “why don’t we just see if this dark hair is for real?”  He picked up the pitcher of water from the defense table and poured it over the prisoner’s head.  The dark walnut coloring began to run revealing lighter hair underneath.  Seeing this he and Sergeant Morris, together, dragged the struggling man outside and dunked his head in the watering trough enough times to wash it away completely.

 Scott gasped in shock when he realized that he did know who the man was.  “Sergeant Kenyon!  But why?”

 “Why?  Because you spoiled everything!  I should have had the promotions that you got! I was with the outfit longer than you were!  I should have been the General’s favorite!” the prisoner snarled.  “But along came you the rich man’s grandson with the college education and the fine manners and all and suddenly I wasn’t good enough any more.  I wouldn’t have this limp if you’d been a better leader.  Wilson wouldn’t have been able to cause my injury if you’d watched out for us better!”  The man raved on for a good five minutes before they dragged him away to Val’s jail.  There were enough witnesses to convict the man of the murder of Charles Wilson.  And therefore Scott was cleared of the charges.

 “I still don’t understand,” Scott said.  “Why does he hate me so?  I never treated him any differently than anyone else in the outfit.”

 “He’s a bitter man Lieutenant.  He resented you then and he blames you for his injury.  He’s crippled in body and spirit and mind because of it.  But you’re not to blame for any of it.”  Turning to Captain Taylor he said, “Captain you remember Sergeant Carl Kenyon don’t you?”

 “Yes, sir General, I do.  He had the makings of a good soldier – even an officer - but he was too rough on the men and on the people that you encountered during your searches.  I’d heard a lot of rumors but you were captured, Lieutenant, before I was able to do anything about it.”

 Scott sat down in shock.  He still couldn’t believe it.

 “Mr. Talbot?”  Sheridan had a question for Jim that nobody had thought to ask.

 “You testified, I believe, that the man you saw in the alley the night Charles Wilson was killed, was blond, tall and had a limp.  I want you to think very hard man.  Which leg did he limp on?”

 “Where are you going with this General?” Murdoch wondered.

 “Hopefully you’ll know in a minute Mr. Lancer.” General Sheridan said.  “What about it Mr. Talbot?”

 Jim sat and thought back to that night.  He and Maura had had dinner at the Ingersolls and it was threatening to rain.  He went back to get a tarp to keep them dry.  They were nearing the Barbershop and the General Store when he heard the shot.  The lightning lit up the alley for a few brief seconds.  The man ran away limping on….”His right leg!  It was his right leg that he favored!  Scott this clears you boy!  You’re favoring your left ankle because you twisted it.  This man is limping on his right leg.  And it’s the limp of someone who’s been living with it for a long time.  Why didn’t I think of this before?”

 “Perhaps,” Frank Key said, “Because no one, not even me, thought to ask that question. Your Honor I believe this clears my client of the charges?”

 “You’re right Mr. Key.  Case dismissed!”

 Teresa squealed and threw her arms around Scott’s neck.  Then, getting carried away, she gave Frank Key a kiss on the cheek as well that pleased and embarrassed him both.

 Prosecutor Copeland looked very unhappy.  He was so sure that he’d won this case.  But the evidence was all circumstantial and the jury really hadn’t been convinced one way or the other yet.  The last thing the Lancers needed was to have had the jury be hung and a new trial start at a later time. 

Maura noticed the look on his face and told her husband and their friends about it.

“Stuart looks unhappy.  He should be aware of the Cork resident’s saying ‘There’s many a dry eye at a moneylender’s funeral’.  I think it applies to prosecuting attorneys as well in this case.  Nobody’s unhappy that he lost the case excepting himself.” 

Everyone laughed and Scott was congratulated all around.  He, himself, was somewhat at a loss for words.

Noticing the Wilsons slinking out of the courtroom with chagrined looks on their faces Murdoch added, “Unless it’s Pierce and his son.  I don’t know if they’re happy the real killer was found or not.”

“General Sheridan I don’t know how to thank you sir,” Scott said.  “You didn’t have to come all this way just to testify for me.”

“It wasn’t a problem Lieutenant.  I had some leave coming to me and just arranged for Captain Taylor and Sergeant Morris to accompany me.  I’m glad I was able to help.”

Turning to his officer and the Sergeant he said, “Gentlemen we must be on our way.”  Then he turned back to the Lancers.  “Good-bye Lieutenant.  Take care of yourself and your family.  I wish you well.”  With that the three military men were gone.

“Mr. Key,” Scott said.  “I don’t know how to thank you either.”

“There’s no need Scott.  I did what I was paid to do.  If I didn’t believe you were innocent I wouldn’t have taken the case.  My cousin Frank would have done the same.  I merely learn by the example he and Great-grandfather Philip set before me.  Frank and Great-grandfather did the state of Maryland and this country proud.  Especially Frank.  President Madison was quite fond of him.  As was President Jackson.”  Gathering his things he said, “I really must get back to my office now that this trial is over with.  I imagine the work is stacked up.  I’ll see you all later.”

