Scott Lancer was neatly packing clothes in a carpetbag, the answer seemed
obvious, but the blond turned and grinned at his brother. "As
a matter of fact, I'm riding up towards
remember Miguel Renard, don't you?
Well, he's found work at a winery in the
"You mean that young gunfighter? That was over six months ago. Thought you'd a lost track of him by now."
"On the contrary, we've been exchanging letters. The Torres Brothers gave up on their ranch so he decided to use the money he still had left and headed north. One of the winemakers up that way decided to take him on. I gather it's not a very big place so he has a lot to do."
"Never figured him to be the winemaking type. Too good with a gun."
Scott's blue eyes shuttered over. "I think he believed that if Johnny Madrid could give up gunfighting so could he. He told me he doesn't even carry a gun anymore. Doesn't want to give anyone the excuse to call him out."
Johnny shook his head. "Can't see any man givin' up his gun, not out here."
"I guess everyone has to make their own choices. I know I'd just as soon not carry one."
"I'd feel naked not havin' one on."
Scott smiled at the younger man. "Did you ever try?"
"I know it would feel strange to you. I just wondered if after you took up the gun if you ever thought about putting it down?"
"They wouldn't let me," Johnny replied.
"Did you do that too?"
"What? You mean did I go after a fella 'cause of his reputation?"
"Not 'xactly. Just didn't avoid 'em. I practiced 'til my arm felt like it was gonna fall off, but there's nothin' like the real thing. Heart poundin', hands twitchin', eyes strainin' to see one little move on the other fella's part and then the draw. First time I was sure I was a dead man. No one was more surprised 'n me to be standin' when the smoke cleared."
'No more 'n bein' fired at by one of them cannons."
"I suppose not, but you didn't do that from the time your mother died, did you?"
"Hell no, had regular jobs workin' some ranches, but I had an itchy foot. Couldn't see stayin' in one place. Hired out to help some people once in awhile. Never got paid as much as you paid your friend though."
"Ah yes, the $200. I thought that bothered you."
Johnny blinked. "Didn't like it 'cause you paid a man to do a job I was asked to do, but I know you were kinda concerned 'bout me."
"Well, you don't have to worry about that anymore." Scott walked over closer to the shorter man. "I've decided that I was wrong to interfere in your life. From now on I won't pay anyone money to leave you alone."
"I'm serious. If you want to hire out for $500 or two bits or for free, that's your right. You do what you want. Murdoch's right, a man has to make his own decisions."
"You mean you don't give a damn what I do?"
"I didn't say that. Of course, I'd prefer if you didn't feel the need to help every body who wants to use Johnny Madrid's gun or meet all challengers out on the street, but I'm not going to say anymore about it. You have to decide what you want your life to be. The only thing I ask is that you give me the same courtesy."
"What's that mean?"
"I don't want you interfering in my choices. If I make a mistake it's mine and I'll pay the consequences."
"Even if it's endin' up with a bullet in you?"
"Exactly. You can't have it both ways, Johnny. If you ever want my help, all you have to do is ask, but I won't presume to think I know what's best for you from now on."
The dark-haired man shifted on one foot. "Sounds like you've got your mind made up."
The blond nodded. "I had a long talk with Cipriano. He said that I hurt your pride. If I did then I apologize because I thought keeping you alive was more important, but he seemed to think a man like you valued his pride above all else. I just didn't want to lose you after only two years, but I will just have to accept it if I do."
"Not plannin' on getting' myself killed," Johnny protested.
"Do you think any of the soldiers who were killed in battle planned on dying? They joined up looking for glory and honor and all they found was a shallow grave. Maybe it was some comfort, knowing they were fighting for their country; but they were still dead, just as you'll be when you finally meet up with the man who is faster than you—and he's out there. You said it yourself, there's always someone faster."
Johnny just stood there, not knowing what to say. He knew it was true. Age slowed everyone down eventually. "Maybe what you're sayin' is true, but that don't mean I'm gonna run and hide."
sighed deeply. "No one wants
you to do that. I.
. .we just want you to remember that you're not alone anymore and you don't
have to prove yourself every day of your life to your family."
The elder son finished packing his bag.
"I may be gone for awhile. Murdoch
wants me to look into some cattle in the Yountville area as well as
"His own brand?"
"I think he wants to put a fox with a cluster of grapes in its mouth." When he saw the puzzled look in the sapphire eyes, Scott informed him, "Renard means fox in French."
"Guess that makes sense."
"He's determined to produce some wines that will still be drinkable a hundred years from now."
"Man's got ambition, I'll say that for him," Johnny pointed out.
guess he feels it's worth the effort. Anyway,
I'd better saddle up
Johnny walked out with Scott to the stable and watched him saddle and mount his bay.
on top of the russet horse, the blond looked down at his brother.
"Take care of yourself and the ranch."
Then Scott Preston Lancer headed towards