01 in the Suspicions series which should be read in order.
An AR-Different Meetings Fan Fiction based on the TV series Lancer. Johnny is recovering from the shootout with Pardee and the High Riders.
Word count: 12,680
Murdoch Lancer looked up from his desk towards the boy asleep on the sofa.
“Just like when he was a toddler.” A smile flitted across his face.
“Sorry, Sir, what was that?”
Murdoch blinked and glanced across at the tall fair young man sat across from him. “Johnny was born stubborn and determined. Once he had set his mind on something there was no stopping him until he had worn himself out.”
A frown appeared on Scott Lancer’s face and he turned to look at the young man on the sofa. “We don’t know him, except for the Madrid reputation. As you yourself said, we are strangers to each other.”
Murdoch rubbed a hand through his greying hair and stood to stretch his back. He had searched for his youngest son for 18 years and the shock when the Pinkertons identified him as the notorious pistolero Johnny Madrid had rocked him. Was this angry, dangerous gunfighter a son he could trust with Lancer?
“I hate to say this, Sir,” Scott interrupted his thoughts, “but are you sure he is your long lost son?”
Murdoch glared, his fist clenched, “The boy has the blue eyes I remember in the toddler, his temper like that of his mother. The Pinkertons have searched for him for years and it was only in the last year they tracked him down. You have read the reports, Scott.”
“Yes, Sir, they read like penny dreadfuls; I am not at all sure how true some of it is. It is in my nature to be cautious and the only evidence I read that suggested Johnny Madrid is John Lancer was a report from a border town sheriff.”
Murdoch sat back down and looked into the grey-blue eyes of the man from Boston; this well-spoken man, his eldest son, was also a stranger to him. He had, though, proved himself in the battle against the high riders and during the aftermath had overseen the ranch hands in their efforts to repair the damage caused by Pardee and his gang.
Murdoch was now showing him the ranch account books and was secretly pleased with the interest Scott showed.
He had offered the partnership without thinking through the consequences. It was the action of a desperate man determined to keep safe the land he had sacrificed so much for. Would being a rancher suit the Boston gentleman used to the fine things in life? Would or could a young border town gunfighter be trusted with the responsibilities?
And now a seed of doubt had been planted; blue-eyed, mixed-race children were not uncommon in the borders or the coastal regions. He had, in those far-off days when he searched for his second wife and the child, followed more than one false trail.
Murdoch looked again over to the boy asleep on the sofa. His heart, so long hardened by loss, had skipped a beat when he had seen him on that first day. He had listened to Johnny as he fought off the fever that followed the back shooting, crying out for his mother and against pain and cruelty. His heart was telling him to accept Johnny but the hard-headed side of him was telling him that perhaps Scott had a point.
“We should allow him this chance to prove himself. He almost lost his life and I offered the partnership in good faith.”
“You are a man of principle, Murdoch, and I admire that. I must admit although I have experienced war I have no idea how I am expected to behave towards a gunfighter. I shall follow your lead.”
Johnny sighed and shifted to let the two men at the desk know he was awake. He had been playing possum and had heard the conversation. His instincts to not give anyone any credit had kept him alive and those same instincts were now on full alert. The insinuation that he was not Johnny Lancer burned but he kept quiet – this was not the time to lose that temper he had inherited from Mama.
He knew he was Lancer’s son, Mama had told him, but now this Boston dandy and supposed older brother was throwing out accusations that maybe he wasn’t. And Murdoch saying he had the Pinks searching for him all the time – why would he do that if he had thrown Mama and him out? Perhaps what that girl T’resa had told him had some truth. Learning how to be sneaky when gathering information had been a lesson learnt the hard way when he was a kid but those were the skills he intended to put into practice to get the answers to his questions.
Two weeks went by and Johnny was released by the Doctor to ride the land, his land. He befriended the Segundo, Cipriano Garcia, a Mexican of the most traditional kind, and his two sons Pablo and José. He was quiet and watchful with Murdoch and Scott which he knew they thought of as being insolent, but was on his best behaviour and tried to charm the housekeeper Maria and young T’resa. He had sneaked a look at the Pinkerton reports locked in that big old desk of Murdoch’s and had started to put the history of Lancer together.
He was slightly surprised that Murdoch went ahead and had them, or at least him, sign up to the partnership agreement; he signed as Lancer. Scott looked as pleased as a dog with a bone which considering all the Garrett money he must be used to did make him wonder but then again in his experience rich folk always wanted to be richer.
It was at the breakfast table Murdoch handed out the work orders: “I want you two working together clearing the north creek and surveying the bridge. It needs to be ready for moving the herd next week, and before we leave for the Cattlemen’s meeting in Stockton.”
Scott sat up straight, shoulders back. “I thought you would want me to go over the contract with that Mexican landowner?”
Murdoch gave one of his hard stares. “You need to show the men you can do all the work, Scott, even those dirty ones, it will stand you in good stead with them.”
Johnny kept his head down trying not to grin, scooping up his eggs with peppers and salsa, “Muchos gracias, Mamacita.”
“John, please, not with your mouth full, and did you hear what I said?” Murdoch gave him the same hard stare.
“Sorry, Murdoch. Yup, clear the creek, check the bridge. I was thinking ‘bout that there contract with Don Sebastian, well, seeing as I speak his language and know of his wily reputation maybe me an’ José could take the bull we are exchanging for one of his.”
Murdoch raised his eyebrows. “Is it safe there for you?”
“Sure. I got friends in Tucson and along that border an’ I’ll be Johnny Lancer, rancher, not Madrid, pistolero.” He gave the two men at the table a big toothy smile. As Mama and Papi told him you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Murdoch nodded. “It makes sense you doing the deal and Scott can accompany me to Stockton for the meeting. I think Teresa can come along and visit with Mrs Barclay and her family.”
Johnny stood and looked down at his boots, his bottom lip pushed out.
Murdoch looked over his coffee cup. “Is there something else?”
“Yup, when you get to that meeting I want you to cast my vote against any deal that says Mexican vaqueros get paid less than Anglo cowboys.” He looked into Murdoch’s eyes and then across at Scott who raised his eyebrows at the scrutiny.
There was a silence as the two older men realised what Johnny was suggesting. Murdoch broke the silence. “Lancer treats all its hands equally and will continue to do so.”
Scott cleared his throat. “It is an admirable position but as others are already or planning on doing this, it does from a purely business standpoint put us at a disadvantage.”
“That war you fought in was for getting rid of slavery and everyone being equal wasn’t it, Scott?” Johnny kept his voice low and calm and waited for a reply.
“What I am saying is, Lancer has an experienced workforce who are paid fairly and we can employ the best. However, there are others who have different methods of employing ranch hands. It is a free market; a man can make his choice as to whom he offers his services.”
Johnny grunted and looked over at Murdoch. “I trust you to cast my vote for equal pay. Hell, them beeves taste the same no matter who drove them to market.”
He put his hat on and walked backwards to the door. “I’ll meet up with you at the creek, day’s a wasting.”
Johnny took a deep breath before he walked to the barn to collect Barranca. All his instincts were telling him the greenhorn from Boston with all those fine words was not to be trusted.
It was an hour later that Scott arrived at the creek. Johnny and Pablo were working as a team clearing the debris that had accumulated over the winter. Johnny knew Scott didn’t want this dirty job but he wanted him busy and out of the way.
“Hey, Scott, me an’ Pablo, we’re making good headway here. Why don’t you go and survey that bridge, it don’t need the two of us to do that.” Johnny smiled at the relief all over Scott’s face.
“Excellent plan. I will come by this way after I’ve finished.”
