Vayamos by Flynnie

Word count: 107,250

Vayamos
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

.

Part One

Vayamos is an alternate meeting for the Lancer TV series and I acknowledge the owner’s entitlement and copyrights. Not trying to make money, just having some fun.  Any and all new characters created in the story Vayamos belong to me.  In this 1871 version, Johnny is 22 and Scott 26.  They have never met.
I want to thank Dora, Elin, and Sandy from the Yahoo site for being my Betas and helping me to solidify the story.  Your efforts were truly appreciated.  Anna for helping me pull this monster of a story onto this site.

.

“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

.

Prologue

In the hours just before dawn two men, leading three magnificent horses, lingered on the highest ridge overlooking a grand California Estancia known as Lancer Ranch.

The handsome raven-haired younger of the two jumps off his chestnut stallion climbing up to the edge of the hillside facing the main house on Lancer property. Piercing blue eyes rise from under the shade of his hat, gazing out over a cold dusty wind-swept valley as if searching for something important. An instinct, a feeling, anything to grant him enough courage to change his path and move forward. The young man wanted a clear sign, a purpose driving him into descending down from the highest point overlooking Lancer to face a giant blue-eyed monster from his past. As if to ask a silent question with his eyes, he turned and gazed up at the older man riding with him.

The older man shifted on his horse saddle, cocked his head to the right observing his friend for a few more moments deciding to break the silence, “Want me to go down there? Check things out?”

“Nope.” The young attractive man quickly answered pulling out a vintage gold watch to check the time. Then with cold calculated efficiency quickly snaps it shut sliding the timepiece back into his pocket.

“Why not? This is about the 10th or 12th time we’ve been by hangin’ out up here lookin’ down, no spyin’ on that ranch.”

“Just not ready yet I guess. And Val it’s only the 7th time.” Remarked the younger man pulling his long black leather duster against the pounding cold January wind. Once again, he found himself staring over the rise down onto the vast beautiful countryside. His eyes stopping at the grand estancia in the distance. “Besides we’ve got to deliver a horse to my favorite lady at the ranch just north of here sometime before next year.”

“Guess we’d better get goin’ then. Longer you stare down on Lancer’s Ranch the more likely someone’s gonna notice. The old man’s not likely to get a visit from either of us today.”

“Yep, Val guess we’d better get goin’, let’s roll.”

“Okay Johnny boy, you’re always the boss while we’re on this land.”

“That’s right … Vayamos!” (Let’s go!)

.

Chapter 1: Lancer Ranch – Winter 1871

Murdoch Lancer, rancher and mountain of a man at 6ft 5 inches, stood on the porch of his grand hacienda enjoying his thick strong cup of coffee as he did each morning prior to giving out daily work assignments.

At the break of dawn, Lancer spotted two men on the rise above Lancer and motioned to his Segundo Cipriano Ramero to come over toward the porch. “Cipriano? Who are those men standing on the North rise? I’m sure I’ve seen them before up there lurking around.”

“Si Patrón, you want me to find out for you?”

“Yes, but please proceed with caution and bring a man with you. No need to take any chances.”

“Si Patrón, we will be careful approaching those men on the Northern ridge and find out what their business is on Lancer today.”

The Lancer Segundo collected an experienced hired hand and together they ascended the steep hill to investigate the men trespassing on Lancer land.

However, Johnny Madrid had every right to be standing on that hill, the valley below was his birthright – he was the estranged younger son of Murdoch Lancer. John Lancer had been abducted at the age of 4 1/2 by his Mexican Mother Maria and one of her lovers. The story she told was a classic woman scorned yarn of abuse and being thrown out on their own to suffer a life of poverty on the Mexican border.

Johnny had never officially met Murdoch Lancer as an adult. He had no idea what his father looked like other than the grey-haired man he observed from half a mile away. Lancer, in turn, would not know his boy if he passed him on the street. He had no idea his son long ago acquired a different last name – Madrid. Murdoch Lancer spent 17 years searching for his son, running to the Mexican border whenever Pinkerton detectives found solid clues regarding a mixed heritage boy John’s age with bright blue eyes.

As the two men on the hill prepared to leave, they saw the Lancer employees approaching from the property below.

“Uh oh, they’ve seen us. Looks like a couple of Vaqueros headin’ our way.” Val quickly moved to stop Johnny from leaving.

“Well that’s just great, guess it’s a good thing you keep a Sherriff’s badge handy to the left of your buttonhole. Geez, the old man sure does get up at the crack of dawn. Didn’t expect to see him outside so damn early.” Johnny remarked while grabbing his horse’s reins to stop.

“So what tale do we tell this time – what’s our excuse for bein’ here Val?”

“You mean other than tha fact your Daddy owns the ground underneath us and he is standing down there on your birthright right now wonderin’ who tha hell we are?”

“Yeah, other than that Val, best to get our story straight.”

Val Crawford was currently a small-town Sheriff who on the outside retained a scruffy appearance and often looked like he was wearing yesterday’s clothes. A former gunfighter and sometimes Wells Fargo detective/security guard, his tracking skills were well renowned. When he found a small town where his laid-back manner and skills for keeping the peace were appreciated, he accepted the job and chance to settle down.

The California lawman had been friends with the young Johnny Madrid for going on 11 years. Meeting Johnny as a young teen, Val pulled the scraggly kid out of a slew of tight spots. At first Val tried to shake him, but Johnny ended up saving Val’s life when a small-time lynch mob tried to hang him. Johnny literally shot the noose out from around Val’s neck from hundreds of feet away. Afterward, the two became fast friends and stuck together like gum holding onto a shoe. Val said they would always be “amigos del alma”. (friends of the soul) Johnny called Val “Mi hermano por elección”. (My brother by choice)

“Why don’t we just haul off and tell ‘em the truth, explain your Lancer’s kid and ya just want to take a tiny peek at your property,” Val smirked now knowing he had his amigo on edge.

As the men from Lancer Ranch approached, Sheriff Val Crawford considered their options.

“Guess I should make something up right quick then. Good thing I kept them wanted posters with me. Just pretend we are searching for some bad guys today. Use the cracked horseshoe from this poster.” Val smirked to himself unraveling the poster, “Quick, start looking for some old tracks to follow. Not hard since there’s been no rain for weeks.”

Johnny watched as Val strolled over toward the scenic rise, “Seems a lotta others have stood on this hill prior to now. Just let me do all the talkin’ and do what you do best – be real quiet and play along.”

Val stuffed the wanted poster back in his shirt turning toward the approaching Lancer employees. Deciding it was best if he started the conversation, Val spoke first wanting to diffuse what certainly might become a tense situation. “Howdy, you folks Vaqueros at that ranch down there? Mighty pretty place to work if ya ask me.”

Startled by the friendly manner of the trespassers, Cipriano quickly changed his tune to one of more business than accusatory. “Si, gacious Señor. My name is Cipriano Ramero and this is Frank Washington we work for Murdoch Lancer who owns this property. May I ask what your business is here today?”

Knowing not to make any sudden moves, Val displayed his badge as he slowly pulled out a wanted poster from his shirt pocket. “My name is Val Crawford. I am the Sheriff from Canoga Falls and we are just passing through tracking a couple of violent criminals. We lost the tracks on the outer edge of the Lancer property line near those northeastern rock canyons but thought we would look for tracks closer to this area to make sure they aren’t lurking around. Don’t want anyone attacked on any of the area ranches. Besides – we were kinda enjoyin’ the view. This must be the biggest ranch around. You seen either of these men?” Val handed the man named Cipriano the ‘Wanted for Murder’ poster.

Cipriano took the piece of paper and shook his head. “No Señor, we have not seen these men lurking around Lancer.” Looking in Johnny’s direction he inquired “May I ask who you are Señor and what are you doing over there?”

“Name’s Madrid, Johnny Madrid. Lookin’ for specific horseshoe tracks seems there is a bit of evidence of a lot of people who stop on this rise and gaze down on that nice view of your ranch. Can’t seem to take our eyes off the beauty of it all.” Johnny peered out from under his hat, stood and walked toward the man named Cipriano.

“Si Señor Madrid, it is a beautiful view is it not?”

“It is one of the prettiest places I’ve had the pleasure to visit in a long time. You seem to know who I am, have we met?” Johnny peered out from under his hat, stood and walked toward the man named Cipriano.

“No Señor Madrid, I do know who you are by reputation and the good things you have done for my people in Mexico. My familia lives near the border in Sonora. I am the Segundo at the Lancer Ranchero.” Cipriano smiling quickly offered his hand to Johnny.

As he shook the Segundo’s hand, Johnny tried to mask the fact he found this information interesting. One, he was surprised to find out his father would employ a Mexican in such a prominent position. A Segundo would be 2nd in command to the owner (Patron) of the ranch. And it was always good to have someone regard his reputation in a nice way which didn’t happen very often.

Johnny Madrid, a legendary Mexican/American gunfighter was feared far and wide through the southwest territories, especially towns near and around the Mexican border. The gunfighter’s almost cult-like status and reputation often proceeded him wherever he traveled. Easily recognized by many, his uniquely brilliant blue eyes and colorful Mexican style clothing always seemed to work against his new desire for anonymity. The Madrid legend was made even more infamous by a series of Newspaper print articles and dime store novels spread throughout the southwest.

“Well I am no longer working in the gunfighter business on the border. Right now, we are searching for some specific track markers. The bad guys we are lookin’ for have a horse with a cracked shoe. The good news for us is it won’t slow them up enough to fix it – just helps identify who they are so we can track ‘em.”

Already getting a bit uncomfortable with the Madrid conversation, Val stepped forward to take over offering more information. “We haven’t been able to find any of those tracks inside your property line, but if you do you might want to notify local law enforcement.”

“What about the extra horse? Señor Madrid, I assume this is also part of your business.” Cipriano wanted a closer look to ensure the visitors had not caught a wild horse off Lancer land. He instinctively knew Murdoch Lancer would ask about it anyway.

“Si Señor Cipriano, my client was looking for this young colt to be tamed prior to delivery. We are on our way to the owner’s ranch. I have the bill of sale papers if you need to see them,” Johnny rapidly remarked reaching for his pocket.

“Señor Madrid, showing your papers will not be necessary. The colt is a fine animal and would work well for breeding when he is fully grown. We will keep a look out for these men. Señors, will you be on your way soon?”

“Yeah, nothin here, but we will probably do some checking around the other ranches in the area. Never can be too careful.” Val replied.

“Thank you. Señors, it is an honor to finally meet you, Señor Madrid.” Adding, “And you as well Sheriff Crawford.”

Satisfied the two posed no danger to Lancer, Cipriano and the other employee were on their way back to report the information to their Patrón.

“Well that’s a favorable change in attitude, will have to remember to use a good tracking tale more often.” Johnny smiled laughing to himself.

“Johnny seems to me it helps if you have someone wearing a badge to back it up. Sure is nice to know if there’s a Mexican Segundo around the Madrid name carries favorable weight. ‘It’s an honor to meet you Señor Madrid’ sheesh!” Val grumbled in his most prickly voice. “But the next time you decide to stalk your Daddy, you may not be able to use the same excuse.”

Val called these little trips to spy on Lancer “recon missions”. Each time the two of them passed through the San Joaquin Valley the pair would inevitably end up taking a detour through Lancer’s land. Especially since Johnny had been training and delivering horses for a local widow who owned a ranch close to the Lancer property line.

“Yeah well that’s not gonna happen anytime soon but I’ll be sure to keep it in mind. Val let’s get outta here!” We’ll just have to be more like ghosts next time around, Johnny thought to himself.

“Yeah Johnny, you wouldn’t want your old man to decide he wants to meet and shake the hand of the infamous Johnny Madrid!” Val sneered out a laugh as he choked out the comment. “Best we get outta here before that Segundo explains to his Patrón what we were doin’ up here.”

Johnny then quickly mounted his horse and began to quickly gallop off. Before leaving he shouted, “Vayamos!”

And with that, they turned Northwest toward Stockton in the general direction of their next destination. Val riding a Mustang named Rio and Johnny riding a stunning Arabian stallion he named Fuego.

Meanwhile, Lancer Segundo Cipriano Ramero and his best ranch hand Frank Washington returned to the hacienda porch to a chilly reception from their Patrón Murdoch Lancer.

“Well? What were they doing on Lancer land?” Murdoch Lancer bellowed loudly.

“Patron, they are part of a search for two wanted men. One of them is a Sheriff from Canoga Falls – what was his name? Oh yes, Sheriff Val Crawford.”

“Should we be worried? Do I need to send extra men with Teresa when she goes to town today?”

“I do not think that is necessary – they stated the tracks were lost down south near Rock Canyon. The two were checking to make sure those men did not stray to area rancheros and cause harm.”

“Who was the other man? I know I saw two lurking up on the hill.”

“That is most interesting, the other man was Johnny Madrid.” Cipriano relayed.

“Johnny Madrid! The gunfighter? What the hell was he doing on my land!” Growled Lancer.

Cipriano waved his hand to Murdoch Lancer as if to try and calm him down. “Señor Madrid was assisting Sheriff Crawford track the wanted men, the Pistolero is no danger to this ranch. He is now rumored to be an expert tracker and from what we observed up on the ridge he is indeed very knowledgeable.” Cipriano went on. Señor Madrid said they are looking for a mount with a cracked horseshoe.”

Murdoch Lancer started to bark more questions, but Cipriano cut him off.

“Patron, Madrid is no longer hiring out his gun at the Mexican border and is now doing more respectable work. My cousin Alandro in San Diego said he hires out to the Wells Fargo company he works to secure gold on the railroad as private security protection.”

“What about the extra horse?” Murdoch snapped.

“The Arabian colt has papers and is being delivered to a ranchero up north. Señor Madrid is now also as uno de los mejores Domador de Caballos (one of the best horse-breakers) in the southwest.” Cipriano explained reverting partially to his native language for emphasis.

Murdoch Lancer seemed to cool off at least for the moment after Cipriano’s clarification. “Madrid, man of many talents. Well, that seems plausible. Fine, continue on with whatever you had planned for the day.”

