Unexpected Events on a Trip

(X Marks the Spot Challenge-Lancer X Laramie)

By EJ May 2014

 

Thank you Liette for being my beta on my first chapter story.

 

Chapter 1

 

A young man dressed in an eastern style suit stood in the stage depot and nervously eyed the elderly woman talking to the dark-haired gunfighter. Pauls grandmother had warned him about how dangerous the man could be, so he wasnt about to do or say anything to make the already agitated gunfighter any madder. He also knew he would be helpless to save his aunt should the man decide to act violently. Sweat ran down his back, so he pulled on his collar to let some of the heat escape, and sent a silent prayer that they would leave soon. Please without the gunfighter he added.

 

Across the room a petit, older lady was trying to calm the agitated man who was frowning and tapping his gun butt. I dont know Daisy, you sure ya gonna be okay here? Jess looked over her shoulder at the young man standing in the doorway of the stage depot. He looks too young. It came out as a snarl.

 

Nonsense, Jess, my grand-nephew is 19-years-old and quite capable of escorting me to my sisters new home. Daisy crossed her arms over her chest and feigned irritation. She loved the way her adopted son watched over her.

 

I dont like it Daisy, Jess right hand continued its tap on his gun butt, he obviously wasnt convinced. The kid looked too young to take care of himself let alone Daisy.

 

Really Jess, you worry about me too much, Green River seems like a nice town. She had turned and took a few steps toward Paul then hesitated and turned back, Besides my sister insists everyone has been very friendly to her. Unfortunately that statement didnt seem to offer the comfort Daisy had intended.

 

Pauls relief that they would be leaving soon was dashed when it appeared his aunt wasnt ready to go and had turned back to the gunfighter. He gave another tug on his collar.

 

Yeah, but your sisters only been in California for a couple months Jess leaned down to face her eye to eye.

 

Before he could finish his sentence Daisy put her hand on his chest and gave a nudge, Hush, I will be fine. Now you get going and check out the cows Slim sent you here to buy.

 

Still not sure about the kid, Jess reluctantly nodded. However, the glare he aimed at Paul made it plain to the young man that nothing better happen Daisy. Jess bent down, picked up Daisys valise, and ushered her toward the nervous young man.

 

Paul gulped as the pair approached him. He looked to his aunt then to Jess, Dont worry Mr. Harper, I will keep her safe. He was embarrassed at the quiver in his voice.

 

Satisfied that he made the kid nervous Jess growled, You better. Then he gave the kid his patented gunfighter stare, it worked just as he planned. So good in fact that he expected to see a wet spot on the floor where the Paul stood. Jess handed over the valise, satisfied when he saw a slight shaking of the kids hand when he accepted the bag.

 

Daisy tried not to laugh at Pauls expression, and gave Jess a behave yourself glare. She turned to her nephew and offered her arm, Come on Paul, Agatha will be waiting for us.

 

A relieved Paul wanted to run from the stage depot, but instead took his aunts arm and walked out the door, as casually as his shaking legs would allow.

 

A still doubting Jess shook his head as he watched Daisy leave with Paul.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

It had been a hot and exhausting morning running the fence line, and a relieved Scott stood examining the last section of barbed wire. He shook his head, he had to agree with Johnny, its devil wire. At least for now the job was done, or done until Murdoch decided another section needed checking. All he wanted now was to go home and enjoy one of Marias lunches. He was in no mood for a sandwich in a bag today.

 

Scott galloped across the lush green pasture of Lancer. His horse, Ulysses, needed to run and Scott enjoyed the wind blowing in his face. When Ulysses slowed his pace Scott pulled the horse to a walk and scanned the valley. A contented smile graced his features as he looked out on his home. Yes, Lancer was home. It still amazed him how much Murdoch and Johnny had come to mean to him. However, his life was here now and he had to admit he loved it and couldnt imagine living anyplace else.

 

Reining Ulysses to a stop, Scott leaned forward in the saddle to stretch his cramping back. He spotted a stream by the tree line and decided to stop and let Ulysses drink for a few minutes. He bent down at the waters edge and emptied the tepid water from his canteen then refilled it with the cooler water. Scott slowly stood and stretched again, then he moved to a comfortable spot under a tree and enjoyed the shade and slight breeze. The only thing missing during this quiet moment was his brother. When it was just the two of them, Scott could usually get Johnny to talk. If he just let him ramble without asking too many questions, secrets from the past came out.

 

He jumped as his daydreaming was interrupted by the sound of gunfire

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

A hot, tired, and unhappy Jess, well actually a pissed off Jess, rode along the dirt road from Green River. He didnt appreciate the dust the horses hoofs were kicking up and wondered just how much farther to this damn ranch.

 

As he rode his bored mind drifted back to how he ended up in the mess. His partner, Slim, had read an article about a man who owned a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California. The Lancer Ranch owned by a Murdoch Lancer was reported to have a line of high quality stock, so Slim decided buying of a few of these special cows would improve the Sherman herd. Jess couldn't care less about cows, now horses, that was another matter. And, he wondered, why Slim thought it was a good idea to go all the way to California for some dumb cows.

 

Then came the letter from California that sealed Jess fate.

 

The letter was from Daisys sister, Agatha, it was an invitation to visit her and Paul at their new home in Green River. So is was decided Jess would escort Daisy and check out the cattle for Slim. According to Slim, it would be killing two birds with one stone. Jess thought it was crazy butthere was no way Miss Daisy was going all the way to California by herself. Nope, not if Jess Harper had anything to say about it. Which he did loud and clear.

 

So here he was riding along a dusty road, looking for a ranch, and some dumb cows for Slim. Jess was fuming and to make matters worse he definitely didnt think much of the horse he rented at the livery in Green River. Damn nag, Jess growled as the horse tried to brush him against a dead tree on the side of the road. He missed Traveller, the best horse he ever owned and the smartest. Jess smiled remembering how many times Traveller got him home while he slept in the saddle.

 

At the top of yet another ridge Jess stopped. He pulled his hat off and wiped the sweatband, he was covered in dust and sweat was running down his back. Shading his eyes with his hat he looked out on the valley below him. Yeah, it was pretty, nice and green, and some good looking cattle in the pastures. Jess hoped they belonged to the Lancer Ranch. If so, that would mean he had to be close and could get off this damn nag he rented. Off to the north he noticed a stream weaving in and out of the tree line, a perfect place to water the horse and he wouldnt mind a nice cool drink and a rest in the shade for himself.

 

Jess slapped his hat against his leg then settled it on his head. Sighing, he picked up the reins and nudged the horse toward the stream.

 

Then he felt ita burning pain in his backa hard fall to the grounddarkness.

Chapter 2

 

Jolted from his daydream, Scott stood up and looked in the direction the shot came from but didnt see anything. He ran to Ulysses and urged him into a gallop and hoped he wasnt about to run into more trouble than he could handle alone.

 

Up ahead, Scott saw a body lying on the ridge below the road. No one else was in sight but he pulled his gun anyway, one was never too careful out here. He slowly approached the man while scanning the area looking for the shooter. Then he spotted a horse running away from the area, but he couldnt make out the rider. Disgusted, he shook his head, bushwhacker. Thats one thing hed never get used to and it reminded him of something Johnny had told him on their second day at Lancer, when hed commented about back-shooting seeming to be the norm in the West. Johnny had said, You gotta do it to them before they do it to you. Was it what had happened to this man?

 

When Scott reached the body, he holstered his gun and dismounted. The man was face down in the dirt and blood flowed from a wound in his back near the shoulder blade. It looked bad. A shudder ran through Scott as he remembered another wound like that, only it was in his brothers back.

 

Scott started to kneel by the man when he heard a wagon approaching from the other direction. Leaving the stranger, he climbed up the ridge to the road and hoped whoever was driving the wagon was friendly. Still, he rested his right hand on his gun butt and used his hat to shade his eyes while he watched the wagon come nearer. When he recognized Jelly and Walt he replaced his hat and waved. Then he pointed toward an area off the road, Jelly, Walt, help me. Theres a wounded man down there.

 

The two men jumped from the wagon and ran toward their boss. Who is it? Jelly huffed.

 

I dont know, but I saw someone ride off. Scott pointed toward the direction the shooter had taken.

 

The three men made their way down the ridge. Scott knelt by the stranger, We need to get him to the wagon. Jelly, you take his legs and Walt his shoulders. Ill try to hold pressure on the wound. Scott removed the mans jacket and folded it hoping to stop the blood flow.

 

No one had noticed it before, with all the confusion, but when they picked up the injured man, they all saw he wore his gun tied low on his hip. Gunfighter, Walt spoke what the others were thinking.

 

Scott wouldnt let a man die on the side of the road, be he foe or friend. Yet he couldnt help feel concerned, what was this gunfighter doing here? Was he looking for Johnny?

 

Carrying the wounded man up the ridge was a struggle but they finally reached the road. While Jelly and Walt held the man, Scott climbed into the wagon bed and helped them ease the gunfighter next to him. The wound had started bleeding again, Scott looked around and found an empty cloth bag which he pressed to the strangers back.

 

Jelly, hes out cold, go as fast as possible.

 

kay boss, Jelly climbed in the drivers seat.

 

Scott turned to Walt, Take my horse and get Sam.

 

Walt ran down the ridge to fetch Ulysses, mounted up and took off for Green River.

 

Jelly started the team toward Lancer while Scott continued to press the cloth against the wound. Neither of them spoke but it was clear both were wondering about the gunfighter and what his presence here might mean.

 

Scott stared at the man lying beside him. He was young, had black hair, and wore his gun tied low on his thin hipsso like Johnny. He wondered, what if this stranger opened his eyes would he see Johnnys eyes? That same sad, far away look he sometimes saw in his brothers. Was he looking at what his brother had suffered? Johnny had told him during one of their private conversations, When a gunfighters jobs done the man who does the hiring wants him gone. Was that what might have happened to this man? He hadnt heard of any range wars in the valley.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Paul and Daisy pulled up to a small but attractive house on the outskirts of Green River. Agatha was sitting in a rocker on the porch fanning herself. As soon as the carriage stopped by the gate, she stood and waved enthusiastically.

 

Daisy, she called out as she stepped from the porch and hurried to the gate.

 

Paul jumped down and rushed around the carriage to help Daisy. After she was safely on the ground he stood back to avoid being run over by his grandmother. While Agatha wrapped her sister into a hug Paul grabbed the bags and headed for the house.

 

When he reached the porch he stopped and looked back at the two ladies. He smiled, it was like they had never been apart and it made him happy. God knew his grandmother needed some happiness back in her life.

