Grudges: A Collaboration of Lancer Writers

Word count 12,470

By d.b.brisbin Margaret Schmitz ComptonMarilyn, Amber, MaryO , Becks      

  First Round Robin January of 2012    

    

  1. d.b. Brisbin

Johnny hated the cold.  Even more so, he hated riding home, wet and cold.  The ol’ man was gonna be pissed at him for missing dinner.

2  Margaret

As the shadows were fading and the rain began pouring down harder, Johnny was beginning to think maybe he should have stayed at the line shack.

Marilyn

‘Yeah, I should have stayed at the line shack.’ Johnny thought, but he wanted to beat the winter storm that loomed over the hills. Halfway down the mountain, he thought he was going to make it too, when suddenly the dark sky burst open and down came the freezing, bone-chilling rain. He could have sworn he saw a few snowflakes mixed in.

Now soaked to the bone, shivering uncontrollably, he pushed on well past the threat of being caught in that blizzard he could hear raging behind him.

d.b Brisbin

It was ‘damned if he did, damned if he didn’t’ with the old man.  Yep, the smart thing to do was to stay at the line shack, but the ol’ man was expectin’ him home by dinner tonight, so he had taken the chance.

Although he knew that he’d hear about it for riding in this shit, especially if he caught a cold.

Well, at least he’d sold that stupid bull and gotten the money.  Murdoch would be impressed that he’d already deposited the money in the ranch account before coming home. 

Thunder boomed, and then more snow fell.  What the hell? 

He didn’t have to kick Barranca up and over the hill.  The sound of the thunder had spooked the horse, and the palomino shot forward.

As soon as they settled on the other side, then walking down the rocky hillside, Johnny could see the welcoming glow of light shining from the great room window.

Pulling the top of his collar together a little more, he kneed Barranca, who leaped down onto the flat of the drive leading to the house.

With that, he let out a whoop, and Barranca took off as a bolt of lightning charged across the sky.

Margaret

“WOW!!! Barracca, it sure is nice to be home. Let’s get you taken care of, then I’m off to face whatever.”

All of a sudden, Theresa comes running out.  “Johnny! Oh Johnny, it’s Murdoch. Hold on a minute.”

“ Theresa, slow down and tell me what happened.”

 Then all of a sudden, Maria comes out crying, “He’s out of control.”

6  amberodu

The sweating horse nudged Johnny sharply, shoving him forward a step. Both women fell against him, weeping.


Maria dabbed her eyes with a corner of her heavy shawl as a shout from behind made them all look up. Scott reeled out the door, bleeding heavily from a cut over one eye. He looked up at Johnny through a mask of blood.


“Thank God you’re here,” he whispered, clutching his brother’s arm. “Murdoch’s lost his mind!”

7 Marilyn

 
Johnny was not up nor in the mood to listen to the girl’s hysterical ramblings. He was cold, hungry, and dead tired. But the sight of his brother’s bloodied face got his blood boiling. Jumping down off his horse, Johnny got to tending to Scott’s face.

“Will you two settle down and tell me what is Murdoch all fired up for,” he growled while standing there shriving, wiping the still oozing blood from Scott’s left brow. “What happened, Scott? Tell me!” He demanded, dreading the answer.

“Did you deposit the money for that Bull yet?”  Scott asked instead

.

“Yeah, why?”  Johnny said with confusion.

“So you were there.” Scott heavily sighed. “Well, brother, the bank was robbed, all our money’s gone, not to mention all the other ranchers, and……….”  he heisted, shaking his head.

“And what?”

“They say, no swear, that you were in on the robbery and had killed the deputy while making your escape.”

d.b Brisbin

For just a moment, Johnny thought he’d heard wrong.  He stood motionless, mouth open looking at his brother as if he’d spoken in tongues. 

“John!” 

Murdoch’s bellow woke him from his stupor.

“Did he do this to you, Scott?”

“What?  No.  I got it when that asshole Jim Duggan came over here accusing you of the robbery.”

“JOHN!”

Murdoch was standing in the threshold of the french doors.

“Get in here!  NOW!”

Johnny closed his eyes for a minute, waiting for the desire to remount his horse and head for Mexico to leave.

“Johnny?” 

“Juanito?”

“Brother?”

“Are you okay?” The not-so-welcoming committee suddenly worried about him.


He stared, incredulous at them as he snatched his hat off his head, nodding to the young Mexican boy who took Barranca’s reins from his hands.

“I’m fine, just fine,” he growled.

Margaret

“I hope this is a joke.  I was in town, and I heard nothing about a bank robbery.  I know there was a fight, but I got there after.   I don’t even know why or who was in it.  Now, I come home to the old man bellowing. Scott, what am I supposed to do. The old man, he ain’t goin to believe me.”

10 Mary O.


Scott grabbed his little brother by the arm as he started turning away from the house.


“You are not leaving Johnny. Murdoch’s not mad at you, and he would shoot the whole town before he let anything happen to you!” Scott said as he pulled Johnny into the door.


Johnny looked at his father. He wasn’t so sure he looked protective. Murdoch didn’t speak. He just stood there staring at Johnny.


11 Marilyn

Scott stood behind his brother, not daring to say a word. But he sure as hell would speak up in his brother’s defense if it did come down to Murdoch accusing Johnny before he had his say.

The staring battle continued, and Scott could feel the tension in the air build to a boiling point. Eyeballs, locked on eyeballs.  ‘Will one of you say something.’ he muttered to himself.

It was Johnny who finally broke the silence, not by words but by his uncontrollable shriveling, that caught his father’s attention. The sight of his boy standing there drenched to the bone was all it took to cool down his heated frame of mind for now.   

“You…you better get out of those wet clothes before you catch your death, John. Then we’ll talk,” Murdoch said a little brashly to his quiet boy.

“All right,” Johnny muttered coldly, taking a few steps forward, stopping, flipping open his saddle bag and taking out a piece of paper he made sure stayed dry. “Here.  It’s the receipt for payment of the bull, and I *DID DEPOSIT* in the bank, and that’s all.”

Looking up into his father’s unreadable eyes one more time, Johnny then hurried upstairs, wondering who the hell had it out for him now.

12 Margaret

While Johnny was upstairs changing, Murdoch asked Scott what he thought.

“Well, I’ll tell you, Murdoch, don’t jump to conclusions until you find out what Johnny has to say.” Scott replied.

 “You know, as well as I do, he won’t take my questions easily.”

“Well, Murdoch, the way you have been acting the last hour has the whole house upset. So what are we all supposed to think about your attitude towards Johnny? Like what you were told by a man who isn’t really a friend of yours. Once again, are you going to take his word over Johnny’s?” Scott said with a kind of anger.

Johnny came downstairs, still shivering but dry, and stared up at Murdoch again. 

13 amberodu

Murdoch looked at his son, his hair and clothes dry now, and felt the familiar clutch of anxiety and impotence that often struck him when dealing with Johnny. What to do?


The patriarch stroked his chin, feeling the weight of all the eyes on him. Johnny’s were like chips of ice.


“Son,” he began haltingly. “I guess I owe you an apology.”


Scott lifted a sardonic eyebrow. “Murdoch, you GUESS? I’d say there’s no two ways about it.” 


A hardness in the usually polite Bostonian’s voice added a chill in Murdoch’s soul.
Both of his sons–angry at him. Again. Becoming a family was harder than he’d ever dreamed when he’d set the Pinks on their trails.

14 Marilyn

Blowing out a deep breath, Murdoch poured himself another shot of brandy, God knows he needed it, and walked over to his chair. Turning to face his boys, then eased his huge tired form down. Unsettled by the hard cold looks he’s got from both Scott and Johnny. 

“You boys take a seat, and let’s talk,” Murdoch sternly said, taking a hardy sip of his drink. 

They both stood there for a few moments before making a move. Scott made himself comfortable on the couch while Johnny took a chair closer by the fireplace, welcoming its warming, soothing heat. He was still very chilled from his wet, long ride home.

