Yesterday’s Vengeance 2009 by Lancer Redux

Word Count 10,625

9th in the Modern Lancers (series story order)
Disclaimer: Nope, don’t own Lancer.
Summary: Continuation of the Modern Lancer series. Follows Gabriel Madrid. Murdoch heads out on an unknown errand, leaving Johnny and Scott with questions and no small amount of worry.
 

~#~#~#~

Joe Bell was a light sleeper at the best of times. Tonight was not the best of times, but hearing the vehicle winding its way toward his cabin, he thought it just as well. A glance at the mantel clock revealed it just after three in the morning. Setting his book down, he glanced out the window. Too dark to recognize the vehicle, and yet he had no trouble with the tall figure easing out of it.

He opened the door before Murdoch Lancer had a chance to knock, and Joe’s stomach did a small flip at the grimness of the older man’s face.

“Family all right?”

Murdoch looked startled at the question, but gave a faint smile. “Everyone is fine. I have a request.”

“Must be a big one if you’re here at this time of the morning.”

“You’re the only one I can trust with this.”

Joe’s stomach did a bigger flip and he frowned. “All right. What do you need?”

Murdoch reached inside his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “If I’m not back by Friday noon, show this to my sons. Not to anybody until then.”

With some reluctance Joe took hold of the envelope. “You tell Teresa and those boys of yours you were going?”

“I left them a note.”

“You mention where you’re going?”

“No. Just to see you if I’m not back by Friday.”

Ah hell. “They’re gonna ask questions, what do I tell them?”

“Tell them that I have some business to take care of–something I should have taken care of 25 years ago.” 

“What’s this about, Murdoch?”

“A quick trip to Mesa Roja, Joe. Nothing more than that right now.”

And damn the man, Murdoch walked off leaving Joe holding the proverbial bag, the envelope in his hand feeling like a living thing.

~#~#~#~

Dawn had come and gone when Murdoch arrived at the Haney home on the outskirts of the small town of Mesa Roja. Early in the day for what would be considered respectable for dropping by unannounced. Yet, his knock on the door produced no results. After glancing through a couple of windows, Murdoch returned to his car.

During his research, he had found that Haney owned a mechanic shop in town.

That was his next stop.

~#~#~#~

“Twenty five years and all of a sudden it can’t wait until morning?”

Teresa winced at the disbelief in Scott’s tone and sank into the chair. It was too soon in the Lancers’ relationship for Murdoch to go do what he had to do without a decent explanation. Teresa was familiar with his ways, but his sons were still learning and the learning curve of understanding Murdoch Lancer was a steep one.

Scott picked up the coffee pot. “None of this adds up.”

Teresa had never seen Scott quite so unkempt. Shirttails hanging out and only half-buttoned, he had that look of a man pulled too early from his bed. Which was what had happened in the predawn hours when Maria discovered Murdoch’s note and dragged them all out of bed to land in the great room. Johnny made it to the chair, looking none to eager to move from his spot.

Something was going on with Johnny. He had been distracted the last few days, but she’d ferret that out later. Right now, Murdoch came first.

Johnny yawned and focused on Teresa. “He didn’t say anything to you?”

She felt the tension in her shoulders ratchet up another notch and shook her head. “Something’s been bothering him, I know that much. He’s been taking long walks.”

At their blank looks she stifled her own impatience. “He does that when he needs to think something through.”

Johnny went to take a swallow of coffee, but Teresa knew he had drained his mug a few minutes ago. He squinted into the empty crockery and then looked at her very serious. “I – I just think he’s got a woman.”

Teresa glared. “Not funny. He could be in trouble.”

Johnny laughed. “Yeah, that woman could have a husband.” 

Teresa had to move before she said anything she regretted. Hearing a vehicle come up the drive was a perfect excuse. Dawn had arrived so she could make out the truck.

Joe?

“Teresa?”

She looked over her shoulder at Scott. “Joe Bell is here.”

“Kind of early to be calling, isn’t it?” Johnny rubbed a hand over his face and held his mug up for Scott to refill. Scott missed it or ignored the action and came around the couch.

“Why is he here so early?”

“Why is he here at all?” Teresa felt just a teeny bit of frustrated hysteria bubbling to the surface at their blank expressions. “Joe Bell does not just drop in. He rarely leaves his place unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

With a glance in her direction, Scott opened the door before Joe had a chance to knock. “Morning, Joe. Come on in.”

Bell entered the great room, and held out his hand as Johnny came forward. Scott did the introductions and Teresa felt her patience snap.

“Joe, do you know where Murdoch went?”

Bell gave her a long look and then a quirky half-smile. “He came and saw me, yes.”

“And?”

“Murdoch gave me a note to give to you all if he wasn’t back by Friday noon.”

Johnny straightened, looking much more awake than he did a minute ago. “What note?”

Scott frowned. “Where is it?”  

Bell held up his hands. “Now listen, your father gave me the note ‘cause he trusts me.  And I trust him. Anybody that can take 25 years to make up his mind must know what he’s doing.”

Teresa turned on the wide-eyed look. “Joe, please. Something isn’t right here.”

Her heart sank when she saw his jaw clench. ”You’ll get it Friday if he doesn’t come back.”

Scott laid his arm over Teresa’s shoulders, and she did her best to look fragile, leaning into his support.

“Bell –”

“Come on, Scott. Leave off.” Johnny returned to the chair, picking up his shoes. “Not fair to put Bell in this position.”

Screw fair. Teresa was about to voice her opinion on that when Scott beat her to it. “I don’t like it, Johnny–Murdoch wouldn’t slip away in the middle of the night unless -”

“Unless he wanted to do what he’s doing alone.” Johnny finished as he sat down on the footstool.

Teresa gave up on the fragile and with an irritated glance at Joe, who winced just a little, left Scott to stand before Johnny. “He may need help.”   

“Look, all he had to do was ask.”

Teresa blinked at the utter stupidity of that statement. “Murdoch?”

“Why not?”

“Murdoch Lancer. Ask for help.”

Johnny drummed his fingers on his thighs. “Okay, okay, so he wouldn’t.”

Scott finished buttoning his shirt. “I’ll ask around. See if anyone saw him leave.”

“County road 180’s a nice drive.” Bell headed toward the door. “You all have a nice day.” The door closed with a soft click behind him.

Scott smiled. “Guess that’s a place to start.”

Teresa went to the desk. “I’ll find a map.”

Johnny slid into his shoes. “Look, Scott, Murdoch’s a big boy–I mean he doesn’t need us around all the time.”

“For this, I think he does.”

Teresa did the wide-eyed stare while pulling a map out of the upper drawer. Johnny did his best to ignore her. Scott took the map and headed out the door. Johnny went to pour himself more coffee, only to find it empty. Teresa continued to stare.