“Nah, don’t bother I’ll see you back at the hacienda. Have fun – don’t get lost.”
Scott frowned but Johnny kept his voice light and a smile on his face as he looked up from the creek.
As soon as Scott was out of sight Johnny climbed out to mount Barranca.
“Juanito, are you sure of your suspicions?” Pablo stood with his hands on his hips watching.
“Oh, more than sure, amigo. There is something squirrelly ‘bout ol’e Boston an’ it ain’t just him casting doubts about me being a Lancer.”
“Take care, Juanito; you know we vaqueros believe you to be the Patrón’s son.”
Johnny tied Barranca behind the barn and told him to be good and quiet. He peeked around the corner to check the coast was clear; he knew Murdoch was over at Aggie Conway’s and Maria and Teresa were busy with laundry. He quickly skipped up the back stairs and let himself into Scott’s bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
The desk under the window was the most obvious place to search but years of sneaking around had taught him to look in the unexpected places.
The wardrobe was full of more fancy shirts than a man could wear in a year but there in the back was a carpet bag.
Johnny set it down on the floor and sat down in front of it. “What do we have here?”
Inside was a derringer and a box of bullets; he held the pistol at arm’s length in his gun hand. “Nice one, Boston.”
He set it to one side and fished out a leather wallet. His fingers traced a pattern made by the initials WRD. Johnny whistled softly – inside was close on three thousand dollars.
At the bottom was a leather-bound journal. Johnny licked his lips before opening it; he had that feeling in the pit of his stomach he got before he was called into a dance with another gunfighter.
He read the journal which recorded Scott’s journey from Boston and his observations on Lancer. Johnny narrowed his eyes; the man from back east was not impressed with the physical work he was expected to do but he certainly was impressed with the value of Lancer.
Murdoch was described as impressive, tough, a good businessman. Then he read ‘Johnny is as expected a half-breed insolent gunfighter with a reputation that seems overrated considering how young he is’. Johnny replaced the contents in the bag and carefully made sure the wardrobe looked undisturbed.
“Expected huh? You sure acted surprised well, Boston, and you think I have an overrated reputation – guess I’ll just play along with that for now.” He rocked back on his heels; sometimes he could be so disappointed when his ability to read a man proved right.
He spun around and went to the desk. There were two envelopes neatly stacked waiting to be posted. Using his trigger finger he moved them; the top one was addressed to Harlan Garrett, the one that had been underneath addressed to Mr William R Dempsey but both used the same Beacon Hill address. He quickly searched for any letters from Boston but none were to be found. “William Dempsey – don’t recall you mentioning him, Scott.” Johnny nodded to himself. Now sure of his plan, he left the room and the hacienda as quietly as he had entered it and went to find Cipriano.
He set out his plan with the trusted Segundo and his two sons.
“Juanito, are you sure the Patrón should not be told of your suspicions?”
Johnny put his head down, his hands on his hips and studied his boots. His bottom lip came out as he considered Cipriano’s words.
“Murdoch already has got someone whispering suspicions in his ear; he don’t need to know about mine ‘till I’m sure. Whoever this Scott Lancer really is, he’s probably even smarter than he has so far let on, and I’ll bet a month’s wages he has some kind’a long game plan. I need to figure what that plan is and that means me going to Boston.”
“Sí, Juanito, I understand, I agree. José will go to the estancia of Don Sebastian Montoya to exchange the bulls and will take his time returning. Arizona has Indian troubles that can cause delays, eh!”
Part Two – Boston
“Dios, it’s cold!” He spoke out loud and watched his warm breath form a mist in the bitter cold air.
He had arrived two days ago after long boring train journeys and had immediately bought himself a second-hand warm jacket, gloves and a muffler. Boston in his short experience of the city had nothing to recommend it. It had been grey, damp and cold but worse than the cold he felt exposed without his Colt at his hip.
The Garrett house had been easy to find on Beacon Hill and he had watched the comings and goings of the inhabitants.
Ol’e man Garrett had been easy to spot getting in and out of a fancy carriage; Johnny had followed it through the busy city streets and scouted around the Garrett Enterprises office building.
He decided to use the same skills as he had honed in range wars. Keep his head down and collect information before making his move. To that end he found the livery where the Garrett carriage and horses were stabled and putting on his most innocent face, stepped into the large barn.
There were a dozen horses in stalls. Johnny breathed in the familiar smell of horses, tack and sweet hay. For the first time since his arrival he smiled and felt warm.
“Can I help you, young fella?”
Johnny shuffled his feet removed his hat and gave a shy smile. The man asking the question looked friendly enough, a big man, sleeves rolled up showing well-muscled arms, his face flushed.
‘Blacksmithing’ Johnny guessed. He used his most polite voice and put on his slight Texan drawl “Well sir, I’m looking for employment. I’m real good with horses and know how to mend tack. I’m hard working an’ if you give me a chance I’ll give you two days to prove myself.” He dropped his eyes and played with his hat brim.
“Oh, an’ the name’s Johnny.”
Johnny waited, letting Clyde McKenzie size him up; he done that often enough before he got his reputation.
“How did you find this establishment, son?”
Johnny looked up; he recognised a slight accent like Murdoch’s. “Heard tell of Beacon Hill an’ reckoned working with good horses would be better than the docks.” He risked a grin.
“Seems like you have a western accent there; tell me, why you are here in Boston?”
Johnny cocked his head; he never was a good out-right liar. “My Pa, he came through here from Scotland and I’m here looking for family.” Well, there was some truth in that.
“So you know of Scotland, my old country. I’ll take your two days Johnny. I’m Clyde McKenzie, owner of these premises and I expect you to mind me.”
Johnny nodded and shook hands on the deal.
Clyde explained, “The horses liveried here are for the grand folk on Beacon Hill and around the common. Their houses don’t have stables, nor do they want the mess and smell. Some horses are mine for carriages I hire out, some are privately owned by the gentry.”
Johnny followed Clyde down the stalls as he introduced the horses. Johnny stopped and said hello to each one by a rub on the nose or pat on the neck. He stopped at a stall with a fine chestnut with a white star on its forehead. It was favouring its left hind leg. “This ain’t a horse to pull a carriage is it?”
“You have an eye for a good horse Johnny; Xanthos here is a riding horse, picked up an injury when he lost a shoe.”
Johnny opened the stall door and hunkered down to feel the leg and hock. “There a cut an’ some heat, needs cold compresses.”
“And that’s what he is getting. It’s hard on the horses, riding and driving on city cobbled streets. You know how to treat it, Johnny?”
“Yes, sir. Can I ask who owns him? I hope he won’t be wanting to ride him for at least a week or two.”
Clyde smiled down at the boy on his knees by the horse. “Mr Scott Garrett Lancer and he is away at the moment. We have the Garrett carriage here and Mr Harlan Garrett expects it to be kept in tip-top condition every day. So as well as the horses I expect you, young fella, to keep it smart.”
Johnny was impressed. This was a well-run set-up and he would know when Garrett was out of the house; with care he could get the low-down on both Harlan and Scott Garrett.
For the next two days, Johnny worked hard, giving special attention to Xanthos to reduce the swelling and heat.
On the evening of the second day, he knew that Harlan Garrett would be out at a business men’s dinner. His carriage would not return until after it had delivered him home. This was the opportunity he needed.
Johnny waited until he guessed the servants in the house were in their own rooms. It was easy enough for him to prise open a small window at the rear of the property that gave access to a pantry.
Moving silently through the rooms he came to a study; he smiled. “Big ol’e desk just like Murdoch’s an’ just as tidy.” Making sure the door was closed and the drapes at the windows firmly closed, he lit a lamp.