Johnny looked over at Scott’s face and the bandage over his brow. His blood stirred hot again.

“What I would like to know, Murdoch, is what that good for nothing Jim Duggan had to say? I hear he accused me of being part of that bank robbery.”  Johnny was the first to break the dead silence that suddenly filled the room. “Well?” 


15 Margaret

Duggan rode into town very proud of himself, thinking his plan of getting even with Johnny was to work.

Thinking to himself, “ I’ll make that Johnny Lancer pay for going out with Charlotte. He’s going to regret the day he ever saw her. I wanted her to be mine, then she looks at his smile, and that’s all it took. Well, Johnny Lancer, you will pay”

16 d.b. Brisbin

“Wait a minute!  Just wait a minute!” Scott leaned forward, his temper flaring up again.  “Johnny, I thought you said there wasn’t any bank robbery.” 

“Well, there wasn’t!  I mean, Green River’s a big town, but it ain’t so big that the bank could be robbed and a body not know about it if they were there.”

“Well, what would possess Jim Duggan to come all the way out here to tell a lie that could so easily be disproven?”  Murdoch stared at Johnny.

Johnny glared at his father, unable to tell if he was still angry at him or not.  Things were always so complicated between him and the ol’ man.

The effect of the hot glare dissipated as Johnny’s body chose that moment to involuntarily shiver as the fire slowly waned.

Murdoch saw the tremble, stepped over to Teresa’s chair, and pulled a fringed woolen blanket from it.  In two giant strides, he had placed his drink on the mantle and shook the blanket out, placing it around his son’s shoulders.

Johnny looked up at him as he did. The look in his boy’s eyes tore at his heart.  It was the same look he’d seen in the eyes of abused animals when they finally were extended some kindness.  Wary, fearful, and grateful, all rolled into one.  A fear biter.  Waiting, poised to bite, Johnny was.

Johnny looked down as he pulled the blanket tighter, shaking his head.  “I don’t know.  I don’t even know him, Murdoch.”

“He works at the T Bar D.”

“I know that.  But I ain’t ever had anything to do with him, and  I don’t even think I’ve even played poker or nothin’ with him.  I know he was out there helping with the brandin’ those two times the ranches got together to divvy up the cattle.”

“Well, what did you do in town?”  Murdoch reached for his drink and sat next to Johnny on the sofa, grateful the boy didn’t flinch like he usually did.

“Not much.  I mean, I got back early.  I got there last night.”

“Last night?”  Murdoch couldn’t help but be suspicious.

“Yeah,”  Johnny sighed and looked into the fire.

“Did you run into him in the saloon or something?”

“Didn’t go to the saloon.”  He kept looking at the flames, wishing they make him as warm as the glare on his back from the look he knew Murdoch was giving him.

“I see,”  Murdoch’s terse reply was his clue that the ol’ man knew he’d been at the bordello.

“So it took you all day to get back to the ranch?  What on God’s green earth were you doing all day?  Or do I even want to know the answer to that?”

Johnny shifted and ran his hand through his hair.

“Nothin’ bad.  I, uh, uh, slept in and then went to the bank to deposit the money for the bull.  I had lunch at the place next door.  Then I went by the gunsmith for a bit.  When I left there, I went to get the mail and went to the General Store.  I saw Teresa looking at some hair combs last time we were there, and I went to get her one.  That’s when I met the girl.”

“Girl?”  Scott joined the conversation.

“Yeah.  Brother.  One we haven’t seen before.”  Johnny smiled at Scott.

“We started talking, and one thing led to another, and . . .”

“Oh, Johnny.”

“What?  I didn’t, you know.  God Murdoch!”  His father’s disgust had riled him.  “I ended up renting a buggy and we took a drive.”

“Well, who is she?”  Scott grinned like a Cheshire cat.

“Charlotte.  Charlotte Brady.”

17 Marilyn

Scott raised his eyebrows in amusement. ’Leave it to my little brother to find a pretty girl out of nowhere,’ he thought silently, smirking.

“You’re right, little brother. I’ve never heard of her. Charlotte Brady, you say. Pretty name,” Scott said, still smiling like a Cheshire cat.

“Pretty girl too, Scott. Very sweet and polite.”  Johnny grinned, moving closer to the dwindling fire, pulling the blanket tighter around his neck. “She’s new in town and had bought the dress store Lucy had. You know the bank had it up for sale?” he added sadly, thinking back to that terrible day Lucy was killed.

“Yeah, so somebody finally bought it, huh? Good,”  Murdoch said as he threw another log on the fire, then nonchalantly reached down and placed the back of his hand on his son’s forehead. Frowning how clammy it felt. “Could be Duggan noticed this girl too?”

“Don’t know, maybe.”  Johnny shrugged.

“Well, I say you stay away from Duggan, brother. It seems you did something to anger him enough to cause you trouble,” Scott warned, giving his younger brother a look of great concern.

“But what, Scott?”  Johnny hissed over a stiff yawn. “Maybe tomorrow, I’ll just ride into town, pay Val a visit, and see if there was trouble at the bank.”

18 d.b.Brisbin

Charlotte Brady arrived at her new shop bright and early.  Her head was so full of dreams about Johnny that she all but floated above the flooded streets of Green River.  She wanted to get busy working on that new dress she’d started for herself.  She just knew that Johnny Lancer would ask her to the dance in two weeks, and wanted the people to notice her on his arm, especially.

She lit the lanterns inside, the pouring rain outside making it almost too dark to move around in without them.  She set a pot of water on the stove in the back room for some tea and then set about getting to work on the dress.  With the torrential downpour today, it was unlikely she would have any customers to interrupt her.

Her tea made, she sat down and began working in earnest.  So intent was she that she never noticed a raincoated Jim Duggan staring at her through the window.

19 Margaret

Charlotte heard the door open and saw that it was Duggan.  She stood up to meet him. She had no idea he had seen her with Johnny.

“Jim, what are you doing here? As it’s pouring down rain, I can’t imagine anyone out in this kind of weather,” Charlotte said.

“I see you were out with that Johnny Lancer. You won’t go out with me, but that KILLER is good enough to go out with. I know for a fact you won’t be seeing any more of him. I’ll see to that,”

Duggan spat those words out too harshly for Charlotte to feel comfortable anymore.

“I think, Jim, you need to leave. What I do is my business, and you have no say.”

Duggan stood up, and went towards Charlotte.

20  d.b. Brisbin

Duggan grabbed her roughly by the elbow.  “I have every right.  I’ve spent the last three weeks courtin’ you.  Bringing you flowers, totin’ your packages, escourtin’ ya home on Saturday nights after work.  Takin’ it slow and proper.” 

Charlotte suddenly felt sick.  He had done those things for her, and all the time, not making any forward moves, like asking her out.   She had wanted him too, until yesterday, when she met Johnny.

He shook her hard. “Now, you listen to me.  You are MY girl!  Hear that!  Mine!”

Terrified, she could only nod.

21 Margaret

“I don’t want to even hear you have even talked or had anything to do with that killer, or you will find out how unforgiving I am,” Jim spoke quietly and with harsh anger tones at Charlotte. “Do you understand me?” he repeated again.

“I understand you now you leave and leave me alone,” she stated.

After a few minutes, he turned and left.

22 Marilyn

As soon as Jim walked out the door, Charlotte hurried over and peered out the window. She wanted to make sure he was long gone before she locked the door and put up the closed sign. With the raging downpour outside, the town was quite dead, there would be no business today, and she knew what she had to do. 

The frightened girl pulled her shades down and stood there pondering. The sinister look in Jim’s dark, cold brown eyes had struck utter fear in her heart, not only for herself but for Johnny.  It was a side of Jim that shook her entire being. 

“I’ve got to warn Johnny.”  She shivered, rubbing her arm, still sore from Jim’s deadly grip. “But how?” 