Johnny thumped his mug on the coffee table. “All right, I’ll go with him.”

Teresa grinned and hoped Scott stopped to get Johnny at least another cup of coffee to go.

~#~#~#~

Years ago, he thought. The last time he’d seen Haney. And when, he supposed, the seeds for what he must do now had been planted. Standing in the yellow glare of sun with the hint of early morning chilliness behind him, Murdoch could see the sign clearly. Mesa Roja Hotel.

“You’re turn now,” he reminded himself. He wouldn’t regret the delay any more than he would regret the manipulation and bitter arguments that were used in the past. A spark of hope hit him. He wanted to believe—maybe needed to believe—he could right the wrong.

The main door opened with a jangle of bells. The staleness of air-conditioned coolness welcomed him to the front desk. 

The clerk turned at the sound and he came face to face with a woman of his own age. She straightened away from her console, brushing her hands across her brown skirt, then smiled.

“Is there a room available, non-smoking?”

Her voice had a soft laugh to it. “That would be a King-size bed, right?”

“Right.” He smiled in spite of himself.

“How many days?”

The question stumped him. He’d planned to get in and get out. No fuss. “I’m not sure, can we leave it open?”

She turned assessing eyes to him. “You’ll need to pay for the first few days up front, then depending on how full we get, we might have to shuffle you around if you decide to stay.”

“More than fair.”

“Fill out this paperwork, and sign on the bottom.”

He leaned over to the task, a wry though coming to him. “Where would we be without paperwork?”

“You’d already be sitting on your bed, that’s where.”

He chuckled and handed over his credit card, turning the signed papers towards her. The clerk scooped them both up and went back to her console. He signed the little guestbook sitting on the counter.

She stopped fussing at her computer board and stared at his MasterCard.

“Something wrong?”

The smile was gone from her face. The chill in her look knifed through him and made him wonder what he did. He thought over his words. There was nothing offensive that he could tell.

“Murdoch…Murdoch Lancer?”

“That’s me. Is there something wrong? I have other identification.”

“No…no. I’m sorry.” She forced a smile at him. “Here is your room key. I…I hope you’ll be comfortable enough.”

~#~#~#~

She watched the tall man pick up his suitcase and head off to the elevator, making sure he was behind the closed doors before turning to the back room.

“Judd!”

Her husband, standing near the coffee pot, looked at her. “Ellie? What’s wrong?”

“Murdoch Lancer is here.”

He set his cup down a little too hard and it clanged against the Formica countertop. “Now that’s a name from the past. Did he say why?”

She shook her head. “But he doesn’t know how long he’s staying. Said he wasn’t sure and asked to keep the end date open. Judd, he…he could have come here looking for you.”

“You don’t think that little item crossed my mind?” He leaned a hip against the counter. “But why after all these years? Twenty-five long years. It’s a long time to hold a grudge.”

“Maybe I’m wrong.” But she wasn’t convinced. “Judd, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Now there’s little chance of that happening, Ellie.”

She walked over to the counter beside him. “You know I can’t help worrying.”

Judd reached out and grabbed her wrist, turning her to face him. His eyes narrowed and studied her. “Why?”

“You’re my husband, isn’t that enough?”

“I’m not sure, is it?”

She pulled away, feeling the regret of years past weighing her down. And now Murdoch Lancer. God, when would it end?

“Ellie? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

She left his side and went to the table, scraping out a chair. “I suppose it’s my own fault, expecting you to forgive and forget.”

“All that time I was away.” Judd’ eyes grew hard, frightening her. “Those eighteen filthy, miserable years. I can’t ever get them back.”

She tried to stop it, but the quiver in her voice betrayed her true feelings. “I’ve tried to make it up to you, Judd. What more can I do?”

The backdoor swung open with a squeak. They both startled, then relaxed when Judd’s employee walked in 

“Hi, Mrs. Haney. I’m dying for a cup of coffee. Hey, Judd, I hope you’re still not mad about that bumper. I’ll pop it right out. Owner won’t even know it was ever there.”

Judd wasn’t listening. “I’m going to find Lancer.”

“No, let him make the first move. Or let me go and talk to him. I can find out what he wants and why he’s here.”

The cold look was back. “I know why he’s here…”

Judd straightened and headed for the half open door, pushing Bill aside.

“Well geez, I guess you are still mad.”

Ellie watched the door swing shut. “It’s not you, Bill. Judd has some things on his mind. Specifically, Murdoch Lancer.”

Bill slipped around the table to grab a cup from shelf. “Who’s he?”

“It’s a very long and involved story. But suffice to say he’s someone who swore he’d find my husband one day…and kill him.”

Bill poured himself a cup of coffee, shaking his head. “No, Ma’am.”

Distracted, she looked at Bill. “What?”

He smiled and lifted the cup to his lips. “I said, no ma’am. At least while I’m around.”

~#~#~#~

The knock on the door was less unexpected than the response to his, “Who is it?”

“Judd Haney.”

That hadn’t taken long. “Come in.”

An older, but recognizable man stepped into the room. The years hadn’t been kind to him – prison was a hard way to live.

Judd was wary and stayed close to the door after shutting it. “It’s been a long time, Murdoch.”

“Twenty-four years, eight months, eleven days.” But who was counting?

“Twelve days.” Guess Haney was.

Murdoch gave him that. If anyone knew the days better than he did, it would be Haney.

“One of my staff told me you were out of prison and working as a mechanic. Thought it was time we got this settled once and for all.”

“Any time you’re ready.”

“How did you know I was here?”

“My wife works the front desk.”

Wife? “Twenty-five years ago I wouldn’t have figured you were the marrying kind.”

“People change.”

Murdoch hoped that was true more often than not. “Have you?”

“Prison is bound to have some effect.”

“Why here?”

“I’ve got people in this town who know me–everything about me. They made sure I had something when I got out.”

“Eighteen years. I didn’t think the law would find you, Judd. I sure couldn’t.”

If Murdoch hadn’t been watching Haney’s every move, he would have missed the slight twitch. “They didn’t. My wife turned me in.”

“Your wife? Why?”

“Ask her sometime.”

“It doesn’t really matter now, does it? You’re a free man now, with a wife, work, comfortable house…”

“Get on with it, Murdoch. Why’d you come here?”

“Guess I’ve changed, too. I was a hot-headed, self-righteous kid who made those threats twenty-five years ago. I’m asking you to forget them. So we can both live the rest of our lives without looking over our shoulders. I just want to know one thing.”

“And that is?”

“Why did you do it?”

“It was job. I was paid to do it.”

Another bit of information Murdoch hadn’t expected. “Who paid you?”

“If I knew that, I would have turned him or her in and saved myself some years.”

“You must know something.”

