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Questions of Brotherhood by Sharon

Word count 11,765

“germanitas ” :  Latin noun:  brotherhood; affinity between things deriving from the same source

Scott, Teresa and Maria were in the Lancer kitchen about to have breakfast together, as usual, when Scott suddenly asked  “Maria, what does ‘ Diablo ‘ mean?”  Maria stopped in place, a plate in each hand. “Oh Senor Scott, surely no one of the men has said this to you?”

“No, Maria”, he replied seriously, “I believe that it was directed towards a horse.”

Maria was visibly relieved.  “‘El Diablo‘, it means ‘the devil’,” she said, setting the plates on the table.

“Quite appropriate,” he said, “in the case of this particular horse.“  Maria nonetheless resolved to remind Jose, Miguel and the others that the blond Senor Lancer was perhaps understanding more of their language than they realized.

“Maria“, Teresa said, “I’ve been trying to figure out what Scott’s name would be in Spanish.  Mr. Lancer is from Scotland, so he’s Scottish–but how would you say that?”

The older woman sat down, thinking as she took a sip of her coffee.  “I have heard this said, about Senor Lancer, that he is from  . . . . Escocia.  So he is ‘ escoces ‘.

“’Senor Escoces’, smiled Teresa, “I like that.”

Seeing his sleepy-eyed younger brother about to enter the kitchen, Scott posed another question: “And what about Johnny?”.

“Juanito!”, both women responded in unison, startling Johnny slightly.  He looked questioningly at the three amused faces as he took the unoccupied chair opposite Scott.  Trying not to show his displeasure at the use of the Spanish diminutive, Johnny concentrated on pouring himself some coffee.

“Jua-ni-to”.  Scott said musingly.  Then he gave Johnny an arch look.  “I can well understand, Brother, why you didn’t choose to go that route.  ‘ Juanito Madrid ‘ “, he said, attempting the Spanish “R“—–“doesn’t exactly have a menacing air to it.”

Johnny didn’t reply, other than to give his brother a look that said “real funny.“  But he noticed that Teresa and Maria got all quiet and uncomfortable–a typical reaction whenever reference was made to his gun fighting past.  Scott was the only one who seemed matter-of-fact about it—–not that he went out of his way to mention it, he just didn’t try as hard as everyone else to avoid it.

    Now Boston was on to something else.  “So ‘Brother’ in Spanish—-no, Teresa, don‘t tell me“ he said, stopping her with a gesture and a smile, for she was eager to supply the term, “allow me to me to figure this out.”  Looking at Johnny, Scott said speculatively, “It‘s ‘ frere ‘ in French, so perhaps ‘ frerro ‘ in Spanish?”

“Nope.  ‘ Hermano ‘.”

Scott sighed, held his white mug in two hands and squinted up his eyes, thinking this over. “But its ‘ frater ‘ in Latin–‘fraternity’ means ‘brotherhood.’”

“It’s still ‘ hermano ,’” Johnny informed him.

    As the others conversed, Scott sampled his breakfast and continued to ponder the problem.  Then he took a sip of coffee, and, as he replaced his cup, he announced, in a very pleased tone of voice, “There is another Latin term–for brotherhood–‘ germanitas ‘.“  He pronounced the hard ‘g’.  “That must be the root–‘ her man o ‘–‘ ger man itas ‘.”

“’ Germanitas ‘”, Johnny said agreeably.  His brother sure did like to puzzle things out.  And he certainly didn’t stick to the usual topics of conversation, like the weather or the food.  Today it was Latin words, a while back he’d been rattling off quotes from some man named Thoreau—-one was something to do with new clothes.  Last week, he’d been going on about what the ‘Sons of Liberty’ had done way back in Boston—–Johnny had kind of enjoyed hearing about Paul Revere‘s ride.  Not that Scott talked all that much, but when he did, it was likely to be something out of some book.  And if Johnny wasn’t particularly interested, he’d found that it wasn’t very difficult to get Scott onto some other topic—-just mention something that he didn’t know much about—-like branding the herd, for example.  He grinned to himself, recalling how the city boy had been pretty skeptical about the idea of burning a symbol into all the animals’ hides. ”And they’ll let you do that”, he’d said in that mild tone of his, kind of doubtful until Johnny finally explained—”Well, it’s only the calves and you gotta hold‘em down.”

Maria was busy serving Johnny’s breakfast and Teresa was starting to clear off her own things, but Scott caught Johnny’s grin.  “So what do you have planned for today, Juanito ?”

Quickly, the butter knife in Johnny’s hand was pointed in Scott’s direction, “That’s enough . . .  Scotty .”

Scott, with a serious expression, then brandished his own utensil: “Only my grandfather calls me Scotty .”

“Well, no one calls me Juanito ,” Johnny said with a menacing smile, “— least not more than once.”

Scott put both hands up in mock surrender. As he did so, the knife fell from his grasp, clattering to the table, startling Maria.  “I’m frightened”, he said with a grin.  Then, reaching for his coffee once more, he asked, “So what are you doing today?”

“Got some supplies to go up to one of the line shacks.  I’ll be gone all day. You?”

“I’m heading to Morro Coyo, to pick up a few things– Teresa gave me her list.  There’s a package I’m expecting, hopefully its arrived.”  Then, turning to the older woman, “And Maria, you said that there was something that you needed?”

“Just a few things, Senor Scott”, she said, handing Scott a piece of paper.  “ Gracias ”.  He headed towards the door.   Then he turned back to Johnny, “Remember that tomorrow we were going to tackle that corral fence.”

“Bye,  Scott“, smiled Teresa.

“You stay out of trouble now, Boston.”

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  By mid morning, Scott had picked up all of the items that the women had  had on their lists.  He’d also purchased a small surprise for Teresa in addition to a few work shirts and a new pair of yellow leather gloves for himself.  While in Don Valmo’s clothing store, Scott had briefly considered buying a shirt for his brother as well; Johnny’s wardrobe appeared to be quite limited.  He’d reluctantly decided against it, unsure of what the  younger man’s reaction would be to a spontaneous gift of clothing.

    Scott Lancer had some money of his own; he’d inherited a sum from his late mother and maternal grandmother, prudently invested for him by his grandfather.  Upon his arrival at the Lancer ranch, Scott had been less than enthused about accepting the $1000 which Murdoch Lancer had promised to each of his sons.  Scott hadn’t wanted the money, nor, to be honest, had he needed it.  Most of all, he hadn’t  appreciated feeling as if he were being “bought” by his long absent father.  Johnny had been quite happy that the man had scattered twenty dollar gold pieces in his sons’ rooms,  but Scott had let Murdoch know that it wasn’t necessary.  Murdoch had not been pleased.  The older man had gruffly informed Scott that even though he had his own funds, he would still receive “a day’s pay for a day’s work, just like everyone else”.  Murdoch had placed the emphasis, quite unnecessarily, on  “a day’s work ”.  Scott had decided to refrain from broaching the topic of returning the $1000.  At least the gold coins had ceased to appear in his room.

    While he certainly wasn’t extravagant, Scott tried to  make the most of any excursion to one of the neighboring towns.  Consequently, the local shopkeepers had reason beyond simple curiosity to be pleased to see Scott Lancer coming through their doors.  It wasn’t surprising that people were interested in Murdoch Lancer’s two long-lost sons.  However, although he was unfailingly polite, Scott was certainly not a ready source of information.  It did seem to him that most of the questions were about his mysterious younger brother, especially as a few of the local inhabitants had heard of the gunfighter Johnny Madrid.  As for himself, the Bostonian suspected that most people assumed that they knew everything that they needed to know, once they’d learned that Scott was from “back East.“

    Exiting Senor Valdemerro‘s store, Scott strode to the buckboard and deposited the last of his purchases.  The trip to Morro Coyo had  proven worthwhile.  He was pleased that the books he’d been expecting had arrived. There was also some mail for Murdoch, and a letter for Scott from his former lieutenant, Dan Cassidy.  Scott knew better than to open his package of reading material before he’d gotten back to the ranch, but he settled on the buckboard seat to read Dan‘s letter before setting off for home.