Charlotte wasn’t about to let Duggan harm Johnny in any way, all because of her. When she looked into Johnny’s warm blue eyes that day they took that buggy ride, she knew right there and then he was not as others had said. She saw a man who would fight to the death to save her from any type of danger, unlike Duggan, who had threatened to end her life if she disobeyed him. 

Not going to let this happen, Charlotte grabbed her raincoat and hurried out the back door. She scurried through the wet, muddy alleyways until she reached Val’s office and quickly made her way inside before she was spotted. 

23 Becks

Val was hunkered down, getting more wood for the stove, when he heard the door open and some footsteps rushing in. 

“Now, who the hell is plum loco to be out in this rain?”  He turned and saw Charlotte standing there dripping wet.  “Oh, excuse me, ma’am.  Didn’t reckon on seeing no… uh.  Please sit down.”  He turned to get her a towel but noticed it wasn’t too clean, so he tossed it out of sight.  “Care for some coffee, ma’am?” 

“No, Sheriff, thank you.  I am fine.”  She sat shaking some of the wet off her. 

Val walked over and sat behind his desk, trying to look all professional, especially since he rarely had females coming into his office, except for that bitty old widow.  He sat and waited. 

Breaking the silence, Val leaned in. “What can I do you for, ma’am?” 

“Oh, sheriff, I need your help.”  She started to sniff. 

‘Good, now we’re getting someplace.’  He leaned in some more. “Uh, huh?  And now, how might I help ya’ out?”    He waited. 

“Sheriff, I’m concerned about a friend of yours.  At least he said you and he were friends.”  She looked at him with anxious eyes. 

Friend, who?’  His mind was now counting all the friends he had in the world. ‘Can only think of one who might offer a concern.’  He leaned back a bit. “Uh, huh? Now, who might this person be?  Who claims to be my friend?” 

“His name is Johnny, sheriff.”  She started to cry. 

She had his utmost attention.  “Uh, huh? That wouldn’t be Lancer, Johnny Lancer, ma’am?” 

Between gulps and sniffles, she gave him an answer he did not want to hear.  “Why yes….  Sheriff…  Lancer, Johnny Lancer.”  She started to calm down a bit.

Ah, shit. Johnny, what the hell did ya do to this gal?’  He sat up closer and stared at her, trying not to show any reaction that might alarm her.  “Wha’d he do, ma’am?  Ya’ want me to arrest him?”  He was controlling his breathing.

“Good God, no sheriff!  I don’t want you to arrest him.”  Wiping her eyes, she gave him a puzzling look.  “Why sheriff, I only recently met him, but he’s been an absolute gentleman.  Why he is so…” She sat back and rolled her eyes.  “…he’s so amazing.”

Amazingly loco.’  Val was trying real hard not to react alarmingly.  “Uh, huh?  Well, then, ma’am, care to tell me what the concern is about?”  Not blinking an eyelid, he just stared at her, waiting.

“Oh, Sheriff, he just… needs…  I  am so afraid that….”  And there she blew, full-out hysterical crying. 

See, now Val can’t handle crying women, especially hysterically crying women.

‘Damn that boy!  I swear…’  He was on edge and his breathing was slowly getting heavier.  “Uh, ma’am….  Please…  I need to know what all is the problem.”  He leaned in some more, placing his palms on the desk and speaking in a sterner voice. “Ma’am, I really need you to stop that… stop… please, ma’am, stop crying and talk to me.” 

Controlling herself, she sat up straight.  “It’s not Johnny’s fault, but I am afraid he’s in danger.”  She sighed.  “It’s a man called Duggan, Sheriff.  He’s the problem.” 

Still trying to control his reaction, Val practically climbed over his desk.  “Uh, huh?  A man called Duggan?…  And Johnny?…  Tell me, ma’am, do I need to arrest anyone for something that shouldn’t ‘a happen’d to….to….ya’ and… did?  Ma’am?”

She stood up.  “Why no sheriff!  They have not done anything to me.  They’ve been perfect gentlemen, both of them!”

OK, that did it.  Val was now turning beet red. ‘Johnny, another man and a crazy dame.’  He stood up, waved his arms around, and walked right up to Charlotte.

“See here, young lady, you jus’ cain’t walk into my office from a rain storm, mention a friend of mine, cry like a loony, mention another man’s name, and expect me to… What, ma’am?  What do you expect me to do?”

She looked at him with bewilderment.  “I expect you to help your friend out, Sheriff.  There is a possible threat for both of us from Duggan!”  Once more, she sat and started to cry again.  “I’m scared, Sheriff, for both of us. Please help me.”

‘Hell, there she goes again.’  He calmly walked back to his chair and slumped down on it. “Uh, huh?  Ok, tell me everything, and this time, do it without crying.”  He waited with elbows on the desk and face in the palms of his hands.

24 Margaret

Val was so frustrated at the girl he didn’t even know her name. “Now, Miss, I can’t help out at toll if’n you don’t do no talkin’ to me. The longer it takes you to stop cryin, the longer it takes me to get to helpen out. So please just stop the cryin.”

“ Yes, I’m sorry, Sheriff, it’s just that Jim Duggan saw that I had gone out with Johnny, and he threatened me by saying that if I go out with Johnny anymore, it will be the last thing he will ever do. And he said he promised that. He said he had fixed it anyway so that Johnny would not go out with anyone. He is sure of it, he told me. Sheriff, I know you are a friend of Johnny’s, and I don’t want any harm coming to him. Whatever James has planned, he has already started it. I am afraid of him for myself but most of all for Johnny.”

The Sheriff smiled at her. “What is your name, mite I ask?”

“Charlotte, sir, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself. I am Charlotte Brady.”

“Well, my dear, you just head home, and I will have a talk with Johnny tomorrow. For tonight I’ll walk you home.  Tomorrow do not open your door for nobody. I will send someone over to keep a watch on your place so just wait until I get back to introduce you.”

Meanwhile, standing in the shadows was a very angry man.

25 Marilyn

Around the corner of Val’s office stood Jim Duggan, steaming mad, his nostrils flaring like a raging bull. ‘How dare she even go to the sheriff,’ he snarled to himself. Though he couldn’t hear a word said over the storm, he had a pretty good idea what was said.

Then suddenly, the door slowly opened, again his eyes seeing red when he spied Val’s exiting with Charlotte, with his arm around her no less. Jim could hear Val assuring the girl that all would be okay as he kindly escorted her across the street, ruining his chance to confront her. So having no choice, he lit out for home to work more on his plan to ruin Johnny and, if need be, Charlotte herself.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch,  Johnny stood by the French doors, staring out into the yard, cringing at each lightning strike. Thankful he was banned from going into town by his mule-headed father, at least for today. He wasn’t feeling too well after that long, cold wet ride home yesterday, and somehow Murdoch could sense that. So he’ll stay home, for now, relishing the warmth and comfort.

“What’s on your mind, son?”  Murdoch asked softly.

“Oh, what’s going on in town,” Johnny sighed. “I’m anxious to hear what Val says about this Jim fellow and if there was really a robbery.”

“Well, tomorrow is soon enough. By then, it should stop raining.”

“You hope,” Johnny hissed. “This has to be the worst winter storm yet, Murdoch,” he added, twirling around and walking over to the fireplace, rubbing his hands, and glaring into the flames.

“There’s something else on your mind.  Right, brother?”  Scott smiled wickedly.

“Yeah, Charlotte.”

26 d.b. Brisbin

“She must be something special, brother.”  Scott kept up his wicked smile.

“No.  Not really.  She’s not for me.”

“What do you mean?  You only just met her and took her on a buggy ride!”

Johnny turned to face his brother.

“I mean, she’s not for me.  After gettin’ to know her on that ride, I ain’t that interested, is all.  ‘Cept now, I gotta worry about some idiot being jealous enough of a buggy ride to accuse me of robbin’ the bank! So, of course, I gotta worry about her.”

“I see.  Well, what changed your mind about her?”

“I think she might be the kind that’ll set her sights on me if I take her out again.  THAT kind.”

Scott laughed, “I see.”