“Nothing. This was a professional hire – never knew who I was dealing with. Cash and carry with threats attached about what would happen if I took the money and ran. But I had my pride back then and I wasn’t about to damage my reputation. It was easy money, I thought. It cost me more than it was worth.”

“Then the past is dead weight. Forget it. I’m getting too old to lug it around.”

Haney tilted his head to the side, gave Murdoch a long look. “You came here to tell me that?”

“I didn’t know how you’d take it, but that’s why I’m here. And to know why.”

“Well, we’ll see, but I won’t turn my back on you.” Haney reached back for the door to open it and step backwards out of it. “Not yet.” He closed the door.

Murdoch stared at it – more concerned now than when set out on this road trip. It had bothered him for years, the not knowing. It was worse to find out that he knew even less. 

~#~#~#~

Ellie was seconds away from rushing up the back stairs when Judd came around to the landing. “What did he say?”

Judd walked down the stairs in no hurry. “Forget the past, he said, it’s dead weight.”

A wave of relief washed through her. “It’s been weighing us all down.” Maybe they could move on.

“Ellie, I doubt he came here for a forgive and forget. I gave him too many reasons to hate me.”

The relief died away. “But that was years ago.”

“Nobody changes that much – not even Murdoch Lancer. Just wait. He’ll be coming after me and I’ll get that dead weight right between the eyes.” He headed out of the hotel.

Ellie watched him go, feeling like she was back to twenty-five years ago.

~#~#~#~

Haney’s past actions occupied a fraction of Murdoch’s thinking, even as he watched the man walk down the street. Letting the curtain drop back into place, he turned back towards the room.

Who had paid Haney all those years ago?

And that brought back the question of Day Pardee. Johnny had doubts that Pardee had acted on his own – he and his men had made a living being paid for causing trouble. The two events were years apart, but could they be connected? 

Murdoch paced – not much – the area was too small. He left the room, needing space to work through thoughts that were more overwhelming than his original intentions in finding Haney.

He headed for the stairs.

Maybe hire the Pinkerton Agency to look into it?

Murdoch’s right foot caught on something on the landing, his left ankle twisted, upsetting his balance further.

Falling.

His instinctive grab for the banister missed – his head didn’t.

~#~#~#~

“Something on your mind, beside the obvious?”

Pulled out of his thoughts, Johnny glanced over to Scott. “The obvious is enough right now.”

“No doubt, but you’ve got Teresa wondering what’s going on with you.”

He tried for innocence. “With me?”

Scott shook his head with a smile. “Nice try, but as of late, you’ve been in the room, but you sure haven’t been present.”

Johnny never could quite pull it off.

Ah, hell. He’d have to tell them about Gabriel sooner than later – even if he had been hoping for later. As far as family reconciliations went theirs had more than their share of interruptions.

His grip tightened on the steering wheel. “You notice that every time we come to a lull we no sooner take a breath and there’s another drama just waiting?”

Scott gave him a long considering look. “That has become troublesome.”

“So lets get this one handled before the next one, okay?”

“I wait with bated breath,” came the very dry reply and Scott glanced down at the map, then out the windshield. “Town should be right over this hill.”

Johnny drove into the small town of Mesa Roja, eyes skipping over the few cars parked in front of the stores, most in front of the bar in the hopes of spotting a familiar one. Like many of the small towns in the US this one was struggling.

Johnny slid into a parking spot in front of the Mesa Roja hotel. The only hotel he had spotted and it showed signs of some upkeep. “Quaint little town.”

Scott slid out of the Jeep, looking around. “This has to be what Bell was hinting at. There’s no other town near here. If he’s here, this is the place he’d check into.”

The air conditioning was a relief from the hot, noonday sun. Johnny met the woman behind the counter smile. “Nice quiet town.”

She smiled. “Double or singles?”

Leaning against the counter, Scott took off his sunglasses and brushed his forearm across his forehead. “Well, for now all we need is some information.”

“What did you need?”

“We’re looking for a man named Lancer, Murdoch Lancer. Has he checked in here?”

Johnny listened as he looked about. The hotel could do with a renovation, but it was still in good shape. He heard the woman clicking on the keyboard.

“I don’t think so, but let me check.”

Johnny turned to watch her.

“Are you friends of his?”

“More or less, he’s our father.”

“No, no Murdoch Lancer registered here.” She shut down the screen.

No, they couldn’t get that lucky, but Johnny had hoped they wouldn’t have to search for long. Beside him, he watched Scott’s hints of frustration. “Let’s go look around town.”

The woman spoke up again. “Wouldn’t waste time looking for him in this town. Strangers stick out, and we haven’t had any in days.”

What an odd thing to say. “Thanks anyway.” They headed for the door.

“Are you planning to say in town?”

This time, Scott turned to look back. “We aren’t sure yet, but thank you again.” Once outside he looked at Johnny as they both slid on their sunglasses. “They must need the business.”

“This whole town needs business.” A sign caught Johnny’s eye and he pointed it out. “I say we give that place a little business.”

“I could use a beer.”

They jaywalked across the street – not that they had to worry about any traffic. The bar, like the town itself, showed some signs of life. A few men were at the tables. The bar itself was empty with the exception of the bartender behind it, who greeted them with, “Hey, what’ll it be?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Scott scoping out the place. “Couple of beers. Whatever you have on tap.”

The bartender pulled out a couple of glasses. “Haven’t seen you before.”

Scott turned to the bar and reached for the beer. “Just passing through. You don’t happen to know a man by the name of Murdoch Lancer, do you?”

Setting down the second beer, the bartender took a swipe at the bar with the dishtowel hooked at his waist. “Nope, never heard of him.”

“I have.”

Johnny turned to see an older man at the door feeling Scott straighten up beside him.

“Fact is, I knew Murdoch Lancer before you two were born.” He walked towards them, holding out a hand to Johnny. “Judd Haney.”

Passing his beer to his left hand, Johnny shook Haney’s. “Johnny Lancer. This is my brother Scott. You seen him lately?”

Haney shook Scott’s hand. “No, I haven’t. Last I heard, his company was growing fast and he had started some wildlife preserve.”

“Yeah, he’s still has all that.”

“Didn’t know Murdoch had any sons.”

Scott set his beer down. “It’s a surprise to many.”

“Why do you think Murdoch’s out this way?”

Johnny wiped the froth off his upper lip. “It’s personal.”

“No trouble I hope.”

Something was a little off kilter with everyone in the town as far as Johnny was concerned. “Why? Is he here?”

“No, son, he isn’t. If you think he headed this way, there’s another town another thirty or so miles away. Bigger, has more going for it. You’re more likely to find someone like Murdoch Lancer there.”

“Well, we’ll just have us another beer.”

