Word count 10,932
“Scott, I’ve got an idea.” Johnny reined Barranca to a stop. Scott cocked his head toward his brother as he also reined his horse to a stop. The lazy bull they’d been pulling happily grazed the grass on the side of the road.
“Does this idea involve my money?”
“No, but it could save some time, which would give us extra free time,” Johnny countered.
“You know how we’re supposed to take old Henry here,” Johnny pointed to the bull, “to the Simpson’s place, then go to the Harrison’s ranch to pick up a bull from them.”
“Well, why don’t you go to the Simpson’s while I go to the Harrison’s? We could meet up at the halfway point in Cold River in two days and be ahead of schedule. Then we could spend a couple of days on our own before heading back home. Murdoch told us to take a week anyway. What d’ya think?”
Scott pondered the idea. It sounded too good. There had to be something wrong with it, but he couldn’t find a flaw. Johnny watched the expressions float across his brother’s face, but couldn’t read them.
“Well?” Johnny anxiously awaited an answer.
“It sounds like a good idea, but Murdoch sent us together for a reason,” Scott hesitantly admitted.
“I think Teresa wanted us out from under foot while she did her Spring cleaning and I even heard her ask Murdoch to get rid of us for a while. To tell the truth, brother, she drove me a little crazy. I don’t think it would make much difference if we split up. It’ll give us more free time in the end. So …?”
Scott thought some more, but couldn’t come up with a good reason not to split up. “All right. Are you sure you want to do the buying and not the delivering?”
“Yes!” Johnny nodded in response. “Since I have the letter of introduction, I’m fine with the buying part.” Johnny held up two fingers as he spurred Barranca and flew off down the road. “I’ll meet ya in Cold River in two days!” Johnny felt relived that he didn’t have to deal with Old Henry anymore. He smiled because he thought he’d gotten the better of the two assignments.
“But, I didn’t agree … I just said – ” Scott sat tapping his chin with his index finger. There had to be a reason Murdoch wanted us to do this together. Oh well, can’t be helped, Scott thought as he watched the dust from his brother’s exiting horse slowly settle to the ground.
It took Scott longer than he’d anticipated to reach the Rocking-S ranch. Old Henry only had one speed … slow. He put the bull in the first empty corral he came to, then tied Charlie to the hitch rail. Once again, Johnny stuck me with the most tiresome job of the two, Scott thought as he tried to pat the dust off himself with his hat.
Mr. Simpson came to the door with his napkin still stuck in his collar.
“Well, son, I gave up looking for you tonight. I figured you must’ve had some trouble, ’cause I expected you hours ago.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt your dinner, Mr. Simpson. I had a hard time getting Old Henry to move.”
“I thought Murdoch sent both of you boys. Where’s your brother?”
“Oh, we decided to split up since we had two jobs to complete. We each took one.”
A voice from inside the house yelled out, “Why don’t you invite him to supper, Bill?”
“Well, I forget my manners. I’m Bill Simpson and that’s my wife Betsy. You’re welcome to come have supper with us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Simpson. I’d be delighted to have dinner with you.” The aroma inviting. Thankfully Scott’s stomach didn’t growl, though he hadn’t eaten anything but jerky since breakfast.
Bill put his arm around Scott and led him into the house. “Great! Now which son are you?”
Before Scott could answer, he saw the rest of the Simpsons sitting around the dining room table. There were four lovely young ladies sitting at the table with Mrs. Simpson. “I’m Scott Lancer.”
“Well, Scott, let me introduce you to the rest of my family. This is Betsy.” Scott walked over and took her outstretched hand. “These are our four daughters: Annabelle, Barbara, Caroline, and Deborah. Girls this is Murdoch Lancer’s son, Scott.” The daughters ranged in age from nineteen to twenty-two. The oldest two, Annabelle and Barbara, were identical twins.
Scott slightly bowed his head and greeted them. “Ladies.” They all flashed brilliant smiles.
Their dining table, similar in size to the one at Lancer, took up most of the room. Mr. Simpson sat at one end with his wife at his right hand. He two youngest girls sat next to their mother. “Annabelle and Barbara, why don’t you two move down and let Scott sit next to me?” The girls moved so that Scott could sit between Mr. Simpson and Annabelle.
The meal consisted of roast beef, potatoes, carrots and onions. For dessert, Mrs. Simpson brought out apple crumble with cream. Scott thought the food delicious and filling. The Simpson’s didn’t have a need for kitchen help since the daughters helped their mother with the cooking and cleaning.
Scott spent most of the dinner fielding questions from Mr. Simpson about his trip, Lancer, and Old Henry.
Finally Annabelle asked her question, “Scott, you have such a wonderful accent. Where are you from?”
“Annabelle, you know better than to ask such personal questions,” admonished Mrs. Simpson, even though she’s interested, too.
“That’s all right. I grew up in Boston, but moved to California two years ago to live with my father.”
“Did you bring a wife with you from back east?” Barbara decided to ask her question, also.
“Barbara, that’s none of your business. I’m so sorry, Scott. I don’t know what’s come over them.” Mrs. Simpson knew exactly what her daughters were doing, but feigned ignorance.
“No worries, I have a ‘sister’ who is very straight forward, as well. And no, I’m not married.”
“Scott, let’s leave the ladies to clean up while you and I have a drink out on the front porch.” Mr. Simpson led Scott to the drink cart, poured them each a brandy, then led the young man out to sit on the veranda.
Johnny made good time finding the Harrison’s spread. It wasn’t as large as he thought it would be. He pulled the letter of introduction from his pocket as he walked up to the ranch house. Thomas Harrison greeted Johnny at the door as the young Lancer explained his presence. The rancher read the note of introduction as Lancer was recommended by a friend of a friend, but looking at Johnny, Harrison didn’t really feel he could trust the him.
“Nice to meet ya, young man.” Mr. Harrison folded the note and placed it in his shirt pocket. “Since it’s kinda late, you can bed down in the barn for the night and we’ll head out in the morning in search of my bulls.” The rancher turned around and walked back into the house.
I guess I’ve been dismissed. Wonder if Scott would’ve done any better? No invite for supper either, Johnny thought as he shrugged his shoulders and led Barranca into the barn. “I guess it’ll be jerky and water for me tonight,” Johnny told his horse, patting him on the neck. He bedded down in an empty stall next to Barranca after feeding and watering his ride.
Johnny woke to a stranger standing near his stall. He immediately drew his weapon.
“Easy there, boy, I’m just bringin’ ya out some coffee and biscuits. My name’s Chuck. I’m the foreman here at the Bar-H. After ya finish eatin’, saddle up and meet us in front of the house.”
Johnny quickly finished the cold biscuits and weak coffee, before strolling out to the water pump to wash up. He looked around and noticed there weren’t very many ranch hands. They must already be off to work, Johnny thought. He dried his face and hands with the towel hanging on the pump before he returned to the barn to saddle Barranca.
As he exited the barn, Johnny saw the rancher and foreman standing on the front porch, waiting for him.