“Besides, after spending all that time with her, she wouldn’t let me have one little kiss or touch her or nothing.  I’m used to ah… ah..,”  Johnny looked back to see Murdoch staring at him.

“A more mature woman?”  Scott answered for him, knowing exactly what Johnny’s problem was.

Johnny certainly wasn’t the kind to buy a cow without trying the milk first, and he didn’t trust or wait well.

27 Margaret

Val walked back into his office thinking to himself, “Johnny, why’n your always gett’n your self into messes like this. You don’t even hav ta look  and it comes right at ya. Now I has ta go and let’s ya know what’s goin on.”

Jim Duggan, frustrated with Charlotte, decided he was going to find Johnny and put an end to what he thinks is a problem.

“ Hi! Pete, I need you to send me a telegram right away!”

28 Marilyn

Jim knew what he wanted to do and couldn’t do it alone. So he sent a telegram to an old friend, who owed him a huge favor and decided to call him on it. Together they would put an end to Johnny Madrid Lancer, the man who threatened any attempts to get closer to  Charlotte.  Feeling confident that this would work, he waited for an answer then the hunt would begin.

Meanwhile, Val waited out the storm that relentlessly forged on. There was no way to get to Lancer today. He knew most of the roads leading down the hill would be too dangerous to travel, even on horseback. One good missed step, and it would be certain death. Having no choice but to stay put, he just stood there peering out the window, noting not a soul moving about except Jim Duggan, leaving the Telegram office and sneaking off down the flooded street, like a thief in the night, which struck Val odd.

“Now, what do we have here? That Duggan fellow acting mighty suspicious, I say. Who in the blazes would he send a telly off to?”  Val grunted, scratching his scruffy face. “Oh, I have a bad feeling it’s not going to bold well for Johnny. Damn this storm, will it ever quit?”  

29 d.b. Brisbin

Johnny opened his eyes and saw Murdoch and Scott standing over him, concerned looks on their faces.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” his voice was crusty.

“Are you sick, Johnny?”  Murdoch reached over and felt his forehead.

He looked at Murdoch like he was crazy, pulling back from him.  “What are you doing?”

“You’ve got a fever.”

“What?  No, I don’t.  What are ya’ll doing in here botherin’ a man on Sunday when he’s tryin’ to sleep.”

“Grumpy too,”  Scott added.

“Funny, Scott.”  Johnny glared at his brother.

“Disoriented, scratchy voice.”  Scott turned and gave Murdoch a serious look.

“Yes,” Murdoch’s reply was somber.

“What’s wrong with the two of you?  Sam die and you practicin’ your doctorin’ on me?  You can stop.”

“It’s not Sunday, Johnny.”

“I think you have a cold, son.”

His body involuntarily agreed with his father’s diagnosis by launching him into a raspy coughing spell.

When he stopped, he knew he couldn’t deny it.  He felt terrible.

“Johnny, when you didn’t answer my knock, I came in, and you didn’t even move.  I called you several times before Murdoch came back in.  You’re pretty pale.”

Johnny shivered and pulled the covers up some.  “It’s cold in here.”

“Go back to sleep, son.”

“You know, for once, I’m not gonna argue with you, Ol’ Man.”

Johnny slid down into the bed and turned over to face the window, pulling the covers up.

It was still pouring outside, and he had no desire to go out into that whatsoever.

*********


Back in Cross Creek, a young dark-haired man stepped off the train.  People moved away from him.

Something about his dark, angry look and the gun worn low and tied tightly down on his leg frightened them.

He stared at his surroundings. Pulling his hat down low, he buttoned up his long raincoat. 

It wouldn’t be long now.  All he had to do was catch the stage to Green River, and then, he would be able to face the man that had killed his brother. The man he had sworn to kill.  Johnny Madrid.

30 Becks

The stranger read the telegram he’d received from Duggan and walked up to the stage depot.  He looked around and noticed it was empty except for the attendant.  He glared at the nervous man behind the counter as he requested a seat on the next stage to Green River.

The attendant gulped and informed him that there weren’t any stages going anytime soon due to the storm making the roads impossible for a stage to travel on.

The man just crunched the telegram in his hand and grunted loudly.  “Where can I get a horse then?”

“Uh, at the stable down yonder by the general stores to yur right out that door….  sir.”

He walked out without a thank you and threw the telegram on the floor.

*********

“So, caught yourself a cold?”

“Yup,  it was jus’ hangin’ ‘round wait’n me.” Feeling miserable he could barely make Sam out through the tears forming in his eyes.  He sneezed three consecutive times, then let out a hoarse cough.  “Ow.”

“Son, it seems you are getting more than a cold.  Let me check you out.” Sam did a thorough exam.  “Johnny, you are on the verge of getting pneumonia.  I highly recommend you follow my instruction to the letter if you expect to get out of this bed.”  He glared at him very sternly.

“Believ’ me Sam, I don’ thin’ I can even (sneeze, sneeze, cough, groan)…  I peel like shet.” He closed his eyes as some tears streamed down his cheek.  “Don’ like tis.”

Well, that’s a first admitting he feels horrible. Now I am worried.’ Sam gave him a sympathetic smile and patted him on the leg.  “I’ll get Teresa to prepare that special tea for you, and  I don’t want to let that fever go up any higher.”

“Me eader, Sam,” Johnny sniffed and rolled over into a ball.

********

Duggan was infuriated when he discovered that the stage would not arrive.  He couldn’t believe his luck.  He was also keeping a close eye on Charlotte’s place, making sure she did not meet up with Johnny. 

No one knew Johnny was at home ill. If not, Val would have probably made an extra effort to ride over, and Charlotte might have joined him and Duggan; he wouldn’t have been so anxious about his friend not arriving on a stage.

31 Marilyn

With the storm still raging outside, Murdoch refused to let Sam return back to town. He was mighty grateful and amazed that the old gent, Doc, had made it here in the first place. But Sam, who had grown to love the boy like his own, would not let no storm keep him from Johnny’s side, not when he was this sick. And no doubt he would have a few choice words for the young Lancer once he’s up to listening.

Taking a room next to Johnny’s, Sam rested his old bones and waited for the storm to subside and Johnny’s fever to go down.

A few towns away from Morro Coyo, the dark young stranger also waited out the rainstorm in a run-down room. After coming across some washed-out roads and bridges, he had no choice but to backtrack, taking a detour to this out-of-the-way shabby old town looking more like a ghost town.

Lucky for him, it had a saloon, if ya call it that. He slammed the busted bat-wings doors open and insolently ordered a bottle of tequila. Then took refuge in his room, not wanting to bother the locals. Besides, he had plans to make.

“Soon, Madrid, soon,” he coldheartedly snorted, gulping down the tequila like it was water. “You’ll rule the day you’d killed my big brother. Yes sir ye, when ole Joe Toledano gets done with ya, ya wished you had never been born. My brother was the best, that’s why Pardee hired him on, but no, you …had to and kil….l him, betra…ying Pardee,” drunkenly snarled the gunhawk, finishing off the bottle and throwing it against the wall. “Yep, you…r a dead….ma…n…Mad..rid,” he grimly vowed as he slipped into a deep drunken slumber.

32 d.b. Brisbin

Murdoch, followed by Scott, pushed the partially open door back, revealing Johnny sitting in his stuffed chair, pulled near the fireplace.  The small writing table had been moved next to the chair.  Johnny wore a black silk robe, one Scott had commissioned for him not long after they came to Lancer.

Johnny had made fun of Scott’s, so he found it ‘fitting’ that Johnny had one as well.  Knowing Johnny would never wear one like his, he had a black one made, filled with a thin layer of wool in between its lining and exterior, and had silver piping on the edges.  Scott got the idea from Johnny’s bolero jacket, and he had even had a couple secret pockets for concealing a weapon.

Johnny also wore some sheepskin moccasins that Teresa had gotten him for Christmas, having gone through Val to have his Indian woman friend make them.  Underneath, he wore long johns, top and bottom.

