Word Count 6,230
“Do you have to leave so soon, Johnny?” Sara asked, big brown eyes batting.
“So soon? If I don’t get home, Murdoch will have my head. I do have to work in the morning,” Johnny said with a grin. She started to pout but he squelched it with a lingering kiss. “Now, be good,” he said.
“Where’s the fun in that?” she asked with a mischievous look in her eye.
“You really don’t care what people think do you? I mean, you wouldn’t care if the whole town saw me leaving here at dawn.”
“No, I don’t care. All I care about is you. And if you want to stay until dawn, I wouldn’t object.” She moved toward him and started unbuttoning his shirt.
“Stop that. I gotta go,” he said firmly.
“Wait!” she said and grabbed his arm, turning him toward her. He looked at her questioningly and she kissed him. He had to pull away after a few minutes or he knew he wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.
“You sure make it hard on a man,” he said breathlessly.
“I do try, Mr. Lancer,” she grinned.
Johnny rode home at an easy gait. He really wasn’t in that big of a hurry, he just wanted to leave her. He felt guilty about it but he felt smothered by her sometimes. He’d only been seeing her for about a month and she had been more than willing to take their relationship all the way to intimacy from day one. In fact, they had done just that. He’d been surprised and a little taken aback at her forwardness. She had instigated the union that first day. Of course, he wasn’t going to say no. He smiled at the memory of her behavior toward him. Still, there was something about her that made him uneasy at times. She never wanted him to leave, always wanting to know when he’d be back, even questioning him lately about other women. She’d asked him who else he was seeing and about his past affairs. Johnny didn’t think that was any of her business. Besides, he wasn’t seeing anyone else. Who had time? He had been thinking the past week or so that she was a little too overbearing and he might just have to stop seeing her if she didn’t ease up on him. He didn’t like to be corraled by any woman unless it was his decision. He thought he might talk to Scott about her. Maybe his brother could give him an objective opinion.
Two days later, Johnny and Scott were in the kitchen trying the patience of a certain young lady. They were teasing her unmercifully and she had just about had enough of them both. “Don’t you two have some work to do?” she asked.
“We are working, on you. Come on Teresa, you know Johnny has a sweet tooth,” Scott said, trying to sound serious.
“Me? What about you, Mr. cherry pie?” Johnny answered indignantly.
“You are both impossible. Now get out of my way, I have to get the laundry down,” she admonished as she brushed between them.
Johnny motioned Scott to follow her but Scott held back. “I think we better not push our luck,” he advised.
Johnny grinned and waved him off. He snuck around the other side of the clothes line while Teresa was folding a sheet and waited. She pulled the next sheet back and he was standing there. She gasped and jumped a foot. “Johnny Lancer, I have had about enough of you!”
“Well, bake me a cake and I’ll leave you alone,” he said.
“That’s blackmail!” she exclaimed.
“Yep.” She looked as if she were about to give in and Johnny was savoring his victory until he felt the cold water thrown on him. “Teresa!” “Yes?” “Oh, you’ll pay for that,” he said and started chasing her. She ran around the front of the house to find Murdoch to save her but Johnny caught up with her before she could reach him. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her in the air. She screamed and laughed as she fought to get free.
“Put me down!” she demanded.
“Say you will,” Johnny urged.
“No! I won’t do it!” she fought.
Johnny stopped playing and put Teresa down suddenly. She looked at him and the smile left her face replaced by a frown. She looked in the direction he was staring and saw a pretty girl standing next to Murdoch and Scott. “Sara!” Johnny said, shocked to see the woman standing in his yard. Her eyes were burning a hole through him and he could tell she was madder than hell.
“Johnny,” she said between clenched teeth.
“What are you doing here?” he asked as he walked to her.
“I thought I’d surprise you with a visit. Looks like I’m the one who got the surprise,” she said as she flashed Teresa an unpleasant look. The look didn’t escape Johnny’s notice and his own anger began to rise.
“Your friend was just introducing herself to us, brother. You’ve been keeping a secret,” Scott grinned. He hadn’t seen the look she gave Teresa.
“Yeah, well excuse us,” he said as he took her arm and pulled her to the back of the house. He took her into the garden and she jerked her arm free.