“We will head over to South Mesa to make sure the water levels are not too low checking storm damage on the fence line,” Cipriano replied.

On their way from the Lancer entryway but within hearing distance from Murdoch Lancer, Frank the Lancer hand remarked to Cipriano, “Madrid has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I ain’t never seen anyone with eyes that bright color blue.”

Murdoch overhearing the remark felt a frosty chill run through his body. The hairs on the nape of his neck standing up, ‘no it couldn’t be that’s not possible’ he said to himself as he quickly headed inside the front door.

.

Chapter 2: Ranch Visitors – January 1871

Johnny and Val peacefully made their way along the winding road with a bronze colored Arabian colt lagging closely behind them. Destination, a property known as “The Conway Ranch”. Widow Agatha (Aggie) Conway was a respected rancher and skilled horse breeder who regularly bought high-quality breeding stock at auctions all over California.

Aggie found satisfaction in making sure any horse she sold was tamed, trained, and bred specifically to her clients’ needs. She routinely scoured the countryside for exceptional animals, Arabian Stallions, Appaloosas, Quarter horses, Morgans, Wild Mustangs, and was even known to have bred a few racing horses. Horse auctions were where a 15-year-old Johnny Madrid and Aggie first met and began a valuable partnership.

Johnny’s reputation, already recognized among people of Mexico as having “the gift”, was finally gaining strength as one of the most sought-after gentle horse tamers to high-end horse breeders. In the horse trade, he was known as a “horse whisperer” or Mustanero. His old gunslinger reputation and mixed race, at times, did tend to preclude him from being accepted in certain circles. However, a spirited widow in her early 40’s named Aggie Conway ignored all those rumors and hired Johnny time and again to cultivate her best horses.

Val had finally persuaded Johnny to accept he did, in fact, want his life to follow a different path away from gunfighting in Mexican border towns. The pace of his current life as a gunfighter was demanding. Worn out from all the fighting, the blood, death, and getting continually run out of towns by sheriffs and law-abiding citizens. Yeah, sometimes being notorious had its advantages, but mostly it just exhausted him trying to exist on a normal day.

Now that Val Crawford was settling into the role of a small-town Sheriff, he had been carefully crafting a better reputation for his amigo Johnny by purposely sending him respectable jobs. Aggie, with her standing in the community as a highly regarded rancher and horse breeder, was quickly becoming a big part of Johnny’s rehabilitation.

Johnny always named his horses, “the better to know them,” he claimed. He named the stallion he currently rode Fuego meaning Fire. Fuego was an Arabian given to him as payment for a job a few years back. Johnny named him Fuego because the horse was as fast as fire spreading on a mountainside.

While the two were riding along the eastern side of Lancer’s property on a back path toward Aggie’s ranch, Johnny suddenly spoke up. “Did not realize how close together those two ranches actually are. Comin’ around the back way they’re practically spitting distance from one another.”

“Yeah, and I bet if you’d ask her Aggie is more than likely friends with your Daddy.” Val snickered. “All these back roads leading from Lancer to Aggie’s been road back and forth more than a time or two.”

For some reason, Aggie being friendly with Lancer had not occurred to Johnny. “You tryin’ to get on my nerves today for some reason Val coz you sure are succeeding at it.”

“Nope, just making a simple observation is all. I am willin’ to bet those two property lines are right next ta each other.” Val kept goading at Johnny.

“Well, you can stop cause I don’t really feel like continually bein’ in a bad mood. Besides I can already smell Aggie’s apple pie a mile down the road.” Johnny had a sweet tooth and one of the things Aggie used to charm him with were her desserts.

Johnny never had the luxury of eating sweets like other children. His mother wasn’t the nurturing kind. In fact, he’d never even seen her cook.

Aggie Conway loved to cook, especially for Johnny and Val. Visiting Aggie always put Johnny in the best of moods, most of all because she took a certain pleasure in pampering him by filling his belly with great food, a soft bed, and what could only be a lot of motherly affection every chance she got.

As they drove the three horses up the path to the Conway house, Aggie ran outside to greet the two travelers.

“Johnny! Val!” The joy in Aggie’s voice every time he accompanied Johnny to see her told Val this was another woman charmed by his mejor amigo. Johnny always attracted women of all ages like horses to sugar cubes. But Aggie was somehow a tad different. Val knew the moment Johnny met Aggie all those years ago that the relationship between the two was going to be more than just business. “So nice to see you all made it. Did you have any trouble getting this fine-looking colt’s cooperation along the way?”

“No Mam Ms. Aggie, Conroy here, once he was trained, has been no trouble at all. He’s a really good jumper too, should be trained for exactly what you want.”

“You named him Conroy?” `

“Yes Mam, caught myself talkin’ to him one day and decided he needed a name. Conroy is whatcha call a play on words. The name Conroy means ‘keeper of the hounds’ and it kinda goes with Conway don’t you think? Well since you said your client wanted to use him on hound hunts.” Never to leave a horse without a name, Johnny proceeded to give her his best Madrid ear to ear smile.

“Well, well. Mr. Johnny Madrid aren’t you the clever one. I’ll have someone tend to Conroy, Fuego, and Rio while you and Val come in for an early lunch. I saved some freshly baked apple pie just for you two.” Aggie winked grabbed Johnny by the arm and gave it a squeeze while she pulled him through the front door with Val following closely behind.

Inside the Conway home was a large tastefully appointed great room with an enormous fireplace and a formal dining area in the back near the large kitchen. Since being widowed, Aggie had become more of an informal type of woman. She did not particularly care what people thought of her or who she associated with. The widow readily set out to make anyone feel comfortable in her home even if they normally would not belong there. Aggie walked Johnny and Val into the back-kitchen area which had a casual eating space close to a large bay window. There on the table sat 3 freshly baked apple pies along with various other delicious goodies. A plate of blueberry muffins, cornbread, and a pile of sugar cookies on a flowery plate also adorned the small table.

Aggie and her husband had not been blessed with children. Aggie Conway was widowed on a dark stormy November day five years ago when her husband Henry contracted pneumonia. Since then unbeknownst to Johnny and Val, she had been keeping company with Murdoch Lancer. Although they were not romantically involved yet, he was a very close friend just the same.

Her friendship with Murdoch seemed to evolve in the same way Aggie took a special shine to Johnny. It’s like she knew what Johnny was missing most, a place to belong, a family connection, and most of all good food in his belly. There were motherly touches and smiles whenever the two of them were together. Most of the time Johnny ate it up like a famished young man never noticing the bemused smirks of Val’s or other household member’s faces, especially in the beginning when Aggie first met a young teenage Johnny.

“Now you boys need to stay over at least one or two nights. There’s always plenty of room for both of you. Johnny, I have your room overlooking the horse pasture ready.” Aggie noticing the looks her two “boys” were giving her quickly changed direction. “Besides, I have wild horses for you to chase after and tame tomorrow. And these three apple pies are not going to get eaten by themselves”.

“Miss Aggie my you have been busy.” Johnny grinned as he snatched one of the sugar cookies from the plate. “You know I don’t need no special room. Ain’t never had a room of my own least that I can remember.”

Aggie stared at Johnny with hands on her hips and sneered at him. He knew she had a room at the far end of her house which was more like the guest quarters area set aside for just for him. It was well known to the staff and just about anyone else who inquired this was “Johnny’s Room”. The room had its own fireplace and was decorated with a rustic feel to appeal to Johnny’s love for horses. Aggie would add new touches each time Johnny and Val visited. For Johnny, it was like Christmas morning every time he stopped by her ranch.

Johnny realized his mistake and recovered fast, “Aggie, you sure know the three keys to my heart. A soft bed, wild horses, and apple pie.” As they sat down to eat, the two men marveled at Aggie’s ability to corner them into doing something they really hadn’t planned on.

“Well Johnny, I aim to keep you here by pampering you boys for more than just a day or two. And Johnny? You may never have had a room to claim as your own – but now you do.” Aggie using her most persuading voice to butter them up standing behind Johnny squeezing his shoulders. “Besides, I know you are both just going to that cabin to laze around, so what’s wrong with a few more days or weeks with me here hmm?”

“Aggie, you just don’t fight fair.” Val smirked a half smile throwing a quick wink Johnny’s way. “Seems to me you are just intent on motherin’ us into staying longer and abusing us for our special skills – especially Johnny’s – on them new horses you got prancin’ around out there.” Val cocked his head toward the bay window looking at the group of horses in the north pasture.

Johnny suddenly got up and bolted toward the big kitchen window as his gaze centered on the back meadow his eyes went wide. “Aggie, you have been holdin’ out on us. Where did all those horses come from? I count at least 5 and that’s just in the first bunch. Wait! Is that an Appaloosa?!!”

“Appaloosas, Quarter horse, Thoroughbreds, a Mustang or two, and a couple of Arabians. Part of my new business venture. Racing Horses!” Aggie exclaimed.

“When did this all come about?” Johnny asked.

“A few months ago, why?” Aggie answered back.

“Aggie there’s a lot more to horse racing stock than even I know about. Plus, you need a good race track to exercise them on. Your barn won’t even hold half of what’s out there.” 

 “Johnny, slow down now don’t get yourself all in a pucker.” Aggie retorted. “The barn is being built right now over there around the corner and should be finished in the next few weeks. As for the horse running track we have plans for that too. I have a man coming to check out the flat property on the Southside next to the Lancer Ranch.” Johnny had to stop himself from jumping out of his skin and coughing up any food not already swallowed when he heard the name Lancer come out of Aggie’s mouth.

“Lancer huh? Think he won’t mind havin’ a racetrack full of ponies next to his cow packed property line?” Johnny smirked, giving Val, a look telling him he was fishing for information and at the same time trying to cover up his true feelings. Simply saying the name Lancer out loud made his skin crawl.

“Murdoch, no not at all. He barely uses the land next to mine for grazing. And besides – it’s a training track.” Aggie had to hold back the devilish grin creeping up on her face. “We’ve been scouting other sites but the one next to Lancer’s property is closest to the new barns. It has enough square footage and is flat enough to hold a proper training track.”

“Who is we?” Val chirped up slowly after mulling over his silent observations.

“Well, my new business partner Omari Thornwick.” Aggie proclaimed sounding very pleased with herself. “I found him at the races!” Aggie just gleamed like a school girl with a candy stick. “Did you know Horse racing is an ancient sport. Its origins date back to 4500 BC?”

“Ah, nope. I knew it was old, learned about Greek chariots in school. There was this one school teacher who knew she could get us interested in history if she used horses.” Johnny smirked.

 “Now she was a good teacher. Some of the ones around here just don’t know how to keep kids motivated. Children learn better by example, why they need to know things, then it keeps them interested. Did you know I was a school teacher once?” Aggie smiled at the memory. “I almost applied to teach here, but we are finally getting a new teacher in Green River soon. Our Doctor Sam Jenkins is bringing his niece from back east. She also has some nursing experience.”

“Really? Then that solves the mystery.” Johnny erupted in one of his famous eye sparkling smiles.

“What mystery?”

“Of how you know so much about everything!” He emphasized the word ‘EVERYTHING’ and opened his arms wide drawing his hands out like he was holding up the world. Johnny gave her a shoulder squeeze expecting her to retort back in kind.

Aggie gave him a shove and shook her head. “Johnny, you challenge me enough for a room full of those kids.”

“Hey Aggie? How involved are you with this guy? Did you give him investment money or is he just using your land?” Val was full of questions and he did not trust Aggie’s new business partner at all. “Seems to me you have a lot a work to take on in a very short time,” Val observed.

“Well Omari is a racehorse trainer by trade and now he oversees a collection of business partners building racetracks and training facilities.” Aggie went on to explain. “My ranch is going to be one of 9 racehorse training properties in California. I basically do the boarding, breeding, and the use of the land. Omari finances the rest. Then we split the profits.”

“Sounds a bit too good to be true, mind if we look into this guy’s background to make sure he is on the up and up?” Val went on “Aggie you can never be too cautious.”

“Well Val, he is a perfectly fine and upstanding businessman and I already had the Pinkertons run a background check, but if you find anything fishy you can let me know.” Aggie knew no matter what she said Val was going to investigate her new-found friend and business partner anyway. “If you two stay long enough, you can meet him for yourself. He will be arriving in another week or so.”

And before she could say anything else Johnny was literally galloping out of the house moving toward the fenced area surrounding the horses checking out Aggies new stock. “Hey Aggie, you named any of these yet?”

*****

Sins of the Mother

After days of traveling, eating, and chasing Aggie’s horse stock around the property all afternoon, both men were exhausted taking long baths before retiring. Johnny went back to his room and slipped into his bed with overstuffed pillows. It had been quite a few weeks on the road sleeping in barns or on the hard ground.

The horse Johnny named ‘Conroy’ had come from a town near San Diego. One of their friends Cooper Kerrighan had previously lived near there and had sold the horse’s bloodline prior to moving to the San Joaquin Valley. Aggie, desperate for one of the new Arabian colts from the bloodline Cooper sold, asked Johnny and Val to retrieve it.

The San Joaquin was dangerous territory emotionally for Johnny solely due to his father’s ranch being smack dab in the middle of the valley. For years Johnny was afraid to set foot in California. Once he did Johnny loved it with a passion. Especially the California wild horses, so much variety and so many large herds roaming free.

Johnny had to admit he was beginning to like the change of seasons and the way the grass turned green days after a hard rainstorm. He even liked the rainstorms. In Mexico and the surrounding border towns, it was hot and dusty all the time. When it did rain, the ground became a muddy slush and it was so hot the sweat rolled off him like a sticky waterfall.

Whenever Johnny came up to spend time with Aggie, he had time to relax and think. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good. Relaxing at Aggie’s gave him time to reflect on memories – which occasionally led to nightmares. Especially if those memories had to do with his mother.

Then there was his father, Murdoch Lancer, a man he was well schooled into hating all his life by his Mama. Maria saw fit to construct all kinds of childhood doubts in his mind creating a monster of a fabricated story to ensure a family reunion never ever happened.