    Opening the envelope, he removed the two pages that he found inside.  Scott read that Dan and his wife Sarah had settled back East and that things seemed to be going well for them.  Dan expressed his regret that he had misjudged Scott so badly.  “I should have trusted that I knew you and not been so easily influenced by appearances.  When you know someone to be honorable,“ he wrote, “you should realize that they just don’t change that readily.  Of course, the truly bad seeds always stay the way they are.  And those in between, in which category I hope to be included, well, we can only ask forgiveness and try to learn from our mistakes.”  Dan went on to say some surprising and rather complimentary things about Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa.  He ended by expressing the hope that everyone was well and reiterating his promise to send a picture of the regiment to Scott.   << That couldn’t have been an easy letter to write. >> Scott thought as he carefully folded it and tucked it into his shirt pocket.  He put on his gloves, pushed his hat back on the crown of his head,  and set off.

    It was such a pleasant day that Scott was considering stopping along the river and taking at look at one of the books in his package.  He’d almost convinced himself that he could take a short break, when a rather large, bearded man leading a horse stepped out into his path.  Scott halted the buckboard, setting the brake as the stranger approached.

“Are you Scott Lancer?”

“And if I am?”

“John Madrid‘s brother?”

“So I’m told.  I know him as Johnny Lancer.”

“We know Madrid—- old friends of his.  We go way back.”

“We . . ?“, asked Scott, looking around as two men who looked Mexican approached from the other side.
“Yeah.  I’m Gordon.  These here are the Velasquez brothers.”

<< None of them looking especially . . . friendly >>  “Well, I’ll tell Johnny that I ran into you, and if you’re heading towards Morro Coyo, perhaps he’ll look . . . “  As he reached to release the brake, one of the Velasquez’  tried to pull Scott off of the buckboard, while Gordon came at him from the other side.

    Scott landed solidly on the ground, and by the time that he picked himself up, the Velasquez brothers were more than ready for him.  One hit him hard in the stomach, doubling him over, while the other punched him in the face.  He went down again, got kicked a few times and didn’t remember much after that.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  Johnny made good time getting up to the line shack.  He unloaded the pack horse and carried everything inside, double checking to see if there were any essential items still lacking.   Satisfied that the building was secure and well provisioned, he devoted himself to his real purpose in volunteering to ride to the remote location.   Johnny spent the next hour practicing–drawing his gun and firing, drawing and firing.  Not too many times—-it was speed that counted, not repetition; after all, in a gunfight it was usually only the first shot that really mattered.  He picked out a target and faced it.  When he was satisfied with his speed and accuracy, he took a break, then turned sideways to the same target.  Then back to it, drawing and firing as he turned.  Each time that he fired, Johnny shifted his weight to the right.   Against a right handed opponent, even a slight shift might get you a bullet in the left shoulder, rather than the heart.  This had been a reflexive movement for Johnny Madrid.  Johnny Lancer worried about losing his edge, but he didn’t feel that he could do this sort of practicing at the ranch.

    Next, Johnny took some shots while actually falling to the right.  If your opponent reacted to this, he’d still have to shoot at you while reaching across his own body.  And,  if it did come to a second shot, low and to the right was the place to put yourself.  Since the recoil of the first shot would kick your adversary’s gun upwards, his second shot would more easily be to the left and high . . .   Thinking about this brought back a memory, of trying to explain some of it to Scott.

    Not long after Johnny had recuperated from Pardee’s bullet,  Murdoch Lancer had sent his two sons out on the trail.  Johnny couldn’t remember now what the reason was supposed to be, other than it hadn’t made much sense.  Both brothers had learned pretty quickly that it was just easiest not to argue with Murdoch.  But they hadn’t appreciated the forced togetherness and hadn’t had much of anything to say to each other, beyond what was purely necessary.  That is, until the second evening out.  Once they’d finished eating, Johnny had started working over his gun, cleaning it, and Scott had made one of those comments of his:  “It’s seen a lot of use.”

   Just like that, no real tone to it.  Johnny hadn’t known whether to take offense or to consider it a compliment.  Early on, he had had a habit of hearing something negative in those statements that Scott made, and responding in kind.  Johnny must have been pretty tired, because all he’d said in reply that evening was something about it not being the first gun he’d ever used.  Then Boston had come right back with a question:  “When was the first time?”

“I’m guessin’ you mean on a man?”, Johnny had asked, without looking at him.

“Yes.”

    Johnny turned then to look at his brother in the firelight; he wanted to see the city boy’s reaction when he heard how young Johnny had been.  There was no reaction; Scott had just looked back at Johnny like he was expecting to hear more.  Returning his attention  to his gun, Johnny had supplied a few more facts: who, where, why.  Not every detail, but most likely the longest speech he’d ever uttered in his brother’s presence.  Johnny looked into the campfire as he spoke, but could still sense that Scott was intent upon every word.  He had figured that would be enough, that Scott would let it go then, or change the subject.  But : “How many?” Scott had asked.

“Ain’t kept track, “ had been Johnny’s terse response.  Then he’d thought about it a bit, and offered a number.  It was not a small one, but still there was no reaction from ol‘Boston.  His brother had just asked another question in that same mild tone: “So tell me, what makes you so good?”

    “Main thing,” Johnny’d replied, “is you’ve gotta be faster ‘n the other fella.”  He’d gone on to say something about wearing the gun, how it had to be in just the right place, low on the hip where your hand would be.  And he’d tried to explain about shifting to the right, didn‘t think he was doing very well.  “Always move right,” Scott had said softly, “makes sense.”

    Scott had gotten up to get some water or something, and as he’d walked back around the campfire, he’d stopped, looked down at his own gun belt and asked: “So should I be wearing this lower?”

“Nah, don’t do that Boston.  Somebody might get the idea you know how to use it.”

    Scott had managed a small smile at that, but he hadn’t said anything.  As far as Johnny could remember, the two of them hadn’t said much of anything else to each other until they’d gotten back to the ranch . . . .

    Now that Johnny thought about it, maybe Scott had already known the answers to some of the questions he’d asked that evening.  His brother had once said that he’d read Murdoch’s Pinkerton files on Johnny Madrid.  << Maybe there’s some files on ol’Scott, >> Johnny thought.  << Might be real interestin’ too.  —‘course, if they ain‘t, I’ll  just have to be sure to let him know ‘bout that .”>>

    The sun was already sinking as Johnny Lancer started for home.  He could have spent the night at the shack, and headed back in the morning, but Johnny Madrid didn’t mind riding in the dark. . .  .    When he slipped into the house through the library, Johnny woke Teresa, who was curled up asleep in Murdoch’s chair.   “Oh Johnny, you’re getting back late.”

“You’re up pretty late yourself.”

“I was waiting for Scott.”

“Scott? You’re not tellin’ me he ain’t made it back from Morro Coyo?”

“No, he hasn‘t.   When he wasn’t here for supper, I thought he was off reading somewhere—–that package he was expecting, I’m sure it was books.  So I thought that he‘d be in later.  But I haven’t seen him.  And Murdoch already told me that I worry too much.”