“Johnny, how are you feeling, son?”

Johnny, a picture of pure misery, looked up.   “A little better.”

“Sam says you’ve passed the danger of pneumonia, just a very bad cold.”  Scott stepped around his father and placed Johnny’s lunch tray on the table.  A snort escaped him as he did so.

“What’s so funny, Scott?”

“Sorry, Johnny, it’s just that you just look so debonair in your robe.”

Johnny gave Scott a quick glare.  “It’s warm.”

Scott laughed again, “I suddenly feel like a servant, serving the lord of the manor.”  He poured Johnny a cup of hot coffee.

Murdoch let out a snort of his own then.

“I fuckin’ dying here, and you two are making jokes.”

Murdoch’s laughter filled the room.

“What the hell’s wrong with you, Ol’ Man.  I swear, I think Maria left the kitchen door open and a couple of hyenas got in.”

Murdoch laughed harder, putting his hand over his chest.

Scott and Johnny both stared at him.

“I’m sorry, son.  It’s just that, well, your expression, it reminds me of when you were little.  You would get angry and pout.  Your mother called it your ‘pouty face’.”

It was Scott’s time to burst into laughter.  “Pouty face?”  He was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his face and Murdoch joined him, laughing again.

The expression on Johnny’s face was murderous.  He flounced away from them and toward the fire in his chair, only turning back to snag his cup of coffee.

“And John, watch your language, boy!” Murdoch couldn’t stop laughing.

Johnny just flicked his hand at them and they heard “Pffft!” coming from the other side of the chair.

********

Meanwhile, the rain outside had begun to slacken just a bit as Joe Toledano rode into Morro Coyo, slow and steady, just like the rain coming down on him and the tiny, unsuspecting town.

33 Margaret

Joe Toledano went straight to the saloon and asked for a room. He went to his room. While he was thinking, Duggan came knocking at his door.

“My name is Jim Duggan. I’m hoping your name is  Joe Toledano. If you are, then we have someone to discuss.”

“Well, I am Joe Toledano.  I’m here for only one reason and that’s to put an end to Johnny Madrid. So if you have the information I need, we can speak our business down in the saloon.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea since here in town, Johnny is better known as Johnny Lancer, who has a lot of friends who come into town. So it’s better to talk here. Cause even the sheriff is his closest friend,” Duggan told Toledano.

34 Mary O.

“Ok, Duggan, sit down. Tequila?” Toledano said. He sounded surly.

Duggan nodded. He felt nervous. He hadn’t expected such a professional-looking gunfighter. When he looked at his low-slung gun, it scared him. He had never been this close to someone like Toledano before. For a moment, he wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

As he poured Duggan’s tequila Toledano said, “Of course, I know Madrid goes by Lancer now. He killed my brother, double-crossing Pardee for his old man’s ranch. And I’m not worried about his friends. No god damn two horse town people are going to stop me from killing Madrid, sheriff or no.”

Duggan swallowed and, with a thin smile, asked what the plan was.

“Get me the girl,” is all the gunfighter said.

********

Back at Lancer, Johnny had moved from the chair to the couch. The fire still burned bright, but that wasn’t what was keeping him warm.   He had been secretly touched by his gifts from Scott and Teresa, though he would never admit it to them. He knew both had taken such care to get him things he would like.

But the best gift of all he got tonight was when Murdoch kidded him about his two-year-old pout. It was the first time he heard his father talk about the past. The past when they were together, father and son.

He had covered up how he really felt and he knew it. Because it meant the world to him.

35 Becks

Duggan just stared at Joe.  ‘Why does he want Charlotte? God help me.’  He looked down to the floor, “Um, why must I get the girl?  She shouldn’t be a problem for you in getting Madrid.” 

Joe just gave him a deadly stare. “Ain’t nobody ever questioned my reasons.  You gonna find out real fast what happens to those that do.”  He stepped closer to Duggan.

Duggan suddenly felt the blood leave his body.  “Ok, just give me some time to figure out a way to get her over here, but you’d better not hurt her!” 

“So now you’re telling me how to handle my business.  You sure do have a death wish, don’t ya’?” He busted out in a cynical laugh and just as quickly stopped and looked at Duggan. “Get the hell out of here and do your part!”  He turned away, then stopped and called out.  “What’s the name of that sheriff?” 

Duggan stood at the door.  “Crawford, Val Crawford.”  He walked out, head down with regret. 

Joe just stood and placed his palm on the gun. “Figures.”

36 Margaret

Johnny was getting really mad at Murdoch at breakfast.

“Murdoch, I just can’t sit here and do nothing. I know I am feeling bad but to spend the day in bed, I ain’t doin.”

“Now, Johnny, you do as your dad, and I tell you,” Sam said as he walked into the kitchen. “For one thing, this is the second time around with that cold which could, or shall I say can, get a lot worse.”

“Johnny, I want no arguing about it. I want you back in bed,” Murdoch replied.

“You all treat me like a little kid!!” Johnny yelled, stomping his way up the back stairs.

Meanwhile, back in town, Charlotte got up, went to her kitchen, and stared with fear in her eyes.

“Jim, how did you get in here and past the guard?”

37 Marilyn

Jim glared at Charlotte. “Never mind how I got past that guard. Let’s say he’s taking a long nap. Now, you’re coming with me,” Jim growled as he lunged forward, grabbing the frightened girl by the arms. “There is somebody I want you to meet.”

Charlotte fought with all her might to break free from Jim’s strong death grip but to no avail. The evil she saw in his eyes sent a bone-shattering chill down her spine.

“Who…who wants to meet me?” she shrieked. “Let go. You’re hurting me.”

“No, my darling, it’s not me who’s gonna be hurting you. I’ll leave that to my friend if you don’t obey him,” Duggan cruelly warned. He then looked coldly into her fearful eyes. “We need you to get Madrid’s attention, and you’re our bait.”

Charlotte’s heart sunk, horror racing through her veins, ‘What have I gotten Johnny into? Or me?’ she silently cried as Jim brutally forced the girl from her home.

*****************

Johnny stormed into his room, slamming the door shut and flopping down in his chair. Still fuming from the argument between his stubborn old man and Sam.

“Treating me like a baby, who the hell do they think they are?” he hissed as another wave of chills ravished his thin, weak torso, quickly cooling down his heated thoughts.

As much as he hated to admit, though, they were right, he felt like hell. He began shivering hard, his chest constricted, urging the young gunfighter to climb back under those blankets and wait it out.

The last thing he needed was to get worse, as Sam had warned.  He needed to get well just enough to travel to Green River and find out what Jim Duggan was up to.

Okay, first, we need to clear up a little something.  Toledano got off the train at Cross Creek and somehow ended up in Morro Coyo.   However, Charlotte, Duggan, and Val are all in Green River, as that is where Val is the sheriff. 

So, there is a little drop there.  No biggie, but part of the idea of a round robin is to pick up from the last thread, move forward, and keep some consistency.   ANYWAY, don’t let it stop anyone from writing!

38 d.b. Brisbin

Charlotte was terrified as Duggan forced her up the back stairs of the hotel.  She had no idea what to expect, so she expected the worst.  Her only hope was the sheriff. 

Duggan banged on the door, and she almost choked.  A dark, handsome stranger opened the door, but the coldness of his eyes sent a chill down her spine. 

The stranger snatched the door open wider , and Duggan pushed Charlotte roughly inside.  She stood quivering as the stranger’s eyes all but undressed her as he looked her up and down.

“So this is your bait for Madrid?” He kept staring at her.

“Yep.  Charlotte, meet Joe Toledano.” 

Duggan’s smug introduction did nothing to impress her.  She just looked at Toledano.  He reminded her a lot of Johnny, except he didn’t have Johnny’s blue eyes, and this man’s eyes were cold, cold, cold.

Toledano moved so fast, that she didn’t know what was happening until it was too late.  He had thrown her on the bed and had her pinned down.  He reached to unbuckle his belt when Jim’s face appeared above her and behind Toledano.

