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Halfway to Anywhere…And Beyond by Buckskin

Word Count 35,291

Thanks to Cat, Rob, and Chris for the Beta
And a special thank you to Cathy T. for the nudge in pulling this story together. This one is for you!


The doctor collected his instruments into his bag and secured it shut; the leather strap threaded through the buckle and rasped loudly in the tiny, cramped room. The well-dressed old man grasped the blanket as he pulled it over the still body, covering the woman lying ghostly white and lifeless on the bed. A man knelt beside her, his face buried in trembling hands as he wept over his deceased wife.

“I’m sorry, Ben,” the doctor quietly sighed. “I’ll make the arrangements for you.” The old doctor patted Ben’s shoulder as he turned to the door and stopped. “Maggie was a good woman, Ben, and she won’t ever be forgotten.” Ben nodded in the quiet room without looking up to meet the kind eyes but could not accept the thought that Maggie was truly gone. His grief washed over him in a paralyzing fog; his arms and legs were nothing more than leaded weights. He couldn’t move from his departed wife’s side, and he began to sob with uncontrolled tears, gasping for each breath. Ben Corbett was a broken man.

In the weeks that followed, the grief of losing his sweet Maggie turned into an uncontrolled hot rage that left him shaken, empty. With a shattered spirit, he began to plot his revenge. The feeling consumed him once it took root, and he yearned for vengeance. His thoughts turned violent and unbalanced, which confused him; Ben Corbett was not a violent man by nature. Normal rational thoughts now turned irrational, and he desperately wanted to make someone pay.

Had he not been fired from his job, he could have paid for the expensive treatments that would have kept Maggie alive, perhaps even made her well again, but that did not happen. Her illness progressed rapidly, took command of her frail body, and she was gone before he found a way to afford the medicine that could have saved her life. That crazy callous old man didn’t care… He doesn’t care for anyone or anything but his money! But I’ll get him, one way or another! I will make him pay. So Ben Corbett began to make his plans. Scott Lancer would pay the price for his grandfather’s heartless and uncaring actions. And Corbett would get his revenge for the sweetest woman ever to walk this earth; he would make Scott Lancer suffer, just like Maggie had suffered, and bring Garrett to his knees. Then he would kill him as well.

The plan was working out quite well, Ben thought, as he looked at the money in his hand. When he was fired from Garrett Enterprises, they had taken his keys to the building, but they had overlooked the fact that Corbett knew the structure’s secrets. One did not work in a place for ten years and not know how to penetrate the perimeters without a key. The neat stack of banknotes stolen from the safe would cover his needs; Ben was not a greedy man but a desperate one, and he would get his revenge.

“Dang, Boston! Ya sure know how ta,” his remark dissolved in laughter, but he pulled himself together and finished the wise-crack observation, unwilling to let it go and offered more embarrassment to the situation, “go after them cows! Ain’t sure I ever seen that done before!” Johnny Lancer’s sides ached from laughing at his brother, although said brother did not find quite the humor in the situation as his younger and disrespectful sibling. Somehow the cows and their young never failed to avoid the mud, and rescues were common and hated as the men had to resort to literally hands-on techniques.

Johnny had been watching his older brother, waiting to see the next step Scott would take in his futile attempts to free the heifer from the muck that was now up to his knees. He looped the rope around her horns, then secured it to his saddle horn as he signaled Remmie, short for Remington, backward to take the slack out of the line and wait for Scott’s order to pull her out of the mud that held her prisoner. But the cow did not budge and required Scott to resort to drastic measures.

Johnny leaned forward and rested his elbows on the saddle horn, thoroughly amused at the situation that played out before him. Ain’t nothin’ like watchin’ Boston playin’ in the mud… Johnny thought with a smile that kept growing across the handsome face. His eyes danced with hilarity, and with no sense of guilt for not helping, he continued his observation. When Scott decided he was through dilly-dallying, Johnny would offer suggestions but not just yet. This was too funny to offer any help, and he wanted to stretch it out for just a little longer.

Scott put his shoulders into the flank of the heifer and pushed her as Remmie pulled back once again, then Scott gave her a smart slap, and suddenly she moved… straight out of the mud and up the bank to stand in the grass. The abrupt movement of her body left Scott unbalanced, his boots stuck in the slimy grunge, and he fell as she exited the muck hole; he went belly first and flopped into the mud, his neck snapped forward, propelling his face into the thick, black ooze. The cow turned to eye Scott and gave a hearty bellow as if to tell him what she thought of him and his rescue attempt. Scott pulled his head up and blew the mud that threatened to choke him out of his nose, and that move was his younger brother’s undoing.

“Hey, Boston, gonna take a long time ta,” the laugh escaped and interrupted the sarcasm as he enjoyed his Boston-bred brother’s predicament, “make a decent wrangler outta ya doin’ things like that! Hell, I can hear ‘em laughin’ in town!” An undignified snort eluded the usual control, but, what the hell, this wasn’t a very dignified situation, so Johnny didn’t try to rein it back. After all, funny was funny!

Scott struggled to his feet but had difficulty releasing them from the suction. “I am glad… that I was able to… amuse… you, brother! Now, shut up and help me out!”  Scott panted, out of breath and more than a little angry.

Johnny tried, really tried to get his mirth under control but failed miserably, which only contributed to his brother’s ire. “Aww, c’mon, brother! It ain’t nothin’ a little dip in the water won’t wash off! C’mon!” Johnny turned his horse to the other side of the lake… where there was no mud.

Johnny!” Scott bellowed.

Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt and erased his grin before turning to face his brother. “What?”

With hands on his hips, Scott shrugged dramatically. “Help. Me. Out. Please!”

Johnny liberated the laugh and reached for his rope. “Oh, yeah, I’ll have ya outta there in a minute, Scott,” he said as he enthusiastically tossed his brother a loop.

Johnny had been right. A dip in the lake felt terrific. Scott swam fully clothed to rinse off what he could of the filth that had covered him.

Johnny, however, took the opportunity to strip down and swim in the raw. Nuthin’ like it! Johnny thought as he dove under the cool water, then surfaced with a shake of his head; shaggy hair sent water splashing out in a full drenching spray. He didn’t stay in the lake too long; he had a sneaking suspicion Scott was still perturbed, and Johnny wasn’t going to give his brother any chance for retaliation, so he scrambled out of the water and immediately got dressed.

Scott smiled. “Johnny!”

“Yeah, Boston, what’d ya want?”

“I get the bathhouse first!”

Johnny laughed at Scott’s declaration. “Guess ya deserve it, Scott!”

Dinner, served at six as usual, was a peaceful time. They discussed the day’s progress and laid out the work schedules for the following day, and inevitably there was banter back and forth between the boys. Sometimes Murdoch Lancer thought his grown sons were suddenly fourteen-years-old again as he observed the shenanigans and could only shake his head.

“Did you boys get all the cattle down from the north pasture?” Murdoch asked.

“Yes, Sir, we got them down with only a few minor issues.” Scott barely got the words out when Johnny chortled into his napkin but refused to meet their eyes.

“John, is there something you want to say?” Murdoch asked and focused his attention on his younger son.

“Huh? Me? No, nothin’ ta say except Scott did a really fine job, that is, once he decided ta stop playin’ in the mud!” And with that last remark, Johnny felt a biscuit bounce off his head.

Since they’d become a family, it was now a tradition to share an after-dinner drink, each with their libation of choice. Murdoch, along with Scott, tended to satisfy themselves with single malt whiskey, the best Scotch that Murdoch could buy, and now that his elder son designated it as his preference, Murdoch bought it by the case. Johnny’s taste ran toward a different libation. Growing up along the border, he was used to the bite and fire of tequila, but the old man hadn’t skimped; he bought the best there was and made his younger son very happy. Johnny looked forward to their evening drink and often tossed back three or four of the potent brew before he retired for the night.

Scott smiled; he couldn’t figure out how Johnny did it. Although he could handle a shot of the vile brew, that was all he cared to share with his brother, and Scott cringed when he watched Johnny drink with no sign of burn that Scott knew was there… No, he would stick with the Scotch.

Scott wondered how much Johnny could put away; he had personally watched him drink five shots and be able to have a conversation with their father without a slur or stumble. It was truly amazing. But five shots for Johnny were obviously not the same for Scott.

“Scott, I’d like you to go into town tomorrow and finish the legal work regarding those contracts. Mr. Randall is expecting one of us there, and Johnny, I want you to ride over to the Circle C. Aggie Conway has a bull that she’s willing to lend us and want you to bring him here.” Both Scott and Johnny nodded, having gotten their assignments for at least part of the next day.

“Hey, Scott, how about I beat ya at a game of chess?” Johnny grinned at his brother as he set up the game.

Murdoch could only smile. It had been a long time coming, and he wanted to enjoy every minute with his sons, so he watched as they played the game and was always in awe of their different techniques. Scott applied his military training, taking his time to strategize, while Johnny was quick to make a move, almost recklessly, but he seemed to win more times than he lost.  An hour later saw them climbing the stairs and bidding each other goodnight. Dawn came early, and their workday would begin all over.

As he rode into town, Scott checked his inside jacket pocket; the letter was safely tucked away, waiting to be dropped off at the post office. Green River’s post office, such as it was, occupied the back corner of Mayor Higgs’ store, inflating the self-importance of the arrogant man. Funny that most of Green River’s residents always found the time to see their postal needs met after the Mayor left the store…

He dropped the letter into the outgoing basket, hoping his grandfather was feeling better.

“Thank you, Mr. Randall; I’ll get these papers back to Murdoch,” Scott said as he rose out of his chair and shook the attorney’s hand.

“Always a pleasure, Scott! Please give Murdoch and Johnny my regards.” The lawyer shook Scott’s hand with a tight grip.

“I will do that! Thank you!” Scott tipped his hat and slipped out the door into the morning sun.

After the quick stop to mail the letter to his grandfather and the visit with Attorney Randall, Scott made a spontaneous decision to stop at The Angels Nest for a well-deserved, quick beer. He walked to the welcoming batwing doors, pushed his way through, and immediately saw Cindy Middleton. She sashayed her way to his side; the feather trim of her dress tickled his nose as she looped her arms around his neck and pulled his head towards hers for a blistering kiss while she thrust her lower body against his hips. A slight red blush crept upward from under his collar and stained his face at the bold gesture, and he cleared his throat, then ordered two beers. He steered Cindy to a table in the nearly empty room and was thankful there weren’t many to witness the lusty gesture. There were a few hands from Jim Stanton’s ranch and a couple of men he’d never seen before.

“Well, Scott Lancer, what brings you into town today? I thought I’d have to wait for Saturday before you’d be here ta see me!”

Scott smiled as he watched her pouty lips. “I just had some ranch business to take care of and thought I’d stop in for a drink before I left for home, but I am glad to surprise you!” And he held up his beer mug in a gesture of ‘cheers’.

Cindy drank with him as she gazed forlornly into his blue-gray eyes, knowing she would be without him for the next two days. “But you will be here Saturday, won’t you?”

“That I will, Cindy, have no fear!” He gulped down the last of his beer and bid Miss Middleton farewell. He made it as far as the door when she called out.

“See you Saturday, Scott!” He turned to give her a smile but did not notice as the two strangers enjoying a drink looked up and grinned coldly.

The bull from Aggie Conway proved to be a handful. Apparently, he did not want to leave Aggie’s ranch, much less be stuffed into the stock wagon and hauled twelve miles away. It was cramped and confining, but it wouldn’t be more than a few hours before they found their way to Lancer. However, the bull did not know that. Once there, he had a pasture full of willing cows whenever the urge hit him. A lewd smile crawled across Johnny’s face. What a job that would be ta keep a bunch of ladies satisfied! Hmm, how do I find a job to keep my ladies…

“Johnny?” Aggie called, and Johnny let go of the direction his thoughts were taking him.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, Aggie, what can I do for ya?” Johnny asked as he corraled his wanderings.

“You tell Murdoch he can keep old Luther as long he needs to. With the help he gave me last year, I owe him a lot more than Luther’s services!”

Johnny paused to swipe at the sweat that trickled down his face with an annoying tickle as he caught his breath from fighting to board Luther in the cramped confines of the stock wagon.

“Oh, ya know he don’t keep track a stuff like that, especially where you’re concerned! You two been through too much tagether ta let it make any difference. But I’ll tell him if ya want me to,” he said with a smile.

Aggie Conway and Murdoch Lancer had been there for the other to lean on over the years and would continue to do so. She smiled sweetly at the young man as she remembered back when he was a whirlwind toddler who had kept everyone on their toes when he was around. Aggie had thought of him often over the years he was gone from Lancer and wondered what could have been had his mother not taken him away.

“Yes, please tell him! Thanks, Johnny!” She stood and watched as Johnny Madrid Lancer hopped onto the driver’s seat in a fluid motion and took the reins expertly in his hands. He turned to wave a final goodbye and slapped the tops of the horse’s rumps to get the wagon rolling out onto the road.

Ol’ Luther sure looks happy, Johnny thought, as he turned the bull loose in the pasture full of wary cows, and though they continued to chew the grass, their ears pivoted on their heads as they watched the immense bull wander into their small meadow. He stopped and tested the wind, then ambled to where several cows huddled in the shade of an oak tree to ‘introduce’ himself, cattle-style. Yup, I need ta find me a job of keepin’ the ladies satisfied… Johnny turned the stock wagon and headed for home.

“Aggie said ta keep Luther as long as ya want. She feels obligated to ya for the help last year.” Johnny relayed the message, and as he predicted, Murdoch scoffed and shook his head.

We all suffered from that storm; she did as much for others as Lancer did for her.

“She knows better than that! We’ve been doing this as long as we’ve been neighbors! There’s no need to ‘keep score’!” Murdoch sighed in exasperation.

Johnny smiled as he watched his father huff and pretend to rant, but in all honesty, he believed that Murdoch truly liked the friendly back-and-forth jousting with the woman. Their friendship spanned almost thirty years, and they had been through much together. Tragedies and triumphs, beginnings and endings; Aggie had been the first neighbor to visit upon Johnny’s birth and the first to console Murdoch when Maria stole their son away in the middle of the night. Yes, the two had weathered many storms, and not all were caused by the forces of nature.

“Well, brother, aren’t you getting ready for town tonight?” Scott asked with a frown that creased his brow as he watched Johnny rope another horse. Usually, the younger impulsive Lancer would hurry to get into town, ready to cut loose for an evening of poker, drinking, and sweet, velvety arms to wrap around him, enjoying the embrace.

“Gonna be a little late tanight, Scott. Wanna finish with a coupla horses before I get cleaned up. You go on ahead an’ I‘ll meet ya there.” Johnny turned away, then, as an afterthought, favored his brother with a lopsided grin and called out to him. “Oh, Scott?”

The blond Lancer looked back to face his brother as Johnny issued his warning, as his sparkling eyes danced with mirth. “Don’t go gettin’ in no trouble, Boston! Ya know ya need me ta protect ya!”

Scott sighed, feigned exasperation at the ludicrous remark, and didn’t bother to comment. He began to walk away but stopped in his tracks; then, he shook his head and wisely decided to let the whole ridiculous conversation fade without further comment and continued to the barn. Johnny could almost read the thoughts as they careened around in Scott’s Harvard-educated brain and could do nothing but laugh.

The ride into town was uneventful, but Scott had a feeling, a good feeling, that things were about to change as he thought of the flirtatious nature Cindy had lavished on him several days ago. Yes, tonight will be my lucky night! He anticipated the trip upstairs with the spunky blond held tightly in his arms. However, there was a bit of business before pleasure, and instead of going directly to The Angels Nest, Scott would take the brief detour to Mr. Randall’s office to sign the waiting papers.

He reined Remmie to a stop at the hitch rail, dismounted, then looked around to see nothing out of the ordinary. My little brother must be rubbing off on me! he thought with a chuckle and mounted the stairs that led into the attorney’s small workplace.

“Thank you again, Mr. Randall. I am sure this will be the last of the documents that need your attention.” Then, with a quick handshake and a touch to his hat brim, Scott left Mr. Randall and continued his trip across town for a night of leisure and love.

“There he is, that’s him. We need ta make this look good.”

“Alright, that’s him, but how ya wanna take him? Mr. Corbett’s payin’ us ta bring this fella ta him, but it might take more’n just the two of us ta git the job done.” Doubt began to take hold, and suddenly it was not the easy undertaking they initially thought. In the beginning, the plan seemed to be simple enough. Ambush a lone man and bring him to Corbett. What would be so difficult about that?

They hired on to do the job and were paid for their efforts, except they had learned a few new details not known to them before their agreement with Corbett. These details held dire consequences in the event they were caught. Scott Lancer was part of a very powerful family and was a good friend of the law, but the worst and most terrifying fact was they discovered Scott’s brother was none other than the infamous Johnny Madrid.

“We better be thinkin’ a somethin’ fast, it looks like he’s on his way ta the saloon, an’ once he gets there, it could be a long night before he comes out again. At least he’s alone. If that brother a his was there, we would have to wait for another time. Ah don’t wanna tangle with him!” The man thought a moment and then nudged his partner.

“If we kin git inta that alley, maybe we kin coax him in there, an’ then we kin take ‘im.” Steve and Tom Cain, grateful for the deep dusk and the shadows it provided, hurried their pace to take advantage of that cover in the apprehending of Scott Garrett Lancer.

Missy Hendricks was late. She knew her parents would worry, so she picked up her pace as she concentrated on the bundle in her arms. She could not risk dropping the new material in the street. It had cost her a month’s pay of the little money she made helping old Widow Hawkins with household chores. This material would undoubtedly make a beautiful new dress for the dance next month. Her mind focused on trim that would best accent the powder blue hue that looked so pretty and complimented her coloring, and she failed to see the threat until it was too late.

Large arms shot out from the corner of the building and closed around her with shocking speed. The air was forced out of her lungs in a whoosh as she struggled with her attacker. The harsh, gruff warning jolted her still as rough hands circled her throat. She was paralyzed with fear; her heart pounded against her ribs, she breathed in pants and sobs, then suddenly, she became angry and began to fight.

The scream that tore through her lips shattered the evening quiet, piercing and shrill, and she bit the hand that tried to prevent another. She heard a voice, a familiar voice, but could not connect it to a face. Suddenly she was thrust away to crash into the corral rails; her head made contact with a sickening thump, then she fell, and everything went black.

Scott slipped the papers into his saddlebags, and with thoughts that settled on a more satisfying, stimulating encounter, he mounted his horse to ride to the other side of town, to The Angels Nest and sassy green eyes, silken arms, and hopefully a soft, warm bed. It was a calm evening; the sunset began its descent, staining the air and everything in it a delicate copper, a lazy, comfortable shade that quickly faded into dusk. He nodded at friends and neighbors as they hurried on their way.

Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River, stepped out onto the boardwalk and called out to him. “Hey, Scott! How ya doin’?” Then Val noticed that Johnny was nowhere around. “That trouble-makin’ brother a yours not here tanight?” Val thought it peculiar that Johnny Lancer was not with his brother, and he immediately began to search up and down the street looking for the errant and rowdy young man.

Scott grinned as he thought of his sibling working with his beloved horses, still coated with dust and dirt, instead of here, in town on his way to the saloon. “Oh, he’ll be here soon, I imagine. There were a few horses he wanted to work with before he stopped for the day but have no doubt, Val, he will be here!” Anxious to be on his way, Scott bid Crawford goodbye, not that he didn’t want to talk to him, but Cindy was definitely prettier to look at than the crusty, shabby peace officer. Val retreated into the jailhouse and mumbled something under his breath about his absent amigo, Johnny.

Once more on his way, Scott was preoccupied with visions of a smooth whiskey in hand and willing lips pressed to his. His heart began a steady thump in his chest. The smile he wore told of anxiously anticipated expectations for the night. Maybe it’s a good thing that Johnny will come later… His young brother always made raucous comments when Scott and Cindy finally made their way up to her room; he alerted the whole saloon, and any discretion on their part was accompanied by hoots and hollers, wolf whistles, and cheers. Yes, my little brother certainly can try the patience of a saint. Well, not that a saint would be on his way up the stairs with a woman in a saloon, that is!

The scream split through the air and sent a chill crawling up Scott’s spine. He quickly reined Remmie down the street, searching for the woman in distress. Where was she? Would he get to her in time? Now, there was nothing but silence. Where…? Then he heard a struggle coming from down the alley. He drew his Colt and ran across the street in the direction where he thought the commotion was escalating.

She screamed again, Scott knew he was getting close, and as he rounded the corner, he saw a man with Missy Hendricks in his arms, and the contact was not consensual. “Let her go! Now!” It was the last Scott knew as a gun butt slammed into his head from behind, and he fell face-first into the dust.

Johnny rode toward Green River and knew that, as late as it was, Scott would already be involved with Cindy. Cindy Middleton was a force to be reckoned with; although small in stature, she had been known to reduce the largest and most intimidating man to a pile of quivering jelly in a matter of seconds. And what Cindy wanted, Cindy got. Except for one thing. Johnny.

They had been ‘close’ for a while until Johnny broke it off; however, Cindy had not recovered from the blow. She still pined for him without any success in regaining his favors. Ever. His attention lay elsewhere; he made it very clear, and Cindy had no choice but to get on with life. That life now involved Scott Lancer, and she would make the most of it.