“Well, I can see now why I haven’t heard from you!” she hissed.
“What are you talking about?” he said, perplexed by her anger.
“Who is she?”
“Who? Teresa? I told you about her,” he answered.
“You didn’t tell me she was so pretty. You said she was like a sister to you. That didn’t look much like brotherly love to me!” she said accusingly.
“Wait a minute. We were just foolin around and I don’t have to explain anything to you anyway!” he said, his anger getting the better of him.
“That’s right, Johnny. You don’t have to explain a damned thing to me. I’m just the woman you’ve been sleeping with for the past five weeks!” she shouted.
“Be quiet!” he hissed.
“No! I will not be quiet! How could you do this to me?” she said, tears starting to form in her eyes.
“I haven’t done anything to you!” he said. “Sara, just calm down. There is nothing going on between me and Teresa. I mean, it’s ridiculous!” he said, trying to defuse the situation.
“Oh, so now I’m ridiculous. You listen to me, Johnny Lancer. You had better make up your mind if you want to be with me or not because I don’t share my man with anyone!” she said, her anger unabated.
“YOUR man? I’m not anyone’s man. I have told you about Teresa. Now if you can’t handle that, fine. But don’t you dare expect me to choose you over my family!” She stared at him in unadultered disbelief, then turned on her heel and stalked away.
Johnny followed her only to make sure she left. As she passed Teresa she stopped and faced her. “He’s all yours!” she huffed and walked away. Teresa looked at her as if she was crazy and watched her ride away at a gallop. Johnny just sighed and shook his head.
“What was that about?” Murdoch asked.
“I don’t have any idea,” Johnny said, totally confused.
“Well, you had better find out brother because she introduced herself as your fiance,” Scott said, no longer amused at the turn of events.
“She what!” Johnny stared at his brother then looked to his father who only nodded his head.
“Johnny?” Teresa was beside him now. “She scares me. The look in her eyes…”
Johnny out his arm around her. “Don’t worry about it Teresa. You won’t have to see her again,” he reassurred.
“If you like her, I mean, well don’t stop seeing her because of me,” she said sympathetically.
He smiled at her concern. “It has nothing to do with you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see to something,” he said as he walked to Barranca.
“I’m sure glad I’m not that young lady,” Scott said as they watched him ride off.
Johnny stopped at the front door. He felt like kicking it down but he knocked lightly instead. She answered the door looking as sweet as honey and smiled lovingly at him. “Oh, Johnny! I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I was in such a tizzy, I couldn’t think straight. You must think I’m some kind of crazy woman, behaving that way toward poor Teresa. Do you think she can forgive me?” Johnny stared at her, his confusion was growing by the minute. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. He pulled her away and looked behind him onto the street. “Oh, come inside, honey. What a spectacle I’m making!” she said as she pulled him in the door and closed it. She came to him once again but he held her at arms length.
“Sara, we have to talk,” he said calmly.
“Yell at me, hit me. I deserve it,” she pouted.
“I’m not going to hit you! I just want to talk to you, calmly,” he said. She dropped her head and said alright in a childlike voice. “Look, I don’t know what happened today. I really don’t. What I do know is that you told my father and my brother that you were my fiance. I want an explanation.”
“I never said that! I don’t know where they got that idea, Johnny. I swear I don’t!” she said.
Johnny watched her eyes and felt very uncomfortable with this woman. “Sara, I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” he said softly.
“Johnny, I swear I’ll stay away from the ranch, I’ll do whatever you want. Please, honey don’t say that. We belong together,” she begged and tried again to come to him.
He backed away and put his hand out to stop her. “It’s over,” he said and walked to the door.
He felt her weight on his back as she slammed herself against him. “Please don’t leave me, Johnny. I love you! I know I can make you happy. I’ll do anything you want. Anything at all. I can satisfy all your needs, you know I can. Please stay,” she pleaded.
He turned around and pushed her away. “Stop it! I’m leaving and I don’t want to see you again! Do you understand? Goodbye,” he yelled and walked out. He stood there for a minute, getting himself under control. She was crazy, just plain loco, he thought. He counted his blessings he had gotten away from her before things got any worse. He had seen women like that before and they could be more trouble than a sack full of rattlers! He knew people were watching him but he just didn’t care anymore. He mounted up and rode back home feeling better than he had since he’d started seeing her. ‘That should tell you something’, he thought.