 

The last year had been hard, with the deaths of both his parents, and then his grandfather who had died of cancer. Williams death had been slow and painful and although the doctors did all they could, it had been hopeless. In the end, when his grandfather passed away, it had been a release for William as well as for Agatha and Paul.

 

Paul shook his head. No more dark thoughts, this move was the best for both of them, a get away from the sad memories. He continued into the house.

 

Agatha and Daisy, happy tears in their eyes, parted and then hugged again.

 

Agatha, you are squeezing the air out of me. Daisy teased.

 

Im just so happy to have you here. Agatha chuckled, How about some tea?

 

They walked side by side, talking animatedly and went inside the house.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Sam Sam, Walt called out as he saw the doctors surrey coming up the road. Whew, glad to meet you out here. Been a shooting. They need ya at Lancer. Walt reached out for the horses reins to steady them as he pulled Ulysses up beside the team, Theyre not far ahead of us.

 

I thought Johnny wasnt due back for a few days. Sam worried about his favorite and frequent patient.

 

Naw, some stranger was bushwhacked. Back shot, looks bad. Walt took a breath, Like when Johnny was shot.

 

Shocked, Sam wiped his chin, Walt, go to Green River and tell Val. I can get to Lancer on my own. Not waiting for an answer, Sam flicked the reins and took off down the road while Walt nudged Ulysses and headed for Green River.

 

Chapter 3

 

Murdoch sat at his desk and entered bills into the ledger. He wished Scott was home so he could turn the job over to his son, he smiled at the thought. He put the pen down and stood to stretch his aching back. While he debated waiting for Scott to finish the books he heard the wagon pull up and the yells of excited voices. He looked through the French doors and saw Scott sitting in the back of the wagon. Worried, Murdoch rushed outside, afraid his older son was hurt.

 

Murdoch, get Teresa and Maria. We have an injured man, Scott called out as he jumped from the wagon bed.

 

Upon seeing his son unharmed, relief flooded the older mans heart. He turned as swiftly as he could, headed back inside and called the two women. At the same time, Cip came running from the corral to help Jelly and Scott with the injured man.

 

I sent Walt for Sam, Scott, Jelly and Cip pulled the injured man from the wagon bed while he continued to press the cloth on the wound. Together, they managed to carry the man toward the French doors without jarring him too much.

 

What happened? Murdoch held the door open for the men to carry the unconscious stranger into the Great Room. Follow me. Murdoch lead the way to one of the guest rooms. He opened the door then headed for the bed and pulled back the quilt.

 

By the time the men had placed the stranger on the bed, Teresa had arrived with a basin of steamy water followed by Maria with a bunch of towels.

Murdoch turned to accept the towels and handed them off to Scott. He waited until his ward put the basin onto the table and put his arm around her shoulders to usher her out of the room. Teresa come with me. I dont want you in there, we dont know who he is but before he could continue, she interrupted him.

 

But Murdoch, I can help, she pleaded.

 

I know youre perfectly able to help but I dont want you in there. He gave her his no argument look before he continued, Maria is here and she can handle this till Sam arrives.

 

Murdoch crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Teresa, I mean it, young lady. You are not to go into that room, he ordered as he pointed toward the guest room.

 

Teresa nodded, she knew better than to argue, Alright, Ill go start another pot of hot water. Disappointed, she turned on her heels and headed for the kitchen.

 

As she crossed the Great Room, she saw Sams surrey pull up outside the French doors. Forgetting about the hot water, she rushed outside. Sam, Ill show you where they took him.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

It was turning into a lovely day in Green River. Agatha and Daisy were sitting on the porch enjoying the sweetly scented breeze from Agathas flower garden and drinking tea.

 

Agatha, I am so happy you and Paul have found such a nice place to live. I have been worried about you so much. Daisy sipped her tea, However, I have to admit California is a little further than I expected, I had hoped it would be closer to Laramie.

 

Well, a new land for a new start. I love it here and the people have been so good to us. Agatha giggled, which surprised Daisy.

 

Why are you laughing?

 

Oh, its just that we have some real characters here. Agatha peeked over her teacup. Our sheriff, Agatha placed her cup on the saucer and laughed, Hes well he is unusual to say the least. She leaned toward Daisy and whispered, But I actually like him. For all his scruffiness, he is an honorable man.

 

Daisy couldnt believe her ears. Scruffiness? she asked in mock horror. Why Agatha, you were always so prim and proper, she added with a grin.

 

Well, I have learned out here not to judge by appearances.

 

Thats very true. I learned that living at the Sherman Ranch. Daisy sighed, Jess is a perfect example of dont stop at the outside because the inside may hide something very special.

 

Your Jess is that very special isnt he? Agatha reached out to pat Daisys hand.

 

Jess has had a very hard life; I told you he used to be a gunfighter, havent I? His family was killed when he was a boy. She took a breath and placed her hand over her heart, He joined the Confederacy.

 

Daisy shook her head at sisters shocked look, No, I dont blame him for it Anyway, he was captured and had a bad time in a Union prison.

 

Daisy reached over and poured another cup of tea to give herself a moment. After the war he drifted, hired out his gun, got into trouble. She paused, a sad and faraway look in her eyes, He was even in prison for awhile. Daisy sighed, He is at the Sherman Ranch now and has made a new life for himself.

 

She smiled at Agathas expression, He and Slim have turned into wonderful fathers for Mike.

 

I can tell he is your favorite. Agatha didnt even try to hide her enjoyment that Daisy had found a new family.

Oh and just how can you tell? Daisy asked.

 

Agatha smiled and reached for the teapot, Hes the one you talk about the most.

 

She added more tea to her cup and reached across the table to add to Daisys cup, And hes the one who needs you the most.

 

Yes, I think of him as my son now. Daisy lifted her cup in a salute, I love him very much and I know he loves me, she couldnt hold back the smirk, but like most men, he shows it in actions more than words.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Scott and Cip were in the process of undressing the wounded man while Maria arranged some supplies on the table by the bed. Murdoch stood by the door to intercept Teresa when she returned with more hot water. But, instead of hot water, she came back with Sam who almost knocked Jelly down in his haste to get into the guest room.

 

Hey Doc, they waitin for ya, Jelly said and stepped aside as Sam rushed past him without even acknowledging him. Well, I guess ya dont be needin me, he added promptly leaving to see if Teresa, who had been sent back to the kitchen needed his help.

 

Sam pushed into the room and moved to the bed, Finish undressing him then turn him on his stomach. He swiftly put his medical bag on the floor, beside the table, then moved to the bowl of steamy water and washed his hands thoroughly. As he reached to take a towel from Marias hands he heard a double gasp. They both turned toward the bed and saw Scott and Murdoch staring at the mans chest.

 

Whats wrong? We need to get that bullet out. He motioned for Maria to prepare his instruments and moved to the bed to see what was causing the problem. When he looked at his patient, he saw what Scott and Murdoch were staring at. On the young mans chest were knife and gunshot scars, with a very bad one running over his heart. What has this man been through, he mumbled and shook his head. He felt like he was looking at Johnnys scars all over again.

 

Turn him over. Sam took the probe Maria was handing him while Scott and Murdoch rearranged the patient as best they could.

 

Scott swallowed the lump in his throat, the man had been whipped and there were more knife and gunshot scars on his back as well.

 

Murdoch felt his knees start to give out, So like Johnny, he mumbled as he involuntarily stepped back and sat in the chair by the bed. He bowed his head and stared at the floor, unable to even continue to look at the young man lying in the bed a young man who reminded him so much of his Johnny that it hurt.

 

Either help or move out of my way, Murdoch. Do you want this man to die? Sam knew this was hard on his friend but he couldnt worry about that nowa mans life was in his hands and he needed to act quickly if he wanted to save the injured stranger.

 

Murdoch shook himself and got up to stand beside Scott. He wanted to leave but found his feet refused to move. He exchanged a worried look with Scott. Without needing to speak, he was aware Scott was thinking the same things he was. Had Johnny suffered like this man was now suffering? Was life as a gunfighter always as harsh as it seemed?

 

And the worst thought of all, was this man here to call out Johnny?

 

Chapter 4

 

Val was doing his usual walk around town just to make sure all was quiet. He had made the habit of changing the time and direction so no one would see a pattern to his rounds. He had noticed a few strangers in town, so he wanted to check them out, one was a traveling salesman and two looked like drifters. Val smirked when he saw the salesman walk into Higgs store. Good luck, he mumbled as he went past the store.

 

When he walked by the saloon Val peeked over the batwing doors. As expected, one of the drifters was playing cards and the other was leaning against the bar, enjoying a cold beer. They looked harmless, so Val moved on but decided hed still keep an eye on them hed check his pile of wanted posters once hed got back in his office.

 

At his turn around spot on the edge of town he noticed that the Widow Reed was sitting on her porch with a woman hed never seen before. He liked the lady and her grandson, they were nice people. Val paused at the gate, Evenin Maam, everything okay?

 

Yes, Sheriff. Please do come in, Id like you to meet my sister, Daisy Cooper. Agatha waved for Val to come to the porch.

 

Val removed his hat as he pushed through the gate and stepped onto the porch. Howdy Maam, pleased ta meet ya.

 

Agatha pointed to a chair, Please join us.

 

Thank ya Maam, Val nodded to Agatha.

 

Its a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff. Daisy pointed at the teapot, Would you like some tea? She lowered her head so he wouldnt see her grin at his shocked expression.

 

Uh no thanks Maam. Im not much of a tea drinker. He placed his hat on the floor under his chair.

 

My sister is visiting from Laramie. Its been several years since we have been together. Agatha explained while she picked up the plate and offered Val a cookie.

 

Thanks Maam. Val took one. He had added this stop to his walk around and had enjoyed her baked goods before. He especially liked her oatmeal cookies.

 

Paul, Agatha called.

 

When Paul came to the door Agatha asked, Would you please bring the sheriff a cup of coffee?

 

Yes, Grandmother, Paul nodded to Val.

 

Val cleared his throat, Ya gonna be in town for long? He really hated small talk and wished Paul would hurry up with the coffee. He was saved when a few moments later Paul reappeared with a steaming cup of coffee.

 

Thanks. Val sipped the coffee and took another bite of cookie.

 

Daisy is staying for a few weeks; I am hoping to show her the area. Agatha knew Val was uncomfortable so she offered him another cookie.

 

He accepted, grateful that the ladies were carrying the conversation.

 

California is different from Wyoming, it is so green here, Daisy explained as she gave Val a good look. In a way, he reminded her of Jess.

 

Where in Wyoming, Miss Daisy? Val was curious.