The bartender shot a meaningful look a Haney’s way then turned to them. “Sorry, boys, that’s it for beer today. Especially if you’re driving.”

“We haven’t decided…”

Johnny felt a grip on his arm. “Johnny, let’s go.”

“Not yet.”

“Now!” Scott tightened his hold and pulled him away from the bar. Feeling like he was about to start throwing chairs, Johnny headed for the door.

“If Mr. Lancer shows, I’ll let him know his sons are looking for him.”

“You do that.” Scott’s tone was clipped.

The door took some abuse when Johnny slammed through it. Feeling lost as to what to do next, he plopped down on the curb. Scott followed him out and stood beside him.

“You saw they were trying to get rid of us, didn’t you?”

Scott glanced down at him. “I saw. We’ll never find anything out doing it your way.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Scott was right. “You know, I’m beginning to dislike this town just enough to stay awhile. You want to get a room?”

Scott’s eyes focused on something in the distance. “You check us in. I’m going to look around.” He headed off down the sidewalk.

Standing, Johnny dusted off the back of his jeans and headed back to the hotel.

~#~#~#~

The auto shop had a lot behind. Scott headed for it – wanting to make sure he could validate what he was seeing.

The car was there, dusty, but looking the same as it had before. Not dents or dings. Just abandoned.

“Can I help you with something?”

Turning, Scott watched as the mechanic wiped his hands on a rag and walked over. “Where did you get this car?”

“It was towed in. Heard it was sitting on the side of the road for some time. Not sure how long. The highway patrol is tracking down the owner.”

“Must not be trying too hard.”

“Don’t suppose abandoned vehicles take priority over other things.” The mechanic gestured towards the street. “I’m closing up for the day. Did you need anything else?”

Answers, but looking at the mechanic, Scott didn’t think he would get the ones he needed.

~#~#~#~

“I’m sorry, we just rented out the last room.”

Johnny glanced out through the front window to the empty street. “What? Did they come in on foot?”

“A large party was dropped off.”

Wasn’t that convenient? Johnny headed around the counter to look at the guest list.

She pushed against him. “Mr. Lancer…”

“Don’t use that name around here, ‘cause if anyone hears it they don’t sell you a drink or book you a room in this town.” He scanned the list of rooms and names.

She tugged at his arm. “It’s against the rules.”

Brushing her off, he spied the small guest book tucked underneath the counter. “I’m against them, too, ma’am.” He flipped through the pages – it settled open where a page was missing. “What a surprise, a page is torn out. Did you do this?”

Moving away from the desk, Ellie turned away in disgust. “Of course not.”

He followed her out behind the desk. “Where’s Murdoch? With all the hinky things going on, he’s here, and I’m gonna find him if I have to check every room.”

Ellie just gave him a pained, pathetic look that didn’t cause him to feel any sympathy. He had a worry that if they didn’t find Murdoch soon, they wouldn’t find him. He ran for the stairs.

Johnny didn’t know Ellie had followed him until he barged into the first room and was looking around.

“He’s gone. I swear it.”

Spinning around, he got in her face. “Ma’am, you’ve lied before and you’re lying again.”

She turned away from him. “I had to. I had to protect my husband.”

“What are you talking about? Who’s your husband?”

“Judd Haney. Murdoch Lancer once threatened to kill him. I thought you and your brother were a part of it.”

What? Johnny didn’t know a lot about Murdoch, but this didn’t sound right. He turned her to face him. “You’re not makin’ any sense. Where’s my father now?”

“I don’t know.”

Damn it! “You’re lying again.”

“He was here — left at check-out time.”

“Where did he go?”

The obnoxious bell rang downstairs. “I have to take care of that.” She rushed out of the room.

~#~#~#~

Scott hoped Johnny was in a room. Be too easy to lose another Lancer in this town. He pounded on the bell. A guest book that he hadn’t seen before sat on the counter. A quick look through and he found the missing page. Tossing it down, he pounded on the bell.

Ellie rushed down the stairs. “I’m sorry.”

Scott met her at the bottom of the steps. “Where’s Johnny?”

“Right behind you.” Johnny’s hip brushed against Scott’s shoulder as he slid down the banister.

“I found Murdoch’s car at the auto shop lot.”

Johnny landed on his feet. “You sure its his?”

“I’m sure. He’s here somewhere.”

Johnny headed to the desk, leaning over. “And you swore he was gone.”

“That’s right, boys, he’s gone.”

They both turned at that to find the mechanic pointing a rifle at them.

“Bill!”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Haney. It’s time these two find themselves on the outside of this town.” He jerked the rifle to point them out the door. “You’ve harassed the Haneys enough. You stick around here any longer and you won’t like what’ll happen.”

“Like Murdoch Lancer?”

“Your old man had plans to kill Mr. Haney. Figure you might be in on that.”

Scott didn’t know Murdoch as well as he should have as a son, but he didn’t see the man as someone willing to commit murder – much less tell everyone he was going to do it. “Why would our father want to kill Haney?”

“You’d have to ask him.” Another gesture of the rifle had them walking out of the hotel. Scott looked back to see Mrs. Haney watching them go.

~#~#~#~

“What’s going on, Ellie?”

Spinning around, Ellie rushed to him. “Judd, Bill has taking Murdoch’s sons out of town. He has a rifle. It’s not going to work. They find out what happened to their father and they’ll be back.”

“By then it won’t matter.”

“It will to them. They’ll be back or they’ll send the police.”

~#~#~#~

As car rides went, Scott had had better. Bill sat in the back, the rifle pointed at Scott’s back. No sense pointing at the driver, Johnny, when the threat of shooting a brother could keep him in line.

And wasn’t that a new concept.

Johnny glanced in the review mirror. “So, Bill, how come your boss is so afraid of our old man?”

“Lancer came here to kill him. That might have scared some men, but not Judd.”

Scott shifted in the seat to look behind him. Made the itch in his back a fraction less irritating. “Did he kill Murdoch?”

Johnny shot him a hard look, sharing that worry. “Or did you do it for him?”

“I’d a done that much for him and more.” Scott could swear Bill puffed up at that statement. “Know how I got this job?”

“Luck?”

“I wasn’t heading anywhere good with my life. Made some stupid mistakes – ”

Scott let that perfect invitation go.

“I stole from Judd – he could’ve turned me in, but didn’t.”

Scott couldn’t let that one go. “So he recognized your sterling character and gave you a job instead.” Johnny matched his grin.

“That’s right. He gave me a job instead of a prison record.”

The prison record gained some points with this trip as far as Scott was concerned. “No doubt about it – the man’s a saint.”

“That’s the kind of man your father wanted to kill.”

Scott gave sharp nod. “A tribute to our father’s good taste and judgment.”

