The Warner Gazette
by  Ros

I’d like to take a moment to thank my wonderful betas for their help with this story, and the support I had from the wonderful readers and writers of the LANCER_WRITERS group.




Riding into Warner, Scott was agreeably surprised at what he saw.

It was a well-established, clean little town. There was a church, a school and whitewashed homes with picket fences, as well as the usual trappings of a western town – stores, a telegraph office, and a saloon.

Most of the stores and offices had fine glass windows with signs boldly written on them. The streets had sidewalks that were planked and clean. Even the population appeared quietly respectable. There were no rambunctious cowboys riding hell bent for leather down the street, shooting up the town. Instead there were just ordinary folk, going about their lives in ordinary fashion.

He was delighted when he spotted a tidy looking hotel at the end of the main street, and he thought that at least they should be able to get a comfortable place to sleep for the night. It would be a welcome change from the last few days.

When Johnny had suggested this little side trip, on their way back to Lancer, he hadn’t expected to find a nice, quiet little place like this. Scott had come to believe that Johnny’s usual haunts consisted mostly of grimy border cantinas and hell-towns, and they usually spelled trouble. Johnny Lancer had a knack for finding trouble.

“Nice little town,” Scott observed with approval.


“A little, yes,” he admitted.

Johnny noticed his attention had been drawn to the hotel and he grinned. “Thinkin’ ‘bout a nice soft bed to sleep in tonight, Scott? Ain’t ya glad ya came?”

“Got to admit, it’ll beat the hard ground and rocks.” Scott grinned and added, “and your cooking.”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my cooking, Scott.”

Scott laughed. “You’re about the only one who thinks so, Johnny.”

Both of the brothers were hot and covered in trail dust. They had been away from home for a week now, and Scott would have preferred to push on and go straight to Lancer. But Johnny had turned that smile of his on him and talked him into it.

Scott couldn’t say no to his brother when he turned that boyish charm on him. Johnny’s “Come on, Scott, what can it hurt?” still rang in his ears, pressuring him like a kid in a candy shop.

So, against his better judgment, he had given in.

It had already been a long journey, but a successful one. Scott was looking forward to getting home and giving Murdoch an account of their trip. Their father was going to be very happy with them both when he saw the results of the cattle sale.

Scott had been anxious to get back to Lancer for other reasons too. He enjoyed all the comforts of home, and he much preferred sleeping in his own bed to sleeping in cheap hotels and saloons, or sleeping out under the stars.  It was all very well for a while, but Scott tired of it soon enough, and he was sure tired of it now.

But Johnny had gotten it into his head to visit some old friends since the town was so close to their path. He hadn’t told him anything about these ‘friends’. He’d laughed and said only that he was looking forward to surprising them.

Scott had been more than a little nervous of that idea. Johnny’s ‘old friends’ were, more often than not, a little too unsavory for his taste. In fact, they usually spelt trouble. ‘Surprising’ them didn’t sound like a good idea to Scott, but he went along with it. He was learning to live with it. What else could you expect from the past of a gunfighter?

But Scott had enjoyed a ‘trouble-free’ trip with his brother thus far, and he had no desire to change that now. He’d expressed his doubts cautiously to his brother.

“Johnny, about these friends of yours…” he began hesitantly.

“They’re real good folks,” Johnny assured him.

Johnny scowled at his brother and added, “Don’t you think I might know some ‘good folks’?”

“I didn’t say that,” Scott answered defensively.

“No, you didn’t say it,” Johnny agreed reluctantly and lapsed into silence.

Scott left him alone with his thoughts. If he said anything now it would probably only make it worse. Better to say nothing.

As he rode into town, Scott hoped that hotel had some clean sheets and a nice soft bed for him to fall into. And so, with Scott’s thoughts on the hotel down the street, and the enticing prospect of a bath, a decent meal and a bed for the night, Johnny tapped him on the arm and said “This is it, Scott. Hold up.”

The grin on his face reassured Scott that his mood had changed for the better.

Johnny reined in his horse and began to dismount, while his brother slowed his mount to a halt beside him and protested. “Can’t we get cleaned up first?”

“Nope, I wanna surprise ‘em,” he told him quickly, as he took off his hat and used it to slap away as much of the trail dust as he could from his clothes.

Scott sighed and dismounted, unhappy with the plan, but pleased to see Johnny in such a good mood. He dusted himself off too and looked up as his brother mounted the wood plank sidewalk and headed for the door of one of the offices.

To Scott’s surprise, the lettering on the big front window read “Warner Gazette” and underneath “Josiah Milton – Editor.”

“A newspaper office?” Scott asked, his surprise evident in his voice.

Johnny stopped and turned around with a grin. “Sure, you got somethin’ against ‘em?”

“No, of course not. It’s just that…well…” Scott didn’t voice the thought that had first jumped to his mind after all.

He was immediately sorry as he watched Johnny’s grin fade, just a little, from his face, and he angrily told himself that he had done just what he was always telling Murdoch not to do. He had prejudged him. He had assumed Johnny’s friends would be found somewhere like the saloon instead of here.

"I know what you mean,” Johnny answered, and the grin returned as he watched a slow blush creep up under Scott’s tan. “Hey, don’t beat yourself all up over it, Scott. Come on in.”

Johnny slipped his hat back on but he let it hang behind him by its strings, and then he walked into the doorway and stopped just inside the room. He leaned back lazily against the door while his brother mounted the sidewalk and followed him in, stopping just behind him and looking through the door.

“Heard any good stories lately,” Johnny asked no one in particular, and all eyes in the room turned towards him.

There was a young woman standing behind a desk on the other side of the office. She looked up and her face broke out in delighted surprise as she shouted, “Johnny!” and ran across the room to throw herself into his arms.

Johnny laughed and swung her around excitedly, before putting her feet safely back on the floor.

In the back room, an older man looked on with a broad smile from behind a massive printing press. He wiped the ink from his hands onto the apron he wore and he came forward towards the doorway.

“Howdy Cyrus,” Johnny greeted him happily and extended his hand to shake the older man’s proffered hand.

“Dang! It’s good to see you Johnny,” the man beamed. He smiled a huge gap-toothed smile that reflected his welcome.

This was certainly not what Scott had expected.

He looked around the room, quickly noting the untidy clutter and the smell of ink. There were two big sturdy desks facing each other in the front of the office, with matching leather swivel chairs and a couple of plain wooden spare seats for visitors.

One of the desks was the epitome of disorder. It was covered completely with books, paper and writing utensils scattered across the top of it. How anyone every found anything at that desk bewildered Scott. His strict Grandfather and his military service had instilled a penchant for neatness in him that he still lived with.

The other desk was more to his taste. It was neatly cleared of all unnecessary litter - everything in its place and within reach. Much more practical to Scott’s discerning eye.

The front room merged into another larger room that held all the printing equipment. There were benches with typesetting cases, all neatly arranged for easy access, as well as rolls of paper, ink rollers and ink. And then there was the press itself. It was a massive machine and took up most of the back room.

He’d never been this close to a printing press before and he had a strong desire to check it out. He liked machines. But, for now, Scott was just as intrigued by the people in the room, as he was by the room itself.

The man Johnny had called Cyrus was obviously about Murdoch’s age. He was tall and lean with thinning gray hair. He had a moustache that was silvery gray and untidily trimmed, and his teeth showed yellow from tobacco when he grinned. The grin also exposed a gap where one of his front teeth was missing.

The woman was something else entirely.

She was young, only about twenty years old, and her hair was long and fair – not quite blonde, not quite brown. She was petite, a little on the short side, but she had an enviably trim figure to go with it, and while you couldn’t quite class her as beautiful, she was definitely pretty. All in all, Scott thought, a young woman that a man would be proud to have on his arm.

Johnny looked down at her with a grin of pure pleasure, and then he held her away from him to look her over more carefully.

“Let’s look at ya,” he laughed and playfully turned her around by the shoulders. “Oh boy, ain’t you grown up some? Where’ve those pigtails gone?”

“Really Johnny,” she protested gaily, as she spun back around to face him. There was exhilaration in her bright green eyes as she laughed and cuffed his shoulder good-naturedly. “You know I haven’t worn pigtails in years. Now come on in out of the doorway and have a seat.”

Remembering his manners, Johnny turned back to his brother.

“Someone I want you both to meet first, Suz,” he said to her, indicating Scott standing behind him. “This is my brother, Scott,’ he said proudly. “Scott, this here is Miss Suzanna Milton and Cyrus Anderson – real good friends of mine.”

“Well, this is wonderful!” she exclaimed genuinely. “Please come in Scott, and make yourself at home.”

Cyrus leaned forward and extended an ink stained paw for Scott to shake, along with a welcoming “Pleased to meet you” and a gap-toothed smile.

Scott followed Johnny into the room and politely waited for the young lady to take a seat before pulling up a chair beside his brother and sitting down.

She smiled and suggested to the older man. “Cyrus, why don’t you see if you can scare up some coffee for our guests?”

Cyrus grinned and looked pointedly at Johnny. “Reckon a shot o’ rye would go down better after a long ride”.

Johnny grinned right back in tacit agreement, but with a glance in Suzanna’s direction, he replied instead, “Reckon it would Cyrus, but I guess coffee will do just fine for now.”

Cyrus went back to the print room and found enough mugs for all of them.

“I’m so glad you’ve come, Johnny,” Suzanna said, with obvious sincerity. “And I’m so pleased to finally meet your brother.” She turned her attention to Scott and gave him a critical once over.

She knew from Johnny that they were half-brothers. Johnny had told them all about him on his first visit after returning to Lancer, but even knowing that, she was still a little surprised at Scott’s fair good looks. His ash blonde hair and light blue-gray eyes were the exact opposite of Johnny’s handsome dark features and deep sapphire blue eyes. They were so unlike each other that anyone who did not know better would never take the two of them for brothers.

Scott did not miss her quick scrutiny, but, since he apparently met with her approval, he accepted it as a compliment and smiled.

“It’s always a pleasure to meet Johnny’s friends,” he said charmingly, but with just the merest hint of mischief in his eyes. Johnny saw that mischievous gleam.

Johnny smiled back at him and said nothing.

“How do you like living out here, Scott?” the girl asked, aware that something unspoken had passed between the men, but with no idea of what it was. “You must find it very different from living in Boston.”

Scott grinned at what he considered an understatement, and he shifted in his seat.  “Well, yes. A little,” he laughed. “But I’ve had Johnny here to teach me the ropes.”

Johnny lowered his head to conceal a wry smile. “Had to teach him near everythin’ Suz. You shoulda seen the way he dressed – real pretty. An’ he talked real pretty too. Ain’t that right Boston?”

The old nickname slipped out mostly when Johnny was in good humor, so Scott was pleased to hear it. “Yes, but I learn fast, brother.”

“I know, I know. Just as well too. Don’t have time to go bear-leadin’ ya ‘round all the time.”

“Bear-leading? Why Miss Milton, if you only knew the number of times I’ve had to get this boy out of trouble.”

She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry Scott. I can just imagine.”

The young woman had listened to their banter happily. She had been so glad to hear that Johnny had given up gun fighting and gone back to Lancer. Suzanna had always liked her father’s extraordinary young friend, but she had never quite approved of his way of life. In truth, she had feared for him.

At one time, they had heard rumors of Johnny’s death in Mexico, but they had not been able to confirm anything. She and her father had feared the worst and thought they would never see him again. It had truly saddened them both. But then they had heard more rumors – rumors of his ‘return from the dead’. And then Johnny himself had turned up one day, alive and well.

They had listened happily as he had told them then about returning to his father’s ranch, finding out that ‘the old man’ wasn’t as bad as he had expected to find after all, and discovering that he had a brother that he hadn’t known about. When Johnny had told them about Scott, the joy on his face had assured them that Johnny was happy at last.

Suzanna knew her friend well. That day she had seen the happiness that Johnny tried so hard to conceal, and she had been overjoyed that he had finally found a place to call home.

And now that she had met him, she liked his brother too.

He was good looking, in a different way to Johnny’s handsome Latin features. He was polite and self-assured.  He was certainly charming in a quiet sort of way that she found appealing. Johnny’s own charm lay in his vitality, and in those blue eyes of his. She’d seen him turn them on her friends and she’d hear nothing but ‘Johnny’ from them for weeks after he left.

Best of all, the two of them appeared to be so relaxed in each other’s company that she was confident that they had evolved a good relationship.

She smiled as she thought about it. She had always felt that Johnny shouldn’t be a loner. It wasn’t good for him.

Johnny looked around briefly and then asked, with a teasing grin. “So where’s Joss anyways? Out checkin’ on who stole candy from the store?”

The grin died away when he saw Suzanna’s reaction.

Cyrus abruptly looked up from his coffee making and stopped and stared. Suzanna’s smile faded and her face paled.

“Oh Johnny,” she gasped, “I thought you must have heard. I thought that was why you came.”

Johnny frowned and, with fear forming a knot in the pit of his stomach, he asked, “Heard what?”

She looked down at her hands in her lap before answering sadly. “Dad’s dead, Johnny. He died two weeks ago.”

Shock and dismay showed on Johnny’s face before he had the chance to hide it. He said nothing for a moment, but he stood up and slowly paced across the room. He kept his back to everyone, but, even so, Scott knew that he was struggling to conceal his emotions.

Without turning back to face her, Johnny finally said, in little more than a whisper, “I’m real sorry Suz. I didn’t know. I wouldn’t ‘ve….I mean…”

Suzanna’s heart broke. Despite her own grief, she was desperate to console her friend.

The girl stood up and walked across the room to him. She placed her hand gently on his back and answered. “Johnny, please, don’t be silly. You’re like a breath of fresh air around here. We needed cheering up.”

Johnny turned around and took her in a tight embrace and Scott noticed tears running silently down her cheek. He felt uncomfortable. He felt like an intruder and he wished that he could tiptoe out and leave Johnny alone in his grief with her. But he couldn’t leave without making things worse, so he stayed put and kept his silence.

“I’m sorry,” Johnny repeated desolately in her ear.

She pushed him away and looked into his eyes. She reached up and tenderly placed her hand on his cheek and whispered, “I know Johnny. It’s all right, honest. We’re fine, aren’t we Cyrus?”

“Sure thing, Miss Suzanna,” the man answered unconvincingly. He went back to pouring the coffee.

Suzanna smiled bravely and took Johnny’s hand. “Come on, John. Come and sit down,” she said and quietly led him back to his chair.

As he sat back down, she continued. “I’m so sorry Johnny. I assumed that you knew. I thought it was why you’re here.”

He shook his head. “No, we were headed home to Lancer. B’n away on business an’ since we were passing by, I talked Scott into stopping by for a visit.”

Cyrus came back with coffee for everyone. Scott took his with a slightly embarrassed “Thank you,” and wished he could sneak out unnoticed.

Johnny took his, but only sat silently staring into the mug.

“Good thing you came by anyway, Johnny,” Cyrus told him. “Miss Suzanna needs her friends around.”

“Nonsense, Cyrus. People have been very kind,” she assured Johnny. She smiled rather more brightly and continued, “And I’m going to keep the paper going, so I have plenty to keep myself occupied. Cyrus is staying on as my typesetter and printer, and I’m going to be writer and editor, just like Dad.”

Johnny smiled wanly at her. “That right? Guess he’d like that.”

“You bet he would Johnny,” she told him, her excitement growing as she tried to cheer Johnny up. “I’m going to be just as good a journalist as he was.”

“Better!” added Cyrus encouragingly.

Johnny half laughed and replied, “I reckon you will at that.”

He took a sip of the coffee at last, and caught a glimpse of his brother, literally squirming in discomfort.

“She’s b’n writing stuff for the paper since she was a kid, Scott,” he told his brother rather proudly, hoping to relieve his unease and draw him into the conversation.

Scott took the hint. “Really?” he commented, trying to sound impressed. “But how do you come to know Johnny?”

The girl smiled. “Johnny came to town about four years ago, just passing through. A man recognized him and called him out,” she explained. “Warner is usually kind of a quiet town, and we don’t have shoot outs here, so when it was all over, Dad talked to the witnesses and he got Johnny to talk to him…” she looked over at him and smiled again. “Which I now know was quite a feat all by itself,” she teased.

Scott agreed, but didn’t interrupt her. Getting information from Johnny could be like getting blood out of a stone. He kept his past firmly in its place.

Johnny smiled back at her but didn’t add anything to her story. “Anyway, Dad did the story. There were so many witnesses who had heard Johnny trying to talk the man out of drawing on him that Dad wrote the story rather sympathetically. He gave the facts as they happened, but he didn’t crucify Johnny like a lot of reporters might have. Johnny stopped by to thank him,” she continued, “and that’s how we met.”

“Yeah,” Johnny finally chimed in with a grin. “She made a real impression. Skinny kid with pigtails an’ ink smudges all over her face.”

Suzanna laughed. “He and Dad hit it off, right from the start. Dad really liked talking to Johnny,” she told Scott.

She did not add that even though her father had liked and accepted Johnny just as he was, he had always feared that the day might come all too soon when he would have to write an obituary for his care-free young gun fighter friend.

That was why he had been so pleased when Johnny had gone to Lancer.

“Yeah, a newsman and a gun hawk,” Johnny scoffed. “Kinda unusual I guess.”

“So you just drop by now and then, brother,” Scott remarked. He wondered whether the attraction might not have been the girl, rather than her father, but, so far, he had had no indication of a romance going on between them.

Scott found it hard to understand why Johnny had been passing up such a pretty young lady. He couldn’t believe that Johnny hadn’t noticed her charms, but then, he had known her for years. He had watched her grow up. Maybe that made a difference.

“Yeah, now an’ then,” Johnny agreed. He smiled, remembering. “Ol’ Joss could sure tell a good story.”

“He was a good newsman,” Suzanna told Scott, pride oozing from every word.

She indicated a framed page of newsprint on the wall above the tidier of the two desks. “That’s a page from the New York Tribune,” she pointed out proudly. “One of the stories Dad wrote for the Gazette got picked up and printed in the Tribune. Horace Greeley himself wrote to Dad and told him he was looking forward to seeing more of his work.”

Now Scott was genuinely impressed. He knew of the Tribune and its reputation. The great city newspaper was one of the country’s most influential journals, and Horace Greeley was a highly respected editor. “Very impressive,” he remarked sincerely. “You must be very proud of him.”

The girl’s eyes glowed. “I am, and I intend to have one of my own stories framed up there some day. I’m going to put it right up there beside Dad’s.”

With serious female reporters almost unheard of, Scott had his doubts, but he certainly did not voice them. There was so much ambition in her tone that he was not going to be the one to dispel her dreams. And who knew, she had so much enthusiasm that she might prove him wrong and succeed in having that framed page above her father’s desk.

There followed an uncomfortable interval. It lasted only a matter of moments, but it held a hush that hung over them all like a heavy cloud, and it seemed to go on forever.

Finally it was Johnny who ended it. 

He lowered his eyes so as not to see her reaction, and asked the question that was uppermost on his mind.

He asked it quietly and gently.

“What happened to your Dad, Suz?”

Suzanna did not answer him right away. The question had opened up a wound that was still raw to the touch. There had not yet been time enough to distance herself from the hurt, though she battled it daily.

She strove to keep her voice level, not to give in to the feelings that threatened to overwhelm her. When she did answer she did so calmly, clearly and, to the casual observer, unemotionally.

“He was murdered Johnny.”




Johnny’s whole body tensed and his eyes were hard when he looked up.


The girl turned away and avoided meeting his eyes but Scott could see that she was struggling with the emotions that his question had brought out. It was plain on her face. She had not dealt with her father’s death as well as she had given Johnny to understand.

“It’s true, Johnny,” she finally whispered.

“What happened?” Johnny demanded. “I can’t believe anyone would want to kill your Dad.”

Scott could see the girl was in distress. If he weren’t so caught up in his own turbulent emotions, Johnny would have seen it too.