“Maybe he went straight to his room. If not, he’ll be along–you heard what he said this morning,” Johnny added, “the two of us have a little chore planned for tomorrow.”  Johnny yawned.  “I‘m turning in.  ‘Night, Teresa.”  Johnny grinned to himself.  << Looks like  Scott maybe found somewhere else to spend the night—-and Teresa doesn’t need to hear that.  But he’d better be back by daylight .>>

    But Scott wasn’t back by morning, and now even Murdoch was concerned.  After some grumbling comments about how difficult it was to keep track of the two of them, he grudgingly agreed that it might be a good idea for Johnny to ride towards Morro Coyo.  Johnny headed out, glad to be on a horse instead of pulling some fence apart, certain that he’d encounter his wayward brother en route.  However, he made it all the way to town without seeing any sign of Scott.

    Although it was early, the saloon wasn’t entirely empty.  Gus the barman said that Scott hadn’t been around at all.  Then a man spoke from across the room–”Well, if it ain’t John Madrid.”  Gus looked apprehensive at hearing the name Madrid, but Johnny just smiled and slowly turned.

“Gordon”.  Johnny nodded in recognition of the curly haired Canadian.  “I go by Lancer now.”

He strolled over to Gordon’s table.  “What brings you to Morro Coyo?  You still riding with the Velasquez brothers?”

“That’s right. “

“They in town?”

“They are.”

“They lookin’ for me?”

“No, they’re not gunning for you, Madrid,” the bearded man assured him.

“Now, Gordon, you say that like maybe they’re gunnin’ for somebody.”

“Well, you know, ‘Diablo’ and Gerardo, they‘re still missing their little brother.”

Johnny’s face assumed a grim expression.  “It was Eduardo that called me out—–”

“Yeah, they know that.  It was a fair fight.  But, see, they heard that you’d got yourself a family now.  They were real curious about your brother.”

“Now there’s a coincidence for you, Gordon.  It just so happens, he’s turned up missin’. “

“It’s no coincidence, John.”

“I didn’t think so.  Let’s go.”

        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  Scott Lancer had spent a long night, but not at the type of nocturnal activity that Johnny had imagined.   He’d been on the floor when he’d first come around, and had worked hard to loosen the ropes around his wrists.  The younger of the Velasquez brothers hadn’t appreciated that, and  had rewarded his efforts with a few kicks to the ribs.   The brown-haired, bearded man who’d said he was called ‘Gordon’ had come over and asked him if he was still breathing.  Gordon untied the ropes and Scott had been able to relax his arms for a blessed few minutes.  With the elder Velasquez brother’s gun trained on him, they’d given him some water and a little  to eat, but refused to answer any more of his questions.  Then Gordon had tied him up tighter than before and they’d left him for a very uncomfortable and sleepless night.

    There were the three of them, the two Mexicans, brothers named Velasquez and ‘Gordon‘; Scott still wasn’t sure if that was his first or last name, but thought the man sounded —Canadian?  The brothers were the clean shaven Gerardo and the mustached Diego, who apparently was also called “Diablo”.  << Now there’s a coincidence for you .>>  Scott had thought to himself.  It seemed that a third Velasquez brother had died in a gunfight: Johnny had killed him, and now his siblings were here to take their revenge—-on Johnny’s newfound brother.  They’d been willing for him to know that much.  It also sounded as if perhaps the younger brother—Eduardo–hadn’t died quickly or easily.  << And  that probably doesn’t bode too well for me .>>  Scott had tried to figure out if there was more to it, but when the Velasquez brothers spoke together, it was in very rapid Spanish.  He’d heard Johnny’s name, recognized a few other words, including ‘ hermano ‘, but couldn’t really make much sense of it.

    The next morning, they’d hauled Scott to his feet, deposited him in a chair and then tied him to it.  The younger one, Gerardo, made some comment in his heavily accented English, something about maybe his brother “Johnnee” would come looking for him today.

“And if he does?”

“He’s going to learn what it is to watch a brother die.”

     Some time later, Gordon was heard outside calling for Diego and Gerardo. Once the door close behind him, Scott lifted his head and looked around.  He couldn’t see much out of his swollen left eye, but it appeared that he was alone in the room.   << One of the vacant buildings at the edge of town, perhaps. >.>  His wrists were already raw from previous attempts to untie himself–now that he was also tied to the chair, getting loose was going to be even more difficult.

Through the broken window Scott heard the elder Velasquez–Diego–speak: “So,  Johnnee Madrid.   We have your brother.”

This announcement was followed by a response uttered in Johnny’s familiar drawl: “Well, that would be my half brother”, he said, placing the emphasis on ‘half’.

“When we hear that you have a brother, we think that it is now our chance to repay you for the loss of our Eduardo.”

“He called me out.  I didn’t draw first”, Johnny patiently explained.

“That’s not why we come, Johnnee Madrid.”

“So why?  ‘Cause it wasn’t as clean as it coulda been?”

“Si.  And because we had to watch.  Our mother and sister, too.  And we wish for you to have the same opportunity.”

“Okay”, Johnny said slowly.  “So now,  you boys think that you’ll be gettin’ some kind of revenge on me by killin’ that blond gringo .  Well, that’s no loss to me—-he’s pretty useless.  He can’t ride, he can’t shoot and he sure can’t keep himself out of trouble. . . .  You actually got him in there?”

“Si, yes, we have him.”

Scott froze when he heard his brother’s next words.  “Well, you boys have come a long ways for nothin’– ‘cause he ain’t nothin’ to me.  We just met.  And I ain’t had time to get too attached.  In fact, you get rid of him, you just might be doing me a big favor.”

    A few moments later, the door creaked open.  Johnny entered the room first, and did a quick survey of the interior.  His brother was to his left, tied to a chair.  Scott’s right profile was visible; he did not turn his head to look at Johnny.  There was an old table, some boxes and barrels.  The dirty window let light filter in through its broken panes.

“So, Boston, you hear all that?”

“I heard enough.”  Scott still did not look at Johnny.  He heard footsteps on the wooden floor, coming closer.  Johnny was walking around him, stopping when he saw the left side of Scott’s face, letting out a whistle.  “These fellas messed you up a little.”  Scott didn’t look at him, but kept staring straight ahead.  Gordon and the Velasquez brothers watched intently.

Suddenly, Johnny reached out, grabbed Scott’s hair and jerked his head back–  “You oughta look at me when I’m talking to you.”  Scott set his jaw, but still didn’t make eye contact.  Johnny roughly let go and stalked away.

Then Gerardo was standing at Scott’s left shoulder, and Scott could hear a gun sliding out of its holster.  “Now that Madrid’s here, we can do it.”

Diego reprimanded him in Spanish “Not in the head, that’s too quick.”  Scott only understood “head” and “quick”.  Gerardo didn’t answer, but Scott heard the gun cock.  He closed his eyes and tried not to breathe.

Johnny perched on the table, in a relaxed manner.  With all eyes — except his brother’s–locked on him, Johnny held up his hands.  “Now whatever you boys decide is fine with me—–I figure I get a bigger share of the ranch if you get rid of him.  It’ll be just me and the old man, and . . . anyway I always figured on it being a one-man deal .  . . . “

‘Course,“ Johnny added slowly, “if you were interested in holdin’ off –it might be worth your while.  Like say maybe a few thousand dollars each.”

Gordon spoke from the doorway.  “I’m interested.”

Johnny turned towards him: “Our old man’ll pay plenty to get him back.”

Diego asked the question: “And why would you do this for us?’

“Well, ‘Diablo’, maybe ‘cause I’m sorry ‘bout your brother, how things turned out.  Or maybe ‘cause I’d like some of that money myself.  The old man holds the purse strings pretty tight.”

