Word count 6,120
As they made their way from the dusty little town to their father’s ranch, Scott Lancer caught himself throwing glances at the sturdy young man perched in the back of the wagon. John Lancer, or Johnny Madrid as he had called himself, sat with studied indifference and watched the passing landscape. Whatever his thoughts on finding that he possessed a brother, he was obviously not going to share them. Nor did he seem overly concerned with what Scott thought of him.
At Scott’s side, the young girl, Teresa, kept up a happy chatter, as if by doing so she could fill the maw of silence that separated the two men. That was fine with Scott. He was having a hard time sorting his own feelings. A brother, he had a brother. The words sounded…alien, yet he couldn’t quite keep down the thrill of expectation they produced. He had come out west to confront a father he had never known. He’d found a complication he never would have suspected.
Scott had grown up a in a house where formality ruled. Nevertheless, he loved his grandfather; no matter how strict he had been he had never had reason to question the old man’s affection. But he had always envied his friends’ less rigid upbringings, especially those with siblings. That strange friend-rival-co-conspirator relationship had always intrigued him.
Scott cast another glance at his brother. But what of Johnny? Who had shared this young man’s past? Not his father it seemed. The man apparently had not seen fit to raise either of his sons. Had Harlan Garrett been right about Murdoch Lancer after all?
“Muchachos! Muchachos, ay viene!”
Scott mentally shook himself as they passed through a large white archway and toward the crowd of ranchhands whose shouts had announced their arrival. The way the men responded to him and Johnny, one would have thought they were heirs to a kingdom finally returned safely home.
Teresa drove the buckboard passed the curious throng and up to the front door. The large structure had been dwarfed by its surroundings when they’d seen it from the ridge. Up close, it was as fine a house as any on Beacon Hill. Scott turned to his brother. Johnny was gazing at the dwelling with the same look of appreciation…and something else. Scott could read it in his eyes. For this man, its only worth was monetary.
Scott felt a momentary disappointment but then shrugged it off. Not everyone is looking for the missing part of their life. Together, they followed their father’s ward into the small foray. Teresa motioned to the large set of doors to their right and then disappeared into the house’s interior.
“Well, go ahead,” Johnny impatiently prompted.
Scott took a deep breath and resolutely knocked.
At the sound of their father’s voice, Scott opened the doors.
The long, dark hallway was a well-known one, the intricate pattern of the carpeting a common template through his friend’s house; a house that for years had been like a second home. So why was he so afraid? Scott slowed his stepped as he neared the closed door at the end of the passage, the dark wood a barrier to his way. His hand trembled slightly as he reached for the brass doorknob.
The door drifted open. The room beyond was as dark as the hall behind him. The filtered light from the opened window was obscured by a dangling figure. He tried to turn away and run from what waited for him but his legs refused to do his bidding. Instead, he approached the body hanging from the rafters, the creaking of the twisting rope the only sound. The corpse swung round. It was Peter.
Scott bolted awake with a choked cry. He sat up and rubbed his hands over his face, trying to dispel the image. God, he wished the dreams would stop. Peter Sinclair was two weeks in his grave when the nightmares began. Scott remembered the first one clearly. That time, his best friend had drowned as he stood helplessly by. Only the privacy of the Pullman car he traveled in had saved him from embarrassment as he woke screaming.
Since then, he’d watched Peter die half a dozen different ways; yet oddly, not in the way he had. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where Scott’s mind had dredged up this particular scenario. The burned out ranch and its dead owner were fresh memories, courtesy of the men who had tried to drive Murdoch from his property and, not incidentally, the reason for Scott’s present situation.
Scott thought about going back to sleep, but decided against it. The dreams had never haunted him twice in the same night but there was no sense tempting fate.
He threw off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. Light was beginning to filter through the closed drapes and it shrouded the room in a diffused haze. Slightly disoriented, he stretched and looked around. His new…not home, exactly. He didn’t know what to call it at this point. But after three days it was beginning to be familiar. Through the door Scott could hear noises coming from the rest of the house, even though it couldn’t be much past six in the morning.
After such a disturbing dream, the sounds were comforting; kitchen noises as breakfast was being made. The thought made Scott realize how hungry he was. He had always been a big eater, though no matter how much he ate he stayed rail-thin. More than once, his grandfather had despaired of being eaten out of house and home.
Scott grinned sardonically. He didn’t think food would be a problem on a ranch with so much livestock running around. He certainly hoped not. Although Murdoch Lancer had decided to wait until Johnny was able to get around on his own before breaking his two sons into the daily grind of ranch life, Scott could already tell that his new occupation was invariably going to be a hard one. The events of the last few days had been an insightful, though extreme, introduction; beginning with their defeat of the land-pirates trying to run their father off his land.
The victory had been swift, but not without casualties. Johnny had almost been one of them. A bullet he’d taken hadn’t damaged any organs, but he had lost quite a bit of blood. The doctor had said it would be at least four days before the youngest Lancer could make the trip into town to sign the papers that would make them each one-third owner of their father’s vast holdings.
The early morning cold brought a sudden shiver to his bare body. He draped a blanket over his shoulders and got up to find his clothes. He figured he better get dressed and downstairs. The girl, Teresa, had made it perfectly clear that privacy was a luxury at Lancer. Like a sister, indeed. He wondered how long she’d insist on that after the first time she was privileged to walk in on either him or Johnny without a stitch on. That was one “privilege” Scott was more than willing to leave to his brother.
“How’s Johnny doing?” Late to breakfast, Scott had found everyone already gone and about their chores. He had wandered into the kitchen looking for something to eat and had spied the young girl standing at the sink, cleaning the tray she had been using to take Johnny his food.
Teresa turned to him and smiled. “Oh, much better. He even finished all his breakfast.” Her eyes narrowed in perplexity. “He’s awfully quiet though.”
“As opposed to…?”
She grinned, her moods swinging like a child’s. “Your father. He’s a terrible patient. All he does is complain about how much work still needs to be done. But I suppose that will change now that he has the two of you.”
“Don’t count on it,” Scott bristled. He hadn’t liked her choice of words.
“You are staying, aren’t you, Scott?”
The look on the girl’s face made him regret his outburst. It wasn’t her fault. And she genuinely seemed to love Murdoch Lancer. “Yes, I’m staying. I made a deal with Murdoch and I plan to see it through.”
She gave him a troubled look but didn’t reply.
With an inward shrug Scott walked over to get his breakfast. No sense trying to explain it to her. Teresa would have to deal with the situation as best she could. He didn’t hear her leave, but when he turned away from the stove she was gone.
Scott took a seat at the small table and ate in silence. Looking around, he was surprised at how large the room actually was. He wondered if Murdoch did the same kind of entertaining Scott’s grandfather had been famous for. Probably. They’re more alike than they know…or are willing to admit. He had seen a lot of Harlan Garrett in Murdoch Lancer.
Scott was under no illusions when it came to his father. The man might have a certain sentimental attachment to his sons; he apparently preferred signing over two-thirds of his life work to them rather than hire total strangers to do the job of saving it. But if push came to shove, Scott thought grimly, Murdoch’s first priority was Lancer…and probably always would be. His father was a hard man to figure out. Not for the first time, Scott wondered what his mother must have been like.
A softer Harlan Garrett, perhaps? Scott thought not. If Catherine Garrett had been anything like her father, she and Murdoch would have been as compatible as oil and water; something like Murdoch’s relationship with his second wife according to what Johnny had said.
That brought his thoughts around to his brother. Johnny was an enigma. His life couldn’t have been an easy one; he didn’t even have a horse when they first met. Yet he had been willing to throw away a new and better life over a minor disagreement with their father.
There was so much anger in Johnny. Though held in check most of the time, Scott had already seen its destructive nature emerge whenever his brother felt emotionally threatened.
He recalled Teresa’s words. Johnny’s mother had run off while Johnny was still a baby. If his own history was any indication, Scott could well imagine what stories his brother must have heard from her. Was she even alive?
There was only one way he was going to get any answers. Scott stood up and took his bowl over to the sink. He tossed his napkin into the hamper that sat next to the counter and headed for his brother’s room.
“May I come in?” Scott waited at the doorway. His brother was propped against several pillows and was still in a great deal of discomfort.
“Sure, it’s not like I’m going anywhere,” Johnny drawled. He tried to pull himself into a more upright position, but a grimace of pain crossed his face and he fell back.
“You shouldn’t be trying to get up.” Scott approached the bed and took the chair at its side. “A wound like that needs time to heal.”
“What would you know about it?”
“I was in a war, you know.”
Johnny gave a weak grin. “That’s right. Well, I guess you’re made of sterner stuff than I first gave you credit for.”
“I can imagine,” Scott answered dryly.
“So, what’s on your mind?”
“Does something have to be on my mind? Can’t I just wonder how you’re doing?”
Johnny studied him a moment before answering. “No, I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to you for risking your own neck to go after me, even if I do think you’re loco for doing it. But brother or not, we’re still strangers.”
“I know. It doesn’t mean we have to stay that way. We’re going to be living with each other after all.”
“Maybe.” The young man appeared to find the view outside suddenly quite interesting. “We’ll see.”
“You’ve earned your share of this ranch. Why would you want to leave?”
His brother continued to gaze out the window on the adjacent wall. “Like I told Murdoch, I don’t take orders very well. And that old man, he doesn’t cotton to anyone who disagrees with him.”
“You have to learn to pick your battles.”
Johnny looked sharply back and scowled. “You trying to tell me what to do, too?”
Scott shook his head in exasperation. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just suggesting that you don’t have to butt heads with him over everything. Is it going to kill you to just go along with him sometimes?”
“I learned the hard way that you don’t let people see your weaknesses, and that includes ‘going along’ with them. That’s a good way to get yourself killed.”
“Now you’re being absurd,” Scott shot back.
“Go to hell. I don’t need you to tell me how to live my life.” Johnny tensed and turned away again. “Now get out. I’m tired.”
Scott was instantly contrite. He knew his brother was in pain. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that I don’t see any reason for you to think about leaving.” He heard the young man sigh in exasperation. “Johnny?”
“You make it sound like it’s all up to me. Well, it ain’t. Murdoch’s already made up his mind about how he feels. He might not come right out and say it, but he’s made it clear he doesn’t trust me.”
“He doesn’t know you. None of us do. But we never will if you don’t give us the chance.”
Johnny chuckled. He seemed to think his words over before responding. “He knows me. Or, at least, he knows what I am.”
“And what are you?”
There was silence for a long time. Just when Scott thought his brother wasn’t going to acknowledge his question, the young man finally spoke. The answer was laced with pride, yet Scott could not help but hear the acrid tones of bitterness.
Scott stood outside and watched the sun disappear behind the nearby mountains. The air was still and all you could hear was an occasional nicker from the nearby corral as the horses settled in for the night. He closed his eyes for a moment and let himself relax. This land had an untamed beauty all its own. And he had found himself drawn to its wildness as the gentle hills of the Appalachians had given way to wide open spaces and towering peaks. Yet it disturbed him, too. He wasn’t used to it, and this morning’s revelation had only added to his difficulties.
His brother was a gunhawk, one of those men who lived outside the law Scott had read about in those awful dime novels so popular back East. Scott chuckled in spite of himself. Could the situation be any more ludicrous?
“What’s so funny?”
He turned to see his father standing in the doorway. Murdoch stepped out and joined him alongside the railing just passed the portico.
“Nothing in particular.” He returned to his perusal of the land. “It’s beautiful out here.”
“That it is.” Murdoch’s demeanor noticeably softened. “But then, I’m not exactly impartial.”
They stood in comfortable silence. That surprised Scott. He hadn’t thought to have anything in common with this stern, closed man, much less an easy contentment. He glanced at his father and was startled to find himself being watched speculatively.
“What?” Scott couldn’t help the slight defensiveness of his tone.
“Have you talked to your brother today?”
“Did he mention his plans?”
“Why do you ask?”
Murdoch didn’t respond. Instead, he walked to one of the benches placed nearby and took a seat. “Standing still bothers me.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Scott remarked.
“You didn’t answer mine. Never mind,” Murdoch waved off Scott’s reply. “I was just hoping the two of you could find some common ground.”
“Why? So we’d stay?”
“You said you would stay. That’s good enough for me.”
“And Johnny? What about him?”
“You tell me. Did he say he would?”
Scott hedged. “He said a lot of things.”
“Did he? I’m surprised. I haven’t been able to get much out of him. I guess we got off an the wrong foot.”
“I’m not doing all that better,” Scott conceded. “I don’t know how to take a lot of what he says.”
“Did he tell you something that bothered you?” Murdoch asked, clearly troubled.
“He told me he’s a gunfighter. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I knew. It was part of the Pinkerton report. But that was his place to tell you, not mine. How did you take it?”
“Not very well. I excused myself with some stupid remark about letting him get some rest. It…it shocked me.”
“It did me, too. No man wants to think badly of his own son, even if that son is a stranger.”
“Do you? Think badly of Johnny, I mean?”
“I don’t know. I hope not.” Murdoch leaned against the wall and sighed, stretching his leg and rubbing the sore limb. “But Johnny’s a closed book. As far as he’s concerned, the less I know the better. He’s not about to let me in anytime soon. This thing with his mother…” He trailed off and then turned the question on Scott. “What do you think of him?”
Scott groped for an answer. “He’s my brother. And I guess I feel a certain bond because of it.” He smiled crookedly at the doubt written on Murdoch’s face. “I know. It doesn’t make sense. It’s just what I feel. But what exactly that bond means to me, I’m just not sure yet. I want him to stay; that much I know.”
“Then it’s up to you to see that he does,” his father quietly responded.
“How do I go about doing that?” Scott asked, though he really didn’t expect an answer. Murdoch probably knew less about how to do it than he did.
Scott turned to watched the stars as each became lost in their own thoughts. But the man inside was a shadow neither could break loose from. They both felt the connection that was slowly coming to life. Scott could only hope that Johnny felt it, too.
The house was quiet for once. Murdoch and Teresa had left for church right after breakfast. His father had asked if he wanted to go with them, but Scott had declined. He was hoping for an opportunity to talk to Johnny. He’d gone to his brother’s room, but the drapes had been drawn and the room was dark. He could just make out Johnny’s outline as he slept.
Scott returned to his room, and with the entire morning to himself decided to tackle the letter he knew his grandfather would be expecting. But sitting at the small desk, a clean sheet of paper in front of him, he’d drawn a blank. He sat motionless, pen in hand, and suddenly realized he was being watched.
Scott glanced over to the room’s entrance. His brother stood leaning against the doorjamb, carefully studying him.
“What are you doing up?” Scott asked.
Johnny strolled into the room and sat on the bed. Scott could tell his wound was still bothering him from the way his brother slowly lowered himself against the pillows. “I think if I stayed in that room ten more seconds I’d gone out of my mind.” Johnny lifted his head slightly. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to write a letter.” Gratified that his brother was not upset with him, Scott was grateful for this unexpected opportunity. “I’ve never been very good at it though. Grandfather used to complain how few he received whenever I was away.”
“During the War?”
“And other times; mostly while I was at school.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet you were a real scholar, too.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. He couldn’t tell if Johnny was kidding or not. “I did okay.”
“So why’d your grandfather pack you off to school, anyway? No good schools in Boston?”
Scott lowered his head a moment to hide a smile. “I think he was trying to get me away from what he considered a bad influence.”
“Really?” Johnny leaned forward and carefully propped himself up on one elbow. “I can’t imagine you getting into trouble. So who was this bad influence?”
“A good friend. We grew up together.”
“Does this good friend have a name?” Johnny asked, clearly annoyed that Scott had not offered the information.
“Peter. Peter Sinclair.”
“You two really close?”
“Yes,” Scott answered, his voice subdued by memory. “Very close; like brothers.” He swore silently to himself. He hadn’t meant to say that.
“Brothers, huh?” Johnny’s voice was suddenly cool.
“It’s just an expression.” He really didn’t want to talk about his friend. It made him uncomfortable for some reason. He returned to their original conversation. “What about you? I would think you had some interesting experiences in school.”
The younger man shrugged. “Not really. Truth is, I never went for very long; not much good at book-learning. Mainly, I guess, because we moved around so much.”
“Oh, and why was that?”
His brother got that closed looked Scott had seen a few times already and he knew he’d stepped over the invisible line that divided what Johnny would talk about from what he wouldn’t. This appeared to be yet another of those off-limit areas. Instead of answering, Johnny leveled himself up and started walking around the room.
He approached the window and pulled aside the curtain, giving the area outside a cursory glance before continuing his perusal of Scott’s accommodations. He rambled leisurely up to the highboy and began scrutinizing the contents scattered on its surface.
“What’s this?” Johnny turned toward Scott, a small wooden box in his hand.
Scott froze except for a slight widening of his eyes. After a moment’s hesitation he stood and walking deliberately up to his brother. He reached over and tried to take it from Johnny’s hand. “It belonged to a friend of mine.”
“This guy Peter?” Instead of letting go, Johnny pulled his arm back, keeping a firm grip on the box. “What’s so special about it?”
Scott felt his anger flare and took a deep breath to calm himself before answering. “Nothing. It’s just a box.”
“Then you won’t mind me looking at it.”
Their eyes locked. He could see that Johnny was trying to push him. What Scott didn’t understand was why. Trying to remain calm, though not doing a very good job of it, he relented and let his brother take the small case.
Johnny stared at him until Scott moved away. Then he placed the box on the dresser and carefully opened it. He withdrew one item at a time, turning them over and examining them closely before setting them aside. He pulled out a faded blue ribbon and read the lettering emblazoned across it. “‘First place’. This friend of yours, he must be pretty fast.”
“He didn’t win the ribbon. I did.”
His brother turned and gave Scott a strange look. “So how’d he end up with it?”
“I gave it to him,” Scott replied, surprised at how self-possessed he sounded. He certainly didn’t feel that way. With every memento Johnny had pulled from the box, Scott’s anger had grown.
“Because you’re like brothers.” It wasn’t a question.
“Seems to me if he wanted a ribbon that bad, he would have entered the race and got his own.”
Scott’s hands clenched into fists. “He did enter. He just wasn’t…I won the race.”
“He wasn’t fast enough, huh?” Johnny twirled the ribbon through his fingers. “You were first and you gave it away like it didn’t mean anything.”
“You wouldn’t understand. Sometimes people are more important than things. To me, at least.”
Johnny’s eyes darkened even while he smiled. “He’s so important to you, how come you left him behind? Maybe you should have brought him along.”
All Scott saw was red and his words were an accusation. “He couldn’t. He’s dead. He just wasn’t any good at killing.”
He could actually see the chasm open up between them. And at that moment, Scott was almost glad. Silently, his brother returned the items to their place in the box and, without a word, left the room.
It was several long seconds before Scott was able to approach the bureau, his progress hampered by legs weak from shaking. He placed the box in the top drawer and then retraced his steps to the desk. He lowered himself onto the chair, picked up his pen and returned to his letter.
Scott watched the shadows chase across his room, the wind causing the moon to play hide-and-seek behind the clouds. Rain threatened. Tired, yet still unable to relax, he lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. He heard the clock downstairs strike the hour. Two in the morning, and still his thoughts kept going round and round, always returning to his brother.
After the debacle that morning, Murdoch and Teresa had returned home and the rest of the day had settled into the dull monotony of nothing to do; nothing to take his mind off his run-in with his brother. He’d made the mistake of asking Murdoch if he could go over the books. His father had declined the offer and there had almost been an argument. Scott’s rage had still been white-hot .
Once his anger had finally cooled, he realized how much his words to his brother must have stung. Though the pain of Peter’s death was still an open wound, his remark had been uncalled for.
He wasn’t even sure why he’d said it, or where the disproportionate response came from. Caught off-guard by the fury that had claimed him, he’d lashed out at his brother. Scott couldn’t deny the satisfaction he had felt. Had he hurt Johnny? He couldn’t tell.
His attempt at seeing Johnny again had not gone well, either. Scott snorted in disgust. It had been a fiasco. His brother was polite…well, sort of. But it would have taken a stick of dynamite to blow away the blithe facade Johnny used as a shield. Scott tried to put their argument behind them with a stream of small-talk, though he realized now without apologizing, but finally gave up. He’d saddled his horse and spent the rest of the day exploring the ranch.
But the nagging problems couldn’t be put to rest by a few hour’s ride. His uncharacteristic reaction still bothered him, especially since it seemed to be interfering with the rapport he was trying to build with his brother. Scott thought about their relationship so far. It certainly wasn’t anything to brag about. Yet, there was something about Johnny, a need that he probably wasn’t even aware of, that struck a chord in Scott, and had from the very beginning.
Another stray, Scottie?
He could just hear his grandfather’s admonitions. He had heard them often enough over the years; every time Peter had been kicked out of another school or had failed at another endeavor. Was that what this was? Was he seeing Johnny as some sort of substitute for Peter?
He mentally shook his head. No, there was a strength in his brother that his friend had never possessed. Johnny’s toughness and strong will were undeniable. The two weren’t anything alike.
“I don’t give anyone too much credit.” He remembered Johnny’s words to him that first morning. It had distressed him even then. And Scott had only been half kidding when he’d said he might feel left out after his brother’s “one-man deal” remark.
Somewhere along the way, Johnny had limited himself to dealing with everything alone, distancing himself from anyone who threatened to get too close. He didn’t know what it was to trust, and was too scared to try; even to the point of taking on the whole band of land-pirates by himself and almost getting himself killed in the bargain.
So where did that leave them? One man too afraid to trust, the other refusing not to. It occurred to Scott that, in some crazy way, they fit. And he knew in that instant that given half a chance, they could truly be brothers. He’d probably spend the rest of his life pulling Johnny out of one scrape or another, but Scott had a hunch he’d end up being more than happy to do it.
He turned and straightened his pillows before lying back and drawing the covers up. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever was. He and his brother had both inherited their fair share of stubbornness; and both had things in their pasts that needed to be exorcised. He could only hope that Johnny would stick around long enough to make it happen.
The corridor was dark. Scott’s eyes strayed to the wall on his right. A stylized “L” was branded into its surface. He blinked. Nothing like that had ever graced the hall of Peter’s home. He continued, his steps slow and hesitant as he approached the wooden door. His hand came up and he grazed the surface with his fingertips. It was rough, not the smooth, elegantly tooled portal that had hid Peter’s torment.
Scott turned the knob and the door opened. Inside, shadows obscured the furnishings, turning them into little more than phantoms along his path. A man sat next to the only window. His white shirt glowed like a beacon and Scott found himself moving forward, toward the figure that came around at his approach.
It was Peter, alive and looking as he had the day they left for war. He reached out his hand. As Scott went to grasp it, he heard a sound to his left. He looked over. His brother stood gun in hand, the barrel pointed at Peter.
It was like trying to walk through water as Scott moved toward his brother. Johnny smiled at him and then cocked the weapon. The discharge echoed through the room and Scott saw only a spray of red.
“No!” Scott cried out and came fully awake. He brought up his shaking hands and pressed his palms against his eyelids, the images only slowly fading as he tried to get his shattered emotions under control.
He hadn’t known, hadn’t realized just how angry he was at Peter until now; until he felt that momentary surge of satisfaction as he watched his friend die again at the hands of his brother, a brother whose way of life was threatening to take even more from Scott. No wonder he had reacted the way he had to Johnny’s proclamation.
Scott dropped his hands and sat up. It was bright in the room. The storm had blown away during the night. He picked up his watch; fifteen minutes after seven. With a curse, he jumped out of bed and threw on his clothes. A quick wash-up was all he allowed himself before he was out the door and on his way to his brother’s room.
When he found it empty, he hurried downstairs to the great room. It was unoccupied, though the table still showed signs of a recent meal being served. He heard someone in the kitchen and, glancing inside, saw Maria, Murdoch’s cook and housekeeper, busy at the stove.
“Maria, have you seen Johnny?” Scott inquired.
The portly woman turned to him. “Si, Senor Scott. He was here earlier.”
“Do you know where he went?”
“I think he was going to see to his horse.” She laughed. “He’s already given the animal a name.”
Scott grinned. Naming ones horse was a tradition he had never practiced. Though his grandfather had owned several, none had ever belonged exclusively to Scott. If you needed the use of a horse, you took whatever animal was available. And during the War, the threat of having your horse shot out from under you kept him from doing anything that might create an attachment to the poor beast. He would be interested in hearing what name Johnny had picked.
He thanked the woman and headed for the corral. He passed several of his father’s hands, our hands, he corrected himself, on his way to his destination. They were all busy and gave him only a cursory glance.
Scott entered the barn and headed to where he knew Johnny’s horse was stalled. The animal was gone. “Damn it!”
He looked up as one of the men, Eduardo, he thought, approached him. “Johnny’s horse, it’s gone.”
“Si, Senor. He left just minutes ago.”
“Did you see what direction he headed in?”
“North, toward the stream.”
Less than ten minutes later, Scott rode through the archway that gated the Lancer home and started across the open grasslands.
He saw the horse first. The golden palomino Johnny had claimed as his own stood grazing along the banks of the stream. On closer inspection, Scott could just make out his brother sitting under a tree, his back resting against its trunk. He looked to be asleep.
Scott slowed his horse and quietly advanced. He dismounted and tied his animal next to Johnny’s and approached his brother.
“I can’t get away from you, can I?” Johnny tipped his hat back. A blade of grass hung lazily from the side of his mouth.
Scott sat down a good six feet away. He knew he was pushing and that was okay. But he didn’t want to push so hard his brother would bolt. “We need to talk.”
He cleared his throat. Johnny wasn’t going to make this any easier. “First of all, I want to apologize. I had no right saying what I did to you yesterday.”
“Why’d you say it then?” Johnny leaned forward and rested his arms on his updrawn knees.
Scott gathered his thoughts. He owed his brother the full truth. “Something happened right before I left Boston. My friend, Peter,” he stumbled over the words, “committed suicide three days before I was contacted by Murdoch’s agent.”
Johnny looked down as he digested the words and there was real sympathy in his response. “I’m sorry to hear that. Good friends are hard to come by. But what’s that got to do with me?”
“On the surface of things, nothing at all. I just didn’t realize how angry I was at him. Isn’t that odd? I know he didn’t kill himself to hurt me, but I can’t help feeling cheated. He took something from me, something very precious. I,” Scott stammered, “I think I feel that you’re doing the same thing.”
Johnny stared at him in disbelief. “You hardly know me. How can I be taking anything from you?”
“I know it doesn’t make sense to you. Hell, it barely makes sense to me. But we’re brothers. That’s got to count for something.”
“I can’t take his place, Boston.” His brother spoke almost gently.
“I know that. I don’t want you to. Whatever we build between us will be our own. But in order to do that, you’ve got to stick around.”
Johnny looked out across the water. He didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally he began to speak. “I’ve never had a friend like yours; never stayed in one place long enough to make one. And trust, it doesn’t come easy for me. In my line of work, it could get you killed. But,” his face colored slightly, “I can’t deny that I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a brother.”
“Then you’ll stay?”
“For as long as I’m able.” He raised his hand when Scott began to protest. “That’s all I can promise, Scott. I’ll do the best I can. Then, we’ll see.”
It wasn’t all Scott would have wished for, but he’d take what he could get. He rose to his feet. “I think we’d better be getting back. You look tired and we’ve got that ride into town tomorrow to sign the papers.”
“Oh, I’ll be all right. I’ve been hurt worse than this.”
Scott gave a mock scowl. “I don’t think I want to hear about it.”
Johnny squinted up at him. “Think you can stand being Johnny Madrid’s brother?”
“I think it would be an honor being Johnny Madrid’s brother, though I’d prefer being Johnny Lancer’s. By the way, where did ‘Madrid’ come from?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I’d like to hear it someday.”
“And maybe, someday, I’ll tell it to you.”
Scott smiled and helped his brother to his feet. They still had a long way to go. But they’d taken the first steps of the journey.
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