“What the hell are you doin’?”  Jim grabbed Toledano and pulled him off her. 

Toledano returned the move with a punch to the stomach, knocking Duggan back a few steps, giving himself time to get his balance.  But Duggan recovered and was on him again.  The two struggled and fell over a chair. 

Charlotte lept off the bed and headed for the door.  It was locked, and she couldn’t find the key.  She looked back, and Toledano was getting the best of Duggan. 

Desperate, she looked around the room and saw Toledano’s rig hanging off the bedpost.  She ran to it and pulled the Colt out of the holder. 

The gun was heavy.  She turned back and saw that Toledano had Duggan on the floor under him and was pummeling his face.   Charlotte pointed the gun at him, but too afraid to pull the trigger, she turned it around, walked over, and hit him on the back of the head with the butt of the weapon. 

Toledano went down with a heavy thud.  Horrified, she stepped back. 

Duggan lay on the floor panting.  He looked up and rasped out, “Thanks.”

He lay there another moment and then rolled over. 

“How come you’re not high tailing it out of here?”

“The door’s locked.”

He nodded and remained on his knees.  He turned Toledano over and felt in his front pockets until he found the key.

“I’m sorry about this.”  He stood and staggered to the door.  “Are you okay?”

She nodded.

“Okay, let’s get out of here.”  He unlocked the door and they walked out together.  As they made their way down the back hallway, he slipped his arm around her and pulled her tight, and she responded but snuggled against him.

39 Becks

While supporting each other in a slight embrace, they made it to the Sheriff’s office.  Out of breath and somewhat exasperated, they explained their dilemma to Val. 

Val just sat there and quietly took in all the information.

“Let me get this straight.”  His stride was a bit forceful as he walked around his desk toward Duggan.  There were definite arrows shooting out of his eyes.  Duggan held his breath.  “YOU were the one who sent for Joe, RIGHT?” his bellow almost shook the jail. 

“Sheriff, please, I wasn’t thinking straight. I swear I didn’t….” 

Val stopped him cold.  “You are damn right. You weren’t thinking right, and you didn’t give any other thought to the consequences that might befall others.”  He scowled and ran his hand down his face.  Standing just a few feet in front of Duggan, he maintained his hands into fists, ready to sock the shit out of that idiot.  “Where the fuck did you leave Toledano?”  Then he bowed at Charlotte, “Excuse me, ma’am.”  Immediately grabbing Duggan by the shirt, he pulled him closer to his face.  “I asked ya’ a damn question fool!” 

“At, at the hotel… in his room.”  

Val pushed Duggan into a cell, locked him up, and then told Charlotte to stay there.  Mumbling obscenities and excusing himself to Charlotte, he rushed out the door while buckling his gun belt. 

Meanwhile, Toledano lay on the floor and was slowly regaining consciousness.  He rolled over onto his back and lay there, trying to focus on his surrounding.

40 d.b. Brisbin

Val entered the hotel, gun in hand.  “Gimme the key to room #15.”

The clerk, eyes wide at the sight of the grubby sheriff who no longer looked grubby but about as frightening as anyone he’d ever seen, dropped the key.  His hand was shaking so hard.

He almost dropped it again when the sheriff glared at him.

Val took the front stairs two at a time.  As he neared the room, he changed his plan.

At the door, he dropped the key, pointed his Colt at the door, and kicked it in.

The door slammed open so hard that the knob gouged a hole in the wall on the inside.

Val’s eyes darted around the room. The empty room. There was no trace of Joe Toledano.

DAMN!

41 Margaret

The first place Val decided to look was the livery. He noticed that Toledano’s horse was gone. So, he decided to go back to the jail, thinking Toledano had left town.

As he entered the jail, he saw the worried look on Charlotte’s and Duggan’s faces.

“What did you really think when I went to his room, that he’d be there?  I got news for yas he ain’t there and his horse is gone.” Val didn’t even realize how mad he sounded.

“Hey, Val, I’m sorry I was thinkin of getting Charlotte out of there.” While Duggan was talking, Val yelled at him, “Since when was ya thinkin.  You put her there.”

Meanwhile, Toledano has crawled in through a back window at Charlotte’s shop.

42 Becks

Joe was infuriated when he noticed the girl had not returned to her shop.  ‘Damn that man, where the hell did he take her?’ 

Joe wandered around the shop, contemplating his next step.  He needed to get their attention and fast.  Grabbing the lanterns, he spilled the kerosene all around the shop and lit it. 

The flames quickly spread throughout the shop and he made his escape in time to hear somebody yelling, “Fire! Fire!”.  He weaseled his way into a dark area and waited.

As predicted, Val came running when he heard all the commotion; following right behind him was Charlotte.  Reaching the shop, she moved over to the middle of the street and gasped in horror as she watched her lively hood going up in flames.  As she moved away from the intense heat, a hand came up from behind and wrapped itself around her mouth.  She tried to fight the grip but was lifted by an arm and carried away.

Val was too preoccupied with directing people as they fought the fire that he didn’t even notice she had followed him.  Duggan, on the other hand, was watching from the cell window and had seen the event taking place.  He yelled at the top of his lungs, but his words went unheard.

Meanwhile, back at Lancer, Johnny woke up from his sleep, stretched out, and waited to see how his body reacted to his cold.  Slowly removing the covers, he swung his legs off the bed and sat there.  To his surprise, he did not feel as bad, but when he stood, he could still feel the after-effects of a lingering cold, but it wasn’t as bad as before.

Johnny sighed with relief and walked out to get some coffee. ‘ bout time I started feeling better.’

Yawning, he made his way to the kitchen and bumped into Murdoch.

“Well, son, how do you feel?”  He reached out to touch his forehead.  Not feeling any signs of fever, he gave Johnny a smile.  “Hungry?”

Johnny just nodded and kept walking to the kitchen. ‘Still treats me like a kid.’ Then he smiled.  He’d rather have that than what he had before Lancer.

43 Marilyn

Charlotte’s small dress shop was destroyed in a matter of minutes.  They did all they could to save it, but the flames had engulfed it, morphing into a huge fireball.  All they could do was keep the fire from spreading to nearby bigger businesses while others watched in horror as the building began to disintegrate into a large pile of ash.

Val distraughtly shook his head. As town sheriff, he felt like he’d let the good folks of this town down when things like this happened. People like Charlotte had moved here for a new beginning, and now her dream is gone in one huge puff of smoke.

“Damn, she had to be watching,” Val groaned, realizing he had better go and comfort the girl and give her a strong shoulder to cry on.

Val hurried back to the jail, totally unaware of her abduction.

“Miss Charlotte, where are you?” he called in as he rushed through the open door, suddenly getting a strong notion something was wrong when the hairs on his neck began to tingle.

“Gone, sheriff, she’s gone!”  Jim hollered from his cell.

“What do you mean gone?” Val hissed as he scanned the room. “Where is she?”

“Toledano took her while ya all was fighting that fire, I have no doubt he started,” Jim angrily snorted.

“God only knows what he’ll do to her.”

Val stumbled backward and hung his head. “I know damn well what he’ll do to her,” he muttered in despair, rubbing his tired eyes.

Just then, Sam came rushing in after arriving back from Lancer to find his town in an uproar.

“Val, what in the blazes happened here? I just got back from Lancer, and Johnny’s been pretty sick and….”

Val’s head shot up in fright as a terrifying thought crossed his foggy mind if Joe has Charlotte, what’s going to stop him from going after Johnny too.

“I got to go to Lancer. Got to warn Johnny.” Val muttered as he grabbed his hat and hightailed it for the Liberty stable.

44 Margaret

Val had gotten on his horse and was riding to Lancer.  “Where on earth can Toledano have gotten off to. I was never exspectin him to stay in town.  Maybe he’s still there, I guess so.  Oh! This looks great. I’m talkin to myself at least wise I’m alone.”

While Val kept riding on towards Lancer, he had no idea he was being followed.