“So Lancer’ll pay that much?”, Gordon asked.

“For him?  Yeah.  See, he’s the fair haired boy.  Now if it was me, it’d be a different story.  But ol’ Murdoch, he paid $1000 just to get Scotty to come out west.”

Gerardo eased his finger off of the trigger.  When Scott sensed the lowering of the gun, he started breathing again.

The Canadian was still skeptical.  “Are you playing us, Madrid? Is this is just you trying to keep him alive, after all?”

“Well, you boys will still have to kill him—–just not ‘til after we get the money.”

“You want us to kill your brother?” asked Gerardo, with some disbelief.

“ After we get the money.  See, now, there’s only one thing my old man really loves, and it’s that ranch.  To come up with the kind of cash we’ll be asking for, he might have to sell something, and if he’s gonna do that, Murdoch’s gonna want some proof that ol’Scott here’s still alive.  He ain’t gonna pay a penny for a corpse.”

While Gordon and the Velasquez’ exchanged looks, Johnny turned his attention back to Scott:   “So what do you think you’re worth?” He aimed more questions at Scott’s impassive profile.    “Five thousand? . . . Eight?”  Hearing no response, he addressed the others: “That would be two thousand for each of us.”

For the first time since Johnny had entered the room, Scott looked directly at his brother.  In a level voice he said, “It’s always been about the money for you.”

Johnny looked right back at him and shrugged: “Yeah, you got that right.”

Gerardo still had his gun in his hand.  He spoke insistently, addressing his brother: “We should do what we came to do, and be on our way. How can we trust Madrid?  Even if he truly wants this one dead, its still a problem for him to explain to his father . . . ”

Diego interrupted with: “ If we do this, we can’t wait too long for this money.”

“We got a price on our heads,” Gordon explained.

“Oh, you boys run into a little trouble, did ya?”, Johnny asked.

Diego nodded: “A little trouble.”

“You hear that, Boston?  These are bad hombres –they got a price on their heads, got nothin’ to lose.”

“They may have a price on their heads”, Scott replied evenly.  “You just have a price.”

Johnny slammed Scott across the face.  Coming on the right side, he could see it and braced for it, lips pressed firmly together.  There was no sound except the crack of Johnny’s backhand across Scott’s face.

As Scott sat with his head lowered, Johnny coldly addressed him: “I told you to stay out of it, to go back East, but you wouldn’t listen.  Then I thought for sure I was rid of you when that Cassidy fella showed up.  I just stood back waitin’ for him to kill you and save me the trouble. “

Johnny turned to the Velasquez‘:  ”See, you boys each got yourselves a brother who you know’ll back you up—-I got me one that turned traitor in the War and got a bunch of good men killed.”  Scott’s breathing was audible, but he didn’t look up, or say anything in reply.

Gordon turned the discussion back to the ransom. “So we get the money and you get rid of him–

“I get my share of the ransom too, “ Johnny reminded him.

“And if the old man gets suspicious of you . . .”

“I’ll make sure he don’t.  No matter what, I still own one third, and I can always just take off for a while.”

Scott spoke softly, as if to himself: “Right . . . ‘Just take off’— that’s  . .  .original.”

Johnny walked over to him.  “You better not be referrin’ to my mother.”

Scott quickly lifted his head—-“Why—-did she have a price also?”

With his half-closed eye, Scott never saw this one coming—— as Johnny struck him on the left side.  The chair tipped and Scott toppled over, landing hard on his right shoulder,  his head bouncing off of the floor.  The chair legs were pointed towards Johnny, and he kicked viciously at them.  Diego and Gerardo moved in to restrain him from doing further damage.  Johnny shrugged them off, and looked angrily around the room: “Remember, you just keep him alive until we get the money—–and not a minute longer. I‘m going out to the ranch to give the old man the message.  Since we‘re all in a hurry, I‘ll see what he has for cash on hand.  Then you three can be on your way and I‘ll be rid of him . “

Picking up his hat, Johnny stalked out, leaving Scott dazed and lying on the floor.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Gordon headed back to the bar for another drink.  He hadn’t been overly enthused about the Velasquez brothers’ insistence upon this detour, to settle a score with Johnny Madrid.  He didn’t see where Johnny was at fault for what that fool Eduardo had done, against all good advice.  But Gordon had been riding with the Velasquez’ for a long time, so here he was.  And now, with this ransom plan, it might be worth while after all. The bearded man was in a pretty good mood, humming an old song to himself.   When he overheard a couple of vaqueros talking and realized that they were from the Lancer spread, Gordon went on over and struck up a conversation.  Even told them that he knew Johnny Madrid.  The men weren’t too anxious to talk about Madrid and his past, but had plenty of interesting things to say when Gordon asked about Johnny’s new brother.

    Miguel greatly enjoyed telling this friendly stranger about Senor Scott riding a horse that Johnny had just broken and jumping over fences— scattering the other men, including his friend Jose.  Jose chimed in with an account of Senor Scott shooting down Day Pardee and a number of the  land pirates as he went to help Johnny.  Both men were indignant when Gordon asked if there was any truth to the rumor that Scott Lancer had been a traitor during the War; insisting that he was no such thing and that everyone knew the true story.  They also said that the Lancer brothers seemed to get along quite well, despite having known each other for only a short time.  Gordon absorbed all of this information, then asked two more  questions—-had they just come from the Lancer ranch and had they passed Johnny on his way there?  Hearing a “yes” to the first and “no” to the second question, Gordon decided that he’d better head back and share this news with Diablo and Gerardo.  Promising to return them soon, Gordon borrowed a pen and ink from Gus, and then stopped at the general store for an envelope and sheet of writing paper.

    “Madrid lied, “ he announced to the Velasquez’ when he entered the building at the edge of town.

    The brothers stared at him.  Gordon quickly filled them in.   Gerardo glanced over at Scott, who was lying on an old blanket on the floor with his hands still tied, apparently asleep.  “Let’s finish him.  Leave him for Madrid to find,” Gerardo urged the other two men.

“No!” Diego and Gordon both spoke at once.  Diego insisted that that wouldn’t be punishment enough for Madrid.  Gordon was still hoping to get the money: “Since Madrid didn’t bring a ransom message on out to his father, we’ll have to send our own.”

    Gordon wrote out a brief demand for cash.  Then he walked over to Scott and shook him awake.

    Before he’d drifted into a light sleep, Scott had thought hard about the statements that Johnny had made, first and foremost being: “He ain’t nothin’ to me.”  << My mistake, but I ‘d thought perhaps that had changed. >>  Even if they were still strangers, his brother’s avid interest in money certainly seemed familiar.  But Johnny calling him a traitor, and the comment about Dan Cassidy, well, that had been new, and quite surprising.  Scott kept dwelling upon that, at least until he slipped from consciousness.

    While the Velasquez’ watched, Gordon untied Scott and escorted him to the table, where the paper, pen and ink were waiting.  “Now, listen,” Gordon said, “if you were thinking there’s any chance of Johnny-boy changing his mind and deciding to help you, well, after what you said, you can forget it.” Scott looked at him without comprehension.  “Madrid’ll be more than glad to shoot you down himself, for what you said about his mother.“

    << About his mother? ? . . .   what?. .  . taking off? . .  .  A  Price . >>  Scott’s heart sank, as realization dawned.  << I certainly didn‘t mean  . .  .  But maybe she  . . . >> .

Gordon interrupted Scott‘s jumbled thoughts, pushing the pen and ink towards him.  “Write something, so that your old man knows  you’re still alive. . . But you’d better be smart about it if you want to stay that way a while longer.”