She stood there frozen in place. Unable to comprehend what had just happened. She had lost him. Her one true love, her soulmate. Oh, there had been others that she thought were the one but now she knew they were all just diversions. Playthings to be used and tossed away while she waited for Johnny to stroll into her life. And stroll in he did. He had sauntered up to her, confident, handsome and smiling. That smile and those eyes had been the clencher. She knew at that moment when she had first seen him, he was the one and she loved him then. She sat down and tried to think. No, she couldn’t lose him. She would win him back no matter what it took. She would have him, he belonged to her and no other. Especially not some squealing girl trying to act like a woman. She had no idea what it was like to be a real woman. To make love to a man, to give herself to him completely, to be willing to do anything he asked of her in and out of bed. No, little girl, he’s mine and if you get in my way, you will be sorry!
Johnny talked things out with his brother and felt better. Scott didn’t, he was worried. He had known of a case in Boston of a woman who had been obsessed with a married man. That situation had ended very badly and Scott was determined to make sure this one did not. He thought about talking to Murdoch about this but he wasn’t sure Johnny would appreciate that. He had spoken in confidence to Scott and he knew his brother very well. Johnny wouldn’t like him going behind his back. Still, Scott wasn’t sure what to do about this and he felt he needed his father’s help. “Murdoch, can I talk to you?” he asked as he entered the living room, grateful no one else was about.
“Of course, son. What is it?” Murdoch smiled.
“Well, it’s about this woman Johnny was seeing. He talked to me about her and I have to say, I’m worried.” Scott told Murdoch of the breakup and how badly it had gone. Murdoch listened intently to his eldest and he had to admit, he didn’t like the sound of it either. “If Johnny knew I was talking to you about this, he’d have my head,” Scott said and smiled a little.
“Well, I know your brother doesn’t appreciate being talked about but I think this situation is different. I have to confess, son, I’m worried too. I don’t know what we can do. I mean, she hasn’t really done anything but make a scene. We should keep our eyes open. Who knows? Maybe she’ll just leave him alone.” He didn’t sound very convincing and he hadn’t convinced himself, still he really didn’t see any other options.
Weeks passed without incident and Scott had begun to relax. Johnny didn’t seem worried at all and had gone about the business of living his life, though he hadn’t made many trips to town. Scott thought things would be just fine so he suggested a night out for them both. Johnny was agreeable without hesitation. He had just grinned that grin and nodded his head enthusiastically. They rode into town and right up to the saloon. Scott was watching his brother closely but saw no sign that Johnny was tense at all. He seemed very relaxed in fact, and had even smiled at a few young ladies outside the dress shop as they rode by. Scott decided it was going to be a pleasant evening and prepared to enjoy himself. They played cards and socialized the hours away until both were ready to head home. Riding back, they joked and teased with each other as always. Both were in a heady mood. As they rounded a turn in the road, Johnny pulled up. Scott looked quizically at him then felt a powerful force knock him out of the saddle. Johnny jumped down and covered his brother’s body with his own, gun drawn. He waited but nothing else happened, all was quiet. He kept one eye scanning the surrounding terrain as he searched his brother’s body for the injury. It wasn’t hard to find, the blood was spreading across Scott’s shirt in a crimson colored circle starting on his right shoulder. “See anything?” Scott whispered.
“No, nothin. Come on, I got to get you home. Can you ride?”
“I think so,” Scott replied through gritted teeth. Johnny thought about taking him back to town but they were only about a mile from home and he decided it would be better to get Scott there and send for a doctor. He picked his brother up and helped him into his saddle as gently as he could.
Johnny rode into the yard yelling for his father. Murdoch came running out to see his eldest draped over his horse’s neck, limp. “What happened?” he asked as he started easing Scott down. Johnny was right there to help him.
“Ambush,” he clipped. They sent a hand for the doctor and carried Scott upstairs. Teresa had already started boiling water and brought bandages and medicines to Scott’s room. “I thought I heard something and stopped. All the sudden he was down, I didn’t see anybody,” Johnny explained in breathless tones. Murdoch surveyed the damage and frowned deeply. He cleaned the wound and put a pressure bandage on it to stop the bleeding, then they waited for the doctor. Scott had lost conciousness sometime during the trip home and was starting to come around again. “Easy brother,” Johnny whispered, laying a firm hand on Scott’s chest to keep him still.