 

Laramie.

 

Laramie? I have a friend in Laramie, maybe you know him. His name is Jess Harper.

 

Daisy started coughing; the tea she was sipping went down the wrong pipe. She placed her teacup on the table before she spilled it on the tablecloth.

 

Val and Agatha started to go to her but she raised her free hand and shook her head. When she could finally talk, Im fine, really, your question just surprised me.

 

Sorry Maam, guess a lady like you wouldn't know someone like Jess. Val wished he had never mentioned Jess, it just slipped out. How would this sweet little lady ever meet up with a gunfighter?

 

No, Sheriff, its alright. She cleared her throat, As a matter of fact, I do know Jess.

 

Vals surprise couldnt have been greater and it made Daisy chuckle. While Agatha hid her smile behind her hand and watched both her sister and the sheriff. He was in for quite a surprise, no doubt.

 

Daisy was enjoying herself, You see, I live at the Sherman Ranch and Overland Stage Relay Station with Slim Sherman and Jess. Slim and Jess are partners. She smiled at Vals shock, They hired me when they adopted young Mike. His folks had been killed by renegade Indians. I take care of all of them. It was obvious to everyone that she was very proud of her little family.

 

Val slapped his leg, Well Ill be, glad to hear hes settled and doin' good. Val wasnt sure just how much the woman knew about Jess so decided to wait to see where the conversation would go. It didnt take long to find out.

 

I know about Jess past, that he was a gunfighter. But that is behind him now and She looked Val in the eye, I love him as a son.

 

Damn he didnt see that coming, but he recovered swiftly, Good for him and when ya get home, tell him Val said, Hey.

 

She almost laughed out loud at Vals surprised expression, Actually, he went to a local ranch to look at some cows but will be back sometime this evening. Daisy was enjoying getting the best of this man and silently agreed with Agatha about him being a good man. But how could it be otherwise he was Jess friend after all.

 

Val grinned, they sure got him good. Well, you tell him he best get himself to my office. He toasted Daisy with his coffee cup, I have a surprise for him.

 

Well, ladies, thank ya for the coffee and cookies. Pleasure meeting ya, Miss Daisy. Val grabbed his hat and got up, Gotta get back to work. Dont want folks thinking Im lollygaggin.

 

At the gate he turned and tipped his hat and resumed his rounds.

 

When he completed his rounds, he went back to his office and opened the door. Now was a good time to check his stack of Wanted Posters. As he was about to step inside, he turned one last time to look around the street. He saw Walt, one of the Lancer Ranchs hands, race into town on what strangely looked like Scott Lancers horse. That meant only one thing disaster.

 

Well, there goes a peaceful day, he said aloud as he closed the door and waited on the porch.

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Dios, he hated towns and couldnt wait to get out of this one. With that thought in mind, Johnny headed for the livery to fetch Barranca, relieved the meetings had ended early. Now, all he wanted to do was go home. At least the Barkleys had put him up so he wasnt stuck at a hotel in town. Besides, the Barkleys fed him good. Victoria and Jarrod always made him feel welcome and this time even Nick was easier to be around. He still bellowed but not all the time. He guessed Heath was helping to mellow the man. However, Johnny freely admitted with Scott that Audra was a much better view across the table than those cigar smoking friends of Murdochs.

 

When Johnny entered the livery, Ben called to him, You here to get that spoiled horse of yours? The man stood by a stall with his right hand on his hip and waved a bandaged left hand in Johnnys face, Tried to take a bite outa me.

 

Yeah. He been giving you trouble? Johnny grinned. He knew Barranca didnt like being left in a strange stable and wasnt above letting everyone know about it.

 

Thats for sure. Next time you come to town, I hope ya taught him some manners.

 

Johnny knew Ben wasnt really angry but he sure didnt look happy about his sore hand. This was just a game they played whenever the younger Lancer was in Stockton. Ben knew of Johnnys past but after spending some time with the ex-gunfighter, he had realized that not all the stories were true. Johnny was a surprisingly decent man for one with a reputation such as his.

 

Okay, Ill get him outta your hair. Johnny held up his hands and moved to the stall. Come on, Boy, time to go home.

 

After Barranca was saddled, Johnny led him over to the hitching rail. He pulled out some coins and handed them to Ben.

 

The livery owner nodded when he saw the extra coins, Thanks Johnny. You be careful getting home. Then he turned toward Barranca and pointed an uninjured finger at the horse, And you better behave yourself or next time, I wont give you any extra ration of oats.

 

Barranca snorted and shook his head, clearly unhappy at being scolded. Johnny shrugged his shoulders at Ben and hopped into the saddle.

 

Once out of town, Johnny let Barranca run off some energy. After awhile he pulled up the horse, How about we stop in Green River to see Val? Maybe I can get him to buy me a drink.

 

Barranca nodded his head up and down. Johnny laughed, Maybe I could even get you some sweet oats at the livery. Barranca settled into an easy gait as the pair headed home.

 

Chapter 5

 

An exhausted doctor walked into the Great Room and dropped onto the sofa. It had taken a while to get the bullet out because it was trapped between the shoulder blade and a rib and Sams back ached from bending over his patient.

 

Murdoch and Scott sat in the Great Room waiting for Sam. They were working on their second round of drinks. When he saw the doctors face, Scott rose and went to the drink cart. Without a word, he poured a glass of whiskey and handed it to Sam who drowned it in one gulp.

 

I asked Jelly to sit with him. Hell call if something happens, Sams voice was weary.

 

Scott stood again and walked to the cart but this time he brought the bottle and refilled everyones glasses.

 

While the men waited, Maria and Teresa were in the kitchen fixing supper. Murdoch had told Maria to go home and get some rest, but she had insisted that she needed to help Teresa with the meal.

 

Everyone was quiet in the Great Room as they all wondered about the man in the guest room. Who was he? Was he here to settle accounts with Johnny? Why was he bushwacked and by who? Unfortunately, some of those questions could only be answered by one person and that person was still unconscious.

 

Their quiet musings were interrupted when they heard a horse ride up, quickly followed by a knock at the door. Scott rose and waved to Teresa, who was coming from the kitchen to answer the door, that he would get it.

 

When he opened the door a very angry Val barged in, What the hell is going on? he moved into the Great Room. Well? Walt said a gunfighter was bushwhacked and y'all brought him here.

 

Hes in a guest room, Jelly is watching him. Murdoch rose and motioned for Val to follow. The three men followed Murdoch to the sick room.

 

When the door opened Jelly jumped up, He aint moved but did mutter something I couldnt understand. Jelly stepped aside and Val stared at the unconscious figure on the bed, eyes widening in surprise.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Agatha and Daisy chatted while they prepared supper and Paul obligingly set the table for them. Im worried about Jess. I thought he would be back by now. Daisy nervously looked toward the door. What if something happened to him?

 

Agatha put her arm around her sister, Im sure he was just delayed, maybe they invited him to supper, she tried to sound confident. Besides I am sure there are details to work out for the sale of cows. Of course, Agatha was clueless about cows and ranches but wanted to reassure her sister. I bet he will show up when its time for dessert. Especially since you made his favorite apple pie.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Damn Jess! What the hell happened to you?

 

You know this man? A very shocked Murdoch stared from Val to the man on the bed and back to Val.

 

Val turned to face Murdoch, Hell yes, I know him. His names Jess Harper.

 

How do yo know him? Is he after Johnny? Murdochs voice was harsh and angry. So many things were running through his mind, worry and fear for his younger son the foremost.

 

The three of us rode together awhile. So, no Murdock, he aint after Johnny. Hes a friend, Val growled as he moved past Murdoch to stand by the bed. He turned, How bad?

 

This last comment was addressed to Sam who stepped beside Val and rested a hand on the sheriffs shoulder, Its bad, he lost a lot of blood and is starting a fever. Ive done everything I could and now, we can only wait for him to wake up.

 

Val turned and faced Murdoch, Jess has a friend staying in Green River, send someone to bring her out here.

 

It was an order and Murdoch wasnt happy about being ordered around in his own home. Sam moved to Murdochs side to intervene if necessary.

 

Scott stepped between Murdoch and the sheriff, Ill bring her Val, where is she? Scott wanted to defuse the tension in the room before Murdoch erupted.

 

Her name is Daisy Cooper and shes staying with her sister, Agatha Reed. Mrs. Reed and her grandson bought ol man Hansons place. Val said, watching Jess chest rise and fall and hoping he wouldnt see it stop.

 

Scott nodded, Alright, I know where it is. Ill be back as soon as possible. He turned to Sam, Do you need anything?

 

Sam looked toward Scott and shook his head, Just put a note on my door that Ill be at Lancer.

 

Chapter 6

 

Daisy sat on the porch and stared in the direction Jess took earlier in the day, she prayed to see him ride up. The town was closing for the night, but she didnt notice the several people who walked by and waved. She was lost to the world, worried as she was about Jess.

 

Agatha had sent Daisy to sit outside while she finished cleaning up after supper. When she was done she joined her sister in her vigil on the front porch. A little later Paul came out carrying a tray with a coffee pot and thee cups. Daisy nodded thanks then looked back to the street.

 

Paul poured a cup and handed it to his aunt, Please Aunt Daisy, dont worry, everything will be alright. I am sure hell be here soon. He tried to sound confident but her worry was infecting him and he was no longer sure it would turn out alright. He still had mixed feelings about Jess. The gunfighter frightened him and he didnt understand why his aunt seemed so fond of the man.

 

Agatha reached out to hold Daisys hand, Im sorry, I wish there was something I could do. It broke her heart when she saw a tear slide down Daisys cheek.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Scott drove the carriage into Green River, and since he passed Sams place first he stopped to pin the note on the door to the office.

 

The town was quietly settling down for the night with just a few people on the street, some waved as Scott passed and he nodded back. At the edge of town he saw the Reed house, and could make out two ladies and a young man sitting on the front porch in the lantern light. He stopped the carriage in the street, got off, and tied the horses to the hitching rail and walked to the gate, Excuse me ladies but is one of you Daisy Cooper?

 

Suddenly afraid, Daisy choked back the tears, I am.

 

My name is Scott Lancer. Your friend, Mr. Harper is at our ranch Scott removed his hat.

 

Before he could continue Daisy stood up and rushed down the walk to the gate.

 

Is he alright?

 

Too late Scott realized how distraught the woman was; he opened the gate and went to her. He took her hand and put his arm around her shoulders. He has been shot but the doctor is with him. I am here to take you to our ranch so you can be with him.