    Scott was very sore, very tired and his head was throbbing.  With only one good eye, it was difficult for him to read the words that Gordon had already scrawled on the page.  Scott realized that he needed to focus, that this might be his only opportunity to send a message.  Finally,  picking up the pen, he very carefully added: “Murdoch: I am all right.  . . . Johnny seems to be working with them. . . .  I received a letter from Dan Cassidy, you should read it.”  Then he signed it:  “Scott Lancer.”

    Gordon read Scott’s message.  It was fine with him if both Scott and Murdoch Lancer thought that Johnny was working with him and the Velasquez brothers.  But the Canadian wondered what this Dan Cassidy letter was about.

“I received a letter from an old friend.  I have it here.”  Scott pulled the two sheets of paper from his pocket, and held them up, one in each hand.  “He says some kind things about me, and I wanted my father to read it——-in case I don’t see him again.”  As he said this, Scott placed one page on top of the other, refolded them and handed the letter to Gordon.

Gordon shrugged, and put Cassidy’s letter into the envelope with the ransom note and hurried off to find Jose and Miguel.  He caught up with them just as they were about to head back to the Lancer ranch and asked them to give a message to Murdoch Lancer, saying it was from an old friend of Johnny‘s.  When the big Canadian returned to the building on the edge of town, he found that the Velasquez’ brothers were much more interested in inflicting their revenge on Johnny than in waiting for ransom money.  It was Gordon’s own comment to Scott: “Madrid’ll be more than glad to shoot you down himself”, which had given them the idea for their new plan.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

When Johnny finally returned much  later that afternoon, Diego Velasquez stopped him at the door.  “You have the money?”

“Not yet–its gonna take some time for the old man to come up with it.”

“Time we don’t have, “ Diego responded.  Gordon moved in: “Especially when you haven’t gone out there and asked him yet.”

Johnny stared hard at Gordon.  “Okay . . . So maybe I decided it’s a good idea for him to have some time to get real worried about his Boston boy.”

Diego was stonefaced.  “This is not what you told us you would do, Madrid.”

Johnny shrugged.  “I ain’t used to working with anybody.”

“’Cept maybe your brother”, drawled Gordon.  When Johnny snorted in response, he continued: “Well, John, I was drinkin’ with a couple of vaqueros who claim that your brother’s one hell of a fine horseman, and not a bad shot either.   Why they even seem to think that the two of you get along just fine.”

“Well, Gordon,” Johnny drawled back.  “I guess that’s a matter of opinion.  And I’m tellin’ you I don’t have much use for ‘im.”

“Seems like maybe your brother believes you, even if we don’t.  I gave them vaqueros a ransom note for Murdoch Lancer.  Let your brother write a message too.  And he made sure to tell your old man that you were in on this.”

Johnny’s jaw tightened.  He flung the door open .  The room was empty.  “Where is he?”, he asked, turning to see Diego’s gun leveled at him.  Gordon was gone.

“He is outside.  Waiting for you.”

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

It had been Gerardo who had untied Scott this time.  Diego might be the one that they called ‘Diablo’, but it was the more slightly built Gerardo, with the pointed boots and itchy trigger finger, of whom Scott was the most wary. Scott wasn’t feeling very steady, and Gerardo was practically pushing him out a back door and into a deserted alley behind the buildings.  Almost everything hurt: from his face, to his sore ribs, to the shoulder he’d landed on after Johnny’s punch had sent him toppling to the floor.  In addition to finishing the job of closing his left eye, that punch had opened up a jagged cut on his brow.  But by far the worst was the pounding headache.  He stood with his head bowed and his good eye closed, as Gerardo spoke menacingly in his ear.  “Don’t you move, Gringo .  Gordon is up there with a rifle–he is very good.  He has a bullet for you if you move . . .  Don‘t. ”  He heard Gerardo walking away from him, down the street.  When he finally looked up, he saw Johnny standing with the two Velasquez brothers.

    At the other end of the street, both of the Velasquez boys had their guns pointed at Johnny.  << Odds aren‘t good, Madrid >> he thought.  Johnny could see that his brother was looking none too solid on his feet.  Then Diablo gestured towards Scott, saying: “We do not believe you, that you really want so much to be rid of him.  But if you do, now is your chance.”

Johnny took a long look at Scott, then turned back to Diego.  “He ain’t got a gun,” Johnny said softly.  “Now, he can’t draw without a gun.”

Diego looked at his brother.  “Go, give the gringo your gun.” When Gerardo looked at him in angry disbelief, he added, “But only one bullet.”

    Gerardo smiled at this.  He slowly and deliberately removed each of the bullets from his own gun, then held up one of them, “Perhaps this one is for you, Madrid,” he said as he placed it in the correct chamber.  As Gerardo walked back towards Scott, Diego turned to Johnny and in a conversational tone said, “Gordon is up there.  If you should “miss“, he’ll  put a bullet in your brother’s back for you.”  Johnny could barely see Gordon, crouched behind what was left of an old sign, rifle pointed at Scott.  And Johnny knew for a fact that Gordon was exceptionally accurate with a long gun.

    With his one good eye, Scott watched Gerardo approaching, gun in hand, and wondered dully if Diablo had  finally given him permission to use it.  He was surprised when Gerardo slipped the gun into Scott’s own holster, saying “Your brother thinks that this will help him sleep at night.”  Scott glanced around, but still couldn’t see any sign of Gordon.  He did see Johnny at the end of the street.  On the left was a familiar looking buckboard, while Diego was off some distance on the right, with his gun pointed at Johnny.  Gerardo rejoined him.  Johnny was standing in what Scott in sudden, sickening, disbelief realized had to be his gunfighter’s stance . . .

    Johnny was taking in every detail.  His keen eyes noted Scott’s battered face, the breeze riffling his blond hair, the set of his jaw, the right hand pressed to his side.   He also registered the exact positions of each of the other men—-Gordon was still trained on Scott, while Diego had a point blank shot at Johnny himself.  Johnny took a deep breath, and addressed his brother.

“Boston—you know you’re gonna have to draw.”

Scott looked up.  He couldn’t see Johnny’s face, shaded by the brim of his hat.  His one word response, although softly spoken, easily carried the distance between them. “No.”

“Scott—they gave you one bullet.  You need to use it.”

Scott resolutely shook his head, and immediately regretted it. To steady himself, he looked back down at the ground.

Johnny, still in his stance, gazed at his brother’s bowed head through narrowed eyes.  He felt a trickle of sweat roll down his back, as he realized what he was going to have to do.

    Fearful that he might pitch forward, Scott gritted his teeth and ordered himself to stay still and upright.  This was one of several lessons that he’d learned during a year of  imprisonment—– how to combat pain.   Another one that Scott had mastered especially well was how to wait impassively when punishment was inevitable.  He listened dispassionately as Diego snarled “Do it Madrid”;  Scott didn’t look up, but he could picture the bearded Mexican gesturing impatiently at Johnny with his gun.  Then he heard Johnny softly say something that sounded like —-what?– “Yer–manita.”?  After a long moment, Scott slowly raised his head.

    Then, in a motion which was more fluid than Johnny had anticipated, Scott went for his gun.  Johnny waited a fraction for his brother’s weapon to clear the holster before he drew and fired at Scott.  As Scott spun to the ground, Johnny turned swiftly towards the Velasquez’, who had been momentarily distracted when Scott had fired in their direction.  As Johnny shot and killed Diego, he hit the ground himself and kept rolling until he was underneath the buckboard, sheltered from the shots that Gordon was sending down at him.   Gerardo bent to pick up Diego’s weapon, and Johnny finished him before he had the gun fully in his grasp.  “This ain’t your fight!” he yelled up at Gordon.  “Get out of here!”  Silence was his only response.  He lay under the wagon, gun poised, trying to catch his breath.  He could feel that one of Gordon’s bullets must have caught him in the leg–felt like a graze.  He also felt the pounding of horses hooves, riders drawn by the sound of gunfire.