“Johnny,” he interrupted quietly but firmly, “take it easy.”

Johnny unexpectedly turned on his brother, disregarding his plea. “You stay outa this Scott,” he hissed, and then turned back to Suzanna.

But the momentary interruption did bring him to his senses. He too noticed the girl’s calm exterior slipping away and her grief showing though. He felt ashamed that he had caused her any more heartache than she had already been suffering.

He stood up and walked slowly over, dropping to his knees in front of her and taking her hands gently in his.

“Suzanna, I’m sorry. I really am,” he told her softly, and then added, shaking his head in disbelief, “but I just can’t believe it.”

The girl turned her face back to his and looked him in the eyes. Sorrow, shock, horror and her own disbelief all figured in the expression on her face.

“No,” she told him, tears glistening in her eyes. “Neither can I, Johnny. I don’t understand it either.”

Johnny seemed almost relieved. He searched her face and asked tentatively, “Can you tell me what happened?”

She nodded silently and took a moment to pull herself back together. She took a deep breath before she spoke.  “Yes. Cyrus found him,” she told him slowly. “It was Tuesday – two weeks ago.”

She stopped, and this time Johnny let her take her time.

“Cyrus came in early, like he usually does, and he found Dad in the alley out by the back door. He’d been stabbed.”

Suzanna stopped again, and then added in an explosion of anguish. “I just can’t believe it really happened Johnny.”

Johnny leaned forward and took her in his arms and she cried openly. He felt like his own heart would break listening to her, feeling her body shake against his shoulder as she sobbed. He looked towards first Scott, and then Cyrus.

Cyrus shifted uncomfortably under Johnny’s gaze.

“I ran straight for the Marshall, Johnny. He sent me for the Doc an’ come over here himself,” Cyrus explained in answer to Johnny’s unspoken questions.

“Did you see anyone?” Johnny asked him.

Cyrus shook his head. “No sir, but I didn’t notice much of anything Johnny. I didn’t look around or nothin’, just went for Marshall Burke.”

Suzanna’s sobs ebbed slowly away and she looked up and leaned back, breaking off Johnny’s embrace. She straightened her back and tilted her chin up proudly as she fought to regain her lost poise.

“It’s been just awful Johnny. I don’t know of anyone who would want to hurt Dad.”

“Has the Marshall found anything?”

“Not a dang thing,” Cyrus answered with a disgusted note in his voice.


Johnny and Scott stayed with Suzanna until they were both completely satisfied that she was all right. She struck Scott as a strong young woman, in her circumstances, and he found himself admiring her. Once she had regained her self-control, she had talked with them some more about her plans for the newspaper.

Scott found himself wishing that he had had a chance to meet her father. It was unusual for Johnny to have been that certain of anyone. Johnny’s outlook on life was basically one of distrust, even since he had come back to Lancer. He still found it hard to let anyone in, not even himself or Teresa or Murdoch.

Yet, somehow, he had formed this strong attachment for the older man, and Milton had been a journalist at that. Suzanna had said they spent a lot of time talking. How much did Johnny open up to him? Scott envied the trust he must have had in the man. Johnny had obviously trusted him not to print any of the things he said.

He must have been quite a man.

Johnny had reassured Suzanna before he left the newspaper office, saying that he would not be leaving town in the morning like they had planned. She had hugged him gratefully and thanked him for ‘just being around for a while.’

When they were finally certain that she was calm again, the brothers made their way first to the livery stable to bed down their horses, and then to the hotel to arrange for a bed.

Scott had said nothing about Josiah Milton, but he couldn’t get him out of his mind just the same. He knew Johnny well enough to know what he was planning to do and he didn’t like the idea.

The clerk at the hotel was a small, officious man in a neatly pressed suit and high starched collar. Over the top of his wire-rimmed spectacles he surveyed the two brothers, their dusty trail clothes, saddlebags and rifles with a critical eye.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” he asked with a frown. His hotel had a standard to uphold, and he made it his job to see that no ‘undesirables’ slipped through. The strangers were not exactly his preferred class of clientele, but then, they didn’t look like saddle tramps either.

Well, he told himself, as long as they can pay their way.

“You got two rooms?” Johnny asked him, leaning on the desk lazily.

“Make that one room,” Scott corrected, as he reached his brother’s side. “Two beds.”

Johnny turned to him and tilted his hat back from his eyes. “Why?”

Scott smiled and answered enigmatically, “Trust me. Why – have you got plans for the evening?”

Johnny smiled. “Nope.”

Scott turned back to the desk clerk. “Then one room, with two beds, please.”

Confused, the man looked towards Johnny for confirmation. Johnny only shrugged and smiled at him. “What he said,” he told the clerk languidly.

They each placed their rifles on the desk and took turns to sign the register. Scott paid the man and took the key and then, looking first at his brother and then down at his own clothes, he asked the clerk, “Have you got somewhere we can wash up?”

“Certainly Sir, there’s a wash room out back if you would like a bath. I can have some water heated if you wish.”

“Yes, that would be fine.” Scott smiled and sighed happily. A civilized town at last he said to himself and thanked the man.

“What about somewhere to eat? You know a good place?” Johnny asked.

The man actually smiled. “Certainly Sir, dining is just in the next room, and we have an excellent menu, even if I do say so myself. Opens at five, Sir.”

“Good, ‘cause my stomach’s beginning to feel like my throat’s b’n cut.”

Scott grinned, and then picked up his rifle and nudged his brother, while the clerk struggled to maintain his composure.

“Come on Johnny. Let’s go find our room.”

“Second floor, to the right at the top of the stairs,” the self-important little man informed him helpfully and watched as they turned and headed up the stairs.

Following the clerk’s directions, they found the room easily and Scott was impressed. He had seen better back east of course, but this was an unusually high standard for out here. The walls were paneled with what looked like oak and the furniture in the room was polished to a high gloss.

The nightstand had a large mirror over it that glistened as the sun shone on it through the window. There was a large chest of drawers, and a small round table with two easy chairs beside it.

There were even lace curtains at the window overlooking the Main Street below.

As requested there were two comfortable looking beds each with a lamp sitting on a small chest of drawers beside it. There was a larger polished brass lamp on the table across the room and Scott sighed contentedly as he surveyed the room.

Johnny followed his brother into the room and quickly looked around him. He threw his saddlebags and rifle onto the bed and sat down on it, taking note only that the bed seemed awful soft.

He took his hat off and laid it on the bed with his other belongings, and ran his fingers though his hair thoughtfully. A roof and a bed was more than enough to keep him happy. He had too many other things on his mind.

“You head on back to Lancer in the mornin’, Scott,” he told his brother as he watched him checking out the room. “I’m gonna stick around here for a coupla days.”

Scott turned back to face Johnny and shook his head adamantly. “Oh no, brother. I’ll wire Murdoch that we’re both staying for a few days.”


“No, Johnny,” he insisted. “You’re planning to see what you can find out about Josiah Milton’s death aren’t you?”

Johnny readily admitted it. “Yeah. There’s no way I’m gonna leave here until I find out what happened to him.”

Scott placed his bags and rifle carefully on the other bed, removed his hat and sat down to face Johnny.

“All right, but someone managed to kill him and get away without leaving a trace. They won’t like you poking around.”

Johnny smiled, but his deep blue eyes reflected not a trace of fun. “I c’n look after myself big brother,” he told him with cool assurance.

“Oh, I know that, and I’d back you any day against another gun, Johnny, but this is different.”

He stopped for a minute to search his mind for the right words to use to get his point across. “The man who did that is a cold and calculating killer, Johnny. He’s not going to come out in the open and challenge you. He’s a schemer, and that makes him a different kind of dangerous. He’s got the edge. You’re not going to know what he’s doing or what he has up his sleeve.”

He stopped and met Johnny’s eyes with a defiant glare.

“I’m staying Johnny. You need someone to watch your back.”

Johnny thought about it for a moment and found he was kind of pleased. He and Scott had been ‘watching each other’s back’ for a while now, but neither of them had come right out and said it. All the years he had spent being a loner had made him completely self-reliant, but he trusted Scott with his life and he was glad that he was going to stay.

Johnny smiled. “All right, you stay,” he said and, rising from the bed, he clapped his brother on the shoulder good-naturedly.

Scott looked up at him and his eyes followed him across the room. He had been prepared for an argument. He’d even thought out the words! He was surprised that Johnny had given in so quickly to his plan.

But he breathed a sigh of relief and watched Johnny move over to stand looking out of the window.

The window offered a view of the whole of Main Street and Johnny studied that view. People came and went about their daily business, going in and out of the stores that lined the street. Wagons were rumbling down the street and riders quietly walked their mounts. Children played and chased each other laughing happily.

It all looked so peaceful, but Johnny knew that it was all just an illusion. Somewhere out there was the man who had killed his friend.

“So what do we do first?” Scott asked, interrupting Johnny’s train of thought.

Johnny turned back and walked over to Scott. “Well, I figure we should visit the Marshall an’ see what he’s got to say.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Scott agreed. “Have you got any idea who would want to kill Milton?”

Johnny shook his head and sat down again on the bed opposite his brother. “Nope. I thought everyone liked ol’ Joss.”

“He was a newspaperman, Johnny,” Scott reminded him cynically. “It might be that he was looking into something and stepped on someone’s toes. Newspaper men can make enemies.”

Johnny shook his head in disbelief. “In this town? Look around you Scott this ain’t no frontier town. These are nice people.”

Scott sighed and wondered at his brother. For a man who was so well versed in the evils of the world, every now and then Scott found a naiveté in Johnny that amazed him.

“Johnny, Boston is one of the most civilized cities in the country, maybe the world, but there’s always news. There are other kinds of news besides murders and thefts – like scandals and cover-ups and such. Why should Warner be any different?”

“Guess so,” Johnny agreed reluctantly, nodding quietly. “Maybe Suz knows what he was workin’ on.”

“It’d be a place to start,” Scott told him. He stopped and looked away, thinking. When he looked back, he continued in earnest. “Johnny listen to me. For all we know, whoever did kill Milton is out there, maybe already watching us. We’ve got no idea who he is, so he has all the advantage so far…”

“Not for long,” Johnny interrupted, brimming with malignant confidence. “An’ when I find him…”

“When you find him, you’ll hand him over to the law,” Scott insisted firmly. “I’m not going to help you find a man, just so you can kill him and get yourself hung in his place.”

Johnny said nothing so Scott continued. “My point is you have to be careful. We have to be careful.”



Scott took advantage of the washroom before doing anything else. He bathed and donned clean clothes and felt one hundred percent better for it. A quiet word in Johnny’s ear about the state of his own hygiene had his brother grudgingly doing the same. 

They found that the dining room had not yet opened, so they made their way to the telegraph office and wired Murdoch that they had been delayed visiting Johnny’s friends and telling him where they could be reached.

Knowing Murdoch, Scott hoped that the fact that it was a friend of Johnny that they were visiting would not cause undue concern. He tried to phrase the wire in such a way that Murdoch would believe that there was no trouble and not worry about them.

Having sent the wire, they headed down the street to the Marshall’s office. Like every other office in town, it was not hard to find. Clearly marked in large, neat sign writing on the window were the words “Town Marshall”. Scott grinned and thought that someone in town was making a good living with a paintbrush.

The Marshall’s name was printed in small lettering on the bottom of the window, easily replaceable in the event of his losing an election. ‘Marshall Ray Burke’, it said.

Ray Burke had been in office for a couple of years. There was not much chance of his losing an election. Not only was he popular and well respected around town as the Marshall, but he was tall and good-looking as well. The lean, broad shouldered twenty-eight year old was dark haired and had green eyes that matched his deep tan. There was more than one young woman in Warner willing to drop her handkerchief in his direction.

Ray Burke was in his office when Scott and Johnny walked in. He looked up as Scott said pleasantly, “Good afternoon Marshall.”

Johnny’s brief “Marshall,” was a little curter. He pushed his hat back behind him and locked his hands behind his back. He was never comfortable in a lawman’s office. Barring his friendship with Sheriff Val Crawford, Johnny’s experiences with the law had seldom been happy ones.

Johnny looked around the room, a small cramped room with one serviceable desk and a couple of chairs. There was a pot bellied stove with a coffee pot sitting on top of it, and a closed door at the far end of the room that Johnny surmised led to the cells out back.

The walls were lined with WANTED posters and a case holding a cache of spare weapons that was securely chained and padlocked.

Behind the desk was a man, pen in hand, who looked up and ran a practiced eye over them as they entered.

“Howdy fellas. What can I do for you?” the man asked equably.

“My name’s Johnny Lancer, Marshall. This is my brother Scott Lancer,” Johnny said by way of introduction.

The Marshall put down the pen he was using and considered them both carefully. He leaned back, folded his arms across his chest and began to rock his chair lazily on its back legs.

“Well, well,” the man said at last. “I’ve heard about you Madrid.”

To Scott, it seemed hardly an auspicious start to the interview, but Johnny showed no sign of having taken offence.

“The name’s Lancer, Marshall,” Johnny corrected him calmly, and Scott added nothing, letting his brother handle it in his own way.

The Marshall looked down at his folded arms and continued to carelessly rock his chair back and forth.

“Changing a name doesn’t change the man,” he said disparagingly and he looked up to meet the cold hard gaze in Johnny’s eyes.

This time, Scott did take offence. He made a move to say something in his brother’s defense, but Johnny quickly silenced him with a look that told him to leave it alone.

“It don’t much matter Marshall,” Johnny said softly. “I’m a friend of Suzanna Milton…”

“You mean you were a friend of her father,” the man interrupted aggressively.

Johnny looked downwards and scuffed his feet uncomfortably. He took a breath to keep his head clear before answering.

Looking back up, and meeting the Marshall’s eyes with ice in his blue-eyed stare, he said, “Yeah all right, Marshall. I was a friend of Joss Milton, and I am a friend of Cyrus Anderson, and I am a friend of Suzanna Milton. You got a problem with that?”

“No,” the Marshall told him just as coldly. “Long as you stay away from Miss Suzanna, now that her Dad’s not around to look out for her.”

Scott could contain himself no longer. “Now look here Marshall. My brother’s not here looking for trouble.”

“Glad to hear it,” was all the man replied, and Scott prepared to argue further with him.

Johnny put a stop to it with a wave of his hand, and a very quiet, “It’s all right Scott.” He concentrated on maintaining his own self-control. It wouldn’t help Suzanna if he lost his temper now.

He’d dealt with men like the Marshall before and he had a pretty good idea of how to do it. It would take all the patience he could summon, something Johnny Lancer was not generally known for. But Johnny Madrid had patience to burn when he needed it.

The tension in the room was so thick you could slice it with a knife. It was oppressive, weighing heavily on everyone in the office. Scott felt more like a spectator at a prizefight, watching the two men figuratively circle one another, taking stock of each other.

It was unnerving.

“No trouble, Marshall,” Johnny assured Burke with a cool calm tone that Scott could only marvel at. “Just want to talk to you about Joss’s death.”

“That why you’re in town?”

“No, but it’s why I’m stayin’.”

The Marshall continued to rock in his chair for a while, obviously thinking. He continued to stare balefully at Johnny.

Burke finally drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. He lowered the chair to the floor and unfolded his arms, clasping his hands together on the desk in front of him instead.

“Okay, what do you want to know?”

Johnny’s eyes thawed a little and his body relaxed visibly. Scott recognized gratefully that the immediate danger in the confrontation had eased off.

“Suzanna tells me you haven’t found out anything yet,” Johnny stated calmly.

The Marshall nodded. “Not much. He was attacked in the dark, with a weapon that makes no noise. No one heard or saw anything. Not even sure what time it happened.”

“Then you have nothing at all?” Scott asked him.

Ray Burke looked past Johnny to Scott. “Well, his billfold and pocket watch were missing. It looks a lot like he was robbed and killed for whatever he was carrying. Probably a drifter passing through town.” The Marshall sighed and added. “In which case, we might never find him.”

Johnny was unimpressed with the theory. “Kind of an easy way out ain’t it Marshall?”

Burke eyed Johnny belligerently. “Well now, Madrid, we got us a nice quiet little town here. We don’t get many killings.” He smiled malevolently. “In fact, as I recall, the last killing we had here in Warner was the day you gunned down Bart Davis.”

Scott watched as Johnny’s frame went rigid. Johnny’s eyes regained their icy glaze and Scott was afraid that this time he might do something foolish.

“I hope you’re not accusing my brother of something, Marshall, because he can easily prove where he was two weeks ago. And it was miles away from here.”

“I’m sorry, Mister Lancer. I wouldn’t dream of suspecting your brother,” he answered acerbically. “It’s just that I liked Joss Milton. So did most people around here. We all feel pretty bad about his murder. But there’s just no evidence.”

“Nothing that you’ve found yet anyway, “ Johnny stated coolly.

The Marshall looked at him, and tried to decide whether or not there was an accusation in there somewhere. He decided to ignore the possibility.

“That’s right. I sure as hell haven’t stopped looking though.”

“Good. I wouldn’t like to see whoever did it to get clean away.”

The Marshall glared at him. This time he felt sure there was an accusation in the statement. “He won’t, Madrid. But I have to work within the law. I need evidence.”

“Lancer,” Johnny corrected him again, quietly. A little too quietly. Scott recognized the tone and watched him carefully.

“Sorry - Lancer,” the Marshall said, but without a trace of apology in his voice.

“Cyrus said you sent him for the Doctor. Why, if you knew he was already dead?”

The Marshall shrugged his shoulders. “Standard practice, just in case he could find something I missed. I hoped he could tell me when he died for one thing.”

“And could he?”

“Not that he could be sure of.”

Johnny could not see them getting any more information this way. The Marshall was decidedly antagonistic, dashing any hopes that Johnny had held of finding out anything new.

He tried to put it down to his reputation having preceded him, but he found himself wondering if there was something else behind it – some other reason for the man’s antagonism. He thought about what Scott had said earlier, and wondered if maybe Marshall Ray Burke had something to hide.

“Can you tell us where we can find the Doctor?” Johnny asked, patiently keeping a lid on the frustration he was feeling.

“Sure, house down Main Street, two houses past the hotel. White fence with his name on the gate. You can’t miss it.”

“Thanks,” Johnny said briefly and turned to leave. He was anxious to get out of there before the Marshall pushed him too far. It wasn’t going to help Suzanna if he got himself locked up.

“I don’t think you’ll get much from him though,” Burke added as Johnny turned away to leave.

Johnny pulled his hat back onto his head and settled it comfortably. “Worth a try Marshall,” he said and then added ironically, “Thanks for your help.”

The Marshall nodded and watched as the two of them headed for the door. He allowed them both to get as far as the door before calling out and stopping them.

“Madrid,” he called to Johnny in a tone that was filled with malice. “Stay away from Suzanna Milton.”

Johnny stopped in the doorway and glanced down at his feet for a moment, thinking.

He slowly lifted his head again and turned back to face the Marshall, a crooked smile on his face and a gleam in his eyes that looked like hardened steel.

In a soft voice with a knife-edge to it that matched the steel in his eyes, he repeated one last time, “That’s Lancer, Marshall.”

Johnny turned away and followed Scott out the door.



“Well, I thought that went rather well, Johnny,” Scott said sarcastically as they walked across the street from the Marshall’s office.

“Don’t think he liked me much,” Johnny replied, his voice still tinged with the icy tones of his alter ego.

Johnny’s flair for understatement had always amused Scott. He grinned and answered, “Yes, well I think that’s a fair assumption, little brother. But I got the impression that you didn’t think too highly of him either.”

Johnny smiled and didn’t answer. He relaxed back into his natural good humor and the two of them made their way up the street to the Doctor’s house.

It was easy to find.