Opening the desk drawers he found contracts and business letters neatly filed, but there was nothing of his interest in them.
He sat back in the office chair and swung to and fro as he chewed his bottom lip. All his instincts were telling him to look closely, there was something to be found.
‘Trouble is,’ he told himself, ‘I ain’t rightly sure what I’m looking for’.
The letters he knew that had been sent from Lancer to Boston, where were they?
Johnny ran his hands over the desktop, willing it to give up its secrets. He smiled, remembering back to Murdoch who in his efforts to interest him in the ranch ledgers, had shown him a secret drawer in which the original Spanish land grant was kept.
He pushed back and ran his fingers over the ornate carving just below the desktop and there in the design was a slight give; he pushed. Sure enough, there was a click and a further narrow drawer opened.
If he wasn’t keeping quiet and one ear open for any movement from the servants coming down the stairs he would have laughed out loud. “Crafty, what have you hidden in here?”
There were the letters and two files. Johnny took the letters first and read them in date order. It was obvious the writer didn’t expect them to be read by anyone other than Harlan Garrett. The first was a brief account of the dispute with Pardee and the high riders; it then went on to list the ranch assets, but there was no mention of the partnership deal.
‘Now why not tell your Abuelo that?’ The thought made Johnny frown.
Further letters described how Murdoch was regarded as a leader in the local Cattlemen’s Association and seemed to have good connections with Californian politicians.
The letters also described himself. Johnny’s blood ran cold to see the words half-breed, ill-educated Mexican and insolent dangerous gun-fighter.
Then he went on to read ‘My quiet campaign to sow seeds of doubt as to the identity of John Madrid not being John Lancer is gaining momentum. Some local ranchers and businessmen are easily persuaded; even Murdoch himself I can see is watching the boy with a wary eye. It is my opinion we pursue this course to rid the San Joaquin of Madrid. Since the failure of Pardee, the reputation of Madrid here in the west and along the borders would make it difficult and time-consuming to recruit mercenaries to sign up for another range war.’
Johnny found his Madrid persona to keep his anger at bay as he re-read the letters and on the second reading he saw it. No familial terms, Murdoch not addressed as father, no dear Grandfather or signing off as a grandson; in fact, only scribbled initials. These were business letters.
Next, he looked at the files. These were not from the Pinkertons but other private investigators’ reports. One was on Murdoch Lancer, the other on John Lancer aka Madrid. Johnny started with Murdoch’s; the first report dated in 1839 when Catherine Garrett was being courted by a newly arrived immigrant from Scotland. The reports continued up until the present time; he leafed through them, neatly arranged in date order, and there amongst them was a letter sent by Catherine to her father stating she was happy a baby was due and a request to her father to understand she loved Murdoch and give his blessing to them.
There were reports listing Murdoch’s success and failures; it was clear Garrett was well aware of just how large an operation Lancer was becoming over the years. Johnny raised an eyebrow when he came to a report that Garrett had presented to a court in Boston that gave the impression the ranch was a poor backwater and Murdoch Lancer a rough ignorant farmer, not a suitable person to have custody of Scott.
A report dated 1850 informed Garrett that Murdoch Lancer had met and married Maria Olivia Estoponza and a son John Felipe had been born. Then a report dated 1852 took Johnny’s breath: ‘As per your instruction Mrs Maria Lancer has been persuaded it would be in the child’s and her own best interest to return to Mexico. A suitable financial arrangement has been agreed with the gambler for his services. As discussed false trails have been laid for Murdoch Lancer to follow which will provide a diversion from his stated aim of reclaiming his firstborn.’
“Dios!” Johnny cursed and rocked back, blinked and swallowed a lump in his throat. He took that one piece of paper, folded it and put it inside his shirt. The others he carefully replaced.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before touching the file with his name on.
The earliest report was of the death of his mother and Vincente Ortez, his step-father, and his own removal to the orphanage at the mission of St. Bernadettes. Johnny traced his forefinger over the name as the memory of that short miserable time in his young life flashed into his mind. How all he could hold on to was the hate of Murdoch Lancer’s name, blaming him for the fear his mother had lived with that he would find them.
From reading the reports it was clear Harlan Garrett’s people were no more successful at finding a stray boy in the border towns than the Pinkertons.
Johnny skipped over what he knew would be reports of Johnny Madrid, gun for hire, to the most recent paperwork. He cocked his head, sure he heard footsteps somewhere in the house, and knew he wouldn’t have much more time. Wishing he could read English as quickly as he could Spanish, he took a chance to glance at the most recent report.
So ol’e Harlan knew the Pinks had contacted both sons of Murdoch Lancer.
He quickly returned all the documents to the secret drawer, making sure there were no obvious signs of them being disturbed. He turned the lamp off and silently opened the study door. He guessed one of the servants would be getting ready to meet Garrett on his return from his evening engagement.
Johnny listened, estimating whoever was up and about was now in the kitchen. He quickly crossed the hall and padded down the corridor. He paused at the open kitchen door and peeked around. Yup, a manservant with his back to him, busy at the stove. Taking a chance, he crossed the doorway, quickly entering the pantry, and exited through the window.
In the quiet of the night he heard a horse and carriage arriving at the front. He grinned; lessons learned when a child thief always came in useful.
He thought on the information he had obtained and the gossip about how ruthless Harlan Garrett was in business dealings. He was now convinced his instincts had not let him down and he had been right to travel to Boston.
While treating Xanthos he asked about Scott Garrett Lancer, “So is Scott Garrett a chip off his Grandpa’s block?”
Clyde paused from grooming the horse in the next stall. “Well, you need to know Mr Scott goes by Lancer, which I believe is his father’s name. Before he went to fight in the war he was a real fine young man, friendly and fair, but since his return he seems to have lost his way.”
Johnny spoke quietly to the horse as he applied an ointment then knelt back. “Heard that war of yours was brutal and could change a man.”
“It surely was. You were lucky it didn’t reach the west, young Johnny.”
Johnny kept his thoughts of his own experiences in range wars and before that the battle to just stay alive in the streets and alleys of the border towns to himself and just grunted.
There was a comfortable silence as the two men worked. Johnny finished applying the ointment and murmured to the horse what a good fella he was. “So when are you expecting Mr Lancer back?”
A shadow fell into the stable as a figure stepped in. “He is back now,” an educated Boston accent entered the conversation.
Johnny stayed on his knees in the stall while that comment sank in and took a deep breath.
Clyde stepped out. “Hello there, Mr Scott.”
Johnny got to his feet using his hands to brush straw from his pants. Keeping his head down, he studied the man through his eyelashes and too long hair. Tall, fair, on the skinny side, dressed like the well-off Boston gentleman he was. His eyebrows were raised and he was looking directly at Johnny.
Johnny stilled his heart and let out a breath, his suspicion that whoever was at Lancer was not a Lancer now confirmed. He needed to read this man: was he worthy of being his brother and heir to Lancer?
Scott Lancer stepped into the stall and up to his horse and gently rubbed its forehead and said hello. The horse nickered in recognition and pleasure. “I was hoping to take him out to my Aunt Easton’s farm to fully recover. Will he be able to travel by the end of the week?”
Johnny kept quiet and looked down at his boots as Clyde replied, “So long as you take it steady. A few weeks out in green pastures will see him right, Mr Scott.”
Scott ran his hand along the horse’s back and down its flank and felt the injured back leg. “There is no heat and the swelling has gone down; I had feared the injury would be more serious. What have you used to treat him?”
Scott looked up, grey-blue eyes on Johnny.
“Used cold compresses, had him stand in a bucket of salt water, an’ now using an ointment I made up to help heal the wound.” Johnny kept his head down and his voice low; he recognised that this Scott Lancer cared for his horse and the horse enjoyed the attention and in his world that was a good sign.