    Johnny looked up and saw Murdoch Lancer on his big horse, followed by Jose and Miguel.   As he rolled out from under the buckboard, scanning for Gordon, he saw Murdoch hastily dismount and move quickly towards Scott’s lifeless form.  Johnny got up and slowly limped towards Murdoch, who was now kneeling beside his fallen son.  Miguel clambered back on his horse and raced away.  Jose hurried past him to check on the two other men lying on the ground, as Johnny kept moving woodenly towards Murdoch. When he was close enough, he could hear labored breathing– Scott’s?  Then “Lung?” he asked the back of Murdoch’s head.

    Murdoch Lancer turned and inspected Johnny, noting his dusty appearance, the blood on his leg, no other apparent damage.  “No.  I don’t think so. Thank God.”

    Jose rejoined the group.  ”They’re both dead, Senor Lancer,” he said as he handed Johnny his hat.  “I don’t recognize them.”

“Your work, Johnny?”

“Yeah.  There was one more.  He’s out of town by now, if he’s smart.”  As Murdoch worked over Scott, Johnny stood by silently, as if rooted to the spot, and stared at his father’s broad back.   Miguel soon returned, with the town veterinarian, who shook his head and said:  “This boy of yours is becoming a regular,  Murdoch.”   After examining Scott‘s wound, Doc Hildenbrand added: “I’ll do what I can, but you’d better send for the doctor over in Spanish Wells. “

“I’ll go,” Johnny said.

“Johnny, no, you stay here.”  Murdoch turned to Miguel.

“I’ll go. ” Johnny stated flatly.  “That’s my bullet.  I’m going  “

“Your bullet!?”  Johnny departed without another word, leaving Murdoch and the others looking at each other in disbelief.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

   Once he’d found the doctor and sent him on his way, Johnny slowly started the return trip to Morro Coyo.  He’d pushed Barranca so hard, he knew that he needed to take his time getting back.  While en route to Spanish Wells, he hadn’t had much time to think–but he’d kept replaying a scene in his head, of Scott and the shocked expression on his brother’s face as he’d crumpled to the ground.  It was a vivid image, but Johnny knew that he really hadn’t seen it.  As soon as he’d fired at his brother, he’d turned immediately to dispatch Diego and couldn’t possibly have seen Scott fall, let alone had time to notice the look on his face.  But he wasn’t able to get those pictures of Scott out of his head.

    Now that he had time, he thought about what he’d said to Scott and Scott to him.  Mostly he kept hearing that damn calm, quiet voice: << “Its always been about the money for you.” >>  Like it was a fact.  <<“ You just have  a price. ”>>  His brother hadn’t betrayed any emotion–no anger or scorn–no fear in that voice either.  Johnny had to admire that.  He knew that he’d lost his temper back inside, when his punch had sent Scott toppling over in the chair.  But even before, Johnny figured  he’d gone too far, played it so well trying to convince the Velasquez’ and Gordon that Scott must have believed him too.

    He remembered what Gordon had said about Scott writing that message to Murdoch, telling their father that Johnny was in on the ransom plan.  << And then if he doesn’t go and try to use his one bullet on the Velasquez’ anyway. >>  If Scott hadn’t done that, maybe Diablo would have decided to finish off ol’Johnny Madrid for good.

    When Johnny arrived in Morro Coyo, he learned that his brother had been transported by buckboard back to Lancer.  He didn’t hang around to ask any other questions.  It wasn’t a surprise that Murdoch would be wanting to get Scott home if at all possible, but moving him so quickly didn’t sound good to Johnny.  He figured that could mean that his reflexes had taken over and he‘d shot too well—-that Scott was dying, if he wasn’t already dead.  If that were the case, Johnny decided he could wait until morning to find out.  And he’d spend the night praying that Scott didn’t share a slow, agonizing death with Eduardo Velasquez.

    Johnny headed towards the recently visited  line shack; he knew he could get some food there, take care of the graze on his leg.  He dreaded returning to the hacienda.  He pictured the questioning looks, Teresa’s sad face, Murdoch . .  . What would he say to Murdoch?  Would Murdoch give him a chance to say anything? If Johnny found out Scott was dead, that he’d killed him, well, he’d just leave.  <<“ Right . . . Just take off’— that’s  . .  . original. ”>> Johnny shook his head.  Hell, even if Scott pulled through, he’d probably end up going anyway—and it was pretty unlikely that his brother would come after him again.  Johnny wasn’t very good at explaining, couldn’t figure what he’d ever say to Boston that would make things right.  So it looked like the Velasquez’ would have their revenge; whether Scott Lancer lived or died, Johnny was certain that he’d lost his brother . . . .

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    It was nearing sunset the next day before Johnny finally turned up at the ranch house.  Since it was suppertime, he expected that most everyone would be occupied, that he might be able to find his way to Scott‘s room unnoticed.  Johnny remembered when Scott had moved from the large guest room in which he’d been settled upon his arrival at  Lancer.  When Scott had told Murdoch that he rather enjoyed the idea of having an exterior door to his room, his older brother had given Johnny a sly grin and a meaningful look.  Now Johnny hesitated a long moment outside that door.  Then he quietly pushed it open and was momentarily overwhelmed with relief when he saw Scott lying there in the bed.  Teresa was seated beside Scott— she was leaning forward to smooth the blanket.  The girl looked up at the sound of Johnny expelling the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. She said “Johnny”, in a tone that sounded as if she wasn’t altogether pleased to see him.  Teresa quickly glanced at Scott, then back at Johnny again: “He just fell asleep.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t wake him.”  Johnny removed his hat as he walked to the foot of the bed and gazed down at his brother.  Scott’s face was pretty bruised up and he had a bandage on the cut above the now quite colorful left eye.  He seemed to be breathing easy enough .  .  .

Seeing Johnny’s expression, Teresa relented.  “He was asking for you,” she volunteered.

“Teresa,“ he said without looking at her, “you think maybe you could let Murdoch know I’m here?”  The girl gave him a long look, before hurrying from the room.

Johnny sat for a few moments in the chair that Teresa had vacated.  Then he slowly stood up and replaced his hat. << Might as well get this done, >> he thought.

   He found Murdoch and Teresa standing at the foot of the stairs.  “Johnny, where have you been?  We were worried about you”, Murdoch asked as Teresa hurriedly brushed past Johnny on her way back to Scott’s room.

“Yeah, well . . “

    Murdoch fixed him with a stern look.  “I want to hear exactly what happened, son.  Now.” Then he abruptly turned and headed into the library.  Johnny followed, watched as Murdoch poured himself a drink.  When the older man turned back to face him, Johnny quietly said, “You might as well pour me one too.”  Johnny removed his hat again, as he crossed the room to accept the extended glass.  Murdoch sat down and waited expectantly.  His younger son positioned himself on the edge of a chair facing him, looking at his glass as his gathered his thoughts.

    Without looking up at the man seated across from him, Johnny quickly outlined the story.  “A while back, I shot the Velasquez’ younger brother in a gunfight.  They heard I was here, figured they could pay me back by killin’ Scott.  Seemed like I could keep him alive a while longer if they thought he didn’t matter to me that much. “

“And the ransom was to buy more time.”