The noise spilled into the street was loud, boisterous, and typical for a Saturday night. The soft yellow light that washed over the batwings was welcoming and beckoned cowboys to share the comforts within, be it of liquid fire or the feminine kind. The hitch rails were full of patient horses, most standing on three legs as the fourth relaxed with a casual bend at hock and fetlock, eyes half-closed until a shriek or shrill laugh pierced the night air to disturb them.

Johnny rode along the row of mounts in front of the saloon looking for Remmie and did not find him. The large sorrel should have been there. Scott left the ranch early, but there was a possibility that he left his horse tied at the jail if he stopped to see Val before his Saturday night ritual. Johnny reined Barranca to a stop and tied him on the porch roof support, then smoothly, effortlessly stepped up onto the boardwalk and to the batwing doors to peruse the interior.

The bar room was full of rowdy cowboys well on their way to oblivion, all concerned over who would outdrink who and end up with the saloon girl of their choice. The working girls in their sparkling dresses trimmed in sequins, feathers, and lace stood with arms around the necks of cowboys as they gulped their choice of poison and then competed to see which one remained on his feet. Poker games were in progress; grubby hands held stained cards as coins piled in the center of the table grabbed the players’ attention in the slightly less disorderly part of the room. Johnny found Cindy, as always, in the middle of the excitement. However, he did not see Scott.

The trip to the sheriff’s office took only a few minutes, and there still had been no sign of Remmie; Johnny opened the door to find Val neck-deep in paperwork. He barely kept the laugh from bubbling over, knowing Val’s hatred of this aspect of sheriffing. Val looked up through blurry eyes that shot daggers at the intrusion with a smiling face.

“Hey, Val! Glad ta see yer earnin’ yer keep! Ya seen Scott tanight?” Johnny asked as he picked up the coffee pot.

Val’s eyes narrowed. “Keep yer hands offa that coffee! Ya barge in here, steal my coffee an’ complain ‘bout it tastin’ like I made it with dirty scrub water! Ya just put that cup back where ya found it!”

 Johnny could not help but laugh. If Val wasn’t yelling at him, he wouldn’t think Val liked him anymore. Huh, he must really like me… Johnny grinned at the thought. “So, ya seen Scott tanight? He ain’t at the saloon, just thought ya talked with him some. Ain’t seen his horse, either.” Johnny continued to pour the coffee, then offered a grimace as he swallowed the vile brew.

“Damn, Val! Wish you’d learn how ta make decent coffee!” Johnny complained and waited for the sheriff’s temper to blow.

Val grunted. “Ya thievin’ little varmint! I said keep yer hands offa that! Yeah, I seen ‘im. Was on his way over ta see Cindy ‘bout a hour ago, maybe hour an’ a half.” Thinking of the usually composed Scott Lancer, Val had to laugh as he remembered the look in the blue-gray eyes that couldn’t be disguised. “Had my head stuck in this paperwork…” Further words were cut off as the door to the office opened with a force hard enough to slam against the wall as Tiny, the blacksmith, crowded the room. His substantial three hundred and forty-pound frame dwarfed the interior; suddenly, it felt claustrophobic and confining, and both Johnny and Val fought the urge to step out into the cool night air.

“Val, ya gotta come over ta the livery! It’s Miss Millie! She been hurt, mumbled somethin’ ‘bout bein’ attacked! Hit her head on a fence rail; I already sent for Doc Jenkins!” Tiny gasped as he stood, out of breath, his great body heaving as he sucked air into his lungs.

Johnny and Val made it out the door before Tiny could get his feet moving and were down the street at a dead run.

Doc Jenkins had just arrived; he knelt beside Millie and examined her injuries as best he could in the dim light of the kerosene lantern. A crowd of people had gathered as Johnny, and Val rounded the corner. Val knelt in the dirt next to the doctor as he coaxed Millie back to consciousness.

“That’s right, Millie. You’re going to be alright, dear. It looks like you hit your head. We’ll get you to my office so I can check you over. We sent for your folks, Millie…”

“What… happened?” the girl asked as she fought to remember why she would be lying on the ground behind the livery. The last she remembered, she had been at the general store picking out material and trim for the dress. Then an image of large bear-like arms grabbed her, squeezing her tightly… And she began to cry as the terrifying memories washed over her.

“It’s alright, Millie… Can ya tell me what happened?” Val asked, his voice gentle as he questioned the distraught girl. Trying to calm herself, Millie took a few deep breaths, and although the tears kept sliding down her face, she managed a few words.

“Walking home, it was getting too dark. Mama and Papa will be worried… A man grabbed me… from behind! He… he covered my mouth, but I screamed…” The tears came in a rush, and she sobbed as the reality began to sink in, and again the terrifying moments came flooding back.

“That’s enough, Val! I need to get her to the office!” Doc insisted as Johnny stepped forward to gently lift her in his arms and follow Jenkins to his house.

“Alright, all a you folks go on home so’s ya don’t be tramplin’ any tracks if ya ain’t already done it! Go on now! Tiny, you stay here an’ keep everyone away till I get back.” Val ordered.

“‘Kay, Sheriff, I can do that,” Tiny answered as he pulled himself to his full height, proud to be of help.

The crowd dispersed, and Val followed Doc and Johnny to the neat white clapboard house down the street. Val stood behind as Doc held the door open, and Johnny carefully carried Millie into the bright interior.

“Over here, Johnny, that’s right, right there on the table. You just relax, young lady, and we will have you up and on your feet in no time!” Sam said in a cheery but quiet tone.

Johnny tried to step away, but Millie had taken his hand and clutched it tightly; her shaking fingers held his as if they were her lifeline. She needed to feel safe, an anchor of sorts, and Johnny was it for the time being. He could feel the tremors ripple through her as he carried her the entire way to the Doc’s, and they lingered in her hands as she held him in her vice-like grip.

Doc Jenkins had to step around him during the examination, making Johnny look up sheepishly. “Sorry, Sam, kinda stuck here…” as he nodded to his trapped hand.

Sam smiled, knowing it was security for the girl, and if she felt safer holding Johnny’s hand, he could work around it. He smiled into Johnny’s eyes; he had seen Johnny in this capacity before. The young Lancer could calm the wildest beast with his words, and that same quality worked on humans. He had heard Johnny talking to her as he held her in his arms from the livery to his house; the steady stream of calming words and tones had again worked its magic.

Voices from the front room of the doctor’s house could be heard as Val escorted Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks back to the examination room. At their entrance, Mrs. Hendricks dissolved into tears, and a renewed sob came from Millie as she let go of Johnny’s hand and reached for her mother’s outstretched arms. Johnny backed away, allowing the worried parents to be with their daughter, and stepped to Val’s side.

“Millie, are you alright, baby girl?” the woman sobbed. “We were out looking for you when Cal Turpin found us!” Mrs. Hendricks searched her daughter’s face.

Mr. Hendricks looked at Val. “Sheriff, do you know what happened?”

Val sighed deeply. “The only thing Millie could say was that someone grabbed her from behind an’ had his hand over her mouth, but she managed to scream.”

At her sharp intake of breath, all eyes went to Millie. She lay with eyes wide and stared at Johnny. “Scott… I screamed, and Scott came to help me… That’s all I remember! I was pushed aside, and they hit Scott!”

Johnny bolted from Doc Jenkins’ house and raced back into the alley with Val hot on his tail.

“Johnny! Johnny, wait up!” He may as well have yelled at the wind. Johnny did not wait up but, in fact, ran faster. He made it behind the livery but could see nothing in the dark.

“TINY! Tiny! C’mon out here!” Johnny bellowed and looked off into the night as if trying to see the way the men went that had taken Scott.

Tiny lumbered out to the back corral to see Johnny Lancer standing motionless and staring into the dark. “Johnny?” he called softly.

Johnny turned and was glad that Tiny had brought a lantern with him. He crossed to the giant gentleman and reached for the light. “Ya didn’t hear nothin’ out here, Tiny?” Johnny asked but already knew what the answer would be.

“Sorry, Johnny, was over ta the café havin’ some supper. ‘M sorry,” he mumbled as he found the toes of his boots very interesting.

“Not yer fault, Tiny. They took Scott,” Johnny said as he began the search for tracks with only the dim light of the lantern.

Val came around the corner in hopes of helping his amigo ferret out any clue to indicate what direction to go. And Val was relieved to find Johnny still there and not having gone off on his own.

“Scott? Why’d they wanna take Scott?” Tiny mumbled, surprised to hear that Scott had been involved.

“Dunno. All I know is that they’ll pay when I find them.” Although it had not been spoken loudly or with malice, the words chilled Tiny to the bone, knowing that Madrid would make an appearance.

Val heard it and knew he would have trouble getting Johnny to listen to reason. Johnny would want to leave tonight, Val would bet on it, but waiting for the rest of Lancer’s men would be the smart thing to do. Val smiled briefly. Madrid never did things cuz they were the smart thing ta do. He did things cuz it was the Madrid thing ta do. And in the end, Val had been right. Madrid would be going after Scott, and Lord help those who had taken him because Madrid would not show mercy to those who threatened his family or friends.

Val would have to act fast. Johnny would put together a few supplies, just what would fit into his saddlebags, and then he would be gone, and it would be Val’s problem to catch up with him.

“Johnny, ‘m gonna send a wire ta Gabe in Spanish Wells ta cover for me here an’ a couple ta surroundin’ towns ta keep their eyes open. Meet me in fronta the sheriff’s office an’ we kin be on their trail within an hour.” Not waiting for Johnny’s reply, Val left.

Johnny followed what trail there was until he was just out of town, he had a sense of what direction the tracks led, and that was all he needed. There would be no waiting for Val. Whoever had taken Scott was getting away, and Johnny Madrid Lancer would be waiting for no one. He returned to the livery, paying Tiny for what coffee he had and a few essentials, then walked back to Val’s office where Barranca stood; he secured his supplies, vaulted on his horse, and took off in the direction of the tracks.

The Cain brothers did not waste any time, they gave their horses no thought as they galloped into the night, but once they left the road, the going was slow. They had tied Scott to the saddle, then rode off to put as much distance between them and the town as possible. Everything would depend on escaping with their prize, that prize being Scott Garrett Lancer and the biggest threat, Madrid.

Johnny managed to get several miles out of town before he stopped. While the thought of Scott slipping away commanded that he keep up the hunt, the knowledge that the race could be lost if he pushed Barranca in the dark and risked an injury. At that moment, Lancer summoned Madrid, and once again, Madrid did not fail him. A calm settled around Johnny, and he knew he would find his brother. He only hoped it would be in time. But why would anyone want to take Scott?

Sleep did not come. Johnny listened to the night sounds, which usually comforted him but not this night. He tried to keep his anger in check, trying desperately to ‘feel’ his brother. There had been no trouble to warrant retaliation against Lancer. What the hell’s goin’ on? Who’d wanna take Scott? These questions and many more careened in Johnny’s head, but there were no answers. The only worry Scott recently expressed to his brother was a concern for his grandfather in Boston. The man, of late, had not been well.

The long hours were endless, as if the hands of the clock had stopped; he had no answers and only tracks in the dirt. At least I got them ta follow… What the hell, hafta make do with what I got, an’ right now, it ain’t much.

Dawn took its sweet time, lightening the sky in brilliant orange and yellow— a cheerful atmosphere contrasted with Johnny’s frame of mind. Nothing was cheerful about this morning, and nothing would be cheerful about this day unless he could find his brother. He broke his meager camp, saddled up, and continued the search, hoping the worry he felt wouldn’t turn his belly inside out.

He heard the approaching horse long before Val caught up to him. Crawford was livid. But deep down, he understood. He pulled Amigo to a halt and crept up the ridge where Johnny lay, scanning the miles of the vast country in hopes of catching a glimpse of the three men on horseback. But there was nothing. They would be forced to follow the tracks, but thankfully there were tracks to follow.

“Of all the stupid, jug-head stubborn amigos I coulda picked ta ride with, I had ta pick you!” Val railed as he secretly assessed Johnny, noting the body language; Madrid was there now— not  Lancer. It was plain that Madrid had not slept, and he doubted if Johnny had any food today. He wondered if his amigo obstinado even brought any food with him. He reached into his coat, retrieved the canvas bag with a drawstring, and tossed it at Johnny.

At first, it was ignored as Johnny continued to stare out across the valley below, his concentration focused on any movement that could indicate the presence of his brother. Then almost as an afterthought, Johnny picked up the bag and pulled out a piece of jerky.

Holding the meat in his teeth, Johnny pushed off the rocks and made his way down where the horses were tied, then he and Val mounted up to follow the hoof prints on the hard, rock-strewn ground.

“Thanks, Val,” Johnny muttered as he chewed the tough beef. Val grunted his response.

“Ya know ya pissed off yer ol’ man, don’t cha?” Val asked.

“Don’t doubt it. Didn’t have time ta worry about it.” Then Johnny kicked Barranca into a mile-eating lope leaving Val to, again, catch up.

Crawford watched as Johnny scoured the ground for the fading tracks. There was an aura shrouded around him, cold and… deadly, that told Val he would follow Scott from one side of the country to the other to get him back and that nothing or no one would stop him.

The higher into the mountains they went, the rockier the ground became. Knowing that Madrid was now in control, Val would have to be diligent; he would need to keep a tight rein on Johnny, especially when there was the possibility that Scott was in danger. The potential for this to go very wrong was considerable. Where his brother was concerned, Johnny knew no limits, and Madrid would find Scott… no matter what and would not stop looking until he did.

“Johnny, got any idea where they’re goin’?” Val asked as they crossed a mountain stream.

Johnny studied the ground and nudged Barranca farther up the trail. “Can’t figure where they’re headin’, Val. There ain’t nothin’ out there except lizards an’ jackrabbits an’ nothin’ but rocks an’ trees ahead, but long as there’s a trail, that’s where I’m goin’. Can’t risk havin’ these tracks wash out. They could be halfway ta anywhere by now.”

But Johnny was not giving up. He had to find Scott, and Heaven help the bastards that took him.

Scott risked opening his eyes. He did not want his captors to know he was conscious, but that may be difficult to pull off, considering how his belly was rolling and threatening to erupt. He didn’t know how long it had been since he was hit from behind. If the ache in his head was any indication, it had been a while. Then a spark ignited, and he almost smiled. Johnny would find him, no matter how long it took, and the only thing Scott could do was to make Johnny’s job easier for him. They had made camp; Scott was dragged close to the fire, but all he could do was lay in the dirt as dozens of questions crashed through his brain, and the more his captors talked, the more questions he had.

Night came early in the mountains. It suffocated the light and ushered in the cold that went straight through to bones. It was enough to render the heartiest of souls into trembling piles of shivering flesh, and without a fire, one could very possibly die from the cold and exposure. The ever-present bottle of ‘liquid fire’ always helped him stay warm, and thankfully, Val had seen to it to bring one along. Johnny had left town so quickly and had bought whatever Tiny’s meagerly stocked room in the back of the livery had to offer, but there had been no tequila, and had not taken any time to buy necessary supplies.

“No, Johnny, you Lancers have been right there ta help folks; I cain’t take yer money,” Tiny had said as Johnny handed him several dollars. With no time to argue, Johnny left the money on the rickety, scarred table and, not having any time to waste, rode out of town. Val was livid when he discovered Johnny left without him but resigned himself to the fact this was Johnny, and where his friends and family were concerned, he did things his way.

And now, he was sitting with Johnny, trying to stay warm on a cold night with no fire. “Got any ideas, amigo?” Val asked as he watched emotions shade Johnny’s face as volatile thoughts careened through his head.

Johnny’s stare never left the flames as he answered. “Find Scott. Just keep followin’. Can’t lose their trail an’ then get the pendejos that took him. Gonna hafta make plans as we go. There’s mighty rough country ahead if they keep goin’ in this direction. It’ll be easy ta lose them…”

Scott watched his captors. Both were carelessly dozing; it appeared that neither of them was on guard duty. The alcohol they’d consumed earlier in their anticipation of payment for their deed now flooded their brains and prevented the attention necessary given for a successful watch. Scott used this advantage, making scuff marks in the dirt with the heels of his boots, then turned over a few rocks, just enough to leave a sign that he had been there. Johnny would be following, of that Scott was sure.

But what he couldn’t figure out was why did they want him? Why was he the target? He had never seen these two men before; they couldn’t possibly have a grudge against him… What did they want? His questions went unanswered, and he stopped asking hours ago after they had refused to answer and threatened him with a gag or another crack to the head. He would have to wait and pray that Johnny would follow.

“Hey, amigo, look at this,” Val said as he scoured the ground. There lay a torn piece of cotton fabric— it was a scrap of Scott’s shirt.

Johnny picked it up and held it between his fingers, then smiled. Whoever took his brother got awfully careless; Scott left them another clue. Johnny and Val were getting closer; it would not be long before they would catch up. Still, Johnny couldn’t entirely rid himself of the niggling in his head, the feeling in his gut that screamed warnings of urgency.

For the hundredth time, Johnny ran the facts through his mind, and for the hundredth time, he came up with nothing that gave him a clue as to who took Scott or why. Was Scott in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was it a planned attack and his brother the intended target? Nothing made any sense. Well, he would find the answers to his questions sooner or later.

“What’d ya think, Steve? Is Corbett gonna show up with the rest of our money like he said he was?” Tom Cain couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have that much money. Five hundred dollars! He’d never seen that kind of money before, and he and Steve would soon have it in their hands!

Their prisoner hadn’t given them any trouble, which was a puzzle to the Cain brothers. After the threat of another blow to the head if he didn’t stop asking questions, there was no word from him. And he surely did not appear overly concerned; no fear-filled, worried glances or nervous behavior, and that worried them as the thought of not only the law trailing them but Johnny Madrid, as well.

However, they were almost to the destination where Scott Lancer would be turned over to Corbett, and in exchange, Corbett would pay them the five hundred dollars… Five hundred dollars! That was enough money to keep him and brother Steve happy for a long time.

Ben Corbett could only hope the Cain brothers remembered their orders when they returned. The ropes were already in place, waiting to secure  Garrett’s grandson to the tree. It was where he would pay for Garrett’s crime. It was where the young man would take his last breath; he would struggle to draw in the air that would keep him alive. Then Ben would tighten the ropes and watch his face turn blue, then gray. His tongue would swell, protruding between dry and cracked lips. Perhaps the eyes will burst from their sockets… Visions of Scott Lancer enduring the struggles of his dear Maggie were the things that kept Ben Corbett going; an eye for an eye, Mr. Harlan Garrett!

Ben waited. His guest should arrive soon, and he would be ready…

Funny thing when you trail someone, Johnny thought, the longer ya trail ‘em, the sloppier they get. Kinda like they think you’re gonna get tired an’ give up. Well, I sure hope they’re up for company, cuz we’re comin’ for a visit real soon, boys. Real soon…

“What’re you thinkin’, amigo? Ya fig’re out somethin’ ya ain’t tellin’ me about?” Val asked. He’d seen that look before and knew Johnny had something circling in that head of his. Ha! Do I wanna know what it is? He wondered…

“These tracks were made this earlier this mornin’; we’re gettin’ close.”

It would happen today.


Scott didn’t ask any questions; he knew he would be denied an answer, and he wasn’t about to give his captors the satisfaction of telling him to shut up. They were waiting for a reason to humiliate him; Scott didn’t give them that reason, and it wasn’t sitting well with them.

Scott wondered about his captors; where they were successful in his kidnapping, neither was concerned about the consequences. Kidnapping was against the law— especially Madrid’s law, and Scott knew that his brother would be following… he could feel Johnny coming. Oh, he couldn’t put it into words; but it was there, like knowing night followed day and day followed night. It was just there. One knew the sun was still in the sky on a cloudy day— just as Scott knew Johnny was on his way even though he couldn’t see him. But his stubborn, recalcitrant, irritating, and dependable younger brother was not far behind. Of that, Scott was certain. Tom and Steve Cain had no clue what was about to happen.

“Hold up, Tom,” Steve called out. He pulled a paper from his jacket, studied the writing, then motioned down the trail. “We go this way. Ain’t much farther ta the cabin. He should be there by now.” They moved out, each keeping an eye on their prisoner. They couldn’t lose him now, not after all they’d gone through to get this far.

The chill of the morning began to fade as the sun climbed higher in the sky; Scott relished the warmth as it blanketed him, replacing the cold from the night hours he spent too far away from the fire and without proper clothing for mountain travel. But any relief he felt was shortlived as they entered the clearing surrounding a small cabin— a small clearing where a solitary tree grew— a sturdy tree complete with a noose hanging from one of its lower branches.

Scott shuddered… What was going on? Johnny, you’d better make it here quickly!

The Cain brothers reined the horses to a halt, then dismounted and called to someone in the cabin.

“Corbett! You in there, Corbett? C’mon out! We got yer man!”

The hinges squeaked as the door opened; a gaunt, ashen-faced man stepped onto the porch and stared at Scott through red-rimmed, hate-filled eyes.

“Get him off that horse and tie him to the tree!” he ordered in a gravelly voice that did not fit the innocuous form in ill-fitting clothes that stood before them.

The Cain brothers hurried to do his bidding lest Corbett decided to cheat them out of their money.

Scott was pulled from the mount; although his wrists were still bound with ropes, he struggled against the manhandling as they propelled him to the tree and the awaiting noose. What was happening?

