$1000 what did Johnny do with all that cash? Set a few days after the signing of the partnership agreement.
Word count: 4,095
Murdoch found me as I was about to mount up and ride off. I’d rather been in the saddle looking down on him ‘cos it’s a long look up at the man-mountain.
At least he ain’t being loud. “I know Sam gave you the okay to ride a week ago, but I also know he said for you to go easy.”
That look on his face, it’s hard for me to read. “That an order ol’ man?” I just can’t help being ornery with him.
“No son, just a request. You take care, that horse of yours is still green.”
I patted Barranca’s neck. “He’s a fine horse.” Heck, he’s going to be a great horse and he’s mine. The ol’ man just said so. It’ll do no harm to at least be civil. “I thought I’d ride into Green River, let the Doctor check me over one last time, save him coming out here just to prod me.”
I turned and mounted, my back twinged some and Barranca shuffled sideways but I didn’t let anything show on my face. Murdoch held the bridle while I settled in the saddle but kept his peace.
“Good idea. Tell Sam he’s invited to Sunday dinner. I’ve also asked Aggie Conway to join us.”
I nodded. I’d heard mention of Mz Conway, a neighbour and it seems a particularly good friend of my ol’ man. Be interesting to see her in person.
I did mostly take it easy, but Barranca needed to stretch out and I needed to feel the wind rush past, blowing away all these thoughts that jumbled up in my head of how I’m expected to be Lancer.
Green River was as Anglo as Morro Coyo was Mexican. Busier though. Sam Jenkins seemed pleased to see me and I tolerated another lecture about taking it easy while he prodded my back.
“Okay, Doc I hear you. While I’m here, two things. One, Murdoch is inviting you and Miz Conway to Sunday dinner.”
The doc beamed. “Excellent. Maria makes a wonderful roast beef and Aggie is such good company. Just what we need to get back to normal after that business with the high riders.”
It occurred to me that was Murdoch Lancer’s life before Pardee. Friends and neighbours having civilised dinners. Not sure how I’d fit into that life; not sure I want to.
Sam was looking at me. “You said there were two things?”
“Oh yeah. How much do I owe you for fixing me up?”
He blinked and then laughed. “You, Johnny, don’t owe me, the Lancer account is settled at the end of each month.”
“I pay my way Doc, always have.” I made to take that envelope stuffed full of money out of my jacket.
“I’m sure you do Johnny but like I said all the doctoring I do at Lancer is itemised and settled from the ranch accounts. Your bullet wound and recovery included.”
I stood outside and patted that envelope full of Lancer money. As Madrid, I would probably have bought myself a back-up gun customised for my hand, a bottle of the best tequila and spent a week in a high-class bordello. But now Johnny Lancer, what would he do? I sighed and spoke to Barranca. “He’d do what legal and lawful folk do.”
I led my horse down the road, my hat pulled low so I could keep watch without drawing attention. I tied him up outside the Green River Bank and Loan office. Took a deep breath and stepped inside before I could change my mind and just go and get a drink
A couple were about to leave as I entered, so all-polite like I raised my hat to the lady as they passed. They scuttled sideways past me, the man trying not to look afraid. That told me something. Green River is almost all Anglo and in no hurry to welcome me, a mixed breed gunfighter. Now Morro Coyo being all Mexican, that was different. They know of Madrid fighting against the corrupt Dons and Rurales, and approve. Even being mixed ain’t a problem ‘cos the white half is from the Patron of Lancer and that deserves some respect.
I waited behind an old lady who was making the teller double check the money she was withdrawing. When she turned away she positively growled at me, “You need to watch out—these money men would rob a dead man of the pennies on his eyes.”
I actually took a step back in surprise. “Yes, Ma’am.”
I raised my eyebrows at the teller and smiled hoping he would see the humour in it. I didn’t get a smile back; I got the same wary look as the couple had given me.
“Names Johnny Lancer. I’m here…..” I didn’t get to finish my request as he moved sideways clearing his throat.