“Well, little Missy, I guess the sheriff is going to lead me to where Johnny is. Won’t he be surprised when I sneak in with you,” Joe said smugly to a gagged Charlotte.

Riding into the ranch, Val saw Scott coming out to meet him.

“Hey Scott, how’s it going with you?  I came to talk to Johnny.  Heard he’s sick.”Val said.

“He was pretty sick a couple of days ago, but I tell you now, Val, he’s on his way to feeling better. How’s it going in town, Val. I heard you had some trouble with that Duggan fellow,” Scott said.

“Well, I did, but it’s important I talk to Johnny now, Scott. Is he up?”

“Sure, Val, come on in. I’ll get him for you.”

Meanwhile, not far from the house stood a lone man hidden. Thinking to himself, ‘Well, Johnny, I guess you have done very well for yourself. Maybe, and I mean maybe, you’ll help me out.’

45 Marilyn

“Well, well, buddy boy, didn’t expect to see you out of bed,” Val sarcastically snorted as he walked into the great room, spying Johnny sitting by the fireplace, with a blanket draped over his shoulders and sipping on a hot cup of coffee. “What did they do, let you out for good behavior?”  

“Oh ha, ha, Val,”  Johnny hissed. “No, I’m feeling much better, and I just couldn’t stay in bed, knowing what that no good Duggan was trying to do. Matter of fact, I was going to send for ya, since I’m NOT allowed to leave the ranch yet.” He irately added, glaring at his quiet father sitting over by his desk.

Noting the worried expression on Val’s face. “What is going on in town, Val?” Murdoch calmly asked. 

“Val?”

“May I?”  Val asked, pointing to the coffee pot, stalling for time as he tried to gather the right words, though there wasn’t a good way to put it.

“Sure,”  Johnny said. “Help yourself. Now tell us what’s going on in town, will ya?”

Val poured himself a cup, took a deep breath and just said it. “It’s not good, Johnny. Duggan stirred up a hornet nest. It seems he’s plum jealous about you and Miss Charlotte.”

“Oh, come on, Val. I have no real interest in her. We just had a nice time that day, and that’s all. Nothing came of it. I promise,” Johnny disgustedly informed. “What did he do or say to get you all riled up?”

“Well, he sees it different and went plum loco. I mean, he wanted to make sure you were out of the picture and hired himself a killer to take you out. And then everything went to hell,” Val hesitantly informed.

“How, Val?’  Scott dreadfully inquired, joining his brother by the fire. He had a feeling Johnny was going to need his support.

“Well, Duggan changed his mind after he forced Miss Charlotte to his gunmen’s room and was almost…” Val paused, scratching the back of his neck. There was no need to go into the unpleasant details.  “Well, after they made their escape,  her shop was burnt down and now she’s been kidnap. And I thought you all should know. Cause I got a gut feeling he’s coming after you next Johnny.”

“Kidnapped? By.. who Val?”  Johnny demanded, peering up at his old friend, giving him a look of pure trepidation.  “Val…tell me?”

“ Toledano, Joe Toledano.”

46 Becks

Joe Toledano, huh?  Johnny was very quiet at first then spoke up.

“Was he involved in the bank robbery, Val?”

“Don’t think so, Johnny.  I ain’t got his confession, but I’m betting on it being Jim Duggan.  Seems that jailbird is itching to see you gone.”

Murdoch was pacing back and forth; they could see the steam building up. ‘What the hell was Jim thinking?’  

Their sudden silence got Murdoch’s attention.  “Johnny, you’re ill, and I won’t let you go out there looking for that Toledano person.”

A smile on Johnny’s face after that statement made Murdoch pause just before he explored.

“I mean it, John! I’ll have Val lock you up.”

“Murdoch, that’ll mean I’d have to leave the hacienda to get locked up in jail.” Johnny bowed his head, hiding a mischievous grin.

“This is not a good time for your humor, young man!” Murdoch veered around to sit at his desk. “Val, Scott, we need a plan.  That man is probably out there waiting for Johnny to ride out after him.”  He stood firm, and his eyes trailed back to Johnny.

“Murdoch, I appreciate your concern, honestly, but this man, Toledano, is a mean scoundrel.  He will stoop to any degree to get what he wants, and right now, that’s me.”  Wrapping the blanket tighter, he continued, “And right now, he has the perfect bait to get what he wants.”

Scott stood up and turned a sober face to their father. “He’s right, sir.” Before Murdoch had a chance to interject, Scott continued, “And so are you! So that brings us back to formulating a plan.  Val, can you bring Jim over to Lancer?  We can lock him up in our guard house until we set things in motion.”

Johnny snorted, “Oh, I see that militant mind formulating the plan as we speak.  What are you thinking of doing with Jim when Val gets him here?”

“Well, I know I am not willing to risk my little brother’s life because of some jealous pompous-ass’ plan that went erroneously wrong.  Think we have a better chance if we just include him in our plan.”

Murdoch glared and his eye twitched.  “Scott?”

Running his fingers over the rim of the glass, Scott grinned.  “I promise you, Murdoch, it won’t hurt Johnny in any way.  As a matter of fact, Johnny might not even have to leave the sanctuary of this home.  Val, are you willing to get Jim here?”

Nodding, Val looked up. “I like it when you get that look on your face Scott.  Let me get going if we’re planning on keeping my amigo safe.”  He scurried off through the front door.

“VAL!” Murdoch yelled out.

Peeking back into the door, “Yeah?”

“Take two of our finest men with you.”

“Thanks, will do.”

47 Margaret

While Val was riding back to town, Toledano was watching from a distance.

“Well, Miss Charlotte, it seems there must be a plan rising from the house. If they think they can pull a fast one on me, they have another thing coming. I’ll devise another one as soon as I figure out what they are doing. Let’s go for a ride. I need to put you somewhere safe where they won’t find you. Then guess who’s going to intrude on their little plan.”

He grabbed Charlotte’s horse and leads her across a field further from the house.

Val rode into town and went into the jail to get Duggan, trying to figure out what Scott had planned.

“ Hey Duggan, get up. I’m cuffin ya and you’s goin with me. I gots a big supprise fur ya. We’s goin to Johnny’s place. How’s ya like that,” Val said.

“One other thing we’re checking yur things out maybe you gots somethin to say about that there robbery.  Hay what ya say Boy?”

Duggan looked up at Val. “ You know where you can go, sheriff.  I’ve nothin to say about no robbery. You ain’t pinnin nothin on me that Madrid is responsible for.  I ain’t changing my story fur nothin,” Duggan said in anger.

They hop on their horses and head back to the ranch.  

48 Marilyn

With rifles resting easily in their arms, ready to take action if need be, Hank and Frank kept a close eye on Duggan as they rode along with Val, escorting the low life to Lancer.  They were eager to help Val out after he explained why he needed their help.

Nobody, but nobody, was going to get away with saying the things Duggan said about their amigo, not without proof and Johnny having his say. They had come to respect the young gun hawk since he arrived at Lancer and consider him a loyal friend. 

“Don’t get any funny notions, Duggan!”  Frank coldly snorted. “Mr. Lancer has some questions for you. And so does Johnny.” he taunted.

“It’s three against one, and I know my odds,” Jim grumbled, not thrilled about facing the Lancers, especially Johnny.

“You got that right,” Val agreed as he rode alongside Duggan, gun cocked and aimed right at the man’s cold heart. “They weren’t too happy to hear that because of you, Miss Charlotte is now at the mercy of that killer you hired.  You’re a damn fool, Duggan. You might as well put a bullet to her head than let her face what Joe has in mind for her,” Val angrily hissed.

“You can blame it on Madrid, sheriff. He’s a killer, just like Toledano. I had to save her from him. He’s not good enough for her! Never will be,” Jim shouted in his defense.

“You shut your damn trap right now, you son-of-a-bitch. Not another word about Johnny,”  Hank growled. “And his name is Lancer, get that straight.”