“I want to know what’s going on! Who are you people? And what do you think I’ve done to warrant this treatment?” he demanded, but his questions again went unanswered — his words were ignored as if he hadn’t spoken them.

Steve and Tom Cain dragged Scott to the waiting ropes and shoved him against the rough bark; his body slammed into the tree trunk, causing his head to snap back, making him see stars with the contact. He felt his arms pulled behind him, his hands tied, then ropes were wrapped around his body. He was trapped. But it was the noose that was snugged around his neck that turned his belly cold and sent his brain scrambling to make sense of his predicament.

“Wait just a minute! Tell me what it is that you think I’ve done!” Scott’s eyes flashed as he was met with icy stares and harsh laughter.

“Tell me what it is ya think I done!” Tom Cain mimicked as he and his brother snorted in sick humor.

“Shut up, you two, and hurry up!” Corbett ordered.

The Cain brothers focused their attention not on the prisoner tied to the tree but on the man who was their employer.

“Where’s our money? You said five hunnerd dollars! You got yer man; now we want our money!” Tom bellowed.

“It’s on the table in the cabin. Take and get out! Now!”

Scott watched the interaction between the men with the distinct feeling he’d better do something quick, or he would meet with an ugly and untimely demise. He knew the brothers, at this point, were concerned only for the money owed them; he watched them emerge from the tiny cabin with the currency clutched in dirty fingers, and the grins on their faces stretched from ear to ear told him volumes.

Steve Cain touched the brim of his hat in a farewell gesture to Corbett. “Nice doin’ business with ya, Mr. Corbett!” and stepped into the stirrup. With whoops of rowdies on payday, the Cain brothers rode down the trail, leaving Scott secured to the tree with no chance of escape and Corbett looking for revenge.

“Mr. Corbett, I don’t know what you think I’ve done, but we should talk about it. Are you going to deny me the chance to defend myself?” Against what, he had no clue, but Scott tried his best to reason with the man. Did he know this man? Was he familiar? Scott studied the face but didn’t remember it. Yet, there was something about the man…

“There’s no defending what happened, and you will be the one that pays the price,” Corbett sneered. He’d waited months for this moment; he approached Scott, barely able to conceal the trembling in his body. This is it, Maggie! Our revenge!

“Pays for what?” Scott demanded.

Corbett smirked. “In due time, Scotty; you’ll find out in due time.” Ben Corbett tightened the noose around his prisoner’s neck, then turned and walked into the cabin, leaving Scott alone to wonder what this was all about and why he was paying for something so horrific that it warranted this treatment.

“Well, what d’ya know? Take a look-see over here, amigo,” Val handed Johnny the field glasses.

Johnny snugged them to his eyes, searching the area Val had directed. Two riders, in animated conversation, rose side by side, going in a  westerly direction. The closest town in that direction was Merced.

“I think we need ta see what they’re up to. What d’ya say ta that, Johnny?”

“I’d feel better if Scott was with ‘em, but they hafta know somethin’— it ain’t likely they’re ridin’ up here for their health; they know where Scott is. Let’s go,” Johnny mounted Barranca and nudged the horse down the hillside with Val and Amigo right behind.

“Hold up there, Steve! I wanna look at this money again!” Tom Cain pulled back on the reins, then stepped out of the saddle. “I ain’t never seen this much money b’fore! Would’ja look at that! Ain’t… ain’t it purty? Jus’ look at it!” He fanned the notes out in his hand as his eyes glazed at the sight of more money than he’d ever seen in one place.

“Lemme see some a that!” Steve grabbed a handful as the harsh laugh, affected by a lifetime of smoking and too much alcohol, escaped him. Lips pulled back over yellowed, crooked teeth. He bent his knees and plunked his butt into the grass, staring at the greenbacks in his hands. Look at all this money! A crazy laugh escaped his lips and culminated in a wild screech. Tom joined in, sounding like two unbalanced maniacs.

“Who’d a thought, Tom, that Lancer fella was worth so much?” Steve cackled.

“Mind if we join in the fun?” The snick of the hammer pulled back loud in the mountain air.

Sneaking up on two dim-witted, over-excited kidnappers wasn’t difficult to pull off. Hell, Val and Johnny could have ridden hell-bent on trouble and wouldn’t have had a problem getting the drop on these two yahoos. Val snickered, thinking they were an insult to the outlaw profession.

The men sat in the grass, whooping and hollering, acting worse than children and completely unaware there were two guns aimed at their heads… until Val requested to join the party. With hands clenched on the money, the grab for their guns was clumsy as they jumped to their feet, stunned by the interruption, and tempers flared, thinking their good fortune was short-lived. But they had no intentions of giving up or sharing the money. They worked hard to get it, and it was theirs.

“What’d ya want?” Tom growled, shaken at the sight of the hungry blue steel aimed his way.

Val chuckled. “Well, just outta curiosity, where’d ya get that money?”

“What’s it to ya, mister?”

“I was just thinkin’ that since you got alla that money an’ we’re lookin’ for a missin’ citizen of Green River, that maybe ya might have somethin’ ta say about it…”

Johnny stepped forward, enforcing that the two were under more than a little suspicion, but Val wanted more from the two miscreants before him; chances were that he wouldn’t get it, not with Johnny’s temper threatening to explode.

“Easy, amigo,” he said, then turned back to the pendejos standing before them. “Well, ya see, it’s like this, we just heard ya mention the name Lancer, an’ it just so happens that Johnny here is lookin’ for his brother… Oh, ‘scuse me for my bad manners, boys. Let me introduce ourselves. I’m Sheriff Crawford,” Val said as he pulled the coat aside, showing the shiny and dented star pinned to his vest, then he continued. “An’ this here’s my deputy, but more important, he’s Scott Lancer’s brother. But you might know him by a different name… Johnny Madrid… so’s I think ya better tell us what we wanna know… NOW! Where’s Scott Lancer?”

The hesitation wasn’t long, but it was long enough for Johnny Madrid. He closed the distance between them and placed the barrel of his Colt against Tom Cain’s forehead.

“Where’s my brother?” The words were soft but cold as ice, and his eyes, glacial clear, spoke of immediate bodily harm. The barrel pressed harder against Cain’s skull.

Tom Cain whimpered, screwing his eyes shut in anticipation of the bullet waiting to pierce his brain.

“Where is he?” Johnny bellowed in the man’s face and snicked the hammer back, accenting his demand.

“Cabin! He’s… at the cabin a few miles back!”

“Ya tellin’ the truth, pendejo, or am I gonna hafta pull this trigger?” Johnny couldn’t resist a bit more… persuading.

“My word! He’s there!”

Val shrugged. “C’mon, Madrid, don’t make ‘im piss himself. We’ll tie ‘em up here an’ come back for ‘em later.”

One last shove with the barrel of Johnny’s Colt had Tom scrambling back for balance. Val tossed Johnny a rope, and in seconds both Cain brothers were secured to nearby trees. Without a backward glance, Sheriff Val Crawford and Johnny Madrid Lancer raced toward the little cabin and, hopefully, Scott… alive.

For the life of him, Scott could not figure out why this was happening. He’d been kidnapped from Green River— lured into an alleyway by a woman’s scream. Suddenly a flash of memory sparked in his brain — Missy Hendricks and a man holding her tight as she struggled in his arms, then, nothing. Was Missy alright? Had he interrupted an attack on the girl? Or had he been the intended victim? And who was the man in the cabin? What was going on?

He tried to think, but his head throbbed, and Scott couldn’t make sense of anything. The man in the cabin— who was he? Go back to the beginning… on my way to town, worried about something…

The stiff noose around his neck prevented movement; the course rope began to pierce his skin, leaving a raw, burning sensation. Johnny, I could use some help, brother… He could do nothing but settle in to wait. Wait for what? Death? That wasn’t an option, but there wasn’t much he could do about the current situation, so he closed his eyes and tried to get what rest he could.

There was no way to relax, not tied as he was, but Scott found that if he leaned against the tree and let it support his weight, the rope strain around his neck wasn’t as bad.

Johnny… find me!

Scott let his mind drift; he was unaware of Ben Corbett watching from the porch as he shifted to find any ease from the constraints that held him firm. And he couldn’t see Corbett as he smiled wickedly at his discomfort.

Soon, dear Maggie. Soon.

Scott’s eyes flew open… That man! He had a slight accent… A Boston accent! It wasn’t a pronounced cadence, not heavy for an Easterner, but it was there! Corbett— the two kidnappers had called the man Corbett, and another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Corbett had called him Scotty!

He had to try. Scott pulled in a deep breath, then called out. “Mr. Corbett! Mr. Corbett, we need to talk!”

A laugh behind him told of Corbett’s presence, then Scott heard the cabin door slam and knew he was now alone. Corbett wasn’t talking.

Sonuvabitch! That bastard has Scott tied to a tree with a fuckin’ noose around his neck! Johnny stood, intending to go to his brother’s aid when Val grabbed his arm.

“We come in on either side, Johnny. Someone’s in that cabin, an’ if we can get ‘im between us, we can take ‘im easy like.” Val said, knowing he had to try and keep Johnny focused, but that was Scott down there with a noose around his neck, and he did his best to talk his amigo out of the emotions he knew held him in a spider’s web. Keeping an enraged Johnny in check was about as easy as lassoing a tornado.

Val began to move. He sure was happy it wasn’t him that had Johnny’s temper riding uncontrolled. But Madrid knew what needed to be done, and Val was sure he would do his part — it was Scott’s life on the line— Johnny would make this work, and Val knew it to be true.

He didn’t wait, and there was no talking him out of it. Johnny raced directly to the tree and dared whoever held his brother to challenge him. He loosened the noose and slipped it off Scott’s head before Scott was aware that help had arrived.

“Quiet, Boston, that pendejo is gonna come chargin’ outta there any second. We gotta move out before Val gets his dander up…”

“Johnny?” Was he seeing things? Was Johnny there finally there? Yes, it was none other than his headstrong little brother!

Johnny helped Scott out of the line of possible fire, settled him, then, moving like a cat through the trees, Johnny went around the cabin. There was no back door, and the bastard was still inside. He heard the man moving around and knew they had him cold. It was time to flush the pendejo out of hiding. Going back to the side of the structure, he signaled Val and let the sheriff do his job.

“Mr. Corbett, Ben Corbett, c’mon outta there with your hands up! This’ Sheriff Val Crawford— Yer surrounded, c’mon out!”

The gruff voice was startling; at first, he thought it was the Cain brothers coming back. But the word ‘sheriff’ pierced his brain, and he fought the urge to put the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. He’d lost his Maggie, and now he’d lost his revenge. He wouldn’t go to jail for the rest of his life, so what would he do now? He could almost hear dear Maggie’s angel-soft voice, Oh, Ben! No! What have you done? Give yourself up, Ben! Don’t make things worse than they are!

But could he let it go? His Maggie was gone as a direct result of Harlan Garrett’s greed! That old man had everything he needed and didn’t have to worry about paying a doctor’s bill or buying medicine! He was the reason Maggie died. And Ben wanted to make him pay; losing his precious grandson would accomplish that goal. But Ben couldn’t get Maggie’s pleas out of his head.

Val charged into the cabin, hit the floor, and rolled, then came to his feet with Colt in hand and aimed at the small man standing in stunned surprise.

Ben Corbett, startled by the body as it hurled through the door, crashed it aside and came off the floor with the Colt pointed directly at his heart. He stared for a moment, then, finding the star pinned on the man’s chest, hung his head in defeat. He failed; it was over. Would it be too much to ask the sheriff to pull the trigger and end his pitiful life?

“Don’t do nothin’ stupid!” Val advanced; his left hand searched the man for weapons, his right held the gun steady on the broken man before him.

“What’s yer name?” Val demanded, making the man say his name; questions swirled in his head— Why did this man have Scott Lancer tied to a tree with a noose around his neck? “Yer name, Mister!” Val growled; his temper stretched to its limits. At the continued silence, Sheriff Crawford grabbed the man by the arm and shoved him toward the door.

“Scott… here’s water— take a drink,” Johnny urged, his voice soft, comforting; he tipped the canteen to his brother’s mouth. Scott drank, gulping the water to ease his dry throat until Johnny pulled it away, not wanting his brother to be sick.

“Am I glad to see you, brother!” Scott whispered; his breathing slowed as he became more aware. “That man… where is he, Johnny? I need to talk to him!”

Johnny snorted in disgust. “Yeah, I wanna talk ta him, too. Val’s got ‘im covered in the cabin.”

”No, you don’t understand! Something isn’t right, Johnny. That man is from the East; if I had to guess, I’d say Boston. I need to see him!” Scott got his feet under him and pulled away from his brother’s supporting arm, going toward the cabin.

“Scott, take it easy!” Johnny’s words went unheeded as Scott stumbled to the shack, but the journey there stopped as Val stepped quietly to the doorway, then motioned Scott and Johnny into the cabin with a jerk of his head.

“Glad ta see yer doin’ alright, Scott,” the sheriff said, his eyes not leaving the prisoner. “Guess you’d be wantin’ ta talk ta him?” Val guided the man to a chair. “Siddown. I need ta ask ya some questions, an’ ya better have the right answers, otherwise, I just might let my deputy do the askin’, an’ trust me, ya don’t want that ta happen!”

Ben Corbett cast a wary eye in Johnny’s direction and quickly decided he didn’t want any part of that deputy. The glare from those eyes froze him to his core.

Val sighed, then continued. According to the Cain brothers, this man’s name was Corbett, but he needed to hear that from the man himself, so he asked the question again. “What’s yer name?”

“Ben Corbett,” he answered softly.

Val could have sworn the man shrunk in on himself; he seemed to wilt like a blade of grass, picked then left to wilt in the hot afternoon sun.

“Why’d ya pay them two yahoos ta kidnap Scott Lancer?”

Corbett’s breath caught in his throat; the words wouldn’t come… until he saw the deputy rest his hand on the butt of the gun hanging on his hip, then he forced himself to talk.

“My… my wife died…”

“An’ you think Scott had somethin’ ta do with it?” Val was shocked; more than that, he was livid.

“No, not Scott. Harlan Garrett. He knew my wife was sick, but he fired me anyway. My wife died because we couldn’t pay for the medicine she needed, and Garrett fired me. I couldn’t save her…” The man’s pitiful explanation faded into a sob.

Scott stood in stunned disbelief. No! Grandfather couldn’t have done something like that! He demands hard work and loyalty, but he wouldn’t be cruel— he’s not been well himself and wouldn’t have fired Corbett for no reason! He approached the defeated man.“Mr. Corbett, I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Something isn’t right— something is…”

Corbett’s demeanor suddenly changed; his rage flowed like lava spewing from an open fissure in the earth’s crust. “ ‘Something isn’t right’? My wife is dead because of that bastard! You bet something isn’t right! He let her die!” Ben Corbett shot out of his chair and went for Scott’s throat, not quite there before Johnny’s fist connected with his jaw and dropped him to the floor, unconscious.

Scott was the first at Corbett’s side. “Get me some water!” He roused the man and helped him to sit, keeping a steadying hand on the trembling shoulder. “Mr. Corbett, are you alright?”

Val handed him a dipper from the water bucket, and Scott held it as Corbett drank. He coughed, then caught his breath and coughed again.

Scott struggled with his own weakness, having been tied to the tree for… how long was he there? He had no clue, but the spark kept igniting in his brain that something was more going on than he knew; things weren’t adding up. “Mr. Corbett, tell me what happened; why was it Grandfather’s fault that your wife died? Please tell me what happened,” he gently urged.

Ben Corbett glared; if the sparks that shot from the mahogany eyes were any indication, Johnny knew this man, if not controlled, would not have a second thought about another attempt to kill his brother. And Johnny Madrid Lancer would not let that happen.

“Mr. Corbett, I need to know what happened.”Something snicked into place— Something that wasn’t as it should be; an increasingly compelling urgency pushed Scott to question more, and the more questions he had, the more insistent the feeling became. And it terrified him.

“Please, Mr. Corbett. I need to know what happened; start at the beginning. I want to help you if I can.”

Val spoke for the first time. “Seems like this’s a chance ta clear the air. Scott’s offered ta help, Mr. Corbett. Let him…”

Johnny held his silence, not giving this man any support. He took Scott by force and tied him to a damn tree… That didn’t warrant any support as far as Johnny was concerned.

Corbett lowered his head in defeat. It didn’t appear he had any choice. Maggie, I failed you… Then, he began his story.

“I worked for Garrett Enterprises for ten years. Never missed a day in that entire time, but it wasn’t good enough. Two years ago, my… wife…, Maggie,” Ben stopped explaining, unable to say anything when his throat constricted.

Scott handed him the dipper; he accepted it, took a drink, and felt the passageway open.

“Maggie became ill. The medicine was expensive, more than I could pay. Eventually, our savings was depleted; I had to sell our home of many years and move into a cheap rented room above a hardware store. The doctor did all he could, but soon, without the proper treatment, she got worse. Eight months ago, I went to Mr. Garrett, wanting to explain, but he wouldn’t see me; he wouldn’t give me a chance to explain, to ask for help… He couldn’t give me five minutes out of his precious day to talk to me!”

Scott knew Harlan Garrett was a hard man; Garrett Enterprises had not been handed to him on a silver platter. He worked at his business, but he was not that cruel of a taskmaster and would have taken the time to listen. Again a sense of unease swept over him; he tensed, and a frown creased his brow.

“Scott?” Johnny stepped forward; a hand reached for his brother as he watched the emotions play out on his face. “Scott, ya alright?”

The blond shook it off; he gathered himself together, knowing his brother felt the need to watch over him and keep him safe. “I’m fine, Johnny. Go ahead, Mr. Corbett; what happened then?” Scott coaxed, wanting to get to the bottom of the ugly, heartbreaking story.

“Maggie kept getting worse, and nothing helped. The doctor did all he could, even going as far as to not charge for the medicines he had, even though I couldn’t pay for the treatments anymore, but her illness had worsened, and the medicine wasn’t enough, and one day, she stopped breathing. She stopped… everything, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it!” The hitch in his throat cut off further words, but only for a moment. Then, he raised his head; his eyes narrowed, piercing Scott with daggers. “Because of Harlan Garrett, my wife is dead! And I want to make him pay! I want him to lose someone important to him… and that someone was you!”

Johnny stepped closer to Scott, knowing his brother had been through enough. He would protect Boston at all costs. 

But Ben Corbett wasn’t finished, and he plunged ahead, letting them know his intentions. “I wanted to watch you die; I wanted you to choke on your last breath and to know in a few minutes you would be dead, and I wanted the great Harlan Garrett to suffer as I have!”

Val spoke, letting Corbett know he’d just confessed to attempted murder.

“I don’t care… not anymore. I have no reason to live, not without my Maggie.”

“Ya know we need ta start back now. The sooner these three are locked up, the sooner it’ll all be over,” Val stated in an attempt to get things moving. They had left the cabin, picked up the Cain brothers, and got a few hours of traveling behind them before stopping for the night.

Johnny watched his brother closely; Scott seemed distracted. He rode quietly and didn’t participate in conversation nor appeared aware of much around him, and it concerned Johnny. But he said nothing and chose to wait for a few private moments after they’d made camp for the night to talk with his brother. But of one thing Johnny was certain, Scott was troubled. Well, it was Johnny’s job to find out why, and he was determined to help his brother out of the tangle that held him like a bug in a spider’s web.

The sun lost its glare, and the air began to chill when Val made the call to stop. Fresh water from a stream trickled nearby, and the trees and rocks would shield them during the night if the wind decided to kick up and howl.

Val watched the prisoners as questions began to swirl in his mind. First and foremost, he couldn’t help but wonder where Corbett got the five hundred dollars to pay the Cains for kidnapping Scott. Well, there was only one way to find out. Ask him.

“Mr. Corbett, where’d ya get that money ya paid these two? Ya said before that ya didn’t have any…”

Scott started a fire, then hesitated when he heard Val’s line of questioning. He’d like to know that himself and turned toward Corbett when Val inquired.

Ben sat staring at his hands tied in his lap. Without breaking that stare, he answered in a low, defeated whisper. “I stole it from Garrett Enterprises.” Only then did he raise his eyes to meet those of the sheriff. “You don’t work in a place for ten years without learning your way around the premises. And where they keep… things, like money. It was easy to do.”

Johnny returned to Scott’s side after tending to the string line and arms full of wood for the fire. He placed it on the ground beside his brother and didn’t miss the puzzled frown that creased the Bostonian’s brow. He needed to get his brother talking— to try and relieve the troubling thoughts or make sense of them; either way, Scott needed his help.

“Hey Scott, can ya come with me for a minute?”

Scott blinked as if he had just noticed Johnny standing near. “Yes, what do you need?”

“C’mon over here a minute,” then called out to Val. “Val, ya alright with these three? I need ta talk ta Scott a few minutes.”

Val snorted. “Yeah, amigo, we’re just fine over here… ain’t we, boys?” He gave the prisoners a wide, evil grin and received grunts of resentment in return.

Johnny led the way out of camp, beyond the string line where the horses stood, contentedly swishing their tails as they satisfied their hunger with the scrub grass.

“Scott, what’s wrong? Every time Corbett says somethin’, ya look like you ain’t understandin’ what he’s sayin’. There somethin’ ya wanna talk about? Somethin’s on your mind, Boston. Let me help.”