“You’ll be wanting the owner, Mr Everett.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t sure why he couldn’t deal with me but then I thought Lancer was likely the bank’s largest customer and that had weight and access to the top man.
Mr Gilbert Everett, the Green River Bank and Loan’s owner and manager, sat behind a desk that was nowhere near as big and impressive as Murdoch’s. I gave him and his room the once over as I let the door to the office close behind me. He was looking…well, what can I say…nervous, shifty. I was used to getting that reaction and most times it gave me some pleasure, made up for my childhood being one of insults and bruises.
My right hand hovered over my gun. Then I smiled at him at waved towards the empty chair facing him. Stop it, Johnny, I told myself. You’re here as Lancer to open a bank account with those dollars honestly earned by giving your arms legs, guts and blood. It’s what an honest rancher would do, so why when I looked at Mr Everett did I get that warning chill down my neck?
Sitting down I balanced my hat on my knee and called on Madrid to stay cool and focused.
Mr Everett was sweating and loosening the tie at his neck. “Mr Randolph has provided me with a notarised copy of the Lancer partnership agreement and I can assure you, Mr Lancer, the ranch bank account is now registered in the three names.”
Well damn me, I guess getting shot and then the fever has slowed me down more than I thought. Knew what I signed was a partnership agreement; also know the ol’ man made it plain he was numero uno, the tune caller. But it’s legal—the Lancer bank account is a third mine and like a lightning flash, I realised the land deeds will be the same. I ain’t just Lancer’s youngest son, the one who’s good with a gun. For the first time it seems real I’m a legal landowner.
I mentally shake myself. Everett is saying something about outstanding accounts. I lean forward. “Huh, the bank holds Lancer debts that you want to call in?”
Mr Everett clears his throat and starts to shuffle papers on his desk. “I did write to Mr Lancer, that is, Mr Murdoch Lancer.”
I lean further forward. I had taken a dislike to the weasely man. “You do realise Lancer has been busy fighting off murderous paid guns who, if Lancer had fallen, would have taken this prosperous little town, your bank, and most of the valley?”
I didn’t give him time to reply. “Murdoch Lancer has been burying murdered innocent families and loyal workers. Now he is overseeing repairs to the damage done by Pardee and his men. Your letter has been waiting its turn. Now tell me what debts are these and are our taxes paid up to date?”
He again cleared his throat. “Maybe I was being hasty but I have a responsibility to ensure the bank is solvent. I will, of course, write to your father allowing more time for payment.”
At that, I draw a breath and sit back giving him the cold hard look I perfected for the gun trade. “You do that, Mr Everett. In the meantime, are Lancer taxes paid and what exactly are these outstanding accounts you are holding?”
I didn’t care if I was coming across as threatening. I wanted answers.
“Lancer taxes are paid up to date. The outstanding accounts we hold are those of various Green River businesses.”
Mr Everett was no different from lots of the men who had hired me; they under-estimate me, seeing me only as a hard-hearted uneducated pistolero. It does me no harm. The fact is sometimes it gives me an edge. “So you bought up the Lancer debts from the local businesses. Do you own this bank Mr Everett, or is it part of one of those big-city banks?”
I could see he was taken back by my questions which rang an alarm and made me even more certain I disliked him.
“This bank is mine but I do have shareholders to whom I am responsible for ensuring it is run in the most profitable manner.” He handed over a list of the businesses Lancer did business with.
I nodded and stood up to look down at him. “I’ll be back in an hour for that letter you’re going to write.”
When I got outside the sheriff was waiting for me. That’s an Anglo town for you, even if I’m part Lancer I’m still seen as a dangerous gun hawk who needs putting in his place. I scowled and adjusted my gun belt. Sheriff’s name is Gabe McClintock. Murdoch told me he is honest. I’ll make my own mind up on that. “Sheriff.” Left it at that.
“Johnny, everything all right in there?”