 

Agatha moved to Daisys side, Go on Daisy, Paul and I will bring your things tomorrow.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

It had been a long day in the saddle and Johnny had settled Barranca for the night. He was not looking forward to sleeping on the ground but was too exhausted to continue and he didnt want to risk Barranca stepping in a hole.

 

After he gathered some wood and started a fire, he settled down for a supper of jerky and coffee. Then he leaned back on his saddle and stared into the fire. Boy, he was getting spoiled and he sure missed his comfortable bed.

 

His thoughts veered to his family. What were Scott and Murdoch were doing right now? He laughed, they were probably playing a game of chess or maybe they were both reading a good book. Did they miss him? He missed them, and Marias cooking, and Teresas deserts, and

 

After a jaw cracking yawn Johnny drifted off to sleep.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

When Scott pulled up to the well-lit hacienda two hands approached and took charge of the team. He walked around to Daisys side and helped her down.

 

Once inside the Great Room he introduced her. Scott motioned to Murdoch, Maam, my father Murdoch Lancer. Then he turned to Sam, Dr. Sam Jenkins. He is the doctor taking care of Jess. Finally he motioned to Val, I guess you already know our sheriff.

 

Gentlemen. Daisy nodded and turned to face Sam, How badly is he hurt? She wasnt going to beat around the bush; she wanted information and wanted it now.

 

Sam ushered her to a chair, Let me explain and then I will take you to see him.

 

She settled into the chair, Thank you Doctor, but I was a nurse during the war so dont hold anything back.

 

Relieved to hear that, Sam knew she would be helpful caring for Jess. Its bad. He was shot in the back and the bullet was wedged between the shoulder blade and a rib. He waited but she remained calm. He lost a lot blood and is still unconscious, probably due to the fall after he was shot.

 

When he finished, Daisy stood up, I want to see him.

 

Sam rose and escorted her to the sick room. When they entered the room, Jelly jumped in his seat. Ya scared me, Doc. Shouldnt come in silent-like like this. Then, he noticed Sam wasnt alone.

 

Jelly, Id like you to meet Jess friend, Mrs. Daisy Cooper.

 

Pleased ta meet ya. Maam, Ill help ya any way I can. He pointed to the chair hed just vacated, Please, sit down.

 

Thank you Jelly. Why dont you get some rest, Ill stay with him. Daisy patted Jellys arm as she moved to the bed.

 

Jelly looked to Sam who nodded. Ill be in the kitchen ifn ya need me. He smiled at Daisy and left the room.

 

Daisy sat on the edge of the bed and took Jess hand in hers, Im here Jess, please wake up. She leaned down and kissed his cheek, and whispered, Please Jess wake up for me.

 

When she sat up two deep blue, unfocused eyes were staring in the direction of her voice.

 

There was a collective gasp in the room. Sam rushed to the other side of the bed, Jess, Im Dr. Sam Jenkins, I have been taking care of you. Are you in much pain?

 

A confused Jess blinked and focused on Daisy then turned toward Sam, What happened? Where am I?

 

Daisy wiped the tears from her eyes, Jess you are at the Lancer Ranch. Scott Lancer heard a shot and found you on the side of the road. He brought you here.

 

Jess nodded and drifted back to sleep before anyone could ask another question.

 

I think we should let him sleep, Sam said. Ill go ask Jelly to stay with him a few more minutes so we can talk.

 

Daisy nodded and sat in the chair while Sam went to the kitchen to get Jelly.

 

Shortly after, Jelly returned with a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and a plate with a sandwich in the other. He went to Daisy and whispered, Docs waitin for you outside and dont ya worry none, Miss Daisy, Ill call ya ifn he wakes up.

 

As soon as she left, Jelly made himself comfortable in the chair and started eating his sandwich while keeping an eye on Jess.

 

Chapter 7

 

When Daisy stepped outside the guest room, Sam was there, waiting to take her to the Great Room. Val, Scott and Murdoch were already there and as soon as Scott saw her, he got up and moved to her side, offering her his arm and guiding her to a comfortable chair.

 

Are you alright Daisy?

 

Yes, Scott, Thank you. It is just that its been a long day, she said as she sat and relaxed into the chair.

 

Finally, once everyone was seated, Sam turned to Daisy, I couldnt help but notice Jess has many scars, can you tell me about them?

 

She stared at him and closed her eyes briefly, fighting the tears that threatened to fall on her cheeks. Sam quickly added, I need to know if any past injuries could cause problems with the one just sustained.

 

Everyone waited while Daisy gathered her thoughts. Murdoch made the first move, Would you like a glass of Sherry, Mrs. Cooper? When she nodded he went to the drinks cart and poured glasses for everyone.

 

Daisy accepted the glass from Murdoch and took a sip, then she waited till everyone had their own drinks in their hands and Murdoch had returned to his seat. She cleared her throat, Jess hasnt had an easy life.

 

This was proving more difficult than she thought as she was uncomfortable telling strangers about Jess but, as a former nurse, she knew Sam wasnt asking just because he was curious. She sighed and began the sad story. The burn scars on his hands were from trying to save his family after the Bannister Gang set fire to their cabin A tear ran down her cheek, his family was inside, she choked, swallowed and took a sip to give her courage. They were burned alive.

 

Sam patted her hand and waited for the rest of the story while Murdoch and Scott exchanged a look. They had the feeling this it was going to be a long night.

 

Jess rescued one of his brothers and a sister but couldnt get the rest of the family. He was just fifteen but he went after the Bannisters nonetheless. He hunted for them but never found them so he finally went back to Texas.

 

Daisy took another sip of her drink and set the glass on the table, Jess met up with some of his childhood friends and they talked him into enlisting in the Texas Regiment with them. She wrung her hands, He told me he slipped a piece of paper with 17 written on it in his shoes so when they asked if he was over 17 he didnt have to lie. He was too young to go to war.

 

Scott felt his heart drop; he knew firsthand what war was like. He had seen boys going to war and was almost afraid to hear what happened to Jess.

 

He and his friends were captured. During a failed escape attempt, Jess was whipped as a punishment. Daisy reached for her glass and drained it. When she placed the empty glass on the table, everyone noticed that her hand shook.

 

Scott almost dropped his glass, the story was hitting too close to home. Jess and he shared a horrendous experience, and now, through Daisys story, he was reliving it all. The worst part was that Jess had been so young. Scott cringed at another thought, Jess was Johnnys age.

 

Murdoch stood and went to the cart and this time he returned with the liquor bottles. He refilled Daisys glass and offered refills to the rest of them. He needed to do something and he needed another drink. Jess story was far too close to Johnnys own story, both boys had been hurt, and both left alone to fend for themselves at such a very young age.

 

Sam and Val sat quietly. This was turning into a very emotional night for Scott and Murdoch. Even though Val knew most of the story it was hard listening to a sweet, little ol lady do the telling.

 

After an uncomfortable silence Daisy continued, During the war Jess was a sharpshooter. Once it was over and without job skills he went on the drift. He exchanged a rifle for a handgun and became a gunfighter to make a living. She bowed her head, He told me once that he didnt know how to do anything else.

 

Scott and Murdoch exchanged another look. Johnny had said the same thing.

 

Is that how you met him, Val? Murdochs voice cracked.

 

Yep, were both Texans and ran into each other while heading home after the war. Val looked at Murdoch and saw the pain in the mans eyes. We worked the border and Mexico and Johnny Val stopped in mid-sentence. He didnt want to say any more as he knew Johnny kept some secrets from his father and brother.

 

Vals words had just stabbed Murdoch in the heart.

 

Sam realized Murdoch was in a bad way and decided he needed to intervene, Daisy, how did Jess get the wound over his heart?

 

Jess went to warn Marshal McGary that the Buckner Gang was planning to rescue Vern Buckner, the marshals prisoner. When he found the marshal and his deputies, they were under attack. So he joined the gunfight and helped drive Clint Buckner and his men away.

 

Daisy sighed and Sam noticed tears flowing down her cheek. He took out his handkerchief and handed it to her.

 

She nodded thanks and took it from Sam and dabbed her eyes.

 

Are you sure you can go on? Sam placed a hand over Daisys. This was becoming harder and harder, not only for Daisy but for the Lancers and Val and himself as well.

 

Yes, Im alright. Daisy said and after moment she continued, When the marshal turned to thank Jess he saw that Jess was slumped over. Daisy dabbed her eyes again. Jess fell backwards into the lake, thats when the marshal saw he had been shot in the heart.

 

How did he survive? Sam was amazed. By all accounts, the man should be dead.

 

The bullet was lodged next to his heart. She hesitated, Its a long story but the marshal finally got a doctor for Jess. Daisy looked up at Sam, We almost lost him.

 

Murdoch gulped down his drink. He couldnt take anymore, Sam, its late. I think we all need to get some sleep. We can continue this in the morning. He rose and waited.

 

Everyone seemed relieved at Murdochs intervention. Sam and Scott understood all too well why Murdoch needed to end the evening. And Daisy was obviously near the end of her strength.

 

Daisy, Ill show you to the guest room next to Jess room, Scott stood and held out his hand to her.

 

Im just down the hall, Sam added, clearing his throat. So if you need anything don't hesitate to come get me. He rose and nodded to Daisy, and then he turned and headed for his room.

 

Daisy took Scotts hand, she felt drained. A good nights sleep would help everyone, then she remembered and stopped in her tracks, I told Jelly I would relieve him.

 

No, Maam. Ill sit with him. If he wakes up it should be to a familiar face, Val got up and marched resolutely toward Jess room, intent on staying awake, no matter what.

 

 

*The piece of paper in the shoe trick was one used in the Civil War. This information is from Pat2. She learned this fact on her visit to Gettysburg.

 

Chapter 8

 

Val slumped in the chair by the bed, he took off his boots, and propped his feet on the bed by Jess feet. This evening had been exhausting, he was shocked when he learned about the bullet to the heart. Damn Jess. he mumbled.

 

While he watched his friend sleep, Val wondered who bushwhacked Jess and why. Hell, who knew Jess was in the area? He didnt and he knew Johnny didnt know Jess was here.

 

Then he remembered the drifters in town, too bad he didnt have time to check the wanted posters. Maybe there was a past between them and Jess. Maybe they saw him in town and waited for Jess in ambush. So many maybes, but tomorrow he would go into town and check them out.

 

A small moan roused Val from his pondering, he lowered his feet and reached out and touched Jess forehead. Hey Jess, wake up boy. Val moved his hand to Jess shoulder and gently shook, Wake up Jess.

 

Slowly two deep blue eyes opened and looked toward a voice, Val

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Val leaned forward so Jess could see him better, Yeah Jess, its me. Stay with me boy, Im gonna get the Doc. Val nudged Jess again, Stay awake.