“What happened?” Scott asked, disoriented.
“Someone shot you, son,” Murdoch answered.
“Oh yeah, I remember. Did you see who it was, Johnny?”
“Fraid not, Boston. Just rest, the doc will be here soon,” he said softly.
“I’m ok,” Scott said as his eyes closed. They sat there in silence, waiting. Doc Jenkins arrived an hour later and removed the bullet from Scott’s shoulder.
“Will he be alright?” Johnny asked, misery dripping from his voice.
“With rest and barring infection, he should recover nicely,” Doc answered.
“It’s my fault,” Johnny whispered.
“Why?” Murdoch asked.
“Why would anybody want to shoot Scott? It had to be me they were after,” he explained.
It didn’t make sense to Murdoch though. “But Johnny, if they were after you, why didn’t they shoot at you after Scott went down?” he asked.
Johnny frowned at this reasoning. Maybe Murdoch was right. Maybe it was just some robbers who changed their minds. That didn’t make sense either though. “I don’t know. None of it makes any sense,” he said.
“Don’t go blaming yourself for something you had no control over,” Doc admonished.
Johnny just hung his head and went to his brother’s side. Murdoch came in and joined him after seeing the doctor off. He stood behind Johnny and laid his hand on his shoulder. “I sent a hand to town to tell Val what happened. Why don’t you get some rest, I’ll sit with him,” he said quietly.
“I’m alright. I want to stay at least til he wakes up,” Johnny said. Murdoch knew he was still feeling guilty about his brother’s injury. For the life of him, he couldn’t understand why.
Johnny held his brother’s hand most of the night. As dawn broke he was pensive, deep in thought trying to figure out who had done this and why. He looked up to blue eyes smiling at him and he smiled back. “Thought you were gonna sleep your life away, Boston,” he teased.
“Good way to get out of work I suppose,” Scott answered.
The smile left Johnny’s face. “No it isn’t,” he mumbled.
“Stop that!” Scott said harshly. Johnny looked up at him puzzled. “Stop blaming yourself. It wasn’t your fault. We don’t know who it was or why so stop assuming it was about you. I can make people mad too, you know,” he said and let a grin spread across his face.
“Well, you can sure make me mad!” Johnny said in exaggerated disgust.
“I feel all right, really. Just a little sore,” Scott reassured him.
“Well, that is certainly good news,” Teresa said as she barged into the room. “Now, do you think you could eat something?” she smiled as she fluffed his pillow.
“Sure, I’m hungry,” Scott replied. Johnny felt better and he knew his brother was in good hands so he went downstairs to find his father.
“Scott’s awake and he’s hungry,” he reported as he walked into the kitchen.
Murdoch smiled. “That’s great! He was lucky, you know.”
“I know. I thought I’d ride in and see Val. See if he’s found out anything.”
“Johnny, get some sleep. Val will let us know if he finds out anything. You’re exhausted, son,” Murdoch said.
“I’m ok. I feel fine, really,” he said as he headed out the door. Murdoch sighed at his hard-headed son and went to see about his other hard-headed son.
Johnny walked into the sheriff’s office and found it empty. He frowned as he walked around the room, waiting for Val to return. He was anxious for any news and that meant he was fidgety. “How’s Scott?” Val asked as he walked in.
“He’ll be okay. What did you find?”
“Not much. Some shell casings from a rifle. Just your run of the mill Winchester. Nothin fancy about it. Sorry Johnny.”
“No tracks? Nothing?” Johnny asked.
“Not a thing.”, Val reported. Johnny frowned and paced. Val watched him for a while and it started making him nervous. “Why don’t you go home? If anything comes up, I’ll let ya know. Go take care of your brother,” he suggested.
Johnny smiled at him. “Ok, Val. It’s just strange,” he said as he walked out.