Following the directions that the Marshall had given them, they soon found the house that matched his description – a tidy little house, with a whitewashed fence and a garden in the front, full of daisies struggling to raise themselves up against the heat. There was a small wooden plaque on the gate with the name ‘Doctor James Reeves M.D.’ written proudly on it, announcing his credentials to the town. They had the right place all right.

They were out of luck this time though. The Doctor’s pretty young wife answered the door and told them he was away and she didn’t expect him back for hours.

They thanked her and walked back out to the street. It was after five now. The hotel’s restaurant would be open.

“Let’s eat, Johnny,” Scott suggested. “We’ll have to wait till tomorrow to talk to him.”

Johnny didn’t like the delay, but he nodded his agreement and they made their way back to the hotel.


Scott made his way, ravenously, through a nicely cooked steak, and watched as his brother toyed with his own meal.

Johnny was sitting with his elbow on the table and his head propped up on his fist, disconsolately pushing pieces of food around his plate.

“Something wrong with yours?” Scott asked.

Johnny didn’t look at him. “Nah,” he answered distractedly.

“I thought you were hungry,” Scott pointed out.

Without looking up from his meal, Johnny answered, “I guess I just lost my appetite.”

Scott hated seeing his brother like this, but he could understand it. First there’d been the shock of finding out about Josiah Milton, and then that battle of wills with the Marshall. It had taken a lot out of him. Johnny wasn’t always as successful as he would have liked at disguising his emotions, and Scott suspected that, today, there were just too many for him to even try.

“You don’t like the Marshall’s theory,” Scott surmised.


“Why not? It’s a perfectly legitimate theory. He was robbed, and, unfortunately, these things do happen.”

“I know, I know,” Johnny admitted reluctantly. “Just seems too easy. It’d be such a … a waste if we lost him that way.”

Scott sighed and put down his knife and fork. His heart went out to his brother in his pain. “Johnny, I know it’s hard to accept, but he wouldn’t be the first good man to die needlessly.”

Johnny looked up at last. “It just wouldn’t be right,” he told him belligerently.

Scott shook his head sadly and demanded, “And whoever told you that life is ‘right’? You, of all people, should know life can be damned ‘wrong’! But you can’t change it to suit yourself this time, Johnny.”

Johnny was silent for a while, reflecting dejectedly over what his brother had just said. He knew it was true. And he knew that it was likely that Joss really had been killed for whatever he was carrying. Why should Joss be any different from other men who had died for just a few dollars?

But, in his heart, he could not accept it. He wanted to believe that Josiah Milton’s death meant something. He should have had a good reason to give up his life. He should have had a cause that he was fighting for, or something he had to prove to the world. He shouldn’t be just another victim lying in an alley, knifed to death by a drifter.

“I guess not, Scott. But I ain’t convinced that’s what happened yet.”

“No, that’s fair enough,” Scott readily admitted. He had not committed himself to the Marshall’s theory yet either. “We’ll have to wait to see what the Doctor has to say in the morning.”

“I’m gonna see Cyrus and Suzanna again tomorrow too. Maybe they know if he was workin’ on somethin’ special.”

Scott picked up his knife and fork and went back to his steak. “Good idea. Now eat something will you?”


Scott and Johnny had more luck when they knocked on the Doctor’s door again the next morning. The Doctor himself - a shortish, thin blonde man with thick glasses and a pleasant smile, answered the door. Both of them were surprised by his youth. He couldn’t have been more than thirty years old.

He welcomed them into his comfortably furnished parlor, and said, “Hello gentlemen, I’m Jim Reeves, dubiously known as the town physician. How can I help you?”

Scott answered for both of them. “My name is Scott Lancer, Doctor Reeves, and this is my brother Johnny. We’d like to talk to you about Josiah Milton.”

The Doctor showed them to a comfortable chair each and then took a seat opposite them and made himself at ease. “Do you mind if I ask what your interest is?” he asked tranquilly.

Briefly, and to the point, Johnny answered him. “Sure, Joss was a friend of mine.”

Doctor Reeves nodded his understanding. “I see. Yes, he was a friend of mine too,” he said sadly. “It’s a terrible shame. Joss was very good to my wife and I when we first came here. He practically ensured my acceptance here.”

“What do you mean?” Scott asked him.

“Well, I came here straight from medical school three years ago, Mr. Lancer. I answered an advertisement placed by Mayor Carter. The town Doctor, old Doc Jameson, wanted to retire and they needed someone to take over for him. Helen and I thought we’d like it here, but the townspeople were a little wary, shall we say. They considered me to be too young and inexperienced. Joss saw that as a challenge and his editorials eventually began to change their attitude.”

Johnny smiled. “Yeah, that sounds like Joss.”

“Yes, like I said, it’s a shame. I miss him.” He stopped and took stock of the men in his parlor. “So, just how do you think I can help?”

“Just tell us whatever you can,” Scott asked him candidly.

Reeves thought about it for a minute. “Well, I don’t know how it will help, but I’ll tell you everything I know. He was stabbed once from behind, through the heart. He would have died almost instantly. I doubt if he even saw who killed him.”

Scott quietly watched for Johnny’s reactions. His face gave nothing away, but his silence did. The details were obviously hard for him to take.

“Were you able to tell when he died?” Scott asked, giving Johnny time to take it in and get his focus back.

“Well, I can really only guess. He’d been gone for some time when I got there. By the condition of the body though, I believe it must have happened sometime between midnight and two in the morning.”

“That means he must have been working late,” Johnny surmised, joining the conversation again. He considered that piece of information. “Joss was found in the back in the alley, right?”


“Do you think he was killed there?”

The Doctor did not hesitate to answer. “No. There was some blood at the front of the alley, near the sidewalk. He appears to have been dragged back behind the building.”

“Joss was a pretty big man,” Johnny mused aloud.

“Yes, Mr Lancer, and the angle of the wound indicated a downward stroke. I’d say that he was killed by someone considerably taller and stronger than him.”

Johnny went quiet again, thinking.

“Is there anything else you can think of Doctor?” Scott prompted.

“No,” he said shaking his head. “I wish there was. Joss was a good man. This town was lucky to have had him. It could have been just like any other frontier town with gunplay and shootouts. But Warner was lucky enough to have had men with vision come here. Men like Joss Milton, Pat Burke and Anson Carter. They made a difference. They made Warner a place that’s safe to raise a family.”

He stopped and shook his head again slowly. “Pat Burke’s gone. He died from a heart attack not long after I came here. And now Joss is gone too. Anson’s the only one of them left. At least he’s got Ray Burke to back him up.”

Scott and Johnny listened and had to agree with him. Both of them had seen their share of small towns just like the Doctor had described. – wild and untamed. Johnny had seen the worst of them.

The Doctor was right. Warner had been lucky.


They left the Doctor’s office and went straight back down the road to the newspaper office to see Suzanna.

From his own office across the street, Marshall Ray Burke watched them walk through the Gazette’s door and frowned.


Suzanna was not alone when they got there.

When the brothers walked into the office, they found her deep in conversation with a man neither of them recognized.

Her eyes lit up as she saw Johnny come through the door.

She welcomed them both with a delighted smile, and introduced them to her other guest – Mayor Anson Carter.

“Hello boys,” she burst out. “Come in and meet our town mayor and shipping agent. Anse Carter, these are the friends I told you about. Johnny and Scott Lancer.”

Carter turned as they entered and looked the newcomers over. He stood up and extended his hand and the brothers took turns to shake hands with him. He had a good confident grasp and Scott remembered all the politicians he had known back in Boston.

“Pleased to meet both of you gentlemen,” Carter said, with a pleasant smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you both, from Joss and Suzanna. Especially about you, Johnny. I’m glad you’re here now that she needs you.” He looked back to Suzanna and smiled sympathetically. “She needs her friends around her right now.”

Anson Carter was tall, well built and well groomed. He was a handsome forty-ish man who looked much younger than his years. He had lived in Warner for most of his adult life, and he had worked hard for many of those years to make Warner the town that it was. He was dressed in smart town clothes, and Scott figured he could probably do just as well politically in a big city. Anson Carter was definitely a political animal. The man had charisma.

“An’ I bet none of it’s true,” Johnny answered Carter, with a charming smile that had the politician envious.

“I doubt that, Johnny,” he replied pleasantly. “Why don’t you both sit down gentlemen? Suzanna tells me you’re looking into Joss’ death.”

“Have you found out anything Johnny?” she asked him eagerly.

Scott was a little concerned by Suzanna’s all-consuming belief in Johnny. She seemed to think that he could do anything, and that included finding her father’s killer. So far, they had found out nothing new, and, if the Marshall was right, they might never find him.

“No Suz,” Johnny answered her reluctantly. “There’s not much to go on.”

“The Marshall seems to think it was a robbery,” Scott told her.

“Yes, he’s told us,” Carter said somberly. “It’s terrible to think that something like that could happen in Warner. I thought we’d left all that behind us.”

“Have you thought of anyone who might have had a grudge against him, Miss Milton? Someone who hadn’t liked one of his stories, perhaps?” Scott asked her.

“I suppose there were a few people who didn’t like his editorials sometimes,” she agreed, reluctantly. “But not enough to hurt him, Scott. There were no feuds raging, if that’s what you mean?”

“Suz, was your Dad working late that night?” Johnny asked, trying another approach.

Suzanna nodded unhappily. “Yes, I guess he was working on something.”

She stopped and looked up as the Marshall called cheerfully “Howdy folks,” as he strolled through the door, interrupting the conversation.

Everyone turned when he spoke and the man was greeted with friendly welcomes from all but Johnny, who eyed him uneasily before adding his own greeting.

Marshall Burke did not miss the look on Johnny’s face and he returned it in kind. “Thought I saw you and your brother headed this way, Madrid.”

Johnny dropped his head and folded his arms across his chest. He stretched his long legs out in front of him before looking back up at Burke. He was tired of the game and he decided against correcting him yet again. But the ice in his sapphire blue eyes answered for him.

Instead, Johnny smiled – a deceptively amiable smile that froze Scott to his chair. He knew what – or, more to the point, who – lay behind that smile. He held his breath waiting to see what Johnny would do if Burke provoked him any further, ready to dowse any fires that might erupt between them.

“Well, howdy Marshall. Real good of you to join us,” Johnny said lazily, that winning smile still gracing his face.

Suzanna watched the exchange with a frown on her pretty face while Carter looked on in fascination. No one in the room could miss the tension between the two.

“Is there something wrong, Ray?” she asked, puzzled by his attitude towards her friend.

The Marshall finally took his eyes off Johnny and looked over towards Suzanna. He relaxed visibly before he answered. “No, Miss Suzanna, just stopping by.”

“Well, pull up Dad’s chair and sit down,” she replied decisively.

Turning her attention to Johnny, she frowned and addressed him, just as firmly. “And you move your feet and make some room, Johnny.”

To Scott’s amazement, the ice thawed from Johnny’s eyes immediately and a slight blush crept up from under his collar. He smiled as he watched Johnny Madrid disappear to be replaced by Johnny Lancer, who unfolded his arms and sat up in his chair like a recalcitrant little schoolboy.

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny caught the amusement in his brother’s grin and scowled back at him irritably.

Scott decided that the time had come to make a move to defuse the situation. He wiped the smile from his face and brought the conversation back to where they had left it before the Marshall had interrupted.

“You were saying that your father was working on something, Suzanna,” he prompted.

“That’s right, I’m sure he was. He was busy all that week.” Suzanna looked gratefully at Scott Lancer. His tact had neutralized a situation that she definitely had not liked. There was something going on between Johnny and the Marshall and, whatever it was, she wanted it to stop.

“Do you know what he was doing?” Anson Carter asked her eagerly, bringing her back to the problem at hand.

“No, I have no idea.”

“You must have some suspicion of what he was working on?” Ray Burke pressed her.

“Normally I would have known, Ray, but he was being very secretive about this story. It wasn’t like him at all.”

“I thought he liked to get your opinion on everything he wrote,” Johnny pointed out.

“He did, Johnny. I suppose he would have shown it to me when he had it ready. But he was keeping it all to himself for the time being. Like I said, it just wasn’t like him.”

“What about his notes? Did he have any?” Johnny continued, recalling the little notebook he had seen him scribbling in so many times.

“Notes?” Burke interrupted quickly, his attention finally caught.

“Dad always made notes on his stories, Ray,” she explained to the Marshall. “He wrote them up in a notebook and he carried it everywhere with him.”

“I don’t remember seeing him with it,” Anse Carter frowned.

“Well, he usually wrote up his notes when he got back here. He used to say that people wouldn’t open up enough to a man who was writing down everything they said.”

Her frown deepened on her brow, prompting Johnny to ask her, “Where’s the notebook now, Suz?”

“Come to think of it, I don’t know, Johnny,” she answered with a puzzled expression. “I haven’t seen it. He was keeping that story so close that he wouldn’t even let me look at it lately. But I hadn’t even given it a thought until now.”

Ray Burke was sitting at Josiah Milton’s desk. It was obviously not on top of the desk. Joss Milton had been the tidy member of the family and the desk was clear. 

“Have you looked through his desk?” the Marshall asked her, eagerly.

Suzanna shook her head sadly and answered “No.”

“What does it look like?” he demanded, quickly.

“It’s just a small flip over notebook with a black cover,” she told him.

He opened the drawers one by one and rummaged through all of them, while everyone looked on holding their breath in hopeful anticipation.

As he finished searching the last of the drawers, he closed it with a slam and thrust his hands down on the top of the desk with a sigh of frustration. “Nothing,” he said angrily.

“Could he have hidden it somewhere?” Carter suggested.

She shook her head. “If he did, I don’t know where. He usually carries…” she stopped, grieved by her choice of word, and she took a moment to recover before continuing, “I mean he carried it with him.”

“It wasn’t on him when I got there,” Burke told the room.

“Could he have left it at home?” Carter asked her.

“No, definitely not. He kept it on him or in his desk.”

“Maybe it was stolen with the billfold,” Burke suggested.

“Or maybe he was killed so that the killer could get hold of it,” Scott threw back at him.

“Or maybe it’s still hidden somewhere,” was Carter’s suggestion.

Everyone in the crowded little office quietly considered the alternatives for a few minutes, but for now at least, there was no way of knowing the answer.

Finally it was Anse Carter who broke the silence.

“Well, I’m sorry Suzanna, but I really have to go,” he told her and his eyes warmed as he looked at her and smiled. “Now you remember what I said earlier. If you need anything at all, just ask.”

She smiled back gratefully. “Thank you, Anse,” she answered him sincerely.

Carter turned his attention to Johnny. “I wonder if we could get together later, Johnny?”

If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. “Sure, why not?”

“Good,” Anse replied cheerfully. “Can you drop by my office, oh say, in half an hour? It’s just down from the Marshall’s office across the street.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”

Carter rose from his chair and turned to Ray Burke. “I’ve got a few issues I need to talk over with you too, Ray. Can you spare a few minutes?”

“What, now?” Burke asked.

“Yes, now.”

Burke hesitated a moment while he looked Johnny in the eye. He wanted to stay and keep an eye on him, but he knew he couldn’t get out of it, so he replied, “Sure Anse. Come on over to my office.”

“See you around Marshall,” Johnny smiled, mischievously.

Burke stood up from his chair and glared hard at Johnny. “You can bet on it, Madrid,” he answered malignantly and followed Carter out of the door.


Suzanna turned to face Johnny, impatiently, just as soon as they were out of earshot. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about with Ray?”

Johnny looked the picture of innocence. “What what was all about?”

“You and Ray, squaring off like a couple of bantams at a cock fight,” she replied crossly.

Johnny only shrugged, so she looked to Scott for an answer.

He smiled laconically, and said, “I don’t think they like each other.”

Suzanna shook her head and frowned. “Really, Johnny…”

“Hey, I tried to be nice,” Johnny told her quickly, giving her a look of pure virtue. Then he smiled wryly and reassured her. “Don’t worry about it, Suz. I’m not.”

“Well, I don’t like it. I like Ray and I like you. So maybe you could just make an effort to get along.”

“Hey, don’t tell me,” Johnny protested sullenly. “Tell him.”

“Suzanna,” Scott said, distracting her from Johnny. “Is there anyone else that your father might have talked to about that story he was working on?”

“What about Cyrus?” Johnny suggested.

She shook her head. “No, Cyrus would have said something to me if he knew anything.”

“Well, is there anyone else?” Scott repeated.

She thought hard on the question. “Well,” she hesitated, “maybe Lily. I doubt it, but you never know.”

“Lily? Who’s Lily?” Johnny asked.

“Lillian Drinkwater, she owns the ‘Checker Board Saloon’ down the street. She and Dad have been sort of…well…keeping company I guess.”

“Your Dad was seeing a saloon girl?” Johnny exclaimed.

“Oh, Lily’s okay, Johnny. She’s really quite respectable,” Suzanna smiled. “At least she is now,” she added with a grin.

“How long has that been going on?”

“Oh, quite a few months now. He used to stop by for a drink and someone to talk to. Lily’s nearer to his age, and unlike the widow women around town, she wasn’t looking for a husband. They got along fine.”

Johnny laughed. “Cunning ol’ devil. Playin’ it safe.”

Suzanna laughed with him.

“I guess so. I know he used to talk to her a lot, but I don’t know if he would have talked to her about that story he was working on. He was being so close about it, Johnny.”

She looked at him seriously and asked him candidly. “Do you really think that story might have gotten him killed?”

Johnny got serious himself. “I don’t know, Suz. Maybe.”

“Or the Marshall might be right after all, and it really was just a robbery,” Scott added. “We might never find out who did it, Suzanna. I think you should understand that, right from the start.”

She nodded forlornly. “I do Scott, and I really appreciate you and Johnny trying to help. But I hate to think that he might have been killed for the few dollars he would have had on him.”

“Just how much money would he have been carrying?” Scott asked her.

“No more than two or three dollars. He never carried much with him.”

“That’s all?” Scott asked again, incredulously.

“That’s all. I don’t know any reason he would have had any more on him. They took his pocket watch too, though.”

“It’s not much to kill a man for,” Scott said dismally.

“Yeah,” Johnny agreed sourly, “but men have been killed for less.”

“Well,” Scott said, keen to lighten the mood. “I think we should pay the lady a visit.”

Johnny grinned. “Yeah, an’ a drink wouldn’t hurt none either.”

Scott laughed and agreed. “You’d better go keep your appointment with the Mayor first though.”

“Yeah, I know. Don’t know why he wants to talk to me,” Johnny answered thoughtfully as he put his hands on the arms of the chair and started push himself up.

“Must be your charm and pleasant conversation,” Scott teased.

Johnny stopped halfway out of his chair and grinned at his brother. “Think so?”

“Oh, couldn’t be anything else, brother.”

Johnny stood up and smiled. “Probably,” he agreed impishly. He turned back to Suzanna. “I’ll see you later, Suz. You watch out for this brother of mine. Don’t go lettin’ him sweet talk you.”

Turning back to his brother, he added, “an’ you behave yourself.”

A twinkle lit Scott’s eyes and he smiled cheekily. “Of course.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll meet ya at the saloon in an hour,” he said as he walked towards the door. He was half out the door when he looked back towards Scott and added, “an’ don’t be late. I’m thirsty.”



Johnny found the shipping office easily. He ambled up to the door and looked inside.

It was small, but Anson Carter appeared to like the good things in life. The desk was polished oak; the chair behind it was deep soft leather, and leather-bound books lined oak shelves around the room. The atmosphere literally breathed the word ‘success’.

He knocked on the glass paned door, even though it was wide open.

Carter looked up and smiled warmly. “Come on in, Johnny. Thank you for coming over.”

Johnny strolled nonchalantly into the room and Carter offered him a large comfortable leather chair opposite him to sit in.

“Would you like a drink, Johnny? Or a cigar?”

He would have liked the drink, but he’d wait till he met Scott later to have one. “No thanks,” he answered, as politely as he could.

Carter smiled at him. “Well, I’ll have one, if you don’t mind.”