When it seemed Jess would keep his eyes open, Val rushed to the door, opened it and call out, Sam, Sam, come on, Jess is awake.

 

Daisy heard the yell and grabbed the robe Teresa loaned her and ran to the door. When she opened it Daisy nearly collided with Sam as he hurried to Jess room.

 

Sam reached out to keep Daisy from falling, Sorry. He took her arm and ushered her to Jess room. They found Val beside Jess, he was talking to the wounded man, Sams here, just stay with me Jess.

 

Sam went to the opposite side of the bed and sat next to his patient, Jess, look at me. When Jess turned toward Doc, Sam checked his eyes, then reached for Jess arm and checked his pulse. How do you feel?

 

Thirsty. Jess croaked.

 

Val stepped out of the way as Daisy moved to the bed with a glass of water. Here Jess, just a few sips. She put her hand behind his head and lifted enough so Jess could drink.

 

When she pulled the glass away he tried to raise his hand to stop her. No Jess, not too much. She placed the glass on the bedside table.

 

Val leaned over Daisys shoulder, Jess, do you know what happened?

 

Just riding along looking for He seemed confused for a minute, looking for a ranch.

 

Yeah, what else? Val moved to sit on the bed when Daisy slipped out of the way.

 

I was going down to the creek to water the horsethenI was knocked off the horse.

 

Jess raised his head, I didnt see who shot me. He looked around the room, Where am I?

 

Sam pushed Jess back down on the pillow, Scott Lancer found you and brought you here. He saw someone riding away but couldnt tell who it was.

 

I dont know anybody here. Jess raised his head and looked for Daisy, Daisy

 

She moved so he could see her, Im fine, Im in the next room. Dont worry.

 

Okay. He laid back and closed his eyes.

 

Jess, did you see anyone in town that looked familiar? Val hoped that he had.

 

Nope, just Daisys nephew. Jess opened his eyes, Still think hes too young.

 

Daisy smiled, Hes not too young, youre just not trusting enough. She was relieved that he could tease about Paul.

 

Well there is someone you know here. Val drawled.

 

Yeah, who? Jess asked confused as to who he could possibly know this far north in California.

 

Val grinned, Johnny

 

Chapter 9

 

Damn, didnt know Madrid was workin this far north. Then Jess grinned, How does that work now with you being a sheriff and Johnny well bein what he is? Jess pointed to the badge on Vals shirt.

 

It was Vals turn to laugh, Well it seems our amigo had it all wrong, his papi didnt throw them out after all. His mama stole him and lied to him all those years.

 

What a bi! Jess growled, then gulped and looked at Daisy, Sorry.

 

Its alright, Jess, She smiled at the youngs embarrassment. I imagine this comes as quite a surprise.

 

Val took up the story. Yep his ol mans been hunting for him all along, even sent the Pinks after him. Val shook his head, Good thing too, they got to him just in time. He paused; it was still rough thinking of Johnny almost He was standing in front of a firing squad, he almost choked on the words.

 

What? A firing squad? Jess said, hardly believing what hed just heard. What happened?

 

Well, I guess hell tell you himself. It was close, very close. But hes home and safe now. Oh, and he goes by Lancer now, not Madrid. Val smiled thinking about how both the boys finally had a chance at living a normal life.

 

Hey, I hear youre doing good, Jess. Been told you even have a partner in a ranch and relay station.

 

Yep, and Slim and me adopted Mike after his folks got killed. Jess looked up at Daisy again, And we have the best lady in the world taking care of all of us.

 

So, Doc, when can I get outta this bed? Jess turned his gunfighter glare on Sam.

 

That doesnt work on me. Johnny has tried and failed so just give it up young man, Sam smirked. And you will stay in that bed until I tell you otherwise.

 

Sam turned to Val, He reminds me of another troublesome patient of mine.

 

Val laughed. Sorry Doc, but those two never did like bein tied to a bed, no matter how bad hurt they were.

 

I can attest to that, Daisy replied, the voice of experience. Jess is the worlds worst when it comes to being sick or hurt.

 

Thats just great. It wasnt bad enough with one and now I have two of them. Sam pointed his finger at Jess, I dont put up with it from Johnny and I wont with you, so behave yourself.

 

Daisy didnt even try to hide the smile. Dont worry Sam, he will behave, she gave her behave yourself glare at Jess, Wont you?

 

Yes, Maam. Jess said, dipping his head. He knew when he was outnumbered.

 

Val couldnt help himself and started to laugh again.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Once Sam and Daisy had gone back to bed, at least for a couple of hours, Val and Jess talked until the young man drifted off.

 

Val tried to sleep in the chair by Jess bed but he couldnt get comfortable enough to drop off. So when he heard Murdochs voice he headed for the kitchen and hoped for some of Marias coffee.

 

Good morning Sheriff. Did you get any sleep?

 

Val sat in the chair opposite Murdoch, Not much, Jess woke up so Sam and Daisy were with him for awhile. Guess the commotion didn't wake yall up. Val accepted the coffee Maria set in front of him. Thanks Maria.

 

She smiled and went back to her stove to stir the eggs.

 

No, didnt hear a thing. Why do you think we put him in a downstairs room? Murdoch sipped his coffee to hide his smile.

How about you Scott? Murdoch asked his son as he entered the kitchen and took a coffee cup Maria handed to him.

 

Thanks, smells good and Im hungry. Scott winked at Maria.

 

No, I didnt hear anything. Did I miss something? Scott sat in the chair next to Val.

 

Jess woke up. Told him about Johnny. Was a real surprise. Val took a sip of coffee, and laughed. He aint too happy Sam is making him stay in bed.

 

Oh no, not another one! Scott said as he shook his head, If were lucky Johnny will stay healthy. Scott joked.

 

Dont even kid about it Scott. Murdoch dreaded the thought. Two ex-gunfighters in the same house was bad enough but both injured would be more than he could take.

 

Well gotta head back to town. Wanna check up on some things. Send someone if yall need me. Val finished his coffee, nodded to Maria and headed out the kitchen door.

 

Well this is getting interesting. Scott toasted Murdoch with his coffee cup.

 

Not funny, Son

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Val looked for the drifters as he rode through town. He didn't see them so he supposed they must be sleeping it off somewhere. He dropped off his horse at the livery and headed for his office.

 

On the office door was tacked a note. Val pulled it off and saw that it was from Agatha asking about Jess. He decided hed go see her after hed checked the wanted posters-who knows; maybe he would get a few oatmeal cookies.

 

He made himself a cup of pan-fried coffee and sat at his desk, amid a pile of papers and posters. After fifteen minutes of shuffling through the posters, he had found nothing but he still had a bad feeling. Maybe they werent wanted in California. He would wire some friends in Texas and see if they were wanted there, that is, after he rested a bit. He didnt have any names and not much of a description.

 

Within minutes, he was fast asleep until a knock on the door roused him. Come in, he yelled, hurrying to remove his booted feet from his desk and pretending to be busy reading a report.

 

Paul held the door for his grandmother as they entered the office. Agatha got right to the point, Sorry to bother you, Sheriff Crawford, but is Jess alright?

 

Val jumped up and offered Agatha a chair, Yes, Maam. He was awake for awhile. Hell just need to heal up.

 

He noticed Paul seemed nervous, and remembered Jess comments abut Paul being too young. Jess could be pretty intimidating when he wanted, just like Johnny. So, he took pity on the young man. Sam wants him to stay in bed so hell be at Lancer for awhile.

 

Paul immediately seemed at ease; Val had rightly guessed Jess had put the fear of the gunfighter in the boy. Seems Daisy means more to Jess than he first thought.

 

I can give you directions to the ranch if you want to check on them.

 

Thank you Sheriff. I would appreciate that. Paul is a very good driver and I did promise to bring Daisy some of her things.

 

Val grabbed a pencil and hunted for a blank piece of paper, finally he gave up and tore off the corner of an old poster. He scribbled the directions and handed it to Paul.

 

The kid looked confused so Val told him the directions. Paul borrowed the pencil and made a few notations.

 

Thank you again Sheriff. We will go now and make arrangements for the surrey.

 

There goes my oatmeal cookies, though Val as he watched Paul escort his grandmother out of the office. He couldnt help but smile as he noticed the frown on Pauls face when the young man turned to face him before closing the door. He was sure Paul wasnt very happy about the prospect of meeting Jess again, injured or otherwise.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Johnny rode into Green River just in time to see an older lady and a young kid leave Vals office. Barranca stopped in front of the sheriffs office, a spot he knew well. Johnny dismounted and whispered in the horses ear, Youre too damn smart. You know that, dont ya? Then he loosened the cinch and headed into the office.

 

Hey Val, ya got a new girlfriend? Aint she a little old for you? Johnny plopped in the chair in front of Vals desk and put his feet on the desk.

 

No she aint a girlfriend, shes a lady and new in town. Matter of fact youre gonna be meeting her soon. And get yer damn feet off my desk.

 

Johnny looked at Val more carefully and noticed the smug look on his friends face. It was never a good sign. Okay, out with it. Whats up?

 

Not much, just that a gunfighter got bushwhacked on Lancer land. He didnt have to wait long for his amigos reaction.

 

A gunfighter? Do you know him? Johnny was suddenly on alert.

 

Yep, and so do you.

 

Johnny glared at Val. Get is said, Val. Who is he and what is he doing here?

 

Val laughed, He aint after you, and hes gonna be okay. Sam took care of him. Val sat back and rested his feet on his desk. He was really enjoying this game.

 

As a matter of fact, hes still at Lancer.

 

What? Tired of the teasing Johnny growled, Val knock it off, just who the hell is this gunfighter?

 

Val grinned at Johnny. You dont wanna guess? You sure?

 

Val! Johnny growled again.

 

Val smiled

 

Jess.

 

Chapter 10

 

Johnny leapt out of his chair and leaned on Vals desk, Jess is here?

 

Val lowered his feet and sat up, Yep, and he was bushwhacked on the road to Lancer. Lucky for him Scott was nearby and got to him before the shooter could finish the job.

 

Why? Johnny was obviously worried about his friend.

 

Dont know and neither does Jess.

 

Well, why was he here? Hell I thought he was in Texas. Johnny was now totally

confused.

 

Nope. He settled down in Laramie. Said he was escorting a lady who came to visit her sister here in Green River - my so-called new girlfriend you saw leaving my office.

 

But why was he going to Lancer? This wasnt making any sense to Johnny.

 

Seems his partner wanted to buy some of your daddys cows. Val chuckled.

 

Johnny was getting exasperated. Okay Val just tell me the story because I have a felling theres more to it.