Another week passed and Scott was feeling much better. Doc still wouldn’t let him sit a saddle but he was up and moving around the house and that made Johnny feel much better, too. He went about his work, trying to stay close to the house to keep an eye on his brother. Scott kept telling him he didn’t need a babysitter, he already had one in Teresa. Johnny would grin and tell him he was crazy if he thought he had nothing better to do than watch his greenhorn brother sit in the shade all day. This particular day Teresa had roped him into doing just that. She and Murdoch were going to town and Johnny was volunteered to watch after his big brother. “Now, don’t let him get too tired, Johnny. He’ll fight you but you just have to be firm with him. Oh, and don’t let him eat too many cookies. It will spoil his appetite,” she instructed as she climbed into the buggy.
“Yes, ma’am. No ma’am. Yes ma’am,” Johnny said dutifully to each instruction as he helped her up. As soon as they were out of site, Johnny dashed into the kitchen and returned to the veranda with a plateful of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade.
“Oh, Murdoch this material is going to make a beautiful dress. I can’t wait to get started on it,” Teresa gushed as they rode back home.
“I don’t know why you didn’t just buy a dress, Teresa. It would have been a lot easier,” Murdoch said.
“Yes, but I didn’t like any of the dresses. I like this material though and I can make something no one else has,” she explained. Murdoch smiled and shook his head. Women! he thought. They rounded the turn in the road and Murdoch was suddenly thrown back against the seat, grabbing his arm. “Murdoch!” Teresa screamed as she grabbed the reins and whipped the horse into a dead run. She kept looking over at him, then back to the road. “Are you alright?” she asked, terror in her voice.
“Just drive, honey. Get us home,” he gritted out.
Johnny stood up as he heard the buggy coming way too fast. He stepped out into the yard as Teresa pulled the horse to a screaming halt. “Murdoch! What happened?” he gasped as he saw his father’s arm.
They sat him on the couch and Teresa went to get some bandages. “What happened?” Scott repeated his brother’s question.
“Ambush. I think it was the same spot they got you, son.”
Scott and Johnny exchanged worried looks. “Well, whoever it is, they sure are a bad shot,” Johnny said, not trying to be funny but Murdoch chuckled all the same.
“Either that, or we’ve been pretty lucky,” Scott added. It was a superficial wound and Murdoch grunted off the idea of seeing a doctor. Teresa tended the wound and, once cleaned, it really didn’t look bad at all.
Johnny was pacing and pacing and playing with his hands. “That’s it,” he said and headed for the door.
“Whoa, where are you going?” Murdoch asked.
“I’m going to find out who’s doing this and why!” he said.
“Not alone you’re not!” Scott interjected.
“Scott, you can’t ride and neither can you, Murdoch, so don’t give me that look. I’m going to get to the bottom of this before … before Teresa’a next!” he said and stormed out.
“Scott, send someone for Val and tell him to find Johnny,” Murdoch said.
Johnny rode through the hills and valleys of Lancer, staying off the road. He came to the spot where he figured the shooter had to have been standing. He found more rifle casings but not much else. He scoured the area and could tell someone had been there and had used a limb or something to cover their tracks. He kept going, following the brushed-at dirt until it stopped. He found one foot print and tracks from a horse. Light tracks which meant the rider wasn’t very heavy and the footprint was small. Too small for a man. He frowned then his face dropped as an idea bolted through his mind. It couldn’t be, that was impossible! He thought. He walked around the area trying to figure out if it really was possible. And if so, why? Why his family and not him? And what to do about it, how to find out the truth without hurting her feelings or making her angry again. She had left him alone, had not once tried to talk to him and he had seen her in town a couple of times. She had actually made a point of ignoring him, which he knew meant she was still mad but … would she go this far? He remembered the look in her eyes, the sound of her voice that day and he shuddered. He had a hard time believing she would do this, though. That any woman would do such a thing over him was hard to imagine. He thought maybe he should talk to Murdoch or Val or somebody before he went off on some tangent. But he decided he had to confront her before anyone else got hurt. Maybe she had nothing to do with it.
He rode to town and knocked on her door but an older woman answered. She informed him that Sara had moved to the outskirts of town and told him where. This news only fueled his suspicions. Her new home was very near where the ambushes had occurred. He rode there, looking for tracks that might lead in the direction of the road. He saw the light horse prints and shook his head. He approached cautiously, not wanting to alert her to his presence just yet. Knocking lightly on the door, he didn’t have to wait long. “Johnny Lancer! This is a surprise!” she said.