“Go right ahead,” Johnny replied as the man took one of the cigars from the box and lit it expertly.

“You must be wondering why I asked you here,” Carter surmised.

“Kinda,” was all Johnny replied.

“Well, I wanted to talk to you about Suzanna, privately.” He leaned back and breathed out a trail of smoke.

Johnny had never liked the smell of cigars. “What about Suzanna?” He asked guardedly.

Carter smiled. “I’ve known Joss Milton for a good many years, Johnny. I knew his wife Helen, and I’ve watched Suzanna grow up into a lovely young woman. She’s a strong girl, but all this is rough on her.”

Johnny nodded his agreement, but did not interrupt.

“I’m worried that she’s got her hopes up that you’ll find the man who killed her father. She has a lot of faith in you.”

Johnny shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I haven’t made her any promises.”

“No, she told me, but that hasn’t stopped her thinking you can find Joss’ killer.”

“Well, I sure mean to try,” Johnny assured him.

Carter smiled. “And I wish you luck. I hope you can. It would bring some satisfaction to more people in this town than just Suzanna.” The man stopped for a moment and then continued. “Joss was a popular man. I considered him a good friend, Johnny. I miss him.”

There wasn’t much Johnny could say to that. He nodded agreement and let the Mayor continue.

“What worries me, Johnny, is that Ray Burke is probably right. The man who killed Joss was just a drifter looking for some easy money. He’s long gone.”

“Is that what you really believe, or what you wanna believe?”

“Believe me, Johnny, I don’t want to believe it. Years ago, it would have been easy to. When I first came here, there were always these kinds of killings in Warner. But that was a long time ago. We’ve worked real hard to change this town.”

“An’ you’ve done a good job. This is a good town. An’ I know that you had a lot to do with it,” Johnny told him.

“Oh, not just me. When I came here nearly twenty years ago, I was just a kid. Pat Burke was already here, trying to bring some semblance of law to the town. Joss came along about two years later and started the Gazette. That made a big difference.”

He seemed to want to reminisce and Johnny let him talk.

“Pat had a wife and kid, that’s Ray. Joss had Helen and Suzanna. I was still hoping to find that right woman. We wanted to make the town a safe place for a family to grow up. It took some time, but we did it. I’m forty-two years old now Johnny, the last thing I want to have to do is start that fight all over again, especially on my own. Pat’s gone and so is Joss now.”

“One killing doesn’t destroy a town, Mr. Carter,” Johnny assured him.

“No, but it stains it. I want that killer found more than anybody does, Johnny. For Joss and for the town. But I don’t want Suzanna building up false hopes. Do you understand?”

“Sure, I don’t want Suzanna hurt either,” he told him. “You seem to be awful sure that the Marshall is right.”

Carter nodded. “Sadly, I think he is. He’s a good man. He was a deputy for his father, so he learned from the best. Joined him right after he came back to town.”

“Came back to town?” Johnny asked, his interest finally caught.

Carter smiled. “You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but he was a wild one in his day. Always up to something that boy.” He looked at Johnny and realized he had spoken out of turn. “Never anything really bad, mind. Just pranks. But he and Pat used to get under each other’s skin back then. He was young, and his mother had just died. So he left Warner. Came back about four years ago, all grown up and ready to settle down.”

“What changed him then?”

Carter shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows what changes a man?” He looked straight at Johnny when he said it.

“Lots o’ things I guess,” Johnny answered carelessly. “If folks let him have his chance.”

“I suppose so. But he’s a good man now, and that’s all that matters. I trust his judgment on this. So please, don’t get her hopes up.”


You and Johnny get along well together, don’t you, Scott,” Suzanna said to him. It was more of an observation than a question.

“He’s my brother,” Scott replied, expecting the simple statement to explain everything.

“Not until a couple of years ago,” she pointed out. “I’m just so glad that he’s got you and your family now.”

“It was a surprise to both of us, Suzanna. Johnny’s been hard to get to know, but I wouldn’t change him.”

“You watch out for each other?”

“Naturally,” Scott replied, puzzled by the question.

“Good. If anything was to happen to him because of what he’s doing for me…”

“I won’t let that happen. Do you think there is something to worry about?”

Fear and frustration filled her eyes. “I wish I knew, Scott. But that person killed my father. I don’t want Johnny getting hurt too.”


The two brothers met outside the doors of the saloon, right on time.

Johnny walked through the open glass doors and whistled slowly in admiration. Scott followed a pace behind and looked the place over appreciatively. The ‘Checker Board’ saloon was, like the hotel, a class above the rest in this part of the world.

The bar itself was polished till it gleamed and it took up most of one side of the room. The mirror that ran along the wall behind the bar gave the illusion of doubling the size of the saloon and glass tumblers were stacked neatly in pyramids on shelves below it. There were rows of bottles and the boys even noticed a bottle of Murdoch’s favorite brandy gracing the shelf.

There was wallpaper on the walls and there were elegant lamps with polished brass fittings and a piano that glistened with the same sheen as the bar.

It was certainly different to most of the saloons Johnny had seen, but the sounds and the smells were the same. The characteristic odor of stale beer and cigar smoke filled the room and the chink of coins, laughter and an occasional moan told them that someone had won at the poker table in the corner.

There were two men drinking beer at the bar when they strolled up to it. They looked up briefly at the newcomers, looked them over and then went back to minding their own business.

Johnny put his arms on top of the bar and lazily leaned forward. Scott took a place beside him and the barkeep eagerly joined them.

“What can I get you boys?” the man asked with a smile. Even the barkeep was impressive – a big burly man with a clean white shirt and a bow tie, and a huge handlebar moustache that covered a good portion of his face.

Johnny grinned and said’ “Beer thanks,” and then turned sideways to his brother.

“You buying?” Scott asked him.

“Sure, why not?”

“Good, then I’ll have some of that Malt Scotch whiskey I see over there,” he answered jubilantly, grinning happily at his brother.

The barkeep looked him over and then announced nervously, “It’s a dollar a shot, Mister. Fine whiskey that is.”

“Ooee, it had better be,” Johnny told him as he reached into his pocket, with a sideways glance at his brother, and pulled out some coins. He slapped them down on the counter and turned back to Scott. “Next time, Boston – you buy.”

Scott laughed and replied, “Sure, why not?” He turned and picked up the glass the barkeep had poured and took a sip. Taking his time, savoring the taste, he pronounced it to be indeed a ‘fine whiskey’.

“Is Lily Drinkwater around?” Johnny asked casually, between mouthfuls of beer.

“Might be,” the barkeep replied, guardedly, “who’s askin’?”

“Friends of Joss Milton,” Johnny answered.

“It’s all right Charlie,” came a slightly husky female voice from behind them. “I know who the gentlemen are.”

The boys turned around. The woman was supposed to be around Joss’ age, somewhere around forty, but her face and figure belied that supposition. She wore a fashionable, dark red dress that showed her elegant figure to perfection and brought out the gold in her rich red hair. She had her hair piled elegantly on top of her head, and the makeup she wore was just enough to bring out the green in her eyes.

Yep, Johnny said to himself, Ol’ Joss had good taste!

“Why don’t you boys join me at a table and we’ll talk in private?” she suggested. She looked past them and said to the barkeep, “Why don’t you bring over a bottle, Charlie? Make it one of my own bottles, and bring some glasses.”

“Sure thing Miss Lil,” he agreed quickly.

“You boys hungry?” she asked them.

It was mid afternoon and neither of them had considered eating yet. The breakfast they’d enjoyed earlier at the hotel had given them a good start for the day, but they were both happy to accept the offer.

“Guess so,” Johnny acknowledged.

“Charlie, get Sally to bring out a plate of those beef sandwiches she’s got tucked away,” she called back as he turned to do her bidding.

“First class treatment,” Scott said, finishing the whiskey in his hand and placing the glass carefully on the bar. “Thank you.”

She led them to a table in an alcove on the far side of the room and sat down, inviting them to do the same.

“You are the Lancer brothers, aren’t you?” she said confidently. It was a statement of fact, rather than a question.

“We certainly are,” Scott answered with a smile. “This is…”

“Oh, he doesn’t need an introduction,” she said with a dazzling smile and a glance in the direction of the younger, dark-haired Lancer. “You’re Johnny Lancer, and you,” she said, turning back to Scott, “are Scott Lancer.”

Scott’s smile broadened to its most charming, and Johnny leaned back comfortable in the chair and finished his beer. He placed it carefully on the table and looked into her green eyes. “You seem to know more about us, than we know about you Ma’am,” he said with a smile, but with a hint of suspicion in his tone.

“Don’t get your hackles up boy,” she said with a grin. “Josiah told me all about you.”

Johnny smiled again and his eyes lit up. “Did he now?”

The barkeep arrived with a bottle of whiskey and three shot glasses, as well as the sandwiches that Lily had ordered. He put them all down on the table, and diplomatically disappeared from sight.

There was a gleam in her eye when she answered. “Oh yes, Johnny. He followed all your ‘exploits’, shall we say? He knew all about the good mixed in with the bad. Told me all about you.” She watched as Johnny’s eyes cooled.

“Settle down,” she continued with a smile. “He never told me anything that you told him. That he kept to himself. Joss valued the trust you had in him. He was very proud of you.”

It took Johnny by surprise. So much so that Scott saw the emotion written all over his face before he could do anything about it.

Johnny didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Don’t be surprised. He knew you way back when you were still gun fighting and he watched you give it up and go back to your family. He knew how hard you’d find it. He was proud because you stuck it out and turned your life around.”

Emotions struck Johnny silent and he looked down awkwardly at his hands.

“He told me about Johnny Madrid too. Cocky and so sure of himself, but with just a little sadness in his eyes.” She stopped for a moment and poured a drink for each of them. Lily sighed and added, “There wasn’t much Josiah missed.”

Scott had looked on while Johnny tried to regain his composure, but his brother looked like he was having some trouble doing it, so Scott smiled wistfully and said to her, “I wish I’d met him.”

Lily looked down sadly at her glass and replied, “I wish you had too. I wish he was sitting right here with us, in that chair there.” She indicated a fourth chair at the table and raised her glass in the air. “To Josiah Milton, my friend, and the finest man to walk God’s green earth.”

Both of the brothers raised their glasses and joined her in the toast.

Johnny finally spoke up. “We were hopin’ that maybe Joss told you what he was workin’ on before he died.”

She shook her head sorrowfully. “No, he never talked about his stories to me, Johnny. We talked about all kinds of things, but never business.”

“Have you heard anything, then?” Scott asked. “I mean, this is a small town and you run the saloon.”

“That’s right, and nothing much happens that I don’t hear about eventually. But I haven’t heard anything that would tell me who killed him.”

“Did he come in on the night he died?” Johnny asked her.

“He came in during the afternoon. He had a drink, we talked and he left,” she told them flatly. “Last time I saw him.”

There was sorrow under that rough and ready exterior. Both of them could see it plainly. Lily Drinkwater wasn’t as tough as she wanted them to believe.

“Did he tell you what he’d been doin’ that day? Who he’d seen? Anythin’ at all, Lily,” Johnny persevered.

She sighed and looked away from them for a moment. When she turned back to them, she answered him.

“No he didn’t say anything. He came here from the telegraph office across the street and had a drink. He didn’t tell me anything at all.”

Johnny frowned and considered what she had just said. “He’d been at the telegraph office?”

“Sure, he got a wire. I watched him fold it and put it inside his notebook and then he put it back in his pocket.”

“You didn’t see it at all?” Scott asked her, curious too.


“Did you mention this wire to the Marshall?” Johnny asked.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

Lily was silent for some time, thinking about her answer. “I don’t know really. I didn’t really think about it at the time. You know, Joss was gone and…”

She didn’t say it, her hard crust probably made it hard for her to admit, but both of the Lancer brothers got the impression that she must have been terribly upset by Joss’ death.

Johnny was becoming frustrated. Everywhere they turned there were more questions than answers.

“Lily, his notebook is missing. Did he give it to you for safekeeping?” Johnny asked in exasperation. It was a long shot, but they were down to long shots now.

“No, he didn’t. I wish I could be more help, but I don’t know anything. I haven’t heard anything either. The Marshall’s doing his best. Ray Burke’s a good man, but there’s nothing for him to go on and no one is talking.”

“What about rumors?” Scott persisted.

“Oh sure, lots of them, lots of theories too, but none that anyone can prove. Some of them are ridiculous.”

“What about you Lily? Have you got a theory?” Johnny asked.

She took a sip of the whiskey, and a moment to think about the question. “Sure, I’ve got a theory, but like I said, I can’t prove anything.”

“What’s your theory then?” Scott asked her.

She put the glass down firmly and with a kind of finality in the way she did it. “My theory is that Josiah was working on a story that got him killed. Someone had a lot to lose if that story got out. That wire he got shook him up. He was upset when he got here that afternoon.” She stopped for a moment, as though she thought she had said too much, but then she took a deep breath and continued.

“I got the impression that he was disappointed, maybe in someone he liked. But he didn’t talk about it. It was like I said, just an impression. I think he found out something that someone didn’t want to get around, and I think that it was bad news. But I can’t prove it, and I don’t know who it is.”

Johnny leaned forward towards her. “You’ve got no idea?”

She looked him in the eye and said quietly, “In this town, Johnny, there are three kinds of people – those who don’t know, those who might know and don’t care, and those that might know and are too scared to say anything.”

She pushed her chair back, ready to leave them.

“Which category are you in, Lily?” Scott asked her cautiously.

She stood up from the table and looked at Scott. “Josiah was my friend, Scott, but he’s dead. There’s nothing I can do that will bring him back. So I guess I’m in the third group.”

She started to walk away but turned back to add, “Enjoy your sandwiches boys. They’re on the house. So is the bottle if you want it.”

She turned and walked away.


“All right, Johnny. Where do we go from here?” Scott asked as he wiped his hands clean.

Johnny polished off the last bite of his own sandwich and leaned back in his chair. “You got any ideas?”

Scott leaned his elbows on the table and clasped his hands firmly together in front of his face, staring at them and thinking.

“Maybe the telegraph operator remembers what was in that wire,” he suggested.

“Yeah,” Johnny agreed hesitantly. He locked his fingers behind his head and leaned back further in his chair. “Maybe, but even if he does, do you reckon he’d tell us? Don’t they have some rule about that?”

“Yes, they do,” He looked past his hands to his brother. “It’s called privacy.”

“Well, maybe we can change his mind.” Johnny added nonchalantly.

Scott frowned at him. “I hope you mean to bribe him, brother.”

Johnny grinned and his eyes positively danced with mischief. “Can’t think of any other way.”

“Oh, I am so glad to hear that,” his brother responded with a smile. “It’s all hypothetical anyway. He might not even remember it.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll try that first,” Johnny told him. He was quiet for some time, and Scott let him have the time to think without interrupting.

Finally Johnny leaned forward, closer to his brother. “What do you honestly think happened to Joss?” he asked him quietly.

“Honestly? I don’t know, Johnny. The more I hear…well, there are just too many things that don’t add up. But I do think that Lil’s theory is making more sense than the Marshall’s.”

“Meanin’ the killer’s probably still in town, an’ not just a drifter,” Johnny interpreted.

“And that means, someone that he knew. But we still don’t have any proof, or any idea of who it is for that matter,” Scott pointed out.

“No, but we know that he was tall an’ pretty strong. We know that Joss’ notes are missin’ an’ that he got a wire that upset him on the day he died.”

Scott considered everything. “Johnny, I think we need to have another word with the Marshall. We should tell him about that wire.”

“Maybe,” Johnny answered tersely.

“You don’t like him.”

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t trust him.”

Scott sighed. “Well, he hasn’t given you much reason to,” he said, “but he hasn’t really given us reason not to either.”

“Nah, just gut feeling,” Johnny reluctantly admitted. “There’s somethin’ else too. Anse Carter told me Burke was kinda wild when he was a kid. Left town an’ was gone for years. No one knows what he was up to back then.” He frowned and added, “an’ maybe Joss found out somethin’ about him.”

Scott watched Johnny. He couldn’t deny that the antagonism that the Marshall had shown towards Johnny could be considered suspicious, but he had only aimed it at Johnny himself. He had treated Scott entirely differently.

He wasn’t sure that he entirely disagreed with Johnny’s suspicions though. The man’s whole attitude was wrong, and, what was more, he was in an ideal position to hide any evidence that he did find.

“It’s certainly possible. But just the same, Johnny, I think we should pass on what we’ve found out to him.”

Johnny sighed and leaned back again in the chair. “You talk to him then. It might be better if I’m not with you.”

Scott couldn’t argue with the logic of that. A chance to talk to Marshall Burke, without a renewal of hostilities between him and Johnny, might yield some information.

“All right, I’ll talk to the Marshall, but first we’ll try the telegraph office. We might be lucky there. Are you about ready?”

“Yeah, we’d better get started. It’s getting’ late.”



Scott and Johnny entered the little telegraph office together, but Scott had already admonished his brother to ‘let him handle everything’. He had no intention of letting Johnny do things ‘his way’.

The telegraph operator turned out to be a very young man, barely old enough to shave. Scott tried his best, but the young man had ethics of steel. He stuck to his guns and refused to say anything. If he did remember what had been in that wire, he wasn’t saying.

While Scott admired the boy for his ethics, they frustrated a promising avenue of information, and he and Johnny left feeling they had lost an opportunity.

“Maybe he’ll talk to the Marshall,” Scott suggested as they walked out into the late afternoon sun. “You know, it’d be official that way.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Johnny agreed, disgustedly. “But that guy’s a clam. He ain’t gonna tell no one without a fight.”

Scott smiled at Johnny’s impatience. “Well, I’ll go see the Marshall. What are you going to do?”

Johnny tilted his hat to the back of his head, thoughtfully. “Think I’ll go have a talk with Cyrus. I wanna talk to him without Suzanna there.”

“Okay, I’ll meet you back at the Gazette office when I finish talking to Burke.”

Johnny agreed to wait for him there and they parted company – Johnny crossing the street and Scott walking down towards the Marshall’s office.

Johnny hadn’t gone far when he saw Suzanna walk out of the newspaper office and close the door behind her. She turned around and saw him walking towards her, and she smiled and greeted him happily.

“I was just leaving for the day, Johnny,” she said with a gay smile. “You could walk me home, if you like?”

Johnny quickly remembered his manners and took off his hat and smiled back at her, hat in hand. “Be glad to, Suz,” he agreed and politely gave her his arm.

She took hold and strolled lazily down the street beside him.

“Have you spoken with Lily yet?” she asked him as they walked.

“Yeah, she’s a real nice lady. Just like you said.”

“Could she tell you anything, Johnny?” she asked eagerly.

“Not much. Seems like they didn’t talk much about business,” he told her. 

“I didn’t really think she’d be able to help,” Suzanna confessed. “If Dad didn’t talk to me about what he was writing, I hardly think he would have told Lily.”

“Do you know anythin’ ‘bout a wire he got that day?” Johnny asked her abruptly.

Suzanna stopped, forcing Johnny to a halt as well. She turned to face him. “What wire?”

“Dunno what was in it, but he got one. Lily saw him fold it and put it in his pocket.”

“I didn’t know anything about it,” she said sadly. “He certainly never mentioned it to me.”

“Doesn’t look like he mentioned it to anyone, Suz. Lil doesn’t know what was in it.”

Suzanna sighed. “I wish he hadn’t been so secretive about the whole thing. I can’t imagine what he was working on that needed to be hidden from me like that.”

“Maybe he was protectin’ you.”

The idea was not new to Suzanna. “I suppose he might have been, but he could have said something to Ray in that case. He could have been looking out for him.”

Johnny didn’t answer. He looked down and she knew he was hiding something too.

“What’s wrong, Johnny? Do you know what he was working on?” she asked him, nervously.