 

Val got up and went to the stove; he poured two cups of pan-fried coffee and returned to his desk. He handed one to Johnny and sat down.

 

Okay. Better sit back its a long story.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

In an alley overlooking the sheriffs office two figures hid in the shadows. The smaller man was watching the street while the other one stayed further back and out of sight.

 

I tell ya, its him. Saw him ride in on that golden horse. The smaller man, Jake, was shaking and wondered why Madrid went into the sheriffs office?

 

Well aint that nice, were gonna get both of them. Burt smiled. Lady Luck was definitely on his side.

 

Several years back Jake, Burt, and his brother, Hank, hired on for a range war, siding with a shady rancher by the name of Landry, who had been rustling another ranchers cattle. Without a sheriff to intercede for him, the other rancher, Travis, was forced to fight back. He had money and hired Harper and Madrid, two very expense and dangerous gunfighters.

 

In one of the skirmishes, Hank was killed and Burt blamed Jess and Johnny. If they hadnt hired on, Landrys men would have won and taken over the Travis Ranch.

 

Broke and angry, Burt and Jake drifted, taking odds jobs when they needed money or robbing if they didnt feel like working. They ended up in California, and wandered into Green River. Unfortunately for them the town had a sheriff so Burt said they needed to lay low for a spell and not attract attention.

 

They spent most of their time hanging around town and drinking in the saloon. Burt figured they would wait until the sheriff wasnt around, and then theyd rob the General Store. It would get them some money and supplies for the road.

 

But then, Burt saw Jess ride out of Green River. All the old anger resurfaced and, leaving Jake to nurse yet another beer, he followed his prey. He waited till Harper was far enough from town so there would be no witnesses. Luck was with him when Jess stopped on the road overlooking a stream, he climbed into the rocks, positioned himself, took aim, and shot his enemy in the back. As he climbed down from his perch in the rocks he saw a rider approaching and was forced to flee. He went back to the Green River Saloon, where Jake was waiting, fully awake now and not quite as drunk as before.

 

Jake was getting nervous about hanging around town, especially after finding out his partner had ambushed Harper. That sheriff worried him from the start and then Madrid showed up in town. Why was he with the sheriff? This was getting out of hand and Jake was afraid of what Burt would do next.

 

I hope you got a plan. What are we gonna do about Madrid? You gonna ambush him too? Jake whispered.

 

Shut up, Jake. Burt hissed. Lemme think. Damn! Jake was a blabbermouth and a coward. Gonna have to take care of him sooner or later.

Ill think of something, dont you worry none. Burt sneered. Yep Ill come up with somethin but I aint telling you.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Paul was not looking forward to another encounter with Jess Harper but he couldnt let his grandmother drive the surrey out to Lancer by herself. He was frowning and his grandmother didnt miss his agitation.

 

Paul, whats wrong?

 

Nothing grandmother, I I just hope Aunt Daisy is alright. Paul tried to appear calm but Agatha wasnt fooled.

 

Agatha took pity on her grandson, Paul, there is something you need to know about Jess.

 

What? His calmness gone in a moment.

 

Agatha needed to reassure her grandson so she patted his knee, Youre aware that Jess was a gunfighter once. I have to admit I was worried about Daisy being around such a man. She raised her hand to stop Paul from commenting. Daisy loves and trusts Jess and she knows he would never hurt her. The reason he still wears a gun is that with his reputation if he didnt he could be killed. In the past, gunfighters looking for a reputation have called him out. Apparently, its how their game is played. So he can never let his guard down.

 

Pauls mouth gaped open, And that doesnt scare you? What if Aunt Daisy is caught in the middle of a shootout?

 

Daisy told me Jess warned her to never interfere if that should happen. Shes not to say anything and move as far away as possible from him. If she tries to intervene it could get both of them hurt or killed. Agatha sighed, knowing she had not really reassured her grandson. Your aunt feels having Jess a part of her life is worth the risk, and we have to accept her decision.

 

Paul nodded, But, Grandmother, the way he acted in the stage depot, the way he looked at me. Pauls voice quivered, I was terrified. Why would anyone want to face a man like that?

 

Good question. Maybe thats why the shooter ambushed Jess instead of facing him.

 

Yes, its logical I guess, but logic doesnt seem to fit out here. All this still worries me.

 

I know, Paul. Agatha patted his knee again. Just remember, Daisy has always been a good judge of character and if she trusts Jess then we have to trust her.

 

Ill try, Paul offered his grandmother a shy smile.

 

As relief to both of them, the rest of the drive was limited to comments about the scenery and Jess name didnt come up again in their conversation.

 

Chapter 11

 

Teresa was busy in the garden gathering herbs for Marias stew when she noticed a surrey coming up the drive. She ran into the kitchen and left the herbs on the table for Maria. Composing herself as she walked through the Great Room, she wiped her hands on her apron then stopped by the hall mirror to fluff her hair. Reassured that she was presentable she walked out to the patio to greet the visitors.

 

Paul reined the horse to a stop by an adobe archway and climbed down. He walked around to Agathas side and put his hands around her waist to lower her to the ground. As he did, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a young lady wearing an apron, probably a housemaid, approach them. With his grandmother safely on the ground he turned and removed his hat.

 

Teresa walked up to the surrey, Hello, Im Teresa, are you Miss Daisys sister?

 

Yes my dear, Im Agatha Reed, we brought Daisy some of her belongings. She said as she brushed the dust from her skirt.

 

Paul continued to stare at the very pretty girl as he fiddled with his hats brim.

 

Agatha noticed her grandsons interest and tapped his arm to get his attention, Paul.

 

Embarrassed, he turned to Agatha, Yes, Grandmother?

 

Would you please get Daisys bag from the surrey? She turned to Teresa to avoid laughing at her grandsons expression and the bright red shade coming to his cheeks.

 

Teresa, I hope we have not arrived at an inconvenient time, she moved to the young girls side.

 

Oh no, we have been expecting you. Teresa smiled.

 

She ushered Agatha into the Great Room. Please sit down and I will let Miss Daisy know you are here. She stopped on the way to Jess room and turned to Agatha, Would you like some lemonade?

 

Yes dear, that would be very nice. It was a rather hot ride from town. She smiled at the pretty girl thinking it was no wonder Paul was smitten.

 

As Teresa disappeared down the hallway, Paul came through the French doors. He looked around then placed the bag on the floor by a large desk. He moved to sit next to Agatha, Where is Aunt Daisy? a hint of relief in his voice.

 

His grandmother had told him Jess would be bedridden for awhile so he felt relieved that he wouldnt be facing the gunfighter.

 

Teresa went to tell her that we are here, then she will bring us some lemonade. Agatha smiled at Paul, She is very pretty, dont you think?

 

Paul glowed red again.

 

To take his mind off of Jess and the pretty girl, Paul looked around the large room. He was amazed to see rows of books, fine art, and plush furniture. He smiled to himself, he had not expected to see such expensive and tasteful decor, although he had been impressed by the size and beauty of the hacienda as he viewed it from the long drive down the mountain into the valley.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Daisy sat by Jess bed and watched him sleep. She looked up when she heard the knock on the door and was about to get up when Sam raised his hand to stop her.

 

Stay put. Ill get it.

 

When he opened the door, he found himself facing Teresa. You are not permitted in here, Teresa.

 

I know, I just want to let Daisy know her sister and grandson are here. Theyre in the Great Room. She tried to peek around Sam to see the mysterious stranger.

 

Sam moved to block her view, Thank you Teresa, Ill tell her. He shut the door on a very frustrated girl and returned to the bedside.

 

Agatha and Paul are here. Why dont you join them in the Great Room and, if theres any change in Jess condition, Ill get you.

 

Thank you Sam, I will. She stood and stretched her back, then she leaned over and kissed Jess cheek.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Teresa stomped into the kitchen, Maria, Im going to take some lemonade to our guests. She reached for a tray and placed it none too gently on the table.

 

Chica, whats wrong? Maria asked, bringing some glasses and placing them on the tray. Then she patted Teresas shoulder.

 

They insist on treating me like a kid. Teresa sighed, Im not a little girl anymore.

 

Maria smiled, she knew why Teresa wanted access to the room. Her little Teresa was now at an age when her heart fluttered whenever she saw a good-looking young man. Seor Jess was a handsome man, almost as handsome as Juanito, and he was very young, too.

 

Si, but the Patron wants to protect you. It is not proper for a young lady to be in a mans room.

 

But Ive taken care of Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny. She was clearly not ready to give up the fight.

 

Si, but they are familia, Seor Jess, is not.

 

As far as Maria was concerned, the argument was over, so Teresa picked up the tray and headed for the Great Room and their guests. Just before she went in, she took a deep breath to regain her composure. It wouldnt be good for their guests if she looked angry or anything.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

When Daisy entered the Great Room, Paul jumped up and went to his Aunt. Are you alright? I was so worried about you.

 

Agatha also got up and moved to Daisys side. You look tired. How is Jess?

 

Im fine. Jess fever broke and he finally woke up. He was able to talk to Val. Unfortunately, he doesnt know what happened or who would want to shoot him. Sam will stay till hes sure Jess is stable, Daisy dropped onto the sofa.

 

Agatha sat beside her sister and patted her hand while Paul sat on her other side. Thank goodness, we have been concerned about both of you.

 

A few moments later Teresa arrived with the lemonade, Paul immediately rose and took the heavy tray from her. Where would you like it

 

My names Teresa, and on the table in front of the sofa will be fine. She smiled at him.

 

Paul felt himself blush again, so he placed the tray on the table and returned to his place, by his Aunts side. Teresa moved over to the table and proceeded to pour the lemonade. Paul kept looking at her and when he saw that she was joining them, he suddenly realized the girl wasnt a maid. That made him blush even more.

 

Agatha and Daisy shared a knowing look and sipped the lemonade to keep from laughing.

 

Teresa is Mr. Lancers ward, Daisy took pity on Paul.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Johnny stood up and paced the office. Dios, Val. Who the hell even knows Jess is around here?

 

Just Mrs. Reed and her grandson. Near as I can tell Jess escorted Miss Daisy, delivered her to Paul, and then headed out to your ranch. I didnt even know he was in town. Val was as frustrated as Johnny.

 

Well, someone sure as hell saw him and hated him enough to lay in wait and bushwhack him. Johnny ran a hand through his hair. I better head home. I bet Murdoch just loves my past popping up again. Johnny added sarcastically.

 

Val stood and moved to Johnnys side. Come on amigo, it might not be as bad as you think. And,maybe your ol man will even feed me once I return his prodigal son. Val joked.