Bill ignored that dig much to Scott’s dissatisfaction. “Pull over here.” The gun swung over to Johnny’s way. “Shut off the car and hand me the keys. Do it easy like.”

Johnny did as ordered – the rifle was pointed at Scott again, resting on the back of the seat.

“Get out and move ten feet in front of the car.” Bill followed them out and stood by the driver’s side of the car as they moved away. “Stop there.” Pulling a handgun from behind his back, he flung it down in front of Scott. “Pick it up.”

“Don’t, Scott.”

Bill settled the rifle on Johnny. “Pick it up.”

Scott picked it up by the barrel.

“Check it, Scott.”

Bill took a step towards Johnny. “You keep still!”

With that distraction, Scott examined the gun. He didn’t need much time. “Empty.” What the hell? He gave into urge and made to throw the gun.

“I’d think about that again. This one ain’t empty.”

“Stay put, Johnny. A man who’s capable of a stunt like that is capable of shooting an unarmed man and planting a gun.”

Bill nodded. “You remember that the next time you pay us a visit.” He slid into the car, started it, and spun tires to head back into town.

Johnny took a couple of steps after the car. “That’s the second car Lancer has lost to this town.”

Scott looked around. They were about eight miles out of town. Night was coming.

“You ever hear Murdoch even mention a Judd Haney?”

“Never. Can’t believe that he tried to kill him, either.”

“There’s a lot we don’t know about him, Scott.”

“What, you think he’s capable of murder?”

“No, no, I don’t.” Johnny looked back towards town. “You know, that woman back at the hotel – she told a lot of lies, but I don’t think she enjoyed doin’ it. I think we go back there and get the truth out of her.”

“Care to go back there with an empty gun? Good ol’ Bill is more than willing to welcome us back.”

“Somethin’s happened to Murdoch. We don’t know what, but they do. We’ve got to go back, Scott.”

“There’s another way – the note Murdoch left with Bell.”

Johnny shook his head and started forward. “A major waste of time. And Murdoch may not have much left. We don’t even know what the message says. Let’s get going.”

Scott grabbed his brother’s elbow. “Now wait a minute. It has to be something important, or why leave one? We’re not that far from the highway–maybe hitch a ride.”

“Who’s gonna pick up a couple guys off the highway? Lancer is a good two hours from here?” Johnny gestured back to town. “I’d rather use that time to walk back to town.”

“And once we’re back, how do we find Murdoch? We’ve done a bang up job of it so far.” Scott shook his head. “We need to know what this is about; what we’re walking into.” He had learned enough about Johnny to recognize the implacable mood; Scott wasn’t going to change it. “You’re right. No one will pick up two guys, but they might for one.”

“Fine.” Johnny scuffed up a few rocks with his boot; he lifted his gaze, eyes cool. “You do what you have to. In the meantime, I’ll find Murdoch.”

Johnny wrenched free of his hold and started down the road.

~#~#~#~

“A man out walking on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere—no duffel, no backpack. That’s weird. Let me guess, you’re walking across the state to promote awareness of the spotted woodland squirrel. Or is this a Funniest Home Videos thing?”

Scott looked at the brown-haired woman. “Neither. I just need a ride to Morro Coyo.” Joe Bell came to mind and Murdoch’s mysterious message—the one he couldn’t entrust to his sons. The fresh thought had him almost swearing through his teeth. “About five miles past Morro Coyo, actually.”

The eyes peeking out from under the Ray-Bans were green. A soft, boggy green. They traveled up and down, appraising him at a pace that made him antsy. 

“Well, you don’t look like you’re nine buckets of crazy.” The sunglasses flipped down into place. “Hop in.”

Scott looked at the back of the convertible filled with odd bits of luggage and a few boxes, not seeing how he would fit. His eyes shifted to the shaggy mutt in the front seat.

“Really?” 

“Jack rides shotgun.” The woman shrugged. “Jack always rides shotgun. Besides, you’re the one asking for a ride.”

And so he was. With Jack amicably moving aside, he flipped the seat forward and squeezed into the back. He’d just gotten his legs in and the door shut when the Volkswagen took off with a lurch.   

“You don’t sound like a grape-head from the Valley. But you are from a coastline. Massachusetts? Maine?”

His voice rose above the wind buffeting the convertible. “It’s Boston, and my name is Scott. You’re from the Midwest?”

“What gave me away? A lack of tanned body parts? My sunny disposition?”

“Your Kansas license plates.”

“That would do it. I’m Moira by the way.”

He sat back in the seat, pushing aside a few brown folders held together with rubber bands. “What are all these?”

“I’m, um, finishing up my six year degree.”

“Six years? What could take so long?”

“Comparative History of Metaphysical Thinking in the Nineteenth Century.”

“For six years?”

“Well, there’s a lot of thinking involved. Besides, I took some time off to find myself.” She pinned him with a stare. “And you’re sounding a little like my mother.”

“Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Find yourself.”

“Yep. And she told me to get my ass back to California and finish what I started.”

His nerves were jumbled, but hearing Moira’s tinkling laughter smoothed away some of the hard edges. Her hand went to her streaming hair, tucking it back behind her ear.

“Can you get my scrunchie? It’s there in the black bag…to your left.” He leaned over and squinted at the boxes. Snaking an arm between the two largest ones, his fingertips grazed something made of leather. She downshifted at a curve and he found his arm buried up to his shoulder.  

“Hey, you’re pretty flexible. I like that in a man.”

Getting his balance, he pulled out a slim bag.

She turned. “Just dig in and get one.”

Scott shook his head and pushed the bag between the front seats. 

“Why not?”

“The fact that I even know what a scrunchie does is enough to have my man card taken away. Suffice to say that I will never reach into a woman’s bag—not for a second time, anyhow.”

Looking up, he found two big brown eyes staring at him around the headrest like he was a t-bone in a field of kibble. Jack stood and shook his head, giving a low whine.

“You’re dog keeps looking at me.”

“Maybe he doesn’t like your shirt.”

He tensed as Jack bounded from the front seat to the back. The dog landed with most of his considerable weight on the seat next to him, but only because Scott shifted at the last moment. He crammed himself against a garment bag and wondered what would happen next.

He didn’t have long to wait. The dog turned once then plopped down with his head covering most of Scott’s thigh.

“That’s odd; Jack’s only been cozy with two men in his entire six years.”

“Maybe he has discerning taste.”

“Hmm. One is my crazy brother and the other was my sister’s fiancé. Found out later the man was hiding liver snaps in his pocket and feeding Jack on the sly.

“I take it the fiancé is nowhere around.”

“Bridgett caught him stepping out…with another man. That sort of put a damper on the whole wedding thing.” She looked in the rear view mirror at him, her brows pulled together in question. “You don’t have any liver snaps on you, do you?”

“Fresh out.”