“Are you ready to go, John?” Mr. Harrison asked in an impatient tone.
“Yes, Mr. Harrison, but most people call me Johnny.”
“All right, Johnny. We have several bulls for you to choose from, but they’re spread out across my ranch, so let’s get started.
It took about an hour to catch up with the first herd. Mr. Harrison didn’t think this boy would know how to tell if the bull’s any good, so he decided not to show Johnny his best stock.
“How about that one, Johnny?” Chuck pointed at the rangy old bull.
Johnny rode around it looking carefully before he rejoined the rancher and his foreman. “Well, if that’s the best ya got, I’m sorry I wasted your time.” Johnny tipped his hat as he turned to ride away.
“Now, wait a minute, son. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have tried to test you. We’ve got better stock to show ya.”
Johnny decided if Murdoch felt interested in a bull from Mr. Harrison, he’d give it another try. He smiled at the rancher. “Lead the way, gentlemen.”
They stopped for lunch after they found the second herd, but Johnny didn’t show any interest in that one either. Johnny hoped that the next bull would be third’s charm, and turns out that herd did have a bull that Johnny thought Murdoch would be happy with. Johnny looked it over without showing much expression on his face.
“How about that bull?” Johnny pointed. “I think my father might like that one.”
Chuck realized that Johnny knew what a prized bull should look like. He waited for his boss to decide if he wanted to sell and if so how much he’d ask for it.
“Johnny, you have a good eye there. That’s my best bull. It’s gonna cost ya, though.”
Johnny waited for the rancher to give him a quote.
“I think three hundred dollars would be a fair amount.” Mr. Harrison waited for Johnny’s response.
Chuck hid his expression. He knew what his boss planned to do with that low price and he hated it.
“I think that sounds like a good price, Mr. Harrison. You’ve got yourself a deal.” He rode over to shake hands with the rancher. He’d had permission to spend up to five hundred dollars, so he felt happy with the deal. The foreman lassoed the bull and the three of them headed back to the ranch house.
Once the bull had been placed in the corral, Johnny wanted to leave right away for Cold River to meet Scott. He took three one-hundred-dollar bills out of his boot and handed it to Mr. Harrison.
“Well, Johnny, it’s nice doing business with a savvy business man. Why don’t you come in and have dinner with us? You could leave in the morning.”
Johnny smiled. “Why, thank you, Mr. Harrison, but I think I’ll be leaving. I just need a bill of sale.”
“Oh, no, I don’t think I have any left. Chuck, did you remember to get some more when you were in town last week?” The foreman shook his head. “Chuck could go into Little Elm and have it for you in the morning.”
“Well, you can just write it on a piece of paper. That’ll be good enough.”
“Nope, that’s not how I do business. I want it to be official.”
Johnny thought about how long it would take him to get to town with the bull. “Mr. Harrison, I’m gonna be heading toward Cold River and don’t want to waste any time. Could your foreman catch up with me with the bill of sale tomorrow morning?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night?” Mr. Harrison tried one more time to persuade Johnny.
“No, thanks. I’ll make camp near the road to Cold River.” He shook the rancher’s hand again before leaving with the prized bull.
The bull, relatively docile, didn’t give Johnny too much trouble. The rancher had sent Johnny on his way with a ham sandwich, but he made a fire to heat up some beans and coffee when he made camp. Johnny had relaxed for the evening, drinking his second cup of coffee, when he heard noises in the bushes. He slowly crawled over behind some large rocks pulling his gun as he went.
“Hello in the camp. I’m the sheriff of Little Elm. We’re comin’ in.”
Johnny looked around the rock and saw the star on the sheriff’s chest. He holstered his gun and walked out from behind the rock. The sheriff didn’t come alone, he had a deputy with him. “Good evening, sheriff. What brings you out?”
“You do. Drop your gun and get your hands up,” the sheriff bellowed.
“What’s going on?” Johnny didn’t make any move to drop his gun.
“Drop your gun belt, now!” Johnny heard a gun cocked behind him. He half turned to find another man behind him with his gun drawn.
Johnny dropped his gun on the ground followed by his holster. “What’s this all about?”
“We arrest cattle thieves around here. You’re lucky, boy. At least we don’t hang ’em.”
“I didn’t steal anything. I bought that bull from Mr. Harrison at the Bar-H.” One of the deputies pulled Johnny’s hands behind him and handcuffed him.
“Do you have a bill of sale, boy?”
“No, his foreman’s bringing me one in the morning,” Johnny answered.
“Chuck, is this your bull?” The sheriff pointed.
Chuck nodded as he appeared out of the shadows.
“Take this bull back to your boss.”
“Now, wait a minute. Chuck, you know me. I came to the ranch yesterday.”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life,” Chuck answered, refusing to look at Johnny.
Johnny spent the night in a jail cell in Little Elm. The next morning, a deputy brought him in front of a judge in the sheriff’s office. The lawman laid out the evidence against Johnny. The judge banged the gavel finding him guilty and sentencing him to six months hard labor at the Little Elm mine. Johnny begged to send a telegram to his father while the deputy pushed him into the jail wagon with two other men who’d been in the jail cells with him.
Scott enjoyed sitting on the porch with Mr. Simpson. They relished their after dinner brandies and discussed life in New England. Mr. Simpson had lived in Boston for a time and loved reminiscing. Scott tried to stifle a yawn, but the trip had finally caught up with him.
“Oh, Scott, I wish we could offer you a room in the house, but with four daughters we don’t have any extra.”
“That’s quite all right, sir. I can bed down in the barn.”
“You look tired, young man. Why don’t you head to the barn and we’ll see you in the morning for breakfast.”
“Thank you, sir. I think I will. Goodnight.”
Scott strolled out to the barn, appreciating the cool breeze. He spent a few minutes making sure Charlie settled in for the evening before picking up his bedroll and looking around for some clean, dry hay to lie down on.
He turned when he heard the side barn door open. One of the twins came in carrying a quilt and a pillow.
She gave her most dazzling smile to the handsome man. “Scott, it’s going to be chilly tonight, so I thought I’d bring you these.”
“Thank you, Annabelle,” he said. “I appreciate your thinking of me.” Scott took them from her arms and looked around for a place to put them.
“I’m Barbara.” The young woman tittered. “You aren’t planning to sleep down here, are you? The loft has fresh hay in it and it’s much…softer.” Barbara smiled and winked at him.
The young woman took the quilt back from Scott and proceeded to climb the ladder. Scott looked up the ladder then quickly looked down as she hadn’t reach the loft yet and he didn’t want to get caught looking up her skirt.
“Come on up, Scott,” Barbara called from the loft.
By the time he made it to the top, the young woman had found a nice level place for him to lie down. Scott unrolled his bedroll and dropped the pillow.
“Thank you for the pillow and quilt. Well, goodnight.” Scott saw the woman still standing there holding the quilt and reached out to relieve her of it. “Is there anything else you need?” Scott queried.
“I’d like to lay the quilt on top of you, so it doesn’t get dirty.”