Scott stood up and Johnny turned and stepped out of the stall. “Thank you for caring for Xanthos – I didn’t get your name, boy.”
Johnny lifted his head and glared, not sure he liked being called boy by this man, but quickly relaxed his face. “Name’s Johnny.” He didn’t expect the hand held out to shake but after a moment he took it and looked fully at this stranger who he knew was his true brother.
“Scott Garrett Lancer, Johnny who?” Scott had an open smile waiting for an answer.
Clyde made the introduction: “This is Johnny Dempsey, come to Boston looking for kin, haven’t you, son?”
Johnny saw the flicker in Scott’s eyes as the name Dempsey was spoken: ‘he knows that name for sure.’
Johnny put on his most innocent face and voice and shrugged. “Yes sir, not had much luck though.” Mustn’t put this Scott Lancer on guard.
“Well, thank you again both for the attention you have given my horse. Grandfather and I require the carriage this evening; we will be dining at the club, usual time, please. Good day, gentlemen.”
Johnny pursed his lips; so, an opportunity for him to re-visit the Beacon Hill property.
As on his previous visit, Johnny waited until he was sure the servants had retired and climbed into the house through the pantry window.
He went straight to the study, opened the secret drawer and found the letters addressed to Harlan Garrett from Morro Coyo. He listened at the door; there was no sound excepting for a long clock in the hall ticking out the minutes. He quickly went up the main staircase, grateful it was carpeted to deaden the sound of footsteps or loose floorboards. Johnny shook his head at all the doors: ‘rich folk always have more of everything than necessary’.
He started at the far end and got lucky. The large room looked out over a rear walled garden. A portrait of a blond woman caught his attention – Johnny guessed she was Catherine Lancer. His search of the wardrobe revealed fancy suits, shirts and a shelf with hats none of which he considered sensible.
There in a cabinet drawer by the bed he found a derringer, clean but not loaded, and a box of bullets. “Not much use like that, Scott,” Johnny sighed and checked where he would keep a hideaway gun, but no such gun was under the pillows or behind the headboard.
He checked the desk and there among a great number of letters he found the ones from Morro Coyo and set them to one side. Although the person back at Lancer did not keep any letters sent to him he did keep a journal so Johnny looked in the desk and sure enough there was a journal. Johnny shook his head; in his experience it was best not to write down thoughts or plans.
Johnny took the first letter addressed to William R Dempsey; it seemed like a straightforward account of arriving at Lancer. The second recounted how an attack by a gang of what had been described as land pirates were repelled with the writer’s assistance. It described how Johnny Madrid, an infamous gunfighter, had led the pirates into the ranch. Johnny frowned as he translated in the head the word ‘infamous’ and scowled when he realised the words could make it seem as if he was the leader of the high riders.
The third letter made it clear the writer thought the place primitive and Murdoch Lancer a stern, uneducated man whose success as a rancher was based on his hard-nosed business dealings.
Johnny sighed, unsurprised that again there was no reference to Johnny being a brother or mention of the partnership.
Johnny opened the journal, his head aching from translating from English into Spanish, and sighed. A Pinkerton agent had contacted Scott with the offer of $1,000 for an hour of his time but Scott wrote of his suspicions for the reason and motive of a man who had been a stranger for all his life. The journal noted how Scott had discussed the possibilities of taking up the offer with his Grandfather and the dangers in the untamed west. Time had come to confront Scott Garrett Lancer who seemed to be in the dark about some important facts.
Johnny took a chair and set it down against the wall close to the door and waited. He heard footsteps but they didn’t reach this room: “Harlan’s home so where are you, Scott?”
It was the early hours, almost dawn, when Johnny sat up straight as footsteps approached and the door opened. In the air was an aroma of a woman’s scent and alcohol; Johnny grinned, ‘so my brother is a tomcat.’ He waited until Scott had removed his jacket and tie and was sat on the bed reaching down to remove his shoes.
It was only two strides to be in front of Scott. He put his left hand firmly on Scott’s right shoulder, “Don’t say a word. I mean no harm.”
Johnny expected some reaction so as soon as Scott tensed his head and body ready to rise he increased the pressure. “Scott, listen and stay quiet. I have a confession to make.”
Scott Lancer blinked and focused on Johnny, “What the hell!!”
“Shush, Scott, I need you to be quiet and listen; it’s important. My name is Johnny Lancer; I am Murdoch Lancer’s youngest son. I am your brother.”
Johnny saw the anger in Scott’s eyes replaced with shock and the mouth open. “My mother only had me; she died in childbirth. You’re the boy from the stable.”
“Murdoch re-married my mother and they had me.”
Johnny let Scott think on that statement and before he could ask any questions went on. “Listen, I know there is someone calling themselves you out there in California and I want to know why?”
Johnny kept his hand firmly on Scott’s shoulder but kept his voice low and if not friendly, not as threatening as he knew it could be.
Before Scott could respond, Johnny continued, “Did you know about me, yes or no?”
Scott took a minute before he shook his head.
“So your Grandfather has never told you of my Mama and me?”
Again Scott shook his head.
“I’m a few years younger than you but like you didn’t get raised on Lancer. A Pinkerton found me in Mexico and made me an offer to go back and see Murdoch Lancer, a thousand dollars for an hour of my time.”
There was the tell in Scott’s eyes; he knew he had his full attention.
“I’ve found letters, Scott, and this is what I figure: the Pinks found you but for some reason, you sent some other fella to act as you.”
Johnny paused and watched for a reaction; yep, those grey-blue eyes were now fully focused and he sure had sobered him up. “Do you know that fella is also reporting back to your Grandpa Harlan?”
Scott’s eyes widened his mouth opened and whispered, “No.”
“Well from what I’ve read your stand-in hasn’t told the whole story to you or Harlan. First off Murdoch offered us both a partnership, so Scott Lancer is a third owner of over 100,000 acres of the San Joaquin Valley, 50,000 head of cattle, more wild horses than have been counted and all kinds of stocks and shares.” Johnny saw Scott’s eyebrows rise as that news registered.
“Oh and before you start with questions, I am Johnny Lancer but for the last six years, I have gone by Madrid. Your fella told you about him, well me.” Johnny grinned. “Go ahead, Scott, ask away but quietly, don’t want to wake the household.” Johnny dragged the chair so he could sit in front of Scott.
Scott Lancer licked his lips. “Why should I believe you? Murdoch Lancer has never been in my life. By the accounts I have heard he is an uncouth and ruthless man living in a barbaric corner of California.”
Johnny nodded unsurprised at the suspicion in Scott’s voice. He handed over the letters taken from Harlan Garrett’s desk and watched as Scott read them.
“I cannot believe you are this gun for hire Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny’s eyes darkened. He sighed and with a hint of reluctance said, “I am. I am and I can be very dangerous.”
Scott rubbed his fingers through his hair. “Let me get this straight: you are John Lancer, Murdoch Lancer’s son but also a gunfighter going by the name Johnny Madrid. Grandfather knows this but has never mentioned it to me. Now William Dempsey is out in California, masquerading as me, putting it about that you are not John Lancer.”
Johnny huffed out a laugh and held up his hands. “Yup you got it Scott. In his left hand, he fingered a coin between his fingers then closed his fist – a coin appeared in his right hand. He looked into Scott’s face. “I ain’t lying, Scott. You’re my brother – well, half-brother – and that fella Dempsey is stealing your life and inheritance. Hell, Scott, he is living the life you should have at Lancer.”
Scott clutched the letters as if to rip them.