“Great. That just leaves crazy. What are you doing out here?”

“I need to see a man about a piece of paper.”

“I knew it, you’re wanted for something.”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Okay, dish. What’s the real story? We’ve got a few miles yet and I’m a good listener.”

“Since when?”

“Now there’s no need to get snarky.”

Silence dragged out. His tone was curt, yet she had met his words with kindness and humor. He owed her why.

“My brother, Johnny, and I are trying to find our father. He disappeared a few days ago, and we think he’s being held in Mesa Roja.”

“And you’re going in the opposite direction?”

“He left a note with a friend of the family. I think it holds the answer to where…and why.”

“Your dad is being held—against his will? What about the law?”

“Good questions. Johnny and I don’t have any answers yet. We haven’t talked to the police, the town is—quirky.”

“What about calling him?”

“Murdoch left his cell phone back at the ranch, along with everything else.”

“Sounds like a man who doesn’t want to be found.” She exhaled. “I don’t mean to pry, but was there trouble at home?”

His head came up. “No, at least nothing that Johnny and I knew about.”

“So why didn’t your dad leave the note with you or your brother?”

He met her look. “It’s…complicated. We haven’t known each other for very long.”

She had an expressive face. He could read every emotion, even reflected in the car mirror. The cool façade burned away and in its stead were flickers of understanding and sympathy.

He threaded his fingers through the rough fur on Jack’s neck and wondered if he’d made a mistake in leaving. Had Johnny found Murdoch yet?

Moira swung toward the exit ramp, cutting off a Chevy. She ignored the angry blast of horn and continued talking.

So it came as a surprise when the car stopped at the turn-off to Bell’s place. Moira had taken some of the worry away and made the trip go quicker.  

He pushed Jack’s nose off his leg. Untangling his, legs, he managed to squeeze past the animal, the luggage and boxes, to stand beside the Volkswagen, stretching out his back.

“Thanks for the ride.”

“No problem. If you’re ever at UCLA, look me up, I’ll be in the philosophy department.”  She threw her black bag in the backseat when Jack jumped to the front. “Say goodbye, Jack.”

The ride had stung color into Moira’s cheeks and she looked wind blown. With eyes half-lidded and serious under all that tousled hair, she reached out to catch his sleeve. “Scott…I really do hope things work out for you.”

He contemplated her for a moment then stepped back when she gunned the engine. Tossing a casual wave in the air, Scott watched until the candy-red bug peeled around the corner and was gone from sight.

~#~#~#~

Johnny cursed under his breath as he ducked into an alley to avoid another car for what felt like the hundredth time that night. He wouldn’t have minded running into Bill again, but that wish could wait when the odds weren’t tilted so far into the bastard’s favor.

That he would meet up with the S.O.B. again was a plan he nurtured all the way into back to Mesa Roja.

The back door of the hotel opened and Mrs. Haney came out carrying a plastic bag she disposed of in the dumpster. Chore completed, she hurried back inside.

Johnny looked both ways, found it free of traffic and bolted across the street to duck behind the hotel’s dumpster. The light flicked off and he went to the door testing the knob, not surprised to find it locked.

It wasn’t much of a lock. With a little bit of wire…

~#~#~#~

Bell opened the door. “What happened?”

Scott stepped in running his hands through his hair. “We’re getting the runaround. We found Murdoch’s car, but not Murdoch. I’m hoping his letter will tell us what we need to know.”

“This in Mesa Roja?”

Scott remained rooted to the spot, tracking Joe as he crossed the room to the kitchen table, and could only form an answer when Bell picked up the envelope lying there. “Great place. One hotel kind of town with an insane mechanic that showed us the way out of town at rifle point.”

He took care not to tear the letter in his hurry to read its contents.

‘Judd Haney did his best to destroy Lancer Corp. years ago with every shady, back dealing machination that bordered just this side of legal and ethics was just a word. Veiled threats to loyal employees so skillfully done that to take it to the police would be futile. Those not so loyal were bought off to cause minor nuisances that taken singularly were not much of a problem, but as a whole a large problem indeed.

As it happened Haney’s attempts escalated and became more vicious. Employees began to take a leave of absence or quit entirely in fear of their lives, and yet the authorities could do nothing or refused to. I suspected that a few of the officers had been bribed. For these reasons and more personal ones I swore I would – ‘ Scott turned the page over. ‘kill Haney if he didn’t kill me first. I had no doubts he was capable of murder. That was twenty-five years ago – since then I’ve come to realize violence resolves nothing and I’ve yet to know the real mind behind the entire situation. I’ve gone to Mesa Roja to settle things with Haney peacefully and to find the answers to those questions.

Twenty-five years ago. Scott’s mind sorted through what Murdoch wrote and more what it didn’t say. Two things kept looping through his mind – the twenty-five years and the more personal reasons that would lead Murdoch to kill a man.

Twenty-five years.

“Scott?”

He shook himself out of the thoughts to focus on Joe’s face. “I need to get back.”

Bell raised a brow, but reached for the keys hanging on the hook by the door. “You can take my truck, but I want you to drop me off by the crossroads to your place. I’ll wait with Teresa for your call once you find out anything. And you’d better call. Good or bad.”

Scott didn’t argue and felt some uneasiness when he dropped Bell off to make his way to Lancer in the dark. He didn’t allow himself to dwell on it. Bell was capable. Murdoch needed the help now.

~#~#~#~

Johnny slipped into the unlit kitchen. pulling the door shut behind him.

“I’ve been expecting you to stop by.”

Johnny froze and peered into the darkness to see the shadowy figure of Mrs. Haney by the fridge. With a gun pointed in his direction.

“Well, its nice to know I haven’t disappointed you.” Johnny didn’t bother hiding his exasperation or impatience at this point. The light above the sink was flipped on and she pointed to a chair.

“Sit down, please.” Once he was seated, she studied his face almost to the point of making an uncomfortable situation worse. “You must love your father very much.”

Which one? That way only led to confusion, but he’d like the chance to know Murdoch more than a few months.

He refocused on Mrs. Haney. “Would that make any difference?”

“It may help you to understand how I feel. My husband served eighteen years in prison. He came out a few months ago a different man. A good man. He’s proved that.”

Johnny shifted in the hard chair. “I don’t see what that’s got to do –”

“I was the one who sent Judd to prison.”

Johnny blinked. “Your own husband?”

Mrs. Haney leaned against the counter top. “After Lancer we were on the run. Crappy motels. Worse food. No sleep. I was exhausted, and angry. Whoever hired Judd threw him over.” Her voice became hollow. “The police swore he would only serve a few years. I believed them.”

“Only if he cut a deal, I’m guessing.”

“Judd never said and by that time it was too late. He served his eighteen year sentence, and now I’m serving mine.”