“Is it, Sara?” he asked.
“Well, of course! Do you want to come in?” she asked.
“Sure.” He walked in and scanned the room, looking for a Winchester but saw no weapons of any kind.
“What can I do for you?” she was asking.
“When did you move out here?” he asked, avoiding her question.
“Not long after …. after us,” she said, lowering her voice.
“It’s nice,” he commented. She only smiled in answer.
“Would you like some coffee or tea?”
“No, thanks. I just heard you moved out here and I wanted to ask you something,” he said.
She motioned to the table and offered him a chair which he accepted. “Sara, have you heard any gunfire lately. Rifle fire, more specifically?” he asked, watching her closely.
“Yes, I heard some today in fact. And a couple of weeks ago, late one night. Why?” she asked.
He honestly couldn’t tell if she was lying to him or not. “Did you see anybody ride through here?” he continued.
“No. Not many people come out this way. I assumed it was hunters or something like that. Is something wrong?” she asked, seeming genuinely concerned.
“Yeah, something’s wrong. Somebody took a potshot at my father today and Scott two weeks ago. Both attacks were at the same place. That turn in the road not far from here,” he explained.
“Oh no! Are they alright?” she asked.
“Yes. Nothing too serious, but it could have been. It just seems strange that they were both shot and at the same place,” he replied.
“That is strange. Maybe someone has a grudge against your family. Johnny, be careful,” she said, laying her hand on his arm. He looked at her for a long moment. She seemed sincere but his hackles were up and he didn’t know if it was because of the way they had broken up or if he really didn’t believe her. He smiled and assured her he would be careful. He got up to leave. “Wait, are you sure you wouldn’t like some coffee? I just made an apple pie, too,” she said a bit too anxiously.
“No, I better get back. I want to check on Murdoch,” he said.
“Johnny, I … I am sorry about the way things happened between us. I can’t offer any excuse for my behavior. I hope we can at least be friends,” she said.
“Sure, Sara. I’d like that.” He smiled at her and she thought she might just lose her nerve but she stayed quiet.
Johnny walked into the living room, feeling no better than when he’d left. Murdoch gave a sigh of relief that his son was home safe. “Did you find anything?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, rifle casings and some tracks. I found out something else, too. Sara moved, she lives half a mile from that turn in the road. Right next to our property line.”
“Johnny, what are you saying?” Murdoch asked.
“I don’t know. It’s just strange. She seemed really surprised and concerned when I talked to her,” he answered.
“You talked to her?” Scott asked, alarmed.
“Yeah, when I found out she lived out there, I had to.”
“I think it would be best if you stayed away from that woman, Johnny,” Scott warned.
“I know, Scott. But she really seemed worried. It’s just that, I don’t know if I believe her. Part of me wants to but part of me is saying ‘watch out’,” he explained.
“Well, listen to the second part. The Johnny Madrid part,” Scott advised.
“Do you really think she would shoot Scott and Murdoch?” Teresa asked.
“I’m just wondering if it was Murdoch she was aiming at. Teresa, I don’t want you to leave this ranch until we find out what’s going on,” Johnny ordered.
“Now wait just a minute,” she started.
“Johnny’s right, Teresa. I want you to stay close to the house,” Murdoch said.
She grimaced but nodded her head. “How are you going to find out if it’s her, or who it is for that matter?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about that. I think we need to set whoever it is up. They seem hellbent on taking some or all of us out so I thought…” he stopped here and looked at his brother.
“You thought I’d be target practice,” Scott finished for him.
“I’d be right there, brother.”
“No! Absolutely not! I forbid it!” Murdoch growled.
“It’s the only way, Murdoch,” Scott said.
“No, there has to be a better way. What if this person’s aim is getting better? No, Scott. I won’t have you put in danger.”
“Johnny will be there. He’ll stop them,” Scott persisted.
“And if something goes wrong?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, I guess I’ll get a couple of more weeks off,” Scott grinned.
“Or a tombstone. No, I won’t allow it,” Murdoch grumbled.
“Okay, it was just an idea. Murdoch’s right. It is too dangerous,” Johnny said.
“When did you want to do this?” Scott asked his brother later that night.