“No,” he answered without looking up. “But maybe it wasn’t what he was lookin’ into that he didn’t want you to know ‘bout. Maybe it was who.”

Suzanna blanched at the thought. “You mean someone I know?”

Johnny looked her in the eyes at last.  They were such pretty eyes. He’d always loved them. They expressed everything she felt, and right now they showed her fear.

“It’s possible, Suz. Lily said that whatever was in that wire shook him up pretty bad,” he told her gently. “Maybe it wasn’t what he found out, but who he found it out about.”

“But you have no idea who it could have been?”

Johnny shook his head. “No.”

She took a deep breath and shook her head disconsolately. “I really hate this, Johnny. I don’t want to think that a friend of mine killed Dad.”

Johnny reached out and put his arm around her shoulder. “I hope we’re wrong.”

“Have you told Ray about all this?” she asked him wretchedly.

“Scott’s gone to talk to him now,” he answered and then added with an impish smile. “Better if I’m not there.”

Suzanna took his arm. They continued to stroll down the street as she commented, “I wish you and Ray would get along better.”

“’Fraid he just don’t like me, Suz,” Johnny replied innocently.

“Well, you’ll have to try harder,” she said with a smile and they turned the corner to a small side street.

There were only a few houses in the street. All of them were neat and respectable. The Milton house was the first in the street and was devoid of the gardens that brightened the other homes. Suzanna and her father had never had the time or the inclination to start one, but there was a big, shady Redbud tree that threw its shadow over the porch and would be beautiful in flower.

Johnny stopped at the door. “You shouldn’t be livin’ alone, Suz,” he admonished her, a ‘big brother’ tone creeping into his voice.

“You sound just like Anse Carter and Ray Burke,” she answered irritably.

“Well, they’re right. You’re too young to be on your own,” he told her and then added with a cheeky smile, “An’ too pretty for your own good.”

She blushed disarmingly. “Why thank you John. I think that’s the first real compliment I’ve ever had from you.”

It was his turn to be embarrassed. “Well, just don’t you go expectin’ ‘em all the time,” he told her roguishly. “Now I gotta go. Is Cyrus still at the office?”

“Yes, he’ll be there for a while yet. He always closes up for me.”

“Good, I wanna talk to him.”

She leaned forward and reached up to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for walking me home,” she told him sweetly.

Johnny’s eyes danced and his smile was captivating. “You pay me like that,” he declared, “an’ I’ll walk you home every day.”


Johnny was in a good mood going back to the Gazette office. Suzanna had that effect on him, and the fact that Scott was talking to the Marshall had relieved him of another problem.

He was just a little bit tired of dealing with the veiled, and not so veiled, dislike with which the man treated him. He had had to deal with that sort of distrust for most of his life, but since he had returned to Lancer, he had grown less tolerant of it.

He made no secret of his past, at least not about who he was. He didn’t shout it proudly to everyone he met but most people who knew him were aware of it. The townsfolk of Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells had accepted him and they treated him no differently than they did Scott. The people of Green River probably saw less of him, but those who knew of his background didn’t seem to care much.

The longer he had been at the ranch, the less he liked being treated with suspicion, and the more it got under his skin. Even Murdoch, his own father, sometimes let it show and that was a constant source of animosity between them.

As he neared the Gazette office, he forced those thoughts from his mind. Scott was dealing with it this time and Johnny was glad to be out of it.

He was optimistic that Cyrus could be of some help. He might know something significant without knowing it. He had been in contact with Joss more than anyone else, with the exception of Suzanna, and he might have seen or heard something that he didn’t realize was important.

Johnny knocked on the closed door of the office, but he got no reply.

He tried one more time, knowing that Suzanna had said Cyrus would be there. When he still got no answer, he turned the doorknob and walked in.

He called for Cyrus as he entered, but something seemed wrong.  There was no answer and the office was empty, but an atmosphere of danger pervaded the room. The door had been unlocked, and, when he looked towards the desks, he noticed a jumble of papers and files strewn across the floor.

He heard a low moan from the back room and he turned towards it, his right hand moving, almost of its own accord, to draw his pistol.

But before he could move any further, he was stunned by a crushing blow to the back of his head. It stopped him where he stood.

There was a flash of brilliant white light and his head seemed to explode in a crash of pain that deafened him to everything but the thunderous roar in his ears.

Johnny felt his legs giving way and he tried to grab the door handle as he sagged towards the floor. He tried desperately to stay on his feet, but he couldn’t control the muscles in his body enough to do it, and he fell to his hands and knees.

Just as the white light was fading to reveal vague blurred gray shadows around him, another blow hit him and took away all remaining power of thought.

Every nerve in his body screamed and he felt weightless. His brain careened into the dark depths of oblivion.

The lights had gone out long before the floor reached up and hit him in the face.


Scott was almost as reluctant to deal with Marshall Ray Burke as Johnny had been. He had long ago tired of the man trying to provoke his brother. He was amazed that Johnny had taken it for so long without losing that volcanic temper of his.

So, before entering the Marshall's office, he took a deep breath to clear his mind.

And then he walked in.

Ray Burke looked up from his paperwork and glanced behind Scott, obviously looking for his brother. "All alone this time, Lancer?" he asked when he saw no sign of him.

"That's right, Marshall. Johnny had other things to attend to."

The Marshall smiled and Scott was certain that the man thought he had won some sort of petty victory.

"Well then, what can I do for you?" the Marshall asked him.

"Same as before - I want to talk to you about Josiah Milton."

Burke put the pen down and Scott watched an expression of exasperation cross his face. "We've been all over this before, Mr. Lancer. I really don’t know what more I can tell you."

Scott smiled patiently. "Why don't you just call me Scott," he said sociably. "There are too many 'Mr. Lancers' around here.”

He was roguishly pleased to see the look of annoyance the suggestion produced.

"All right, Scott, then," the man answered begrudgingly. "But I've told you and that brother of yours what I think happened."

"Yes, and I agree it sounded perfectly reasonable when you told us, but now I'm not so sure."

"Is that right? And what's changed your mind?"

Scott felt that the Marshall sounded defensive. "Look Marshall," Scott began tolerantly, "no one is trying to tell you how to do your job. But we’ve found out a couple of things that we think you should know."

He noticed that the Marshall's attention was wandering. He was looking past him and Scott found it disconcerting.

"Such as?" Burke asked distractedly.

Scott turned around and followed his line of sight out through the window to see what had so taken the man's attention.

He should have guessed before this.

Johnny was standing on the sidewalk with Suzanna Milton, deep in conversation. As she took his arm and they moved away and began walking down the street, Burke got to his feet and went to the window to watch them more closely.

In a flash of understanding, Scott drew in his breath and a terrible rage boiled within him.

“I don’t believe it,” Scott growled disgustedly. He took his hat off his head and threw it ferociously onto the desk in front of him. He spun around to confront the Marshall.

"That's it, isn't it?" he fumed at the man. "Damn you Burke, is that's what it's all about? Suzanna Milton?"

Ray Burke was taken off guard by the tirade. He turned back to face Scott, bewildered and annoyed.

"What the hell are you talking about Lancer?" he shouted.

Scott raged at him. "That's why you're always trying to provoke Johnny isn't it? It's got nothing to do with him being Johnny Madrid. You're just plain jealous!"

The Marshall's eyes turned hard, and he spoke in a tone that reminded Scott all too much of Johnny's when he was crossed. It was cold. "If I've been riding that brother of yours, it's because he's a gun hawk."

"No, he's a rancher!" Scott corrected him angrily. "He used to be a gun hawk. And you can tell yourself all you like that that’s why you don’t like him, but the truth is, you’re jealous.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Burke argued quietly, and looked back to the window, watching them stroll down the street. “Suzanna wouldn’t want a man like that.”

Scott looked out the window, then walked across the room and joined Burke in spying on them. They watched as Johnny put his arm around her shoulders and then Johnny and Suzanna turned down a side street, out of sight. “Looks to me like she might,” he told the Marshall provocatively.

Ray Burke whipped around to face Scott, fire in his eyes and his fists tightly curled and held rigidly by his side, ready to fight. “You shut….”

He suddenly realized what he was doing and stopped dead, an awful expression of revulsion on his face. The fire died out of his eyes and he relaxed his fists, much to Scott’s relief.

“You’re letting your feelings for that girl cloud your judgment, Burke,” Scott told him coldly.

The Marshall left the window and sat down on the edge of his desk, facing Scott. He shook his head. “I’m a professional. I don’t let my emotions get in the way.”

“Well this time you have. Johnny’s here to help, not to run off with your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” he bit back at him.

“And from what I’ve seen, she’s not Johnny’s either.”

“She’s always talking about him,” he said petulantly. “Thinks he’s some kind of hero or something.” He added sullenly, “Well, gun hawks aren’t heroes.”

“Believe me, Johnny doesn’t think he is either. But listen to yourself. You’re turning away his help just because you’re sweet on Suzanna Milton.”

“Me and half the town. There’s a half dozen men would like to be courting her. Rob Turner, the schoolteacher, he’s always hanging around, and Anse Carter. Why even that young whelp down at the telegraph office. I’m one of the crowd, that’s all.”

“Well, I’m sorry Marshall, as much as I’d like to sympathize with you,” Scott said in frustration, “it’s that ‘whelp down at the telegraph office’ I wanted to talk to you about.”

Burke looked up at him, mystified. “What do you mean?”

“The day he was killed, Joss Milton got a wire,” Scott explained. “Apparently it shook him up a lot. No one we can find has seen what was in it though, and the telegraph operator won’t tell us if he remembers it or not. Maybe, he’ll tell you. Officially that is.”

“No one mentioned a wire to me.”

“No one mentioned the missing notes to you either.”

“Yeah, I know. There’s a few things been bothering me about Joss’ death since I found out about that,” the Marshall admitted.

“It doesn’t make sense that someone would lie in wait to rob a newspaperman of a few dollars and an old pocket watch, when there’s a thriving saloon down the street and a successful shipping agent as well. And who knows who else?” Scott asked himself as much as the Marshall. “There must have been plenty of people who would have been better pickings. And why take the notebook? It wasn’t worth anything.”

“Who told you about that wire, Scott?”

Scott found himself hesitating for just a moment. He was forced to recall his brother’s suspicions about the man and wondered if he should tell him.

But these latest revelations put the man’s behavior in a whole new light and he made up his mind to trust him. If he was wrong, he’d just have to live with it.

“Lily Drinkwater,” he told him. “She saw him come out of the telegraph office and put it inside his notebook and then into his pocket. She said he didn’t tell her what was in it, but he seemed upset over it.”

Marshall Burke stood up decisively and walked past Scott to the hat stand. Picking up his hat and placing it firmly on his head, he said, “I think we need to talk to Timothy at the telegraph office. Officially, that is.”

Scott smiled and walked out the door with him.


Timothy had packed up the office and was about to leave when Scott and Marshall Burke arrived. He was annoyed to see Scott in the Marshall’s company and immediately knew why they were there. He put up his chin resolutely and made up his mind to stand his ground.

“Howdy Tim,” the Marshall greeted him cheerfully as he walked through the door that the young man was holding, ready to close. Scott followed him in.

“Hello Marshall Burke,” the young man replied respectfully. “Can I help you with something?”

“Well, I sure hope so. I hear that Joss Milton got a wire on the day he died,” Burke stated it as fact, rather than as a question.

“I’m sorry Sir, I can neither confirm nor deny that,” the young man answered officiously. “It’s against the rules.”

The corner of Scott’s mouth twitched, but he managed to keep from smiling.

Burke removed his hat and held it in his hands, looking down at it and creasing the brim idly. “Oh, I’m sure we can get around the rules, just this once, Tim.”

The young man lifted his head defiantly and replied, a little pompously, “I cannot break the rules, Marshall. I take them very seriously.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else of you, son. But whose privacy are you protecting? Joss Milton is dead.”

The boy looked nonplussed for a minute. “Well, that doesn’t change anything. Rules are rules.”

Ray Burke looked up at last. He looked the young man in the eye.

“I’ve got some ‘rules’ of my own, young man,” he told him firmly. “They’re called Laws. Now, I’m investigating a murder, and that means I can ask you to break those almighty ‘rules’ of yours.”

Scott thought that Timothy looked unconvinced. He had to hand it to the boy. He wasn’t going to give in.

Finally the young man answered. He seemed to gulp and puff his chest out a little first. “I’m sorry Marshall. I just cannot do it.”

The Marshall sighed. “Then I’m sorry too, son. I was afraid you’d say that. I guess I’m just going to have to lock you up,” the Marshall told him regretfully.

The boy was appalled. His jaw dropped and his mouth hung open. Scott thought his eyes would pop right out of his head. Finally, he recovered enough to gasp, “In Jail?”

Burke eyed him seriously and Scott had trouble keeping a straight face. “That’s right.”

“Why?” the boy cried, horrified at the prospect of being hauled off to a cell.

“Obstructing justice, it’s called,” Burke replied gravely.

“Why, that’s outrageous!” the young man cried. “I would never do such a thing.”

“Then tell me about that wire,” the Marshall demanded.

Timothy shuffled indecisively. His discomfort was patently obvious and Burke moved in like a lion for the kill.

“It’s important Tim,” he told the boy compellingly.

The boy’s façade fell away in an instant. “All right, Marshall. Yes, he did get one.”

“Good.  Wasn’t so hard was it?” Burke said, nodding his head. “What was in it?”

The boy shook his head. “It was weeks ago. I don’t remember exactly what it said.”

“If you don’t remember it exactly, tell me what you do remember,” the Marshall pressed him.

He thought hard for a moment. “Well, Sir, I remember it came from someone in San Francisco. It was the answer to one that Mr. Milton sent a few days before.”

“Do you recall anything about what was in either of them?”

Timothy found some of his lost composure and said proudly, “I try very hard to forget the contents of every message I write down, just as soon as possible. So I don’t remember much of them. I do remember that the word ‘murder’ was mentioned though. That stuck in my mind at the time. I don’t often have messages like that you know, Sir.”

“No, I bet you don’t,” the Marshall admitted tolerantly, and then brought him back to the subject. “What else do you remember?”

“Well,” he answered, considering and frowning over the question, “There was a name. I don’t remember what it was though. Roberts, Robertson, something like that. I think it said that he was wanted for murder.” He looked at the Marshall and declared with certainty, “That’s all I remember, Marshall Burke. Honest.”

Scott believed him, and by the look of him, so did the Marshall.

“All right, Tim,” Burke told him earnestly. “I really appreciate your help with this.”

The boy looked at him nervously. “Then you won’t take me to jail?” he asked.

Burke kept the grin from his face and replied soberly, “No, boy.” He clapped the boy on the shoulder and replaced his hat on his head.

Turning back to Scott, he added, “You coming, Scott?”

“Sure,” Scott answered, trying to keep the twitch at the corner of his mouth from escaping into a grin.

He followed the man out the door and stopped behind him. The grin finally burst loose.

“You must be damned good at poker,” he laughed.

Burke grinned back at him. “Yeah, not bad,” he told him. “Where are you supposed to meet up with that brother of yours?”

“At the Gazette. He wanted to talk to Cyrus alone.”

The Marshall ran his hand thoughtfully over his face. “I think I’d like to have a word with Cyrus myself. Come on, I’ll go with you.”

Scott stopped him first. “Who’s this Roberts, or Robertson that Milton was so interested in?”

“I wish I knew. The name means nothing to me,” Burke answered him.

They crossed the street and started walking towards the Gazette office.

“Damn,” the Marshall cursed, after a moment of consideration. “We’re no closer now to finding out what happened than we ever were. Just got more questions is all.”

He suddenly stopped dead on the sidewalk, looking straight ahead.

“What’s wrong?” Scott asked, stopping beside him.

“The Gazette,” he said, sounding puzzled, “anything look odd to you?”

Scott looked ahead, peering into the western sun, trying to see what the Marshall was looking at.

All of a sudden, something leapt into view through the window. It was bright and orange and Scott knew instantly what it was.

“Fire!” the Marshall cried, recognizing it as well. He started towards the office at a run.

Scott stood stock still for just a second, panic nailing him to the ground. Then an anguished cry of “Johnny!” was wrenched from him and he raced down the street, overtaking the Marshall and forcing the door open.


As he opened the door to the office, Scott took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the smoke and the flames in the room and then he scanned the room quickly. In one glance, he saw the shambles that the room was in, the paper strewn around the floor and the flames racing through the paper. The fire was creeping closer and closer to the prone form of his brother, unconscious on the floor.

He heard a moan from the back of the office and hastily assumed that it was Cyrus. He turned in that direction for an instant but Ray Burke burst in behind him and almost knocked him over.

Scott shouted to him over the noise of the crackling flames.

"The back room. I think it’s Cyrus."

Having sent Burke to see to him, Scott paid no further attention to Cyrus. His only concern now was for his brother, and the flames were inching ever closer to Johnny's body.

The fire was still small. Fortunately, it hadn’t been burning long, but Scott could see that it would get out of control all too quickly. Only the paper was ablaze at this stage, but it had filled the room with thick acrid smoke that was making visibility difficult and choking the breath out of him.

He fought down an impulse to panic and just grab Johnny and run. He forced himself to be calm and think rationally.

The fire was his primary concern. It was too close to Johnny for comfort, and it had to be put out right away. He resolutely stamped out the flames nearest to Johnny with his boot. He was able to do it without too much trouble and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Marshall had removed his jacket and was beating the rest of the fire out with it.

The flames were under control in minutes, but Scott was worried about the still form of his brother on the floor.

Johnny had not moved at all. Despite the heat in the room, a chill ran through Scott, a fear that he didn’t have time to give credence to.

Ignoring his fears, Scott ran to his brother’s side. He knelt down and put his fingers to his brother's throat desperately hoping to find a pulse and he was rewarded with the rapid throb of Johnny’s heartbeat. A wave of frenzied release passed through Scott and he sat back on his heels for a moment. Tears came to his eyes, perhaps from the irritation of the smoke in the room, perhaps from the sheer relief that swept over him.

He brushed them away quickly with the back of his hand and set about looking after his brother.

Johnny was face down, stretched out cold on the floor. He had no obvious injuries that Scott could see, and his gun was still in its holster. Whatever had happened had happened quickly. He must have been caught from behind, completely unawares.

Even with the flames out, the smoke affected Scott's eyes so much that he couldn't clearly see whether Johnny was badly hurt or not. There was no blood on him so he didn’t appear to be wounded, but it was small consolation. He was deeply unconscious, and who knew how much of that smoke he had inhaled.

Impulsively, Scott came to the decision to waste no more time and, gripping his brother under the armpits, he dragged him out onto the sidewalk away from the smoke.

Once outside, in the fading daylight, he knelt down beside him and checked him over more closely.

Except for a graze to the back of Johnny’s head, Scott could see no immediate signs of bleeding and so he cautiously rolled him onto his back. Ray Burke arrived, half supporting and half dragging Cyrus Anderson along with him. Cyrus was coughing badly from the smoke, but he was conscious and, apart from being groggy and unsteady on his feet, he did not appear to be seriously injured.

Scott looked over at them only briefly as they passed and satisfied himself that they were all right. The he turned back to his brother. He anxiously checked Johnny all over and found no injuries except for the lumps on the back of his head. He'd been clubbed pretty badly from behind, probably more than once from the look of it. There was a small patch of clotted blood where the skin had been broken, but that wasn’t serious.

What was serious was that he was still profoundly unconscious. He hadn’t stirred at all when Scott had dragged him out, and he had no way of knowing how long Johnny had been in there or in this condition.

Finally satisfied that that was his only injury, Scott ignored the growing crowd of onlookers and tried to wake him.

"Johnny," he called worriedly to him and gently slapped his cheek a couple of times. "Johnny, wake up. Can you hear me?"

His brother showed no sign of coming around, and Scott looked up for an instant as the Marshall knelt opposite him. It passed through Scott’s mind that perhaps the man was concerned that he might have another murder to solve and he felt an unreasonable resentment to the man’s presence.