“Yours?”

“I took eighteen years of his life.”

Johnny drummed his fingers on the armrest. “Don’t think you can be blamed for that. Your husband had a hand in it.”

“He does every time he looks at me.”

“Look, I’m sorry, but I came here to find my father.” Johnny stood up. “Where is he?”

“You need to know, he’s been hurt.”

He froze. “How?”

“You’ve got to understand. I thought your father was going to kill Judd.”

Johnny remained where he was with effort. “What did you do?”

Mrs. Haney grimaced. “I tripped him so he fell down the stairs. He struck his head pretty hard.”

Johnny stood and she squared off with him. “I will protect Judd by any means possible. I owe him that.”

“And Murdoch’s life?”

“He’s alive.”

Dios.

Pushing someone down the stairs was acceptable as long as you didn’t kill them? Mrs. Haney was talking and he did his best to pay attention.

“The doctor was with him most of the afternoon. He says your father is doing well. He just has to remain in bed for awhile to be on the safe side.”

“Where is he?”

“Upstairs.”

She handed over the gun and pointed to the stairs. “Follow me.”

Finally.

~#~#~#~

The drive back to Mesa Roja allowed time for Scott to shift around the mix of puzzle pieces in his mind. Seemed Murdoch’s troubles started way back, before he and Johnny were even around.

Judd Haney did his best to destroy Lancer Corp.

Why? Was Haney trying to do away with the competition? Scott wished he had some time to get online and do a search.  

For these reasons and more personal ones I swore I would kill Haney if he didn’t kill me first. I had no doubts he was capable of murder.

Killing like that involved anger, rage even. Scott couldn’t reconcile the man he had come to know with the words in the letter.

 and more personal ones…

Personal?

The note had focused on the sabotage of Lancer Corp. Where did the personal come in?

Scott clicked down to low beams as he passed the only car he had seen on the road all night. He turned off the radio, not wanting the distraction.

That was twenty-five years ago…

Before he and Johnny were even around.

But Catherine Lancer had been around.

An old conversation with his grandfather from years ago when Scott had asked questions about his parents came to mind.

“Leave it be, Scotty. My Catherine should never have been with Murdoch Lancer. The stress of it caused her death. She should never have been put into that situation.”

At the time, Scott had wondered what that situation was, but Harlan had made it clear the conversation was painful as well as over. He hadn’t pushed, not wanting to bring that look back to his grandfather’s face.

That was twenty-five years ago…

Scott had some questions for Haney when he found him again. And find him, he would.

~#~#~#~

Johnny shook himself in the doorway of the room, surprised when the tension melted from his shoulders. Murdoch was here—alive. He looked good considering. A little too pale maybe and those dark shadows under his closed eyes spoke volumes. He walked closer to the side of the bed, and saw a wide swath of white bandage across his forehead. Anger spiked again.

The urge to wake Murdoch, just to talk with him, was strong and Johnny jerked back his reaching hand. Instead, he sat in the chair by the bed to wait it out. His watch showed it was close to four in the morning. He wondered how Scott was doing and missed his cell phone all the more. He thought of calling Teresa, but until Murdoch was able to talk to her, reassure her, the call wouldn’t do anyone any good.

So, he waited. Murdoch’s breathing was even and deep and to his uneducated eye looked comfortable. With time on his hands, Johnny’s thoughts veered to his step-father and he wondered if Murdoch was aware of Gabriel. Murdoch knew enough to pull his ass out of Mexico, but wouldn’t he have said something? Or perhaps he was hoping Johnny would volunteer the information? God knows they were tiptoeing around each other yet.

Half an hour later, a soft grunt tore him from his musings and he scooted to the edge of his chair.

“Murdoch? Hey, Murdoch.”

The blankets were jostled as the figure in the bed stretched and turned. “Joh…Johnny?” Murdoch looked confused for a moment then his mouth hardened into a thin line.

“What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. Thought you were dead.”

“I almost was.  These people kept me alive.”

Johnny slumped back into the chair, unable to keep the rancor out of his voice. “That’s right, after they put you on your back.”

Murdoch cleared his voice. “It’s my fault, threatening to kill a man—Mrs. Haney had no way of knowing I’d changed my mind.”

“Still doesn’t make it right. You almost lost your life because of her.”

Murdoch looked beyond him towards the door. “Where’s Scott?”

“He went back to the ranch to get that note, the one that you left with Joe Bell.”

Murdoch paled a few shades more and came up to an elbow.

Johnny was to his feet, pushing him back down. “Hey, take it easy, take it easy.”

“If he reads that note, he’ll think Haney killed me—Johnny, find Scott, let him know that I’m alive.”

“He’ll know when he gets here.”

“But you’ve got to find him, tell him the truth before he goes after Haney.”

“I don’t think I have all the truth, Murdoch. There’s something I’m not getting here. Why do you think Scott will try to hurt Judd Haney? ”

“The problems at Lancer began twenty-five years ago. Catherine was pregnant when I sent her away. She died giving birth to Scott.”

Johnny blew out a breath and paced the length of the room. “If he puts two and two together…”

“And he will. Scott will think that Judd Haney, however indirectly, killed his mother. Just like I thought all those years ago.”

“Oh, Murdoch, it sure would’ve been easier hearing all this in the beginning. I’ll find Scott. You rest here—I’ll find him.”

It took effort to keep his tone light because Johnny had a feeling it was already too late. Because he knew if he was in Scott’s place, he’d be going after Haney himself.

~#~#~#~

Nothing was moving in Mesa Roja. Too early in the morning and the only light about was from the streetlights.

The exception: Haney’s Garage.

Scott didn’t take a chance on losing another vehicle and parked off a poorly lit side street and hoofed it to Haney’s.

He didn’t like the town any better in the dark.

A scuffing noise had him darting a look into an alley a few blocks away from Haney’s – he twisted to avoid the tackle. Scott stumbled, went down on his knee. Still managed to shove his attacker away to regain his footing.

“Ah, Bill, come to welcome me back?” Scott circled the panting man.

“I warned you to stay out of town.”

Scott grinned. “You believed that was going to work?” Tilting his head, Scott looked a little closer. “No weaponry this time? Guess you did think it was going to work.” The smile died away.

Bill charged. Scott dodged the unprofessional tackle and elbowed Bill in the back. The uncoordinated man sprawled into the street, but didn’t have the sense to stay down.

Scott was fine with that.

Maybe practice could make perfect, but Bill’s second attempt wasn’t any better executed, nor did he figure on what would happen when Scott slid away again. The brick wall did its worst; Bill’s momentum did the rest. Scott cringed at the sound of impact, but felt no remorse when Bill collapsed to the sidewalk.

Scott checked for a pulse, found one, and that was all the time he planned to spend on him.