Even after all the stories and distrust placed in his mind by Maria, Johnny secretly craved a bond with his father. He never remembered his early life at Lancer being so bad, but he just could not see those memories clearly. He was almost 5-years old when they left Lancer.

He was beginning to have doubts about his mother’s tall tale regarding his father. The Lancer property was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen, and he could never recall the man mistreating him. But he always wondered if his father might someday reject him because it had been so long, and now he was a famous gunfighter. His worst fear, being rejected by his father for the choices he had made as an adult.

And then there was that solid gold pocket watch. He could not remember exactly where it came from. One day he heard his mother talking to one of her new men. Maria promised the man she was going to hawk her ex-husband’s gold watch and get lots of money. It was only then Johnny understood the time piece’s true worth and realized he had taken it from his father’s house.

Desperate to keep the gold timepiece, Johnny quickly looked for a good hiding place. He did not want to give up the gold watch, the only tangible link to his past. He found a trap door to a cellar in the livery barn where he often slept to avoid his mother’s nighttime activities. There he stored a metal box of keepsakes he buried along with any money he saved. When his mother came for the watch, he told her he had sold it long ago. Boy did he get a beating from the guy she was sleeping with, but it was worth every gut punch. Because Johnny felt like he kept something from his past that might eventually identify him if his father really wanted to see him.

Years later Johnny learned Maria would often make money as an informant on men frequenting the cantinas. Well known as an irresponsible mother, Maria was never one to think ahead or worry about the consequences of her actions. Most of the time she played the happy cantina dancer luring men to her bed for sex. Maria would come home with her “entertainment” and often get angry when she discovered her child waiting for her. Johnny often wondered when people mentioned he was smart where he got it from because it sure didn’t come from his Mama.

The man who eventually killed his mother, Willy was wanted by the law in several Pinkerton cases. He found out Maria was an informant on his gang and was out for revenge. To punish Maria, good ole Willy took something she found the ultimate pleasure in and turned it into a night of horror. In the end, Maria was responsible for her own death because she was playing a very dangerous game. That didn’t relieve Johnny’s nightmares or his memories. But it did help Johnny see he could never have protected his mother from her own worst enemy – herself.

*****

All About Horses

Johnny loved all animals especially horses. Even as a young boy it was as if he could see through into their souls. Johnny began to wonder if he’d been born on a horse and was certain of one thing, he remembered riding on horses with his father. Those were mostly warm fuzzy memories and he clung to them. Johnny outwardly would always tell people “Lancer told my Mama and me to hit the road.” Always seemed like a good story when people asked about his father. But secretly he began to realize her side of the narrative might be fiction.

The next morning Johnny raced out to the coral gates where Aggie’s new horses seemed to be waiting exclusively for him. He stopped for a heart-beat and drank in the beautiful shiny coat colors, admiring the fine muscles these pure-bred creatures were wearing. Johnny thought to himself “may never see so many magnificent animals in one place at one time ever again”, wanting to savor the moment.

Johnny scaled the fence and took a stroll towards the Quarter Horse stallion Aggie’s hands had separated out of the racehorse pack for him in the pre-dawn hours. This horse was wild and free having the speed to escape predators but calm enough to easily tame for one of Aggie’s clients.

As Johnny moved closer to the chestnut stallion, it raised his nose high in the air letting out a challenge. A head toss and a snort followed by another paw at the ground repeating those actions each time Johnny challenged him by moving closer.

Johnny stopped a few feet away and began speaking quietly in Spanish. Chanting to the animal in soothing harmonic tones, slowly drawing the horse closer to him. After several hours, Johnny had the horse’s attention calming the wild spirit within. The horse became mellow, focusing on his new master. 

Johnny persisted using the soft harmonic tones in Spanish to calm the animal shifting closer and closer to the horse. After several long hours, and once he felt the animal was calm enough, Johnny made his move. Standing next to the Stallion, he reached out and gave it a gentle stroke on the neck. Johnny could feel the horse flinch under his hands. His voice still soft, he began to slide his hand around on its body, taking his time and watching for any signs of distress.

By the time he was able to touch the stallion’s head, a crowd had gathered around the corral fence. Aggie’s Vaqueros began to watch him work for their lunchtime entertainment. Aggie had also joined them, sitting atop the corral fence with her riding pants on. Johnny knew she wanted to take a crack at this horse before the day was over, but only after he had broken him in enough.

Johnny managed to pet the horse all over and it was butting him with its head when he stopped. Johnny freed the horse from the lasso and it took off running around and around the corral. The crowd by the fence grew and the Vaqueros whispered to each other about the young gunfighter having ‘the gift.’ He was ‘a horse whisperer’, ‘a mustañero’.

Johnny continued to repeat his actions over and over again until finally, the stallion was following him around the corral fence line. Johnny had the magic of sugar cubes in his hands. For an extra treat, he carried carrots and apples in his pockets. Besides this horse seemed to like all the attention. This went on for another hour or two.

Johnny then took a chance and laid a blanket over the horse to see if it would accept the additional weight on its back. The next step was to get the saddle on and cinch tied tight. The horse eventually allowed Johnny to do both and now he was walking the animal around the corral feeding him pieces of apples and carrots as he walked. Johnny then mounted the horse and it flinched and bucked for what seemed like five minutes, but he held on and asked the Vaqueros to let him out of the gate for a run.

Johnny came back with the horse and told Aggie. “This was an easy one, going to be a fine gentle animal for someone. Have the Vaqueros do some test drives and short trips around the property with him. Wait till I check him over, then he should be calm enough for you to ride him, Aggie.”

Aggie jumped off the corral fence grabbing Johnny and kissing him on the cheek. “That’s for taking such good care of me.” Johnny bowed his head smiling up at Aggie. Acutely aware of the leftover crowd witnessing their moment, he laughed it off by walking back over to the horse, feeding it the remainder of apple chunks as a reward.

While Johnny was training horses, Val was determined to find out more about this Omari character Aggie had jumped into business with so quickly. Val went to the Green River telegraph office right after breakfast and sent inquiries out regarding the illusive Omari Thornwick and his racing business.

After taking care of the telegrams, Val dropped by the Green River Sheriff’s office and introduced himself to current Deputy Charlie Muffleman. Green River’s Sheriff had been murdered a while back and Charlie, barely 21, was not a seasoned lawman. Val now understood why Aggie wanted him to consider taking the job. The town was growing, and the young Deputy could not handle much more than the average barroom brawls.

Curious about the town, Val was able to question Deputy Muffleman, who was more than generous with the latest town gossip. He also wanted to find out if there were any outlaws or recent troublemakers lurking about.

Before leaving, Val collected a sizable stack of wanted posters from the area hoping they might lead to some answers regarding the recent Cattlemen troubles.

When Val got back, he could see Johnny working the horses and decided to watch the show with Aggie. “How long has he been at this?” Val inquired.

“All day. No matter how many times I watch him do this, it never gets old.” Aggie observed.

“Yeah, he’s somthin’ ain’t he. My amigo sure knows how ta attract a crowd.” Val smiled at Aggie knowing they were both thinking the same thing.

Once the horse training was done for the day, Val and Johnny sat down for another one of Aggie’s great meals. Tonight, prime beef, potatoes, and green beans were on the menu. Val and Johnny always felt like they were in heaven as they sat down to dinner with the best cook in the valley.

“I know I can’t keep you both here for much longer. Other than Uncle Buddy’s place, where are you all headed for the rest of the winter?” Aggie inquired.

Val lifted his head from eating and piped up. “Uncle Buddy’s cabin is tha only thing in our plans for now. Bein’ how it’s northeast of Stockton and higher up, you remember it gets tons of winter snow. Figure we’ll be there till it stops snowin’ or we stop freezin’ ta death.”

“Probably will come out sometime after winter in early April.” Johnny took a few bites and then went on. “You’ve got enough work to keep us here until almost mid-February. Val and I need to get up there before the snow piles higher than Fuego and Rio.”

Unused to talking so much at the dinner table, Johnny set down his fork, elbows on the table clasping his hands. He took a deep breath looking back and forth at both Val then Aggie. “Not a lot going on and Val isn’t gonna get another sheriff job till May. We do have the Cattleman’s security detail in April comin’ up. We’ll be comin’ back for the job with Cooper and meet up with our ‘Midnight Rider’ amigos.”

“Good I’m glad you two will be watching out for us. This threat to Cattlemen’s Week is very unsettling.” Aggie stated while adding dessert to the table.

“We need to figure out what game these idiots are playin’. Seem to be sendin’ a message only they know about and no one is sure what they’ll do next.” Val retorted.

“Well, I for one am certainly going to put all this as an agenda item. We ought to be able to gather a bunch of ranchers together without hiring a security detail. We seriously need to come up with solutions for solving this issue.” Aggie declared.

“You do that Aggie, might want to start by replacin’ that Green River Sheriff that was murdered last year.” Val winked at Aggie as if the two had a secret only they knew about.

“Aggie just means we have to come back so you can spoil us all over again. Only this time we’ll be stayin’ at Cooper’s ranch.” Johnny smiled at Aggie between eating fork-filled chunks of apple pie.

“Perhaps we can find some interesting horse shows or auctions with our free time when you are not busy.” And with that statement, Aggie gave Johnny her best smile and stood up to clear the dishes.

California Ranches had been under siege ever since the state’s existence, but this was different. Recently several cryptic threats had been anonymously delivered to local ranchers. Kidnappings, murders, and some cattle rustling had occurred. But the latest set of warnings were targeting the San Joaquin April Cattlemen’s Association meeting.

Johnny and Val had been hired as part of a team including a couple of Marshalls, a retired Civil War hero and one ornery Texas Ranger. Their friend Cooper Kerrighan, a former Pinkerton man turned Rancher, was voted in as the San Juaquin Cattlemen’s Association President late last year and was the chief organizer for ‘Cattlemen’s Week’ meetings. Cooper for the past few months seemed to be getting most of the strange notes.

 “Johnny and I are both gonna stay at least till we can meet this Omari fella. He’s overdue, so we’re thinkin’ he is sitting back waitin’ for us to leave.” Val noted.

Johnny, worried about connections to the notes Cooper was receiving, wanting to be cautious with Aggie’s new business partner. He walked over to grab more dessert from the small buffet and squatted down next to Aggie. “Aggie, Val is not gonna get the info back on Omari for a couple of weeks.”

Val walked toward Aggie and sat down on the other side. “Send your Vaquero’s up there to find them and escort them down here. Tell them we ain’t leaving without meeting Omari.” Val stated in a serious manner.

“Alright Val, I will see what I can do.” Aggie confirmed.

“Aggie, if they refuse to meet us, we know somethin’ is up.”

*****

Strangers in The Night

Finally, several days later the illusive Omari Thornwick came for the long overdue visit. Val and Johnny were right, he had been waiting out their departure. The Conway ranch Vaqueros found a lookout on the hill who reported back to Omari at the hotel in Green River.

One cold morning in February Omari and his entourage finally appeared in a buggy on the dirt road to the Conway ranch. As soon as Omari and his team got to the front door, introductions were made and the two were off to interrogate the suspicious businessman.

Johnny and Val dragged Omari to the horse corral figuring they would quiz him on his knowledge of horsemanship. “So how long have you been training racehorses? Did you do that back east?” Johnny so wanted to trip this guy up.

“Yes in New YorkThe Hamptons and Salisbury those are the oldest flat race tracks in the country.” Omari stated thinking this was gonna be easy.

“Any particular reason you picked Aggie for this new racing business?” Val was snooping for anything to trip this guy up.

“Well, she is very knowledgeable and excited about the business. Quite frankly she has a good amount of flat land. You don’t find the type of terrain needed for horse racing in these parts.” Omari was holding his own.

“Well just so you know, I am a Sheriff. This is Johnny Madrid here – you heard of him?” Val waited for a beat to see if Johnny’s reputation registered with the man. “Johnny’s also a very good friend of Aggie. If you ever do anything to hurt her or try to pull somethin’ over on her like take her property away – we will hunt you down. You will have to answer to us and about 5 or 6 more Marshals and Texas Ranger types who protect her. Do we understand each other?” Val pulled no punches, he meant business. Aggie was like family to him as well and nothing was going to hurt her if Val had anything to do with it.

“Understood. This was a simple business transaction. We need more quality horse racing animals on the west coast. I have chosen several other ranches to work with as well. Aggie’s property fit the terrain we needed. As I told you, there is nothing sinister going on here.” Omari tried to convince the two they had nothing to worry about.

A few days later, Omari had a meeting at the Hotel in Green River. “Mr. Barrington, we’ve got problems over at the Conway ranch. She has more protection than I first thought. We may need to re-think our strategy.”

.

Chapter 3: Back at the Lancer Ranch – Winter 1871

The Lancer Ranch was a bustle of activity. Preparations for the annual Spring round up next month was going forward full throttle and the Lancer Patriarch was constantly in a bear mood.

Barking orders, something Murdoch Lancer seemed born to do and being the Patrón of one of the largest ranches in California – his calling had been fulfilled. The rather tough man towered over just about everyone on the ranch including his son Scott and Segundo Cipriano.

Murdoch’s firstborn was a golden-haired 26-year-old named Scott Garrett Lancer. Scott did not grow up on the ranch with his father, he was kept away from Murdoch in Boston by his Grandfather Harland Garret. At the time, legal maneuvers, power, and money guaranteed custody from a father still building his empire in California.

At the age of 24, Scott discovered documents indicating his Grandfather had lied to him about his father for years. Unfortunately, Harland was very ill at the time and Scott could not leave him until a year later when he passed. As soon as Scott could, he wrote to his father, explaining what he found out requesting a visit. Six months ago, Scott arrived in California. Finally finding the challenge he had been searching for in ranching. Scott was beginning to love life as a rancher and never wanted to leave.

For Murdoch, Scott was the good son, the proverbial golden boy. As the idyllic Grandson of a wealthy businessman, he had received the best education money could offer at Harvard in Boston. He was polite to a fault – calling his father “Sir”. He had also been a distinguished Calvary Lieutenant during the Civil War.