He should have known Johnny would notice. Not much escaped his brother’s attention. But the problem was that Scott couldn’t figure out what confused him. There was nothing solid, no positives to base a solid thought upon; all he had were fragments, wisps of suspicions, and he couldn’t pull them together to form any thoughts, nothing made sense. It was like trying to hold smoke in his hand and make it substance and fact. What could he share with Johnny?

Scott sighed, then shrugged. He met his brother’s frown and tried to smile. “The truth is, I don’t know what it is. I listen to Corbett, and things are not adding up as they should. True Grandfather runs his business with a firm hand, but he is not the bloodthirsty demon Ben Corbett is making him out to be. He demands honesty, that his employees give their best, and pays them accordingly. And with a situation such as Ben’s, with his wife so ill, I can’t see Grandfather refusing to see him… I’m stunned by these accusations! I… something isn’t right, Johnny. I’ve got to figure this out… I’ve got to…”

We hafta, brother, we! We’ll figure it out. Now let’s think about it for a minute. The only thing we know for sure is that Corbett paid ta have them two yahoos take youby force an’ bring you ta him. So, we got a kidnapping charge ta start with; then he admits ta stealin’ money from your grandfather’s company ta pay them for kidnappin’ ya. Now, we have kidnappin’ and a theft. So, Corbett ties ya to a tree, puts a noose around your neck, an’ waits for ya ta strangle to death. That’s attempted murder. What’s got cha confused?”

Johnny was doing it again. His calm, factual account was helping to sort it out; Scott felt himself begin to think rationally without the smoke clouding his thoughts. The swirl began to slow, and he felt more able to grasp the bits and pieces, and with Johnny’s help, he might put those pieces together.

Scott shook his head, clearing his mind. “Johnny, do you remember I told you that the last letter I received from Grandfather seemed strange? He said he’d been ill, but he didn’t sound like himself; he didn’t sound… right. I’ve got this feeling that something isn’t as it should be. Johnny, the timing is off. Corbett said eight months ago, he tried to contact Grandfather. Now that I think about it, that’s when I noticed something different about him. His writing was shaky, and I questioned him about that. He didn’t answer that letter right away. There was a space of several weeks before he explained he had a bit of an accident and hurt his hand; he cut it on a glass and said it was a possibility he wouldn’t get the full use of it back. But he assured me he was fine; still, he didn’t sound the same when I read his letters. And now this has happened, and the feeling is stronger than ever. Johnny, Grandfather could be in trouble! I have to go to Boston!”

We hafta go ta Boston, Boston.” Johnny couldn’t help but smile at his brother.“I ain’t gonna let cha do this alone. We need more from Corbett; let’s get back ta camp an’ have us a little talk.”

For a moment, Ben Corbett thought his time on this earth was done when he saw the approach of his nemesis and his brother, and he welcomed an end to his nightmare. But when the man he had sworn to kill untied the ropes that bound his wrists, then helped him to sit near the fire, he realized the torture would be prolonged, and the refuge that death would bring him was not to be. Maggie, just a bit longer…

Scott and Johnny settled close and began their talk.

“Mr. Corbett, I know this is painful for you to talk about, but I’d like to ask you a few questions regarding my Grandfather and the events that led up to your wife’s death. It’s important, and it might shed some light on some puzzling issues.”

The flames of the fire held Corbett’s attention, and he refused to look Scott in the face. When he found his voice, his words sounded as if his throat was filled with gravel. “I have nothing more to say to you.”

Scott let the sad smile twitch the corners of his mouth. “No, I suppose you don’t; I probably wouldn’t either if I were in your place. But it’s important I understand what happened. You said you tried to contact my grandfather eight months ago; am I correct?” Scott waited, giving the man the time he needed or maybe just indulging his desire to make him wait for the answer. Finally, Corbett nodded.

“Alright, did Grandfather refuse you himself, or did you get his answer, not from him, but someone else?” Scott pressed.

Corbett tore his stare from the fire, turned it on Scott, and spat, “A person like me is not allowed to speak to someone like him! His secretary turned me away!” Then Ben fell silent.

Scott frowned as he thought. “That doesn’t sound like Thomas Bradlee…” The man was always pleasant and efficient in his position.

“No, it doesn’t, but Bradlee isn’t there anymore; he became ill and left the company,” Corbett snarled, not caring to enlighten Scott.

Now, Scott jolted, rigid in his place at the fire. Harlan had not told Scott of any illness regarding Thomas Bradlee.

“Scott, what is it?” The soft question from Johnny seemed to hold him steady, not letting him drift into a panic.

Thomas Bradlee had been there for years and was a friend— Why hadn’t Grandfather told me? Scott met Ben’s hate-filled stare. “Mr. Corbett, who has that position now?Scott, momentarily stunned, stared at the man in front of him.

“A young man took over for Mr. Bradlee about a year ago. Why?” Ben knew there had been unrest in the company’s management but suspected nothing unusual. After witnessing Scott’s reaction, he knew Garrett’s cherished grandson had no clue about the recent events that took place at Garrett Enterprises, and at the moment, Ben couldn’t have cared less. Perhaps if he divulged what he knew, at the very least, he would cause Scott worry and concern. It would not come close to the revenge he so wanted, but it would be something.

“I find it difficult to believe Grandfather wouldreplace Thomas Bradlee and not tell me, that’s all.”

Well, it seems that I have much information that Scott isn’t aware of— Perhaps I can cause him grief without killing him. Corbett sat back and gloated.

Johnny moved toward his brother when Scott swayed, and the gasp that escaped Scott’s mouth sent a bolt, hot and deadly, through his brain— a need to protect his brother. Though the previous attempts to calm Scott had gone unheeded, Madrid stepped in, grabbed Scott by his arms, and forced the Bostonian to answer.

“Scott! What is it? Let me help you!” Then, he waited and watched as Scott gathered himself once more. Finally, Scott lifted his eyes to meet those of his brother.

“I… have to go to Boston…”

“No, you don’t.… We hafta go to Boston,” Johnny repeated the whisper.

Did he hear correctly? Had Johnny said we? The blue-gray eyes softened; Johnny was going to help, and Scott felt as if he was not alone in his troubles. “Thank you, Johnny,” and he closed his eyes in relief.

Taking a few minutes to collect his thoughts, Scott turned to Ben Corbett. “Mr. Corbett, something is terribly wrong, and I think my grandfather may be in trouble. Would you mind accompanying my brother and me to Boston? I might need your help.”

Ben Corbett couldn’t believe his ears. He’d just tried to kill Scott Lancer, and now the man was asking for his help— to go back East where it all started. Could he return to the place where his Maggie had breathed her last?

Johnny leveled a cold stare Corbett’s way. It didn’t matter if the man did not give his consent; he would go. Madrid would make sure of that.

With a direction to go, a plan began to simmer and spurred Scott into action. Two minutes ago, Johnny had to urge his brother to talk; now, he could barely hold him back. Scott quickly went through the Cain brother’s saddlebags and retrieved the money paid to them by Ben Corbett; he collected the bills and stuffed half in his pocket, the remainder tucked safely into his saddlebags.

“Whatcha doin’, Scott?” Val asked as he watched Johnny’s brother transfer the money recovered when the Cain brothers were placed under arrest.

“This is Garrett Enterprises’ money. I’m going to use it to get us to Boston…”

 “Now, wait justa minute there, Scott! That’s evidence! Ya just can’t take it!”

Scott stared at the sheriff. “It’s not evidence if I don’t press charges, Sheriff Crawford,” then he smiled and continued gathering his things together. Tomorrow morning would come early; the sooner they started their journey, the sooner Scott would find out what was happening with his grandfather

Tom and Steve Cain smiled. If Ben Corbett was getting off without charges filed, they would also. The troubling part of this new development was the money. Steve Cain would straighten out the confusion, and he spoke.

“That’s our money! We worked fer it!”

Johnny turned toward the objection, taking steps in their direction, not stopping until he stood in front of the pendejos that took Scott against his will.

“Your money, huh? You assault a young girl in town, kidnap an innocent man, an’ ya think it’s your money? Sheriff Crawford, ya wanna explain ta these two how this’ gonna work? I’m sure that girl’s father ain’t gonna be agreeable enough ta let ‘em go.” Johnny let a cold smile slither into place, then finished the comment that would have sealed their fates if things were left to Johnny Madrid. “I know I wouldn’t be agreeable ta that…” His stare was relentless, and the Cain brothers squirmed under Madrid’s undivided attention, secretly thanking God that it was not Madrid’s daughter they had attacked in that alley.

Johnny smirked, then turned to Val. “Ya gonna be alright getting’ these two back ta town, amigo?”

“The day I need help with the likes of these two is the day I’ll turn in my badge!” After directing a disgusted look their way, Sheriff Val Crawford snorted through his nose and reached for the coffee pot that sat by the edge of the fire.

Johnny Madrid couldn’t let it go… not yet. “Just so ya don’t get any stupid ideas about tryin’ to escape, I think ya better know that he spent time with the Indians an’ won’t think twice about using that knife he’s got in his boot—he’s buried more’n one body under a rock… Seen him do it before an’ I hafta tell ya… it ain’t pretty…” He didn’t bother to hide the smile that crawled across his lips as the Cain brothers contemplated the trip back to Green River. Suddenly, a jail cell didn’t sound all that bad. They looked at the sheriff, who offered them a wide, toothy grin as he caressed the wicked knife he pulled from his boot.

The men settled in for the night; they would get an early start, head east, and plan for the confrontation at Garrett Enterprises. Scott could only hope that his grandfather was alright and wished that weeks ago, months ago, he had listened to that little voice in his head that told him that something had changed with Harlan Garrett. Would he regret his inaction for the rest of his life?

Johnny was surprised that Scott slept at all. He recalled the brief conversation they had the night before when Scott divulged his concerns regarding Harlan, and Johnny admitted that something wasn’t as it should be. The old man hadn’t done anything to endear himself to the Lancer family, but Johnny knew Garrett was trying to amend his ways, or he would lose Scott forever. Second chances— Madrid believed in second chances, so he would accept the old man’s effort for his brother’s sake. But he would also ensure that Harlan would never hurt them again. The old man had to make an honest attempt and not slide back into his old, self-serving ways.

He stirred the fire to flame and added wood to start the coffee, then saddled their horses. When he returned to camp, everyone was awake. After a breakfast of coffee and jerky, they were ready to go. The Cain brothers voiced their displeasure as they were tied to their saddles, saying they could be killed riding in such a manner, but Val’s unconcerned response that they’d better not fall off their horses was the only reaction they received. Then, with a reminder to shut up and not bother him, Sheriff Crawford set out with the two brothers in tow.

Ben Corbett hadn’t said a word since they broke camp that morning. He spoke when asked a question but volunteered nothing. Johnny watched the man closely; there was no way on God’s green earth he would trust Corbett, not after he had Scott kidnapped so he could kill him. But Scott wanted the man’s help, and Johnny made it his job to see that Corbett complied.

For his part, Corbett allowed Scott and Johnny to dictate every facet of their journey, not caring what would happen to them or himself. He’d failed to get justice for his Maggie — what did he have to live for now? He wished with all his heart that he could go to sleep and never wake — never open his eyes and be forced to deal with life alone; his Maggie was lost to him forever.

Scott rode deep in thought and relied on his brother’s innate sense of direction to get them where they needed to be. They decided to travel to Stockton, leave their horses with the Barkley’s, then take the train east to Boston. Scott mulled over the events as he knew them for the thousandth time; all he had were more questions and no answers.

Johnny called a stop to rest the horses. The men dismounted, letting the animals graze, then satisfy their thirst in the stream. After observing his brother during the long morning’s travel, Johnny nudged Scott with a brotherly tap on the shoulder.

“How ya doin’, Boston? Ya figure how you wanna handle this yet?”

“Johnny, I’m so confused by this whole thing. The more I think about it, the worse it gets! Nothing is making any sense,” Scott said with a frustrated shake of his head and a deep sigh.

“You’ve had some time now ta think… When do ya think it started? I mean, ya said things didn’t seem right; how far back do ya think it goes?”

The calming effect of Johnny’s voice steered Scott toward a clearer mind as he began to analyze the events as they happened.

“The first I noticed was about eight months ago. It was a fleeting notion, almost an afterthought, but now, thinking over what had transpired since then, I can’t help but wonder if it’s been going on much longer. Little things were said, and his letters were not as frequent, especially after the injury to Grandfather’s hand; as I think about all the bits of facts now, it could be about a year!” Scott turned to Johnny, his eyes filled with remorse for not acting sooner. “Johnny, what have I done? I could have put Grandfather in danger while I ignored what was in front of me!”

“Take it easy, Scott; we’ll get ta the bottom of it.” With the statement, Johnny turned to Corbett, who chose to remain silent. “What about it, Corbett? What can you tell us about the ol’ man?” Johnny leveled an intense stare at Ben, not letting him go.

Part of him wanted to help, to ease the anxiety of a grandson who worried about his grandfather… but then he remembered who it was at the center of the ugly story. Harlan Garrett. The man who was responsible for the death of Maggie… And he dug in his heels.

“I can’t tell you anything. Harlan Garrett sat back and let my wife, a good and God-fearing woman, die a slow and agonizing death. Do you expect me to help you figure out why a man as wealthy as Garrett would take such delight in watching an innocent woman die so horribly?”

For Scott’s sake, Johnny kept his temper in check. After the last visit to the ranch, Harlan Garrett wasn’t on Johnny’s list of favorite people, but there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for his brother, and now he committed to helping Scott fight this battle.

Johnny stood to face Ben; the man was broken. He’d lost the woman he loved, a good woman… An idea sparked — use it.

“I know what it’s like ta lose someone ya love, Corbett, but tell me this, ya just said your wife was a good person; wouldn’t she wanna help get ta the bottom of this? Somethin’s wrong here. Nothing will bring her back, but don’t drag her down in your grief. Would she want you ta do that? Think about it…” Johnny shrugged and couldn’t resist one last remark. “Just so ya know, I ain’t gonna let ya hurt him again. Ya try anything, an’ it’ll be the last thing ya ever do in this life.” Then, he turned, walked away, and left Corbett to wallow in indecision.                       

The fire’s heat chased away the night air’s damp chill. Scott and Johnny Lancer and Ben Corbett held the tin cups filled with hot coffee, grateful for the small comfort. Tomorrow, they would be in Stockton, then board the next train for Boston; of the three, Scott was the only one anxious to be there, but Johnny wasn’t going to let his brother do this alone. He wondered how Murdoch had taken the news both sons were on their way to Boston and couldn’t stop the chuckle as it escaped him. No, he didn’t want to be in Val’s boots when he told Murdoch about his sons not coming home.

Scott, pulled back from his wandering thoughts and looked at his brother. “What’s so funny?” He found nothing amusing in any of this.

Johnny shrugged. “Oh, I was wond’rin’ if Val survived tellin’ the ol’ man we ain’t comin’ home for a while. Hope we won’t hafta be lookin’ for a new sheriff ta take his place.”

Alright, maybe there is something funny here. And Scott felt the twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Yes, we put Val in a potentially bad situation, didn’t we?” Sighing deeply, he continued. “Well, we’ll explain when we get home. This trip could not be put off, but rest assured that he will question why you came along instead of going back home.”

“Yeah, he will,” Johnny chuckled again. “But he hasta know that I wouldn’t let cha go alone. Ain’t that what a brother’s for, ta help? Besides, he oughtta be happy we get along so good. I mean, comin’ from different backgrounds… Ha, me a border-trash gunfighter an’ you, educated an’…”

“Stop it! You are not ‘border-trash’ anything! You are my brother, that happened to be a gunfighter living around the border!”

Johnny smiled wide. “An’ that’s why I’m goin’ with ya, Scott. You defend me, an’ I defendyou!”

Ben Corbett watched the interaction between the two men, realizing they would not let this go. Their dedication to the other was deep, and the gunfighter had already warned him not to try anything that would end in danger to Scott. He would have to help them and realized he had no choice in the matter.

The Barkley’s were only too happy to help Scott, Johnny, and their acquaintance with their horses; they insisted the three men stay the night, then offered to drive them into Stockton the next day to catch the train east. After a hot bath, clean clothes, and a delicious meal in their bellies, Scott and Johnny felt like new men. Ben Corbett would need more than a hot bath and food to feel like a new man, he needed his Maggie, but that would not happen, not now, not ever. He would have to be satisfied helping the Lancers find the answers to their questions, but he felt his Maggie would approve. With a little rest, they would address this problem with new resolve, and, with the help of Victoria Barkley’s excellent after-dinner libations, they settled in for a good night’s sleep.

Scott stopped at the telegraph office to send Murdoch a wire and briefly explained what he was sure Val had not. He hated leaving the ranch in a bind with both he and Johnny gone, but he couldn’t ignore that feeling in his gut that something was wrong with Harlan; the fact that Johnny pledged his help lent credence that his brother sensed all was not right. Although he felt guilty leaving Murdoch shorthanded, he knew he had to make the decision, and the Lancer patriarch would have to understand.

Johnny remarked that once ‘the ol’ man exploded and got his mad over an’ done, he’d be alright’, then directed a smile at Scott. Yes, let Murdoch get past the initial bolt of realization for his sons’ sudden abandonment, he would understand the need for them to check on Harlan… Scott hoped.

Scott took the pencil in hand and reached for the paper, causing Johnny to question the move.

“Whatcha doin’, Boston? Ya already sent Murdoch a wire.”

“I need to let Grandfather know I’m coming.” Then he began to write.

“Ya sure ya wanna do that? I mean, if somethin’s wrong, why give anyone warnin’ that you’re comin’? Just show up; ya might find out more’n if ya let him, or whoever’s behind this, know you’re on your way.”

It made perfect sense now that he thought about it. “I’m glad you’re with me, brother!” Scott sighed in relief that Johnny was using his head when he wasn’t, but frustration and worry clouded his every thought. Nothing was making sense. He put the pencil on the counter, and they left the office.

A stop at the general store for clothes and a few supplies left them just enough time to purchase train tickets to Denver, and before long, Stockton was behind them. But Scott had to wonder what lay ahead; perhaps he could coax Ben Corbett to open up and tell him more about what happened at Garrett Enterprises. If the man was reluctant to talk, Madrid would be there to… persuade him into conversation.

Johnny settled into a seat across from Ben Corbett as Scott took the seat next to the man that possibly held the key to the questions for which he had no answers. The whys and what-ifs swirled in unending circles, around and around, with no beginning or end. The sway of the train car lulled Corbett into mindless space, seeming not to care what was happening around him but having the opposite effect on Scott Lancer. The perpetual, monotonous movements served to build on the frustration and the not knowing of his Grandfather’s well-being.

Johnny watched the two across from him, knowing that, sooner or later, Scott would begin to ask those burning questions that Corbett would, with some persuasion, answer, telling what he knew had happened behind closed doors at Garrett Enterprises. Madrid settled in to wait.

The ladies of Humbolt, Nevada, did themselves proud. So far, it was the best food available for sale for the hungry travelers riding the train. The stop for water and loading and unloading passengers allowed those riding to purchase cold lunches from the locals hawking their food baskets on the platform outside the train station. Johnny considered it his duty to sample these meals; after all, the ladies went to a lot of trouble making the food, and the least he could do was eat it. He purchased enough for the three of them and had some left over, figuring a snack for later in the day sounded like a good idea. And it was.

As the train continued to make its way east and after consuming their satisfying meal, Scott began questioning Ben Corbett. There wasn’t much he could put together, only that something had drastically changed within the company, but his main concern was for his grandfather, and he had to find out what that something was. Ben Corbett could supply the answers he needed.

Scott took a breath, thinking this was as good of a time as any to talk with Corbett. Johnny sat slouched, arms crossed over his chest, hat pulled down over his eyes, and legs stretched out in front of him. Hopefully, Ben wouldn’t think him a threat as he slept, so Scott began his questions, anxious to hear anything Corbett had to say.

“Mr. Corbett, did you notice anything peculiar while working for my grandfather in the few months you were in his employment?”

“The only peculiar thing I saw was a greedy, heartless old man that sat back and refused to help while my wife slowly suffocated to death!” The raw whisper tore from the man’s throat as the dark eyes filled with hatred.

Scott witnessed the man’s pain and broke the stare, opting to take a moment before responding. “Mr. Corbett, I’m not going to say I know how you feel because I don’t, and believe this or not, I am truly sorry for your loss, but I have to find out what’s going on, and I need your help. Please, help me…”

Corbett could only stare.

Slowly, Johnny’s hand came up to push the hat from his face before he spoke. “He’s askin’ ya nice, Mr. Corbett. Give him the answers he needs…” The words were soft, almost soothing, yet they held a clear message that said answer the man!

The immediate impulse to resist quickly dissipated with Maggie’s sweet request that he cooperate and help Scott Lancer to find his answers. Sighing deeply, he obliged. “Alright, I’ll answer your questions if I can.”  

“Thank you, Mr. Corbett; I appreciate your help… more than you can know.” Now it was Scott’s turn to sigh, then he began. “You worked for Grandfather for ten years, if I remember correctly; when did you notice a change? Any change within the company?”