I knew then he knew about Madrid. “Yep, just talking with Mr Everett about Lancer business.”
He nodded back at me and I reckoned to lay off being a smart mouth with him. After all, some sheriffs are honest and fair.
My first stop was the feed and grain store. Turned out it was a father-son operation and the son was the fella who had been leaving the bank when I arrived.
I introduced myself and the older man looked me up and down. “Maria’s boy.”
“Yes sir, that’s me. I’m visiting the Green River businesses ‘cos I understand Lancer might have some outstanding accounts.”
Turns out Everett had bought the Lancer debts at 60 cents on the dollar, and there was a still a current order to be paid. I asked to see the Lancer account and I didn’t like what I saw.
“Price of feed and grain seems to have gone up lately. I would have thought a ranch size of Lancer and the business it puts your way would have had a discount.” I looked up from the paperwork.
The younger guy got all red-faced. “You need to understand…we didn’t know if Pardee would be defeated, we had to cover our costs.”
I sniffed. “And now you’re covering your loss on the sale to the bank by increasing the price.” I took out that envelope stuff full of money and made sure they took a good look at it. “Here’s what I’m gonn’a do, you’ll get the 40 cents on the dollar you missed out on plus the full outstanding Lancer debt.” I held up my hand as the both eyed the envelope full of my hour of my time money “It’s on the understanding you’ll not be selling on Lancer debts again without first telling Murdoch.” The young guy look like he’d swallowed a wasp but the old guy he knew a good deal when it was laid out and stuck out his hand. I waited a moment and gave them a Madrid look just so they knew not to double cross me. “I need a receipt. Murdoch has these big ol’ ledgers to keep up to date.” The old guy wrote it out while his son counted the money.
It was an interesting afternoon, going around the Green River businesses. By the time I got to the mercantile, that envelope was a lot thinner. There was a little old lady behind the counter, the same one I had seen in the bank.
“Ma’am, name’s Johnny Lancer. I’m here to settle any outstanding Lancer bills we might be owing to you.” I took off my hat and tried out my smile that charms the females. It didn’t work on this female.
“Johnny Lancer you say, Murdoch’s youngest?” she squinted up at me through some glasses balanced on the end of her nose.
She peered at me and huffed. “You were in the bank. What you make of him?”
“Gilbert Everett, Bank Manager and stiff -collared crook, that him.”
Sometimes folks can spring a surprise on me and this was one of them times. I rubbed my hand through my hair. “Well, he sure likes to look after his money.”
“Huh, I didn’t sell your father’s debt to him. He had called all us business people together and said Lancer might fall and we would never get any money so most sold out to him. Mark my words, that backstabbing carpet bagger would have made a deal with that murdering yahoo Pardee.”
She was dancing up and down on her toes in anger. I tried to imagine her giving ol’ Day a piece of her mind. “Well Ma’am, it hasn’t come to that and like I said, I’m here to make good on what Lancer owes you.”
“That’s mighty good of you. Your Pa he always shared his business between me and Senor Baldermero in Morro Coyo. He’s a fine man, your Pa; loyal to his friends. I hope you ain’t going to break his heart.”
This conversation had suddenly taken a sharp turn into a place I didn’t want to go. Luckily she carried on, not expecting me to answer. “You tell your Pa to watch out for that banker; he’s got shifty eyes.”
“Yes Ma’am, I agree.” So me and Mrs Hargis agreed on something; after I’d paid what we owed she gave me a receipt and a liquorice stick. “These always were your favourite, Johnny.”
I did think about going back to the hacienda, but went to Morro Coyo.
Besides my visit to Morro Coyo when me an’ Day shared a drink while we weighed each other up, I had ridden there again the day after the signing, I needed to check for myself all the hired guns had left my land and this quiet little town. The old guy was still carrying water from the well and I had dismounted to say hola. He told me the help I had offered him against his tormentors and news of the death of Pardee was spoken of with pride that Madrid himself had rescued the town and its residents. I understand little Mexican towns like this and the desire to live quiet traditional lives. I felt this was a place I would be accepted.