“Mr. Key,” Murdoch said.  “We, the boys and Jim Talbot and I, would be pleased if you would join us on our hunting trip next week.  To the cabin in Hawk Valley.  It’ll be repaired by then.”

“Mr. Lancer I’d be pleased to join you.”  Frank shook hands all around and left the courtroom.

The Lancers, Jelly and Cipriano all headed joyfully back to the ranch.  When Maria and the hands that had stayed behind saw Scott returning with his family a cheer went up the likes of which hadn’t been heard since the day the boys arrived two years earlier.  Maria outdid herself with fixing a meal for the homecoming.  Jim and Maura Talbot were invited as well.  It was a jolly affair and Scott was touched beyond words that Maria would go to so much trouble.

Cipriano had given him the journal and now they all knew for sure that Scott had been at the cabin in Hawk Valley since late afternoon of the day he left home.  It was Maura’s words, in the form of an Irish proverb that made it all make sense to him.  Why the ranch meant so much to him that he left so that no one else would be hurt.

“It’s quite simple dear,” Maura told him.  “’Your feet will bring you to where your heart is’.  Your heart was here at home with your family.  Even though you were hurt and tired and cold your heart kept leading you home.”


A week later Frank Key joined the three Lancer men and Jim Talbot for a few days of hunting and fishing in Hawk Valley.  His spirit was stirred by the rugged beauty of the mountains surrounding them.  Snow capped peaks. Towering pine trees. Deer and elk and an occasional black bear.

“This is beautiful.  Maryland has nothing on California for scenery,” he said to Murdoch as they lounged on the banks of the stream with fishing poles in their hands.

“It is beautiful isn’t it?  I like to sneak away for the occasional trip.  It’s so peaceful.”

The sound of several pistol shots in quick succession startled Frank until Scott yelled from several yards way, “It’s all right.  It’s just Johnny.  He’s not having any luck with his line.”

Murdoch relaxed instantly.  Frank looked at him curiously.  “Does he always do that?  Johnny?  Shoot at the fish?”

“Only when he can’t catch them with a hook.  He’s not got the patience of a true angler.”  Murdoch laughed.  “You remember Kansas Bill Sharpe?  The retired lawman that sent the letter on behalf of himself and his grandson Willie?  The one in Oregon?”

“Yes.  The one that Scott sobered up and helped clean up the town he was living in.”

“That’s the one,” Murdoch nodded.  “Well, when we first met Willie we were all fishing.  The boys, Jelly and I.  We had a bet as to who would get the biggest fish.  Johnny jerked his line, lost his fish and started shooting.  We let him hear about it every now and then.”

“Mr. Key,” Scott approached the other men from where he’d been dangling his own fishing line. “You were saying that your cousin and your great-grandfather were lawyers.  I never did get your first name.”

“Please, call me Frank.  I hardly ever answer to my real name.  Yes, my cousin – a distant cousin, and my great-grandfather were lawyers.” Frank was also a poet and a he wrote a couple of hymns that are found in the Episcopal hymnal. And one is a song that you might have heard a lot of when you were in the army.”

“What is your full name then?”  Scott was curious.  He wasn’t prepared for the answer.  His jaw dropped in astonishment when he heard it.

“Francis Scott Key III.  I was named for Cousin Frank.  The family is quite proud of his poem The Star Spangled Banner.”



**  Frank Key is entirely my own creation.  In researching a famous lawyer, or relative thereof, for this story I was unable to ascertain whether or not any of the first Francis Scott Key’s sons or grandsons had ever become lawyers.  I did find a grandson that was a famous artist in the 1870s.


***  Maura’s proverb and the Cork resident’s quote that she used at the end of the trial were taken from Irish Wit and Wisdom – Ancient Wisdom and Modern Blarney.  It was compiled by John Hickey, Martin Hintz, Cathy Ann Tell and Malcolm McDowell Woods.


****Francis Scott Key was born August 9, 1779 at his family’s plantation, Terra Rubra, in Frederick County, Maryland.  He died January 11, 1843.  His sole sibling was his sister Ann who married Roger Taney.  (Pronounced Tawn – ey.)  Tawney was a law school classmate of Key’s.  He went on to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and is the one responsible for the Dred Scott decision that helped ignite the Civil War.  Key was a poet and a lawyer. A man of faith who taught Sunday School when his children were young. He really did write a couple of hymns that are in the Episcopal hymnal.  It was a privilege to model Frank after his famous relative.  Who knows?  There really could have been a Francis Scott Key III.


*****Frank Key is named using the Kennedy method.  In Massachusetts former Represenative Joseph P. Kennedy III is named for his grandfather – not his father.  His father was JFK’s younger brother Robert.  Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr., JFK’s older brother, was killed in action during WWII.



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