"How is he?" Burke asked uneasily.

"I don't know. He's been hit pretty hard." Scott answered, fear forming a knot in the pit of his stomach.

The Marshall rose from his side and called to one of the rising tide of spectators who were hovering close by, all of them pushing and shoving, and trying to get a better look.

"You there, Charlie Cox, go get the Doc."

The man hesitated. When he did not move fast enough for the Marshall's liking, Burke growled "Now!" and the stunned little man turned on his heel and ran up the street to fetch Dr Reeves.

"Come on, Johnny," Scott called encouragingly to him again. "Wake up, brother."

The Marshall knelt down opposite Scott once again and leaned closer to his unconscious rival.

He reached across and slapped Johnny's face twice, harder than Scott had done. "Come on, Madrid!" he urged him commandingly. "Wake up!"

Scott glared angrily at the man. It wasn’t bad enough that he was so rough with Johnny, but he still persisted in calling him Madrid as well. It was not Johnny Madrid whom Scott was afraid he was losing, it was his brother, and his name was Lancer.

He slipped his arm under Johnny’s shoulders and lifted him protectively in his arms. “Johnny,” he called to him, desperately, “it’s Scott. Come on, wake up.”

Behind him, Scott was vaguely aware of Cyrus becoming more conscious of what was going on around him and asking questions, but he let others worry about him. He watched Johnny’s face fixedly, looking for any change.

“Johnny,” he began to repeat again, but, this time, he noticed a flicker of his brother’s eyelids and waited, holding his breath hopefully, for something more.

“He’s coming ‘round, Scott,” Burke reassured him. “Talk to him some more. The Doc will be here soon.”

With a gasp that took them all by surprise, Johnny opened his eyes and threw himself forward.

Johnny’s whole body shook cruelly as he was racked by a spasm of coughing that Scott feared would choke him. He coughed and gasped alternately, desperately fighting to catch his breath.

Scott forced him to a sitting position and gently rubbed his back. “Easy does it, Johnny,” he coaxed him gently. “Slow breaths, come on. Easy.”

Scott slapped his back as hard as he dared, hoping to force some of the smoke out of Johnny’s lungs, and, slowly, the spasm eased. He coughed less frequently and with less violence and finally his body stopped trembling.

“That’s it, Johnny, “ Scott whispered reassuringly to him. “Just breathe in nice and slow. You’ll be fine.”

Johnny, still supported by his brother’s arm, turned his head towards Scott’s voice. His eyes were glazed and unfocused. He coughed again, a couple of times, and, in a rasping voice that Scott barely recognized, he frowned and managed to say “Scott?” before his eyes rolled back and his eyelids fell closed again.

He fell forward onto Scott’s shoulder, unconscious once more.


Dr Reeves arrived on the scene within minutes of Charlie Cox’s knock on his door. He knelt, first of all, beside Cyrus Anderson, and checked him over carefully.

He was quickly satisfied that the man was suffering from nothing more serious than a nasty concussion, and he looked up as Suzanna arrived and ran to his side.

“Oh no, Cyrus,” she gasped as she knelt beside him and took his hand. He turned his confused eyes on her and she put her other hand to his cheek tenderly, tears in her eyes.

She turned to the Doctor. “I just heard. Is he all right?” she asked anxiously.

The Doctor nodded. “Yes. He has a concussion and you’ll need to watch him, but I think he’ll be fine.”

He turned back to where Scott was sitting with Johnny.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Suzanna,” he said as he stood up and went over to Johnny.

Suzanna watched him go, and, for the first time, she realized that Johnny had also been hurt.

“Johnny!” she cried out in anguish. “Scott, is he okay?”

Scott didn’t seem to hear her, but the Marshall did and he went to her side.

He consoled her, quietly resting his hand on her shoulder. “Take it easy, Suzanna. He’ll be just fine.”

She turned back to Cyrus. “Will you be all right for a minute Cyrus?” she asked her friend. “I want to see how Johnny is.”

Cyrus was puzzled. “Johnny?” he asked. “Johnny’s hurt? I don’t remember Johnny bein’ there.”

“I don’t know what’s happened yet, Cyrus. You wait here while I go and see how he is. Okay?”

He slowly nodded, still coughing a little. “Sure, Miss Suzanna. I’ll be fine. You go check on Johnny.”

She smiled gratefully at him. “I’ll be right back.”

She stood quickly and went to Scott’s side, shocked to see Johnny leaning against Scott’s shoulder, still unconscious.

Jim Reeves examined the back of Johnny’s head carefully, before asking Scott to lay his brother down on the sidewalk. He rolled him onto his side and continued to look Johnny over.

“He came to for a minute,” Scott nervously explained to him. “Then he blacked out again.”

The Doctor nodded. “I’ve got Charlie bringing a stretcher from my house, Ray,” he said to the Marshall. “As soon as he gets here with it, I want this man moved to his own bed. Carefully.”

“How bad is he?” Scott asked him uneasily.

The Doctor looked across at him. “Scott, wasn’t it?” he asked him, and as Scott nodded in reply, he continued. “Well, I’ll be a lot happier when he regains consciousness. Until then, nothing is certain. At the very least, he’s going to have a serious concussion. We’ll get him to his bed and then all we can do is watch him carefully until he wakes up.”

“It’s all my fault,” Suzanna cried miserably. “I shouldn’t have encouraged him.”

“He didn’t need any encouragement, Suzanna,” Scott told her. “He wanted to do it.” He looked down at his brother resolutely. “And if they think this is going to stop him, or me, then they are mistaken.”

The Doctor looked at them both and said firmly, “Well, this is neither the time nor the place for recriminations. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.”

Suddenly, Johnny moved, but not to waken. He kicked first one leg, and then the other, and then arched his back and convulsed. Scott tried to restrain him, but the Doctor stopped him.

“No Scott, don’t hold him down, just hold him so that he doesn’t hurt himself.” Reeves ordered him. “It’ll pass.”

And, little by little, the spasm did pass. Johnny relaxed back into calm unconsciousness, panting breathlessly for a while, and then even that passed and he seemed peaceful. Scott laid him down carefully on his side.

He lay quietly, but Scott was worried.

“It’s bad isn’t it, Dr Reeves?” he asked fearfully.

The Doctor knelt on the other side of his patient and sighed.

“Well, it’s sure not good.”


Scott had dimmed the lights in the hotel room. He had sent Suzanna home to look after Cyrus, and the Marshall and the Doctor had both left some time ago.

He’d been sitting in one of the easy chairs beside Johnny’s bed for hours, unwaveringly watching his brother’s still form.

There had been no return of the convulsion that had Scott so frightened, and his breathing had remained encouragingly steady. He’d been quiet since that one spasm, but he had shown no signs of waking up.

Dr Reeves was concerned. That much had been obvious to Scott. He had said that he would be back first thing in the morning if he had not heard from Scott during the night.

Now it was nearing midnight, and still Johnny had not stirred. He had been stripped off and put into a borrowed nightshirt.  His head had been bandaged, and now he lay on his side, pale and motionless, facing Scott. He was nearly as white as the clean white bandage around his head and Scott was troubled.

He leaned over close to Johnny and, for what seemed like the hundredth time, he whispered encouraging words to his brother. With no response from his brother once again, he leaned back and sighed dejectedly.

Scott closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to think of what life would be like without his brother. They were a part of each other’s lives now, like two pages in the same book, meant to always be together. He didn't want to think about an alternative.

Finally, through the gloom, he heard a muffled groan. Johnny's eyes slowly opened and he groaned again into his pillow.

"Johnny, can you hear me?" Scott whispered. "It's Scott."

A deep frown furrowed his brow. "Scott?" he managed to say in a hoarse whisper. He lifted his hand to his head and touched the bandage, puzzled. "What happened?"

"You got knocked out, Johnny," Scott told him quietly. "Just take it easy and you'll be fine."

Johnny tried to move his head and the movement forced another groan from him. "Oooh boy, that hurts," he croaked. "What the hell happened?"

"I'll tell you later," Scott assured him, remembering that he had to let the Doctor and the Marshall know he was awake. "You lay still. I'll be right back. Okay?"

Johnny barely took the words in. His head was swimming after his attempt to move it. "Sure, whatever you say," he managed to answer.

Scott stood up and said firmly, "Don't move a muscle, brother. I'll be back in a minute."

He didn't want to leave him, not even for an instant, but he wanted the doctor back to look at him and there was no other way. He left the room and hurried down the hall and down the staircase to the desk. He pounded on the bell on the desk until the clerk staggered out of his room at the back, still in nightshirt and a ridiculous nightcap that Scott might have found more amusing under different circumstances.

"Mr. Lancer, what is it?" the man asked with a yawn.

"Can you send someone for the Doctor?" Scott asked in a rush.

The clerk was suddenly very awake. He was well aware of the situation upstairs in his hotel. "Your brother, Sir?"

" The Doctor asked me to send for him when he woke up. He’s awake now and I don’t want to leave him alone. "

"Oh, that is good news, Sir," the man replied, sounding quite genuine. "I'll go myself. You go back to your brother."

Scott was surprised. "Thank you, that's good of you. Oh and you’d better send for the Marshall too," he said gratefully and he turned and took the stairs two at a time in his haste to get back to the room.

He'd half expected to find Johnny trying to sit up or doing something else nearly as stupid, but Johnny was just as he had left him.

He walked over quietly and took his place beside the bed again. Johnny's eyes opened and Scott watched him trying to focus them on him.

Scott pulled the chair closer to the bed and smiled reassuringly at his brother. “I won’t ask how you feel. You look like hell.”

“I feel like hell,” Johnny whispered. “My head feels like it’s split,” he added, tenderly touching the back of his head.

“It nearly was, brother,” Scott grinned.

“You don’t need to be so happy ‘bout it,” Johnny replied in a dismal attempt at humor. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. “If this room don’t stop doin’ flip-flops, I think I‘m gonna be sick,” he moaned.

Scott reached for a basin just in time. His brother was sick – annihilatingly so. Scott stayed with him and waited until he finally lay back in the bed, pale and exhausted. Then Scott put the basin aside and poured some water onto a hand towel and wiped away the beads of sweat from his brother’s face.

He wet the towel again, folded it and placed it carefully on the back of Johnny’s neck, hoping it might relieve some of the pain.

Johnny said nothing, but just lay back with his eyes closed, and Scott sat back to watch him and let him be.

A soft rap on the door told Scott that the Doctor had arrived. He stood up quietly and opened it for him.

“I hear he’s awake,” Dr Reeves said quietly.

“Yeah, he’s awake,” they both heard Johnny say, weakly, from the bed.

The Doctor smiled and went over to the side of the bed. Scott was just closing the door when the Marshall arrived and pushed it open again, letting himself in.

They both stood back as the doctor examined Johnny thoroughly. Reeves was satisfied that, with plenty of rest, he would be fine and there would be no long-term effects from the concussion.

“A week in bed and you’ll be good as new,” he pronounced.

Inwardly, Scott sighed. He knew there’d be a battle ahead to keep Johnny in bed. Maybe if he tied him down he could do it!

If he could keep his brother in that bed for a day he’d be surprised.

“You were gonna tell me what happened, Scott,” Johnny reminded him softly.

“Actually,” Ray Burke said at last, “I’d like to hear what you remember.”

Johnny frowned and peered into the dim light to see who had spoken. “Well, if it ain’t my good friend, the Marshall,” he said, tiredly, when he finally recognized him.

“Hello, Johnny,” Burke replied, and moved closer to the bed. “Just what do you remember?”

Johnny sighed. He was worn-out and he closed his eyes. “Nothin’,” he said briefly.

“Try harder, what happened when you got to the Gazette?”

“I dunno,” Johnny answered, his words slurring a little as exhaustion set in. “I opened the door…don’t remember anythin’ after that.” He frowned again, thinking hard. “No wait…there was a noise…from the back room.”

Johnny’s eyes flashed open as the memory startled him awake. He sprang forward in the bed and cried out “Cyrus!” realizing his friend must have been there and afraid for him.

Scott put his hand on his brother’s shoulder to calm him down. “It’s all right, Johnny. Cyrus is okay.”

“He got a tap on the head like you, but he’s fine,” the Marshall added. “But he doesn’t remember seeing anything either,” he added, his disappointment apparent in his voice. “Suzanna’s got him over at her place, so she can watch him tonight.”

The effort had been too much for Johnny. Scott helped him to lay back down into the soft pillows and he closed his eyes.

“Don’t think I c’n help you either,” he managed to say, his voice trailing off into a barely audible whisper.

“That’s enough for tonight, Ray,” Reeves insisted. “He needs some rest, and I don’t think you’ll get much sense from him tonight anyway.”

“Sure, Doc,” the Marshall agreed easily. He could see for himself that he was getting nowhere tonight.

Reeves stood up and packed his things back into his bag. “I’ll be by again first thing in the morning, Scott,” he told him. “He’ll probably sleep the rest of the night, but I think you should watch him, just in case he’s sick again. Check him now and then to make sure he’s asleep and not unconscious again, and if you’re worried, send for me.”

Scott nodded. “Thanks, Doc,” he said, walking with him to the door. “I appreciate you coming at this time of the night.”

“Anytime, Scott,” the Doctor said with a smile.

“Thanks again,” Scott said and closed the door behind the man. He turned and realized that Ray Burke was still in the room.

Johnny had evidently drifted off to sleep at last. He looked far more peaceful now, but his face was ashen and he looked ill.

“Why don’t you get some sleep, Scott?” the Marshall suggested, quietly. “I can watch your brother for a while.”

Scott hoped that his surprise was not too obvious. “Well, that’s nice of you, Marshall, but I’m not sure…”

The Marshall smiled. “Not sure that Johnny would be pleased to see me if he wakes up?”

“To be honest with you? No, I don’t think he would,” Scott told him seriously.

“Oh, I’ll be good. I won’t rile him,” Burke smiled.

Scott smiled awkwardly. “I know, but there’s a little more to it than that.”

Even in the dim light of the room, Scott could see that the man was puzzled.

“What do you mean?” Burke asked him.

“Well, you see, Johnny thinks…” Scott stopped, not sure whether to tell him about his brother’s suspicions.

When Scott didn’t finish the sentence, Burke persisted, “What does he think?”

“Well,” Scott began reluctantly, “You haven’t been exactly helpful, and you kind of fit the description of the man we’re looking for.”

“You mean he suspects me?”

Scott smiled. “Actually, I hadn’t ruled you out either, until tonight.”

The Marshall grinned. “You mean because I was with you when Johnny was attacked?” he laughed. “Well, at least I have an alibi your brother will believe. Serves me right, I guess.”

Scott still didn’t like to accept the offer. He wanted to stay and watch Johnny himself.

“You won’t be any good to him if you’re exhausted yourself, Scott. Get some sleep and don’t worry. I’ll watch him.”

“You’ll wake me if he needs me?” Scott asked anxiously. His head could see the logic of it, but his heart objected.

“My word on it. Get some sleep.”



"What are you doing here?" Johnny asked in a cool, hard voice. "Where's Scott?"

He had lain awake in the bed for a while, taking some time to figure out just where he was and why his head felt like it had been kicked by a mule. Someone must have hit him. His head was throbbing and the room was spinning.

Seeing Marshall Burke sitting by his bed was an unwelcome surprise and it didn’t do anything to improve his mood.

Burke folded his arms in across his chest and smiled roguishly. "I’m just helping out, boy. Your brother's asleep over there," he told Johnny, nodding his head in the direction of the other bed. "You had him up half the night worrying about you."

Johnny said nothing. He moved his head a little to see for himself that Scott was there, but the effort sent a shockwave of pain through the back of his head that forced him to wince visibly.

"What happened?" he asked at last.

"I was hoping you could tell me. All we know is that someone gave you a good tap on the head."

"Feels like it was more than a 'tap'," Johnny complained.

"Be grateful, boy," the Marshall replied with a smile. "They tried to roast you as well."

Johnny frowned. He pushed himself up into a sitting position in the bed, being very careful not to let the Marshall see how much it hurt. He took a deep breath to cover the pain and asked, "What do ya mean?"

"I mean that they tried to set fire to the place as well, with you in it," he explained, and then he grinned. "Don't worry, it wasn't me."

Johnny looked at him uneasily. He wasn't sure how to take that.

"Scott told me last night that you had your suspicions of me," the Marshall continued.

"My brother talks too much sometimes," Johnny told him sourly.

"Oh, he knew I didn't do this. I was with him at the time."

Johnny closed his eyes and clearly relaxed. "I reckon it wasn't you then," he agreed quietly.

"I guess I can't blame you for thinking it. I rode you pretty hard."

"Yeah, well that wasn't all of it. We figure that Joss was checking on someone he knew. We know he was disappointed in what he found out," Johnny explained.

"Why me then?"

Johnny looked squarely at the Marshall. "’Cause you took off when you were a kid an' didn't come back for years. No one seems to know much about what you were up to then."

"And I could have been up to anything, right?" the Marshall grinned. "Well, it wasn't me. I drifted for a while, then joined the Union Army, fought in the war, and came home."

"No one seems to know that."

"Well, there's no big secret about it," he answered with a shrug. "I was at Gettysburg. After that, home looked real good to me. I don't talk about it much."

Johnny didn't answer, so the Marshall continued. "You weren't in the war, were you?"

"No, Scott was. He was in a Confederate Prison."

"Does he talk about it much?"


The Marshall sighed. "He'd know then. There are some things a man just wants to forget."

Johnny was noticeably silent for a moment, staring down at his hands, before answering, "Yeah."

The Marshall shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I guess you do know something about that," he said eventually.

Johnny thought about it for a moment and then looked across at the man. "Maybe."

Burke smiled. "Start over?" he offered, and stretched his hand forward. "Name's Ray Burke."

Johnny grinned and let his guard down.

"Johnny Lancer," he replied shaking his hand.

Burke's smile broadened into a grin. "Pleased to meet you, Johnny Lancer."


Scott woke to the sound of voices talking quietly in the room. When he realized that it was Johnny and Ray Burke, he was more than a little surprised. They seemed to be getting along just fine from what he could see. He watched them for a minute before sitting up.

"Well, look who's awake." Johnny smiled.

Scott ran his fingers through his hair and smiled back. "You certainly look a lot better than last night."

"Oh, I'm just fine," Johnny assured him.

Scott grinned. "Won't work, brother. Dr Reeves said a week in bed."

"They always say that, Scott. It's just a bump on the head."

"Two bumps," Scott corrected him. "And they're both the size of eggs. You're staying right where you are."

The Marshall cleared his throat noisily. "Not to change the subject, boys, but we still haven't figured out how he got them." He turned his attention back to Johnny. "Do you remember anything this morning?"

Johnny shook his head. "Not much. I opened the door an' I got hit from behind I guess."

"What about Cyrus?" Burke asked him.

"Cyrus? Was he...?" Johnny asked anxiously. "Wait, I think I do remember hearing someone moan. Is he all right?"

"Yeah, he's all right. He got knocked on the head from behind same as you. He didn't see anything either."

Johnny frowned, thinking. "You said somethin' about a fire."

Burke nodded. "Scott and I got there before it got a hold. There wasn't much damage but the office had been ransacked."

"Ransacked?" Johnny asked, puzzled.

"The place was torn apart, Johnny," Scott told him. "And then set alight."

“Why would they try to burn the place down?” Johnny wondered.

"They could have been after you, Johnny," Burke suggested. "You have been nosing around a lot. Maybe you trod on the same toes as Joss did."

"No," Johnny disagreed. "They were there when I got there. They had no way o’ knowing I'd be comin'."

The Marshall nodded. "Yeah, that's true. And they knocked out Cyrus before you got there. Maybe it was Cyrus they were after then."

"They didn't kill him, an' they had plenty of time to," Johnny argued.