 

What, I can get home on my own, dont need a babysitter, an unhappy Johnny reached for his hat.

 

I know, I know. But until we figure out who did this and why, youre not going home alone. Val grabbed his hat, plopped it on his head and shoved Johnny toward the door.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Jake remained in the alley to keep watch on the sheriffs office. He was nervous and didnt want to be involved in bushwhacking. Ever since Burt saw Harper he was getting worse and meaner to a point where Jake wished he could get away from his partner. Killing in a range war was one thing but murder was something else and he wanted no part of it. But he knew if he turned on Burt, Burt wouldnt hesitate killing him.

 

Burt had gone over to the saloon, but ordered Jake to keep watch and come for him if Madrid left town. Jake was contemplating how to get out of town without Burt finding out, maybe if he could get his partner drunk

 

His thoughts were interrupted when the sheriff and Madrid left the office and headed for the livery. Madrid was leading his horse so Jake watched to see what the sheriff was going to do. Then the sheriff returned with a horse, mounted up and rode out with Madrid.

 

Jake rushed over to the saloon, he peeked over the batwing doors and waited for his partner to finally notice him.

 

Burt was downing another drink while casually looking around the room. When he saw Jake standing outside by the door, he threw some coins on the bar and headed out, pushing his partner into the alley. Well, did Madrid head out outa town?

 

Yep, but the sheriff is with him. You aint plannin on taking them both out are ya?

 

Burt rounded on Jake and knocked him to the ground, Shut up, you stupid bastard.

 

Jake crawled backwards as far away from Burt as he could, I dont want any part of this. He stopped and held up his hands.

 

Okay, you want out of the partnership, Burt leered, Ill let ya out.

 

Jake rose and backed up against the saloon wall, Ya mean it, really? No hard feelings?

 

Burt sneered at the quiver in Jakes voice. Yeah I mean it. Get out. Burt stepped back so Jake could pass him to get out of the alley.

 

When Jake was beside to him, Burt suddenly pulled his knife and buried it to the hilt in the mans chest.

 

Shocked by the sudden pain, Jake looked down at his chest then up to Burt, who just smiled as he pulled out the knife and wiped it on Jakes shirt. Dont need no coward at my back, Burt growled.

 

Jakes eyes glazed over and he silently sank to the dirt with Burt watching the blood pool around the dead man and slowly sink into the dry soil. Then, Burt stepped over the body and casually walked to the livery to retrieve his horse.

 

Chapter 12

 

Val and Johnny were finally on Lancer land, both relieved that so far the trip had been uneventful. Of course there was still the explosion with Murdoch to face. Val took pity on his amigo, Dont be worrying none about your papi, I told him Jess was a friend.

 

Yeah, but hes still gonna be mad that someone is out there bushwhacking gunfighters on his precious land. And he sure as hell don't want two ex-gunfighters under his roof.

 

Aw just stop fretting, well get it straightened out. Val wanted Johnny to calm down before he got home. Lancer and his younger son were like a fuse and a match, particularly when it comes down to Johnnys past.

 

Dont matter Val. He hates Madrid and this will all end up being my fault.

 

Val agreed but he wasnt about to say so. Murdoch Lancer was a force to reckon with and Val wished the two could sit together and talk things through. But, for this to happen, Johnny would also have to open up and Val didnt see it happening any time soon.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Murdoch saw the surrey as he rode up to the corral from a morning checking fence line. He entered the Great Room where he saw Daisy sitting on the sofa with another woman and a young man.

 

Teresa got up and went over to him and taking his arm ushered him to the sofa, Murdoch, I want you to meet Miss Daisys sister Mrs. Agatha Reed and her grandson Paul.

 

Pleased to meet you Mrs. Reed, Paul. Murdoch nodded and moved to sit in the leather chair. Are you getting settled? Sheriff Crawford mentioned you bought the Hanson place.

 

Please call me Agatha. And yes we did, it is a lovely little home. The next time you and your sons are in town please stop by. Agatha smiled at Murdoch, Your sheriff seems fond of my oatmeal cookies.

 

Murdoch laughed out loud, I bet he is. He was amused at the thought of scruffy Val visiting the very prim and proper Mrs. Reed. My younger son has a sweet tooth and if the sheriff tells him about your cookies, Im sure he will find a way to stop by your place.

 

Daisy chuckled, Men and their deserts, Jess is fond of apple pie. I can get him to finish the most hated jobs around the ranch with the promise of a pie.

 

Murdoch smiled politely; he hated small talk and just wished Scott would return from inspecting the clogged creek in the north pasture. He would gladly leave the task to him as Scott was very good at taking control in social settings.

 

Much to his relief, he saw Scott ride past the large window a few minutes later. Ah! Here comes my older son. You will, of course, all join us for lunch?

 

Scott had also noticed the surrey so he brushed off as much dust as possible before entering the house.

 

Well, I see we have guests, he moved into the room and over to the sofa to greet the newcomers. Its a pleasure to see you both again.

 

I will let Maria know we have two more guests, Murdoch said, rising from his chair and disappearing quickly into the kitchen.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Jelly had relieved Sam so the doctor could join the group for lunch.

 

Once they had all finished eating, they moved to the patio to enjoy some fresh air.

 

Bored to tears with the small talk, Teresa took the first opportunity that presented itself and offered, Paul would you like to see some of the horses in the corral?

 

Paul looked toward Agatha, Will you be alright here?

 

Of course, Paul. Go with Teresa. She looked at the young girl, Paul is an excellent rider, and maybe the two of you could ride together some time.

 

How about now? Johnny finished training a new bay that Im sure you would enjoy riding. Teresa didnt even look in Murdochs direction.

 

Before Murdoch could say anything Scott spoke up. Yes, good idea, it will give Paul a chance to see the area.

 

Paul looked toward the corral, relieved to also escape the small talk. Thank you, I would certainly enjoy a ride.

 

Well, lets go. Teresa took Pauls arm and they headed for the barn.

 

Scott looked at Murdoch and smiled, he knew exactly what his father thought about his precious Teresa riding off with a boy he didnt know.

 

Well, ladies, we enjoyed lunch with you but Im afraid Scott and I have to get back to work, I hope to see you again soon Mrs. Reed Agatha. He motioned to Scott and the two headed for their horses.

 

Think youre funny dont you, Son? Murdoch took the reins and mounted his horse.

 

Scott just smiled, mounted his horse, and headed for the creek followed by his father.

 

Throughout the exchange Sam had sat there and silently enjoyed the show. His old friend was in for it now that Teresa was old enough to be interested in the opposite sex and them in her.

 

Daisy cleared her throat again, trying to get the doctors attention. Sam, Agatha and I are going for a walk. Jelly is with Jess so why dont you get some rest?

 

Sam nodded his head, Sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. You are right, I think I could use a nap. Enjoy your walk and call me if you need me. Sam rose and went to his room, glad for the opportunity to rest a bit. He grinned, let Jelly put up with Jess complaints about staying in bed.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Daisy and Agatha walked toward the garden, Agatha, I need to tell you something. They moved to the far end of the garden and Daisy pointed to a small bench under a tree. I know how much Jess frightens Paul.

 

As they sat down, Agatha turned to her sister, Hes just concerned, he loves you very much Daisy. Paul will come around, he just needs some time.

 

Oh I know, but Jess told me something and I want you to know first so we can explain it to Paul.

 

What? Worry clearly showing in Agathas voice.

 

Daisy reached over and took hold of her sisters hand. Jess and Murdochs younger son know each other. Johnny Lancer used to be Johnny Madrid, a well-known gunfighter. She waited to see what impact her words would have, but Agatha remained silent.

 

Several years ago Val, Jess, and Johnny rode together and hired out their guns. A while back, Val gave up selling his gun and became a sheriff. When Jess woke up, Val told him that Johnny was here and going by his real name, Lancer. He told me that a couple years ago the ranch was under attack by raiders and Murdoch asked his sons to return and help save the ranch.

 

Agatha didnt want to interrupt a story she felt was worth listening to, so she waited for her sister to continue.

 

Both boys grew up away from their father. Scotts grandfather withheld the true facts making the boy believe his father didnt want him. In Johnnys case, his mother stole him away when he was only two-years-old. She lied to him telling him that his father had thrown them out because she was Mexican, and hes a half-breed. Daisy shook her head, What an awful term, isnt it. But Jess said thats what people called Johnny.

 

Agatha finally spoke, The poor boys, what happened to them?

 

Well, Scott was safe in Boston, but during the war he served in the Union Army. Johnnys mother was killed when he was a boy and he grew up wild in Mexico and in time became a gunfighter. Daisy took a deep breath and looked at Agatha, Johnny came very close to losing his life. He was involved in a Mexican revolution, the poor villagers against the rich landowners and federal troops. He was saved by a Pinkerton agent as he stood in front of a firing squad. Daisy felt drained from the telling.

 

Oh Daisy, how this family has suffered. Her eyes went wide, They were afraid Jess was coming after Johnny, werent they?

 

Yes, but Val told them not to worry because Jess is a friend and would never hurt Johnny. Now we just have to convince Paul that neither Jess nor Johnny is a danger to us.

 

Daisy didnt feel as confident as she sounded so, Agatha took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sure, Daisy. She grinned at her sister, Good luck with that.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Burt mounted and headed out of town, satisfied he had fooled the livery man.

 

Burt told he had some information for the sheriff about a wanted man and he needed to talk to the sheriff. The older man pointed to a direction and said, Follow the road until ya reach Lancer Ranch. Ya cant miss it. Got a big arch leadin to the house.

 

Content his plan was working, Burt plodded along careful not to get too close to the riders. He smiled when he realized Harper had been headed for Lancer as well. Maybe Madrid and Harper had signed on at Lancer for gun work.

 

With an evil grin, Burt started planning.

 

When he passed the spot where he had ambushed Harper, Burt dismounted and looked down the embankment. Finally he spotted what he was looking for, a dark spot in the dirt, where Harper fell. His smile faded as he realized he had not had time to make sure Harper was dead. But the smile returned to his face. If he wasnt he would be soon and so would Madrid.

 

Burt mounted his horse and continued toward Lancer. He needed to find a safe place to camp for the night.

 

Chapter 13

 

Johnny and Val stopped under the Lancer Arch, relieved they got home without mishap.

 

Well, no gunfire. Val winked at Johnny.

 

Yep, but now Ill have to face a Murdoch explosion. Johnny removed his hat and wiped his forearm across his sweaty forehead. Well, guess I might as well get over with it. He replaced his hat and touched a spur to Barrancas side.