“He’s a better man than you’ll ever be, Duggan,”  Frank said with strong conviction. “Johnny’s no bank robber and would never let a man like Toledano get his paws on a young thing like that girl.”

“Now, now boys, no need to get mouthy here. We’ll let Johnny do all the jawing with him once he’s locked up in their jail and alone,”  Val maliciously stated, loud and clear.  Striking a little fear in Duggan’s soul.  “As Johnny would say. Lancer takes care of their own.”

49 Marilyn

The closer they got to the ranch, Duggan’s anxiety grew. He wasn’t looking forward to coming eyeball to eyeball with any of the Lancers just yet. Not after the vicious scuffle, he had with Scott and, most of all, Johnny. Though he goes by Lancer now, he’s still Madrid, a hired killer in Jim’s mind, who can’t be trusted, just like Toledano.

Just the sight of the Lancer arch ahead made his skin crawl. He was also very resentful of the wealth Madrid now claims as his. Duggan irritably thought, ‘the nerve of that Murdoch Lancer to call Madrid his son.’  It made him sick inside with revulsion, and he couldn’t wait to tell old man Lancer just that. No matter the outcome.

As they passed a clump of thick trees about ready to make the turn towards the arch, the hairs on the back of Val’s neck began to tingle fiercely. Something was not right, and he couldn’t rightly put his finger on it.  Then without any notice, a single shot ran out, hitting its target dead center.

“Val!”  Hank hollered frantically, drawing his gun.

Val quickly pulled his horse around, eyes scanning the area.

“DAMN!”  he growled distraughtly.

Jim Duggan’s limp, cold body laid where he fell, his chest covered in his own blood. Eyes wild open, staring blankly up at the sky.

50 Margaret

Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny run out of the house with their guns in hand.  They looked toward the corpse of trees and saw Val there looking around.

They tried scanning the area but saw nothing. Val turned his horse back around and rode in the direction from which he knew the shot came.

“Hank, I want you to take Duggan’s body onto Lancer.   Frank, I want you to ride with me, and let’s see what we can find.”

Val rode into the corpse of trees and found where someone had been hiding, and he found a shell casing. “Well, Frank, whoever it was is gone, and there’s only one horse so I guess if it’s Toledano, he’s got’s Charlotte somewhere else. Let’s go back to the house and see if anyone has seen anything,” Val stated.

“Looky here, Val.  Here’s a couple of older hoof prints, and there were two horses instead of just one,” Frank told Val.

“I guess the house is being watched from here, and I know Johnny ain’t going to like that at tall,” Val replied.

Val and Frank rode into the yard and told Johnny what they found.

Meanwhile, behind the house in another corpse of trees, Toledano thinks,  ‘Well, Johnny boy, I have perfect aim, but it’ll wait till I get a hold of you. Your time is coming, boy, that’s fursure.’

51 Mary O.

Charlotte was busy. Since Toledano tied her up and gagged her in the little grove of trees, she was working hard to get out of the ropes and making progress. 

She knew she wasn’t far from Lancer.  She’d heard some shots a while ago and wondered if anyone had been hurt. Even though she knew Jim Duggan had started all this, she still hoped nothing had happened to him. But most of all,  Charlotte hoped Johnny was alright. She couldn’t imagine how bad she would feel if he were hurt because of her.

“I’m free!” she rejoiced as she untied her legs and pulled off the gag.

She ran into the night, toward the direction of the shots she had heard.       

            ********

Johnny couldn’t sleep knowing someone was out there targeting him and his home. This was his problem, and he was tired of putting everyone in danger. Even Val had refused to leave and was sleeping in one of the spare rooms. They had posted guards around the parameter of the hacienda, but Johnny still didn’t feel completely safe inside doing nothing. He was through with waiting.

Johnny slipped out of bed, pulled on his pants, and then buckled his gun belt around his slim waist.

As he quietly passed his brother’s room and then his father’s, he knew they would have his hide when they found out what he was about to do, all alone.

That is, if he made it through the night.          

********

Toledano waited in the grove of trees until he thought everyone in the hacienda was sleeping. It was well past midnight as he made his way down the hill and toward the house.

He felt his excitement growing.  Johnny Madrid was about to meet his Maker…. and no doubt go straight to Hell.

52 Margaret

Charlotte, finally free of her ropes, ran towards the Lancer Hacienda. She’s thinking, ‘I’m free. I’ve got to get to Johnny and let him know he’s being watched.’

She runs to the front door and knockeds.

Scott ran down the stairs yelling, “I’m coming. Just hold on, will ya!”

He opened the door to find a lady he had never seen before. “Hi, may I help you?”

“Yes, is this where Johnny Lancer lives?   I’m Charlotte Brady, and I must speak to him. It’s important.

Please, can I come in?”

“Yes, Miss Brady.”

 “No, just call me Charlotte.  Please hurry. He’s out there somewhere. Hurry. Please,” Charlotte kept begging.

“Ok, Charlotte, please have a seat, and I will get him,” Scott replied.

“What’s going on here and who would come here so late,” Murdoch questioned.

“It’s this lady named Charlotte, Murdoch.  She’s come to speak with Johnny,” Scott said.

Murdock questioned, “Are you the Charlotte that Toledano has kidnaped?”

“Yes, I am, and he’s here close because he held me within walking distance of your home. I must tell Johnny he wants to kill him.”

Without their knowledge, Toledano had sneaked into the kitchen and was resting on the back stairs, listening to what was being said.

Val comes rushing down the front steps. “What’s going on?”

“Murdoch, you tell him I’m getting Johnny,” Scott said and headed up the stairs.

Toledano watched Scott as he knocked on a door and then opened it.

 “Hey, Johnny….”  Scott didn’t finish and ran back down the stairs.  “Murdoch, Johnny’s not in his room.”

Toledano sneaked into Johnny’s room and sat down to wait.

Marilyn

As we know, Toledano is waiting in Johnny’s room while Johnny has gone out on his own looking for the mad man.

Murdoch keeps Charlotte in the house with Teresa while they look for his missing son.

Scott and Murdoch goes off in one direction, while Val heads in another. After a few stressful minutes, Val finds Johnny staring at the outside staircase leading to the second floor. From here, Johnny could see his bedroom window.

“There you are!” Val hissed. “You gave us a scare. What are you looking at?” he asked his still and quiet amigo.

“Just a shadow moving by my window. And it sure as hell ain’t me,”  Johnny whispered.

“Toledano?”

“Yep, I’m guessing. He must have got in either this way or the kitchen,” Johnny informed the old sheriff.   Then he motioned for Val to take the kitchen way while he went up the stairs, as slick as a cat. He was going to end this now.

They carefully and quietly surrounded the gunman, trapping him in Johnny’s room. Johnny waited a few minutes by his window, unseen, for Val to get into position. Then with the butt of his gun, he smashed it against the cool glass, shattering it, catching Joe off guard.

Val then kicked the sturdy door open and came barreling in, hitting the ground as two shots simultaneously rang out. Within deadly seconds, Joe Toledano fell to his death, lying in a pool of his own blood.

When all was over and done with, and the danger passed, Val had a few hands help him with Joe’s limp form while Johnny and the others checked on Charlotte, who was shaken by all the gunfire.

A few days later, Johnny paid the young girl a visit and informed her of his feelings as gently as he could. The girl was taken back a little when he told her he had no romantic intentions; he just liked her as a friend. He fibbed a little by saying he was getting over a bad relationship to help ease her heartache and that it was not her.

So with her shop gone and knowing she’d lost Johnny, the girl decided to leave town and start over somewhere else.

All was back to normal at Lancer until something else came along to cause mayhem.

THE END
January 2012/ achieved August 2022

Marilyn Handt, Margaret Schmitz Compton, Mary Olson, Donna Brook Brisbin, Amber, Becks Towers

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9 thoughts on “  Grudges: A Collaboration of Lancer Writers

  1. It’s very cool how six writers, each writing independently, can come up with such a cohesive story. Thanks ladies!

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