“Whoa, Scott, careful. I need to replace them so ol’e Harlan don’t suspect we are on to this dance.”
“What? What dance?”
“This game he set-up, but he doesn’t know Dempsey has his own game.” Johnny drawled. “Reckon Will.. I .. am R.. Demp.. sey intends to take Lancer for his-self.”
Scott narrowed his eyes. “He can think again; I shall confront Grandfather. When the Pinkerton agent contacted me I discussed the offer to visit Murdoch Lancer with Grandfather. We agreed it prudent to check if it was a genuine offer and to scout out the circumstances. It seemed sensible; in the army I discovered how disastrous impetuous action could be.”
Johnny lowered his head. This man in front of him had, it seemed, learned to be cautious and Garrett had played on it. “I know, Scott, I read your journal.” Johnny looked up, shrugged his shoulders and tried to look and sound apologetic. “I’ve had more time to think about all this and my plan is we leave Harlan in the dark. If he gets suspicious and sends word to Dempsey it could put Murdoch and T’resa in danger. You could tell your Grandpa you are going away, maybe to Europe for a while? You need to get away from an angry father or husband.”
Johnny grinned at Scott’s embarrassed look. “Get a train to San Francisco I’ll meet up with you there and get you home to Lancer, and Scott, make sure you ain’t followed.”
Scott nodded his agreement.
Johnny stood and slapped Scott on his knee. “Good man.”
“Johnny I have more questions: who is Teresa and what is our father really like?”
Johnny stretched his back and cocked his head to one side and wished he could give Scott the answer he obviously needed. “Well, T’resa is our kind’a little sister; Murdoch fostered her when her Pa was killed by Pardee. That was before I got to Lancer. As for Murdoch,” Johnny paused – no way was he going to tell Scott how for years he had hated that name – “he is tough but fair, got’a warn you he is on the closed mouth side unless he is yelling out orders and ain’t one for wearing his heart on his sleeve. Oh and he’s big, big as a bear.”
Johnny took the letters that needed to be returned to Harlan’s desk and walked backwards to the door. “Take it easy, Scott – let’s play this game sneaky like.”
Part Three – San Francisco
Scott Lancer travelled first to New York and then across country to arrive in San Francisco. “Well, here I am, Johnny Lancer. Where are you?”
Johnny had tracked Scott on his journey, keeping out of sight; a man had followed him from Boston to New York and Johnny had to admire how Scott had gone to the lengths of buying a ticket for passage to Paris. That would keep Harlan out of the picture.
His instincts had been right: beneath that eastern city boy was someone with grit ready to learn the truth for himself.
Johnny watched Scott standing all upright and smart in the middle of the station and then he cast his eyes over the crowd of people coming and going. He was never comfortable in crowds but didn’t feel any immediate danger so stepped behind Scott. “Arrived in one piece – well-done, brother.”
He had to smile at the look on Scott’s face as he turned around. “Where were you, boy?”
“Close by, Boston, watching your back.”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “Boston?”
“Yeah, suits you with that elegant accent and fancy clothes. Come on, I know a quiet place to stay and then you can go shopping.” Johnny reached down and picked up Scott’s suitcase and wondered what he must have packed. All he had himself was his saddlebag over his shoulder carrying trail supplies, a spare shirt and socks and his Colt and holster.
Johnny led the way through the city. Scott followed, impressed with the fine hotels and restaurants. They passed an imposing looking theatre and the sidewalks were busy with well-dressed people.
They ended up in a much quieter older part of the city, its Spanish Mexican influence still very much in evidence.
“Here we are,” Johnny announced in front of a small guest house.
“How do you know this place?” Scott had lost his bearings more than ten minutes ago.
“Been before. It’s nice an’ quiet, nice people ‘round here. You got’a be careful near the docks; some of them sail captains ain’t above kidnapping a crew.”
Scott opened his mouth but before any questions could be asked he had been chivvied along inside.
A small dark-eyed woman came out from behind a bead curtain and a conversation in rapid Spanish resulted in Johnny laughing out loud and with his head indicating Scott should follow him up the stairs.
There was a room with two beds simply furnished. Johnny tested the bed and grinned at Scott. “You okay here ‘cos I do know a very nice establishment a few minutes away that comes with prettier company?”
Scott cleared his throat and grinned back. “Maybe tomorrow; tonight I would like a bath, a meal and not to sleep on a moving train.”
Johnny was beginning to like this stranger but still had a way to go to allow too much trust.
After taking Scott to a bathhouse they made their way back to the guest house. Johnny looked over at Scott all spruced up and smart. “Feel better now, Boston?”
“Yes, thank you. You know your way around; I take it you have been to San Francisco before?”
Johnny stopped, pushed his hat down his back and waved his arm around. “A couple of times. Did you know this city used to be Mexican, called Yerba Buena? There are some of the old places left but it’s getting more and more Anglo. Progress some call it. You ever travelled, Scott?”
Scott stopped to really look at the buildings and people; he was definitely in the minority in this neighbourhood. “Before the war I visited as far west as St. Louis and I went on a European tour before I attended Harvard.”
Johnny listened and sighed. The thought came to him that a rancher’s life in the San Joaquin wouldn’t be the life for this educated man. “You get to Spain at all?”
Scott slapped Johnny on his shoulder. “Yes, brother, I visited Madrid. I’ll tell you all about it over dinner.”
That evening they ate at the guest house with the other guests, a family with two young girls and an older single man. Every one Mexican, all seated together at a round table with mismatched crockery.
The landlady who Johnny had introduced as Mamacita Inez served Mexican food so hot and spicy it brought tears to Scott’s eyes. After a few mouthfuls, she took pity on him and brought a glass of buttermilk and patted him gently on his back.
Johnny was busy eating like a starving man in between carrying on a conversation with the other guests. “How ya’ doing with this fine food, Boston? Best I’ve eaten since I set off on my hunt to find ya’.” Blue eyes twinkled, knowing Scott was out of his depth: foreign food and no clue as to the fact that all the other guests found him fascinating.
“I feel like I have stumbled into a family gathering.”
Johnny smiled “I was telling these good folk you’re from back east and it’s your first time here in California. These two little chicas ain’t never seen anyone as pale as you. Say ‘Hola, me llamo Scott’ to introduce yourself.”
Scott attempted the simple phrase and the other guests all smiled back at him “Bueno, Scott.”
Johnny introduced everyone and Scott found himself included in a lively evening with Johnny translating. The family of four who were visiting relatives had retired early; the older man it seemed had arrived by ship from San Diego and was waiting to meet his son who was coming from Stockton. Mamacita Inez appeared with a bottle and three glasses plus two dishes: one with lime wedges, one with salt.
“Muchas gracias, Mamacita.” Johnny stood and gave the older lady a kiss on her cheek and Scott saw her blush like a young girl as she patted Johnny on his cheek in return.
“You, little brother, are a flirt, and what is this I am expected to drink?”
Johnny waved the bottle towards Scott “This, Boston, is a bottle of good tequila. Me an’ Señor Martinez will teach you the correct way to enjoy this fine drink.”
The next morning Johnny knew Scott would have a hangover so left him sleeping while he accompanied Señor Martinez to the stage depot to meet his son Carlos Martinez.
“Señor Madrid, it is a privilege to make your acquaintance; the stories of your escape from Don Alfonso de Huerta reach us even this far north.” The young man bowed to Johnny.
Johnny acknowledged the greeting, aware of the compliment he was being paid. The revolution had failed but the stories of his escape had, he knew, damaged the reputation of Don Alfonso and given the peons some hope for the future.
“I was wondering if you have any news about the Lancers who attended the Cattlemen’s meeting that was recently held in Stockton?”