On this visit, Senor Baldermero and I had a conversation about the price of feed and grain and shook hands on a deal that was fair to him and Lancer.
“Hey, Senor Juanito, we should have a drink to seal the deal. The cantina has some excellent oro tequila set aside for special customers.”
It felt good to be in his company in a store that I could hardly move in for all the goods piled up. “Si Senor, I would be honoured to share a bottle of tequila with you, First though, I should get word back to Lancer of my whereabouts.” I looked up from a display of silver spurs.
He smiled and nodded in understanding. “The Patron Senor Lancer, he worries. I will send young Jose Garcia; he has a good pony and knows the way.”
“Tell him to tell them I’m fine but I need to give my back a rest.” I fingered the spurs and the pair that spun best I added to my purchases of a couple of pretty shawls, one each for Maria and Teresa. That’ll ease the scolding I’ll get for missing the evening meal. I paid upfront for them. I didn’t want to add them to the Lancer account; didn’t think ol’ Murdoch would consider them essential ranch supplies.
Since Pardee and his gang were either dead or run off, the cantina was a quiet welcoming place. After a sociable drink with Senor Baldermero he disappeared off to his esposa and home, and I had a plate of tamales and beans. That good Mexican food in my belly and the warm attention Sofia gave me that night sure helped relax the muscles in my back far better than any ointment Doc Jenkins applied.
Ridding back to Lancer, I went over in my head the conversation I was planning to have with Murdoch and Scott. Scott found me unsaddling Barranca.
“So Johnny, is your back nicely rested after an evening in Morro Coyo?”
“Yep Scott, my back is just fine.” I grinned at him as he shook his head.
“If it’s fine, then it’s time you took a turn at mending fences instead of gallivanting about the countryside.” He grabbed me around my neck and whispered in my ear, “Sofia or Bonny?”
I used my elbow to dig him in his ribs, heck this older brother I have got myself is turning out to be an amigo.
Like I expected Maria and Teresa both started in on me about looking after myself and not missing meals, but the pretty shawls did the trick, that and my heartfelt apology. I could see Scott stood in the doorway rolling his eyes.
“Johnny.” Murdoch’s voice thundered through the hacienda, all the way from his desk into the kitchen.
I took Scott’s arm and pushed him ahead of me into the great room. “Hey Murdoch, here I am safe and sound; but we three do need to talk.”
He stood up from behind that big ol’e desk of his a look of what I saw as alarm across his face. What Mrs Hargis said about not breaking his heart came back to me and I knew right then he was afraid of me not wanting to stay at Lancer, of me repeating what Mama did.
Anyway, I told them about my visit to Green River, the bank and how I’d paid off the debts. I pulled out that envelope now a lot worse for wear, stuffed full of receipts and a letter from Gilbert Everett.
They were both looking at me kind ‘a stunned. It was Scott who spoke first. “That’s more than you have said since I first met you.”
I shrugged and waited for Murdoch.
He ran a hand through all those grey hairs of his. “You used your $1000 to pay off Lancer debts?”
I shrugged again. “Never carried around too much cash. That would have been asking for trouble. Gun with bullets, a good horse, and enough dinero for the basics always seemed enough.”
Before they could start in with questions I needed to get the next said. “After Green River, I went to Morro Coyo and reached a deal with Senor Baldermero to supply feed and grain.”
Scott was studying his boots but I could see his smirk. I held my hand up and looked at Murdoch. “I know you call the tune but, I’ve been in range wars. It isn’t all bullets flying and barns burning. It’s about putting the squeeze on the other guy, closing down access to supplies by putting prices up or getting stores to simply refuse to deal.”
Murdoch nodded. “That’s how it starts, intimidation of local townships, blocking up watercourses, cutting fences…”
I smiled and rubbed my hands together. “Does no harm for the Green River Feed and Grain to have some honest competition. Saves a fella from becoming com..place..iment.” I drawled the word out.