Scott thought he’d figured out what she was trying to do, but decided to lie down anyway. She flung out the quilt and let it drift down to cover the blond. She leaned in to kiss him goodnight, but Scott stopped her and gallantly kissed her hand instead. The young woman climbed down the ladder in a huff.
Scott smiled, proud of himself, as he closed his eyes to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. The full moon shone through the open loft door casting a bright light into the loft. Scott could either close the door, making it quite warm and stuffy or use the light. After a few minutes, Scott climbed down the ladder to retrieve a book from his saddlebags.
He had just gotten settled again when he heard the door to the barn open followed by the creaking of the ladder. A twin appeared with a basket on her arm. Scott immediately sat up as the young woman sat down next to him.
“Scott, I thought you might like some spice cake.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you, Barbara. I’m sure it’ll be delicious.”
Scott reached to take the slice from her, but instead she broke off a piece and tried to feed it to him.
“I’m not Barbara. I’m Annabelle.”
He turned his face away from the cake. “I think I’ll save it and eat it later. Again, thank you for the cake.” Scott stood to help her down the ladder. Annabelle took the hint and unhappily left the loft.
Scott began to wonder what’s going on with the Simpson twins. He tried to figure out why they were acting this way. Either there weren’t enough men around or they assumed that Scott was a rich, eligible bachelor ripe for the picking. Whatever the reason, he finally fell asleep dreaming of beautiful women. The beautiful woman in his dream kissed his ear, trailing kisses across his cheek to his lips. He enjoyed it and returned the kiss. Suddenly, he realized the kiss felt too real. He awoke with a start and pushed the young woman, clad only in her nightgown, away from him.
She crawled toward him whispering, “It’s OK, Scott. I’ve been in this loft before.”
“Annabelle, Barbara, whoever you are, I’m sorry, but I am not interested. You’re a beautiful woman … you’re both beautiful, but not for me.”
“But you kissed me,” Annabelle argued.
“I thought … I dreamed … I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression.” Scott stood and emphatically pointed toward the ladder. “Please, leave.”
Annabelle, embarrassed that her affections were denied, hurried to the ladder. About two rungs down, her foot caught in her nightgown. Scott, in shock, watched her fall before flying down the ladder to her side. She lay semi-conscious at the bottom of the ladder, moaning in pain. The blond rushed to the ranch house to alert the young woman’s parents.
The couple grabbed a lantern and rushed to the barn. Betsy ran to her daughter’s side while Bill looked murderously at the Lancer son.
“What happened here?” Mr. Simpson demanded.
Scott took a calming breath before answering, “Your daughter came to check on me and fell.”
“Why would she do that?”
Fred Miller, the foreman, and several hired hands wandered into the barn. Scott could feel the anger emanating from the men.
“I thought Scott wanted me,” Annabelle gasped. “But when I showed up, he pushed me down the ladder.”
“No, I never touched her,” Scott quickly denied. “Her foot got caught in her gown.”
Fred stepped forward and swung on Scott, who bobbed out of the way. “I oughta mess up that pretty face of yours, Lancer.” The foreman advanced on Scott again, but Mr. Simpson stopped him.
Annabelle stood, wrapped in her mother’s arms, but shyly looked at the foreman..
“Why would Annabelle act this way with a stranger, unless he lead her on?” Mr. Simpson mused aloud asking no one in particular.
He looked at his daughter who continued glancing at the foreman. Mr. Simpson looked at Fred, who the other men were holding back from attacking Scott. Then he looked at Scott, who stood tall and didn’t break eye contact. Simpson knew there must be more going on than what he’d been told. “Fred, why are you so angry at Scott?”
“’Cause he hurt Annabelle. Nobody should ever lay a hand on her. I’m gonna make him sorry he came here.” Fred strained against the men who held him.
Betsy smiled at the foreman before looking at her husband. The moment the rancher figured it out, a huge grin split his face.
“Fred, do you have feelings for my daughter?”
Before the foreman could answer, Annabelle rushed from her mother’s embrace to her man’s arms. “I’m sorry, Fred. I wanted to know if you really cared for me.”
Mr. Simpson motioned for the hired hands to return to the bunkhouse. “Betsy, Annabelle, why don’t we take this into the house. Fred, you come, too.” Mr. Simpson, carrying the lantern, motioned for Fred to follow them out of the barn.
Scott stood there in the dark barn after everyone had left. He wished he could leave this crazy place, but knew he needed to stay to get the money from the rancher. Scott climbed up the ladder to the loft knowing he probably wouldn’t be sleeping tonight, but some time during the night he did succumb to sleep.
The rooster woke him the next morning. Scott quickly packed up his belongings, saddled his horse, and left the scene of the incident behind him. After tying Charlie to the railing, he placed the quilt and pillow on a chair on the front porch. He stood silently in front of the house waiting for the rancher to make his appearance.
Mr. Simpson noticed the items, but said nothing. He brought Scott a ham and biscuit sandwich and a cup of coffee. Scott had his breakfast alone on the front porch while the rancher went back in to eat breakfast with his family.
Once Mr. Simpson gave Scott the money, they shook hands. “I’m sorry for what happened, son. I hope our ranches will continue a friendly relationship.”
“Yes, sir, I think we can do that.” Scott smiled in relief as he watched the rancher get on his horse and ride away.
Scott put the money in a secret pocket in the bottom of his saddlebags and glanced around the ranch one last time. Happy to be leaving, he headed toward Cold River at a comfortable pace. He stopped for a cold lunch, provided by Mrs. Simpson, in a shady area by a slow-moving creek. His lack of sleep caught up with him as he nodded off. Scott awoke an hour later feeling refreshed.
About mid-afternoon, Scott checked into the hotel in Cold River. Not surprised to have beaten his brother to town, since Johnny and the bull weren’t expected until tomorrow, Scott relaxed in his room reading a book until dinner time. Dinner in the cafe, followed by poker and drinking in the saloon, an enjoyable way to pass the time.
Scott slept in the following morning and had a late breakfast before heading out for a little bit of shopping. He found some yarn, ribbon, and a fashion magazine for Teresa. For Murdoch, he purchased a bottle of wine from a local vintner. He decided on a medical book for Josh, Teresa’s fiance. Since he’d had a late breakfast, he only ate a piece of pie with coffee for lunch. He figured Johnny would be there to have dinner with him, anyway. The blond returned to his room with his purchases and lay down to read his book. His eyes grew heavy and sleep came calling again.
When Scott awoke, the sun had gone down. He pulled his watch out of his pocket. Seven-thirty. Where is Johnny? Scott splashed some water on his face to help him wake up, tucked his shirt into his pants, and looked out the window for Johnny’s horse. Maybe Barranca’s in the livery. Scott checked with the front desk, but his brother hadn’t checked in. He also got negative results when he visited the livery.
Something or someone could’ve held him up. Scott thought about his experience with the fairer sex the past few days and grimaced.