So much for Murdoch Lancer to be proud of, even though he had nothing to do with his son’s upbringing. It brought much sorrow due to all the lost years. At times, the guilt Murdoch had for the loss of his two sons ate away at his core and was almost more than he could bear. He was extremely hesitant to share with Scott the full story about his younger brother John. Mercifully Scott was so wrapped up in learning the Ranching business, he had no time for speculation on a lost brother.

Scott had been a Lieutenant during the Civil War, he was also a prisoner of war for over a year. After surviving the war and time in a prison camp, Scott felt he could never get clean enough. Ironically, Scott appeared to look his best when he had just come home ruffled and dirty from a long work day. Something about his tousled sun-kissed hair along with a barely tucked in untidy shirt made Scott seem like the ultimate rugged cowboy. And this newly minted cowboy who had attended all the right schools had impeccable manners easily captivating all the locals. Women in the valley were falling all over each other for a chance to impress the new Lancer son. Scott knew how to use all the right words along with the forks and spoons at fancy dinners. Thus, making a perfect business partner for his father.

As a Calvary Lieutenant in the Union Army, Scott was already fine horseman. Due to his position in society, Scott was never allowed to take care of the animals. He had been taught as a young boy to ride and jump some of the finest Quarter Horses in Boston. In addition to all his schooling, Scott was also an expert with a rifle. The US Calvary considered Lieutenant Lancer to be one of their finest sharpshooters.

“Sir” Scott quietly entered the room brushing back his golden blond hair from his eyes.

Murdoch jumped out of his chair at the name he so detested his older son called him, “Scott, sorry son you startled me.”

“Cattle are all rounded up and the calves branded. These have been the most exhausting days in my recent memory.” Scott observed as he took off his now dirty crème colored gloves. Scott was used to being a smartly dressed kind of guy. He was a daily hot tub visitor, and after some arguments, had asked Murdoch to splurge on indoor plumbing as a condition to staying at Lancer. To be fair, Scott had offered to pay for the plumbing construction, but a proud Murdoch came up with the necessary funds.

Murdoch knew the transition to western culture might be difficult for his firstborn. What most folks in California considered an extravagant item well it just wasn’t going to work with a man who for most of his life had lived in a Boston brownstone. Besides, the rest of the Lancer Hacienda inhabitants were thrilled at the prospect of indoor plumbing.

“Those must be pretty interesting papers as I wasn’t even trying to be quiet. You look deep in thought. What are they?”

“Papers? Oh, just a listing of all sheriffs, marshals, and deputies for the State of California. Aggie and I need to check on the background of several of these lawmen. The Cattlemen’s Association is going to set aside money to replace Roy Wilkinson. Scott, you didn’t know him, he was the Sheriff in Green River until he was murdered a few months back. Charlie, the current Deputy in Green River is just a boy. He is great keeping the saloon brawls to a minimum but incapable of doing large-scale law enforcement actions. We need to start searching for a qualified Sheriff.”

“Do you think you will find enough willing candidates on that list? Seems to me if people hear our last Sheriff was murdered, it might make a person not want to apply for the position.” Scott always had a way of pointing out the most logical angles.

“We have to start somewhere.” Murdoch shook his head. “Well I’ll be – he wasn’t lying. Sorry, Scott, I was looking for a particular man who recently had been tracking an outlaw in the area. Looks like the man on Lancer recently really is the sheriff in Canoga Falls.”

“Seems as though the list may come in handy for other situations. Especially if we need a Marshall here or just to communicate with other localities.”

“Good point son, I will keep the list handy in the top drawer of my desk if you ever need it.” Murdoch put the list away and went on. “Scott, Sam and I will be making a trip to San Francisco in April, just prior to the Cattleman’s Association week. We will travel directly from there to Monteca (1), the area Cooper Kerrighan set aside for our meetings. It’s a growing area, a central location for stage roadways right now and a future railroad stop. I am going to leave you in charge during that time, looks to be close to three weeks. You will be put in a leadership role which will facilitate your position with the workers. Up to now, you have been in a learning phase. I think being in charge will shift the sailing ship so to speak. The staff will see you giving the orders.”

“Thank you, Murdoch, for providing me with the opportunity to prove myself. Scott remarked. “Do you want me to attend any of these meetings?”

“It may be good for you to attend a day or two but not the whole week. I’d certainly like to introduce you to some of the San Joaquin Cattlemen you haven’t had a chance to meet yet.” Murdoch shrugged. “However, we won’t know which days until the schedule comes out.”

“Cooper’s choice of Monteca for the meeting is a sound one. I am hearing very good things about the town. At least it’s not too far away. I must remember to thank Cooper for finding such a nice convenient location and much closer than Stockton.” Scott worked his way over to the great room bar. “As you mentioned, I read somewhere the Central Pacific Railroad is planning a stop in Monteca. In a few years, the town will have grown into a small city. I was wondering if we might want to look at purchasing property there, something to think about anyway.”

“Oh no Scott any land in Monteca is too far away from Lancer, we would not be able to keep up with it.” Murdoch shook his head.

“Murdoch, I am not proposing to purchase cattle land. We can purchase storefronts, rent them out, perhaps as an investment. At some point, people will be banging on our doors to acquire good real estate locations. At least once the Central Pacific Railroad comes in.” Scott paced around the great room trying to make his point.

“Oh, I see, well I guess we could think about it. Depends on how much money is involved. But the railroad is not expected in for at least three years. So, we’d be tying up money needlessly.”

“Not if we took out a loan and arranged a rental to cover the payments. You said it was a growing town. They now have a cantina, a saloon and from what I understand a very nice hotel. Will you just let me consider it while I’m there and figure out some proposals?” Scott was always trying to get his father to diversify, but Murdoch had a one-track mind. Cattle, cattle, and more cattle. “Whatever we bought there would be incredibly cheap right now. I can probably do a loan on my own, and not even touch Lancer.”

“Well if you must then check it out. But you will have to do a much better job of convincing me if I am going to allow Lancer to be used as any kind of collateral. And we are not using any of your Grandfather’s money. Is that understood?” Murdoch snapped.

“Alright, just let me handle the research. I think we can get something that will eventually be a money maker which will benefit us during any future droughts or cattle price drops. And if you don’t want to use Lancer funds, I may think about investing my own money.” Scott waited for the expected explosion from Murdoch.

“What? I forbid it!” Murdoch barked back at Scott.

“Will you? Listen Sir, I mean no offense, but you have not allowed me to use my inheritance as well as other money I rightly earned prior to my arrival here. Money which is not part of Garrett industries.” Scott went on, “I suppose I should have told you this months ago.” Scott watched as Murdoch began to slowly fume. “The Garret money, well I have been funneling it into supporting mixed heritage children who are suffering in the Mexican border towns. I could not in all conscience just let Grandfather’s money – which is now my money sit and collect dust. And I knew what you would say anytime the subject is approached. I contacted Cooper and he was able to put me in touch with a trustable Pinkerton agent. He has found a few organizations but not many trustworthy especially those affiliated with Mexican Orphanages which is really sad.”

“Scott, I don’t know what to say.” Murdoch was overcome with emotion as felt tears welling in his eyes because he knew what was coming next.

“I just thought perhaps some investigating into where kids took refuge down there might provide another lead to my brother. What I am finding out about the Orphanages in Mexico is criminal. At least it would be a crime on this side of the border. I now understand why my brother ran away from them.” Scott reflected and then went on, “Did you know Cooper organized a youth program for teenage boys on his ranch outside of San Diego a few years back? He said it was handed off to another rancher friend of his close to the border, but he ran it for several years and helped close to twenty boys. Cooper told me he felt like it stopped them from blossoming into outlaws because they had a place to belong and choices they never had before.”

“No, I didn’t Scott.” Upon further reflection, “I heard rumors a while back he had taken in the gunfighter Johnny Madrid several years ago. The boy apparently came along at an opportune time when Cooper was fighting for his life with swindler Clyde Parker. Although there were Texas Rangers and a few former Marshals involved with Madrid in the fight against Parker. Everything was above board.”

“Where did these rumors come from?” Scott asked Murdoch.

“Actually, Aggie provided me with most of the information. But there were others, some in the horse breeding industry. Apparently, in addition to being good with his gun, he also farms out his talents taming wild horses. He is getting a favorable reputation. In fact, he was on Lancer land a few months ago with the Canoga Falls Sheriff I just told you about tracking some criminal through the area. He had a pure-bred colt he had tamed for some client in the area, Cipriano and Frank talked to them.” Murdoch made himself crystal clear stating, “But I would certainly NEVER hire the man!”

“Oh, that’s rich a man who kills for a living is taming animals.” Scott laughed.

“When were they here and who were they tracking? Oh, and don’t worry, I would never hire the man either.” Scott uttered with disgust. He had some information about Aggie and Madrid but choose to leave the information for another time as his father was becoming increasingly agitated. Scott always one to pick his battles, he wanted to see if eventually, Murdoch might uncover the information himself. His relationship with his father was on shaky ground right now, and he was quickly learning to carefully never offer too much information.

“That was in mid-January. There was no real threat to Lancer, the two were tracking checking around area ranches to see if by chance the wanted men had been close by. If you ask me, those two were likely just using Lancer as a shortcut. As I said, you would have to talk to Cipriano or Frank. They did mention something about a cracked horseshoe. Cracked just enough for the rider not to notice and get it fixed. Like a hairline crack. But don’t waste your outrage about that Madrid character on Cipriano. The gunfighter is apparently like some kind of a modern-day Robin Hood to the Mexican people.”

Murdoch went on with a distaste in his mouth evident in the tone of his voice. “Madrid is an awful expensive gun to hire, he obviously has been giving his gun money to Mexican peasants, at least it’s what I heard.” Murdoch surprised even himself that he knew so much about the gunman. He began questioning whether Madrid was about the same age as his John. A veil of sadness suddenly came over him as the loss of his young son struck home.

“Sir?” Damn, why did Scott always have to sound so formal?

“Yes, son?”

“I am going to consider the purchase of property in the town of Monteca. If you do not feel it is a good investment, then I may do something on my own. I have plenty of money just sitting in banks throughout the US just waiting to be stolen by outlaws and robber barons. I need to invest and diversify. Right now, I am contemplating several investments. But the stock market can crash just as easily as cattle prices. This is my future and I cannot let the money just sit and collect dust. You need to support me in this or perhaps I need to rethink my place here at Lancer.”

Begrudgingly Murdoch agreed. “Yes, alright son, I will look at anything you come up with, will that do for now?”

At that moment, Teresa O’Brien came in like a cyclone spinning with her daily dose of cheer, home-baked cookies, and fresh lemonade. Teresa moved as quickly as possible from the kitchen once she heard the raised voices. She knew if she moved fast enough with the tray of pre-dinner goodies, another argument might be avoided.

Alright you two, you both need a break right now. Did I hear arguing? I swear I heard shouting all the way from the kitchen.” Teresa at the age of 17 was Murdoch’s ward. She had grown up on Lancer and her father had been the previous Lancer Segundo. Paul O’Brien had been murdered by a bushwhacker last fall. They never were able to find the murderer, but it had been devastating to Murdoch and especially Teresa. Murdoch was extremely protective of ‘his little girl’ and whenever she entered the room his demeanor completely changed. It was as if he had been given this precious glass flower to preserve and he was ever so careful of the proper way to handle it.

Murdoch, overly cautious after hearing so many people in town offering up their two cents and displeasure with Teresa’s living arrangements. Some had even started rumors about him saying he had no idea how to parent her. He reminded all of them Lancer employed a live-in Nanny/Cook and Housekeeper all rolled into one. Maria Valdez.

Maria Valdez had been quite the find for Murdoch. He needed a Hispanic woman to help get his second young pregnant wife settled. When little John was born, she took over the care and feeding of the boy because Maria Lancer could not be bothered.

“Good, you two need to come to a consensus. Or I swear I will drag Maria in here with me each and every time we hear raised voices and we will stop cooking!”

Maria Valdez was the ‘Madre’ of the house. She had been cooking and cleaning for Murdoch ever since he brought his second wife to Lancer. She had been hired so his Maria would feel a bit more at home. Unwilling to do any household chores, Johnny’s Mama refused to lift a finger. Maria Valdez filling the gap had fallen in love with little John, mothering him whenever his mother tired of him – which was all too often. She felt the loss deeply when little John was taken almost as much as Murdoch, perhaps even more. Señora Valdez was always considered a much-needed improvement in the position of mother to John over Murdoch’s wife.

“Alright Teresa, now give me some lemonade I am parched!” Although you could cut the tension with a knife, Scott knew when to pick his battles.

Murdoch and Scott had begun to argue with one another a few months after he turned 26. Scott learned his mother Catherine had left him a sizable inheritance. Scott wanted to use the money to modernize Lancer – Murdoch was vehemently against it. So, the two argued and argued some more. There were days when Scott literally left Lancer and spent the night in town. (Many nights with a certain Saloon gal named Sally). Other times he just checked into the hotel and had a hot bath. Scott would show up at Lancer early the next day, get instructions from Cipriano and complete his work for the day.

Teresa finally convinced him to come home and things quieted down for a while. But it was not the end of the argument – Scott was unwilling to give in.

.

Chapter 4: Uncle Buddy’s Barn – Winter 1871

Val and Johnny were planning to spend the better part of two and a half months at Uncle Buddy’s barn. Which now had been cut close a month short by their visit with Aggie. Uncle Buddy’s barn was a safe place where Val and Johnny for the last six years had retreated for their winters.

Buddy Ennis was an old mining man. He bought the land and two 2 barns with the money he made sniffing for gold in caves in the hills. Johnny and Val had been lost in the snow one-day years ago and stumbled upon the place. Uncle Buddy took them in and they all became fast friends. Both Val and Johnny took a real liking to him and they kept in touch by checking in on the old man every year.