“Mr. Lancer, I worked in a capacity far removed from the inner circles of Garrett Enterprises. Those running the company did not know our names; it was as if we didn’t exist. We knew them; however, we remained faceless and nameless. Anything could have happened, and we wouldn’t have known for quite some time. With that said, I felt a change more than a year ago.”

Scott nodded. Many worked for his grandfather’s company; it was impossible to know them all, but Ben Corbett had been an employee for quite a while. He could have easily seen the man while working for Harlan, and he hadn’t noticed. Scott fought against the aloof, unapproachable façade encouraged when he began his duties at Garrett Enterprises, realizing early in his career that it was one reason for his decision to go to war— his mantra that all people were created equal did not apply at his grandfather’s company. And here before him sat Ben Corbett, proof that that war had not been won.

“What happened?”

“Little things, at first. More hours were added to our schedules; there hadn’t been pay increases long before that. Some left the company, and those who remained were expected to make up the difference. There was no reason good enough for ‘them’ to grant time off… none! As I’ve told you, my wife was critically ill, and I needed to talk with Mr. Garrett; my immediate supervisor refused my request, so I took a chance to see Garrett directly but was turned down by his secretary.” The memory was still fresh, and the grief caused Ben to stop. After a moment, he continued. “When I asked to see Mr. Garrett, I was told it was impossible and to go away.”

Harlan Garrett had always been a stickler for protocol, but this was a dire situation; Scott had to feel his grandfather would be sympathetic and open to discussing Corbett’s concerns. Then Scott remembered that Thomas Bradlee was no longer working for Garrett Enterprises. “Mr. Corbett, where was Thomas Bradlee? What happened to him?”

“I don’t know. Do not forget that those of us working in the bowels of the building were not informed of any management changes. When I made the decision to ask Garrett for help, Bradlee was no longer with the company; we didn’t know he’d been replaced, and no one seemed to know what happened.”

“Do you remember the name of the person you spoke with- the one that told you to leave?” Scott was baffled— none of it was making any sense.

“The young man’s name was Claydon, Gerald Claydon.”

The name slammed into Scott’s brain; he sat stunned and motionless; his face paled considerably, eyes widened, then shook his head in disbelief.

Johnny shifted closer to Scott’s side and placed a steadying hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Scott! What is it? Who’s Gerald Claydon?”

Gerald? No, it can’t be!There has to be some mistake!”

“Scott— ya alright, Boston?” C’mon, Boston, talk ta me! “Who’s Claydon? What does he have to do with Garrett’s company?”

“Nothing, Johnny, that’s just it… Grandfather would never have given Gerald a position like that in the company!” Again, shaking his head in disbelief, Scott turned back to Ben. “You don’t know when Claydon came to work for Grandfather?”

“No, he was just there when I needed to see Mr. Garrett, and he turned me away. There was nothing I could do. I did threaten to go into Mr. Garrett’s office, but he summoned two men acting as guards, and they escorted me off the premises.”

“Guards! Since when has Garrett Enterprises started using guards?”

Over the next several days, as the train traveled east, Ben Corbett realized the gravity of his ill-placed revenge; he had come close to murdering an innocent man, although, at the time, he didn’t care. The only accomplishment in killing Scott Lancer was to subject Harlan Garrett to immeasurable grief. Now, he shuddered at his actions; he’d come very near to tarnishing his Maggie’s memory.

“Mr. Lancer, I can’t tell you how sorry I am— I came close to killing you in my grief. Maggie would be ashamed; I know that I am. All I can hope is that you’ll forgive me.” Ben met Scott’s eyes, surprised at the depth of compassion there. 

“Under the circumstances, I think we should be on a first-name basis, Ben, and yes, I accept your apology. And now, I think we should devise a plan to find out what is happening in Boston.” Scott turned to Johnny. “Brother, I’ll need your expertise.”

Johnny offered a sly smile; he’d been giving it considerable thought as he listened to the exchange between Scott and the man who had come close to killing him. And there wasn’t much… yet. The revelation of Gerald Claydon determining who could see Harlan Garrett and who couldn’t, seemed like the place to start.

“You never explained anything about this Claydon fella. Who is he an’ why were ya so shocked ta find he’s workin’ for Harlan?”

“Gerald Claydon was the proverbial thorn in Grandfather’s side. He’s a distant cousin— the son of my  mother’s cousin…”

As boys growing up in privileged families, all Scott could remember of Gerald was a whiny, sickly child that was afraid of everything. He had to ‘ask Mother’ before he would do anything. Scott huffed when he remembered the day Gerald tore his pants playing in the yard while visiting. Tearing one’s clothes as a child was normal and expected for boys, even in upper-crust families, and Scott could not understand the tears. As he grew, the lad became troubled, getting into scrapes, and no matter how serious, his mother paid his way out, despite the crime. The gambling debts alone ruined his family and forced his widowed mother into a life of poverty. When Scott returned from the war, Harlan recounted the wasted life of Gerald Claydon. Why his sister indulged the disappointment of this grandson was beyond his comprehension.

And this led Scott to wonder. How did that timid, sissified boy, a boy Harlan avoided and ignored, come to work at his grandfather’s company?

Johnny had seen people like that before — they seemed harmless, timid, and appeared dim-witted, and then, like striking a match, they became as lethal as any gunfighter but always had someone else to do their dirty work. Listening to Scott’s account of his family, Johnny suspected that was who they would be dealing with in Boston. But until he knew for certain, those suspicions would remain unspoken.

“The way I see it when we get there, I think that you, Ben, should make contact with someone that ya trust, someone that still works there, an’ see what you can find out. Scott, you an’ me are gonna check on ol’ Harlan. Sounds like he could be in some trouble. Once we have a few answers, we can come up with somethin’ that’ll get ta the bottom of whatever the hell’s goin’ on.”

It was like stepping back in time, even if it was only two years. The sights, the smells, and the people were the same, making him wonder if he’d ever really been gone at all. But yes, he was away because his brother would not be standing at his side if he hadn’t. That thought made him smile. Boston will never be the same — Madrid has arrived!

Scott hailed a cab, gave the driver an address, and the three men stepped inside. The coach moved onto the cobbled street to The Cooper House outside Boston’s upper-crust society. Scott paid the driver to wait while they secured two rooms, then took the cab to purchase clothing befitting a proper Bostonian… if one didn’t look closely. With no time to wait for custom tailoring, they would make do with the items they found.

Anticipating the argument with Johnny, Scott assured him there wouldn’t be much need for him to ‘dress for the occasion’, which suited Johnny just fine. With that dispute settled, they left the men’s shop with everything needed to keep up appearances and not leave Johnny looking like an outsider.

Dusk began to cloak the city as fog rolled in off the sea. Johnny shivered in the damp chill.

“Damn, Boston, Boston’s cold!”

Scott laughed. “Come on, Johnny, let’s get something to warm your insides! Sitting at a table after a good meal will allow us to discuss things and devise a plan.”

Brewster’s Tavern looked the same as when Scott had seen it last; he would have known it anywhere. The dark wood façade and small-paned windows spoke of English construction built in the 1700s. Tucked in an out-of-the-way nook on the lesser-known streets, it boasted a wide variety of spirits and the promise of a good steak. Claiming a table in the back corner, Scott, Johnny, and Ben ordered whiskies and a meal.

A plump, well-endowed barmaid took their order and blushed at the thank yous and flirtatious smiles of the Lancer brothers, promising the arrival of their meals in short order; then, with a deep breath that nearly propelled her bosom from the restraints of her barmaid uniform, she beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.

“Hey Scott, I think she likes ya! Maybe she’d like ta…”

Scott interrupted before Johnny could embarrass him in the presence of Ben Corbett. “The only interest I have in her is our meals… unless she can get us into Garrett Enterprises without anyone knowing.”   

“Yeah, that’d be good, but I think we’re gonna hafta look in a different direction… unless Ben here has an idea about it…” With that statement, they turned their eyes to Ben.

And Ben Corbett had been thinking in those exact terms. He controlled the bit of smile that threatened at the banter of the brothers; he was beginning to enjoy their company, then the guilt at almost killing Scott came back to smack him between the eyes, and he refused to let himself appreciate or enjoy their humor. The conversation turned again to the situation they faced.

Johnny had suggested earlier that Ben contact a former coworker; he’d given it serious consideration and decided that George Henley would be the perfect man for the job. He was also a friend. Now, Ben had to wonder what information George had accumulated in the year since Ben had been gone. He would contact George after they left Brewster’s.

“There’s a man, George Henley, I worked with at Garrett Enterprises; if anything has happened, he might know. I’ll see him when I leave here, then we can meet back at the Cooper House.”

Satisfied with their plans, Scott, Johnny and Ben settled in to enjoy their meals, if they could. Barmaid Liza delivered their order, and with drinks refilled, the men ate; there was little conversation, then they separated to find what they could regarding Harlan and  Garrett Enterprises.

The cab stopped a short walk from Harlan Garrett’s Beacon Street mansion. Scott paid the driver to wait, then he and Johnny took the walkway along the row of stately homes and around the backway of Scott Lancer’s former residence.

Scott was transported back to when he lived on this property. Memories flooded his thoughts, both good and bad, but he shook them from his mind and guided his attention to the issue at hand— What was going on in his grandfather’s company?

Many cabs and carriages waited in the drive; horses stood relaxed, tails casually flicked away at biting pests.

“Looks like Harlan’s havin’ a party tonight, Boston. But don’t think it’s a good idea ta go in there just yet. Can ya recognize anyone?” Johnny asked and hoped his brother wouldn’t go charging in there and demand to know what was going on. He could feel the tension roll off Scott’s shoulders but was certain his brother was not about to sabotage their reason for being there and force his way into Harlan’s house.

A small side window provided a view into the parlor; Scott took a moment to check faces, but there was no one he knew… except for Gerald Claydon. Scott would have known him anywhere; these last several years had done nothing to change him other than enhance the dislike Scott held for his second cousin. But, he did notice something different about the man— there was now a look of satisfaction, perhaps arrogance about him. Whatever it was, Scott knew it didn’t bode well.

He eased away from the window, then, staying in the shadows, Scott led Johnny to the back of the mansion until they stood at the kitchen door. He reached for the handle when Johnny motioned for him to proceed slowly.

The door clicked shut behind them; the back entrance housed shelves filled with cleaning supplies and extras too large for the pantry; a door that took them directly into the busy kitchen stood between them and their goal. Scott again eased to the window, hoping he could catch the eye of the cook or James, the butler. But neither was there; Scott’s thoughts spiraled out of control. No one in that kitchen was familiar. He felt himself grow suddenly dizzy, and Johnny grabbed his arm.

“Scott, what’s goin’ on?”

“Johnny, I don’t know what’s going on! There’s no one in there that I know! The whole staff has changed… Grandfather! Johnny, there’s something drastically wrong! I have to find Grandfather! He wasn’t in the parlor! Where is he?”

“Easy, Boston, we’ll find ‘im; I promise ya that, Scott. We’ll find ‘im. But I think we need ta get outta here right now. With all these people around, it’s only a matter a time before someone sees us. Let’s go back an’ meet with Ben, then later, when all the company is gone, we can see what’s in the house… C’mon, let’s get outta here!”

Ben Corbett made his way to the Cooper House and unlocked the door to the adjoining rooms he shared with the Lancers. He hadn’t learned much, but enough to know Garrett Enterprises was in trouble. George Henley promised to look into it further, then get back to Ben if there was anything to report. Without giving away any information that involved Scott, Ben impressed upon the man the importance of secrecy, and George understood, saying he would use the utmost caution. Now, all he could do was wait for Scott and Johnny to return. He opened the door between their rooms and sat in the chair at the window. Looking out over the night sky that covered Boston, Ben thought about his Maggie. “I miss you, sweetheart!” he murmured.

He sighed and looked out over the city that had been his home since he was a boy. But it was different now than when he’d left, or maybe it was he that was different. Yes, that’s it. I’m different. Life isn’t the same without her… 

No, life wasn’t the same, nor would it ever be, but he had something that needed his attention, something that had to be done, and he found purpose in helping Scott Lancer unravel the mystery surrounding Garrett Enterprises. Who knew what would happen afterward?

The key rattled the lock in the Lancer’s room; Ben eased from the chair by the window to stand in the doorway and watched as Johnny lit the lamp. Scott turned to find Ben standing in wait.

“Ben, did you find out anything?” he asked desperately.

Scott appeared anxious and edgy. Ben didn’t have anything to say to relieve those feelings, and he felt sorry for the young man. “Not exactly, Scott. George said things were rapidly changing at the firm, and no one knew much of anything. He’s going to see if he can find something specific; we plan to meet the day after tomorrow.” It wasn’t much, but it was all he could offer.

“I don’t want to put him in any trouble. Until we have a better idea of what is happening, we need to be careful… all of us!” Scott’s worry was growing by the minute. What the hell was going on?

Deciding on a plan that would not get them taken to jail was a problem, but finally, they agreed, knowing their time could be running out. And now, as they crouched in the shadows of Harlan Garrett’s Beacon Street mansion and waited for the staff to settle in and retire for the night, Scott’s conflicting emotions began their fierce battle. Not knowing what happened or whom he could trust had plummeted him into unfamiliar territory, and never before had he relied on Madrid’s instincts as he was now. Scott found himself a man of two worlds, and now those two worlds melded into the here and now. His Boston roots, combined with his brother’s talents to ferret out the truth and bring it to light, swirled in confusion that Scott had never experienced nor thought possible. He’d never been more scared in his life, not even when the bugler signaled ‘charge’ during his time in the war. And where was his grandfather in all of this?

“We’ll give it another thirty minutes, Boston. By that time, everyone in there should be asleep.” The smooth voice pulled Scott to some semblance of control.

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Johnny. Breaking and entering is frowned upon here…”

“Ain’t breakin’ an’ entering if ya have a key, an’ you said there was a key by the back door. Besides, this is where you lived with Harlan, so it’s your home. Not your fault that ya come here without lettin’ the ol’ man know and need ta use that key.”

Scott had to admit Johnny’s reasoning seemed logical, but somehow he doubted the law would look at it that way, especially if Johnny Madrid were involved. But he had to know, and this was a start, so Scott shoved all those apprehensions aside and put his faith in his brother.

Scott might have been convinced to walk up to the front door and into the mansion, but after the initial shock when he looked through the window and saw no one he knew other than Gerald Claydon, then the discovery of the replaced household staff, he knew Johnny’s way was the only option open to them. So, now he waited in the shadows.

“Johnny, I’ll need extra time to check on Grandfather. His room is at the end of the hall; then, we’ll get to my old room.”

“Ya sure ya don’t wanna stick around an’ wake up your cousin, ta, you know, say hello?” Johnny quipped.

“Right now, I’m not sure what I want to do! My main concern is for Grandfather…”

Johnny remained silent. Nothing would settle his brother’s thoughts until he found the truth.

The minutes ticked by; no movement or lights came from the mansion — but now it was time to move. Scott led the way to the back door, then reached under the ornate flowerpot and took the small box that contained the key that would open the door. The last time Scott had used the key was the night he escaped the lovely Barbara’s boudoir, narrowly missing the confrontation with her angry father — the night before his venture to California, Lancer, and his family. He inserted it into the lock, and the tumblers clicked open.

Scott again stepped back in time as he opened the door to his past life. The kitchen looked the same, but it didn’t feel the same. Was it because he knew something was wrong? Quietly, they walked through the spotless cookroom and into the massive dining area.

He headed for the elegant foyer and the stairs leading to the second floor, but in passing through the parlor, he halted dead in his tracks, nearly tripping his brother with the sudden stop.

“Thought we were in a hurry, Boston. What’d ya stop for?” Johnny whispered.

Scott’s belly filled with icy dread, for above the mantle where the portrait of Catherine used to reside now hung the portrait of Gerald Claydon, Sr., Scott’s uncle by marriage.

Enforcing the need to get to Harlan, Scott picked up his pace, then slowed again while crossing the tiled foyer to the stairs knowing from experience careless footsteps echoed loudly in the two-story hallway.

With his Colt in his hand, Johnny followed Scott through the mansion, up the stairs, and down a hallway with seemingly no end. Ahead stood the huge double doors to Harlan Garrett’s suite; without hesitation, Scott grasped the massive handle with an unsteady hand, then turned to face Johnny.

“This is it, Grandfather’s room. I need to talk with him, but I don’t think he should see you.” Scott asked Johnny to stay in the outer rooms of the suite, knowing if Harlan woke and saw none other than Johnny Madrid at his bedside, the man would undoubtedly call for help and have Madrid thrown into jail with no hope of seeing the light of day again.

Nodding in understanding, Johnny complied, knowing it was for the best.

Scott turned the doorknob and stepped into Harlan Garrett’s bed chamber.

He had been in this room many times in his life; it was as familiar to him as his own had been when he lived within these walls. But Scott was unprepared to see Gerald Claydon sleeping in his grandfather’s bed. He caught the gasp before it left his lungs and backed through the door, closing it soundlessly.

In the dim light of the hallway, gas lamps reflected the pale color of Scott’s face. Alarmed, Johnny stepped forward and took his brother’s arm as Scott shook away the debilitating shock of Gerald occupying Harlan Garrett’s personal space.

Scott knew he had to get out of there before he lost all sense, went back into Harlan’s room, and grabbed Gerald by the throat, effectively ruining the chance to get to the bottom of whatever was happening. He caught Johnny’s eye, then motioned down the hall and around the corner. At the first door on the left, Scott silently opened the portal, and with Johnny behind, they stepped into Scott’s old bedroom.

 After taking a few clearing breaths, Scott turned to Johnny as he fought the growing panic that threatened to overpower him.

“Johnny, Grandfather isn’t in his room! Gerald has claimed it! I have to find him, Johnny!” Scott went to the door, but Johnny pulled him back.

“Scott, we’ll find him! But think about it, brother, we need ta hurry— let’s get what we came here ta get! Where’s that key?”

Scott paused and gathered his thoughts; he was grateful his brother was there to keep him from blundering back into that room to wrap his hands around Gerald’s neck… Yes, the key!  Without that key, he had nothing.

Once in Scott’s old room, Johnny watched as his brother began the count. Seven bricks up from the floor, the third brick from the wall — Scott maneuvered the clay chunk from its place and reached into the small void behind; his fingers closed around the piece of metal. It was the key to Harlan Garrett’s private office.

“There anything else ya need ta do here, Scott, cuz if there is, let’s get it done an’ get outa here before they find out we’re in the house. No sense in lettin’ ‘em know we’re here before we need to.”

Not wanting to leave just yet, but knowing they needed to vacate the premises before they were found out, Scott nodded again. He replaced the brick as he had done so many times in the past and headed down the back stairs. Once in the kitchen, Johnny helped himself to three apples from a bowl sitting on the counter, then the Lancer brothers silently left the mansion on Beacon Street on their way back to the Cooper House and Ben Corbett, filled with more questions than they had before.

Johnny’s right hand was again in his coat pocket, fingers wrapped around the butt of the Colt, ready should the need occur. Anyone out this time of night was potential trouble, and never let it be said that Johnny Madrid Lancer wasn’t prepared. He kept a close eye on Scott, watching for signs he was more troubled than he let on; after all, it wasn’t every day that you discovered your grandfather wasn’t in his bed at 2:30 in the morning and that someone else was lying there in his place and sleeping like a lamb. Johnny knew it affected Scott — a stunning blow between the eyes.

Ben was awake and awaiting their return. The key clicked in the lock, and Scott and Johnny walked through the door; Ben immediately knew it wasn’t good news. The low light accentuated Scott’s pallor confirming he’d had a shock. Ben looked to Johnny; his eyes asked what his voice could not.

“C’mon, Boston, siddown an’ let’s talk this out.” Johnny pushed Scott into a chair, then poured him two fingers of Scotch from the bottle they’d purchased from the bartender at dinner. He placed the pilfered apples on the table next to the bottle.

Draining the glass, Scott regained a productive thought process. On their way back to the hotel, he reiterated that Harlan was not in his room, that Gerald now occupied the suite that was his grandfather’s, and that Harlan was nowhere to be seen. He shoved that paralyzing mindset away and turned his attention to Ben in hopes the man was able to uncover something they could use in their efforts to find out what was happening with the business and the whereabouts of Harlan Garrett.

“Can you get us into Garrett Enterprises?” It was a long shot, but Scott had to find out.

“I told you before— I worked there for ten years and knew my way around…” Ben answered with a smile.

Johnny grinned. “Now we’re gettin’ somewhere! Scott, did ya notice anything else when you were in Harlan’s house, anything that wasn’t what it should be?”

“Yes, my Mother’s portrait is no longer hanging above the mantle; Gerald’s father’s portrait is in its place. I’ve already stated that the household staff has been replaced. There was no one I recognized. It’s as if Grandfather was never there.”

Johnny paused in his questioning, then a thought sparked. “If you wanted ta find out about someone, say the butler, that used ta work for Harlan, how would you do it? Who would you ask?”

Scott frowned at first, then knew where Johnny was going with the question. “The staffs are a close-knit community; they all know each other, some more than others, but I’m sure I could talk with one of the other households in the area.” Scott’s heart began to hammer in his chest as the plan came together.

“Just make sure it’s someone ya can trust, Scott. We don’t need anyone ta know what we’re doin’. Ben, how about you? Ya sure we can trust this George fella?”

Ben smiled again. “Yes, implicitly. And he is eager to help; the new management has not been easy on anyone there.”