Johnny woke to the sound of someone unlocking the barrack door. “Up and at ’em, inmates!” the guard bellowed as he kicked at some of the men’s feet who slept on the bottom bunks. Johnny immediately jumped down from a top bed, determined to not cause any trouble and hoping to find a way to send a message to Murdoch.
“Line up,” another guard yelled, pointing to the ‘prison’ yard. As the prisoners filed past him, they were handed a piece of jerky for breakfast.
Johnny finally had a chance to look at the other inmates. There were about a dozen men ranging in age from a teenager to a man in his forties. As the men finished eating their meager breakfast, the warden strolled back and forth in front of them.
“Since we have a few new inmates, I want to go over the expectations, again. They’re very simple. One, work from sun up to sun down. Two, follow the guards’ instructions. Three, punishment for not following the first two will be swift and harsh. Any questions?”
“I didn’t do anything! I don’t belong here!” the teenager, Bobby, who arrived with Johnny, yelled.
A guard walked up behind the young man. Johnny knew what could happen and tried to calm the teenager, but too late. The guard hit the angry young man in the back with his rifle stock and Bobby crumpled to the ground in pain.
“You didn’t need to do that,” Johnny growled at the guard as he helped the teenager to his feet.
“You want some of this, too, boy?”
Johnny bit back his remark as he hung his head. It wouldn’t help either of them to antagonize the guard.
The guards forced all the inmates into the prison wagon. The trip to the mine took only half an hour. At the mine, the prisoners were shackled, one leg to a stake in the ground. Each man, given either a pick to increase the depth of the tunnel or a shovel to put the rocks into the railroad cart that ran in the middle of the shaft, chose a tool.
Johnny took the pick and handed the shovel to Bobby. “Don’t anger them. The guards will always win,” he whispered into the teenager’s ear. “My brother and father will be looking for me. They’ll get us out of this. Just hang on.”
“Get to work!” A guard nudged Johnny with the business end of the rifle.
Both men started to work. It didn’t take long for blisters to form on Johnny’s palms. By noon some of the blisters had popped. When the guards let them take a lunch break, he tore his sleeves off his shirt and wrapped them around his hands. He wished he’d carried gloves like Scott always did, but wondered if the guards would’ve let him wear them. Johnny helped Bobby copy his actions to protect the young man’s hands.
By the end of the day, Johnny could barely stand up, his back killing him. When they returned to the camp, a guard handed each man a bowl of ‘stew’ for dinner and ushered them into the barracks. Bobby sat his bowl on the floor and collapsed on his top bunk. Johnny picked up the bowl and handed it up to him.
“No matter how tired you are, you have to eat to keep your strength up. This shit is better than starving.” Johnny grinned when Bobby grimaced after taking a bite of the watery stew.
Johnny finished his ‘dinner’ and placed the bowl on the floor before he climbed onto his bunk. The guards came back to collect the bowls and take the lamps away. Too tired to miss the light, Johnny dropped off to a restless sleep. He dreamed that Scott arrived to rescue him, arriving on a white horse in his full cavalry uniform brandishing his sword. Johnny awoke the next morning to the guards yelling at them. He remembered his dream and smiled. He hoped that Scott would find a way to get him out of this mess.
Johnny’s being two days overdue led Scott to consider his options. He decided to send a telegram to Murdoch.
Morro Coyo, CA
Johnny overdue to meet <STOP>
Sheriff alerted <STOP>
Cold River, CA
Scott left the telegraph office and proceeded directly to the sheriff’s office. He found a plump man snoring at his desk, leaning back with his chair propped on the back two legs. Scott noticed the star pinned to his vest and felt disappointed. He hoped his first impression of the lawman would be wrong.
“Excuse me, sheriff.” Scott tapped the man on his shoulder.
The lawman jumped to his feet, surprisingly agile, and pulled his gun.
“Whoa. I need your help.” Scott kept his hands raised to show no ill intent.
The sheriff took a deep breath and sat back down behind his desk. “What can I do for ya?”
“My name is Scott Lancer. I’m worried about my brother, who’s two days late to meet me.”
“When and where did you see him last?” the sheriff sighed and asked the questions by rote.
“Four days ago. He headed to the Harrison ranch outside of Little Elm to purchase a bull for our ranch.”
“Have you been to the Bar-H to talk to the Harrisons?”
“I’m going to ride there this afternoon. Do you know them?” Scott hoped the sheriff had some information that would help him find Johnny.
“Nope, but I’ve heard rumors about Mr. Harrison not always being on the up-and-up. Watch your back when you go up there.”
“Thanks, Sheriff. I’ll check back in with you when I return.” Scott shook hands with the lawman as he left the jail. “Oh, and if my father, Murdoch Lancer, arrives before I get back, let him know where I’ve gone.”
Scott arrived at the Bar-H around noon. A hired hand wandered out of the barn and greeted him.
“I’m here to see Mr. Harrison. Is he around?”
“Nope, but he’ll be back soon. You can wait on the porch if you want.”
“Thank you.” Scott walked to the water pump and enjoyed a cup of cool water. He took his time looking around the ranch before he strolled over to relax in a chair on the porch. He didn’t need to wait very long. Mr. Harrison and Chuck arrived about ten minutes later.
Scott stood to greet the rancher as he walked up the steps. The blond extended his hand before introducing himself. “Mr. Harrison, I’m Scott Lancer. I’m Murdoch Lancer’s son.”
“Well, nice to finally meet ya, young man. You’re a little late, I expected you several days ago.”
“I thought my brother came to buy a bull from you before we were to meet in Cold River. Are you saying he never made it here?”
“No, sorry. You’re the first Lancer I’ve met. Are ya still interested in buying a bull?”
“Maybe, after I’ve found my brother. Do you mind if I look around your ranch? Maybe someone else has seen him.”
“No, not at all. If fact, Chuck, my foreman, would be happy to show ya around. Won’t you, Chuck?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Harrison. Let me get a fresh mount and I’ll be right with ya.”
Scott grabbed Charlie’s reins and followed the foreman over to wait in front of the barn. As Chuck led his horse out of the barn, Scott looked in through the open door and spotted a familiar horse.
“Wait a minute.” Scott rushed into the barn to check Barranca over. “This is my brother’s horse. I thought you said he hadn’t been here.”
“He hasn’t. I found that horse wandering in our south pasture. Are ya sure it’s your brother’s horse?”
Scott showed the foreman the Lancer brand on Barranca and Charlie. “Can you take me to where you found him?” Scott asked as he pointed to Johnny’s horse.
“Sure. Just let me go tell Mr. Harrison where we’ll be headed.”
Scott nodded, as he looked around the barn for Barranca’s tack. He didn’t have to look very far as they were on the wall between the stalls.
While Scott got the palomino saddled, Chuck had a talk with his boss.
“He found his brother’s horse in the barn?! How stupid can you be?” Spittle flew from Mr. Harrison’s mouth as he loudly whispered at his foreman.
“He doesn’t suspect. I told him I found that horse wandering around the south pasture. I’m gonna take him out there and show him where I ‘found’ the horse.”