“Complacent.” Scott raised an eyebrow at me.
Guess maybe he has underestimated me. If I’m careful I can use that every now and again, especially if we get to playing poker or chess.
“A lesson you learned as a gunfighter, son?” Murdoch had that sad look I’ve sometimes seen in him.
“Yeah, a lesson learned the hard way.” I locked eyes with him. “Also learned competition between trades could just as well be between banks. Was once in a cow town where the cattlemen had set up their own bank.”
Scott reached over to nudge me. “Now I would have thought you weren’t a man who trusted banks.”
“Nothing wrong with banks, Scott, so long as they ain’t being robbed, either by desperadoes or from the inside.”
At that Murdoch sat up. “Are you saying Gilbert Everett is defrauding the bank?”
“Aint got no evidence. Just know me and Miz Hargis both think he has shifty eyes. Heck, amongst other things she called him a carpet bagger. I tell you, Murdoch, that little old lady puts me in mind of that mean old hen of Teresa’s that can peck your hand quicker than I can draw my gun.” I sniffed and felt at a new scar that hen and given me. “Only good for wringing its neck and making polo guisado and use its feathers in a pillow.”
Murdoch allowed himself a smile. “That’s not happening to one of Teresa’s favourites, and I don’t think Mrs Hargis would appreciate being compared to a chicken.”
Scott tapped a finger against the desk. “The suggestion of the cattlemen having their own bank in competition to Everett’s is not without merit. Besides the ranchers, the likes of Mrs Hargis would be potential customers.”
“It weren’t just Miz Hargis who didn’t go along with Everett buying up Lancer debts. There is Doc Jenkins and the undertaker, a Mr Tobias Oliver.” I shuddered when I said his name, undertakers always sizing a body up for how big the box should be.
Scott carried on. “You mentioned Everett had shareholders. Do you know who they are, Murdoch?”
“No, I didn’t know there were any shareholders. Everett inherited the bank from his uncle Hershall Everett about four years ago.”
I watched their faces waiting to see if they’d come to the same conclusion I’d reached after meeting good ol’ Gilbert Everett. “Got to point out Day Pardee only worked for serious money and he sure wasn’t looking to be a rancher. Someone would have paid him a lot of money upfront for those hired guns, with a promise to take everything of value after the job was done.”
Murdoc was good and mad. “By God, Paul was murdered and you and I, Johnny, could just as easily have been shot dead. If I was sure it was Gilbert Everett behind the land pirates…..”
He couldn’t finish his sentence so I did it for him. “You’d hire me to take him out for a gunfighters’ dance?”
“No!” Boy, that man bellowed like a bull caught in wire. “This needs to be done legally, with evidence that will stand up in court.”
Scott added in his views. “I agree Sir. Perhaps the Pinkertons could be engaged. I could make some discrete enquiries through contacts in San Francisco.”
I pursed my lips. “For what it’s worth, I think getting your Cattle Growers Association to withdraw all their cash as soon as possible and set up their own bank should be the first step. Dios, he put the squeeze on Lancer we can at least squeeze back.”
Later that evening I sat myself down on the veranda in the quiet and dark looking at the night sky, sipping some oro tequila I had bought with the last of my $1000. Murdoch pulled up a chair to join me. I watched as he licked salt before he too sipped a glass of tequila, then sucked on a piece of lime.
“Didn’t think tequila was one of your drinks, Murdoch.”
“Ah son, many years ago Cipriano educated me on the difference between cheap mescal and this fine agave.” He clinked his glass against mine. “Have you any of that $1000 left?”
I shook my head. “Couple of dollars, but as from tomorrow I’m going to start trading as a rancher, I guess I’ll be due wages come payday.”
“Johnny, you have more than earned your wages.” He got up and his hand hovered above me then he ran it through my hair. “I’m proud of you, son.”
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