The two helped Buddy build many improvements on both Barns. Unbeknownst to Johnny and Val, Buddy Ennis signed over the deed to the boys to claim ownership of the barn property when he died.

Val and Johnny always used the excuse of making the annual pilgrimage into the mountains to check up on Buddy to make sure he was okay. Besides who likes traveling around the country in winter anyway. Johnny and Val regularly paid a farmer’s family to physically go out to the property, check on Buddy, and report back. Both Val and Johnny admitted to each other the annual visit was more to hide out for the holidays. This year the job market for their skills was a bit too demanding. Val had sent a friend to let Buddy know they were delayed and would be there sometime in February and stay through March. A few years after they met Buddy, Johnny struck up a business partnership with Aggie. The more friends they made, their time with Buddy became increasingly shorter.

One year they invited Aggie up to Uncle Buddy’s property during Christmas. The two found out she had given the entire staff time off to see their families. Aggie insisted on a traditional Christmas tree and more holiday food choices than either of them had ever seen. The first real Christmas Johnny had ever remembered celebrating. He could not believe normal people would save up an entire month’s worth of pay for such an event, chop a tree down and put it in their living room. That was such a fine memory for both Johnny and Val. Experiencing what Christmas was like with people they considered family meant more than anyone realized.

Johnny did not remember his Christmas’s at Lancer or ever experiencing the spirit of the holidays. Val’s family had been murdered when he was still a teenager, providing Val with only a brief set of memories to hold onto.

Many times, Val and Johnny brought their “Midnight Rider” amigos with them to Uncle Buddy’s and often over the holidays. One year four of their friends all came up through the winter. Buddy Ennis sure got a lot of his barn fixed up that year.

One of the barns on the property was made into Buddy’s house with a kitchen, a few fireplaces and chimneys added it was “right comfy” as Val and Johnny used to say. Especially when the loft areas were built into separate sleeping quarters. Johnny and Val helped build those, it sure beats sleeping in the barn’s hayloft.

It was a new experience for Johnny to sleep on a hay-filled mattress where he came back the next night memorizing where all the lumps were located. He’d always liked barns. Johnny had slept in a lot of barns loving the smell of hay, leather, musk, and horses. He fancied the colors of reclaimed dark stained wood inside surrounding the structures. Johnny loved being around animals, and some of his most happy memories came from sleeping in barns.

Johnny and Val had also added a ‘cold storage’ ice box at Uncle Buddy’s for any extra food they caught. It was easy to do since for most of the year Buddy Ennis’s property was covered in some kind of snow. They harvested the snow to line the inside of a metal box. And magically an icebox was born. The other item indoor they were proudest of – indoor plumbing. Val and Johnny had no idea what the hell they were doing when building what Buddy called ‘comfort items’. No more running to the outhouse and freezing their asses off in the middle of the night.

As Johnny and Val slid every which way walking their horses over the snow-covered trail up to the property, they spotted Buddy Ennis sitting on his porch nursing a drink.

“Johnny! Val! It’s about time you two showed up. Was beginin’ ta think y’all were dead or somethin’ worse.” Buddy finally stood up and walked out to meet his adopted “Nephews”.

“Hey, Uncle Buddy!” Johnny yelled out happy to see the old man.

“Well if you just got out more and went to the telegraph office. You might find we sent cha a message.” Val groused. “But guessin’ that was just a waste of our time.”

“Git them horses settled an I’ll fix some griddles up for ya boys.” Uncle Buddy always called what was known in cowboy speak as ‘eats’ as griddles for some reason. Perhaps it was because he put just about everything on an outside grill they had built one year. Val made sure the house an inside grill/stove, but Buddy was stubborn and felt more comfortable using the one outside. The ole miner had a colorful language all his own. “Just a mite further south than Val’s” is what Johnny always called it.

As the three sauntered into the house Val exclaimed, “First thing I want coffee! Got any of those pans left I gave ya or did ja use ‘em all for planters outside?”

“No, no I stored them thangs away, find ‘em under the counter ta the left of tha sink.” Buddy yammered on, “After ya all blasted me good last time I just hid ‘em away.”

“Hey Uncle Buddy, you know Val’s pan-fried coffee is somethin’ right?” Johnny smirked. “You can’t get pan-fried coffee anywhere and Val makes it for free right on a stove. Leastwise, I never seen anyone ever make it before Val.”

Next to Val, Uncle Buddy was one of the first older gringos Johnny had been able to trust. Buddy proclaimed he was getting ready to set out for a deer hunt, so they could have some “good food before the real snow started.”

“Real snow? What kind a snow is real snow?” Johnny asked. “There was enough on the ground to slip and slide all over the place with the horses on the way up to this place.” Neither Johnny or his horse liked traveling in the snow.

*****

Strategy is the Name of the Game

Val and Johnny had been relaxing at their Uncle Buddy’s for the better part of a month just riding out the winter. There were only a few times the pair agreed to venture outside in the arctic chill. If a deer dared to come close enough to the front porch, they might risk frostbite to ensure the animal did not escape their dinner plans. And the other was to tend the horses. On one frigid day that seemed like it was 200 below zero, the two flipped a coin repeatedly, settling at 13 out of 12 tries to determine who was going to risk freezing to death on the way to the horse barn.

Once the snow started melting, a favorite contest was seeing who could shoot the most icicles off the barn roof. Icicles always had the sound of breaking glass, they all got a kick out of the echoes bouncing off the valley.

One night, Val and Johnny decided they wanted Uncle Buddy to help them strategize the protection detail plan for their ‘Midnight Riders’. Val, Johnny and a few of their favorite amigos from Texas were hired by their buddy Cooper Kerrighan, a former Pinkerton Agent who was now a rancher. He had hired the team to provide security during the San Joaquin Valley’s annual Cattleman’s Week. Val knew Johnny’s estranged father would more than likely be in attendance, so he crept lightly when approaching the subject.

Johnny felt it was a way to include Uncle Buddy in on their plans, but also it made the old man feel useful. Besides, an old miner like Buddy Ennis always had ideas on people’s favorite hiding places. Buddy had lived in the town of Monteca years ago and knew most of the old buildings and terrain surrounding the area.

“Best place ta put someone is in that church bell tower. Make sure nobody’s gonna ring tha bell though cause it’ll blast their ears off. Make sure tha bell is tied up and put some noise makers on tha stair bottom. No need ta have some fool walk up and surprise your lookout.” Buddy thought about things for a minute and then went on. “Best thing if you can, put two men on that tower. Window bout midway up looks south. Like a trap door window probably wooden, but you can open it up.”

“Do you know anything about the Cowell Hotel? That’s where the ranchers are staying, eating, and having their meetings.” Val asked.

“Founded by a man named Joshua Cowell -1861. Word is the Central Pac rail is comin’ through in a couple years, so folks are buying up real estate whether they need it or not. Now that hotel is on a corner, so you will have to protect it from all angles. Make sure ya have a chat with the kitchen help first. Ask them if anyone else has been nosing around tha place. Make sure they keep the doors locked at all times. If they want to take the trash out – do it with someone guarding the back door. And I would find out what they use the side door for – seems you could block off a door for tha week those ranchers are attending the event.”

Uncle Buddy knew more than both Val or Johnny had at first thought.

“Thanks, Uncle Buddy, this was really helpful. I think we have ourselves a plan.” Johnny was happy he asked Buddy for advice it was a win all around.

Johnny and Val made some additional repairs for Buddy, slept off the cold, and ate like kings on deer and elk. When the weather started breaking they needed to venture out to the Elk Grove Telegraph Office to see if they had any messages. It was late March and the two had planned to stay another few weeks. But you know what happens to the best-laid plans. They always change.

.

Chapter 5: Bumpy Roads – Early April 1871

Rancher Jebidiah (Jeb) Walker and his daughter were traveling home from an extended holiday. Since the death of Jeb’s wife his sister always looked after the little girl Jenna while the rancher was supervising spring roundup. Unfortunately, it meant Jeb needed to travel by stagecoach to Stockton to pick her up. Stagecoaches were dusty, bumpy, most often too crowded, and sweltering hot. On a muggy day, enough sweat rolled down your skin from roasting in the coach to match the feeling of standing out in a rainstorm. Stagecoaches were also notorious for not having the best safety records. They were robbed and attacked by Indians on a regular basis. The loosely covered wagons were also sitting ducks for many a bad hombre and were regularly robbed when transporting money or wealthy passengers. This stagecoach today wasn’t going to be any different.

Jenna was looking out the window of the coach when she saw three men approach on horses. “Papa? Why are those men chasing the stagecoach?” Jenna moved closer to her father, “And why are they shooting at us?’

“Everybody out!” A blond man started barking orders right after the stage horses made a rather abrupt stop. The blond proceeded to kill both stagecoach drivers trying to defend the passengers. Mack Masterson was a grungy sort. He was born an outlaw’s son and along with his younger brother Marty they were now terrorizing stagecoaches along major routes in California. Their latest adventure was kidnapping young girls just for fun and collecting whatever money they found along the way.

Five men were now surrounding the stagecoach. They were instructed by the big boss to make sure they left the man named Jeb Walker alive. Masterson hit him over the head enough to silence him for a while.

The Masterson gang had a bigger and better job on the horizon. They already had found the right hide out in the hills but wanted a little spending money to last till the job was done. Waiting was not their strong suit. But they needed to wait for a certain event to happen before they were allowed to strike. Kidnapping a couple of “nice” girls they wouldn’t have to pay for would make the time pass easier and the men could have a little fun terrorizing them.

A scruffy looking man with his front teeth missing exclaimed, “Well lookie here, we got two of them good girls!” We can play a card game or two to see which of us gets the first poke at ‘em.”

“Alright, take the girls! Both of them!” Masterson shouted.

“Masterson, you know if we take both them girls, there will be a lawman posse by morning.” One of the less repulsive gang members named Boomer warned.

“C’mon Boomer, you gonna spoil all the fun? Everybody gonna get a turn. Now see if you can find anything worthwhile in those saddlebags and luggage. Make sure each girl has a good dress to put on for us.” Masterson leered as he looked toward the girls, “The Walker gal is the one we are getting paid for but it sure is nice to have an older one to play with.”

Both girls did not like the way these filthy men were looking at them. They were scared, and the younger one could not stop screaming.

Mack warned the girl, “If you don’t stop screachin’, I’m gonna hit you cross your purdy little face.” When he grabbed Jenna she bit down as hard as she could on his forearm. He then smacked her so hard she fell to the ground.

Jeb Walker now awake played dead hoping it might be his daughter’s only chance. He had heard all the commotion when Jenna bit the leader and was fearful for his daughter. When they left he grabbed one of the leftover horses from the stage team and lit out to find help.

.

Chapter 6: Message at the Elk Grove Telegraph Office – April 1871

Johnny and Val had left word either one of them could be contacted through the Elk Grove Telegraph office. This is where they headed weather permitting after collecting supplies for the cabin. Usually, Val would send out inquiries on his wanted posters and he would wait for law offices to respond. Johnny had left the location with a few trusted people who were able to get in touch with him when necessary. Trust did not come easy with Johnny Madrid, but to keep his newfound security and horse taming businesses running he had to change his normally secretive tune and leave word where he could be found at least to a few dependable people.

This time there was a communication marked “Urgent”. Telegraph operator Jamie Bradly knew his new friends would be interested. “Sheriff Crawford, Mr. Madrid! Sure glad y’all stopped by early there is a telegram marked ‘Urgent’. Just come in this mornin’.”

The communication was from their buddy Cooper Kerrighan, long-time friend of both Johnny and Val, rancher, and former Pinkerton man. They were expecting word from Cooper since both would be handling security for the San Joaquin Valley’s Cattleman’s week festivities. But this message was a bit early and needed action right away.

Cooper was a man who had been around a time or two and was elected Cattleman’s Association President at the end of last year. One of their association members had been attacked on a stagecoach southwest of Stockton. The man had been hit over the head and his young daughter had been kidnapped. Another young woman had been captured as well. The attackers had also killed two of the stage drivers terrifying the other elderly passengers.

The kidnapping hit home for Cooper, he had a daughter close to the same age as Jenna and both families’ properties were situated relatively nearby outside Monteca. The Kerrighan family had just recently relocated to Northern California to be closer to San Francisco enabling Cooper’s youngest son to receive proper medical treatment.

 A former detective, Cooper knew exactly what type of info to provide for the two to get started, and they were to meet up with several other retired Marshalls and security types where the stage had been attacked.

The timing of this kidnapping could not have been worse. The California Cattleman’s Association had been receiving various threats which were becoming more disturbing with each passing day. Cooper hired their security team to oversee the upcoming meeting; meanwhile, small attacks and cryptic communications were popping up to various members of the association.

Johnny and Val stood in the telegraph office staring at each other for the better part of a minute before speaking. “Are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”

“Yeah Val, you think this kidnapping is a diversion tactic to keep us away from the bigger one at Cooper’s meeting.” Johnny deduced.

“Yep. Well don’t just stand there twiddle twaddlin’ around, let’s get movin’.” Val growled.

“Okay Val. Vayamos.”

*****

The Midnight Riders

Johnny and Val quickly collected their belongings and equipment from Uncle Buddy’s Cabin, said their goodbyes and lit out at a swift gallop to the remote area where the Stagecoach was attacked. Along the way, they were met by some old trusted amigos from their days on the Mexican border. Tex, Marley, and the McGuinness brothers. They often hired on as a team to do large-scale rescue operations calling themselves ‘The Midnight Riders’.

Marley Miller – a former Major in the Union Army was one of Val’s buddies and Johnny knew him well. Along with Val, Marley helped raise the young teenage Johnny Madrid until he went to war. Val met Marley working the Overland Mail stage lines and Wells Fargo security runs. They were often hired to investigate robberies and murders of Wells employees. More of a gumshoe type of detective, Marley had dabbled in gunfighting but opted for the straighter life. A bit less worn looking than Val although he was older by about 10 years. Marley was a stocky rough and tumble kind of guy. Marley had a thing about getting properly fed, bathed and enough sleep, almost being obsessive about it. He gobbled large amounts of food like there was no tomorrow. Marley had a talent for quietly breaking a man’s neck in a split second and had a well-known accuracy as a long-range rifle sniper.