“Whatever you do, don’t leave any evidence that ties back to us. Stall him while I go into Little Elm. Then bring him into town to the sheriff’s office.”
Chuck nodded as he left the house to catch up with Scott. The foreman led Scott, with Barranca trailing behind them, out of the yard.
Mr. Harrison left shortly after his foreman and Scott did. He rode toward Little Elm to warn the sheriff and the judge that they might have some problems with the Lancer brothers.
After about an hour searching for any signs that Johnny had come through the area, Chuck suggested that Scott go to Little Elm to ask the sheriff if he’d heard anything of Johnny. Scott thought that sounded like a good idea, so they headed into town.
Chuck and Scott tied their horses and Barranca to the hitch rail in front of the jail. Scott hoped this sheriff’s more competent than the one in Cold River. Scott removed his hat as he walked into the jail, shocked to see Mr. Harrison standing in the office.
“Mr. Harrison. What are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d notify the sheriff of your missing brother while you and Chuck were out searching.”
“Can you describe your brother for me? Show me his horse. Maybe someone else has seen him or his horse.” The sheriff sounded sincere in his questioning.
Scott led the sheriff outside to show him Barranca. He told the lawman about his brother while they walked. When the sheriff questioned Scott about proving the horse belonged to Johnny, the blond led the lawman to Barranca’s Lancer brand.
The deputy appeared from the side of the building and knocked Scott out with a blow to the head using his gun butt. Scott collapsed in a heap on the ground. “Now what do we do with him?” The deputy asked.
“Tell the judge to list him as a horse thief and send him off to the mine.” The sheriff looked to the rancher for approval. Mr. Harrison nodded his agreement.
The deputy took off to retrieve the jail wagon from the livery. They dumped Scott in the back, but before they could leave the judge wanted to see his latest prisoner.
“That young man doesn’t look like the type to steal horses. Are you sure about his crime?” The judge questioned the sheriff.
“Well, judge, Mr. Harrison caught him red-handed. You know the old saying, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ is true most the time.”
“All right. Carry on, sheriff, deputy.” The judge washed his hands of the whole situation and returned to his office down the street.
Scott regained consciousness about half-way to the mine. He awoke alone in the back of the enclosed wagon with his hands handcuffed.
“Hey! What’s going on? Where are you taking me? Hey!” Scott continued to yell until the wagon rolled to a stop.
The deputy pulled open the door and stood with a rifle pointed at the blond. “You shut up! I don’t wanna listen to your yelling all the way to the mine. If you aren’t quiet, I’ll knock you out again. Got it?”
“Please, just answer some questions. What mine? Why am I handcuffed?” Scott’s head hurt and he needed answers.
The exasperated deputy sighed. “We always handcuff prisoners and you’ve been sentenced to six months hard labor at the mine.” As he started to close the door, Scott asked one more question.
“Of what crime have I been found guilty?”
“Horse stealing,” the deputy growled as he slammed the wagon door.
Since Scott arrived late in the day, the warden didn’t send him out to the mine. Scott received his prison uniform and a guard escorted him to the barracks. He sat down on a bunk waiting to see what would happen next. He didn’t have long to wait before two guards arrived with bowls of soup for the returning prisoners. Scott looked through the bars in the window and saw a wagon, loaded with men in prison uniforms, rumble into the yard. The men filed through the door, collected their dinner rations, and wandered to their bunks.
Scott felt mixed emotions when he recognized his brother coming through the door: confusion, happiness, relief, and frustration. “Johnny!” Scott shouted at his brother. “Thank God I’ve found you.”
“Scott! What are you doing here?” The brothers patted each other on the back. Johnny led Scott over to the bunk next to his.
The reunion, interrupted by the guard’s announcement, “Eat up! Lights out in five minutes.”
Johnny quickly slurped down his meal. “Boston, where’s your bowl? They mean it when they say five minutes and lights out.”
“I’m not hungry.” Looking in the bowl actually made him a little nauseous. “How long have you been here? What trumped up charge did they convict you of?” Scott wanted answers, but Johnny shook his head.
“We’ll talk later.” Johnny nodded his head toward the guard collecting the empty bowls, while the other one grabbed the lanterns. “Good night, miners.” The guard laughed at his own joke as he left the barracks, locking the door behind him.
“OK, Johnny, what crime did they charge you with?” Scott whispered.
“What?” Scott’s voice started to rise. Johnny motioned for him to lower it.
“Well, stealing a bull. I got caught with no bill of sale. I stupidly fell for Harrison’s trick, and the sheriff’s in on it.”
“Not stupidity, just trusting the wrong man.”
“Now, brother, what’d they get you for?” Johnny wanted his curiosity satisfied.
“What? That’s a hangin’ offense.” Scott hushed Johnny for raising his voice this time.
“Thankfully they didn’t decide to go that route. The sheriff asked me to prove that Barranca – ”
“Wait, you had Barranca with you?” Johnny interrupted.
“Yes, Johnny, last I saw he’s fine. Anyway, I went to show the sheriff the Lancer brand and someone hit me from behind, probably the deputy. I trusted Harrison and the sheriff, too.” Scott paused for a moment before asking his next pressing question. “Prepare me for what to expect around here.”
Johnny couldn’t see Scott’s expression, but he knew this could be hard on his brother. “They have us working in a mine. Your job will either be enlarging the mine shaft with a pick ax or shoveling out the rocks. They feed us three times a day: jerky, a sandwich, and soup. That’s about all I can tell you. They haven’t been too rough on any of the prisoners, but the warden doesn’t want to hear any innocent pleas. Any ideas on getting out of here?”
“I sent Murdoch a telegram from Cold River telling him you were missing. I told that sheriff I’d go to Harrison’s place to look for you, and I asked him to keep a look out for Murdoch until I returned. The sheriff said something strange before I left, like he might know Harrison’s done this before.” Scott paused to remember exactly what the lawman said. “He said that Harrison wasn’t always truthful with his transactions and to watch my back around him.”
Johnny thought about what they’d discussed and stifled a yawn.“Scott, we’d better get some sleep. It’s gonna be a tiring day tomorrow working in the mine.”
“All right, Johnny.” Scott answered his brother’s request, but knew he wouldn’t get any sleep tonight. He felt too keyed up over his sudden incarceration and this prison brought back memories of his last prison camp. At least he had his own bunk here – as far as he could tell it wasn’t infested with lice – and they weren’t overcrowded in a small room. Another bright spot, he could look out the window from his bunk, but a prison is a prison.
Scott, still awake when the guards came to wake the prisoners, shook Johnny and whispered, “I’ll meet you outside,” as he rushed out the door. He barely stopped to accept the hard piece of jerky from the guard. He forced himself to eat the smoked meat while he breathed in the fresh air.
Johnny stretched and ate his jerky as he wandered over to stand by his brother. “Morning, Scott.” He started to ask Scott how he’d slept, but could tell by the blond’s face that he hadn’t gotten much if any sleep.