“Then why set the fire?” Scott asked, exasperated.

Johnny shook his head, slowly. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe it’s the paper itself they have the grudge against,” Scott suggested.

The Marshall didn’t think so. “No,” he said, “I don’t think they would have started out by killing Joss. There were no other incidents, before he died. It seemed kind of random.”

“They weren’t expecting me,” Johnny said, unexpectedly.

Scott looked at him, mystified. “We know that.”

Johnny stared at his brother intently. “Yeah, but Scott, wherever I’ve been since I got here, you haven’t been far behind. They might have thought you’d be coming too.”

The Marshall nodded. “I think I see what you’re getting at. Suzanna had left for the day, and anyone could have seen you walking her home. That meant Cyrus was there alone.”

“So he slips inside, knocks Cyrus out and thinks he’s got all the time he needs to search,” Scott added, understanding.

Johnny nodded agreement. “Yeah, then I walked in and interrupted him, so I got knocked out too,” he continued. “And he figures Scott’s probably not far behind.”

The Marshall took up the story. “So he panicked. He thinks he hasn’t got time to finish his search, and he sets fire to the office, hoping to destroy whatever was there.” He smiled malevolently. “Because he hadn’t found what he was looking for!”

“So what was he looking for?” Scott asked them both. “The notebook?”

“Well, it’s still missing,” Johnny said.

“It has to be that notebook,” the Marshall agreed.

“It makes sense, Ray,” Scott told him.

Ray Burke shook his head. "I've been thinking about it. If Joss was killed for what he was carrying, then the killer doesn’t want or need that book. It’s of no use to him. And if Joss was killed to keep him quiet about the story he was working on, then the killer should already have it. He’d have taken it off Joss when he killed him. Suzanna’s sure Joss would have been carrying the book on him."

“But he can’t have it if he’s still looking for it?” Scott argued. “So where is it?”

"I'm goin' to see Cyrus," Johnny announced suddenly and moved to get out of the bed.

Marshall Burke was the closest to him and put his hand on his shoulder to stop him. "No, you're not. You’re nowhere near well enough to be on your feet yet.”

Scott leapt to his feet and raced over to sit on the side of the bed, restraining his brother. “You young idiot, Johnny,” he stormed at him through gritted teeth. “I knew you’d try this. You’re not going anywhere.”

Johnny glowered at his brother. “I told you I feel just fine,” he argued, his eyes narrowed angrily.

“Oh, ’just fine’ are you?” Scott bit back at him, just as angrily. “You were nearly killed last night. You are not going to try to tell me that you woke up this morning ‘just fine’!”

Johnny irritably pushed the restraining hands away and turned and swung his feet over the side of the bed. He sat there, waiting while the room slowly spun nauseatingly to a halt.

“I’ve gotta talk to Cyrus,” he insisted determinedly.

The Marshall stood over him. “Don’t be a fool, Johnny. You couldn’t make it even if we let you.”

“You’re staying put,” Scott persisted. “I’ll talk to Cyrus for you.”

“No, Scott, he won’t talk to you. He hardly knows you yet.”

“Well, he’ll talk to me,” Burke announced confidently.

Johnny sat quietly on the side of the bed. The room had stopped spinning, but he hadn’t yet found the strength to go any further.

“I don’t think he will, Ray,” Johnny told him hesitantly.

“Why not?”

Johnny looked up at the Marshall. “Because if he was gonna tell ya, he would have by now,” he told him simply.

Burke frowned as he considered the logic of what Johnny had said. “Why wouldn’t he tell me, then?”

Johnny hesitated again. He had a pretty good idea why, or at least he thought he could understand Cyrus’ reasoning, but he didn’t want to bring it up again with the Marshall.

Finally he sighed and answered. “Maybe he’s thinkin’ the same way as I did,” he said eventually.

The Marshall was stunned by the suggestion. It was evident on his face. “You think that Cyrus would suspect me?” he gasped. “No, I don’t believe that.”

“I don’t think he knows who to trust,” Johnny told him, sadly.

“Then why should he trust you?” the Marshall asked angrily.

Johnny looked up at him. “For one thing, ‘cause I wasn’t here when Joss died,” Johnny explained, tolerantly. “For another, ‘cause I’ve got lumps on the back o’ my head, same as him!”

Scott and Ray Burke stared at Johnny, both angry but both of them grudgingly admitting that he might be right.

“All right, then,” Scott reluctantly agreed. “Say you’re right. It doesn’t have to be right this minute. Rest a while, and when you’re strong enough, you can talk to Cyrus with my blessing.”

Johnny was slowly shaking his head before his brother had even finished speaking. “No, no, no,” he insisted, quietly and passionately. “It’s gotta be now.”

He tried to push himself off the bed to his feet, but his legs gave way before he was even standing, and he crumpled into the Marshall’s arms.

Ray Burke set him back down on the bed and forced him to lie back. Johnny was annoyed and embarrassed by his own failure, especially in front of the Marshall. He closed his eyes and tried to re-gather his strength for a second attempt.

“Why must it be now, Johnny?” the Marshall demanded. “Scott’s right. Give yourself a little time.”

Through clenched teeth and with his eyes still closed, Johnny told them angrily. “’Cause if I figured it out, the killer might too.”

He opened his eyes, tore off the bandage from his head defiantly, and glared at them both. “An’ Cyrus is with Suzanna.”


“I don’t like it,” Scott told them both intractably.

“Neither do I, but you know he’s right,” Ray Burke reminded him.

“When you’ve talked to Cyrus, you let us take over, Johnny,” Scott demanded. “That’s the only reason I’m agreeing to this. Do you understand?”

Johnny’s knuckles were white as he held tightly to the bedpost and smiled wanly. “Yeah, all right, big brother.”

Johnny was on his feet, dressed, right down to his gun-belt and spurs, but he looked like hell. He was pale and unsteady on his feet, but he was determined. It was written all over his face. That Lancer ‘mule- headedness’ was keeping him upright for now, but would it be enough?

“Let’s get out of here,” Johnny continued at last, pushing past both of them. He led the way downstairs and out into the street, his brother and the Marshall on either side of him.

In the lobby of the hotel, the Doctor watched, disbelieving, as they marched past him. He’d been on his way for his promised visit, and shook his head. He turned to leave, knowing that, sooner or later, they’d come looking for him again.

It was the longest street Johnny had walked in a long time. He wanted to stop and rest, but he dared not show any sign of weakness to Scott. He knew he wouldn’t be strong enough to fend off his brother if he tried to stop him now.

When they finally reached Suzanna’s house, Johnny stood clutching a post on the porch, breathing hard, and beads of perspiration dotted his brow. He could feel Scott’s eyes fixed on him and he tried to ignore them as the Marshall knocked on the door.

Johnny waited on the porch, with Scott and Ray Burke, for Suzanna to open the door. It seemed like an interminable amount of time they waited there, but it gave him some leeway to catch his breath.

Suzanna opened the door and smiled when she saw the Marshall and Scott Lancer waiting, but she gasped in surprise at the sight of Johnny.

“What in the world are you doing out of bed, Johnny?” she cried. She hurried to his side and took his arm. He had let go of the post when he heard the door open, and she led him past the other men and into the parlor. 

She led him to a seat and told him to sit down, but he knew that if he did, he might find it impossible to stand up again.

“No, I’m all right, Suzanna,” he insisted. “Rather stand.”

He took off his hat, following the example of both the Marshall and his brother, and held it tightly as though he could get some support from it.

Suzanna turned on Scott and the Marshall.

“What are you thinking of, letting him up?” she angrily demanded of them. “You’re not going to tell me the doctor approves.”

“Suzanna,” Johnny snapped, interrupting her in a voice that commanded her attention. When she turned back, he continued. “I don’t need anyone’s approval. Is Cyrus still here?”

“Yes, he’s in bed,” she answered petulantly, and then added pointedly, “Like you should be.”

Johnny chose to ignore the remark. “Can I talk to him?”

She looked like she had more to say, but she kept it all to herself. She could see for herself that Johnny’s stubborn streak was in charge.

“Very well, Johnny,” she said with a sigh. “If it’s that important.” She turned away abruptly and added, “Follow me. I’ll take you to him.”

Suzanna led the way silently to her father’s bedroom, where she had Cyrus Anderson tucked up in his bed. If she was surprised that Ray and Scott stayed behind, she said nothing about it.

She opened the door and ushered him in, still without a word.

Cyrus was awake and sitting up, reading. He glanced across to the doorway when he heard the door open.

“Johnny,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t expect to you see up and around today.”

“Takes more than a crack on the head to stop me, Cyrus,” Johnny remarked with a wry smile.

“Comes from being hard-headed,” Suzanna muttered roughly from the doorway.

Johnny turned back to her and smiled sweetly. “Thanks, Suz,” he said by way of dismissal.

Suzanna took the hint, but as she left the room, she told him, pointedly, “Please don’t stay too long, Johnny. He’s supposed to be resting.”

She turned and left, shutting the door heavily behind her.

Cyrus grinned. “You sure got her riled, ain’t you, boy?”

“Yeah, well, she thinks I should be tucked up in bed with a book too,” he answered with a smile.

“She could be right, Johnny. If you feel anything like I do,” Cyrus told him. “You’d better sit down, before you fall down. You look damned awful.”

This time Johnny accepted the offer. He’d just about reached the limits of his strength. He leaned back gratefully in the chair he found beside the bed and dropped his hat onto the floor beside him. Then he rested his head on the back of the chair for a moment and closed his eyes, hoping that the pounding in his brain would ease a little.

“You shouldn’t be walkin’ around, son,” Cyrus continued, laying aside the book and watching him carefully. “I saw you last night. That must have been one god-awful crack on the head you took.”

He grinned and touched the tender spot at the back of his own head, before adding, “Believe me, I know.”

Johnny lifted his head off the back of the chair and slowly leaned forward. Cyrus was right, and he knew it. Every movement sent shockwaves through his head and churned his stomach, but he was going to get this done.

He rested his elbows on the arms or the chair and clasped his hands together in front of him. He felt a throb of discomfort, knowing that he was going to have to prize information from his friend.

“Cyrus,” he said at last, speaking in a low, tense voice. “Where is the notebook?”

His friend scowled at him and remained silent for a minute. “Why ask me, Johnny?” he finally asked. “I don’t know where it is.”

“Yes you do, Cyrus,” Johnny replied, in a voice that would brook no argument. “’Cause you took it off Joss’ body.”

A frightened look crossed the man’s face. “No, Johnny,” he told him, and for a moment Johnny wanted to believe him. He certainly seemed surprised by the accusation. But he knew that he was on the right track. Cyrus held the key to the whole thing.

Johnny looked down at his hands and studied them, fidgeting awkwardly.

“Have you read it?” he asked softly, without looking at him.

“No,” Cyrus answered without thinking, and Johnny looked back up and faced him.

“Damn you, Johnny,” the man continued, realizing he had fallen into Johnny’s trap.

“What was he working on, Cyrus?”

Cyrus Anderson shook his head in exasperation, angry with Johnny, and just as angry with himself.

He sighed and leaned back, distressed.  “Johnny, you’ve got it wrong. He wasn’t working on any story. There was no big, secret story.”



“Then what was he doing?” Johnny asked him, puzzled.

Cyrus grinned. “You looked at Miss Suzanna lately?”


“Johnny, she’s grown into a pretty little gal. Ain’t you noticed?”

Frustrated, Johnny answered tersely, “Well, of course I’ve noticed. She’s real pretty. What’s that got to do with anythin’?”

“Well, Joss, he noticed it. Couldn’t help but notice with all the men comin’ around all of a sudden. That little gal’s been attracting men like bees to a honey pot. Every unmarried man in town has been looking sideways at her, from Ray Burke to that young pup in the telegraph office.” He shook his head in dismay. “Why, even Anse Carter has his eye on her.”

“So?” Johnny prompted, shortly. He was getting exasperated with his friend.

“So,” Cyrus said slowly, “Miss Suzanna was all he had, Johnny. He wanted only the best for her.”

Johnny suddenly understood and he was stunned. “Are you sayin’ he was checkin’ on ‘em?”

“Yep,” Cyrus replied knowingly. “Every one of ‘em.”

“How many of them were there?” Johnny asked him, knowing that he could have a long list of suspects now.

“Dunno. Guess it must’ve been quite a few, though some of ‘em he’d known all their lives, like that Timothy fella in the telegraph office. Sure wouldn’t have needed to check much on him.”

“What did he find out?” Johnny asked, leaning back in the chair again and letting the idea sink in.

“Dunno, Johnny. He never said.”

“But he was puttin’ it all in his book?”

“Oh yeah, I saw him scribblin’ in it at the office.”

“An’ he had it on him when he was killed,” Johnny said quietly.

Cyrus lowered his head and nodded. “Yeah.”

“You took it off him when you found him and hid it, right?”

He nodded again, guiltily. “Yeah, Johnny. I reckon it was probably one of them fellas that killed Joss. He must’ve found out somethin’ about one of ‘em.  He would’ve put it in the book, just like he always does.”

“Cyrus, that book can tell us who killed him!”

“I know that, Johnny. An’ if Miss Suzanna had read it, she would’ve known who it was. If he found out that she knew, well, he might have hurt her,” Cyrus explained passionately.

“So you thought you were protecting Suzanna,” Johnny said, understanding at last.

He nodded again, but didn’t add anything.

“An’ you didn’t look in it yourself?”

“Didn’t wanna know, Johnny. I ain’t like you, needing revenge and all. It wouldn’t have brought Joss back, and they were my friends.” Johnny supposed that there was some logic in that somewhere but he knew that Cyrus had done what he thought was best for everyone.

“You could’ve shown it to the Marshall,” Johnny suggested.

Cyrus shifted uncomfortably and hesitated about his answer.

“It’s all right. I can guess,” Johnny told him. “He was one of the men Joss was investigating.”

“I couldn’t take the chance, Johnny. If I’d given it to him and he was Joss’ killer…”

“What about me? Why didn’t you just give it to me? You knew I had nothin’ to do with it.”

“Well, I thought hard on that all day yesterday, Johnny, and that’s just what I decided to do. I was gonna get it right after I finished in the office last night and take it to you.” He gave an ironic half-laugh before he continued. “Stupid thing is, if that fella had waited just five more minutes before hitting me over the head, he’d have seen me getting the book and saved himself a whole lot of trouble!”

So you hid it,” Johnny said, and then asked again. “Cyrus, where is it?”


Johnny came back into the parlor, a look of absolute determination on his face.

“Did he tell you?” Ray Burke asked as Johnny came in.

“Yeah,” was all Johnny replied and walked past them towards the doorway.

Burke and Scott both rose hurriedly to their feet. Scott grabbed Johnny by the arm as he made for the door and pulled him to a halt. “Wait a minute, Johnny. Where do you think you’re going now?” he demanded.

“I’m gonna get that book,” he answered angrily.

“That wasn’t what we agreed. You tell us where it is and we’ll get it,” Scott insisted, just as angrily. “You’ve done enough. You’re going back to bed.”

Johnny’s eyes blazed. “You think you can stop me, Scott?”

“Yes, if I have to,” Scott shouted back at him.

“Stop it! Both of you!”

 It was Suzanna, hands on her hips and glaring furiously at the two of them.

“Johnny, don’t be a fool. And you, Scott, what are you going to do? Hit him?” she raged at them. “That would help, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, I…” Scott began, but reason returned and his temper cooled just as quickly as it had erupted. He looked at the girl guiltily and let go of his brother.

Unfortunately, Johnny’s temper was not so easily quelled, any more than his resolve could be swayed. “I’m goin’ to get that book, Scott,” he told him grimly. “You can either follow me, or wait here.”

“Johnny, wait,” Scott called, as his brother turned and headed out the door, but he was too late. Johnny had gone.

“I guess we follow then,” Ray Burke said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Scott cast him a look of unbridled frustration and anger, and then followed his brother out the door.

Ray Burke turned to Suzanna. He took her gently by the shoulders and assured her, “Don’t worry, Suzanna, we’ll look after him.”

He added with a smile, “I think you can count on Scott to be there when he falls over.”

Suzanna shook her head. “I don’t think he’ll stop until he does fall over, Ray. He’s too mule-headed for his own good.”

“You’ve got that right, anyway,” he said and quickly turned and went out the door and into the street after them.

Once he reached Main Street, it was easy to spot the Lancer brothers walking up the street. Johnny’s fast pace and confident stride belied the condition Ray knew he was in. Ray Burke had to admit that he hadn’t thought the man would stay on his feet this long. Johnny had to be getting by on adrenalin and pure obstinacy.

Watching them, Ray still smarted from the lengthy lecture he and Scott had endured from Suzanna while Johnny had been talking to Cyrus. It had basically dealt with the evils of letting a sick man do as he pleases, but in the end, even she had been forced to admit that Johnny was just about the most stubborn man she had ever met.

Scott had smiled at that comment. “I’ll have to introduce you to my father then,” he had told her whimsically, only to be met with an ill-tempered scowl from Suzanna.

The Marshall picked up the pace, and caught up with the brothers, just as they were about to turn into the alley beside the Gazette office. Neither of them said anything to him, and he suspected that nothing had been said between them for the whole length of the street.

Ray Burke noticed, even if Johnny didn’t, the surreptitious glances that Scott had been taking at his brother as they walked along. He seemed satisfied that, for the time being at least, Johnny was holding up pretty well.

The three of them walked down the alley in silence and stopped at the back door to the office.

“There’s a loose board on the step,” Johnny told them, breaking the silence at last. “Cyrus put the book underneath it before he went for you, Ray.”

Johnny knelt down and began pulling at the board. It took a couple of good tugs, and more strength than Johnny had in reserve, to do it. The effort left him breathing hard, and feeling light headed, but he fought it off and gave no sign of it to the others. He was going to finish this, now that he was so close.

As the board gave way, Johnny jerked it up and threw it aside, revealing the missing black notebook underneath.

It lay there, innocently keeping all its secrets - all the little tidbits of information Joss had been collecting, never knowing that they might give them a clue to his own killer.

Johnny didn’t hesitate even for a moment. He reached in and picked it up quickly and began to flick through the pages. He had often seen Joss writing in it at the office and he recognized the handwriting.  He went straight to the last pages of the book and a loose piece of paper fell out.

It was the wire.

Johnny picked it up and unfolded it to read it. It was dated the day that Joss had died. Looking at it now, Johnny felt a chill run down his spine clear through to the tips of his toes. It was as though he had stepped into Joss’ life for a moment.

But the words on the wire meant nothing to him.

‘ANDREW ROBSON WANTED FOR MURDER SAN FRANCISCO SINCE ’53’ was all it said, and it was signed FRANK.

He handed it to the Marshall. “Mean anythin’ to you, Ray?” he asked.

Burke looked at the words and shook his head. “Don’t know the name.”

Scott looked at it too, and smiled at the Marshall. “Well, at least it finally counts you out, Ray. You would have only been a kid back in ’53.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re finally convinced,” the Marshall said sarcastically and looked back to Johnny. He was leafing through the last entries in the notebook. “Anything in there tell us who this fella is?”

Johnny read some of the notes. “There’s lots of names here,” he told them. “Wait, here’s somethin’ – says he’s gonna wire Frank Thompson in SF. That’d be the ‘Frank’ who sent that wire.”

“What else is in there, Johnny?” Scott asked impatiently.

Johnny eagerly read through the notes, finally stopping. “He says – ‘real name Andrew Robson, can’t believe it’.” Johnny quoted and turned back to the page before it and read the previous entries.

He stopped abruptly. His whole visage changed. His eyes hardened and a frown creased his forehead.

Scott saw it and froze.

“What is it, Johnny?” he asked anxiously.

Johnny ignored the question. He closed the notebook and put it into the pocket on the inside of his jacket. He pushed himself up to his feet and dealt with the ensuing dizziness by studiously ignoring that as well.