 

Val frowned. He had seen the older mans face when Daisy told them Jess story, he had seen the play of emotions heck, an explosion would come as no surprise.

 

When they pulled up at the hacienda Walt ran up to take the horses. Welcome back Johnny, didn't expect ya back so soon, Walt called, then turned from Johnny and nodded to Val.

 

Johnny dismounted and looked around. Where is everybody? Figured Murdoch would be here.

 

Mr. Lancer is checking fence line and Scott is working on a clogged creek.

After Val dismounted, Walt took the reins of both horses and headed for the barn.

 

Johnny frowned at Val, My Ol Man riding fence, thats just great. Not only will he be mad at me, but hell be hurting too. He shook his head, Should have stayed in Stockton. Dejected, he headed for the Great Room.

 

Val sighed, damn Johnny was probably right. He just hoped Murdoch wouldnt jump on the kid the minute he saw him. He followed his amigo into the house.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Daisy and Agatha saw Val ride up to the house with a man they didnt recognize. The man wore strange clothes, strange didnt begin to describe it. They were shocked to see a man wearing a pink shirt, and pants with silver buttons down the legs.

 

I wonder if hes someone Val suspects of the shooting? Excited and worried at the same time, Daisy rose and started for the house.

 

Wait Daisy, hes wearing a gun. Agatha went after Daisy and tried to calm her down. She grabbed her sisters arm, Now if that man was a suspect,dont you think the Sheriff would have shackled him and taken his gun?

 

Of course, youre right. Daisy stopped and looked to her sister. Suddenly a thought occurred to her. Hes wearing his gun like Jess does, low on his hips.

 

They looked at each other and said at the same time. Johnny?

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Val caught up with Johnny in the Great Room, Hey wait up amigo.

 

Johnny turned, Wheres Jess?

 

Come on, hes in one of the guest rooms. Val pointed to the hallway and walked in front of Johnny.

 

They stopped at the door and Val softly knocked in case Jess was asleep.

 

Jelly answered the door, Come on in. Jess jus woke up. He looked at Johnny, Hes just like another youngun livin here. He stepped aside for the two men to enter. Hes been complainin about bein stuck in bed. Jelly turned and shook a finger at the injured man.

 

Val lowered his head so no one would see him grin and cleared his throat. Jelly how about you and me getting some coffee from Maria.

 

Fine with me, since I aint getting no ppreciation here. Jelly scrubbed his whiskers and sent another glare toward Jess.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

As Val and Jelly headed for the kitchen they ran into Daisy and Agatha coming down the hall.

 

Was that Johnny with you, Val? Daisy was wringing her hands.

 

Yes Ma'am, think we need to leave em alone for awhile. Val reached out and took Daisys arm. How about something to drink, Maria makes a real good lemonade.

 

I know what youre doing Sheriff, but I agree. They probably have a lot to talk about. Daisy accepted Vals arm and they all headed for the kitchen.

 

Maria placed coffee, lemonade, and sandwiches on the table. She stopped by Val, Is Juanito alright?

 

Si Maria, hes fine. He patted her hand.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Dios, Harper, what the hell happened? Johnny sat in the chair by Jess bed. Last I heard you were headed back to Texas.

 

I was but ended up drifting and figured itd be better to head further north. We left some enemies behind us, remember?

 

Johnny nodded, Yep, that last range war was bad. He grinned, At least we didnt get paid with a bullet.

 

Jess gave a weak laugh, Yeah, that rancher Travis was a decent man, not like the other one.

 

Landry and his hired guns were cobardes, Johnny said in disgust. So that headed ya north? Goin where?

 

Thought Id try Colorado and Wyoming. Jess frowned, Damn it gets cold up there.

 

Johnny laughed, Yeah, know what ya mean. It sure gets cold here sometimes.

 

Anyway, I met up with this guy, Pete Morgan. We drifted together for awhile till one day I woke up with a cracked head and no money.

 

Damn, hope ya shot him.

 

Long story, but I ended up tracking him down, got involved in a jail break, held hostage in a relay station, one hell of a mess. Jess bowed his head, Ended up helping the law

 

Johnny couldnt hold back the laughter, You?

 

Hey, you havent heard the worst. Jess smirked, I ended up hiring on at the relay station and me and the boss, Slim Sherman, became friends. He even made me a partner a little while back.

 

Dios, Jess, you being all respectable now?

 

Damn Madrid, look whos talking, huh? Aint you a rancher now? Jess sobered, Heard your father didnt throw you and your mama out.

 

Johnny nodded, Yeah she lied about a lot of things, like me having a half-brother. Dont that beat all?

 

Sure does. Glad to hear you finally have the family ya always wanted. Jess smiled, then sobered, Now what about that firing squad Val told me about?

 

It was close, was my turn to be shot to pieces when this fat gringo came tearing up the hill yelling at the top of his lungs. Johnny chuckled, It was a sight lemme tell ya He said the Ol Man was offerin $1,000 listening money.

 

So looks like you took him up on it. Jess grinned.

 

The best job I ever took. Oh, were still trying to get this family thing right but its better than hiring out and watching my back all the time.

 

Jess got a faraway look in his eyes, I know what ya mean. Ive got a family now, and it feels good.

 

Johnny sighed, S, it sure does.

 

No one talked for a few minutes till Johnny broke the silence. So why were you coming here? Johnny sounded confused.

 

My partner, Slim, read about Lancer cows and thought it would be a good idea to buy some. Jess grimaced, You know how I feel about cows.

 

Johnny nodded in agreement.

 

Anyway Daisys sister moved to Green River and invited Daisy over for a visit. Since it was close to the Lancer Ranch, I escorted her here and then headed out to see about buying some cows. Hey, have you met Daisy yet?

 

No, but guess I will.

 

You better be your on your best behavior, Daisys a real special lady. Jess shot Johnny a warning look.

 

Dont worry; I will be the gallant hijo del don. Johnny stood and bowed.

 

Jess shook his head, Yeah, sure. Clearly he wasnt impressed.

 

Hey when was the last time you had a decent Mexican supper?

 

Too long. I miss some spice in my food. Daisy doesnt know how to cook like that. Jess felt he needed to defend Daisy, But she does make the best apple pies.

 

Well Maria is one hell of a cook. Shell heat ya up.

 

No such luck. That Doc has me drinking awful broth and tea. Jess made a face. Tried to get rid of them but Daisy is too smart. That tea Maria makes tastes like horse piss.

 

Yeah, but you better drink it. Maria takes it real personal if her hard work goes ta waste. And believe me ya dont want to get a Mexican woman mad at ya. Johnny unconsciously rubbed his butt.

 

Aint funny Madrid.

 

Johnny broke out in laughter and ducked out the door just before the glass crashed against the closed door.

 

Jess winced as he felt some of Sams stitches pull. He reached behind his back and felt the dampness. Damn Sam and Daisy will be giving me hell over this.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Johnny, still laughing, headed to the kitchen to find Val and to get some coffee from Maria.

 

Hey Johnny, I want ya to meet two special ladies. Val motioned Johnny to the table.

 

Mrs. Agatha Reed. She and her grandson, Paul, just moved to Green River. Val smiled at Agatha, Mrs. Reed makes some mighty good oatmeal cookies.

 

Johnny smiled and bowed to Agatha. Pleased to meet you Maam. Welcome to Green River.

 

Its a pleasure to meet you, Johnny. Your family has been so gracious to my sister and Jess.

 

And this little lady is Jess friend, Mrs. Daisy Cooper. Val said, turning to the other lady at the table.

 

Johnny moved to the small woman and took her hand, he bowed again but this time he kissed her hand. Pleased to meet you Maam. He winked, Ive been warned to be on my best behavior.

 

Daisy laughed, I can imagine. She leaned in and whispered, Jess already intimidated Paul.

 

Johnny looked up, surprised, and then grinned, I bet he did. He has the effect on people sometimes.

 

Wheres Paul, I thought he brought you out to Lancer? Val asked suddenly realizing the grandson was missing.

 

Oh, Teresa and Paul went for a ride, she is showing him Lancer. Agatha answered.

 

Johnny started choking on the coffee he just sipped; Val reached over and pounded him on the back.

 

Dios Val! Stop before you break something. Johnny had just managed to set the cup down before Val started beating on him.

 

Watch yer mouth, theres ladies present. Val scolded.

 

Agatha and Daisy hid their grins behind their coffee cups.

 

Lo siento. Johnny choked out, contrite.

 

Val shook his head, He means hes sorry. He scowled at Johnny, Speak English for the ladies.

 

Im sorry, it just surprised me that my oh never mind. Johnny stood, I better get some work done before Murdoch gets back. He bowed to Agatha and Daisy, Ladies.

 

Johnny beat a hasty retreat from the kitchen followed by Vals laughter.

 

L * A * N * C * E * R

 

Hidden in the trees above the hacienda, Burt waited for Madrid to come out of the house.

 

He was surprised to see that the gunfighter seemed so familiar with the hands. Lancer must be a real understandin man to let the half-breed walk around like he owned the place, not mentioning givin him free access to the house.

 

Chapter 14

 

Daisy placed her cup on the table, If you will excuse me I want to check on Jess.

 

Do ya want me to get Sam for ya, Daisy? Val started to get up.

 

Daisy waved, No, Val, I dont think Ill need him. She smiled and patted his arm then headed for Jess room.

 

She knocked on the door and without waiting she stepped in only to stop dead in her tracks. Oh no, Jess! Daisy cried out seeing the blood on Jess hand. Then she looked down and saw the mess on the floor. What happened? Did you throw this? She pointed to the floor.

 

Before Jess could answer, Daisy was out the door, down the hall, and calling for Sam.

 

The doctor rushed out from his room and saw Daisy coming toward him, What did he do now? He shook his head and mumbled, Hes just like Johnny.

 

Daisy looked back, Did you say something?

 

No, just thinking out loud, he sighed.

 

Daisy knew from personal experience that dealing with an injured Jess was no picnic and felt sorry for the doctor. She stopped and faced Sam, He has blood on his hand and theres a broken glass is on the floor.

 

Everyone in the kitchen had heard Daisys call and headed for the hallway to see what had happened now. Sam waved to them as he and Daisy went in the room.

 

Okay, let me have a look. Sam rolled Jess onto his stomach and was none too gentle about it. Did you try to get out of bed? he asked, clearly peeved.

 

No, Jess sighed in resignation. I I threw a glass at the door.

 

Jess winced as Sam poked at the wound. Take it easy Doc. Thought you was supposed to heal people not make em feel worse. Jess grouched.

 

I do, but patients who dont obey orders, suffer for it. Sam glared back at Jess back,