“Couple of days. We don’t want to seem too anxious,” Johnny replied. “You don’t have to, Scott. We can find another way,” he added.
“When? After they’ve gotten you or Teresa? No, Johnny. This has got to stop,” Scott said firmly.
Johnny saw his brother set his jaw and gave in, he knew there was no point arguing. “Well, you get to explain it to Murdoch if you end up dead,” Johnny said.
“Me? Why me?” Scott asked in mocked horror.
“Cause I’ll be in Mexico!” Johnny announced.
“Well, I might be with you. Because when he finds out we did this, neither one of us is going to be worth the powder it would take to blow us to kingdom come!” Scott said. They both laughed at the thought of their father’s reaction to this plan but they both also knew it was true.
Two days later, Scott took a ride to get his ‘saddle legs’ back, or so he told his father. Johnny had left earlier that morning feigning ‘a lot of work to do’. He met up with Scott in the south pasture and they went over their plan one more time. Johnny headed off across the valley and Scott reared his horse onto the road to Green River. He went slow, partly to give Johnny time to get in place and partly because he was still a little shaky. Although he would never admit that to his kid brother. Johnny rode around to the back side of the same spot he had checked two days before and found a good vantage point. He could see the tree line where he had found the rifle casings and the road. He waited. Scott came down the road at an easy gait and passed by the ambush site without incident. They had discussed this eventuality and agreed the shooter would probably wait for his return trip as they had before. The boys had surmised that the trip into town was what alerted the shooter to the fact that a Lancer had ridden past. Johnny turned over on his back and stared at the sky. He figured he had a good hour before Scott would chance riding back through. To come back too soon would alert their quarry that something was amiss.
Two hours passed and Johnny was starting to worry that the ambusher had changed tactics and maybe moved to a different spot. Then he heard horse’s hooves and watched the road and the tree line intently. He saw his brother approaching the turn in the road and then he saw someone moving in the bushes beside the stand of trees. He started moving towards them stealthily, weaving in and out of the rocks and bushes for cover. He came up from behind and grabbed the rifle, pulling it upward just as a shot was fired. Scott stopped in his tracks and scanned the roadside but could see nothing. Suddenly his brother appeared pulling someone behind him. Scott dismounted and was not surprised to see who his attempted murderer was. “I told you to stay away from her,” he admonished his brother.
Val Crawford rode up then, just as planned. “You’ll be coming with me, ma’am,” Val said as he took hold of her arm.
She didn’t try to fight him but kept looking at Johnny. “You know you love me, Johnny,” she said.
“No, Sara, I don’t. I never did,” he said sadly.
Val rode out early the next morning, looking somber and very tired. “I need to talk to you, Johnny,” he said glumly.
“What’s wrong?” Johnny asked.
“Well, I reckon I’m not too used to havin a woman in my jail. She .. uh … well, she hung herself last night,” he reported. Johnny’s legs felt like they were about to betray him and he sat down hard in the nearest chair. Scott and Murdoch stood beside him offering support. “I’m sorry. She used her stockings. I didn’t think…” Val trailed off, feeling very guilty for letting this happen.
“It’s not your fault, Val. Or yours, Johnny. The girl was obviously very disturbed,” Murdoch said. Johnny sat there, stunned. He felt more confused now than he had about her earlier behavior.
“I don’t understand any of this,” he said softly.
“Johnny, it didn’t really have to do with you. It could have been anyone. She just focused in on you. It would have happened, no matter what. There wasn’t anything you could do to stop it or even know it would happen. She was sick. It’s not your fault, it’s not even her fault. She couldn’t help herself anymore than you could help her,” Scott said, calmly trying to make his brother understand.
“Why? Why did it have to happen, Scott? Why her?” he asked.
“I don’t know, brother. We’ll never know the answers. We have to accept that.”
“Well, I’ll see to her. Did she have any family?” Val asked.
“She said she didn’t. Val, I’d like to take care of this,” Johnny said. They buried her in the town cemetary. The Lancers, Val and the minister were the only ones there. Johnny stayed behind. He was sad for her. As angry as he had been at what she’d done, he knew Scott was right, she couldn’t control herself. “Goodbye, Sara. I hope you’re at peace now,” he whispered and walked away to join his family.
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