“So, do you want the ax or the shovel? Maybe you should take it easy today and do the shoveling.” Johnny’s attempt at humor, lost on his brother.
Scott turned to Johnny and noticed the shirt sleeves bandaging his hands. “How are your hands?”
“OK, since I wrapped them. If you see blisters forming, take care of them before they get too bad.”
Scott nodded and watched the other inmates amble toward the wagon.
“Everybody, get in the wagon! We don’t have all day,” the guard yelled as he gave the boys a shove.
After the sun went down, the deputy and the Little Elm sheriff stopped at the judge’s house. The lawman knocked on the door and the judge greeted them warmly, inviting them in.
“Sheriff, what are you doing here, tonight?”
“I think we have a problem.”
The judge motioned for them to follow him into his study.
“What? We always followed the letter of the law,” The judge said.
“It’s those Lancer boys. Their father is a powerful rancher and he could cause trouble. Harrison didn’t know Murdoch Lancer has influential friends when he cheated his son. Then, when that older son started snooping around, well, we had to get him out of the way, too.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“If Mr. Lancer goes out to the mine he’ll find his boys and we’ll all go to prison.” The sheriff explained.
“Well, maybe, we need to get rid of them,” the deputy suggested.
“How are we going to do that … legally?” The judge queried.
“What if there’s more evidence against the horse thief? That’s a hanging offense, isn’t it?” the deputy suggested.
The sheriff nodded his head and smiled. “Let’s head up to the prison first thing in the morning. Before we leave, we should get the carpenter to get started on the gallows.”
“What about the other son?” The judge worried.
“He can be shot trying to escape. It will be a double tragedy for Murdoch Lancer when both of his sons are killed.”
The three men smiled and finalized their plans. Happy with their arrangements, they parted company for the evening. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.
The wagon carrying the judge, driven by the deputy, arrived at the prison around eleven o’clock. The sheriff rode alongside the wagon. The trio met with the warden in his office and explained the circumstances that required them to take Scott Lancer back into custody. Then, the four men went to the mine.
“Guard, could you bring Scott Lancer over here,” the warden requested.
The brothers looked up when they heard the guard looking for Scott.
“Scott Lancer! The warden wants to see ya.”
“I’m Scott Lancer.” The guard took him by the arm and led him to the group of gentlemen waiting by a wagon.
“Mr. Lancer, new evidence in your case has come to light. The judge would like to have you back in Little Elm.” The warden pointed toward the wagon as the guard applied the handcuffs and led him over.
Scott cooperated fully, as he hoped he would be released soon. Then, he could get Johnny out, too.
As the wagon pulled out of sight, the sheriff rode his horse over near a smiling Johnny. “That new evidence is gonna get your brother hung.” The sheriff chuckled as he rode away.
“No!” Johnny lunged at a guard as far as his chain would allow, but the guard shoved him to the ground. He jumped up and struggled with another guard, but they subdued Johnny with a club to the side of the head.
The wagon containing Scott arrived in Little Elm. Scott noticed the scaffolding being built in the center of town, but didn’t feel any concern since it couldn’t pertain to him. The deputy brought him into the jail and removed his handcuffs as he pushed him into a cell. The judge followed the sheriff into his office and sat down at the desk.
“Mr. Lancer, can you hear me from your cell?” The judge asked.
“Yes, Your Honor, I can hear you.”
“The sheriff has found some evidence that will change the outcome of your case. Sheriff – ”
“Yes, Judge, I’ve found evidence that Scott Lancer has stolen horses from Mr. Harrison’s ranch and from two other ranchers.”
“What? I’ve never stolen any horses.”
The judge pounded his gavel on the desk. “You’re out of order, Mr. Lancer!”
“I have the right to a jury trial and a lawyer!” Scott yelled and banged on the bars trying to disrupt the proceedings.
“Deputy, gag the prisoner,” the sheriff instructed.
Scott fought against the deputy, but the sheriff, who rushed into the cell to assist his deputy, shoved Scott’s face against the wall. Between the two men, they were able to handcuff him to the cot and gag him.
“I find Scott Lancer guilty of stealing horses and sentence him to hang until dead. Do you think the scaffold will be completed by tomorrow morning?”
“Yes, we can take care of this in the morning,” answered the sheriff.
“Good. I’m going home for dinner. See you in the morning.”
Murdoch stretched his back as he walked away from the stage coach. The first stop in Cold River would be the hotel. Hopefully, Scott could fill him in on all the details of Johnny’s disappearance. Unfortunately, the desk clerk hadn’t seen his eldest since yesterday morning. Murdoch dropped his saddlebags in his room before he strolled down the boardwalk to visit the sheriff. He opened the door to find the jail empty. Murdoch decided to sit and wait, even though what he really wanted to do was rest his back at the hotel. The sheriff wandered in, a few minutes later, with a curious look on his face.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Murdoch Lancer, and I’m looking for my sons.”
“I met one of your sons, Scott, a couple of days ago. He said he’s looking for his brother.”
“Where did he go, sheriff?”
“He went to see Mr. Harrison at the Bar-H ranch, because that’s where his brother went to buy a bull, but I haven’t heard anything from him since then. I did warn him about going up there, though.”
“Why did you warn him?”
“Well, I’ve heard some rumors about Harrison’s business dealings.”
“Since Little Elm is close to the Harrison spread, do you think the sheriff there could help me interview Mr. Harrison?”
“Well, I didn’t tell your son this, but I’ve also heard that men tend to ‘disappear’ from Little Elm and I don’t know how much the local sheriff could be involved.”
“Sheriff, I need help finding my sons. Would you be willing to go with me to the Bar-H?”
“Mr. Lancer, it’s not really my jurisdiction,” the sheriff looked at the anxious father, “but I’ll do my best to help you find your sons. I feel like I owe it to your oldest for not assisting him earlier.”
They quickly saddled their mounts and took off to the Harrison’s ranch. It only took about an hour-and-a-half to reach their destination. As they rode up to the house, they were met by a hired hand coming out of the barn.
“Can I help you, gents?”
“Were looking for Mr. Harrison.” The sheriff answered.
The young man noticed the star on the lawman’s vest. “I think he’s gone to town.”
“Do you know when he’ll be returning?” Murdoch asked.
“I don’t know. I saw him leave right after breakfast.”
“Thanks.” The two men decided to head to Little Elm to try to get some answers from Harrison.
One of the guards tried to explain to the warden that the Little Elm sheriff wanted Johnny to be ‘released’ so they could kill him trying to escape.
“No one has ever escaped from one of my prisons,” exclaimed the warden. “He’s done nothing to be killed. He’ll serve his sentence in the mine like the other inmates.”
“But he attacked us! He deserves some punishment for that!”
“All right, put him in the cage in the yard. Maybe that’ll calm him down.” The warden turned on his heels and angrily stalked back to his office.
The guard took great pleasure in throwing water on Johnny to revive him. Johnny came to sputtering and ready to fight.
“Hold on there, Lancer. The warden don’t want us to kill ya, but we will if you try to escape. Now, get up!”