Texas (Tex) Walton – Texas Ranger/Gunfighter/Gambler, a friend of Val’s and oldest of the bunch. Not unlike Cooper, Tex had an aging silver fox kind of look with hazel eyes and a western style mustache. His silver colored hair drove most females wild. Tex was tall and thin, no matter how much he ate. Johnny had been ambushed by a rancher and beaten just outside of El Paso and Val sent Tex in to save his life. The rancher who tried to kill him was involved in a range war and on the wrong side of the law. This was one of the very first incidents responsible for tipping public opinion in Johnny’s favor.

Avery and Addison (Addy) McGuinness – Brothers and friends of Johnny’s, their family had come to America during the Irish potato famine. One blond, the other red-haired, they were what was called ‘Irish Twins’ (Babies born within the same year) looking nothing alike. Southwestern accents overpowered any Irish brogue left over from their heritage. The McGuinness brothers were initially gunfighters and were pretty good. But both ended up working on the lawman’s side after saving a Marshal in Abilene. They both became Marshals themselves – well Addy the younger one was a Deputy Marshal. Johnny made fast friends with the brothers when he pulled Avery out of a bad situation. About to be ambushed by 5 outlaws, Johnny appeared out of nowhere and started mowing down all the bad guys with guns surrounding Avery. Somehow in the middle of the ruckus, he hurled a spare colt towards the Marshal to shoot with. Addy and Avery’s relationship with Johnny cemented forever after one incident.

These were the men Val and Johnny trusted with their lives. They had been on many rescue missions and saved each other too many times to count. It has been said that by saving someone’s life, you then are responsible for that person. From that moment forward, you were obligated to look after them, and provide comfort and aid if they were ever in need again.

There was an old Indian proverb Johnny often liked to quote: “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave, and the people who love us.” – Dakota

*****

The Art of Tracking

Val was the first to dismount his horse quickly joining the others trying to figure out what direction tracks were moving. “So what’ve we got here? Looks like the undertaker and stage company sure messed up this area removin’ their pieces. There’s a whole lot a tracks to figure out.” Val stated.

“Stage company and undertaker just left about a half hour ago. They were using a two wheeled wagon with a matched pair of horses. You can see their tracks follow the same pattern back to town.” Marley pointed to the trail with the wheel tracks.

Tex had stopped at Cooper’s ranch prior to arriving at the Stage Coach area and was able to relay more information on the robbery. At least a bit more than can be provided in a telegram. “According to Cooper’s notes, the stagecoach was traveling southwest on the main road from Stockton. Jeb Walker stated there were two women taken, and the group lit out going west. The tracks indicate they started west then went around and doubled back. Probably their way of trying to fool anyone tracking them.”

After circling the area, Johnny found other tracks from two single riders going back toward the town of Monteca. “What about these tracks? Did you see any single riders besides the father light out of here?” Johnny dismounted and studied the tracks.

“Nope, just the stage folks and an undertaker to collect the bodies.” Marley relayed.

“Why what cha got Johnny?” Val asked.

“Well, these tracks look like a single rider on a stagecoach horse. The stage line sometimes marks the hooves with something like a brand. These might be the ones Mr. Walker used to get back to town for help. The tracks on the south side indicate two riders, one with a weird looking hoof. They stop here, then pick back up on the north side over there. Both seem to be going in the same direction.”

“And there is one more thing with the big group of tracks on the other side,” Marley pointed out, “Two of the horses had distinctive hoof marks. One was cracked, the other was just distinctive – just not your normal looking hoof. It was thicker than the others and kind of curvy. The second one set apart from the others, and there were three more sets of mostly average looking ones.”

Val and Johnny looked at each other, both wondering if a discovered cracked horseshoe had anything to do with a wanted poster from January.

“Yeah, curvy that’s it, come over here Marley and look at this one!” Johnny yelled pointing to the hoof mark.

“Yep that looks almost just like the one on my side. Bet those horses had special shoes made for tracking purposes, those outlaws are more than likely also horse thieves.” Marley remarked.

“Cooper told me he is meeting Jeb Walker, the Father of the girl, in Monteca around midnight in the Saloon. He said if we had time and want to question him to do it then. With those tracks moving toward town a couple of us might want to run over there anyway.” Tex remarked scratching his chin.

“Johnny, you and Tex follow them tracks as far as they go. Look around that town and see if anyone looks outta place. You can go meet Cooper at the Saloon and question Mr. Walker. See if he can give you any more about these varmints.” Val looked around for a moment. “Oh, pick us up some food if you can manage.”

“Guess you’re gonna stay here? Follow those other tracks?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah, it looks like Marley, Addy, and Avery are makin’ progress huntin’ out those outlaw tracks over to the east side. We’ll leave you a good trail as to where we end up. By then it will be dark, but I’ll make sure you can still find us.” Val winked adding his best snicker.

“Okay then, Tex you with me?” Johnny said while mounting his horse.

“Yeah Johnny, let’s get goin’ before it gets any darker.” Tex already mounted on his horse and ready to go.

Before leaving Johnny checked the time on his gold watch and called out. “Vayamos!”

After watching Johnny and Tex depart, the sheriff then pivoted in the opposite direction walking toward the remainder of the team already beginning to figure out the false track pattern the outlaws laid earlier.

The Outlaws were using a zig-zag pattern, well known among expert trackers. But it didn’t work. Not on this day with this experienced bunch of trackers. What they were looking for was just over the rise.

Later that evening Val, Marley and the McGuiness brothers would find an encampment of about eleven men and two women. Once they found the camp, they started searching for the lookouts and planning their next move.

.

Chapter 7: Midnight at the Lonesome Dove Saloon – April 1871

Murdoch Lancer and old friend/trusted traveling companion Dr. Sam Jenkins decided they needed a drink after being on the road for the better part of three days. It was midnight but still the necessity for some calming comfort in a glass was way too tempting to pass up. Even for a weeknight, the saloon was filled with the usual cowboys, poker players, saloon girls, and regular drifters.

The two friends had been traveling from San Francisco, part business part pleasure for both. Dr. Sam had been asked to speak at Sutton Hospital. Murdoch was finalizing ranch business contracts.

Suddenly the batwing doors to the Lonesome Dove Saloon open and two men walk in, one a Texas Ranger, the other was Johnny Madrid. More from curiosity than fear, the saloon patron’s gaze immediately went to the entrance where the two started to make their way to the back of the saloon. Most were just wondering why a Texas Ranger was in the Lonesome Dove with what looked like a gunfighter interrupting their poker games.

Johnny immediately began scrutinizing the saloon customers, zeroing in on the most broken man sitting up against the back wall with a loosely placed bandage on his head silently nursing his beer.

As Johnny progressed toward the injured man, he scooped up a cold beer laid out by the bartender. Most bartenders recognized Johnny Madrid on sight and knew he usually liked a cold beer. Lonesome Dove’s local tap master knew the drill – keep Madrid happy by quickly offering the gunfighter his preferred drink. Tex collected a beer as well ordering six sandwiches and extra tack for their amigos.

Johnny continued to the back table and bent down to squat in front of the man named Jeb to more easily chat with the distraught father quietly, “Mr. Walker?”

Jeb slowly looked up, “My name is Johnny Madrid. My associates and I were hired by Cooper Kerrighan to find your daughter.” Johnny waited for a response when there was none he continued, “Looks like you got pretty beaten up there Mr. Walker. Have you seen a Doctor since you’ve been in town?”

“No, not really. I have been so sick with worry about Jenna. My God, she is only 9-years old. What will they do to her?” Jeb’s voice fraught with shock and worry.

“Mr. Walker, no use in worrying about what might happen. We have men already tracking their location and we should know something soon.” Johnny and Tex knew not to tell the man too much. The two did not need a fretting father following them back to camp messing up any of their carefully laid plans.

“We are gonna get your daughter back.” Johnny tried to calm the distraught father so he could ask more questions. “Can you tell us anything about the men who attacked the stagecoach?”

“What do you mean? They’re scum! Those men grabbed my 9-year-old daughter, killed the stagecoach drivers, and knocked me and the rest of the men riding with us out!”

It was obvious Jeb was not at his best, so Johnny tried restating the question. “Mr. Walker, we need to know what they look like – did they have dark or light hair? Were they light skinned? Did one of them seem more in charge than the others? “

“All white men – dirty. Not clean shaven or well dressed. There were about five of them. One blond with a mustache seemed to be the leader, heard one of them calling him Masterson. One named Boomer and one was this Masterson’s younger brother. Think his name was Marty.” Walker seemed to finally come alive remembering the details. “Oh, and they also took another woman, she had light brown hair in her early twenties I’d say. Jenna has shiny blond hair.”

Tex shifting into view at Walker’s table and began pressing for more details, “Mr. Walker, how do you know this Masterson was in charge? What makes you think he’s the lead man?”

“Because he was bossing everybody around, he was the one ordering them to take those girls.” Walker bowed his head trying to keep himself from passing out.

Tex continued, “Seems these particular idiots are pretty reckless. They killed the Stagecoach drivers but left the passengers alive.”

While the two men chatted with the distraught father, a small crowd began to gather around the table. Partly out of curiosity, but also out of concern for Jeb.

Cooper Kerrighan arrived at the saloon minutes earlier and met up with Tex while Johnny spoke to Jeb Walker. Realizing fellow rancher Murdoch had his good friend Sam with him Cooper motioned the Doctor to the table. After overhearing Johnny’s concern over Jeb’s head wound Cooper wanted Jeb seen by a doctor.

The Doctor approached introducing himself to Johnny and Tex. “Hello, I am Dr. Sam Jenkins. Jeb, you appear to have taken quite a blow to the head. Will you allow me to take a look at your injury?” At the man’s nod, the doctor began unwrapping the crude bandage.

When Sam left their table to take care of Jeb’s injuries, Murdoch maneuvered over to the bar to pay for their drinks.

Johnny continued to speak to Jeb while Sam cleaned the wound and rebandaged the man. “Once again Mr. Walker I am gonna do everything in my power to bring your daughter back to you. If you can think of anything else that might help us, please let Coop over here know and he will get in touch with us. You just do what the Doc here says and get better.”

“Mr. Madrid? Jenna, she bit one of them awful hard on his hand. It was bleeding and should a left a pretty bad mark. I think he hit her, knocked her down. Hope they don’t hurt her for what she done.”

“Mr. Walker your daughter seems like she has real good survival skills. Be proud she felt strong enough to fight back, it will help her get through this ordeal.”

“Thank you, Mr. Madrid, I owe you my life she is all I have.”

“We’ll be back in a couple of days, take care of yourself. Your daughter will surely be needin’ you when she comes back.” Johnny said.

Even being over 6-foot-tall did not always guarantee you a place at the table or even to see clearly what was going on. The initial crowd of curiosity seekers surrounding the injured man’s table was situated where Murdoch could not see what was transpiring. Never one to be left out, he decided to bellow out in his usual manner to get the mass of people parted. “What’s going on here! Jeb are you alright?”

Johnny who didn’t like crowds surrounding him and equally not happy with the loud barrel of a voice seemingly directed at him as the crowd parted, took his time slowly rising from his squatted position to look directly at the giant man before him.

Johnny’s bright blue stone-cold eyes bore a hole through Murdoch Lancer’s grey blue’s and for an instant, Murdoch felt like he was prime beef being sized up by a grizzly bear. He took a step back and for the moment decided to shut up.

For the first time, Johnny Madrid’s adult eyes met directly with his father Murdoch Lancer. Though neither one realized the true significance of that first meeting at the time – it would not be their last eye contact.

“Thanks for takin’ care of Mr. Walker Doc.” Ignoring Murdoch and looking over and nodding at a nearby Doctor Sam Jenkins. Sam had heard the entire conversation between Jeb and the gunfighter. While at first a bit intimidated by the Madrid persona, he was beginning to find himself quite impressed with the young man. The gentle way he handled Jeb and seemed to care about his daughter.

Murdoch, on the other hand, could not take his eyes of the dark smoldering gunfighter. The aura the boy emitted was so powerful, Murdoch had shivers going up and down his spine.

“Hey Coop. We need to get goin.” Johnny stated and then with poetic grace grabbed a rifle thrown over by Tex, flipped a coin to the bartender for his quickly consummated beer, and began to strut out the Saloon door with Tex like he owned the place.

“Johnny, Tex … ten cuidado mis amigos” Cooper responded. (Be careful my friends)

Johnny nodded an acknowledgment to his old buddy Coop, but before Johnny and the others exited the building he chanted out his signature saying before leaving the area he tossed his index finger in the air and yelled. “Vayamos!”

.

Chapter 8: The Pinkerton Man

The saloon was still crowded with people eating, drinking, and playing poker. A bit unusual on a weeknight for this quiet town on the outskirts of Stockton.

After Johnny and Tex departed, Cooper walked over to greet old friend and fellow rancher he called Murray. Murray, short for Murdoch was a nickname the ranching community had given Murdoch many years ago. With certain people, it stuck. “Murray! So good to see you and Sam made it to town a day early.”

“Cooper, what’s going on? What happened to Jeb, and who was that boy?” Murdoch inquired.

“Jeb and his daughter were on a stage that was attacked outside Stockton. Jenna and another young woman were kidnapped by the attackers early yesterday. They hit Jeb causing a head wound, but he will be fine once Johnny gets his daughter back.” Cooper walked over to the bar ordering two beers and continued. “That boy who you are referring to is Johnny Madrid. We hired him along with a specialized rescue team to get those girls back.”

“Why in heavens name do you have this gunfighter Madrid going after her? Where’s the law? Let them handle it. He doesn’t even look old enough to drink!” Murdoch barked back.

“Oh, he’s old enough. Did you not see the Texas Ranger with him? Besides, by the time we get the appropriate lawmen in these parts involved those girls might be dead or worse.” A bit taken back by his friend’s anger Cooper continued, “We hired him because Johnny Madrid is the best man for the job. We’ve also got a Sheriff plus a great grouping of Texas Rangers and former Marshals working on the case.”