He turned and brushed past both of the men.

“Johnny, no!” Scott shouted at him as he passed, but Johnny barely heard him. His mind was focused on only one thing now – the name in that book.

Scott promptly ran after him, furiously shouting “Johnny!” as he ran. He overtook his brother half way across the street and made a grab for his arm. “Johnny, wait up,” he demanded, in a futile attempt to stop him.

Johnny brushed Scott’s arm aside. He said nothing at all to him, but continued his determined march across the street, his eyes as cold as ice.

Scott knew that look, and the Marshall soon guessed its meaning as well when he got close enough to see it for himself.

“We have to stop him, Ray,” Scott insisted, panic starting to rise from the pit of his stomach. He was desperately afraid for his brother. He was in no condition to confront the killer, but even if he managed to come out on top, he might hang for killing him.

Either way, Johnny would lose.

He had to stop him.

“Johnny,” the Marshall called out forcefully. “Hold up!” but Johnny resolutely marched on, ignoring them both.

Scott continued after his brother as he cleared the street and mounted the sidewalk, but Ray Burke stopped in the street, frozen in disbelief.

He felt as if time had somehow been affected and he watched what followed in a kind of awful slow motion. What probably only took a couple of minutes, in reality, seemed to go on forever. He couldn’t seem to make his brain function properly. His legs were planted to the spot and all power of speech  was temporarily swept away.

He watched Johnny stop and check his gun, spinning the chambers carefully, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.

He watched him take his gloves from their place on his gun belt and purposefully pull them on.

He watched as Johnny flexed the fingers of his gun hand and then lazily lowered his arm to his side.

He watched him take off his hat and set it back on his head, moving it back and forth until it was settled comfortably.

Ray Burke suddenly found the power of speech and screamed “No!” but the word only seemed to echo in the street around him.

He watched Johnny take a deep breath to clear his mind and calmly walk towards the door to Anse Carter’s office and stop.


Johnny halted at the door. He looked inside cautiously.

Carter was there all right, sitting in that big comfortable leather chair, surrounded by all the trappings of success that Johnny had noticed before. Now, they only served to intensify his dislike of the man.

e pushed aside any trace of physical weakness that was still lingering within him to concentrate single-mindedly on what he needed to do. He was as ready as he was going to be.

He hadn’t planned on this confrontation. He was honest enough with himself to face the fact that Scott was right. He wasn’t fit for it.

When he had made his agreement with Scott and the Marshall, he had really thought that he would be able to just hand over that notebook and let Ray Burke handle it from there.

But, when the time came and he had seen the name in Joss’ own handwriting, he couldn’t do it. He had to face the man who, without doubt, had killed Josiah Milton.

A man who had called himself Joss’ friend!

A man who had betrayed Joss.

The final and most damning of betrayals – he had knifed Joss in the back.


Carter heard the heavy footsteps and the jangling of spurs outside as Johnny approached the doorway. He looked up and smiled, putting down his pen and closing the book in which he had been writing.

“Johnny, what a pleasant surprise,” he exclaimed with a welcoming smile. “I thought you’d still be laid up. What brings you here?”

There was a rush of noise as first Scott, and then Ray Burke, arrived at the door. Scott all but careened into his brother, pulling up short, just in time to avoid hitting him.

Johnny remained passively staring at Carter from the doorway. He appeared to be completely relaxed and swaggered into the room, ignoring the presence of his brother and the Marshall.

Carter smiled. “Well, this is quite a delegation, gentlemen,” he observed imperturbably. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

“Johnny, wait,” Scott implored him. “Listen to me, please.”

Johnny stood in the center of the room, a few feet back from the desk, where there was no furniture, just open space – room to move.

“Scott,” he commanded impassively, “Stay outside.”

Scott turned back to the Marshall. “We’ve got to do something. Stop him, before it’s too late.”

But Ray Burke seemed to be too stunned to be of help. Scott realized the futility of trying to do more at the moment. He sighed and he stood back to give his brother his best chance. He hoped it would be enough.

“I repeat, Johnny, what can I do for you?” Carter said levelly.

Without any sudden movement, Johnny calmly reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the notebook. He casually tossed it onto Carter’s desk and said nothing.

Anse Carter looked down at the offending item. He knew, at a glance, what it was. He also knew what must be in it. He made no attempt to look inside it.

“So you found it, did you?” he smirked, leaning back in his chair, elbows resting easily on the arms of the chair, his fingers lazily entwined in front of him.

“Yeah,” Johnny said, in a tone that Carter had never before heard him use. “But it’s not as if you didn’t try to, is it?”

The accusation sent a shiver down Carter’s spine. He had a suspicion that he wasn’t looking at Johnny Lancer any more. He was facing the man he had only heard about until now – Johnny Madrid.

This man was somehow different. Oh, he seemed relaxed enough, but his eyes were as hard as steel. His voice might sound soft and tranquil, but Carter could literally feel the threat it conveyed. He took note of Johnny’s gun hand hanging negligently by his side, and of his nonchalant stance. But the impression he got from the man in front of him was like a cat stalking its prey.

Carter smiled back at him just the same.

“And what does it say?” he asked calmly.

“Mentions a man named Andrew Robson,” Johnny informed him icily. “Know him? He was a gambler in ‘Frisco. Killed a man at a poker table back in ’53.”

Carter snorted ironically. “Andy Robson wasn’t a man,” he told Johnny coldly. “He was a kid, just a stupid kid. He did a stupid thing and he ran for his life.”

“You ain’t a kid this time.”

Carter began to rock back and forth in the chair, studying his hands. “No, I’m not,” he admitted, looking up into the arctic blue eyes of Johnny Madrid.

“No,” he repeated slowly, “but I’ve spent a lot of years making up for that mistake, Johnny. I’ve worked hard and I built up this town. I gave these people a good life.”

“Yeah, an’ you kissed babies, an’ you were kind to dumb animals,” Johnny sneered sarcastically, and then he continued with an ice-cold pitch in his voice, “But you put a knife in Joss Milton’s back an’ left him in an alley like trash.”

From behind him, Johnny heard Scott quietly plead with him one last time. “Johnny, let the law handle it.”

Johnny didn’t like where this was going. It was all taking too long. Johnny could feel the fatigue creeping up on him and wrapping its heavy-handed grip around him. He hoped that it wasn’t apparent to anyone else, especially Carter, and he watched the man like a hawk.

“Joss would have taken all my work and thrown it away. It would have all been for nothing, Johnny,” Carter said calmly.

“He wasn’t working on a story to print, Carter,” Johnny answered angrily. “He was just lookin’ to make sure Suzanna got the right man.”

Carter grinned. “Don’t be so naïve, man. Josiah Milton was a newspaperman. Do you really think he would have kept it to himself?” he scoffed. “If you do, you’re a fool.”

Johnny thought of all the things he had told Joss in confidence over the years. None of it had gone into print. Joss had been compassionate enough, and understanding enough, to be an easy listener. It was what had made him such a good journalist.

But Johnny knew that Joss had also valued his friendship. He had seen something in the hardened young gun hawk that he had considered worth fostering. So he’d never pushed or pried, never offered advice and never sympathized. He’d just listened when Johnny had been willing to talk.

“No, you’re the fool, Carter. Joss knew the difference between a story an’ a confidence.”

“Well, I couldn’t take the chance,” Carter told him, throwing his hands up to emphasize it.

“So you stabbed him in the back.”

“Poetic in a way, don’t you think, Johnny? Es tu Brute…”

The words meant nothing to Johnny.  But the lack of remorse in them was all too obvious. It was very nearly too much for him. A hot flash of fire seethed through every nerve in his body. He fought it down. Anger was his enemy now.

He narrowed his eyes and concentrated on keeping both his emotions and his voice level.

“What kind of a skunk would betray a friend like that?” Johnny demanded, keeping a lid on the rage that he still felt.

“’Betray’,” Carter quoted, intriguingly. “Now, that’s an interesting choice of word. It’s not the way I see it, Johnny. ‘Survival’, that’s more the word I would use.”

He leaned forward in the chair, and looked intently into Johnny’s eyes.

“You know about survival, don’t you, Johnny?” he continued. His voice was suave, almost hypnotic, and he really seemed to believe in his subject. “Survival of the fittest, self-preservation. That’s what it’s all about. To take a life in order to stay alive; to kill or be killed?

Sometimes you only have a split second to make up your mind, and sometimes you have what seems like a lifetime. It’s the ultimate decision, Johnny. It separates the men from the boys, the weak from the strong.

You’ve been in that position, haven’t you? Yes, of course you have. You know what it’s like to choose whether a man should die or not. How many men have you stood in front of, Johnny? How many times have you had to make that decision? Him or me….? Me…”

Johnny caught a flicker in the man’s eyes that warned him. He leapt to his left and drew and fired in one liquid movement, too fast for the others to follow closely.

There were two shots, fired so close together that they could barely be separated by the human ear.

“Or you…..” they heard Carter finish, as he dropped the gun he had pulled from the drawer.

It was a reflex action, one he was incapable of preventing. Johnny had put a bullet through his wrist and he grabbed his injured arm and grimaced in pain. Blood flowed from the wound and he leaned back in the chair holding it tightly to stem the flow of blood.

The Marshall ran forward to pick up the fallen gun before Carter could attempt to retrieve it and use it again. He turned back and realized that the bullet Carter had fired had not been a complete waste.

Johnny was still lying on his side, on the floor. He had landed heavily and was holding his upper right arm while blood streamed from his wound.

Scott saw it too and ran to his brother’s side, pushing Johnny’s hand aside so that he could see the wound. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that the bullet had only gouged a deep furrow through the skin. It hadn’t entered his arm. There was a lot of blood, but it looked worse than it was.

Of more immediate concern was the glazed look in Johnny's eyes and the pallor of his skin. He had expended the last of his strength. The adrenalin ride was finally over and he had nothing left to fight with.

Scott rolled him onto his back and lowered his head carefully to the floor. "You damn fool, Johnny. This time you're doing as I say." He took off his neckerchief and tied it tightly around Johnny's arm to stop the bleeding.

"Sure, Scott," Johnny acquiesced weakly. His head was pounding and the room spun dizzily. He was content, now, to do whatever his brother said. There was no point in doing anything else any more.

From his chair behind the desk, Carter gasped in amazement, “You didn’t kill me?” 

Johnny closed his eyes and said nothing for a moment, and then he opened them, slowly, and turned his head back towards Carter.

“No,” Johnny replied, wearily. “You see, you were wrong, Carter. It ain’t always so black ‘n’ white. Sometimes you gotta look for other options.”

He accepted a hand from his brother and struggled to his feet. As he got up, the room rushed past him and there was a roar in his ears like a great rush of wind.

Johnny's eyes rolled back in his head, his legs crumpled beneath him and he fell gracelessly into the waiting arms of his brother.



Johnny opened his eyes to shadows, blurred images that swirled slowly and nauseatingly to a standstill. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized that it wasn't actually as dark as he had first thought. The curtains were drawn, dimming the light in the room, and giving it a strange, other worldly look in his confused state.

He frowned for a moment, getting his bearings and trying to work out just where he was. He sure wasn’t in his bed at Lancer, so where was he? The frown deepened. Thinking hurt. God, everything hurt! Why?

"Welcome back, brother," he heard from somewhere beside him.

He turned his head agonizingly slowly and found Scott, sitting in a chair by the bed.

"Hello Boston," he answered with a weak attempt at a smile.

"How are you feeling this morning?" Scott asked him.

Johnny became aware of a deep, throbbing pain in his arm and he sighed, remembering. He’d taken on Carter, hadn’t he? Now that was stupid. He knew it now. He should never have let his emotions get the better of him. A man could get killed that way, and he knew better than that.

He shifted the arm slightly, and was relieved that he could move it easily, if painfully. It wasn’t good to get hit in his gun arm. A crippled gunhawk was no good to anyone. He’d seen a lot of gunmen taken out that way.

He lifted his injured arm up slowly and put his hand to his head and rubbed his eyes.  His head felt like he’d been hit with a hammer and the room spun mercilessly once more.

Oh yeah, he thought, I feel just fine! He’d seen whirlpools that swirled slower than that ceiling above him seemed to be doing.

Scott’s words gradually began to sink into his tormented brain. "Morning?"

"Yes, morning," Scott confirmed with a smile. "You slept all day and all night.”

Johnny winced at that. He’d slept all that time and yet he was still exhausted. He let his arm drop back to his side and the jolt reminded him excruciatingly again of the bullet graze on his arm. The headache was magnifying every little ache into some kind of exquisite torture.

“I guess I might’ve overdone it some,” he admitted hesitantly.

“Some!” Scott exclaimed. “You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself killed. You were in no condition to face Carter.”

“I know, I know,” he confessed quietly.

“You’re lucky all you got was a scratch.”

Johnny closed his eyes.

An overwhelming lethargy seemed to be holding him down. Just keeping up the conversation was becoming exhausting. His breathing became more labored and, behind his closed eyes, he was hit by a sickening bout of dizziness. He didn’t answer his brother, taking the time to ride out the light-headedness instead.

Scott noticed his silence and relented a little.

“Yes, well, I’m not going to belabor the point with you. But this time you're staying put, Johnny,” Scott told him firmly, but with compassion. “You’re staying in that bed, right where you are, until the doctor says you can get out. I'm getting tired of sitting up late nights playing nursemaid, especially when you go and throw it all away the next day."

"Not arguin' with ya, Scott," he whispered weakly.

"Good," Scott answered, still trying to sound adamant. “It’s about time you saw reason.”

He leaned in closer and noticed beads of perspiration forming on his brother's forehead. The effort of talking was taking a lot out of him and he took pity on him at last.

He wet the towel that lay beside the basin on the bedside table, and gently wiped away the sweat from Johnny's face.

Scott grinned. "You look awful, you know, brother."

He got a small laugh as answer.

"So do you," Johnny told him quietly, with a lop-sided grin. "But at least I got an excuse."

Scott chose to ignore the remark. He would have plenty of time later for getting even with him for that one.

"Would you like some water?"

Johnny nodded, and the movement compounded the headache. He winced a little and Scott saw it as he turned back with a glass of water.

"Head hurts, hey?"

"Yeah," he admitted as Scott slipped his arm under his shoulders and gently lifted him forward enough to drink from the glass.

"Dr Reeves said you'll have the headaches for a few days," Scott told him as he slowly took a couple of sips. When he was finished, Scott lowered him back onto the pillow and pulled his arm away. "He also said you deserved worse."

"He didn't happen to say how I could get rid of them, did he?"

Scott grinned broadly. "Yes, as a matter of fact he did. He said you have to stay in bed this time."

A knock on the door interrupted them before Johnny could venture an answer. Scott placed the glass back on the table before getting up and opening the door.

"Come on in," he told the visitors and stood aside to allow first Suzanna and then Ray Burke to enter.

They walked straight over to the bedside and both smiled when they saw Johnny had regained consciousness.

"You're finally awake," Suzanna remarked cheerily. "You've been out cold since yesterday."

Johnny was lying back heavily against the softness of the pillows. His face was pale even against the white of the sheets. He tried to push himself up into a sitting position, but he found Suzanna's gentle hands on his shoulders pressing him back down as she sat down on the side of the bed.

"Oh no you don't. You're not rushing it again, Johnny," she declared with a grim determination that he found he couldn’t argue with.

Ray Burke laughed. "Yeah, I got rope ready if Scott needs it."

"Oh boy, it's good to have friends," Johnny told them sarcastically.

"It's for your own good, Johnny," Suzanna insisted.

"All right, I give in. I've already told Scott I'll be good," Johnny grinned.  “Didn’t I, brother?”

“Yes, you did,” Scott admitted with a smile. “And I’m holding you to it.”

Johnny looked past Suzanna to where the Marshall was standing behind her.

"How's Carter?" he asked him.

Ray replied with a smirk. "Your bullet busted his wrist, so he's not very happy.”

"Have you got enough evidence to convict him, Ray?" Scott asked.

The Marshall nodded. “Yeah, I found the billfold,” he told them, quietly pleased with himself when he saw their reactions.

Scott and Johnny both jolted to attention.

“Where?” Scott demanded.

“I searched his office, just in case there was something there,” Burke explained. “I didn’t really expect to find anything, and I sure didn’t at first. I pretty much gave it up, and then I realized that, with all the money that went through that office, there should have been a safe. I couldn’t find one anywhere.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It seemed kind of strange that he didn’t have one, so I got to thinking maybe he had one hidden somewhere.

It took a while, but I finally found it. Real sneaky place to hide it too. You had to go in through the bottom of one of the file cabinets. The safe was in the floor, and the billfold was inside of it.”

“He kept it?” Scott asked, amazed.

“That’s right. He must have been pretty sure no one would ever find that safe. I guess he thought he could keep it there until he got a chance to get rid of it.”

“Has he said anything?” Johnny asked.

"Yeah, when I got him to the cell yesterday, all he wanted to do was talk. It seems he still has a friend in 'Frisco who warned him that someone was checking up on Andrew Robson," Burke told them. “Apparently, Joss had joked with him a while back that there were so many men looking to court Suzanna that he’d have to check up on them all, and he put two and two together.”

Burke snorted dismissively. "Now, he's busy telling everyone we've got the wrong man," he replied.

He grinned and added, "Won't do him any good, not with the billfold as well as the notebook and the wire. And that's besides admitting it in front of you, me and Scott."

"I still can't believe that Anse killed Dad," Suzanna told them sadly. "They were such good friends for years and years. They were both so proud of the way the town had come along.”

She stopped and wiped away an unbidden tear. “I just hope Dr Reeves was right when he said that Dad probably never saw who killed him."

The Marshall put his hand softly on her shoulder and she turned around and smiled up at him.

She turned back to Johnny. "But I am grateful to all three of you for finding out what happened. I feel that he can rest in peace now."

No one said anything to that. Instead they all took a moment to remember Josiah Milton, each in their own way, but all of them hoping that she was right.

It was the Marshall who eventually broke the silence and he carefully considered his words before speaking.

"I have to admit, Johnny, I thought you were going to kill Anse when you went in there yesterday."

Johnny didn’t answer. He didn’t want to admit the truth – that he had started out looking for Justice for Joss Milton, but had ended by wanting Revenge.

But Scott had seen his brother’s face as he walked over to that office. Like the Marshall, he had seen the careful preparations Johnny had made as he was about to enter and face Anson Carter.

And he knew what had been in Johnny’s mind.

"He was going to, weren't you, Johnny," Scott pointed out confidently.

For a moment, Johnny still said nothing. He looked straight up at the ceiling so that they couldn’t read his face, but finally he reluctantly admitted, "Yeah, I guess I was."

"So what changed your mind?” Ray asked, intrigued. “All that stuff he was saying?"

"Maybe," Johnny answered uncertainly, still looking away from them. "All I know is that I figured he wasn't worth hangin' for."

Scott smiled, pleased with his answer and he looked over towards the Marshall, who shook his head in disbelief.

"I’m sorry. I had you all wrong, Johnny," Ray Burke admitted. "I wouldn't have thought I'd see the day when Johnny Madrid made a decision like that."

"Johnny Madrid didn't make it, Ray," Suzanna pointed out frostily.

The Marshall sighed. "No, I guess not," Burke agreed, with a smile and a gentle squeeze of his hand on her shoulder.

He looked back at Johnny. "I hope you won't hold any of what I said against me."

"No, Johnny, you mustn't. We want you to come and visit us - often." Suzanna pleaded with him.

"Us?" Johnny asked he with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Suzanna blushed prettily and the Marshall grinned and put both of his hands on her shoulders possessively.

“Yeah, 'us'," he replied for both of them, and watched Johnny’s smile broaden into a grin.

"Long as you don't get any ideas about Suzanna here, you're welcome to come see us any time,” he told Johnny.

Then he laughed and added, “...Mr. Lancer."



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