“Oh, Señor Murdoch Lancer is known as a fair and generous landowner. He is a long-time friend of the Barclay family of Stockton; they too are good landowners. There was much discussion on the treatment of non-gringos, ai, Señor Madrid, some Anglos are no better than the Dons who lost California.”
Johnny listened closely, “And how did they vote?”
“It seems the Señora Barclay swayed the majority but it was close.”
Johnny frowned and kicked the dirt at his feet. Once the thrill of being a feared pistolero had worn off, the brutality of his life had settled on him. From then on when possible he had chosen the side to hire onto using his own standards of justice.
“And a fella’ going by Scott Lancer, an Easterner, is there anything you can tell me of him?”
Carlos shook his head “Ai, he is like the sons of the Dons. Rumour had it he is courting the young Señorita Teresa O’Brien.”
“Dios!” Johnny clamped his mouth shut to stop exclaiming more. This was not what he expected. Teresa was in his opinion still a little girl and according to Murdoch to be treated as a sister.
“Sí, Señor Madrid, but the Señor Scott, he was known to visit the bordello in Stockton. Always the way with the landowners.”
Johnny looked at Carlo and knew he spoke the truth and in his heart couldn’t disagree.
“Gracias.” He bade farewell to Señor Martinez and his son.
He watched as Scott regained consciousness; it was a long time since he had to wake up after drinking too much tequila. He used his quiet gentle voice as if it were a wild pony he was talking to. “Hey, Boston, drink some water. It’ll help.”
He passed the glass of water into Scott’s shaking hand.
Scott drank and fell back. “Sweet Jesus, what did you make me drink?”
“Now, now, Boston, no one forced you. Just lie back you’ll be just fine. How about coffee?” He gently patted his brother’s chest.
Scott opened one eye and focused on the bright blue eyes and the smell of coffee “You, brother, are a lifesaver.”
“I do try, Boston, I do try.”
Scott looked around the emporium Johnny had dragged him into. There wasn’t a spare inch; it seemed to sell everything from buttons to barrels of beer and everything in-between.
“You need cowboy clothes and a decent hat, and a gun. You do know how to use a gun, don’t ya’, Scott?”
“Yes, Johnny, I know how to use a gun but I am better with a rifle. And what is wrong with my clothes? I use one of the best tailors in Boston.” Scott raised his bowler hat and waved it down his body.
Johnny leaned back against the counter and waved his gun finger in Scott’s direction. “Got’a tell ya’, Scott, just ain’t the style where we’re going.”
Once Johnny was satisfied with the shirts, pants and work boots, he spent some time getting a gun-belt to fit Scott and a decent Colt. “When you’re settled at Lancer, I’ll take you to the gunsmith and get you one that’s customised for you.”
Scott raised his eyebrows and even more so when Johnny added saddlebags to his growing pile of purchases. “What about my suitcase and possessions I have travelled with?”
“Don’t fret, Scott, Mamacita Inez will take good care of it.” Johnny put his arm around Scott’s shoulders as he steered him out of the store; there was no way a brother of his would be wearing those fancy duds and hats at Lancer.
“Okay, Scott, this is what we’re gon’a do: there is a train tomorrow that’ll take us as far as Cross Creek; from there we’ll ride across country and meet up with José and the bull.”
Scott held up a hand. “Hold on, who is José and what bull?”
“It’s a long story, Scott, I’ll tell you on the way. Now Murdoch and T’resa are back at Lancer with Dempsey and from what I heard Dempsey is romancing little T’resa so you can’t just ride in there. He’s a low down snake who will turn dangerous when confronted.”
Johnny kept on walking, knowing Scott was trying to make sense of what he was hearing.
“Here we are, Scott, that fine establishment I told ya’ about. I little re..lax..ation with some friendly females, what you say?” Johnny turned and grinned to see Scott grinning back. So far this easterner was going along with him, Johnny’s instinct telling him he was worth the effort.
On the train to Cross Creek Johnny brought Scott up to date on all he knew of William Dempsey and how he was sure Dempsey was unaware his true identity had been discovered. He explained how he had covered his trip to Boston by fooling Murdoch and Dempsey into thinking he had gone to collect a bull.
Scott laughed. “You, little brother, would do well teaching the skills of a spy to the army.” Johnny guessed it was meant as a compliment.
From Cross Creek, they hired horses and rode across country to meet with José and Don Sebastian Montoya’s bull. Johnny stood in his stirrups, his hand on the handle of his Colt and studied the landscape, all his senses on full alert. There were no tracks that caused suspicion, no noises out of place.
In front of him the San Joaquin valley pastures with streams running through, cattle grazing, in the distance the San Benito Mountains. “Welcome home, Scott.”
Part Four – Lancer
Johnny rode his horse down a steep incline and into a canyon; Scott followed. Passing through a narrow entrance they came into a fertile oasis with a small pond fed by a stream falling from the steep edge.
“Hola, Juanito!” A young vaquero holding a rifle appeared from behind a rocky outcrop.
“Hola, José!” Johnny raised his left hand in greeting. He dismounted to warmly shake hands and hug the young man. He turned to Scott to make introductions. “This is José Garcia. José, this here is the true Scott Lancer, all the way from Boston.”
“Welcome, Señor Scott. We have been waiting for you.” José held the horse’s bridle as Scott dismounted.
Scott smiled and shook hands, “Thank you, Johnny has told me of you.”
The three walked further into the canyon where there was a small campsite with two horses loosely tethered and a black bull on a long rope stood contentedly in the pond.
Johnny immediately went to the Palomino and Scott watched at the joyous greeting horse and owner gave each other.
José nudged Scott. “Ai, they have missed each other.” Then he raised his voice. “Hey, Juanito, say hola to Señor Manolito.”
Scott only then noticed a second man appearing from the shadow of a tree, another Mexican.
Johnny and this second man hugged each other, patting each other on the back. Rapid Spanish was exchanged.
“Scott, come over here and meet my cousin, Manolito Montoya of Sonora. Well, I guess he is kind’a your cousin as well. I got’a warn you about him; he can be trouble.”
Johnny skipped away as Manolito used his hat to hit out at him.
Scott came forward to greet this laughing stranger. “I don’t recall a cousin being mentioned when you were explaining the situation here.”
Johnny shuffled his toes in the dirt. “There’s a lot about me I don’t explain, Scott.”
Manolito clasped Scott on the shoulder. “My uncle’s father and Juanito’s mother’s father were brothers so we are familia. You will soon discover, Scott, that most of Mexico are related to each other or at least know someone who knows someone who knows you.”
Scott blinked as he took this information in. “Okay, well I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
As they sat around the campfire drinking strong coffee José brought Johnny up to date. “We arrived with that impressive bull three days ago having taken care to travel slowly and on the back trails. I am sure our arrival is known only to a few trusted vaqueros. My Papa sends word that the Patrón, Señorita Teresa and the imposter returned from Stockton five days ago. The Patrón is anxious for your return.”
Johnny grunted, “More likely anxious for that bull.”
Scott narrowed his eyes at the tone in Johnny’s voice.
“Sí, that as well, but my Papa says three gringo hands have been taken on by the one calling himself Scott Lancer; they wear their guns low and have asked about you. The vaqueros have kept their distance and said little.”
Johnny stood and stretched his back, adjusted his hat and strode off.
The three men at the campfire watched as he took his Colt and emptied the chambers of bullets, twirled it around his finger and spent ten minutes pulling it in and out of the holster.
“What is he doing?” Scott couldn’t take his eyes off Johnny. The young man he had come to know and like had somehow transformed into someone else – there was something almost feral about him.