Scott turned to his brother. “Alright, Johnny, I know what I’m doing tomorrow, and Ben knows what he’s doing… What will you be doing?”

“Scott!” Johnny said, drawing out the name as if disappointed in his brother.

“I’m hurt! Are you tryin’ ta suggest ya don’t trust me?”

“No, not at all, Johnny, but I know for a fact the penchant for trouble you have — like a moth to a flame! And I want to know!” He had enough to worry about in light of Harlan’s disappearance; he didn’t need to worry about Johnny, as well.

“Well, this’s what I used ta do before comin’ ta Lancer. Ya know, burn a few barns an’ bust some heads, but I doubt ol’ Gerald has any barns I can burn, so I’ll skip that an’ move ta the bustin’ heads part.”

Scott shot his brother a scathing glare; he was in no mood for humor.

“OK, OK, I won’t. But I am gonna check out Harlan’s house, an’ before ya object, just don’t. I know what I’m doin’ an’ won’t get caught. Hell, Scott, once I spent the whole day in a rancher’s house while he was home an’ he never knew it,” Johnny said with that infuriating grin.

“Johnny, I wish you wouldn’t do that until we learn more about what Gerald is doing! He’s up to no good, and the fact that Grandfather is gone from the house tells me he’s playing a dangerous game! I don’t want you to go there! Besides, we’ve already been there and didn’t find much!”

Johnny let Scott burn himself out — say what he needed to say and get it out of his system. Scott would worry about whatever Johnny did; it was a big brother’s prerogative, but Johnny also knew how to complete his mission without getting caught and that it was necessary to gather every shred of information they could. Harlan Garrett’s life was hanging in the balance, they didn’t know where Harlan was, and Gerald Claydon had assumed his place in the house on Beacon Street. Johnny knew Madrid would handle things his way; whatever was going to happen, just let him do it his way, let Madrid do what Madrid did best.

“Scott, seems ta me that we don’t have a lotta time here. The quicker we get information, the quicker we find Harlan, an’ we ain’t gonna get that information unless we do somethin’ now so let’s get off our asses an’ get goin’! What if we missed somethin’ while we were there? I’m just gonna make sure.” Johnny intentionally omitted the comment that was first and foremost on his mind that Harlan might be running out of time. “We gotta move, Scott, so let’s do what we hafta do.”

Johnny was right, Scott knew, and he had to push his apprehensions aside. They needed a plan — but a plan that wouldn’t get them or Harlan killed… if his grandfather was still alive, and unknowingly he’d reinforced Johnny’s thought.

Scott waited, shielded from sight behind the thick, tall hedge, until he was sure the woman he followed was Abby McDaniel, head of the Bryson housekeeping staff. The Bryson family lived across the street, one house down from Harlan Garrett’s Beacon Street mansion, and Mrs. McDaniel had been with the family for as long as he could remember.

Scott knew her to be a woman he could trust— had trusted in the past when she helped one night as Scott stumbled home after a night out carousing during his difficult adjustment to life after the war. She had understood his misery when she endured the horror of losing her son in the Battle of Cold Harbor. Though several years younger than her Nathan, Scott wore a black shroud around him, a suffocating torment that wrapped him so tightly that she had feared for his life.

The woman turned to straighten the flower pot in the holder on the black wrought iron fence surrounding the estate, then continued around the back of the red brick mansion. Yes, she was the woman Scott remembered; he only hoped she would remember him; then he cautiously approached her as she ascended the porch stairs.

“Pardon me, Mrs. McDaniel; I don’t know if you remember me; I’m Scott Lancer. I wondered if I may have a word with you. It’s important, please.”

Abby McDaniel was not one to startle or bluff; she met a problem head-on and was not known to take guff… from anyone. She turned surprised and wary eyes on the young man before her; recognition flashed through her brain, and a wide smile revealed slightly crooked front teeth. But that smile quickly turned sour.

“I wouldn’t think you would have the nerve to show your face here, Scott Lancer, what with the shenanigans Mr. Garrett imposed on his staff!” Her sniff accentuated her disapproval.

“Please, Mrs. McDaniel, it is imperative that I speak with you! Is there somewhere we can talk in private? I assure you, it is important.” What else could Scott say to impress upon this woman that he desperately needed her help?

Abby had always admired Scott and thought him a fine boy who had grown into a finer man, although troubled after coming home from that awful war. She caught the grim set of his eyes that told her he was serious. There was trouble. Her immediate thought was to tell him, in no uncertain terms, to leave and not come back after what Harlan had done, but there was something about him… those eyes — they were haunted.

Finally, Abby acquiesced; she nodded and motioned for Scott to follow. Climbing the steps that led into the kitchen, Scott Garrett Lancer hoped Abby McDaniel could shed some light on the whereabouts of Harlan Garrett’s household staff.

Ben Corbett approached the back door. Would George be there like he said he would? Ben could only hope the man would have something useful to tell him. He was beginning to like Scott and Johnny Lancer, which shocked him. He wasn’t prepared for that to happen. Until last week, Scott Lancer was Harlan Garrett’s grandson and nothing more, a man he’d hated for the last year, and now he knew that Scott was a pawn in whatever was happening and that it was entirely possible that Harlan was innocent of the crimes Corbett had heaped on his shoulders.

The door opened, and George hurried out. “This way, Ben, we have much to talk about and little time!”

Ben followed George into The Gray Gull Tavern to a back table to talk.

Boy, I hate these new clothes. Next time Boston wants me ta dress the part, I ain’t takin’ part! Johnny huffed as he slipped into the kitchen through the back door. The cook had exited the room on her way to the large pantry on the left side of the kitchen; Johnny heard grumbling, salty words, unbecoming to working in an upper-class mansion, as she wrestled with heavy objects, all the while voicing her displeasure.

“Damn Tilly! Dilly-dallying again, leavin’ me to do the work!” He caught further degrading comments, catching only a word or two, but they assured him the journey through the kitchen had gone unnoticed. The woman’s commotion was enough to enable Johnny to walk through at least part of the mansion without fear of detection, however, he would not leave it to chance and exercised his cat-like grace to navigate his way through the stately home.

It was like nothing he’d ever seen; even the haciendas of the most wealthy dons in Mexico could not compare. But Johnny was not there to admire the opulence and amenities; he was there to do a job.

He stood, out of sight and hidden, and listened to the mansion around him. Successful in dodging the butler and maids, Johnny Madrid gathered the obvious information around him but would have to wait for a more extensive search to conclude his mission of discovering damning proof concerning the whereabouts of Harlan Garrett and the reason for Gerald Claydon’s presence, living as the owner of Garrett’s house.

Although brief, the conversation with Abby McDaniel left Scott stunned and more convinced than before, that something was drastically wrong and Harlan was in danger. The sudden dismissal of the entire house staff and Harlan’s declaration he was moving, fed up with the cold and chill, the constant ache in his bones, and decided to go someplace warm, astounded all, not only the household but the community as well. But why had Scott not been notified? Because it isn’t true! The words slammed in his head, physically knocking the wind from his lungs. He gasped as he thought of the potential circumstances he now faced.

Knowing he had to keep a clear mind, Scott took several deep breaths. To stumble along in his current confusion would serve no purpose and possibly get himself and Johnny killed. Deep breath; take control… Oh, what he wouldn’t give to have his brother’s calming presence with him now! Soon…  

None of the things Mrs. McDaniel told him made any sense. First, Scott was certain Harlan had not left Boston. Grandfather hated the heat and humidity! But that was the explanation given to the staff in a letter upon their dismissal. The second was the fact that even though Garrett was a firm employer, he was fair in his dealings with everyone in his employment, whether it was the house staff or those who worked at Garrett Enterprises. 

“Do you know where I can contact James Monaghan, Mrs. McDaniel? I have to talk with him… or Ella? Perhaps they know something more!” Scott sat in troubled unease. It was too much; how could this happen, and more than anything, he had to know the location of his grandfather!

Abby reached across the table to lay a warm, comforting hand over Scott’s, and she felt a tremor run through him. She now knew there was something drastically wrong and wanted to help. Patting the strong fingers in her grasp, Abby smiled. “James is now employed at the Donnelly’s on Preston Street. Ella is head of the housekeeping staff with the Cunninghams on Grant Street, both in Cambridge.” Perhaps things were not as she thought them to be, and she met the tortured look in Scott’s eyes. “Scott, what is happening?”

Taking another deep breath, Scott’s frown told her everything and nothing. “I don’t know, but I will find out!”

George Henley did not believe in coincidences. There was more than met the eye to Ben Corbett’s sudden departure from Garrett Enterprises and the peculiar change of leadership and policies within the company. After talking with Ben, he was positive there was a connection in all that happened, linking new management and their amended approach to the company and treatment of supposed ‘problem’ employees into a chain of a forced takeover. Garrett Enterprises was being dismantled, piece by piece; was there a shred of hope the ugly tide could be turned?

Ben Corbett listened intently, only interrupting for clarifications making sure he knew the facts as George presented them. And those facts were not good; their limited time dictated direct and to-the-point conversation with no speculation. And now, George had to leave, but he would stay in touch should anything beneficial come to light.

With a heartfelt handshake, George wished Ben good luck, and they bid the other goodbye. Ben made his way back to The Cooper House and wondered if Scott or Johnny had better news.

Scott rapped the heavy brass doorknocker against the strike plate; the solid thunk resonated in the damp northeastern air, a sound he had forgotten since living in California. The portal immediately opened to reveal James Monaghan standing formally with a stiff back and ready to greet guests. But that formality faded when he saw the young man that stood before him, and with an uncharacteristic move, he stepped forward and took Scott’s arm, overcome with sentiment at the sight of the younger man.

“Mister Scott! This is indeed a surprise!” Emotion overtook him, emotion that dimmed the betrayal at the hands of Harlan Garrett.

“James, I have to talk to you! It’s urgent — Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”

“Yes, yes, of course! Please do come in and follow me. There is no one here at the moment except for the house staff.” James stepped aside, allowed Scott to enter, then quietly closed the door.

The two old friends settled in the parlor and waited until the maid served coffee before getting to the heart of Scott’s visit.

“It was gradual at first, but Gerald was soon visiting more often. Mr. Garrett seemed to welcome him… after a time. Then, it happened. The entire staff was given notice, legally drawn up by Mr. Garrett’s attorneys. Oh, it was a sad day, it was. Ella was especially distraught, as you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so upset! We never saw Mr. Garrett and never received any explanation, only that Mr. Garrett was moving because of health reasons, or rather the cold that went to his bones, and we were relieved of our duties in the house. We were given a week to vacate the property but were assisted in finding suitable employment elsewhere. Mister Scott, what is happening? Where is Mr. Garrett?”

It was too much to absorb, and Scott had no answers. Why had Harlan dismissed the staff at the Beacon Street mansion?

“James, I have no idea what’s going on. None! I haven’t been here long enough to find any answers. I need to talk to Grandfather, but when I snuck into the house… Gerald Claydon had taken over Grandfather’s room… I didn’t want him to know I was here; I don’t want anyone to know I’m here, so please, you haven’t seen me, alright?”

“Yes, of course, Mister Scott! Please let me know if I can help you with anything; I have to say I was quite upset and hurt at how the situation was handled, but, in thinking back, things were not… right with Mr. Garrett.”

Scott frowned. “What do you mean, ‘not right’?”

James had to be honest; Scott deserved to know the truth. “I hate to tell you, but Mr. Garrett had changed over the last several months we were in his employment. He drank excessively, and I would hear him talking jibberish when he was alone in his chambers or while at his desk in his study. Quite frankly, I was afraid for him, but things began to happen, then, we were let go. I wrote you a letter telling you of the things taking place; you never received it?” James questioned with raised brows.

“No, I received no letter from you.” Scott began to suspect that Harlan was in more danger than he originally thought… if he was still alive. A thought sparked, and he wondered if the letter had been intercepted instead of lost in the long trip to California. But who would have…? Scott was beginning to have his suspicions.

“Then, within a day or two of sending you the letter, our employment was terminated. And seeing you now filled with questions, I feel in my heart that something grave has happened! I regret not writing sooner and taking more care in sending you a letter, Mister Scott. I am so sorry!”

Scott was shaken. James had been the butler for as long as Scott had lived with Harlan, and he’d also been a good friend all his life. The stoicism had never wavered… except now; the older man’s chin quivered as he fought to keep the tears from welling in his eyes. “James, please, it was as much my fault, probably more. The letters I received from Grandfather were different… even the writing was different, but I understand how that happened after his accident cutting his hand.”

James’ eyes widened. “Mr. Garrett had no accident! Not while I was in his employment!”

Suddenly Scott knew that someone else had penned the letters to him for the last year…

The young man covered the undignified yawn, straightened the tailored suit over his slight frame, then made his way down the elegant stairway and into the dining room to take his breakfast.

Johnny didn’t waste any time as he silently walked to the pocket doors of Harlan Garrett’s study. With no time to waste, he began his search at the massive, ornate desk, pulling open drawers in hopes of finding… something. But when he came to the large, locked drawer on the bottom right side, he smiled. Could this drawer hold anything useful in solving the mystery of Harlan Garrett’s whereabouts? After a quick search to ferret out the key revealed nothing, Johnny retrieved the letter opener from the ornate desk set of quills and pens and quickly dispatched the latch. The drawer opened freely.

The contents were clearly marked and organized and left nothing to speculation. Files containing reports on business dealings and those persons connected to them filled the pages. Altered numbers in the first three documents declared them less profitable than the amounts tallied. And all were dated in the last two months. Interesting, Johnny thought, wondering if it was Harlan’s doing or the young man he saw descending the stairs earlier. To Johnny’s knowledge, Harlan was a hard man, showing no weakness in his business dealings, but there was a difference between hard and dishonest.

The last file contained an outline from Dr. Raymond McCallister for a detailed therapy procedure and medicinal regimen attached with an outrageous price. There was no name on the paper other than the practicing doctor and no address where this doctor was located.

The archives contained dishonest business dealings and communication from McCallister in the files. Returning the reports as he found them, Johnny locked the drawer, then inspected the bookshelves lining one study wall.

Nothing… he hadn’t found anything. It was time to take his search to other parts of the mansion; Johnny stopped at the door to listen, then silently slipped down the hall, around a corner that led to another hall, then stood at the bottom of the back stairway. Taking care to scout for maids on the second floor, Johnny walked up the flight of stairs; he would be a sitting duck should one see him, and he doubted his ability to sweet talk his way out of discovery should he be seen.

Just as Johnny reached the top of the stairs, the double doors at the far end of the hall opened as a maid pushed a cart filled with linens and cleaning supplies, humming as she went. Johnny dodged through a door, pulling it closed behind him. The small window near the ceiling revealed shelves of sheets, towels, soaps, and other sundries that filled the room; the strong scent of soap nearly overpowered Johnny’s sinuses; he could only hope to control the sneeze-inducing tickle before it announced his presence.

He settled into a nook between the shelf of linens and a rack of freshly laundered shirts, then stood still as the door opened and light from the hallway spilled onto the floor. The maid took the soiled bed linens and stuffed them into the laundry chute, then turned to grab a fresh set of sheets and load them, along with clean towels, onto the handcart. The young woman pushed the cart into the hall and shut the door, leaving Johnny alone in the semi-dark room.

He waited until no sound came from the other side of the door, then eased out into the hall and continued his search, knowing the suite of rooms behind the double doors would have to wait until the maid finished her chores. Johnny took the chance that Scott’s old room was unoccupied and took refuge there while considering his options. He hoped Scott was having more luck than he; other than the questionable statement from Dr. McCallister, whoever he was, Johnny wasn’t having any luck in finding anything damning, so he settled in to wait. Twenty minutes later, Johnny saw the coach leave the carriage house and watched the young man he’d seen coming down the stairs enter the carriage and leave the premises.

He found his way into Harlan Garrett’s suite of rooms at the end of the hall. Listening at the door and detecting no sound from within, he boldly entered the private chamber. The first thing was to check for a safe; he looked behind pictures and in closets, then searched for secret compartments in the bookcase; there was nothing. The only secret the sleeping quarters yielded was that nothing appeared to belong to Harlan Garrett. It was as if the man did not exist.

Johnny knew it was time to go— there was no sense in pressing his luck. Madrid left the way he came, silent and cat-like.

“Scott, Claydon is not Garrett’s secretary; he’s running the company. No one knows where Mr. Garrett is.”

His anger grew and filled him with rage— rage born of manipulation and greed from those that exploited any means to gain or steal. And more than rage, Scott was filled with fear. Was Gerald Claydon responsible for Harlan’s disappearance? He had benefited from his great uncle’s absence, resided in Harlan’s house, and now ran Harlan’s company. But the question remained unanswered: where was Harlan Garrett?

He had to know if his grandfather was alright and what had happened at Garrett Enterprises that his cowardly, milksop second cousin would now be in charge of his grandfather’s company.

It wouldn’t let go, and he felt the strangling tentacles of fear tighten around him.  

The key clicked in the lock, swung open, and Johnny stepped into the room. Worry etched his brow as he noticed his brother looked three shades paler than when Johnny had last seen him

“Boston? Ya alright?

Scott valiantly pulled his emotions together, took a breath, then met his brother’s concerned stare. “No, Johnny, I’m not. It seems as if Grandfather is missing; no one knows where he is. I need to see his attorneys, but they would have notified me if something had happened. Johnny, something has happened to him, something terrible; Ben just informed me that Gerald Claydon is running Garrett Enterprises! I know Grandfather would never have allowed that to happen!”

Scott shook his head to clear his thoughts and focused on his brother. “What about you, Johnny? Did you find anything at the house?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he gave a brief account of what he found… rather, what he didn’t find. “Harlan’s clothes are gone; there’s no pictures of your mother anywhere. I got into his study — the only suspicious thing was a locked drawer in the desk. It seems ol’ Gerald has a few illegal business dealings — you know, makin’ things out ta be not as… what’s that word you’re always throwin’ around? It’s like profitable…?


“Yeah, that’s the one. He’s got the original paperwork, then the copy that has a different price, like he’s tryin’ ta cover up his profits.” Johnny knew Scott was about to explode. “I think we need ta go see Harlan’s lawyer. Do ya know who he is?”

“Yes, I know them very well. I used to help my Grandfather with business and worked with them often. We have to do that!” Scott needed to move. He had to do something to answer the burning questions that careened around in his head, and the Law Offices of Bryant and Laidlaw could accomplish that mission. He quickly walked to the door and stepped into the hall. With Ben and Johnny behind him, they left The Cooper House and hailed a cab. Scott gave the address to the driver, and the cab moved swiftly down the cobbles toward the attorney’s offices on Parkman Street.

Johnny tossed Scott’s coat on his lap. “Don’t forget this, Boston. Don’t need for ya ta be gettin’ sick on me. T’resa ain’t here ta nurse ya, an’ I don’t think Jelly’s up ta makin’ the trip, so it’s just me here ta take care of you.” He offered Scott a smile, and it was returned… barely.

“Thank you, Johnny. I guess I’m not thinking very clearly. I’m just so… confused and worried!”

Johnny softened his tone. “Yeah, I know, Boston. But we’ll find out what’s goin’ on, an’ we’ll find Harlan; you can count on it, Scott. We’ll find him.”

The cab slowed, then stopped. The driver jumped down and opened the door just as Scott pushed it open from the inside, nearly losing his balance. Johnny lunged for his brother and grabbed his arm to steady the over-anxious move. His empathy grew by the moment as he witnessed the angst shrouding his brother; he had to stay close; Scott was going to need the support he could offer.

The office was as he remembered, even though it had been more than two years since he had been there. The secretary, Marvin Billings, sat behind the large desk, arranging appointments and screening those who would call on attorneys Bryant and Laidlaw. Behind Billings were two doors, the entrances to the private offices.

Mr. Billings looked up at the men standing before his desk, then as the recognition registered, he stood and offered his hand.

“Mr. Lancer! It is good to see you again! What brings…” and he stopped. There could only be one thing that would bring Scott Lancer, grandson of Harlan Garrett, to this office, and his smile faded.

Johnny caught the gesture but said nothing, waiting instead for Scott to take the lead.

 “Mr. Billings, it’s imperative that I see Mr. Bryant or Laidlaw; would either of them have time to see me now?”

Scott was doing his best to hold himself together, but Johnny recognized the fraying patience, the emotion that would soon explode in epic proportions.

Mr. Billings tensed. “I assumed you would have heard, but Garrett Enterprises has terminated its association with Bryant and Laidlaw. You didn’t know?” The secretary was genuinely shocked when Scott replied.

“Terminated?! When?”

Billings stammered and wondered why young Mr. Lancer did not know of Harlan Garrett’s sudden and unexpected move. The secretary cleared his throat as he tried to think just how long it had been. “I believe that it was about ten months ago…”

“Please, Mr. Billings, I need to see Bryant or Laidlaw immediately. It’s very important!”

Johnny had stepped forward, ready to intervene as Billings turned, and with a “Just one moment, please,” he disappeared behind Bryant’s door. Within seconds, he returned. “This way, please, Mr. Bryant can see you now.”

Samuel Bryant stood behind the massive desk as Scott led the procession into the tastefully decorated office. “Scott, I’m surprised to see you again, considering what’s happened!” Bryant extended his hand in greeting. “What can I do for you? Mr. Billings stated it’s urgent.”