Two guards with weapons pointed toward him were too much for Johnny to fight. They shoved him toward a wrought iron cage, four foot square with barely room to sit down, in the middle of the yard. Johnny knew it would get warm in the cage during the day, but he could handle it. His greatest frustration, that he hadn’t been able to rescue Scott. He decided he’d spend the rest of his time in prison plotting how to avenge his brother’s murder when he finally got released.
Sometime during the night, Scott must have fallen asleep, because he awoke the next morning wanting the gag out of his mouth and a long drink of water. Still handcuffed, feeling frustrated and confused by being railroaded through the judicial system, Scott knew this kind of ‘justice’ shouldn’t happen anymore. He hoped this morning would bring him a chance to talk to the judge and maybe he’d get a chance to send some telegrams. When his stomach began to grumble, he remembered he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast yesterday as the sheriff had taken him before he’d gotten to eat lunch at the prison. He took stock of his cell and didn’t even see a water bucket. He closed his eyes to try and think of a plan to get out of this predicament, but exhaustion set in and he quickly fell back asleep.
The next time Scott woke up, to the sound of sawing and hammering. The deputy arrived carrying a tray covered with a napkin.
“Here ya go, Lancer. Enjoy your breakfast, ’cause you’ve been given a short reprieve. Your hangin’ has been pushed back ’cause the carpenter ain’t quite done with the scaffoldin’.” The deputy unlocked the cell and placed the tray on the other cot. He unlocked Scott’s handcuffs and swiftly back out of the cell, locking the door behind him. He hung the keys on the hook on the wall as he walked back into the office area.
“I need to see the judge! I want a jury trial! This isn’t legal!”
“You can want all ya want, but you’re gonna hang.”
Scott sat dejectedly on his bunk and picked at his meal. He couldn’t think of any way to get out of this predicament. Frustrated, he flung his tray against the wall, then sat rubbing his sore wrists,
Mr. Harrison and the sheriff walked through the office and back to the jail, stopping in front of Scott’s cell. They noticed the food stains on the wall.
“Well, Mr. Lancer, it won’t be much longer now. And to calm your fears, you won’t be dying alone. Your brother will probably be shot trying to escape today.” The sheriff grinned at Scott.
Scott lunged at the bars trying to reach through to get to the lawman. “You’re crazy! You won’t get away with this!”
“Yes, we will. And my mine will continue to earn us money with free labor. Gentlemen, I think I’ll head on back to my ranch,” Mr. Harrison told his cohorts.
“Don’t you want to wait to see young Lancer here swing?” the sheriff asked.
“No, I’ve plenty to do back home.” Harrison waved at the sheriff as he left the office.
The Cold River sheriff held his hand up to slow Murdoch down. He’d recognized the approaching rider.
“Harrison! Hold up!”
Mr. Harrison reined in his horse to a stop in front of the lawman and Murdoch. “Hello, sheriff. What’s got you out and about away from Cold River?”
“I do,” Murdoch jumped in to answer. “I’m looking for my sons.”
“Who are your sons, mister?”
“Johnny and Scott Lancer,” Murdoch said as he pulled his pistol.
“Why would you think I know where they are?” Sweat began to pop up on Harrison’s forehead.
Murdoch drew his horse closer to the rancher. “You were the last to see my boys. Tell me where they are?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Murdoch cocked the hammer of his gun. “I don’t want to hear your lies.” The angry father gritted his teeth and growled, “Tell me where to find them before I decide to shoot you.”
“Sheriff, are you gonna let Lancer threaten me?”
“Gentlemen, I’m riding on to Little Elm.” The Cold River sheriff waved as he rode off toward town.
“Wait, you can’t leave me with – ” Harrison looked at the sheriff’s back as the lawman departed. Murdoch pointed his gun at Harrison’s leg. “OK OK! Your son’s in Little Elm.”
“Let’s go.” The patriarch pointed toward town and the two men proceeded to Little Elm. The Cold River sheriff had waited around the bend in the road for them. The three men rode quickly toward town.
The Little Elm deputy jangled the keys as he entered the cell area. He opened Scott’s cell door, then motioned for the blond to come out. Scott sat up rubbing his wrists, but stayed on his bunk.
“I need to talk to the judge.”
The deputy shook his head. “You’re guilty. Time to swing.”
“This isn’t legal,” Scott argued.
“Let’s go, Lancer!” The deputy reached in, but Scott refused to move. He grabbed the blond’s left arm, but Scott still managed to slug the deputy. The sheriff heard the scuffle and rushed in to help. Scott had almost made it out of the cell when the sheriff arrived, punching the blond in the face repeatedly. He fell groggily to the floor, but didn’t lose consciousness. The lawmen pulled Scott’s arms behind his back and handcuffed him, then dragged Scott to his feet and out the door toward the center of town.
They stopped at the bottom step of the gallows, but the carpenter still working, hadn’t completed them.
“Sheriff, I’m not finished building yet,” the woodworker pointed out.
“I haven’t had enough time to test it.”
“Don’t need to,” the sheriff responded.
“Walk up the stairs, Lancer, or we’ll drag ya,” the deputy instructed as he grabbed Scott’s arm.
Scott, seeing through blurry vision as his eye started to swell shut, thought, the rope won’t break again like it did with the Gatling. He stumbled up the stairs with the ‘aid’ of the deputy.
He stood stoically, then a grin quirked on one side of his mouth. When they placed the rope around his neck and tightened it, Scott’s grin turned into a full smile as he started to laugh.
“What’s so funny, Lancer?” the sheriff asked.
Scott slightly nodded his head toward the road. He’d looked down the road and saw dirt from some horses galloping toward him. “Maybe the rope will break for me again.”
The lawman looked down the road and quickly turned to pull the lever. A bullet hit near the sheriff’s hand. Another bullet hit the wood near his shoulder. The two lawmen scampered to find cover under the scaffolding, leaving Scott standing over the trap door with the rope still tight around his neck.
The shooting stopped as quickly as it had started.
“Don’t shoot, sheriff! This is Sheriff Jones from Cold River! We’re here to stop this hanging!” Murdoch exclaimed as he dismounted and rushed up the steps to Scott’s side.
Sheriff Jones dismounted and pulled Harrison from his horse. The lawmen began to argue over the legality of the hanging.
“Nice to see you, sir.” Scott’s relief showed on his face.
Murdoch loosened the rope and removed the noose from Scott’s neck. He quickly hugged his son before ushering him down the steps. “Get these handcuffs off my son.”
“But, he’s been found guilty of horse stealing,” the deputy blurted.
“Shut up!” the Little Elm sheriff snarled at his deputy.
“What trial, what evidence? Did he have legal council? And get these handcuffs off him, now!” Murdoch bellowed.
The Little Elm sheriff took his key out of his pocket and grumbled as he unlocked the handcuffs, then he abruptly turned to quickly walk back to his jail. He knew he couldn’t argue with the angry father and he hoped he could flee out the back door before anyone came looking for him.