“Well I hope you know what you are doing, or we may never find those girls alive,” Murdoch remarked.

Cooper walked over to the nearest table and sat down. “He’ll bring both those girls back, he’s done jobs just like this before and he’s the right man to plan the operation, track those kidnappers, and get the girls back quick before they are harmed.”

While Sam was still tending Jed in the back, Cooper motioned his friend Murray to sit down and slid the extra beer in his direction. “The same men tracking Jenna’s kidnappers have been hired to provide security around the hotel and at my ranch during Cattlemen’s Week. There have been way too many threats. Now, this kidnapping may put a whole new slant on things.”

“You are saying there is a link?”

“We’ve got to get a handle on this before the ranchers arrive and the only way to accomplish it is with Johnny, Val, and the team of lawmen we’ve assembled. Most of them are former gunfighters, so they are up to the task.”

“You hired a bunch of gunfighters with Association money? Cooper, hiring gunfighters is just like hiring the bottom of the barrel. They are one notch up from outlaws and they kill for money. Besides, I heard Madrid is an awful expensive gun to hire. If you are spending Cattlemen Association money – well, we just cannot afford it.” As a former Association President, Murdoch felt a responsibility for money spent by the new officers but found he was fighting a losing battle trying to make this point.

“First off, we are getting him at a discount.” Cooper raised his hand to ward off Lancer’s oncoming objections “Murray, most of the lawmen coming up today are former gunfighters. Most gunfighters are smart and usually work within the confines of the law. Regular citizens don’t have the skills, courage or guts to become lawmen – gunfighters do. Some of the best Sheriffs started out in the gunslinger trade. I personally know two Texas Rangers, a Sheriff and a few quite a few Marshals who were gunfighters prior to becoming lawmen. Face it Murray, whatever has gotten you in such a pucker over gunfighters, you are going to need to get over it. California, hell the world is changing, get used to it.”

“Maybe it’s just this Madrid kid, I don’t like him. And you remember the trouble I had in the past. Catherine might still be alive if not for someone like him.”

“Why? Do you know him? Because I do and let me tell you, he is not your ordinary gunfighter. He’s more of a modern-day Robin Hood, just ask any Mexican. I met that boy when he was just a teenager, back when Clyde Parker’s gang was trying to take my land near San Diego. Johnny helped me keep it. Oh yeah, he has an undeserved reputation from those dime novels, but I can attest to much of the garbage written on him being fiction.”

Without taking much of a breather, Cooper continued. “The kid had a lousy mother who collected a stampede of men abusing Johnny for most of his childhood. Expensive gun for hire or not, whenever Johnny takes a gun job he makes certain he is working for the right side, if the job puts women or children in danger he refuses it straight away.” 

“Murray, what bothers you more about him. Is it that his life draws almost a parallel to your lost boy? And you see what he could have become? Because I’ll tell ya right now I would be proud to claim Johnny Madrid as my own any day – hell Rebecca and my kids consider him a member of the family.”

“Well, Cooper it seems you really have taken to this young man. I will try and reserve judgment on him for the short term.” Murdoch knew he was losing the battle and cautiously withdrew his objections.

“Good because we are not going to get anyone as experienced as the team we already hired to protect the Cattlemen this week on such short notice. Especially if the reason I have to fire them is for being gunfighters.” Cooper shook his head and tried to hold down his anger while making his point.

As a former Pinkerton Agent, Cooper had thought he’d seen it all. Range wars, Mexican border brawls, ruthless Cattle Rustlers, land grabbers, gunfighters, outlaws, Indians attacking trains, and the worst of them – Comancheros attacking from all sides. “Man’s inhumanity to man” Cooper called it.

Cooper liked detective work, just not with the professional attire and polished approach required working as a Pinkerton Agent. Too rigid, strict and never able to really get a handle on things because of the formalities. Anyone employed as a Pinkerton Agent stuck out like a bright pink hat on a hot day. To really get things done effectively, a good detective needs to blend in.

About thirteen years ago, Cooper took what money he had accumulated and bought a horse ranch just north of San Diego and quit the Pinkertons. A few years later, land grabbers threatened his property. With an expectant wife and an older son, he was not going down without a fight. But he needed protection for his family. Although Cooper left his Pinkerton life behind, it was one of the best professions for connecting with helpful people. He called upon his Texas Ranger and former Marshal friends to help with the Ranch business. Texas, Marley, and Avery were just a few of the lawmen he knew during his Pinkerton Agent years.

When Cooper met Johnny and Val, Johnny was a scraggly teenager who already had accumulated a reputation for being able to shoot a gun with amazing fast accuracy. Val was his mentor, protector, amigo, big brother and father figure all rolled into one. The two of them seemed inseparable. Val needed Johnny as much as Johnny needed Val. The older man knew when to take a step back and think things through when Johnny was diving headfirst into trouble. The two had this unspoken language between them. Each knew what the other was thinking before they said it. When working a rescue, it was fast and efficient.

Two years ago, Cooper sold his San Diego Ranch and moved closer to the San Joaquin Valley. The proximity to a large modern city held educational opportunities for his older children, Benjamin and Emily. Nearby state of the art medical facilities was now a necessity for his 5-year-old son Brody. With the railroad, travel to San Francisco was manageable. And his wife Rebecca wanted an area with more civilization nearby.

“Murray, why don’t you and Doctor Sam cancel your hotel reservations and stay at the ranch? There’s plenty of room and besides I am going to bring Jeb home with me and a Doctor may just come in handy.”

“Cooper sounds like a great idea. After being on the road a few weeks both Sam and I would love Rebecca’s hospitality and some real home-cooked meals. How about it Sam?” Murdoch answered with a smile while secretly hoping he would see more of a certain widow at Cooper’s house.

Sam chuckled, “I go where you go on this trip Murdoch – so it’s a yes from me.” Sam always had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Having Doctor Sam Jenkins at Cooper’s Ranch was a good thing because he was about to be placed where he was needed most.

.

Chapter 9: Waiting for the Right Moves

After their visit to the Lonesome Dove Saloon in Monteca, Johnny and Tex returned to the stagecoach location. With their fast pace, the trip back only lasted 45 minutes. They easily found their amigo’s trail. Val had built a small hidden camp fire in a cleared area near where the stage was robbed. Johnny knew Val had a knack for lighting the way in the dark and he could smell the campfire as they approached. Marley had drawn a map in the dusty ground hoping that only Johnny and Tex would find the directions.

Guided by the light of a full moon, Johnny and Tex quickly doused the fire wiping the directions off the ground and were off to quietly find their amigos.

As Johnny and Tex approached, Val was on the lookout. “Johnny, over here.” Val was whispered. “What did y’all find out in town?”

“We found those weird tracks outside the Lonesome Dove Saloon. Tex asked the barkeep if they’d seen any dirty looking drifter types. Said they came in for a beer and left.” Johnny remarked.

Tex chimed in, “Yeah but that saloon was full of people for a weeknight. Barman was pretty busy keeping up with all the business. He could have missed something with those two guys. We barely got our food quick enough.”

“Any sign of them lurking around the town?” Val asked chomping down on the sandwich Tex brought him.

“Nope, not a trace. The only place that had evidence of their tracks was the front of the Saloon.” Tex replied back. “I assume y’all found the camp?”

“Yeah, we found ’em.” Marley remarked. “Just over the rise. Not even hiding very good. Doesn’t look like they hurt the women yet.”

“Why do you say that?” Johnny asked.

“Their dresses are dirty but not torn up. And they still looked like they had some fight left in ‘em.” Marley went on. “Women who are taken cower like they’ve been beaten and anything else you do to them – well they either go crazy or don’t care. Once they are touched they ain’t never the same. The little one is scared, she’s sticking close with the older one. The older one is already putting up a fight – but that’ll stop if they get to her.”

“Let’s just make sure that don’t happen then.” Val remarked. “We can keep watch and if it looks bad – we just go git ’em right then.”

Addy and Avery were staking out the camp undesirables from the other side. Searching for any hidden lookouts. Marley moved onto the eastern side, ready to swoop in if the men tried to do anything with those two girls. There was only one way to take an entire encampment out without more men, dynamite. And Val was an expert at staking out areas good for laying the trap.

Dynamite was Val’s weapon of choice and key to any large-scale rescue plan. “Because when you were outnumbered it got the bad guys to go crazy and leave their tents.” Val always said.

The guys had made a basic plan up at Buddy’s cabin for flushing out the outlaws if they found the campsite. The key was to find where they were camping and quickly assess how many of them there were – then find out if the bad guys were smart enough to outfox Johnny and Val’s group. But the kidnapping and potential raping of young women put a new twist on their plan. From here on out, any surprises will be dangerous to every member of the team.

Once the men looked drunk enough, the plan was to quietly surround the camp with strings of dynamite also laying down on any areas where there were no people milling around.

The encampment had about 9 tents. There was one where they were keeping the girls together. Addy had seen one stick her head out of one of the tents looking around and remarked, “Having two in the tent is possibly good news. They would more than likely not hurt them while both were together. These men usually don’t like when other women watch – might hurt their performance.” Addy whispered.

Marley was keeping an eye on the girls’ tent making sure they did not move one of them out during the night to attack the other.

Waiting, waiting for the right moves, waiting for the right cues. Johnny readily admitted to anyone who would listen that waiting was the hardest part. It always had been for him, in everything he did, waiting for a tiny movement in a gunfight, waiting for the right situation to turn. Waiting was a necessary evil. Waiting and being patient usually always paid off in the end but Johnny had excessive energy and always needed to keep moving.

So for now, they were all waiting. Waiting for the right moment in the dark and dead of night. Addy and Marley would kill the two lookouts either by breaking their necks or quietly with a knife. Shooting them brings too much noise and attention. Right now, the six of them were waiting. Waiting till 3:00 or 4:00 am when the bad guys were sound asleep. With the others dead to the world, the lookouts can be more easily compromised.

*****

The Rescue

It was quiet. Johnny liked it quiet. The quiet before the storm, and at the darkest and most silent part of the night the birds begin to sing as if to warn of the approaching dawn.

Johnny was never a talker, he was always more of a watcher. Especially with anyone he did not recognize. A person can figure more out about folks that way watching and listening. Figuring folks out in the quiet was the way to do it. Right now, he was watching and listening to the sounds of the kidnapper’s camp. Waiting for the right cue, in the dead of night to strike.

Strings of dynamite laid out earlier like a finely tuned railroad route surrounding the perimeter of the encampment. Addy had tossed some of the lines into areas close to the tents and in the middle of the camp when no one was looking. The bad guys always built a camp surrounded by high ground. Easier for hiding and making sure no one attacks. One of the things Johnny liked, the high terrain in California afforded an easier way to rescue people once the camp was found and any camp lookouts were handled.

The rescue plan was choreographed like a brilliant piece of artwork. Every escape route, including two additional back up routes, were in place. The only unknown being where those men would scatter. Addy oversaw taking out the man sleeping next to the horses, sending most of their transportation galloping into the surrounding hillside. Coordinating with Johnny’s descent into camp to rescue the two girls out of their tent.

Sitting on the hill Johnny and Val figured it was time to start the action. Checking the lines of dynamite one more time. They signaled Marley and Addy to make their silent moves on two lookouts watching the camp.

Val broke the silence, “You recognize any of those men down there?”

“Nope,” Johnny rethought the question, “Well one of em looks like Warner Templeton he’s a mangy character. He’s known to hurt women, kinda scares me a bit with those two girls alone in that tent.”

“You see the guy named Masterson? Do you know him?” Val inquired.

“Didn’t see him. And yeah, I sorta know him, Marty the younger brother follows the older one around like a puppy dog. The leader is more than likely Mack Masterson. He likes it when people use his last name for some reason.”

“He’s not a natural born leader and he don’t seem to have a very good handle on his encampment. We’re able to find him right quick. Their lookouts just a poor excuse for night watchmen everywhere.” Val smirked.

“Well his Daddy Matt was the real outlaw. Small time stagecoach robber back in the day runnin round between Abilene and Dodge City. He was killed a few years back.” Johnny cocked his head back to look up at Val in one of those you know what I am gonna say moments.

“That’s a whole lotta ground to cover between Abilene, Texas, and Dodge. Lotta badland and deserted areas where a stage filled with people can just die. Guessin’ Masterson’s strategy was goin’ for the no man’s land. So, who killed him? A Lawman during a stage robbery?” Val asked.

“Nope.” Johnny remarked, “I did, running security on one of those Wells Fargo jobs you set me up with just outside of Abilene. Not sure if those Masterson boys know it was me though. Pretty sure they might.” Jonny continued, “One of the manager Wells guys wanted the cred for the kill. So, I let ‘em think Bowery, that was his name, shot him. Made the guy super happy to get the credit for killing an outlaw the stage line had been dogged by for years. Didn’t make no difference to me, one less family member out there gunning for Johnny Madrid. But this guy Bowery, he may become a might squeamish if one of those Masterson brothers put a gun to his head, he would give me up in a heartbeat.”

“So, Masterson is an outlaw, born an outlaw’s son. This must be his legacy then, kidnapping 9-year-old girls. Seems a might crazy to me. No ransom, no nothin. What’s the deal?” Val trying to inquire further for the motive.

Johnny thought about it for a minute and looked back up at Val, “He might be using those girls to just give his boys some free fun. Sick bastards.” Johnny went on, “Something tells me they are hanging out for this Cattlemen’s shindig. Those boys didn’t get much from the stage robbery and most of the other ranchers have hired security or private stage lines.”

“So, when are we pulling the trigger on this Johnny, like you say the birds are beginning to sing.”

“Soon Val, just waitin’ for the right cues and everything will fall in place.” Johnny motioned Marley over. “Marley, you and I need to get goin’ down that hill and swipe those girls.”

“Yeah Johnny, it looks like tea time. Need to move soon, one guy’s been lurking around the gals’ tent. Want me to take him out quietly?” Marley asked.