Johnny looked up at this. “Yeah.”  He took one sip of his drink before he continued, eyes on Murdoch’s face now.  “Something tipped them off that maybe I wasn’t tellin’ the truth, so they set it up so he’d have to face me.”

“Scott hasn’t said much, except that they had a gun on you . .  . he seems to feel that you had no choice.”

    It was with a flash of anger that Johnny realized what they all must think, that he’d put a bullet in Scott just to save his own hide.  Not so very long ago, he wouldn’t have cared enough to try to explain.  Now he was going to say it, and Murdoch could believe him or not. “There was a third man on the roof.  Ready to put a bullet in the back of Scott’s head—  if I didn’t drop him myself.”

There was a silence as Murdoch considered this.  Finally he said, “Sounds to me as if you made the right decision, son.”

His voice still barely containing his anger, Johnny responded, “Scott don’t know that.”

“You’ll have a chance to tell him. The doctor says he’s going to be okay.”

Anger subsided as Johnny absorbed this welcome information.  Then he tossed back his drink.  “I still shot him, Murdoch.  And he ain’t never gonna forget the things I said.”

“Such as?“

Johnny got up and paced restlessly around the room.  He addressed his next words to the walls. “That he was nothin’ to me.  How I wanted all this”, he gestured to the room, “to be just mine.”

“And you think Scott believed that.”

“Yeah.“ Johnny was certain of it.  He wasn’t about to explain that his words had been most convincing because Scott had heard them before.  That he‘d actually meant them the first time he’d said them to his brother.  It was something he couldn’t ever change, any more than he could alter the events in his past which had caught up with him and put Scott in danger.  Wearily, Johnny turned back towards Murdoch.  “Then I said I wanted to be rid of him.  Called him a traitor and said I’d been hopin’ Cassidy would catch up with him and save me the trouble.”

Murdoch started perceptibly at the name Cassidy.  “You said that to Scott?”

Johnny met his father’s eyes.  “Yeah.”

    Murdoch got up and crossed to his desk.  He pulled an envelope out of a drawer and walked over to Johnny.  “Here.  It’s the ransom note and the message that Scott sent.”  Johnny reluctantly removed a sheet of paper from the envelope and unfolded it.  Below Gordon’s demand for $6000 in cash, to be placed in a box and left in care of Gus at the saloon, he saw a few lines written in Scott’s flowing script.  “Johnny seems to be working with them“, his brother had written.

    Johnny read the rest of the short message and stared at his brother’s distinctive signature–the crossing of the two ‘Ts” in his first name beginning the large looping “L” of Lancer.   Finally, he looked up at Murdoch, who was perched on the edge of a table, watching him.  Holding up the note, Johnny said: “’Seems to be’ . . . yeah, so,—- he’s got a real polite way of puttin’ it.”

“Johnny, whatever he wrote, Scott knew they were going to read it.  But I thought he was trying to get a message to me —-with Cassidy’s letter.”  Murdoch gestured at the envelope in Johnny’s left hand.  Johnny held it up and fished out two more pages.   As Murdoch turned to pour himself another drink, Johnny found where the letter started with “Dear Scott”, and sat down.  He suddenly felt very tired.  The events, and the liquor, were catching up with him.  Reading didn’t come easily, and he didn’t really care what someone like Cassidy had to say, but Murdoch seemed to think it was important.

    When he reached it, the sentence leapt out at him:  “Of course, the truly bad seeds always stay the way they are“, Cassidy had written.  Johnny angrily tossed the pages to the floor as he stood up.  “Some message–,“ he said coldly.  “So I’m the ‘bad seed’ that stays that way?”  He turned to leave.

“Johnny, wait.”  Murdoch’s voice was a command.  “Sit down.” Johnny merely turned and stared at him.  “It’s the second page“, Murdoch said, “the one that Scott put on top. “

As Johnny still stood motionless, Murdoch stepped over to the fallen papers, picked them up, and in a milder voice, made his instruction a request.  “Please, son, sit down.”

Johnny edged back to the chair he had just vacated, but put his hat squarely on his head as he lowered himself and then leaned back into it.  Murdoch stood over him, holding the letter. “Your brother folded the pages so that this paragraph would be the first thing that I saw,” he said and then started to read:  “He probably didn’t tell you this, but Johnny . . . “.  Murdoch continued with Cassidy’s account of Johnny’s attempt to forcibly escort the ex-lieutenant from town, as well as the threat that Johnny had made against the man if he ever considered returning.  Dan had concluded with “Johnny hasn’t known you as long as I have, but your brother never doubted you.  I’m glad to know, Scott, that you have someone that you can always rely upon.”

In the shadow of his hat brim, Johnny blinked, hard.  << Something else that fool Cassidy was dead wrong about. >>

“You never told us that you’d gone after Cassidy on your own.”

“Didn’t work, did it?”

“That’s not the point, Johnny. Scott wanted me to know.  And if you told him that you were hoping that Cassidy would find him and kill him, then Scott knew you were lying.”

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

   Johnny slept in the next day.  When he finally wandered out of his room, he encountered Teresa coming out of Scott’s, carrying a tray.  He figured that Murdoch must have said something to her, because she was smiling at him this morning.  “I haven’t told him that you’re here,” she said, nodding at the half open door expectantly.  Johnny didn’t smile as he moved towards it.

    On the other side of that door, Scott Lancer looked up at the ceiling and thought about how many times he’d been shot since arriving in California; easily more than during his entire military career.  None of them too serious, fortunately.  But this time .  .  .

    When he’d been standing in the alley opposite Johnny Madrid, waiting to be gunned down, a memory had come to him.  It was something his brother had said once, that to avoid being killed by a bullet to the heart, you should shift your weight to the right, fall to the right. << Well, falling wouldn’t have been particularly difficult >>.  Of course Scott hadn’t fallen, but through sheer will had forced himself to stand still, and wait.  And then, when he had decided to trust Johnny Lancer, to try to help his brother by drawing his gun and firing at the Velasquez brothers, everything had happened so quickly.  He couldn’t remember whether he’d moved right or not, but he shouldn‘t have needed to.  What Scott did recall vividly was knowing that he had been hit, and knowing exactly who had fired the bullet.

    The searing wound on his left side had been one more addition to his collection of pain.  Lying on the ground, Scott had been vaguely aware of Murdoch’s presence,  his father’s voice like distant rumbling thunder.   Then he’d had to endure various disembodied hands probing the injured area.  Scott hadn’t completely blacked out until he’d been lifted into the buckboard. The next thing that he could remember was waking up in his own bed, with Teresa’s angelic face hovering nearby.  She’d eventually told him that it had been Johnny who had gone to Spanish Wells for the doctor and that his brother had not yet returned to the ranch.  Then it had been Murdoch at his bedside, demanding to know what had happened.  Scott had told him only parts of the story, giving Johnny every benefit of the doubt.  But he still had his own unanswered questions.

During the conversation between Johnny and the outlaws, Scott had wanted to believe that he was listening to his brother, Johnny Lancer.  But what he had heard, and very clearly, were the words of the mercenary, Johnny Madrid.  It was only afterwards that he had come to believe that the ransom scheme must be his brother’s effort to gain time in order to work some unknown plan.  But whatever Johnny’s “plan” had been, it clearly hadn’t worked out very well at all, leaving him instead with two bad options:  shooting Scott or being shot himself.  Johnny had made his choice.  Now it seemed that he had also decided to leave Lancer yet again. << Probably for good this time——— >>  Scott was thinking when he heard a soft knock on the door.