With shaky legs, Scott collapsed onto the bottom steps of the gallows. Murdoch retrieved a canteen off his horse and handed it to his son, who rubbed at the slight rope marks on his neck. Scott slowly drank the warm water, wishing for a cool drink, but wouldn’t pass up any water at this point.
The two Lancer men, oblivious to their surroundings, finally noticed the Cold River sheriff marching Mr. Harrison and the deputy toward the Little Elm jail. The deputy loudly expounded on Mr. Harrison, the sheriff and the judge’s part in the whole mine scheme. The deputy willingly told all he knew, if they’d show him some mercy. Harrison kept yelling for the young man to shut up and requested a lawyer.
Scott, feeling better, struggled to his feet with the help of his father.
“We’ve got to get to the prison. They said they’re planning to kill Johnny by letting him attempt an escape.”
“Scott, sheriff Jones and I will leave as soon as he gets finished locking up those two.”
“I’m going with you. Johnny will need to see me. I just hope he hasn’t done anything foolish yet.”
Murdoch rushed into the jail to hurry the lawman along. “We need to get out to the prison to rescue my son, Johnny.”
“Mr. Lancer, I’d like to arrest the judge and put him in jail before we head out.”
“Sheriff, we don’t have time for that. Scott said they’re planning on forcing him to escape so they can shoot him.”
The sheriff now understood the urgency in the father’s voice. By the time they reached their horses, Murdoch realized Scott hadn’t waited. He looked up the road and saw dust settling from an earlier rider. He hoped they could catch up to Scott, on Murdoch’s horse, before he reached the prison, or at least that his son wouldn’t do something stupid getting both sons killed in the process.
“What are you doing back here, Lancer? You were supposed to be hung.” The guard greeted Scott at the gate.
“Last minute reprieve. Let me in to see the warden. Now!”
“You wait here. I’ll see if the warden wants to see you.” The guard leisurely walked to the warden’s office.
Scott impatiently scanned the yard while he waited. He noticed it looked like someone’s in the cage. He’d never seen anyone in it before, but he hadn’t been at the prison very long. He strained to see who it might be, but couldn’t tell from this distance. Scott had a bad feeling it might be his brother.
“Johnny! Johnny, can you hear me! I’m here to get you out!” Scott noticed the dark head turned at his voice, but made no response. “Johnny, hang on, brother! It won’t be long.”
Johnny smiled and nodded his head, then rested it on his knees in his cramped confines.
The warden, hearing the yelling, angrily rushed from his office with his napkin still tied around his throat. He didn’t like to have his lunch disturbed.
“See here, what’s the meaning of all this yelling? Lancer, what are you doing here? I thought you’d been released pending a new trial.”
“I’ve be released for lack of evidence. The Cold River sheriff’s on his way to have my brother released, as well. Harrison’s been arrested for his involvement. Now, release my brother!”
“I can’t do that until a lawman tells me to do so.”
“Well, at least let me go to my brother,” Scott pleaded. “Please.”
The warden guessed Scott wouldn’t be there if something hadn’t happened. The fact that Scott begged helped weigh the warden’s decision in the young Lancer’s favor.
“Open the gate.”
“But warden, you – ” the guard tried to argue.
“You heard me. Open the gate.”
The guard reluctantly followed the warden’s instructions.
Scott raced his horse to the cage and dismounted. “Johnny, I’m here. We’re going to get you out of here.” Scott could barely reach his fingers through the bars to touch Johnny’s sweaty head. Scott rushed to his horse to get the canteen, but realized they’d left it by the gallows.
“He needs water!” Scott rushed to the water pump. He grabbed the cup that hung from the handle and pumped, filling the cup. He quickly walked back to the cage trying not to spill any. The cup wouldn’t fit through the bars. Scott cried out in frustration. Johnny put his cupped hands besides the bars. Scott poured some of the water through the bars into his brother’s hands. Johnny drank what little water he captured and smiled. The brothers repeated this action until Johnny finally spoke.
“Nice to see ya, brother,” Johnny croaked with a hoarse whisper.
“Good to see you, too, brother,” Scott answered, his weariness finally caught up to him, as he slid to a seat leaning against the cage.
They both turned at the sound of riders approaching. They didn’t need to hear their father’s commanding voice to know that help had arrived for them and all the prisoners.
“Are you boys done lazing around in bed and ready to go home?” Murdoch teased as he entered the hotel room in Cold River carrying a pot of coffee and three mugs. The three Lancers had spent the last two days recuperating and discussing what had happened at Harrison’s ranch, the Simpson’s ranch and in Little Elm, not to mention the time at the prison. They’d have to come back at the end of the month for the trial against Harrison, the judge, deputy, and sheriff. They left their statements with the sheriff outlining all the events that had taken place.
“Well, have we given Teresa enough time to finish her Spring cleaning?” Scott looked at at his father with his good eye. The swelling had thankfully reduced in the other eye.
Murdoch looked perplexed at Scott’s question. “What – ”
“Oh, give it up, old man,” Johnny interrupted. “We know Teresa asked you to get us ‘out from under foot’ for a while.”
Murdoch smiled sheepishly before answering. “Her latest telegram requested that we all quickly return so she could quit worrying.”
Scott and Johnny pulled back their covers and showed they were both fully dressed, except for their boots.
Murdoch shook his head. “Boys, let’s go home. Oh, and the next time I send you out together, please stick together. I don’t think any problems would’ve arisen if you’d followed my instructions.”
Johnny and Scott slid side-eyes at each other, shook their heads, and grabbed their boots. No need to argue with their father, but they knew trouble always seemed to follow them no matter what happened.
Especially if anyone came up with a bright idea.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or Email Patricia directly.
9 thoughts on “Johnny’s Bright Idea by PatriciaG”
Patricia, Enjoyed your story. A fun way to spend some time on Christmas. I thought those girls were going to give Scott more trouble but it turned out it was the other rancher. Murdoch to the rescue again!
Father knows best? Very good tale for a winter night.
Very nice story. I liked it.
Thank you for sharing
I enjoyed your story. Perhaps next time the boys will do exactly as their father says. I really enjoyed reading this piece. You kept the tension high.
this was good
I didn’t see how Johnny and Scott were going to get out of this predicament. Good thing Murdoch came along-but something tells me this won’t be the last of the brothers’ bright ideas!
This was a good story. Glad Murdoch got the Cold River sheriff to help. No one better mess with Murdoch Lancer’s sons. Good job.
Thank you for your story.
A good story for the new year. I really like stories about the brothers and their adventures, but even better when Poppa Bear Murdoch comes to the rescue. It just couldn’t be a quiet, easy business trip once the brothers split up.
Well, Scott plus pretty girls, what might go wrong there…LOL. I just knew Scott was going to face a judge, but not for what it turned out to be. And Johnny, SMH, you think he might figure a scam, but I guess he had more experience with land pirates’ than with scammers.
Good story. I enjoyed each
and every little twist. Thank you for sharing it.