It was Manolito who replied, “He is practising his trade as Johnny Madrid. Cipriano was right in warning him; there may well be a gunfight. Es muy importante we do not interfere.”
A gasp escaped Scott as he saw Johnny crouch and draw. “Good grief, he’s fast. Can he shoot as fast and accurately?”
“Oh yes, Madrid is as, how you Anglos say, sudden. He will not fire bullets here in case El Toro takes offence.” Manolito sipped his coffee then laid down with his hat over his face.
Johnny spent over an hour practising his draw while moving, crouching rolling. When he walked back to the campsite there was a swagger in his walk that Scott hadn’t noticed before.
“Impressive, brother.” Scott held out a mug of coffee.
Johnny looked unblinkingly into Scott’s eyes and liked what he saw, no horror or disgust – there was acceptance and humour. He took the mug and raised it as a toast. “Thanks, brother.”
The next day the group of four men led the bull towards the hacienda. Before it was in sight two riders appeared; José raised his hand as they approached. “Papa, Pablo.” Greetings were exchanged.
Cipriano explained, “Murdoch and the one calling himself Scott Lancer are in the hacienda. The three suspected gunmen have been assigned to work crews at the western pastures and are not expected back until this evening. I suggest the arrival of El Toro will cause the necessary diversion for me to get Señor Scott inside. Do you agree Juanito?”
Scott looked from the older Mexican, the ranch Segundo, who was deferring to his young brother and it struck him how like it was in his army days when older, wiser regular soldiers would offer advice but wait for him as the officer to signal agreement.
“Sí, Cip, a good plan. We need Maria to get T’resa out’a the way as well. I shall invite Mano to stay and they will rush off to get a room ready.”
As planned the arrival of Johnny and José with the bull caused the ranch to stop work. Murdoch and the imposter William Dempsey appeared and made their way to the paddock.
Johnny pushed his hat back to hang by the storm strings and gave what he knew was his most innocent smile “Howdy, Pa.”
Murdoch gave him a quick glance but concentrated on the bull. “Howdy, the bull looks in good condition.”
Johnny sighed and replaced his hat and looked down at his hands resting on the saddle pommel. “Yep, worth taking it slow. Brought a visitor – this is Manolito Montoya, the son of Don Sebastian Montoya.”
Both Murdoch and Dempsey turned to stare at the Mexican stranger.
Manolito understood any unknown Mexican arriving with Johnny would be regarded with the suspicion that he was an associate of Madrid. “Gentlemen, my father sends his regards. I understand you have recently returned from Stockton; my sister Victoria corresponds with Mrs Barclay and is friends with the charming Audra.” He smiled at the two men and gave a slight bow.
Johnny could see Murdoch and Dempsey relax. He dismounted and turned his head to release his saddlebag, casting a quick look at the hacienda to check Scott and Cipriano had made their way to the rear.
At the entrance to the hacienda, Maria and Teresa waited; Johnny bounced up the steps to greet them both. He kissed Mamacita Maria on her cheek. “I have missed you, Mamacita, and your fine cooking”.
She took his hand in hers and worried eyes looked into his. “Welcome home, Juanito.”
Teresa gave a wan smile and tensed as he stepped towards her; in that moment Johnny knew the lies Dempsey had been whispering about him had taken root. “Hola, little sister, I have a guest, Señor Manolito Montoya. Can I ask you and Mamacita to prepare a room for him?”
Teresa looked over to Dempsey for re-assurance and Johnny had to keep the anger and disappointment in her buried.
The two women disappeared and Johnny stepped aside to allow Murdoch to lead Manolito inside. As Dempsey followed, Johnny dropped his right hand onto the handle of his Colt strapped to his hip and gave him his Madrid smirk. Dempsey frowned as he went through the door, Johnny close behind him.
Murdoch was busy at the cabinet offering a drink to Manolito. “Scott, your usual, son?”
“Yes, thank you, Sir.” Dempsey accepted the drink. Johnny noticed he hadn’t removed his gun belt despite Murdoch’s usual order of no guns indoors and he had taken the drink in his left hand.
Johnny shook his head when Murdoch offered the bottle of tequila at him. “Nope, perhaps later.”
He padded to the desk, his spurs loud in the silence and let his saddlebag slide off his shoulder. “Got the bill of sale here.”
He was aware both Murdoch and Dempsey were looking in his direction and Manolito had put down his drink and was positioned to cover any move Dempsey might make.
Johnny smiled, tipped his head forward to let his hat fall into his hands and looked at his father. “Got something else for you, Murdoch, all the way from Boston.” Oh boy, the look on the faces. He loved these games.
The door from the back of the hacienda opened and Scott appeared; Cipriano was a few paces behind.
“Hello father, hello William.” Scott didn’t give Dempsey a chance to react – he was in front of the man who had betrayed his trust and was stealing what was his. The punch was quick and Dempsey went down.
“Whoa, Boston, remind me not to get on the receiving end of one of those.” Johnny stayed at the desk.
Scott was breathing heavy and rubbed his knuckles. “Get up, Dempsey.”
Murdoch let out a bellow but as he moved Cipriano had a tight hold on his arm. “Patrón, por favor wait, all will become clear.”
Dempsey stayed down but his hand moved towards his gun; the sound of Johnny’s Colt being cocked made him stay still.
“Wouldn’t do that if I was you, Dempsey; them stories of how good I am with this are on the true.” Johnny was leaning against the desk, his Colt fixed on Dempsey.
Scott glared at the man on the floor, took his gun and slid it across the floor to Johnny. He then grabbed Dempsey by his shirt front and pulled him to his feet. “Murdoch, I should introduce myself, I am Scott Garrett Lancer and this person is in fact, William Reginald Dempsey. I hired him to come to California to confirm the invitation from you was genuine. He has double-crossed both you and me and probably my Grandfather as well.”
Murdoch staggered but said nothing and Cipriano held on to him.
Johnny holstered his gun and stepped up to Scott. “My turn, Boston.”
Dempsey’s head snapped back and he hit the floor again.
Teresa’s scream echoed from the bottom of the stairs where she had seen the blow; she made to run to the man on the floor. Maria held her. “Leave him, chica, he is not what he has told you.”
Scott raised an eyebrow at Johnny. “Not bad, brother.”
Dempsey stayed on the floor but moved his head to look at Murdoch. “This doesn’t mean I’m not right about Madrid not being Lancer. I know you have your doubts; how can a son of yours be a ruthless killer? That man over there is John Madrid, gunfighter, one of the best at the trade of hiring out his gun – go ahead, ask him.”
“Ain’t denying who or what I am, Murdoch, an’ I ain’t gon’a beg you to believe I’m your son. Scott believes me and Mano, he knows who I am. Cip and Maria, they know I’m Lancer.”
Johnny’s voice broke. Why did it matter so much to him that Murdoch Lancer accepted him? He turned and left through the French windows, his heart pumping.
Scott scowled at Murdoch “You are my father but a stranger to me. That boy is my brother; I know it, I feel it.”
Cipriano moved forward. “I will take this pretender to the guardhouse until the sheriff can take him.”
Manolito returned his gun to his holster. “I will assist you.”
Scott nodded his agreement and he and Cipriano hauled Dempsey to his feet. Scott was vaguely aware of the girl Teresa crying. He turned to Murdoch. “I’ll have a drink now, a large scotch.”
Murdoch moved to the cabinet; his hands were shaking. “Scott, I feel like such a fool; that man, I thought he was you.”
“No, Sir, I was at fault for not being brave enough to accept the challenge of meeting you in person. Johnny, my brother, he is brave and intelligent; he came to find me in Boston to make sure I knew of you and Lancer. I am proud to call him brother and friend. If he is a not a Lancer then neither am I.”