    “Might as well get it said.  Just go on in and get it done.” , Johnny had muttered these and similar phrases to himself.   But he had continued to stand in the hall outside Scott’s room for quite a few minutes.   Finally, he tapped lightly on the door and waited until he heard Scott’s voice murmur, “Come in.”  Scott was propped up on a stack of pillows, and he was clearly surprised to see Johnny enter.  Well, it was apparent that Scott couldn’t actually “see” any thing with his left eye, but Johnny felt the right one  tracking him from the door, across the room, and over to the chair beside the bed, to Scott‘s left.  Johnny sat down and then realized that he still didn’t know what to say.

    Not that it mattered, because Scott had something on his mind.  He was the first to break the lengthening silence.  “Listen, Johnny,” he said slowly, “ . .  . I wanted you to know that . . .  I didn’t mean . .  what you may have thought  . .  . about your m–”

Johnny finally cut him off.  “Weren’t no worse than anything I said to you.”

Scott shook his head in disagreement.  “But I wasn’t entirely certain why you said those things, or what you were doing, “ he admitted. “Not until I thought about it afterwards, and particularly what you’d said about Dan Cassidy.”

“Never thought you were a traitor, Scott,“ Johnny said quietly.  Then he shrugged.  “So we put on a pretty good show for the Velasquez brothers.”

Scott looked away, then sighed and decided that he just wasn’t able to leave it at that.  He searched Johnny’s face with his one good eye.  “It wasn’t all show.  There was some truth to it.”

Leaning forward, with his elbows on his knees, Johnny looked down at the floor,  “Yeah“, he said, in a tired voice.  Then he looked right back at his brother and said, with some intensity, “Still just words , Scott.”

 Scott considered this for a long moment.  “As in ‘actions speak louder’?”, he asked, finally.

“Yeah, somethin’ like that.”

    Leaning back against the pillows, Scott looked up at the ceiling.  “All right,” he said, his voice taking on a harder edge.  “Then let me just ask you why . . .”  He stopped himself and took a breath.  Johnny sat silently, waiting to hear which of his actions his brother would question first.  But when Scott did continue, it wasn’t one of the questions that Johnny had been expecting.  “So tell me, Johnny, “ Scott asked in a milder tone, “where was Gordon?”

Johnny was surprised at that; he hadn’t believed that Scott knew about Gordon.  He answered carefully:   “On the roof behind you.  . .  I didn’t have a clear shot at him, if that’s what you’re askin’.”

    Johnny watched for a long moment as his brother thought this over, puzzled it out, fit the pieces together.  Finally, Scott turned to him, and in that calm, matter-of-fact voice of his, he said: “If you’d missed me entirely, I’d be dead.”

Although feeling as if a tremendous weight had been lifted, Johnny resisted the urge to leap up, and instead leaned back in the chair.  He managed a casual reply: “That’s how I figured it.”

Scott spoke deliberately and sincerely, although with a somewhat rueful smile: “Well, then, Brother, thank you.”

Johnny managed a small smile of his own, reached out, and lightly clasped Scott’s upper arm as he rose from his seat.  Deciding that there was something more that he had to say, he sat back down again.  Johnny knew that he wouldn’t–couldn’t— apologize to his brother for being Johnny Madrid.  From what he knew about Scott, maybe he didn‘t need to.  “Listen, Scott, . .  .“ he said, finally, addressing his brother’s damaged profile, “Look, —-I’m sorry . .  . ‘bout messing up your face.  . .

Scott slowly turned his battered visage towards Johnny, and gazed at him with one blue eye.  “Johnny”, he said very seriously, “I was actually much more concerned about what you did to my hair.”

    Johnny managed to restrain himself from taking a friendly slap at his injured brother, but  was unable to halt the grin from spreading over his face.  He stood quickly and  turned away.  Noting that defensive movement by his younger brother, Scott smiled fondly at Johnny’s back, a smile that swiftly disappeared when Johnny turned once more to face him.  Placing his hat squarely on his head, Johnny looked down at Scott. “You really weren’t plannin’ to draw.”

“No, I wasn’t.

“So why’d you change your mind?”

Scott was surprised by the question.  “Well, it was the Latin—–germanitas.   I‘m glad you thought of it,” he said, then added more softly, “Though I almost missed it.”

Johnny made a self-deprecating sound. “I prob’ly didn’t say it right.”

“No, not exactly.”  Scott smiled.  “But it sounded very good to me, Brother.”

Johnny grinned at him.  Pointing at Scott, he said, “You need to just stay out of trouble now, Boston.”

As Johnny headed towards the door, Scott settled back on his pillows and looked up at the ceiling.

“Johnny?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t forget we still have that fence to mend.”

“Right.  Well, I ain’t startin’ without you.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

EPILOGUE Even though the brothers rarely spoke of it, an incident as dramatic and disturbing as the “gunfight”, as well as the events leading up to it, could not help but have a lasting impact.

           Once he had learned that his brother was not severely injured, Johnny had not  lost too much sleep over wounding Scott; given the sudden turn of events with which he’d been presented, he felt that he’d had no other recourse. He had not had a clear shot at Gordon and could not possibly have beaten Diego Velasquez, whose gun was already drawn. Still, the memory of hours of agonizing uncertainty about his accuracy drove him to be even more diligent in seeking opportunities for practice. Rather than the gunshot wound, it was the small jagged scar on his brother’s brow that haunted him. Although it healed well, it would always be faintly visible. It was a memento of the very last time that Johnny would reflexively presume the most unfavorable interpretation of Scott’s words.  For Johnny, that mark would remain a reminder not only of  a momentary loss of control, but also of the manner in which his past had reached out to touch his brother.

       While growing up in the border towns, and during his career as a gunfighter, Johnny had encountered only a very few men after whom he wished to pattern himself. Those men whom he had identified as models had been singled out for their pride and cunning, their ability to fight and, of course, their proficiency with a gun. It appeared that this man from the East also possessed admirable qualities: strength, courage and self control.   Somewhat to his surprise, Johnny had also come to appreciate as well Scott’s ability to trust and willingness to forgive. Despite his initial negative impression, even disregard, of his Boston brother, Johnny now knew that Scott Lancer was someone that he both wanted and needed at his side. Johnny figured that he would value Scott’s trust more than most— and he didn’t plan on ever again needing his forgiveness.  In his heart, Johnny believed that Scott’s faith and compassion would eventually cause his brother grief. Someone had to help Boston stay out of trouble, and Johnny resolved to be vigilant in that regard.

    While Scott’s nights were for a short time filled with images of being gunned down by Johnny Madrid, he was gratified to know that he had weathered the real life ordeal while still maintaining the self control which was so important to him.  “Forgiving” Johnny had not been very difficult once Scott fully understood the circumstances and the motivations behind his brother’s actions.  Johnny’s need for independence and his skill with a weapon were unquestioned, but Scott was also coming to appreciate some of his brother’s complexities. In the aftermath, Scott carried with him a conviction that his impulse to trust his brother had been, and would continue to be, validated. He firmly believed that the future would confirm the words that Dan Cassidy, of all people, had written: that his brother Johnny was someone that he could always rely upon.

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To Melissa And The Maine Woods

~end~
Sharon Coulton
April 2003

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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. You can do so using the ‘reply’ box below, or, if you prefer, you can email Sharon directly.

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Stories in Sequence Series
Boston 1870
Why Scott Stayed
First Toast
Together at Day’s End
WHN: The Escape
Questions of Brotherhood
Melissa and the Maine Woods
WHN for “The Kid” & “Blue Skies”
Echoes of the Heart

One thought on “Questions of Brotherhood by Sharon

  1. I read this story a while ago and re-read it now. It is a great story because the brothers are learning to trust each other.

    Like

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