“Mr. Bryant, this is my brother Johnny Lancer, and this gentleman is Ben Corbett. He used to work for Grandfather. Have you seen him or know where he is? And do you know why he is no longer running Garrett Enterprises?” The rapidly fired questions and the tone in which those questions were issued alerted Bryant to the fact that Scott Lancer had no more idea of what happened within Garrett Enterprises than he did.

“Gentlemen, sit, please.” Bryant went to the drink cart. “Can I get anyone a drink?”

“No, please, let’s talk.” Scott’s head was beginning to ache. “What happened to my Grandfather? Surely you know the reason for the change in the company; a highly unqualified and incapable person is in charge now. Why did Grandfather turn it over to him without notifying me? And why are you no longer representing Garrett Enterprises?”

“Scott, I wish I had something to tell you. I don’t know where Harlan is. He suddenly had papers drawn up releasing the Bryant and Laidlaw Offices; he sought other representation and no longer needed our services. It was sudden; any pending issues were quickly dispatched. Philip and I thought it very peculiar, to the point of investigating our own. It’s highly irregular, but things were not adding up. Harlan’s sudden decision to change representation, his increasing absence from the meetings we requested, his refusal to speak to us and a few other irregularities supported our suspicions. Then, Philip was killed while investigating a lead.”

Scott sat stunned. “Philip is dead?” Philip Laidlaw had become a friend, and the man was dead because of his association with Garrett Enterprises and the trouble surrounding it. Was Harlan dead as well?

“Yes; it’s been almost six months now. We were told Harlan moved and left no forwarding address; we checked with the railroad and shipping lines, and no one had any records of Harlan Garrett traveling with their companies. And that got us thinking that something was not right. A man in Garrett’s position does not up and disappear without a trace. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth, but there was no report of his disappearance, nor was there evidence of anything suspicious.”

“No, this can’t be happening!” Scott’s thoughts spun out of control. The whole thing was getting more bizarre by the moment! But a spark ignited in Scott’s head, and he looked Bryant in the eye. “I am reinstating your services for Garrett Enterprises with your consent. As of this moment, consider yourself working for me.”

“Scott, unless Harlan comes forward and declares otherwise, I have papers signed by his hand terminating Bryant and Laidlaw. Here, take a look.” The attorney handed Scott a file from the large cabinet against the wall.

The signature matched Harlan’s writing, although penned by a shaky hand. Strange, it doesn’t match the last letters he wrote me… Who wrote those letters?

“Does that mean you won’t work for me?” Scott asked defiantly.

“Of course I will, Scott. I just wanted to make it clear that by Harlan’s own hand, we no longer work for Garrett Enterprises.”

“I should have brought the letters Grandfather wrote to me recently; I swear the writing doesn’t match.”

Johnny leaned to place a steadying hand on Scott’s shoulder in support. From his brother’s point of view, it had to be legal, and Johnny guessed that could be a good thing; Madrid didn’t much care… for now, he would abide by Scott’s rules until the moment came for Madrid to make his appearance. Johnny then turned to the attorney. “Mr. Bryant, what do you know about Gerald Claydon? He seems ta be runnin’ Harlan’s business now, an’ no one in the company, leastways, the people Ben here talked to, knows where Harlan’s at. A man like Garrett doesn’t just disappear.”

The strangely calm voice took the edge from the despair that held Scott in its grasp. He closed his eyes and let the comfort of the tones provide the solace he would need to continue this meeting. He took a moment to gather himself as Johnny took up the questioning.

Bryant noted the interaction of the brothers. Yes, he’d known about Johnny Madrid, as Harlan always referred to him, but this was not the man he expected.

“What was Mr. Laidlaw lookin’ for when he died? Did he mention what kind of ‘lead’ he had?” Johnny asked, his eyes not letting Samuel go.

He seemed to pull the information from Bryant’s unwilling mind. Johnny Madrid Lancer was a formidable presence, making Samuel glad they weren’t on opposing sides. Through the years, Bryant honed his ability to dissect those he questioned, and analyze individuals, honing his assessments to a razor’s edge… he was sure he hadn’t miscalculated in this particular case. The man who stood before him could be dangerous when he wanted or needed to be. “I’m not quite sure. He didn’t say much when he left here that day, only that he wanted to check out a few things and that he would be back later in the day. Three hours later, he was dead. I was told he’d fallen and hit his head.”

“Any witnesses see the fall?” Johnny asked.

“To my knowledge, no. But Officer Calvin Brown found the body. Perhaps you would like to speak to him.” Bryant thanked his lucky stars that Johnny Madrid Lancer was on Scott’s side. Harlan’s grandson had always struck him as a bright lad, and with this brother at his side, they were a formidable pair; Scott was in capable hands.

Johnny looked at Scott and nodded. Then back at Bryant. “Where’d we find this Officer Brown?”

“The way I figure it, Scott, the best way ta handle this is ta talk with this Brown fella an’ see if he’s got anything ta tell us. Then, I say we take a look in Harlan’s office. Claydon knows somethin’, an’ maybe we can find out what that somethin’ is. If we don’t, we find the opportunity ta, you know, talk with him, nice an’ personal.” The cold smile spelled it out.

When Ben first met Johnny, he had doubts about the quiet but volatile, uneducated man, but after spending time with him, he got to know Scott Lancer’s brother and was impressed with his quick-thinking, intelligent mind. He had a distinct feeling that, given more time, he would see another angle, another facet of the workings that churned inside the young man’s head. And Ben wondered how far Johnny would go in trying to help Scott solve the mystery of Harlan Garrett’s disappearance. He was about to find out.

“If we can get ol’ Gerald ta talk, maybe he’ll even tell us where Harlan is without havin’ ta get nasty, ya know?”

“And just how are we going to do that, brother?” Scott responded, temporarily forgetting Johnny’s past.

Johnny tilted his head back a notch. “Scott…” he scoffed, drawing out his brother’s name for a second time. “You forget what I usta do for a livin’? Hey, ask Val; I can make the bastard talk; he’ll singin’ like one a them canary birds,” Johnny smiled as he reached behind his back and pulled the knife he was never without from its sheath. The wicked blade caught the light as if blazing a warning. “Won’t hafta bust his head!”

Ben controlled the gasp that threatened to escape his throat. Never in his life had he seen such a menacing blade — it screamed death… He felt the shudder crawl up his spine and knew the man holding that weapon was a force to be reckoned with; suddenly, he was thankful they were on the same side because he wouldn’t stand a chance against this man.

“We talk ta Brown an’ see what he knows; we see if he’s the kind of person that’ll…” here Johnny smiled wickedly, “work with us. If he ain’t, then we hafta do this the hard way. Before we jump ta any conclusions about how ta handle Claydon, I wanna talk ta this lawman.”

“Johnny, in Boston, they are constables,” Scott corrected.

“Yeah, sure… constables…”

Officer Calvin Brown was a sight to behold. Johnny eyed the uniform of the man sitting at the table and regretted meeting the man in public. The double-breasted, mid-thigh coat with shiny buttons was a dead giveaway, announcing to any that happened to look that they were meeting with the law. What the hell! Nothin’ like tellin’ everyone what we’re doin’!

Johnny was less than amused. The constable at least had the sense to meet in the back room of Brewster’s Tavern. Madrid sat, silently studying the ridiculous looking hat in the crook of the man’s arm. It reminded him somewhat of the smokestack of a train. He smiled when he thought of smoke billowing out the top.

“Tell me, Gentlemen, how may I be of service to you? Mr. Bryant said you wished to speak to me.” The man’s voice fit the body, deep and strong, but he kept it low not to reach the ears of those who could be listening.

Scott extended his hand and shook with the officer; Johnny followed, then Ben rounded out the greetings. “Officer Brown, my name is Scott Lancer. ” He nodded to Johnny, “This is my brother, Johnny, and Ben Corbett. Attorney Bryant told of you finding Philip Laidlaw’s body. I know this is highly irregular, but can you tell us anything about it? Bryant and Laidlaw represented Garrett Enterprises for many years, and I am Harlan Garrett’s grandson and heir.”

“I have to tell you, Mr. Lancer, that it is an ongoing investigation, and I cannot divulge any information. I’m sorry.” He saw the disappointment in the blond’s eyes and immediately saw something else — despair, possibly anguish, flash across the man’s face. “I wish I could help you, but, it’s impossible, you understand.”

Scott shrugged. “Yes, I understand, but we think Mr. Laidlaw’s demise might have something to do with my Grandfather, Harlan Garrett’s disappearance, and we need your help.”

Brown’s eyes widened. “Disappearance? I think you’d better start at the beginning and tell me what you know, Mr. Lancer.”

Two hours later, the four men left Brewster’s, three of them headed to The Cooper House, and one headed to his desk in his department. He had a report to fill out. A missing person, a well-known missing person, not living in his home, nor had he been seen at his place of business; supposedly moved, but left no address — something was wrong.

Gerald Claydon could not contain himself. Everything had fallen into place without a snag! Paris was waiting! No! Perhaps Venice would be a better choice! He smiled wickedly as he thought that if he couldn’t decide on one as opposed to the other, he would purchase a residence in each city. Yes! That’s the solution!

One more week, and he would be gone from Boston. The house on Beacon Hill and Garrett Enterprises would be put up for sale, and Gerald Claydon would never have to worry about money again. The attorneys he hired had done a splendid job, taking care of all the loose ends and leaving no room for error or suspicions to prompt further inspection into the company’s transfer. Harlan Garrett signed the contract; it was witnessed and legalized. Oh, he wished he could be there to watch Bryant’s face when he found that Harlan had signed the company over to him! But, no, that wouldn’t be possible because he would be in Europe!

He would leave the sale of the Beacon Hill and Garrett properties to the attorneys he hired; the monies were to be deposited into his account for him to draw on for as long as he lived. Oh, thank you, Uncle Harlan… you greedy bastard!

Claydon continued his way to Garrett Enterprises. There were last-minute details that needed his attention.

Scott felt for the key in his shirt pocket. When he first stole that key, he had no idea he would use it for this intended purpose, and without it, he might never see Harlan again. This key could provide the answers to the burning questions— first and foremost: Where was his grandfather?

Seven bricks up from the floor- three bricks from the wall. Never before had those words been so critical. He remembered as a fifteen-year-old boy, curious regarding the unanswered questions regarding his father, Scott searched for anything he could about Murdoch Lancer, and with nothing in Grandfather’s desk in the house on Beacon Street, that left only one other place to search. His office at Garrett Enterprises. With the help of a friend whose father owned  Boston’s Finest Silversmith, Scott copied the key, then returned the original to Harlan’s possession without his knowledge.

The loose brick provided the perfect hiding place for small treasures, and now this small treasure would, indeed, provide a wealth of information.

They watched from the cover of shadows as Gerald Claydon boldly walked into the building. Scott and Johnny Lancer followed Officer Calvin Brown as he navigated around the rear of the building and into the back, lower levels of Garrett Enterprises, moving quickly through the passageways undetected. Scott had forgotten the back hallways he’d explored as a child. As he grew and found his place within the company, he had no need to revisit the dark, cluttered corners, and now he found himself back in the places of his youth and a different reason for being there.

Coming to the upper level, they dodged their way into doorways and rooms, avoiding the employees as they left for the evening; their homes and families beckoned, and not wasting any time, they hurriedly left for the night.

Patience paid off as they watched Claydon walk with a swift cadence; heels from his expensive dress shoes clicked loudly on the polished floor. He acknowledged his secretary without slowing, then stopped at the solid double doors to the office behind them.

“Any messages, David?” he asked with his clipped, authoritative speech.

“No, but Mr. Arthur asked for you to see him when you returned. He might have already left for the day; it was a while ago that he asked.”

Gerald halted at the door, then considered the request. “Thank you; I’ll take a chance that he’s still here and see what he needs. I’ll not need your assistance; you may leave for the day.” Claydon returned his keys to the inside pocket of his suit and proceeded down the hall.

David Bixby didn’t need to be told twice. He locked his desk, grabbed his coat, and was down the stairs to the street level in less time than it took Gerald to walk to the end of the hall and disappear around the corner.

Scott eased from the alcove and slipped the key into the lock; fortunately, it was one thing Gerald had not changed in taking over the business. After all, who else would have a key to Garrett’s office but the man himself? Scotty was in California, so there was no need.

The click sounded, the door opened, and Scott walked into another page from his past— except it was all wrong. It was no longer his grandfather’s office. He stood, frozen to the floor, until the nudge from Johnny spurred him into place.

“C’mon, Boston, we hafta do this— time ta think about it later! An’ remember, you don’t come outta that closet until I say it’s all right. I hafta get him talkin’ an’ if he sees you, he’s not gonna say what we need ta hear.” Johnny looked to Officer Brown for backup, and the man nodded in agreement.

Yes, Johnny was right. They had to do this right the first time because they wouldn’t get another chance. They took their places just as the key rattled in the lock, and Gerald Claydon entered the opulent office.

Gerald felt like giggling. Everything was falling into place and working precisely as he had planned; he had difficulty containing himself and couldn’t help the grin as he hung his coat on the tree beside the door, went to the ornate desk, and sat in the comfortable leather chair. His plans, conceived in his meticulous, devious mind, were carried out, every detail organized and executed as he intended, and would provide him a life of luxury for the rest of his days; the thought left him giddy.

“Oh, Uncle Harlan, you poor unfortunate soul! But they will take good care of you as you spend the rest of your days in your ‘warmer climate’! You placed your trust in me, and you will never have another worry!” Claydon spoke to himself in the quiet of the room and couldn’t suppress the chuckle that escaped from his lips; he took the keys from the inside pocket and opened the bottom desk drawer. He placed the heavy file before him and flipped through the first several pages, laughing aloud.

Scott could feel his blood boil, but he had to control his rage, or their efforts would be for nothing, and Claydon would get away scot-free. In the small confines of the supply closet, Officer Brown felt the tremble of fury as it coursed through Scott’s tense body.

Johnny readied himself to intervene should Scott lose the battle and announce himself before it was time. He wondered how long his brother could control his emotions before he would explode from the closet and wrap his hands around Claydon’s throat. He knew it was up to him to get Claydon to talk, and he didn’t have much time, but he did have a few tricks up his sleeves, and they’d worked for him in the past.

Gerald’s dreams were becoming a reality as he read damning papers in his hands. It was finally happening! “Dr. McCallister, you are a genius! Without you, I could have never gotten this far!” Gerald left his chair and poured himself a brandy from the drink cart against the wall. He took the glass and held it up in a mock salute.

“Here’s to you, Uncle Harlan! Thank you for all you’ve done for me!” Claydon drained the glass, poured another drink, took it to his desk chair, then sat going through the papers, gloating over his success before destroying the damning evidence. After all, he couldn’t leave the papers for someone to discover. Ha, that is not in the plans before I leave for Paris… or Venice.

Claydon chuckled as he went through the documents, separating them into piles; the papers containing the incriminating information steadily grew and far outnumbered those he would keep. The risk of them falling into the wrong hands would spell his undoing, and he didn’t want to leave any loose ends. By the time Scotty would suspect something was wrong, and the time it took to get to Boston, Gerald Claydon would be long gone, settled in Europe and living his best life. He let a giggle slip from between his lips.

Gerald suddenly stopped as he clutched the receipt in his hand. “Oh no, this one has to be destroyed now!” The drug and physician’s services had been expensive but worth every penny, and it was necessary to keep the transaction from exposure, lest Claydon desired to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. He started to rise from his chair. “Yes, this one has to…”

The snick of the hammer in his ear aborted his motion. He stood unable to move except for the paper he held; its edges fluttered in his shaking hands like the hopeless wings of an insect at a closed window, seeking escape that wasn’t there. “Nothin’ like that sound, is there?” The voice in his ear smooth and deadly calm.

Gerald stood, the tremble increased, and Johnny knew the man would probably collapse at any second with the scare. He hoped the man wouldn’t piss himself.


The sedate voice, deceivingly pleasant, yet it sent chills through Gerald’s body.

“An’ don’t move, or you’re a dead man.”

Johnny stepped around the heavy velvet drapes as Claydon attempted to rise from the chair with thoughts of disposing the receipt, effectively halting the move in mid-motion.

No! What’s happening? This can’t be— I’m so close! Gerald began to panic! Money! Offer money! Make a deal! No one can resist a good deal!

“What… What do you want? Money? I have money! Lots of it!”

“Shuddup!” Johnny reached for the knife sheathed along his spine and cut the curtain ties, letting the heavy drapes fall across the windows, sequestering the office from the outside world. He picked the ties from the floor, then holstered his Colt.

“Don’t move. Hands on the desk!” The harsh command was clear and sent a shiver through Claydon’s slight frame as he obeyed and placed his hands on the desktop.

Taking a blindfold from his pocket, Johnny tied it around Claydon’s head and secured it tightly, then he took Gerald’s right arm and forcefully tied it to the arm of the chair, followed by the left.

Gerald Claydon whimpered.

Johnny smirked, letting a snicker float into the air. “Now, how about you an’ me have us a little talk, huh? That sound alright ta you?”

Gerald was frantic; his brain was spinning out of control as he desperately tried to think of a way out of this situation. Could he call for help? No, everyone was gone for the evening. Could he signal for help somehow? Someone had broken into his office and was threatening him with physical harm! What did he want?

“Guess you ain’t up for a talk, are ya? Well, that suits me just fine. I’ll just amuse myself readin’ all these interesting papers ya got here.” Johnny picked up the sheet Claydon dropped on the desktop when his hands were tied to the chair. “Let’s see, hey, this one is really good readin’! Dr. McCallister is chargin’ ya a heck of a lotta money for services rendered. What’s that mean? Services rendered… sounds like some kind of treatment. That what it means — treatment?”

Gerald’s heart was hammering in his chest. Who was this man questioning him? He had to try again. “What do you want? I can… can get you money! Just say the amount, and I’ll get it for you!” He frantically moved his head as if to help him see behind the blindfold.

“Don’t need money. But I’ll tell ya what I want. I want the truth.” Then Johnny whispered so that only Claydon would hear his words. “An’ I’ll know if it’s the truth or not, an’ if it ain’t, I’m gonna gut you like a fish. I’ve bested better men than you.” Johnny silently moved from one side of the desk to the other. “No, don’t need money. Maybe later, though.”

The location change jolted Claydon, and again he moved his head, then the words pierced into his brain. ‘Didn’t need money’! Who would turn down the offer of money?

“No, don’t need money, but I do want answers, so if you’re not gonna oblige me with them, I guess I’ll hafta find out on my own. Hmmm, lemme see, I’ll just take this pile of papers and have me a little relaxation readin’. What’d ya think I’m gonna find in all these papers, huh? Let’s see…”

Johnny pulled a random sheet from the pile. But he didn’t read it. Scott would have charged out of the door, and Brown wouldn’t have been able to hold him back. The paper Johnny held exposed the whereabouts of Harlan Garrett. Vinebrook Asylum. Johnny’s gut rolled. He had to get Claydon to talk before letting Scott know what was happening and risk the attack on his distant cousin that would surely follow, possibly ruining the chance to find Claydon guilty of his crimes.

“Hey, this one’s interesting readin’, ya know that don’t ya? It’s a bank statement signed by you… You are Gerald Claydon, aren’t cha?” He watched Claydon squirm in his chair, but he had to make Gerald say the words, admit to these things so Office Brown could witness. He repeated the question. “You’re Gerald Claydon?”

Scott nearly broke from cover and would have, had it not been for Officer Brown’s hand that held him back. Could he stand much more of this? Come on, brother, make it quick! He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, praying it would be over soon and they would find Harlan alive and well. But, the more Claydon divulged, the less likely that would be. It didn’t sound good, but he knew they needed Gerald to admit pertinent information to make any charges stick. Scott took another deep breath, then whispered that he was alright and steeled himself to wait while Johnny Madrid worked his magic.

Gerald refused to answer, and Johnny’s patience was running out. Before he spoke, he walked around the desk, positioning himself behind Claydon, then leaned down so his words were again in Gerald’s ear.

“What’s your name?”

Gerald’s body jerked, startled again at the change of location from the voice, then he sniveled and mewled his name softly.

Knowing Scott and Brown couldn’t hear the admission, he insisted the man repeat the name; he grasped the handle of his knife, letting the blade scrape lightly across the man’s face in a deadly caress. And Johnny asked a second time, only louder: “What is your name?” clearly enunciating each word.

“Gerald C-Claydon!”

“Hey, that’s good! Guess ya can talk. So tell me… Gerald, what’s your plan here? I mean, ya got rid of ol’ Harlan an’ now you’re sittin’ at his desk; you’re livin’ in the man’s house!” Johnny whispered low enough to keep the admission from Officer Brown. The law might frown on breaking and entering; however, Scott did produce a key. No, it wasn’t breaking in. Johnny continued. “Ya know, I was in that house, an’ I watched ya sleepin’, so I know that you’re livin’ there…”

It was shock and disbelief, not to mention plain cold fear, when you found your personal space had been breached— invaded by an unknown source. This man had watched him sleep! That thought terrified him! Gerald’s breathing increased rapidly; the harsh pull and exhale into and out of his lungs stalled the words he needed to answer the damning questions, and he felt sick.

“Please, please let me explain!” he gasped.