Johnny stood outside and took a deep breath and willed his heart to stop thudding in his chest. ‘Come on, Johnny boy, you’ll get yourself killed in this state.’ He called on his lessons learned the hard way in his younger life of being detached and cold, of not caring if life hurt him. He watched as Cip and Manolito dragged Dempsey to the old Spanish cell block. Hatred, yes he hated that man for casting suspicion about his heritage but it was a waste of his life to do that. He sighed. Perhaps he should just ride away and let Scott have Lancer; he wasn’t sure he had the heart to keep butting up against Murdoch Lancer who he knew had doubts about him. Perhaps Mama had been right to keep him away; all the land and cattle didn’t count against suspicion and mistrust.
His head came up, all black thoughts gone. Three men on horses were there in front of the hacienda.
“You’re being called out, Madrid.”
Johnny pulled his shoulders back, adjusted his gun belt and strode around the corner to take part in the dance.
He didn’t know the three men; that didn’t matter. “So which of you third rate bargain basement guns is calling me to the dance? Or perhaps you expect me to take on all three of you?”
In the hacienda, Murdoch and Scott heard the challenges being issued. “Teresa, stay inside.” Murdoch grabbed rifles from the rack and threw one to Scott.
Scott took the rifle and ran through the French doors to cover Johnny’s back.
Murdoch stormed out of the front door and opened fire over the heads of the three riders. “You men will throw down your guns and ride out. There will be no gunfight here.”
The horses were snorting and rearing and the three riders were having difficulty keeping their seats.
“Murdoch, stay out of this.” Johnny’s voice was loud; he was stood still, his right hand hovering over his Colt.
“I will not have gun hands draw down on my son. I’ll kill the first of you who fires, take my word for it. I have fought and killed better men than you to protect what is mine.”
Johnny took his eyes of the three and cast a glance towards his father then smirked at them. “You got’a choice here, boys, you can live or die. Is that cabrón we have locked up worth it, or you want to try for my reputation, perhaps call me out to dance? My ol’ man over there he ain’t a gun hawk and if any of you do get lucky, well, he don’t know the rules of our trade so probably will kill ya.”
Murdoch took aim – his next shot would not be over anyone’s head. “Ride out; no one will stop you.”
Johnny stood loose, his hand on the butt of his gun, aware of Scott behind him but not prepared to relax until the three horsemen were out of sight.
Scott came to stand at his shoulder. “Lancer takes care of its own.”
Part Five – Epilogue
Johnny dismounted and patted Barranca on his neck. “Well here I go, amigo, can’t put it off any longer.”
He entered through the front door of the hacienda and paused, allowing his eyes to adjust from the brightness of the midday to the shadows inside. Murdoch was as usual head down in his beloved ledgers.
Johnny pursed his lips, straightened his shoulders and stepped towards the desk. “Howdy, Murdoch.”
Murdoch looked up. “Is there a problem, son? I thought you would be with your brother over at that downed fence.”
Johnny ducked his head. “No problem. Scott is having great fun with José chasing those runaway beeves. There’s something I need to talk to you about.” He ran his fingers over the desktop, touching the inkwell, and he raised his eyes to look into his father’s.
Murdoch carefully placed his pen down. “Is this a sitting down or standing up talk?”
Johnny risked a smile and pulled up a chair. “It’s about my mother.”
“What do you want to know, son?”
“No, Murdoch, I found things out when I was in Boston and, well, I reckon it’s you who should know.”
From inside his shirt, he fished out the report he had taken from Harlan Garrett’s files, putting it in front of Murdoch. The folded paper sat there and Johnny felt his mouth go dry. He tapped his fingers on his thigh, suddenly nervous.
Murdoch looked at him with that frown between his eyes then picked up the report.
Johnny could see his father’s eyes narrow and his jaw clench as he read the report. He waited; he knew Murdoch had loved his mother and had searched for them and that report explained why and who was responsible for them leaving.
Murdoch stood and without a word fetched a bottle of tequila and two glasses to the desk; he poured large measures into each glass and downed his in one mouthful.
Johnny raised an eyebrow and sipped his drink. Murdoch didn’t seem to want to say anything.
Johnny took another sip. “This must be news to you; seems Garrett paid someone to scare Mama away, probably by threatening my life. When I was little we moved around a lot with a gambler, then when I was, I dun’no, coming up to being five, Mama packed us up and we moved on by ourselves. Mama told me a lie about you but I reckon it was a lie told with the best of intentions to keep me away from Lancer, to keep me safe. She met up with Vincente Ortez and for a few years we were a proper family; I went to school, we went to church just like regular folk.”
He had to stop the memories so long buried, still raw; he finished his tequila.
Murdoch topped up both glasses. Johnny saw his father’s hands were shaking.
“What happened, son?”
“Oh, some big shot Gringo moved in putting the squeeze on the smaller farms and landowners – especially didn’t think Mexicans should be in his way.” Johnny drank his tequila in one gulp and gripped the glass so tight his fist turned white.
Murdoch’s voice brought him back from that dark place.
“They were murdered, Murdoch, Mama and my Step-Father, and I ended up in an orphanage on the Mexican side of the border. I went back a few years ago, there was a range war, I killed that gringo. You might call it vengeance – I thought of it as justice. Didn’t bring Mama back though.”
Murdoch offered the bottle; Johnny shook his head. Two large drinks on his empty stomach and these memories had made his guts churn.
Murdoch nodded. “I had no idea of Harlan’s involvement. I knew he hated me and blamed me for Catherine’s death. I had applied to the courts in Boston for custody of Scott and my having a wife and another child was being looked upon favourably. But then I returned from a cattle drive to find Maria and you gone with no word or trace.”
Murdoch waved the report. “Garrett arranged it; he is responsible for her leaving me and setting you on the path to Madrid. I could kill the old bastard with my bare hands.”
Johnny held his hands up. “I know, I know. I felt the same when I first read it. But it’s like you said: it’s done, it’s in the past, it’s gone.” Johnny made a chopping motion. “Scott’s a good man, we both like him, but Garrett is his Grandpa and he is only just over the Dempsey fracas so I don’t think we need this added into the mix.”
Murdoch scowled. “We should keep this from him?”
“Well, not forever but until the time is right. If the old goat should cause trouble in the future it could be useful. I could always have a word with Harlan let him know I know he was the one that hired ol’e Day?”
Murdoch took a deep breath and stood up and turned to look out of the French doors, his hands clasped behind his back. Johnny watched and waited; he understood the turmoil his father was feeling. Dios, as much as he had wanted to confront Garrett back in Boston he had found his Madrid self and even talked Scott out of it. A small smile turned up his lips – and he was the Lancer supposedly with the short temper.
He saw Murdoch relax his shoulders. “Thank you, son, for the offer, however, if Harlan ever needs to be challenged on his machinations it will be me that has that word with him.” Murdoch turned back giving one of his hard stares. “Do I need to know how you came by the information?”
Johnny ran his hands over the desk. “There’s a big desk like this one in Boston and it has a secret drawer just like this one. I put all the reports and letters I found in it back ‘cept for that one, didn’t want ol’e Harlan to get suspicious.”
Johnny chanced a grin and was rewarded with Murdoch smiling and nodding his head. “Good, good. For now I agree this is not the time, as you say, to add to the mix, we need to learn to live with the past and to move on.”
Johnny got up and stood with Murdoch and together they watched Scott ride up to the hacienda. Murdoch put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder. “Lancer takes care of its own.”
Johnny rested his hand on the butt of his Colt. He might not know what machinations were but he knew how to be patient and exact his own version of justice. He would take care of his own in his own way.
~ end ~
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