“Yep. It’s probably Templeton. We get those girls out first then set off the firecrackers and scare the hell out of those bastards. You sure you wanna take care of the lurker?”

“Oh yeah Johnny, that would be my pleasure.” Marley was ready to snap the neck and finish him off, “Hey one more rapist wiped off the face of the earth is fine with me.”

With Val, Tex, and Avery covering them, Marley and Johnny carefully deployed down the hill into the silent camp to rescue the girls. Tex was up on the highest ridge making sure any possible replacements for the two dead lookouts did not show up. He was also in range to cover Johnny and Marley on their way out.

Johnny and Marley closed in near the girls’ tent. Warner Templeton, the lurker, was looking around when Marley closed in and snapped his neck. The man went down with a thud. Hoping no one noticed Johnny and Marley carefully stepped over him and entered the tent.

Johnny opened the tent where he found two girls, one with golden blond hair and the other seemed to be about Johnny’s age. Her golden-brown hair and sparkling hazel eyes lit up the dark tent. Gently waking the two terrified girls he quickly displayed his index finger over his mouth in a shushing motion. Quietly he explained enough to not frighten them. “My name is Johnny, me and my friends were sent to rescue you. Promise not to hurt you, just wanna get you both outta here. Need to hurry there is no time to waste.” He quickly untied them putting both at ease with his best Johnny Madrid smile. Marley ripped open the back of their tent after tying the string in knots on the front door flaps.

At the same time, the girls were being rescued, Addy was slicing the throat of a man they tagged as the ‘sleeping horse lookout’. Addy untied the horses quietly sending them to parts unknown. Never fond of mistreating innocent animals, the dynamite might spook or harm any horses tied up in camp. Val was in charge of lighting the fuse from the eastern side, Avery would light the other fuse from the west side of camp.

Johnny grabbed Jenna, and Marley grabbed the older girl who told him her name was Jenkx. After climbing the encampment hill and heading toward the horses, they ran as fast as their legs could carry them. Val and Avery waited for the girls to get safely out of the immediate camp area, lit the fuse and all hell broke loose.

As the sleeping men stumbled out of their tents, Tex, Val, Avery, and Addy were ambushing the outlaws with constant rifle fire.

Johnny took a hit to his ear from a stray firecracker. It somehow got loose from the dynamite string sailing through the air. The older girl Jenkx made sure he was alright and got him up and moving. She pulled a bandanna out of her pocket and tied it around Johnny’s head. Marley, already on his horse, gathered one of them on the back of his saddle and they took off down the first pre-planned route. After a few minutes to pull himself together, Johnny mounted his horse with Jenna in the saddle and they were off.

“Vayamos!”

*****

Rescue Aftermath

Marty and Mack Masterson were sleeping soundly in their tents around 3:30 am when a multitude of firepower overwhelmed them. Dynamite and firecrackers were exploding right outside their tents and it took more than a few minutes for them to recover their balance. Once outside, they discovered there were already at least five dead before the two were even able to stumble out of their tent.

The brothers immediately found themselves dodging bullets and darted for their horses only to find them gone. “Damn they killed Rusty and made off with all the horses!” Marty exclaimed.

The blond named Boomer took cover and started returning fire.

“Templeton’s neck is broke, and it looks like whoever is doing this made off with those two girls! I told you takin’ both them girls would come back to haunt us.”

One of the rounds from the Masterson brothers hit Val and grazed Avery. Both decided it was better to pull out than to keep firing. So, they set off the signal – a final round of dynamite. The explosions echoed all over the outlaw camp as they left.

The signal to retreat was received loud and clear from Addy and Tex. There were still at least five of the Masterson gang still alive. But the team had gotten most of them stranding the remaining members in that camp for the foreseeable future without horses.

“And oh boy, leftover members of Masterson’s gang were madder than a bunch of hornets stuck in a tin can.” As Val was later heard saying.

Val, and the McGuinness brothers mounted their horses taking off for the pre-arranged safe house to re-group. Their plans had gone off to the letter, well almost. Getting shot was never part of the plan.

The idea was to run in the opposite direction of the town of Monteca, which was just 25 more minutes to the west. Johnny and Val thought the first place the bad guys would run and look for them was to civilization and anywhere they could find a saloon.

Johnny and Marley arrived at the safe house first with the girls. The plan was to ride the horses as far and hard as possible until they reached a safe meeting place. The house had been abandoned long ago but it was far enough away from the beaten path to not attract attention, and it had a barn. The house had been carefully stocked with supplies, food water, and bandages by Val and Tex earlier just in case anyone got hurt.

First thing Johnny and Marley did was check the property, “Wait here while I make sure the house is clear.”

“Please don’t leave us alone!” a terrified Jenkx exclaimed.

“Oh, we won’t, Marley here is keeping guard over you two and looking out for me too. I just need to make sure we don’t walk into an occupied house.” Johnny remarked.

The safe house was a small dwelling with two bedrooms and a kitchen opening into a living area with a fireplace. There was a working stove in the kitchen in addition to the fireplace. Johnny made note to find out who owned the place. He and his crew had used it so often lately for stage and kidnapping rescues in the area, they might as well buy it. The crew had put enough work into keeping it up for emergencies, they didn’t want anyone else profiting. The property also had a decent barn and a good area where crops could be grown. It must have been a thriving farm at one time.

After checking out the perimeter and turning some oil lamps on in the house, Johnny came back with a pale of fresh water and escorted the others into the house pointing the girls to the back bedroom. “Want you all to get cleaned up as much as you can.”

Jenkx found a clean washcloth and began to wash all the dirt off Jenna as best she could. An exhausted Jenna laid on the bed and seemed to immediately go to sleep.

Those bags you snagged from your tent, are there any clothes in them?” Johnny yelled from the kitchen area.

Jenkx still changing her clothes from the back bedroom answered. “Yes, there are, the robbers took one dress apiece. For some reason, they wanted to dress us back up after they used us.” As she came rolling out of the bedroom, she caught the look on Johnny’s face.

Johnny’s eyes went wide and thought about what he just heard from this pretty young girl who was about his age. “Did they hurt either of you? Looks like one of ‘em smacked you good across the face.” Tenderly touching the side of her cheek.

“No, but they tried. I guess you would say I had an ace up my dress.” Jenkx went on making sure she spoke to Johnny face to face because his hearing had been impacted by the blast. “I have a skin disease called psoriasis.” She lifted her tattered dress just enough for Johnny to see her skin rash. “Since I have been on the road from Boston for the past month, I haven’t been able to take care of it. Have to take salt baths every day. It’s not contagious and looks like a nasty rash but it’s only on my legs. So, I lied. I told the barbaric man who was grabbing at me that I had already been raped once and I had syphilis.”

Johnny looked up at her in amazement. He kinda liked this sassy gal with the honey brown hair and pretty face. Wondering what he had gotten himself into. “I’m guessing he believed you. So why didn’t he come back for the young girl?”

“I told him in no uncertain terms to go get a bath. He wasn’t going to take her smelling like a pig and he basically had shortcomings.” Jenkx laughed. ”Told the man he was so drunk he could barely stand up. That’s when he smacked me, but it was so worth it. Here let me rebandage your ear. It’s bleeding again.”

Johnny laughed so hard it almost hurt and allowed her to clean his wound and rebandage his head with the supplies at hand. “I’m also not hearing very well, and it’s getting worse. Hope it gets better soon.”

Jenkx wrapped the bandage around his head, “Well it’s probably just from the swelling. You took a hard hit from that explosion on your left side. I’ve seen stuff like this before and it always gets better with time when the swelling goes down.”

Johnny laughed, “Well Ms. Jenkx you sure know how to handle creepy men and stand up for yourself. They could have killed you or that sleepy little gal back there anytime.”

“Maybe, but I would rather he killed me than have him touch me – Yuck!” Jenkx cringed, “He was downright nasty, probably hadn’t taken a bath in a month. And if you hadn’t come along when you did, I think they were gonna sell us into slavery or something.”

Johnny laughed, “You might be right Ms. Jenkx, but then again the leader probably took you all cause he wanted his men to just get a little free fun. I’m sure of one thing, they didn’t expect a full out attack for you two.”

Johnny poured a cup of tea for Jenkx and went on. “I am gonna warn you it ain’t over yet. We are gonna rest our horses and when the other men get here we move to a safer place. Marley is posted to watch outside. Friend of ours, Cooper has a big spread just north of here waiting with Jenna’s father. Tex will change horses and head out to tell everyone the rescue worked out in our favor.”

“Well Mr. Madrid you sure had every inch of this planned out.”

 “I aim to make sure everyone who needs to gets out alive, and please call me Johnny. Do you have a last name Jenkx?”

“It’s Jenkins, full name Sullivan Jenkins – my favorite people call me Jenkx.”

“So, am I to take it that you want me to be one of your new favorite people Jenkx?” Johnny gave her a smile and wink while stirring the soup as it came to a boil.

“Saving my life did give you a few points, now please do call me Jenkx.”

“How did you know my last name? I usually don’t like to scare people when I rescue them.” Johnny searched her face for any bad Madrid feelings.

“You were on my reading list on the long train ride from Boston. Exciting life you lead, that is if it’s all true. I suppose the writer was embellishing to sell more copies.”

“I’m guessing you don’t have a problem with my notoriety then I take it?” Johnny responded.

“You saved both my vanity and most probably my life along with that little girl’s, so yes you can take it however you want to.” The girl now known as Jenkx smiled and winked at him as she prepared the table with soup bowls. “So, tell me Johnny, how many places do I need to set? How many of you were hiding in those hills shooting at the bad guys protecting our honor?”

“If all of us make it back, there will be six.” And just as soon as the number rolled from Johnny’s mouth approaching horses were heard in the distance.

Marley came back inside to let them know not to be frightened. “Looks like our brothers are coming home.” As Marley opened the door, Johnny could see something was wrong, Val was slumped over and Addy had a bandaged arm.

“Looks like Val’s been shot, we need bandages and hot water!” Marley exclaimed.

“Addy just got a graze, but we should probably clean it out.” Tex answered while riding in the rear making sure no one was following. “Let me get cleaned up and something to eat and I’ll ride out to Cooper’s place. Were you able to scrounge any of those extra horses from Masterson’s crew?”

“Yeah Tex, it’s the brown one with white down the nose – he’s in the barn.” Addy answered as Johnny gave Val the once over.

“Hey Jenkx, can you get a pot of hot water and bandages? You wouldn’t happen to know how to take out a bullet would you?” Johnny asked. He knew how to take out a bullet but had learned long ago if you could wait for a doctor, or a nurse with proper care the wound healed much faster.

Without even glancing over her shoulder, Jenkx started barking out commands to the team of guys demanding hot water, bandages, heated blankets, and to build up the fire as high as possible just in case. Johnny leaned over his amigo and started to remove his gun belt and damp blood-soaked clothing.

“My Father was a Doctor. Helped him many a time, let me see what I can do. Might not be able to take the bullet out, but I do know how to stop the bleeding. It won’t be pretty.” Jenkx started to clean the wound, but Val was being difficult.

“Stop take’in my clothes off!” Val protested.

“Val, the lady knows nursing, let her do something with that bullet wound.” Johnny pleaded.

“Val, can I call you that?” Val nodded, “Okay, we need to stabilize you and stop the bleeding. I am not sure if I can get the bullet out, but I can certainly get you well enough to ride on your own if you stop fighting me.” Jenkx proceeded to try and stop the bleeding with a tight bandage. “If we can’t do it this way then I’ll need to cauterize the wound.”

The young girl Jenna Walker had woken up with all the noise on the house came out from the back and went directly to stand behind Johnny. Right now, there were six men in the house. After what she had been through, the kid was rightfully terrified of just about any male strolling about.

Tex bent over and asked the girl. “Marley and me are goin back right now and can take you to your Daddy if you want to ride with me.”

A still terrified Jenna shook her head, “No! I want to stay with Johnny!” She grabbed at Johnny’s leg and hugged it for dear life.

“Jenna, can you come sit down and have some soup? Made it special just for you.” Johnny gently moved Jenna toward the table to sit down. “Do you mind if my friends Addy and Avery eat with you?” She shook her head no and slid over.

“That’s a pretty dress Jenna. You happy to go home today?” Addy asked the girl trying to get her to feel comfortable. After all this little girl was just terrorized by a group full of outlaws.

“Val do what the lady says, I’m gonna head out and take Marley with me. Thanks for the soup Johnny. You sure can cook up a storm when you have a mind to.” Tex smirked. “I’m gonna take an extra horse and get over to Cooper’s Ranch. We’ll let them know what happened. If you all are not back by mid to late afternoon, we will send a posse after you. Got it Johnny?”

“Yeah got it Tex, we are hoping to get Val well enough to ride. See if you can get Cooper to send for a doctor. If you do come back use the road we mapped out. That’s the one we’ll be traveling on.” Johnny stated.

With that, Tex walked out the door to join Marley, both mounted their horses heading straight for Cooper Kerrighan’s Ranch.

Johnny walked over to where Val was being doctored. “Val, think after a rest you can ride a few more hours?”

“Johnny, it ain’t that bad, should be okay now that this nice lady got all that bleedin’ stopped.” Val rolled over and grimaced trying not to show anyone how much it hurt. Only Johnny knew better, the wound was buried in Val’s right gun shoulder. If Val could make it to Cooper’s place he might be better off.

Continued in Part Two—>

Footnote to Chapter 3:
(i) Town of Monteca:  This was the name of a real city that existed during the Lancer era with an interesting history. 76 miles east of San Francisco, Monteca was founded by Joshua Cowell in 1871. In 1873 the Central Pacific railroad laid track directly through the area positioning the town at a crossroads of major highways and railroads. Monteca was chosen as the original name and remained that way until 1873 when the railroad misprinted the name as “Manteca”. The misspelled version eventually became the acknowledged name, becoming a town joke for generations.If you search for it on a map, Manteca is the current name and it’s below Stockton, CA.

Want to comment? Email Flynnie

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: