Word Count 12,740
Every Time I Fall Back
I don’t know if it’s me, or just a sign of the times
But I want a better life than the one I’ve been living.
Ain’t no one says that you can’t change who you are.
Ain’t no law says you gotta take what you’re given.
I want to find a place where the nights are warm,
And the wind don’t blow so cold against my skin.
I want to find some shelter in someone’s arms.
When I go too far I know that
Every time I fall back
You grab my shoulder to keep me from falling.
Every time I fall back
Your arms are open, I hear you calling me.
c. 1993 Pat Benatar
Johnny Madrid Lancer rode his palomino, Barranca across the lush, rolling hills that made up the ranch called Lancer. He looked around with dreamy eyes, a contented sigh on his lips. The scene was still magic to him. This was the most beautiful place he had ever seen, and it was his. Well, one third of it, anyway. And along with that third came a family, the kind of family that Johnny had only dreamed about when he was young.
There was the kid sister, Teresa, a spunky kid, with beautiful eyes, and long curly hair. She was a handful, but she sure made life interesting for those around her. And there was his brother, Scott. Long, lean, and blonde, born on the trail east and raised in Boston. He could have been a dandy, citified, but he wasn’t. Scott had an inner core of steel, and the courage of a lion. His pale blue-grey eyes could stare down most men, from the ranch hands who worked the Lancer ranch, to the drunken outlaws who occasionally frequented the saloons of Morro Coyo. A man couldn’t ask for a better brother, Johnny thought reflectively. To round out the family that Johnny was just discovering was his father, Murdoch. Johnny chuckled a bit at the thought of his father. Stern-visaged, but with a kind heart. They were going to spend a lot of time locking horns, Johnny was sure of that. Family, just the word made a small glow in Johnny’s heart. It was something that he had never expected to find when he accepted the Pinkerton agent’s offer of a thousand dollars for one hour of his time.
As Johnny reached the great hacienda he had come to call home, he met his brother, Scott also riding in from the range. Johnny smiled at the blond man, and drawled “Hey, brother, how did the fences look on the south range?”
Scott smiled back and replied in a casual tone. “Just fine, Johnny. Just fine.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, and added. “I think you and I deserve a break, brother. I was thinking about a little trip into town tonight. Want to come?”
Johnny’s grin broadened, and his eyes twinkled. “Sounds like the best idea I’ve heard in a long time, Boston.” He swung down off his horse, and started leading him into the barn. “Do you think Murdoch’s gonna mind?” he asked, glancing casually back.
“Of course Murdoch won’t mind.” a new voice added. “As long as your chores are all done.”
Both men swung around, startled, and then laughed. Murdoch Lancer, the tall, imposing head of the Lancer Ranch was just coming out of the barn.
“Hey, Murdoch, how was your day?” Johnny asked. He began to curry Barranca’s smooth flank.
“Long, Johnny!” Murdoch answered morosely. “Very long.” He returned to the barn with his sons, and watched as they cared for their horses. He still marveled at the sight of both his sons, home after so many long empty years without them. Murdoch often made excuses to be with them as they went about their routine chores, just so that he could bask in their company a little more.
“Problems, Murdoch?” Scott’s question roused Murdoch from his reverie.
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Murdoch replied. “I got a message from Jim Turnbull, asking about that property at the north end of the ranch. I told him again that it wasn’t for sale, but he’s not taking no for an answer. He keeps trying to “persuade” me, as he calls it. I’m getting a little tired of it, that’s all.” Murdoch frowned slightly as he thought of the other man’s persistence.
“Want me to talk to him, Murdoch?” Johnny asked, a dangerous glint in his blue eyes. “I’ll let him know that his offer has been refused, and that he needs to drop it.”
“No, Johnny.” Murdoch’s voice was sharper than he meant it to be. “I don’t want you, or Scott to get involved in this at all. I said I can handle it.”
Johnny flinched at Murdoch’s tone, and his eyes narrowed in anger. “Just trying to help,” he said, his voice was casual, but his tone was cold. “Sorry to step on your toes, Murdoch.” Johnny finished with the horse, and turned abruptly for the door.
Murdoch’s hand snaked out, and he grabbed Johnny’s shoulder. “Johnny, wait.” he commanded. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that I don’t want any trouble with Turnbull.” He smiled placatingly at his youngest son.
Johnny glared at Murdoch for a moment, the hostility still present in his glance. Then abruptly he softened, and a crooked grin spread across his face. “Sure, Murdoch.” he drawled. “I’ll let you handle it.”
Scott had been watching the interaction between his father and brother. He didn’t know why Johnny and Murdoch always seemed to be at odds with each other. Scott knew that the love he felt for his family was fully reciprocated by both men, and he knew that Murdoch and Johnny loved each other as well, but they seemed determined to fight with each other. Scott shook his head ruefully. Those two were just too much alike.
Scott reached out and tousled Johnny’s hair. “Hey, brother, let’s go get cleaned up. It’s almost time for dinner, and then we’re going to town.”
Johnny chuckled, his bad mood forgotten. “You said it, Boston. Let’s go.” The three men went into the house together, the bad feelings forgotten.
Several hours later, Scott and Johnny relaxed in the saloon in the small town of Morro Coyo. A bottle of tequila stood on the table in front of them, and they were feeling a quiet sense of comradeship. As they idly chatted about the happenings on the ranch, and discussed future plans for some horses that Johnny was breaking, two men strolled into the bar.
Scott and Johnny glanced up as the men came in, Scott who had never seen them before quickly lost interest and returned to his drink. It was only after he failed to get an answer to a question that he had asked three times that he realized Johnny was still staring at the two men. One was tall, a hard looking man, wearing black. The other was somewhat shorter and huskier, but with the same deadly look in his eyes. The men stood with their backs to the bar, scanning the customers of the saloon with intensity.
“Johnny, do you know those men?” Scott asked quietly. When he failed to receive a response, Scott tugged on Johnny’s arm. “I asked you a question, brother. Do you know them?”
Johnny turned his head slightly, speaking to Scott, but never taking his eyes off the men at the bar. “I know ’em.” was his only reply.
“Who are they?” Scott’s question was quiet, but his gaze was also riveted on the men. “What’s wrong, Johnny?” Scott’s tone indicated that he was going to be persistent until he got an answer.
Johnny sighed heavily, and turned to look at his brother. “I knew ’em in Sonora, a few years back. They’re hard cases. Trouble follows them wherever they go. I tangled with them, and lived to tell about it. Just barely.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. The men must be trouble if they had been able to get the best of Johnny Madrid. “I think we’d better head back to the ranch, brother.” he said calmly. “We don’t need any trouble tonight.”
“I haven’t finished my drink.” Johnny’s voice was cold. “I’m not gonna let them run me out of this saloon, Scott. I’m gonna sit right here ’til I’m good and ready to leave. You want to head back to Lancer, you go ahead.”
Scott flashed a sharp glance at the dark haired man sitting beside him. “If you don’t go, then I don’t, Little Brother.” He sighed, and picked up his glass. It was going to be an interesting night.
As Scott watched through slightly narrowed eyes, one of the men spotted Johnny. He nudged his partner in the ribs, and the second man glanced sharply in the direction of the Lancer boys. The men began a slow, deliberate walk towards the table. Johnny sat back in his chair, his hand resting casually on his lap, watching their every move.
“Johnny Madrid.” It was a statement, not a question, from the man in black.
“Yep.” was all Johnny said in reply.
“We’ve been looking for you, Madrid.” the second man stated. “We heard you was in town.”
Johnny simply sat looking as peaceful as if he hadn’t a care in the world. His hand never left his lap, and his fingers twitched slightly. The subtle movement wasn’t lost on the two men standing beside the table. They glanced at each other, and their hands dropped just as casually to their sides. The silence became lengthy.
Scott had finally had enough. He couldn’t see where this stalemate was going, and it bothered him. “Can we help you boys with anything?” he asked pleasantly, his tone deceptively mild. Anyone who knew Scott Lancer would have seen that his mouth was tight, and the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
The men glanced at Scott and then just as quickly dismissed him as unimportant. They looked back at Johnny. “We’re looking for more guns.” the man in black stated. “We’ve been hired by a man named Turnbull, and he pays pretty good. You want a job, Madrid?”
“What makes you think I’d work with the likes of you, Carson?” Johnny’s question had a bite to it. “As I recall you threatened to kill me the last time we saw each other.”
Scott flinched at those words. He knew that Johnny’s past hadn’t been easy, but sometimes it was easier to forget about it and pretend that part of Johnny’s life had never happened. He started to say something, but stopped at a slight gesture from Johnny. Scott settled back into his chair. Johnny wanted to handle this one on his own, and Scott was willing to let him try. At least until things turned ugly. If these men thought they were going to settle an old score, then Scott Lancer was going to get involved.
Carson’s face contorted in a grimace at Johnny’s words. Suddenly, Scott realized that the man was trying to smile. A shiver ran down Scott’s spine. It was a fearsome sight. Scott had seen something that made him feel the same way and he racked his brain trying to figure out what it was. Then he remembered. He had come face to face with a rattlesnake one day while out riding the range of the Lancer ranch. The look on the snake’s face had induced the same feeling of creeping flesh that Carson had just given him.
“Think about it, Madrid. Come and see me when you’re ready for some easy money.” Carson turned to his partner, and nodded curtly. The two men strode out of the saloon. Scott could feel a perceptible loosening of tension in the room. It was as if every man in the place had suddenly let out the breath they had been holding.
“So you wanna tell me about it, Johnny.” Scott turned to his dark haired brother. “It’s fairly obvious that those aren’t the nicest men in the world.”
Johnny made a face, and took a long swallow of his tequila. “Jack Carson, the man in black, is a gunslinger. He hires out to the man who pays his price. He travels with Blake Stone, the shorter guy. Stone is a cold blooded killer, and he does what Carson tells him too. If they’re working for Turnbull then Murdoch has a real problem.” He stood and started walking for the door not waiting for Scott, who hastily walked out of the saloon after his brother.
“You think that Turnbull is going to turn his guns loose on Lancer?” Scott asked Johnny, a hint of disbelief in his voice. “Why would he do that, what would he gain?” Scott increased his pace and strode to Johnny’s side. He reached out and grabbed his brother’s arm forcing him to come to a stop.
Johnny looked into Scott’s eyes. “Don’t you remember Day Pardee?” he asked in a flat, unemotional voice. “What did he have to gain? Just Lancer, that’s all! Think about it Scott.” Johnny’s voice became urgent. “If Turnbull hires enough guns to make a raid on Lancer he could kill a lot of innocent people. If Murdoch was one of those people then Lancer would be up for grabs.”
Scott shook his head emphatically. “No it wouldn’t. If Murdoch is killed there’s still you and me, Johnny. This isn’t like Day Pardee.” Scott’s voice rose a little and he spoke urgently. “When Pardee went after Murdoch he didn’t have us, his sons. We’re here now, and everyone knows that. Turnbull wouldn’t be so stupid as to think that if he kills Murdoch we’ll just walk away from Lancer.”
Johnny’s look was skeptical. “Scott, Carson called me Madrid, and said he’d heard I was in town. Why would he offer me a job if he knew I was Murdoch Lancer’s son? What do we know about this guy, Turnbull, anyway?”
Scott stared at Johnny, a puzzled expression creeping across his face. “Not much, really. Turnbull hasn’t been around too long, as far as I know. Johnny, do you really think that Turnbull doesn’t realize that Murdoch has two sons living with him at Lancer?”
Johnny smiled. It was a strangely chilling expression. Scott realized that many people had seen that look on Johnny’s face before, and most of them were now dead. “Well, Scott, if Turnbull doesn’t know about us, then I think it’s time he got an education.” He turned and gracefully vaulted onto Barranca’s saddle. “Let’s go talk to Murdoch, Boston.”
Murdoch Lancer paced in front of the massive fireplace, a glass of brandy forgotten in his hand. A frown made his face appear harsh and forbidding. Looking at him, Scott could see a hint of Murdoch’s fear, and knew it was reflected on his own face.
“Johnny, I don’t want you going to town for a while.” Murdoch was saying, his voice firm. “I don’t want you running into trouble with those gunslingers.” He continued his pacing.
Johnny snorted. “I’m not hiding from Jack Carson, Murdoch.” Again that smile crossed his face, making Scott shiver. “Besides, I think we need to find out more about this man, Turnbull, and how are we going to do that if I’m hiding under my bed?”
“Johnny, be reasonable.” Scott said gently. “I can find out about Turnbull, it doesn’t have to be you who goes into town to investigate. You saw those men, they took one look at me and then forgot about me. They know you. You won’t be able to hide what you’re doing from them.”
Scott got up from the chair he had been sitting in and crossed the room to where Johnny was standing. Throwing an affectionate arm around Johnny’s shoulders, he gave his brother a rough caress. “Come on, Johnny, ease up. Let me be the hero, for a change.” Scott’s eyes crinkled and a smile danced on his lips.
Johnny tried to resist Scott’s hug at first, but suddenly he laughed, and responded by throwing his own arm around Scott’s neck, and pretending to squeeze. “Okay, hero. You go to town.” Johnny sobered abruptly. “But you be careful, brother. I don’t want to have to come rescue you from those pistoleros.”
Teresa spoke up from where she had been sitting quietly, listening to the whole conversation. “Why does anybody have to go investigate? Maybe we should just ignore Turnbull and maybe this will all blow over.” She sipped her coffee, a worried look on her face.
Murdoch stopped his pacing long enough to lay a gentle hand on Teresa’s hair. “It’s going to be all right, sweetheart. Nobody is going into town, and nobody is going to do any investigating, and that’s final!” He glared at Scott and Johnny. “Do you boys, understand? I’m not going to risk losing either one of you over this.”
Splutters of protest from both Scott and Johnny were cut short by the peremptory rise of Murdoch’s hand. “I said no investigating, and I mean it.” he repeated.
Johnny shook his head in disgust, and exchanged a long measured glance with Scott. They had both seen Jack Carson and Blake Stone. They knew that the situation with Turnbull wasn’t going to go away no matter how hard they tried to ignore it. As far as Johnny was concerned Murdoch Lancer was heading for trouble in a big way.
Several days later, Scott Lancer rode his horse towards the northern border of Lancer. Ostensibly he was checking the herd that was pastured in that sector, but Scott had another objective as well. He was making sure that Turnbull and his men were staying off the Lancer ranch, in spite of Murdoch’s objections. Scott was in complete agreement with Johnny for once. He knew that Turnbull wasn’t going to give up and go away, and he wasn’t going to be caught off guard.
As Scott rounded the trail through the rolling hills of this part of the ranch he caught sight of someone riding towards him. Spurring his horse into a gallop, Scott rode to meet the man who’s face he couldn’t make out. As his horse pulled abreast of the stranger, Scott pulled to a stop. “Can I help you, mister?” he called out, no warmth in his tone.
“I think you can,” replied the other man. He was of medium height, with iron grey hair, and a rigid bearing. His slate grey eyes were hard, and he sat calmly on his horse, eyeing Scott with speculation. “I’m interested in buying this parcel of land, and I was just out taking a look around.”
“This land isn’t for sale.” Scott replied flatly. “I think you’d better leave, you’re on private property.”
“And how would you know that?” the stranger asked, guilelessly.
“Because it’s my father who owns the land. You’re on the Lancer ranch, and I’m Scott Lancer.” Scott stated. “Now, I’m going to ask you to leave just one more time.”
“Scott Lancer.” It was a statement. “I’m Jed Turnbull. I”ve spoken with your father several times. Perhaps he’s mentioned me?” Turnbull smiled coldly.
“Oh, he’s mentioned you all right, Mr. Turnbull.” Scott said. “And you’re not welcome here.” Scott motioned towards the direction the man had come from with his gloved hand. “I want you off our land now.”
“Well, Scott Lancer, I want you to drop your gunbelt.” replied Turnbull, easily, not at all cowed by Scott’s belligerent tone.
“Why would I do that, Mr. Turnbull?” Scott asked cooly. “Who’s going to make me?”
Turnbull laughed and gestured for Scott to turn around. “Look behind you, Lancer and tell me what you see.”
Scott turned in the saddle, and froze. Emerging from a grove of trees that bordered the trail were Jack Carson and Blake Stone, their guns drawn and pointing straight at Scott. He turned back in time to catch the smirk on Turnbull’s face. “Do as you’re told, Lancer. Throw down your gun.” repeated the other man brusquely. “I’m tired of playing games.”
Slowly Scott reached for his gunbelt, keeping his hands in plain sight. He pulled the belt from around his waist and threw it down on the ground. His eyes cold as ice, he glared at Turnbull. “What do you hope to gain by this, Turnbull?” he spat. “You aren’t going to be able to force Murdoch to give up his land.”
“You leave that to me, Mr. Lancer.” Turnbull replied, a wintery smile touching his lips. “I’ve been doing some checking in town. It seems that Murdoch Lancer has a new weakness, according to everyone I’ve talked to. It appears to me that I’ve just been introduced to the one thing that can bring Murdoch to his knees.”
Johnny Lancer rode into Morro Coyo. He stopped in front of the saloon and tied his horse to the hitching rail. Entering the saloon, his gaze automatically swept the room, checking for possible trouble. The habits of a gunslinger die hard, and Johnny still entered a room with caution. Johnny spared a guilty thought for his father. If Murdoch found out that Johnny had defied him, there was going to be hell to pay. But Johnny couldn’t just sit around and watch all that he had come to love be destroyed.
The realization that he loved his new life had dawned on Johnny slowly. He had thought himself happy in his former existence. Drifting from town to town, relying on no one but himself. It was a devil may care lifestyle, with the occasional gunfight thrown in for excitement. But then he had found a home and a family, and he realized how empty his former life had been. There had been excitement, but no love. To have his new life threatened was more than Johnny could bear. He was not going to stand by and let Turnbull and his henchman take away all that Johnny had come to care about.
Johnny made his way to the bar, and waited patiently for the bartender to notice him. When the man finally turned around, he smiled broadly and cried, “Hey, Johnny, good to see you. What can I get for you?”
Johnny returned the smile and said “Just a beer today, Sam. I’ve got work to do.” Johnny took a sip of the beer and smiled appreciatively. “Oh, that’s good, Sam. It sure hits the spot.”
Johnny turned and surveyed the room again as he drank his beer slowly. The saloon was mostly empty at this hour of the day, one hostess desultorily playing cards with a pair of drunken cowboys. He turned back to the bar, and asked, “Hey, Sam. Whaddya know about a man named Turnbull?”
The bartender started, and almost dropped the glass he was polishing. “T-T-turnbull, you say, Johnny? Why do you want to know about Turnbull?” Sam had turned several shades paler.
Johnny noted the man’s reaction with interest. He smiled softly, and said, “It doesn’t matter why I want to know, Sam. Just tell me what you know about Turnbull.”
Sam gulped and looked around the room wildly. He leaned closer to Johnny and whispered conspiratorially. “He’s a bad one, Johnny. Real bad.”
Johnny also glanced around the room, and then he leaned towards Sam, so that their heads were almost touching. “I could have guessed that Sam,” he said levelly. “What makes him a bad one, in your book?”
Sam wiped the sweat from his brow with his cleaning rag, then went back to wiping the glasses with the same cloth. Johnny grimaced a little, and looked at his own beer glass. He hastily set it aside, and then nodded for Sam to start talking.
“He’s been in here asking about Lancer.” Sam said confidingly. “And about Scott, too.”
Johnny flinched. “About Scott? Why was he asking about Scott?” He leaned even closer to Sam. “Come on, Sam, spill it? Why was Turnbull asking about my brother?”
“I don’t know, Johnny, honest.” Sam stammered out. “At first when he came in here, he just asked about Murdoch, but someone musta told him about your brother, because the other day he was asking a whole lotta questions about Scott.”
“Did he ever mention me?” Johnny asked, trying to keep his tone level. “Or was it just Scott he was talking about?”
Sam stopped his polishing and thought for a while. Then he shook his head. ” No, Johnny, he never did ask about you, come to think about it. I wonder why he didn’t?”
“Maybe it’s because he doesn’t know about me.” Johnny said speculatively. “And I want to keep it that way, Sam. Do you hear me.” The friendliness was gone from Johnny’s voice, and the bartender cringed.
“I – I – I wouldn’t say nothin’ to him about you, Johnny.” he quavered. “You can count on me.”
Johnny clapped the bartender’s shoulder, and said, “You’re a good man, Sam. I owe you one.” He tossed a coin on the bar, and quickly left the room. Mounting his horse, Johnny rapidly headed for home.
When he reached the Lancer hacienda, Johnny handed off his horse to one of the hands. Although he usually liked to care for Barranca himself, today he was in a hurry. He strode into the house calling for Scott.
Teresa appeared from the kitchens, and smiled a welcome. “Scott’s not home, Johnny. He rode out to look at the herd, and he’s not back yet.” She stiffened as she saw his expression. “What’s wrong?”
Johnny ignored the question, and asked one of his own. “Did Scott say where he was going to ride today, Teresa?”
Teresa frowned and thought momentarily. “I think he said he was going to ride north, and check the herd in the upper pastures.” She noticed Johnny’s rigid posture and cold eyes. “Johnny, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”
Johnny made a visible effort to pull himself together. He smiled at the pretty, dark haired girl. “Nothing’s wrong, Teresa.” He patted her shoulder. “I think I’m going to ride out and meet Scott, okay? Tell Murdoch I’ll be home soon.”
Johnny turned to leave, but Teresa grabbed his arm. “You think Scott’s in trouble, don’t you, Johnny?” Johnny tried to move, but Teresa’s grip intensified. “Johnny, answer me!” she demanded. “What do you think has happened to him!”
Johnny put his arm around Teresa’s shoulders and smiled gently. “Don’t worry, Sweetheart.” He spoke soothingly. “I just need to talk to Scott about something, so I’m going out to meet him. I”m sure there’s nothing wrong.”
“You’re a bad liar, Johnny Lancer!” Teresa cried angrily. “If something’s happened to him you should tell me, so that I can help.” She shook his arm from her shoulder and stamped her foot.
“I don’t have time right now, Teresa.” Johnny said calmly. “I’ll tell you all about when I get back. Just tell Murdoch where I’ve gone, okay?” He moved to the door without waiting for an answer. Almost running to the barn, he resaddled Barranca, and rode out of the yard at a gallop.
Scott Lancer groaned inwardly. He had certainly stepped into a hornet’s nest this time. So much for protecting Lancer from Turnbull, he had only added to the problem! He twisted his hands against the ropes that held them tight. Carson had tied them so tightly that the ropes bit into his skin, and all Scott’s efforts to get free had only caused him pain. Even now he could feel a warm trickle of blood, and knew that once again he had torn the flesh around his wrists.
Scott was leaning against the wall of a line shack on the northern tip of the Lancer ranch. The shack was small, holding a simple cot, a table and two chairs and a fireplace. It was well stocked with supplies, as were all the Lancer line shacks, so Turnbull and his men didn’t need to leave their hideout for any reason. Scott cursed inwardly. He couldn’t see any way out of this one. He watched Turnbull and his hirelings through narrowed eyes, his gaze never leaving them. Scott figured that one of them would let their guard down at some point, and then he would make his move.
Turnbull was sitting at the small table in the center of the room, writing busily. He glanced back at his prisoner as he wrote. A small smile crossed his face, and he laid the pen down with a flourish. “All signed and ready to be delivered,” he gloated. “Carson, take this note to Murdoch Lancer, and tell him he’s got twenty four hours to think about it.” He folded up the note and handed it off to Carson, who simply nodded once, and strode from the shack. “It won’t be long, and this ranch will be mine.” Turnbull spoke to the room at large, with an expression of supreme satisfaction.
“You’re a fool, Turnbull.” Scott’s words were quiet, but his voice was deadly. “Murdoch won’t give in to you. All you’ve done is set yourself up to be killed.”
Turnbull laughed, a harsh grating sound. “I’ve hired every gun in the territory, Lancer. If Murdoch tries to move against me, he’ll be the one killed. You along with him. But I don’t think it’ll come to that. Murdoch won’t risk his son’s life to save his land.”
Turnbull turned to Blake Stone. “Keep a close eye on him, Stone.” he ordered crisply. I’m going to take care of some other business. I’ll have the rest of the men keep watch outside the shack, but you stay in here with him.”
Stone nodded and Turnbull left the room. Scott sighed, and closed his eyes. He leaned back against the wall and prayed.
Murdoch Lancer opened the door to the ranch house and walked in with a sigh of relief. It had been a long day, and he was looking forward to a calm, relaxed evening in the company of his sons and Teresa. Suddenly he was almost bowled over by the arrival of a frantic, teary-eyed girl who flung herself against his chest.
“Murdoch, you’ve got to do something,” Teresa cried. She wiped at her eyes, as she continued. “Johnny’s gone after Scott. I think something’s wrong, but Johnny wouldn’t tell me what it was. He just said to tell you where he was going.”
“Why would Johnny go after Scott?” Murdoch asked in a puzzled tone. “Scott was just going up to check on the herd. Why would Johnny think he needed help with that?”
“I don’t know, he was acting strangely, Murdoch.” Teresa said, her voice strained. “He wouldn’t tell me anything. He just seemed very upset, and worried about Scott.”
Murdoch was about to respond when a knock sounded on the door. He walked over and opened it, surprised to see the ranch foreman standing before him. “Mr. Lancer, sir, a man just left this for you. He said to see that you got it right away.” The foreman said briefly. He nodded to Teresa who was peaking over Murdoch’s shoulder, and handed a piece of folded paper to his employer.
“Thanks, Jose,” Murdoch said, as he rapidly unfolded the piece of paper. The foreman walked away, only to be halted by Murdoch’s shout of anger. “Jose!”
Jose turned, and quickly came back to the doorway. “Si, senor. What’s wrong?” he asked nervously.
“This note, who gave it to you?” Murdoch barked. He waved the paper under Jose’s nose.
“I don’t know him, senor. He just rode in a little while ago and asked me to see that you got the note right away. I’ve never seen him before today.” Jose replied. “Did I do something wrong, Senor Lancer?”
Murdoch’s face was pale, but his eyes burned with a fierce anger. He looked distractedly at the worried face of his ranch foreman. “No, no, Jose. You haven’t done anything wrong. Thank you for delivering this note.” He patted the foreman on the shoulder, and smiled briefly at him.
Relieved that he hadn’t set off the formidable temper of his employer, Jose headed back to the bunkhouse. He wondered what was in the note that had upset Mr. Lancer so much.
As Jose walked away from the house, Murdoch slammed the door shut. He swore under his breath as he reread the note. Teresa looked over his shoulder, trying to see what it was that had upset Murdoch. “What is it?” she demanded, shaking Murdoch’s arm in frustration. “What’s going on, Murdoch?”
“It’s Scott.” Murdoch replied quietly, his rage spent, leaving behind a terrible sense of desolation. “Turnbull has him, and wants me to hand over the whole Lancer ranch in exchange for his life.” He crumpled the paper into a ball and hurled it across the room, his rage renewed. “If he hurts Scott…” Murdoch’s voice trailed off, his eyes burned with unshed tears. He had only recently gotten his sons back, was he going to lose one of the so soon. The alternative was to lose the ranch that had been his life for so many years.
Murdoch paced the room, thinking of his options. A sudden thought struck him, and he whirled and grabbed Teresa by the shoulders, unaware that he was hurting her with his intensity. “Where did you say Johnny was going?” He demanded, a sudden hope awakening in his heart.
“He said he was going to look for Scott.” Teresa replied in a shaky voice. “Oh, Murdoch, do you think he’ll find him?” She sank into a chair, and buried her face in her hands.
Murdoch swiftly crossed the room and took Teresa into his arms. “I hope so, sweetheart,” he murmured. “If he doesn’t come back soon I’m going to go out and look for them both.”
Johnny Lancer rode towards the northern border of the ranch at a gallop. He knew that Scott would have gone to keep an eye on Turnbull, and the most likely place for doing that would be the land that Turnbull wanted for his own. Keeping a sharp eye on the passing countryside, Johnny slowed his horse, and began tracking his brother. It wasn’t long before he began coming across distinct signs that a horseman had traveled on the same trail recently. His spirits rising slightly, Johnny increased his pace.
As he approached the northern border of the Lancer ranch Johnny spotted several men riding towards him. He slowed his horse to a gentle walk, and waited for their approach. The men rode up, and in a flanking movement, surrounded Johnny on three sides. The leader of the men pulled his gun and pointed it at Johnny’s chest.
Johnny looked at the gun, and then allowed his gaze to travel back to the man’s eyes. He smiled a half smile, and said softly. “I don’t let too many men point guns at me and live to tell about it, so I suggest you put that one away, Mister.”
The man’s eyes widened with a brief flicker of fear, and the gun in his hand wavered a bit. “Just who are you, and what are you doing up here.” he demanded.
“I’m looking for Jack Carson.” Johnny replied. “He offered me a job, and I think I’m going to take him up on it. Now, why don’t you boys take me to him.”
He sat quietly and waited while the men around him exchanged questioning glances. The leader of the pack nodded reluctantly, and replied, “All right, but I want your gun. Hand it over.”
Johnny hesitated, but then drew his gun carefully using just two fingers. He handed it over to the outlaw. “You can have it for now,” he drawled, “but I’ll take it back from you after I talk with Carson.” The look in his eye was deadly.
The little band of men began riding, Johnny carefully kept in the center of the pack. His eyes widened as he realized they were heading for one of the Lancer line shacks. The horses were ridden up to the shack and the men dismounted. Blake Stone opened the door of the shack and walked out. He saw Johnny standing before him, and he grinned. “I see you couldn’t resist the offer, Madrid.” he smirked. “Come to join up with us?”
“Maybe,” was Johnny’s only reply. “I want to talk to Turnbull first. Where is he?” Johnny started for the door of the shack.
A rough hand to the chest brought him up short. “Turnbull ain’t in there,” Stone snarled. “He and Carson will be back soon. Until then, you wait out here with us.”
Johnny looked at him speculatively. “What have you got in that shack that you don’t want me to see, Stone?” he asked, musingly. “Something I should know about before I take this job, most likely.” His face hardened. “I don’t like surprises, Stone. Let me in that shack, or I leave now. You can explain to Carson why I wasn’t around to talk to him about the job he offered me.”
Stone’s face reflected his uncertainty. Reluctantly he nodded, and withdrew his hand from Johnny’s chest. Johnny brushed him aside and opened the door to the little shack. He walked slowly into the room, allowing his eyes to adjust to the light. He came to a halt when he saw his brother sitting quietly against the wall. Johnny’s eyes hardened, and he swung around to face Stone. “What’s he doing here?” he asked coldly.
A new voice answered, “That’s my business.” Jed Turnbull strode into the small room. “And just who are you?” he demanded thrusting his face close to Johnny’s.
Johnny smiled slightly. “I’m Johnny Madrid.” No one noticed Scott’s sudden intake of breath at the name Johnny used, he listened closely as Johnny continued. “Jack Carson told me you were hiring guns, and asked me if I wanted a job. I’m here to take him up on it.” He glanced in Scott’s direction briefly, then turned back to Turnbull. “No one said anything about kidnaping.”
Turnbull frowned. “How do you know this is a kidnaping?” he asked belligerently.
Johnny’s smile widened slowly. “Because I know him. That’s Scott Lancer.” He jerked his thumb in Scott’s direction. “If you ask Stone, or Carson, they’ll tell you I know him. They saw me having a drink with him in the saloon the other night. And I know for a fact that if he’s here then his father won’t be too far behind.”
Turnbull laughed abruptly. “Oh, I don’t think Murdoch Lancer’s going to be going anywhere but the land office. He won’t want to endanger his son’s life by riding out here, Mr. Madrid.”
A sudden commotion at the door made the men in the room swing around to face the doorway. Jack Carson burst in at full tilt. “I heard you were here, Johnny.” he said loudly, as he skidded to a stop. “I wanted to get in here and introduce you to the boss, but it looks like you’ve already met.” He nodded in Turnbull’s direction. “He’s a fast gun, Mr. Turnbull, one of the best. I told him you were looking for another man.”
Turnbull studied Johnny with a faintly appraising air. “A fast gun, hmm.” he murmured. “All right, Madrid, you’ve got a job. But you take orders from me. And my orders are for you to stay away from our prisoner.” He signaled to Carson, who stepped forward and took Johnny by the arm.
“Johnny, let’s go,” he commanded. “I’ll tell you what you’re going to be doing.” He steered Johnny towards the door. Johnny left without a backwards glance at his brother.
Scott watched him go, worry plainly evident on his face. He knew what it was that Johnny was trying to do, but it was a dangerous game. One misstep and it would cost both the Lancer brothers their lives.
Scott was so deep in his reverie that he didn’t notice Turnbull’s approach. The older man stopped in front of his prisoner. “The note’s been delivered to your father, Lancer.” Turnbull gloated. “Lancer will soon be mine.”
Turnbull scowled when Scott failed to respond. A sudden spurt of anger showed in his face, and he lashed out at Scott with his booted foot. The boot took Scott in the side, crushing his ribcage with brutal force. Taken by surprise, Scott tried to ride out the blow, but he could tell by the pain that several of his ribs were cracked. A muffled groan escaped from his lips before he could stop it.
Scott turned to face his tormentor. “It takes a big man to assault a man with his hands tied behind his back.” he gasped. “I hope you enjoyed it.”
Turnbull slammed his fist against the wall of the little shack. “Oh, I enjoyed it all right, Lancer.” he snarled. “Next time I expect you to listen when I speak to you.” He scowled, and walked quickly from the building, leaving Scott on the floor, his ribs burning, his breathing shallow.
Scott shook his head, trying to ignore the pain. Whatever Johnny had in mind, he was going to have to do it quickly. Turnbull was becoming more and more irrational every time Scott saw him. It wouldn’t be long before he went over the edge completely. Scott really didn’t want to be there when that happened.
Outside the line shack, Johnny had been receiving instructions from Jack Carson. He listened quietly, absorbing as much information as he could. He scanned the faces of the men who were hanging around the shack, committing each one to memory. He noted the way they wore their guns, an easy indication of how proficient they were with their weapons. They all had the look of hard men, and Johnny knew that getting the best of them wasn’t going to be easy.
A thump from inside the shack made Johnny swing around and stare at the door. A few minutes later, Turnbull strode out rubbing the knuckles of his right hand. Johnny’s eyes narrowed dangerously, but he said nothing. He would remember who it was who had hurt his brother. Turnbull was now a marked man.
Night had fallen and his sons weren’t home. Murdoch paced slowly around the great room of his home, which suddenly seemed a cold and lonely place. He hadn’t realized how much his sons filled his life with their mere presence. He was terribly worried about both boys. Scott in the hands of a land grabbing bandit, and Johnny out somewhere looking for him. Murdoch stopped by the panoramic window which dominated one wall of the room, and pulled back the heavy drapes that shrouded it. He could see nothing but darkness, no sign of life rewarded his vigil. A light step behind him made him drop the drapes and turn to face Teresa. Her face was streaked with tears, but she smiled gently at him. In her hands was a silver tea service that had belonged to Scott’s mother. She placed it on a table and then approached the man who was looking at her bleakly.
“Come have some coffee, Murdoch.” she ordered firmly. “You didn’t eat anything at dinner. Starving yourself isn’t going to help Scott or Johnny.” She took him by the arm and steered him to a chair. Pushing gently on his chest until he collapsed into it.
Murdoch smiled up at her. “Oh, Teresa, you spoil me.” he commented lightly. “You always take such good care of me.” His smile disappeared as quickly as it had come. He passed a weary hand over his eyes, and frowned into the cup of coffee that Teresa pressed into his hand.
Teresa threw herself down at his knee and laid her head in his lap. “They’ll be all right, you’ll see.” she said. “Johnny’s probably found Scott, and is bringing him home right now. We just have to be patient, that’s all.”
Murdoch patted her tumbled hair. “Always an optimist, aren’t you sweetheart. I just wish that I could believe it as much as you do.” He stared morosely into the crackling fire that burned in the massive fireplace. “No, Teresa, I don’t think they’re all right. Tomorrow I’m going to go out and find them.”
Teresa’s breath caught in her throat and she sat up abruptly. “No, don’t do that, please, Murdoch. If anything should happen to you, too.” Her voice trailed off as she envisioned a life without any of the three men who had become her only family. “Please, don’t go.” she whispered.
Murdoch just sipped his coffee and looked at the fire. He couldn’t give Teresa the answer that she wanted to hear. He was going to find his sons and bring them home.
Johnny rode his palomino on the prescribed watch that had been given to him. He was amazed to find how easy it had been to slip back into his old familiar habits. He could almost imagine that the preceding months had never happened. The nomadic existence of a hired gun was familiar, like an old shoe. He exchanged comments and quips with the other men, and felt very much like one of them. Until he caught a glimpse of the line shack, that is. Every time he saw it, and pictured Scott lying in there, reality flooded over him. He didn’t want to be a hired gun. He was a Lancer, and proud of it. This was his ranch, and no one was going to take it away from him. But more to the point, that was his brother in the little shack, and Johnny was going to make sure that no harm came to him.
Johnny had made sure that his watch included a swing close to the line shack, and it was on one of those circuits that he saw Turnbull entering the building. Johnny drew in his breath in concern. He suspected that Turnbull had already attacked Scott once, there was no telling what he was up to now. Glancing carefully around him, Johnny saw that none of the other men were in sight. He slipped from Barranca’s back and slipped towards the shack on foot. Stopping outside the one window that adorned the wooden walls, he strained to hear what was happening inside.
Turnbull looked at Scott as he sat back against the wall. It was obvious that Lancer was in pain. His breathing was shallow, because of the cracked ribs, and he sat stiffly, trying not to move and aggravate the injury. He had not been given anything to eat or drink since his capture, and his mouth was dry, his lips cracked. Scott would have sold his soul for some water at that moment.
He looked back at Turnbull impassively, trying not to display any emotion at all. Scott was a proud man, it was not in his nature to show weakness. He refused to look away, even though Turnbull advanced steadily on him, his face purpling with rage.
“I haven’t heard anything from your father, Lancer.” Turnbull snarled viciously. “It seems that he doesn’t value your life like I thought he did. He should have headed into the land office this afternoon, and he didn’t. It seems that he thinks he can rescue you, instead of giving me what I want.” Turnbull was practically foaming at the mouth, his rage was so great. He paced the small room, shaking his fist in Scott’s face as he spoke.
Scott sat through the tirade without a response. In truth, there was little that he could say. He had known all along that Murdoch wouldn’t even consider handing over the entire Lancer ranch without even trying to perform a rescue. Trying to convince the madman standing before him of that fact was an impossibility. Scott closed his eyes as a wave of weariness washed over him. A long day was turning into an even longer night.
The sight of his victim sitting calmly, and even daring to close his eyes further enraged Turnbull. He lost control as a field of red swam before his vision. He launched himself on the bound man, and began to pummel him with his fists and his feet. Scott struggled to stand, to get out from under the furious attack, but to no avail. The assault was too quick, and too unmerciful. He felt another rib crack, and his lip split. His head rang from the repeated punches he was taking. He rolled to his side, and curled into himself to try to avoid the vicious kicks to his ribs. His world began to spin out of control and finally he sank into a merciful unconsciousness.
Johnny could see and hear what was happening in the little shack. Without thinking he darted for the door, and pulled it open. His only thought was to kill the man who was tormenting his brother. He flung himself into the room, grabbed Turnbull with both arms, and threw him across the room. “Stop it!” Johnny cried furiously. “You’re killing him!”
Turnbull turned to face his attacker. He glared at Johnny, and charged at him, swinging his fists wildly. Johnny easily sidestepped his attack, and pulled his gun from it’s holster. “Hold it right there!” he said coldly, pointing the gun directly at Turnbull’s chest.
The older man froze, watching Johnny through wary eyes. His rage fading rapidly, sanity slowing creeping back into his mind. “What are you doing in here, Madrid.” he growled. “How dare you pull a gun on me!”
Johnny’s smile was ice cold, his eyes glittered like sapphires. “You’re killing the hostage. A dead hostage is worthless, you fool! Now, get out of here, and let me take care of Lancer. If you’ve killed him then you don’t have anything over his father, and we’re all dead men.”
He motioned with his gun, and Turnbull reluctantly moved to the door. Johnny followed behind him, subtly motioning with the gun in his hand as encouragement. When Turnbull reached the doorway and stepped out into the night, Johnny leaned on the doorframe behind him. “Don’t come back in here tonight, Turnbull. I’m going to take care of the prisoner, and I don’t want you interfering.”
Johnny held his breath while he waited for Turnbull’s response. If the man showed any signs of refusing to leave, Johnny was ready to kill him, grab Scott, and make a run for the horses. The other man shook his head slowly. He rounded on Johnny, who tensed, ready for action. “All right, take care of him. You’re right, we still need him. But if his father doesn’t come through tomorrow, I am going to take personal pleasure in delivering his dead body to Lancer.” He spat onto the ground, and walked off into the night.
Johnny’s body sagged in relief, and he quickly shut the door of the little shack and moved to Scott’s side. He whistled softly when he saw the bruises that had already formed on his brother’s face, and he tried to gently wipe away some of the blood that was seeping from a gash in Scott’s forehead. Anger coursed through him, and he wished that he had just pulled the trigger and killed the animal who had beaten his brother senseless. But Johnny knew that if he had killed Turnbull, the shots would have brought all the hired guns running, and the Lancer brothers would never have made it out alive.
Scott moaned, and moved his head slightly. Johnny reached out a gentle hand, and touched his brother’s shoulder. Scott recoiled, thinking he was still with Turnbull. “It’s me, brother.” Johnny whispered. “Hold on, Scott, I’m going to untie you.”
Scott’s eyes fluttered open, and he looked in confusion at Johnny. “What are you doing here?” he forced out, the words sounding slurred, his swollen lips hampering the conversation.
“Easy, brother.” Johnny’s hands were gentle as he finished with the ropes that had held Scott for so long. He put his arm under his brother’s shoulders and helped him sit up.
Scott gasped in pain, and slumped against Johnny. “Water.” he gasped out. “I need some water.” Blackness hovered, threatening to draw him back to oblivion, and flashes of light obscured his vision.
Johnny held a canteen to Scott’s lips and watched as he gratefully swallowed deeply. He then wet a kerchief, and began wiping at the blood that seemed to be everywhere. “We’re in quite a spot, brother.” he murmured as he worked.
Scott tried to laugh, but ended up coughing. “You’re right about that.” he said finally, when he could catch his breath. “What are we going to do?”
Johnny looked at him, laughter sparkling in his blue eyes. “I don’t know about you, Boston, but I’ve got a job. I could just ride on out of here if I wanted to.”
“You go right ahead, little brother. I’ve always wanted your share of the ranch anyway.” Scott replied. The brothers smiled at each other, their problems forgotten momentarily. After another deep drink from the canteen, some of the color had returned to Scott’s face, and his breathing was a little easier.
“I need to find Murdoch.” Johnny said slowly. “If I can get to him, we can gather the hands and make a fight of it.” He spoke without conviction, and Scott knew something was wrong.
“You don’t sound convinced that that’s a good idea.” Scott’s tone was questioning.
“It would mean leaving you here, and I can’t do that.” Johnny replied matter-of-factly. “Turnbull plans to kill you tomorrow, and I won’t let that happen. I’ve got to stay here with you. We’ll just have to come up with another plan.”
“There’s no other way, brother.” Scott’s reply was equally matter-of-fact. “You’ve got to get to Murdoch and tell him where I am. With enough men you can make a fight of it.” He tried to give Johnny a reassuring pat on the arm, but found that he couldn’t make his hands obey him.
Johnny noticed the pain in Scott’s face, and a look of concern crossed his face. “I’m not leaving you, Scott.” was his only reply.
Scott saw the stubborn look that he had become all too familiar with showing on Johnny’s face. He sighed heavily. “Well, then brother. It looks like it’s you and me. We’ll have to come up with something.”
Johnny chuckled. “It’s nice to have someone to fall back on, Boston.” The brothers put their heads together, and began to debate the best plan to get themselves out of the mess they were in.
A muffled sound from behind them made the brothers look up quickly. Standing in the doorway listening avidly to every word was Jack Carson. From the gloating look on his face the Lancers knew that their secret had been discovered. Scott shifted convulsively in a futile effort to stand. Johnny pushed him back down with one hand and swiftly drew his gun with the other.
Johnny was fast, probably one of the fastest guns alive, but because of his preoccupation with Scott’s safety his timing was off. By the time his gun cleared the holster, Carson’s weapon was already aiming straight at Johnny’s heart. A wicked smile on his lips, Carson said simply, “Drop it, Madrid.” He chuckled loudly. “Or should I say, Lancer?”
Johnny and Scott exchanged a long look. Their options had just run out. Calmly, Johnny turned his attention back to Carson. “No.” he said. “You may kill me, Carson, but I’ll take you with me.” He held his gun steady.
Carson’s grin widened, and the barrel of his gun moved slightly. It was now pointing at Scott’s heart. “Wrong, Madrid.” he said. “You’ll kill me, but I’m taking your “brother” with me, not you.” His gun clicked distinctly as he readied it for firing.
Johnny paled. He knew that no matter how quickly he fired his own weapon, Carson could still squeeze off a shot and kill Scott. While he was willing to risk his own life, he refused to take a chance with his brother’s. Slowly, he lowered his gun, and then dropped it to the floor.
It was the opening that Carson had been waiting for. He shifted the barrel of his gun back towards Johnny, and fired. A bullet flew from the gun and tore into Johnny’s right arm. He cried out in pain, and clutched at his rapidly reddening sleeve.
“Johnny,” cried Scott, and he struggled to his knees. Pushing back against the wall, he managed to stagger to his feet.
Johnny turned to him quickly, and with his good hand, caught him as his knees buckled. “It’s okay, Scott. He’s just winged me.” He eased his brother to the ground and knelt beside him. Johnny glared at Carson. “Now what?” he muttered.
“Now I go tell Turnbull who you are. He’s going to be very happy that we have TWO of Murdoch Lancer’s sons as our guests.” Carson moved over to the two wounded men, picking up the discarded ropes as he came. “But first, I need to make sure you’re still here when I get back.”
He quickly tied Scott’s hands tightly behind his back, causing Scott to cry out as his ribs were strained. Carson laughed at Johnny’s murderous look. He cut a length of rope and used it to bind Johnny’s hands tightly behind his back, as well. Johnny choked off a gasp as his wounded arm flared in a searing burst of pain. Carson checked the ropes on both his victims a second time, and still chuckling happily, strode out of the shack.
Scott looked at Johnny, who calmly returned his gaze. “I think we need a new plan, brother.” Johnny said with a completely deadpan expression.
Scott looked at him in amazement and then in spite of the danger of their situation, burst out laughing. “Brother,” he gasped when he could speak again. “You can make fun of anything, can’t you?”
Scott sobered abruptly as a coughing spell overcame him, leaving him gasping for breath. His ribs were on fire, and he couldn’t take anything more than a shallow breath. Johnny looked at him in concern, noting his blue tinged lips, and the lines of strain around his mouth. It was time to get his brother home.
Dawn was just beginning, beguiling little streaks of the palest pinks were starting to show themselves in the distance, and a few brave birds were beginning their morning songs. Murdoch Lancer strode quickly to the barn, and picking up the heavy leather saddle, threw it over the back of his horse. As he adjusted the cinches and straps, and checked the horses harness, he heard the patter of running footsteps.
Teresa threw open the door of the barn and ran to Murdoch’s side. She was dressed in a pair of faded jeans, and an open necked shirt. “You’re not going without me,” she cried as she saw that Murdoch was almost ready to ride. “I’m not letting you go alone, Murdoch.” She grabbed at his arm to restrain him.
Murdoch turned and put a gentle hand on Teresa’s chin. He tipped her face towards his, and placed a kiss on her forehead. “I’m not taking you with me this time, sweetheart. We don’t know what’s happening out there, and I’m not going to risk your life too.” He shook his head stubbornly when he saw her start to protest. “I mean it, Teresa. You’re not coming. I want you to stay here.”
Teresa’s eyes filled and she stared at Murdoch in dismay. “I can’t just sit here and do nothing.” she whispered. “I want to help”
“Oh honey.” Murdoch gathered her into his arms. “You can help best by staying here, if Johnny should come home, I’ll need someone to let him know where I am. Please, Teresa, don’t fight me on this one. I don’t need to worry about your safety right now.”
Teresa straightened and wiped her eyes. She stood a little taller, and visibly pulled herself together. “All right, I’ll stay. If, I mean when, Johnny comes back, I’ll send him after you.” She turned to go, but stopped and flung herself back into Murdoch’s arms. After a fierce embrace she ran back towards the house.
Murdoch swung into the saddle and digging his heels into the horse’s side, he went after his sons.
The same dawn found the other Lancers in a less comfortable position. Scott had spent a fitful night struggling for every breath. His ribs were broken in several places, and his face was impossibly bruised and swollen. He couldn’t open one eye at all, while the second eye was a mere slit. He struggled to open that eye as much as he could.
Scott felt someone touch his shoulder. He rolled over and saw Johnny lying next to him. Johnny’s arm had continued to bleed throughout the remainder of the night. The flesh around the bullet wound was red and swollen. Infection was coursing through his body, and his eyes were bright with fever. He opened his eyes, and smiled gamely at his brother. “Morning, Scott” he said cheerfully. “What’s for breakfast?”
Scott laughed softly, but stopped as his ribs ached with the strain. “I think we’re waiting on the pleasure of our host, Mr. Turnbull, brother.” he ground out, with an attempt at Johnny’s lighthearted manner. “I really thought he’d have been here by now. I wonder what’s taking him so long.”
The blond haired Lancer struggled to an upright position, leaning on the wall for support. When he was sitting, he rested his head, and closed his aching eye. The breath whistled through his clenched teeth. Johnny pulled himself up next to his brother, and looked at him in concern. This wasn’t working out like he had planned. Now they were both prisoners, wounded, and with no real options.
Scott opened his eye again and saw Johnny’s eyes on him. He smiled as much as his swollen lips would allow. “Don’t look so worried, Johnny. Murdoch’s probably on his way already. We’ll get out of here, I promise. We just have to stick together.”
A strange feeling washed through Johnny, leaving a warm glow in it’s wake. He had never had anyone to fall back on before. It had always been Johnny Madrid against the world. He had thought it was all he would ever need, but now he knew differently. He had a shoulder to grab onto, a brother to fall back on. It was a feeling that Johnny would never forget. He had a brother. He looked at Scott, and allowed his eyes to speak, because his lips wouldn’t frame the words. Scott saw the love shining in Johnny’s eyes, and his heart melted. He nodded slightly, and leaned against his smaller, dark haired brother. “Together, Johnny.” It was spoken as a solemn vow.
The door crashed open, and the brothers started. Turnbull strode into the room, and looked with loathing at the Lancer brothers. “What a touching moment.”
Johnny, bolstered by his brother’s presence simply smiled calmly at Turnbull. “Good morning, Mr. Turnbull.” he said softly. “I see you’ve decided to come offer us some breakfast.”
Turnbull paced deliberately toward the two men. He reached down and yanked Johnny to his feet, wringing a muffled gasp from the dark haired man as his arm seemed to explode with pain. “So, you’re Johnny “Lancer”, Turnbull sneered. “I’ve just spent the night tearing apart Morro Coyo. It seems I didn’t dig deep enough before. Murdoch Lancer has two newly found sons, not just one. That was a mistake on my part, and I don’t like making mistakes.” He shook the helpless man in his grasp. Then in a sudden rage he hurled Johnny back into the wall.
Johnny hit the wall and slid slowly to the floor. His arm burned and the breath had been knocked out of him. Scott looked at him in concern, and then turned to face Turnbull. “Leave him alone.” he commanded. “If you want Murdoch to cooperate with you, then you need two healthy hostages. The more you harm us, the less likely our father is to give in to your demands.” As he spoke, Scott struggled to his knees, and moved towards his brother.
Turnbull lashed out viciously with his booted foot, and kicked Scott. Scott’s rib took the brunt of the blow, and he screamed in agony as he fell back. “I didn’t give you permission to talk, Lancer.” Turnbull snarled. Scott didn’t hear him, as he had slipped into a merciful unconsciousness.
Johnny caught his breath, and looked at Turnbull with hate filled eyes. “Get away from my brother, Turnbull.” he hissed. “If you want to stay alive you won’t touch him again.”
Turnbull laughed, his eyes reflecting his unholy amusement. “You talk pretty big, ‘Lancer’.” He reached out and jerked Johnny’s wounded arm. “But you aren’t really in a position to back up those big words, now are you?”
Johnny sucked in his breath at the pain Turnbull’s touch evoked. He leaned back against the wall, his breathing ragged, but didn’t utter a sound. He wouldn’t give Turnbull the satisfaction of seeing how much pain he had caused. Turnbull smiled in anticipation and moved toward the two helpless men. Johnny gathered himself together, ready to fight to the best of his ability. He was poised to move when a commotion was heard out side the line shack. Turnbull halted, his foot drawn back as if to kick at Scott’s fallen body.
Jack Carson burst into the room. “Hey, boss!” he cried frantically. “Riders coming! Lots of them!”
Turnbull turned and frowned at Carson. “Who are they?” He was already moving for the door, his prisoners forgotten for the moment. “How many riders?” The two men left slamming the door shut behind them, leaving the Lancer brothers alone.
Murdoch Lancer, on leaving the stable, gathered together every hand on the Lancer ranch. He immediately put them to work scouring the ranch for signs of his sons whereabouts. His instinct was to head north. He knew that Scott would have been worried about Turnbull’s interest in the northern section of the ranch, and Murdoch figured that’s where his son had headed. He also knew that where he found Scott he would find Johnny. Johnny would have had the same instinct about Scott’s whereabouts, and once he found his brother he wouldn’t leave him, of that Murdoch was convinced.
The riders swept northwards. A ranch hand appeared at Murdoch’s side as they neared the northern border of the ranch. “Mr. Lancer. There’s some men at that line shack just up ahead.” he reported breathlessly.
“How many men?” Murdoch demanded. “Do you see any signs of my sons?” He urged his horse to a quicker pace.
“No sign of Scott or Johnny, Mr. Lancer.” The hand replied quietly. “But five or six men, all patrolling around that line shack. We think that’s where Turnbull is.”
Murdoch nodded his agreement, and then gave orders deploying his men around the line shack. He wanted every inch of that cabin covered by one of his men. No one was going to escape, especially if Murdoch didn’t get his sons back alive.
When the other riders had peeled out of the formation and taken their positions, Murdoch rode forward alone. He pulled his horse to a halt several yards away from the line shack. Several men, all heavily armed rode forward to meet him. Riding at the center of the group was Jed Turnbull.
“Where’s Scott?” Murdoch demanded with no preliminaries. He sat tall on his horse, his face like stone. “I’ve got every inch of this place covered, Turnbull. You won’t leave here alive, unless you give me back my son.”
Turnbull laughed, the sound ugly in the morning stillness. “I have both of your sons, Lancer. If you want them back, then hand over the deed to this ranch.” He sat waiting for the effect of his announcement.
Murdoch’s face reflected none of his inner agony. He was a hard man, and had fought many battles to retain the ranch that he loved. But to give up his sons after waiting so many years for their return, it was unthinkable. The silence lengthened. Turnbull was the one that broke it.
“Do your sons mean so little to you, Lancer. You’d sacrifice them for the sake of this land you’re standing on? Apparently I’ve misjudged you. I didn’t think it would be a hard choice for you to make.” Turnbull’s sneer was a horrible sight. His face reflected the triumph he felt, for he was sure he held the winning hand.
“I’m not giving up my ranch, and I’m not letting you harm my sons.” Murdoch’s voice rang with the coldness of steel. “You have a choice, Turnbull, not me. Hand over my sons, or die.”
Inside the line shack, Johnny had dragged himself over to Scott’s limp body. With his arms firmly bound behind his back, he could do little to help his brother. “Scott!” he called urgently. “Scott, wake up!”
Scott groaned, his eyelids fluttered, and then he opened one eye. The other was still swollen shut, and had turned a vivid shade of purple. He struggled to focus, Johnny’s face swam before his eye. “Johnny” he gasped. “Are you okay?”
Johnny smiled gently. “I’m doing better than you are, Boston. It’s all that soft eastern living you grew up with that’s the problem, most likely.” He watched in concern as Scott again struggled to a sitting position, every movement an agony for him. “You shouldn’t be moving those ribs around so much, brother.” Johnny’s eyes were pools of misery.
Scott attempted a chuckle, but it turned into a gasp of pain. “You should talk, boy. You don’t look so good yourself.” He surveyed the blood-soaked shirt, and the obvious lines of pain on Johnny’s face. “How’s our plan working out, Johnny? Pretty good, so far, hmm.”
Johnny looked at Scott soberly. “We’ve got to get out of here before Turnbull kills us both. He’s loco, Scott.” Johnny pulled himself to his knees, and using the wall for support managed to get to his feet. “Do you think you can stand up at all?” he asked.
Scott attempted to rise, but after a few moments he shook his head in despair. “I can’t do it, Johnny. You’ve got to get out of here, if you can. Find Murdoch and come back for me.”
Johnny turned on his brother in anger. “You’re a fool, Brother, if you think I’m going to walk on you now. We go together, or we don’t go at all.” He moved back to Scott, the anger draining out of him as quickly as it had come, and sank back on his heels. “Do you think you can untie me, if we lay back to back?”
A quick smile flashed across Scott’s battered face. “I don’t really have anything else to do, let’s give it a try.” he replied. “Thanks, Johnny.”
Johnny pretended not to understand. “I haven’t gotten you untied yet, brother. Don’t be so quick with your thanks.”
Scott shook his head. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. You could have been out of here a long time ago. I’m just holding you back. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, Johnny.”
Johnny turned his back to the blond-haired man and Scott tried to make his numbed fingers work on the ropes. It wasn’t going to be easy, but Scott’s determination took over. He was going to do what ever it took to get himself and his brother home. As he worked, the brothers became aware of the confusion outside. They heard Turnbull’s men sounding the alarm, and knew that someone was coming. “Murdoch.” Scott breathed. He redoubled his efforts on the ropes, and was rewarded by a perceptible loosening of the strands.
Johnny could feel the blood moving back into his fingers as Scott loosened the bonds. He winced at the pain of the returning circulation. He worked his hands as much as he could, and was able to aid Scott’s efforts. With a satisfied shout he felt the ropes fall from his hands. “You did it, Scott!” he crowed. Turning, he immediately began attacking the ropes that held Scott’s wrist.
Within minutes Scott’s arms were also free. Johnny rubbed his brother’s arms and shoulders to try to restore the circulation in his hands. Scott’s face showed the pain that the returning circulation brought. “I’m okay, Johnny.” he protested, and he tried to shrug his brother off. “Help me up.” he said, his muscles tensing with strain.
Johnny grabbed Scott under the arms, and gently lifted him to a sitting position. He pretended not to hear Scott’s muffled groan of agony. When Scott had caught his breath, Johnny pulled him slowly to a stand. Scott leaned against the wall of the shack, his breathing harsh and ragged. His arms were wrapped around his ribs in an effort to quell the pain. He looked up in time to intercept Johnny’s worried glance. “We’re quite a pair, aren’t we brother.” he said mockingly. “Let’s go home!”
The brothers moved slowly to the window of the shack. Peering out, they saw their father in a confrontation with Jed Turnbull. Exchanging a look, the brothers waited to see the result of the stand-off. Neither one wanted to be responsible for starting a gunfight that could get Murdoch shot.
Turnbull’s face had paled at Murdoch’s counter-demand. He fidgeted impatiently atop his horse, as if waiting for help to arrive from some unknown source. Finally he looked back at his foe. Murdoch sat like a statue. His face could have been carved from marble, the look it wore was bleak and determined. Turnbull’s eyes dropped, then rose again.
“I want the deed, Lancer.” he said again, as if repetition would gain him what he wanted.
Murdoch laughed harshly. He simply shook his head. “I want my sons.”
A cry of rage burst from Turnbull’s lips. It was as if something inside his mind had snapped. He pulled his gun from it’s holster and swung it towards his enemy. Murdoch raised his hand in signal, and Turnbull died as a hail of bullets rained down from all directions.
Jack Carson and Blake Stone stood at the forefront of Turnbull’s men, and they watched their employer cut from his saddle to lie still on the ground. As if one they threw their guns down and raised their hands. Their action was the signal for the rest of the men to do the same. Turnbull’s army of hired guns went down with a whimper.
Murdoch Lancer urged his horse forward, around the body of his former foe. As the horse moved, the door to the line shack opened and two very sick, weary men staggered forward, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. A glad cry rang out of Murdoch’s throat, and he leapt from his horse. “Scott, Johnny!” He ran forward and tried to gather them both into his arms.
The Lancer brothers smiled, and submitted to his impromptu embrace. “Easy, Murdoch.” Scott chided gently. “We’re wounded you know.”
Murdoch hastily let go of his sons, and grabbed them each around the shoulder. “It’s good to see you, boys.” he said fervently. “Let’s get you home.”
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” Johnny said with a chuckle. His body drooped with exhaustion, but his blue eyes were as gentle as a spring sky. “Home sounds good right about now.”
Two weeks later, Scott and Johnny were sitting on the veranda of the Lancer hacienda. Johnny’s arm was in a sling, while Scott’s open necked shirt allowed the edges of his bandages to peek through. The men sat in companionable silence, allowing the warm sun to soak into their bones. A sudden smile of contentment flitted across Johnny’s face. It didn’t go unnoticed by his older brother.
“What’s so funny, brother?” Scott asked lazily. He took a sip of the lemonade that Teresa had supplied to them.
“Nothin’s funny, Boston.” Johnny replied slowly. “I’m just happy, that’s all.”
Scott sat forward, wincing a little as his ribs protested. “Are you, Johnny? Really happy, I mean?” He eyed his brother gravely.
Johnny smiled his heart-stopping grin. “Yeah, brother. I guess you could say I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s good to be home.” He reached out and ruffled Scott’s hair in a rough caress. “It’s good to have a family to fall back on. Thanks, Boston.”
Scott smiled too. His blue-grey eyes crinkled with warmth. “That goes for me too. I owe you my life. I didn’t know that having a brother would mean so much to me, but it does.” He returned Johnny’s affectionate hug. “I’m glad we made it home.”
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