With Bill out of the way, Scott didn’t waste any more time getting to the garage and going in through the open garage bay.

Haney turned away from the engine he was working on, wiping his hands on a rag. “What’s on your mind, Scott?”

“Quite a bit.” Scott moved to the side, drawing Haney a step closer to him and away from the toolbox. “Seems you and Murdoch go way back like you said, twenty-five years, before I was born. Did you know my mother?”

“I knew of her. Saw her a time or two.”

“I doubt she thought fondly of you. Must have been a difficult pregnancy if she was worrying all the time.”

Haney flinched. It wasn’t much, but it was there and the puzzle pieces were fitting together. “Scott, will you listen to me for a minute?”

“Sure, you got a minute.”

“Murdoch’s not dead. He was hurt, but he’s still alive.”

The worst thing was Scott didn’t believe him, a chill washed through him. “You just wasted some time.”

“Johnny was here; he saw Murdoch.”

“Where’s Johnny now?” The garage door switch was within arm’s reach.

Haney’s eyes tracked the bay door as it closed – the noise almost drowning out his voice. “Went out to find Bill.”

“Oh, I found Bill, or rather he found me.”

“Whatever Bill did…”

“Did you know he moonlights as a mugger at night?” Scott tested the weight of a wrench. Watching Haney out of the corner of his eye.

“I had nothing to do with it.”

“Just like you had nothing to do with Murdoch being hurt?”

“I didn’t. It was an accident.”

Scott set the wrench down and stalked closer to Haney. “Was my mother’s death an accident?”

Haney held out his hands, palms out. “Scott, your father’s alive and at the hotel. I’ll take you to him.” Haney headed for the side door.

Scott let him get out the door, then followed. Haney was almost out the door when Scott grabbed him by the overalls. A twist had Haney’s back against the wall and up on his toes.

“More surprises waiting out there, Haney?” He twisted the cloth to pull tighter around Haney’s neck.

Scott couldn’t feel Haney pulling at his hands.

“Scott, no! I’m telling you the truth.”

“Just like you did when you said Murdoch wasn’t in town?” He pulled Haney out just enough to bang him back into the wall. “You’ve lied to us since the moment we got here. You had a hand in my mother’s death, taking away any chance of me knowing her.” He swallowed hard and yanked Haney close to him, seeing the denial and shock in the man’s eyes. “And you’ve taken away the chance to know my father, too.”

Haney gripped Scott’s shoulders, eyes boring into Scott’s. “Murdoch is alive. I can’t say that about your mother, but I can about your father.”

“Scott.”

Murdoch?

He pivoted to find his father standing at the smaller doorway, Johnny at his side as support.

“Let him go, Scott.” Murdoch took a few shaky steps into the bay. “This isn’t what you want to do.”

Maybe, maybe not, but Scott released his hold on Haney, stepping back. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be fine.”

He did his best to tamp down the adrenaline coursing through him and looked to Johnny.

“Yeah, he’s a little banged up, and should be in bed.” That last was said with a very pointed look up at their father. “But he’s gonna be fine.”

So much anger and hate that had no place to go. Scott took a couple of deep breaths that didn’t help much, except to allow him to speak. “How much of that banging up was Haney involved in?”

Murdoch’s shoes scuffed the floor as he came to stand in front of Scott. “He didn’t do anything, Scott. I fell down the stairs at the hotel.”

“You fell?”

“Yes, I fell.” Murdoch listed to the side. Johnny scooted under his arm and was back as a prop, steadying him.

Scott couldn’t bring himself to reach out and touch Murdoch yet. “And that explains why no one would tell us where you were?”

Murdoch sighed. “Haney and I have history, complicated history. Old threats and time can change things. I scared them. The two of you showing up worried them more.”

“Worried them? Sure, I can see that. People who had a hand in killing your first wife, you showing up should worry them.”

Murdoch reached out to grip Scott around the back of his neck. “Scott, no. I came here to set things right.”

“How do you set something like that right?”

“By knowing the truth of it. Haney was paid to do what he did, but it didn’t include hurting your mother. Yes, she was stressed, but I kept most of what was happening away from her. But things got dicey and I encouraged her to stay with her father.”

Johnny shot a look over to Haney. “Who paid you?”

Straightening his collar, Haney grimaced. “Like I told Murdoch. I never knew. If I had, I wouldn’t have served those eighteen years.”

“Yeah? I feel for you.”

“Boys, I want you to let this go.”

Scott grasped Murdoch’s forearm and spoke low and private. “Right. I’ll be good with it in about twenty-five years.”

Johnny nodded. “That sounds about right.”

Murdoch’s fingers covered Scott’s had and squeezed a little, his smile ironic. “You ready to drive me home?”

Scott took in their father’s pale face and frowned. “Perhaps you should go back to bed –”

Ellie rushed up. “Bill came to the hotel, beaten up.” She reached for Judd. “He said you were in trouble.”

Judd caught her hand. “I’m all right.”

She looked relieved and turned to Murdoch. “Why don’t you stay at the hotel for another day and night.”

Scott hadn’t even realized he had taken step to cover Murdoch until he saw Johnny do the same.

Murdoch smiled. “I just want to go home.” His eyes flicked to Haney. “I’ve done what I needed to do.”

How do you argue with that? Especially since Scott would be very happy to leave this town in the rearview mirror. Too much had changed too quickly, he felt as if he could run all the way back to Lancer.

Ellie turned to Scott, remorse mirrored in her eyes. “I know Bill took your phones.” She dropped her head. “And Murdoch’s luggage is still at the hotel. Let me run and get your things.” She glanced at Murdoch, not quite meeting his eyes, then pivoted and left the garage.

“I’ll drive Murdoch in his car. “ Johnny’s gaze was intent. “You follow us.”

Thank you, brother.

Scott didn’t look back when he left the garage.

~#~#~#~

Murdoch rested his head against the seat and glanced at the side mirror. Judd was outside the garage watching as they left, but he turned to the side as his wife joined him. Holding an arm out, Ellie slid in beside him twining her own arm around her husband. There seemed to be a new ease to the couple and Murdoch hoped that this trip did do some good.

He was so tired of being angry.

“You doing all right over there?” Johnny’s voice was set at a comfortable pitch for his throbbing head and it soothed the worst of it.

“I am. Scott?”

“He’s right behind us. No worries.”

No worries. Wouldn’t that be nice? But someone out there was dead set on destroying Lancer and in that process destroying him. He had never found out the who, why, what back then before the trouble had simply gone away. Now though? History felt like it was repeating.

Did he regain his sons only to put them at risk?

~ end ~

Comments:  We don’t have this author’s current email address. If you leave a comment below, if she reconnects with the fandom, then she will see how much her work is appreciated.

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