“Alright… explain. See, talkin’s good. I ask the questions, you answer, an’ we’ll get this over an’ done real quick.”

Johnny moved to the other side of the desk and began examining the papers while he waited for Claydon to find his balls and explain just how and why he was living in Garrett’s mansion on Beacon Street. 

“Seems you’re havin’ a little trouble with that explanation. How about I help ya out? That be alright?”

Gerald sat without saying a word.

“Tell me about this Dr. McCallister.” Plain, simple, and to the point, but the demand seemed to cause Claydon discomfort.

“W-Why do you want to know? Who are you?”

“You ain’t in no position ta be askin’ questions, there, Claydon, an’ you’re not gonna leave this office until you start ta cooperate, so, I wouldn’t be wastin’ any more time. Just tell me what I wanna know. Tell me about McCallister.”

Gerald gripped the arms of his chair; his fingernails gouged deep into the fine leather, hurting the nailbeds with the motion. If he admitted what he’d done, his plans were for naught. He couldn’t let it all slip away now!

Johnny was dealing with his own issues. How much longer could he keep Scott and Officer Brown in the supply closet without them charging into the office and catching him using questionable tactics to get answers from Claydon? But they didn’t know Gerald wore a blindfold so they wouldn’t risk detection too soon. Johnny had to get the man talking and talking now.

“So, lemme get this straight, Mr. Claydon, ya move into Garrett’s house, you take over his business an’ Harlan can’t be found. There’s a whole stack of papers here on this desk that proves some of the underhanded things ya tried ta pull. Tell me about it. Are ya gonna try an’ deny what ya did?”

“I d-did nothing wrong! Everything is legal! All papers are signed and filed legally!”

Johnny couldn’t help the snort that escaped him when he heard Claydon claim they were legal transactions. “How’d ya get Harlan Garrett ta sign any of these papers? Ya said it was all legal, but there’s no way in Hell he woulda signed everything over ta you. What did you do ta him?”

It’s funny that a little pressure from that knife blade would make a man talk— and beg, too. He’d seen men cry like babies when they felt that razor edge pierce their skin. The blade began to bite, and Claydon began to talk.

“Drugs! I drugged him — his brandy! He did everything I asked him to do! Please don’t hurt me! Please, how much money do you want?”

“Ya drugged him an’ took over, is that right?”

“Yes… With help from Dr. McCallister! He did it!”

Johnny snugged the blade closer. “I want ya ta say it… You drugged him and took over…”

Claydon was panting as if he’d been running. “Yes! I d-drugged him, drugged the brandy and I… took over! I had full control of Garrett Enterprises!”

Scott desperately tried to control the tremors racing through his body, and he couldn’t take much more. Sweat trickled down his temple, leaving an itchy path, and he thought that Johnny and Claydon would hear the hammer of his heartbeats.

“Garrett’s got a grandson; how are ya gonna get around that? Harlan’s not about ta forget him.” The knife began to move, a gyrating dance of death on Gerald’s throat.

“The drug — I convinced Garrett that Scotty abandoned him and that I… I would care for him. It- it was my duty as his nephew to be there for him; Scotty had forsaken him!”

Scott’s knees began to fold; Officer Brown held him steady, sincerely hoping the questioning was nearing an end. He was worried Scott couldn’t handle any more of this torture.

“What about Mr. Laidlaw? See, I know he was murdered…”

“That couldn’t be proved! He fell and hit his head!”

It was a long shot, but Madrid had made bigger gambles and won. “No, he didn’t; I know that because I was followin’ him an’ saw who did it… So ya might wanna think about what you’re sayin’. Maybe I will take that money. How much are ya willin’ ta give me ta keep my mouth shut, Mr. Claydon? I mean, since ya have all Harlan’s money, ya got plenty ta keep me quiet. Seems like ya committed a lotta crimes tryin’ ta cheat ol’ Harlan, an’ all it’ll take is for me ta go ta the law an’ tell what I know an’ that you’re the guilty party.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking ab…”

Johnny had had enough. He grabbed a handful of Claydon’s hair and slammed his head against the back of the chair. His voice was soft. “I want twenty thousand dollars ta keep my mouth shut! Twenty thousand! You give me the money an’ you walk away, or I swear you’re goin’ ta jail for the rest of your miserable life!” The knife in Johnny’s hand slid down over the closely shaven cheek in a deadly caress, then continued down to rest at Claydon’s throat.

Gerald swallowed and hoped the blade wouldn’t pierce his bobbing Adam’s apple as it slid under the sharp edge; he was so scared — his heart pounded in his chest! “I don’t have that much with me…  I’ll have t-to transfer it from my account in Paris!”

“How about that! Ya have an account in Paris full of Harlan Garrett’s money! What’d ya gonna do with his business?”

Gerald remained silent; he had to pay this man off; then he would have to leave Boston immediately before any of this got out; he would surely go to jail if this man talked to the authorities!

This’s takin’ too long! “So, let me get this straight; you’re gonna pay me twenty thousand dollars of the money ya stole from Harlan Garrett, so I don’t go to the law an’ tell them that you were responsible for Laidlaw’s death an’ Garrett’s disappearance. Is that right? But we know where Garrett is, don’t we? An’ we know that you paid ol’ Doc McCallister ta drug Harlan so you could control him an’ have him sign everything over ta you. That about right?”

With one more cold caress from the knife blade, Johnny silently walked to the door that led to the main hallway. He waited for the answer that would end this charade.

Scott didn’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief that Johnny had Harlan’s location or charge into the office and strangle his cousin, but it hit him that he needed to trust Madrid.

Claydon pondered his options. This man knew too much, and time was running out. He had to leave Boston!

“Yes, that’s right,” he said softly.

Johnny slipped his knife into the sheath at his back. No sense in lettin’ Brown in on my secrets, now was there?

“What? Couldn’t hear whatcha said!” Johnny called across the office.

Yes, that’s right! I did those things!” Claydon said louder than before.

“See ya, Mr. Claydon.” Johnny opened, then shut the door, making Gerald believe he’d left the office and was now alone.

The man struggled in the chair. He had to get away!

Silently he crossed the office and stood behind Claydon; Johnny again leaned down and quietly told Claydon to shut his eyes and not move, causing Claydon to squeal; he thought he was alone! This man moved like a ghost!

Johnny released the blindfold and the ties from Claydon’s wrists with another warning not to move, he crossed the office to the supply closet, opened it, then put his finger to his lips. Scott stepped out, looking very pale and ready to spit fire.

Suddenly Gerald realized there was more than just himself and his captor in the office and had just admitted to his crimes in the presence of the constable. He had time enough to lean to the side and vomit into the wastepaper basket.

Johnny went to the desk and picked up the paper that held the key to Harlan Garrett’s location. “Can you get this pendejo ta jail? Me an’ Scott are gonna go get Harlan.”

Pendejo? That’s Spanish! And the thought slammed into Gerald’s brain that he was lucky to be alive! Gerald Claydon had just met Johnny Madrid!

Officer Brown took charge of their prisoner and pulled him to his feet. “Yes, I’ll take care of him, but you need to tell me where you’re going, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Johnny held the paper from the top of the pile of damning documents. “Someplace called Vinebrook Asylum.”

He had just enough time to grab Scott before he lunged for Claydon’s throat.

“No time for that, Scott; we hafta get ta Harlan!”

Brown took charge. “We’ll take the same cab — Vinebrook is on the outskirts of Boston, and we have to pass the station to get there! We’ll go together!”

Officer Brown had to admire Johnny’s ‘direct’ approach. He had gotten Gerald Claydon to admit his theft of Garrett Enterprises and having Harlan committed without much as a single threat. I wonder how he did that? However, Brown was no fool. He knew the man could be dangerous; he felt the danger, and as he listened to Johnny ‘question’ Claydon in Garrett’s office, there was a distinct feeling that he was not privy to everything that happened. But he had a confession to the murder, the whereabouts of Harlan Garrett, and also heard Claydon confess to stealing Garrett Enterprises and the mansion on Beacon Street. He would go with that and leave the rest alone. Whatever means Johnny Lancer used to get his answers was alright with Officer Brown. Perhaps he would ask Mr. Lancer to share some of his methods…?

Gerald Claydon was a broken man. He sat handcuffed, head down, for the entire ride to jail. His dream was shattered, his life… well, that was up to the jury, but one thing was certain: he wouldn’t be living out his days in Paris, Venice, or anywhere else in Europe.

It took everything Scott had not to throw himself on his cousin and beat him to death. His blood boiled in his veins, but he had to push it all aside and be ready to help his grandfather. Whatever it took, Scott would see that everything stolen from Harlan would be returned and that he had the best care possible. And he would make sure that Gerald Claydon paid for the crimes he committed.

It was a surprise to both Scott and Johnny when Brown spoke to his superior and sent two officers out to bring Dr. McCallister in for questioning. If there was sufficient evidence against him, the doctor would be arrested and held for trial. Brown also received an order to have Harlan Garrett released from the asylum.

Once Claydon was in a cell, Scott, Johnny, and Officer Brown left for the far outskirts of Boston. Vinebrook Asylum was not a place that people chose to visit. Perched on a rocky cliff next to the ocean, the secluded, run-down building reminded Scott of something from his nightmares. And now it was the place where Harlan Garrett was exiled! His belly began to churn; he dragged in lungfuls of salty sea air, trying to clear his head. Then felt his brother’s steady hand on his shoulder, an anchor — strength, and support. He turned to Johnny in the dark of the coach and nodded his thanks.

Fog rolled in from the water, and rain began to fall, making Scott wonder if the evening could get any worse. Then he shook himself free of those thoughts. Yes, it can always get worse! Don’t even think that way!

The cab jolted to a stop; the driver hopped to the ground and opened the door as a gust of cold, damp wind blew into the coach, making all the occupants shiver. Rain dripped off the roof as Brown, Scott, and Johnny exited, each with drops of icy rainwater trickling down their necks.

The men hurried to the door but found it locked; Officer Brown pounded on the massive oak planks demanding someone let them in. A small window covered with bars opened as a gruff, unfriendly voice called out an equally unfriendly greeting.

“We’re closed! Be off with you, or I’ll have the constable haul you away!”

Brown made his presence known. “This is Officer Brown, constable from Boston! Open the door!” With a flash of his badge, Brown stood before the window to confront the obstinate disdainful person standing on the other side of the door. “Open up!” Brown repeated.

With a jangle of heavy keys, one found its way into the lock and turned; hinges groaned as the door swung in, allowing the three now-soaked men to enter. Scott pushed past the jailer, his chill forgotten as he rushed to start his search, not knowing where he should be going. But he had to move; he had to find Harlan! He was so close!

The guard wanted answers and questioned the constable; it wasn’t often that the asylum had visitors, especially at this hour.

“Alright, what’s going on here? It’s late, and we’re closed!” Rudely disturbed from his nap, Henry Gross was in no mood to play games.

Scott exploded; he lunged for the guard just as Officer Brown restrained him. “Let me go! They have Grandfather locked away here! I have to find him!”

“He’ll talk, Boston, I’ll make him…” The smile that snaked across Madrid’s mouth matched the ice in his eyes, making the guard think twice about his stubbornness.

Brown was having no part of the delay. “I don’t care if it’s time for Sunday church services. You will help us or be charged with obstruction of justice and collaborating with criminals! Now show us where Harlan Garrett is locked away!”

“What? I can’t do that! I don’t have the authority…”

Johnny stepped forward, the glare lethal. “Then get it… NOW!”

Henry knew he was outnumbered, and all three men looked to be trouble. He wasn’t paid enough for this job and wasn’t about to get himself hurt — there was no way he was going to resist. The tall blond man looked as if he would tear him limb from limb at any moment.

“D-Do you have any proof of who you are?”

Brown reached for the search warrant inside his coat and handed it to Gross. It appeared legal. He met the constable’s eyes, looked again at the paper he held, then acquiesced, hoping there wouldn’t be repercussions later.

“This way.”

Scott pushed ahead, impatient and lost. He faced the guard, urging, commanding they make haste. “Hurry! How much farther?” he demanded.

Henry wondered what was so important about a crabby old man and answered impatiently, determined not to be rushed. “Hold your horses!”

Then, he suddenly found himself pushed forward with a harsh “Get goin’!” directly behind him. Who are these people? But the law was with them — it had to be important… didn’t it?

They went down one long, damp corridor after another. The heels of their shoes clicked off steps on the stone floor. Muffled cries, screams, and groans met their ears. The air became stale and rancid; Scott feared for Harlan’s safety in the damp, moldy chill. Grandfather, I’m coming to get you out of here!

It seemed they’d walked for miles when the guard stopped in front of a solid oak door marked with the number five. He slid the bolts aside, opened the portal, then held the lantern high as the yellow wash slid across the tiny, windowless cell. Lying on a cot, covered with a threadbare blanket, was the skeletal form of Harlan Garrett. Scott’s legs gave out as he collapsed to his knees next to his grandfather and wept.

“Johnny, thank you, brother,” Scott’s strained voice conveyed the gratitude that filled his heart. He didn’t know what he would have done if Johnny had not been there to offer his support, talents, and strength in Scott’s time of need. And now, Johnny was going home… to Lancer. Lancer! Oh, how he wished he was going with him! But, he knew he had to stay until arrangements were made and he put things in order. But soon, he would be home when time allowed.

“Anytime, Boston, anytime. Just take care a yourself, huh? Do whatcha hafta do here an’ don’t worry about us. Your chores will be waitin’ for ya!” Johnny chuckled, hoping to lighten his brother’s mood.

Scott nodded, then sighed, avoiding Johnny’s eyes. The train whistle blew, and the conductor announced the last call of “All aboard!”

Johnny stepped toward the stairs into the car but stopped when Scott said his name. He turned as his brother’s arms wrapped around him in thanks and love. “Thank you, brother,” he repeated, patted Johnny on the back, then stepped away.

“See ya back at Lancer, Scott!” Johnny hopped onto the step as the train began to move; with his hand holding tight to the rail, Johnny watched until Scott faded from his sight, then found a place inside the train car. It was going to be a long, lonely ride to California. But he would manage.

“Hey, Murdoch, there’s a letter from Scott!” Johnny had barely made it into the hacienda before he announced the news. Murdoch, already sitting at his desk, looked up with a hopeful grin. Teresa and Maria came from the kitchen as Johnny crossed the great room and handed Murdoch the envelope.

Nervous fingers ripped the sealed paper as Johnny, Teresa and Maria found their chairs around Murdoch’s desk and waited for him to begin reading.

Murdoch hesitated, wondering if it was the news they hoped to hear or if this letter would tell of inevitable delays. Well, there’s no sense in putting it off… the Lancer Patriarch pulled out the pages and began to read.

Dear Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa, Jelly, and Maria,

I hope this finds you all well and safe. That means you too, Johnny! I know your penchant for trouble and injuries!

They all chuckled, knowing it was a true statement.

I am afraid I will be here in Boston for another month at least, taking care of my Grandfather’s business until certain matters can be determined and proper attention given where needed. There is much to be done, and I have retained legal help and advisement from Samuel Bryant, Grandfather’s former attorney. His guidance has been invaluable in assisting me with direction and decisions regarding Garrett Enterprises.

Handling company affairs has taken the majority of my time. I have enlisted the aid of Grandfather’s former house staff— they had found other employment when Gerald Claydon took over, terminating their tenure and brought in his own people. But it took little persuasion for Grandfather’s entire staff to return to their places in the house. It was a relief as they were the family I had before coming to Lancer and are a great comfort to me. If you cannot be here for me at this time, they are the family I need. I know you can understand.

It was so very close those first several days, but Grandfather is steadily improving. Dr. Martin said he would have had only three or four days had we not found him when we did. I don’t want to dwell on what could have happened but rather on what did. He should come home within the next few days. There will be a full-time nurse until it is deemed otherwise. And yes, Grandfather wants to resume his place, running Garrett Enterprises but has resolved to become a kinder, gentler employer after getting to know Ben Corbett personally and finding he’d lost his wife while trying desperately to seek the medical attention that could have saved her life, and all due to Gerald Claydon’s greed. Believe this or not, he offered Ben a position within the company; one of his duties will be managing employees’ complaints in their jobs.

I can hear you say it— Yes, I am talking about the one and only Harlan Garrett. This incident caused a significant change for the better, and I can only hope it continues. Grandfather always had his good points, but sometimes they were difficult to see. He nearly lost sight of the important things and was becoming… well, we all know what he was. The important thing is now to think of what is to come. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt and will encourage this transformation, this change of heart.

I wish that I had given more serious thought to the matter when I saw a change in writing after I received the letters that were supposedly from Grandfather. They stated he had cut his hand and nerve damage made his handwriting different than it had been. If I had pursued that suspicion, maybe some of this could have been avoided. But it is what it is, and I cannot go back to change anything now.  

Things have progressed quickly regarding the chain of events, as Gerald Claydon “broke”, not prepared to continue the fight. After Johnny made his statement and left for California, the case moved quickly. The documentation in Claydon’s possession implied that Grandfather had moved and left no forwarding address.

Johnny, Officer Brown has asked me on more than one occasion regarding your method of questioning Claydon in the office at Garrett Enterprises. We could hear most of what was said but couldn’t see you. Oh, he did ask me to tell you if you ever wanted a job in the Boston Constabulary, you are to see his Captain, and they would hire you immediately!

Murdoch began to laugh; his anxieties melted away in knowing things would be alright and gave way to the humor thinking about Johnny Madrid Lancer taking a position in Boston! Teresa began to giggle, as did Maria. Johnny smiled, thinking no way in hell he would live in Boston! Then Murdoch continued.

Dr. Martin also testified to the fact there were trace amounts of drugs in Grandfather’s system — drugs thought to alter brain processes and are only now being studied by those qualified in the medical field. That explains how Claydon was able to ‘control’ Grandfather and have his signature on those pertinent documents that allowed him to take over the running of the company.

I know I am forgetting some details, but it is late. There is still much business to finalize, and I am beyond tired, so with that said, I will say goodnight and will write again very soon.

Please, all of you, be well and take care of each other. I’ll return to Lancer when I can. I miss you more than I can say. You know, a funny thing has happened. Spending time in Boston, my home for the first twenty-four years of my life, reminds me just how much I miss California and Lancer. They are two completely different worlds, but I yearn for the mountains of our incredible ranch. There is no place on earth like it. In Teresa’s words when Johnny and I first arrived, it’s the most beautiful place in the whole wide world!

Sending my love,
Scott Garrett Lancer

November 2022


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22 thoughts on “Halfway to Anywhere…And Beyond by Buckskin

    1. Hi, Brenda and thank you very much for the feedback. Glad this one kept you on the edge of your seat- I had no idea where it was going when I wrote it… But Happy that you liked where it ended up!

      I appreciate your thoughts very much!



  1. Thank you u enjoyed this. I would have liked to see Scott back safely at Lancer at the end though because I don’t trust Harlan not to persuade him to stay in Boston

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Jill
    I’m happy you liked this story. Thank you for letting me now. Yes, Harlan is a sneaky one, isn’t he? He’s the man we love to hate who will stop at nothing to get Scotty back to Boston. Well, that’s a good thing- it gives Lancer Fan Fiction a lot of opportunities for more stories!

    Again, thank you for sending feedback. I appreciate it.



    1. Hi, Helen

      Glad you liked this story. It took forever to write! I’ll have to kick my muse in the pants and get her off her lazy butt! Story lines that tickle my fancy (whatever a ‘fancy’ is) are getting harder to come by!

      Thank you for the feedback!



    1. Hi, Lesley! Thank you for your support of my Lancer World, it means a lot to me. That remains the question- is Harlan a changed man… or not?



    1. Hi, Caterina! That’s what an author loves to hear! The reader can’t stop reading… Thank you so much! I appreciate the feedback more than you know!



  3. Your stories are so original and well written-this one in particular is a real mystery and adventure-the Lancer brothers are a formidable twosome and you are a great writer. Thank you for helping to make Lancer live on.


    1. Oh my goodness, Debra! Thank you so much for the glowing feedback! I appreciate your words and support very much.

      Yes, the Lancer boys are quite the pair- what one doesn’t know, the other does, so don’t mess with them!
      Thanks again!



  4. I really like when Johnny is too calm and scares the pants off the bad guys. Loved how Johnny supported his brother and Scott won’t let Johnny put himself down. A nice little mystery that you really don’t expect. But loved how Johnny can adapt to strange new environments. Loved the mix of humor with tension. Great story. Hope the muse strikes again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Kathleen, Yes, Madrid can have that effect on bad guys, huh? It’s important that Scott and Johnny support each other- They grew up not knowing of the other, and each had always wanted a brother (in fanfiction, anyway), and their connection was undeniable. As I love silliness, the banter will usually show up in my stories.

      Thank you for reading and sending feedback- I appreciate it very much!



    1. Thank you, Baye- I’m every happy you enjoyed this story and thank you for letting me know! I appreciate it!



  5. Great story , but I’m with Jill, I can’t see ol Harlan being grateful about anything or changing his ways for very long. Johnny will never be safe as long as Harlan is alive. JML always ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Ruby! Was it Scott’s hopes that Harlan become a kinder and gentler man? Who knows… But as he is caught in the middle, I can see him wanting Harlan to turn over the proverbial new leaf. And yes, Johnny will have to watch his back- but Scott will be there to help!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!



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