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Scott Lancer was not sure how they’d gotten into this mess, but he knew he had to get his brother out of harm’s way. He could see the red stain growing on Johnny’s shoulder and he hurried to his side as bullets whipped around him. “We have to go now, Johnny,” he said as he pulled his brother to his feet.
“Think you’re right, Boston,” Johnny said as he stumbled along with his brother. Bullets continued to rain all around them, but nothing stopped the two men from making it to their horses.
Scott stopped to help Johnny mount Barranca and quickly hurried to his own. He felt a tiny twinge in his lower back. ‘Knew all this riding would catch up to me,’ he thought as he followed his brother away from the little canyon.
An hour later, with no one following them, Scott watched as Johnny slumped in his saddle and Barranca pulled to a stop. He stopped his own horse and leapt down. The pain in his lower back more predominant than it was before; a hiss tore from his throat as he scrambled to catch his brother before he hit the ground.
He caught Johnny just as he slid towards the hard-packed dirt and lowered him as gently as his aching back would allow. Ripping open the blue shirt that covered his brother’s muscular chest, he found the entry point of the bullet and quickly searched for an exit wound. He bit his lip when he couldn’t find one. “Gonna have to get you to Lancer and have someone get Doc Jenkins,” Scott said aloud.
Johnny groaned as he opened his eyes and wondered where he was. The familiar pain in his shoulder told him he’d stopped another bullet and he wondered just how bad this one was.
“Johnny,” Scott said as he saw his brother’s eyes partially open. “Think you can sit a horse for a little longer?”
“D…don’t think s…so, Scott,” Johnny said as he licked his dry lips.
“If you can stand, we’ll get you on my horse and I’ll hold you till we get back. Think you can stand?”
“T…think so, Boston, but what about y…our back. Seems t…to me you were h…having problems with it w…when we left Moro C…Coyo.”
“It’s not so bad and it’s only another hour to Lancer. Come on, brother, let’s get you mounted,” Scott said as he helped Johnny to his feet. Scott held Johnny’s foot and placed it in the stirrup. He used his own strength to lift his brother onto the horse’s back and bit back a cry of pain as his back flared in agonizing white-hot pain.
Johnny missed his brother’s cry as his own gasp tore from his lips. His shoulder throbbed unmercifully and he knew the bullet was probably lying against the bone.
Scott reached around to his lower back and was surprised when his hand came away wet and sticky. The blood covered his fingers and he wiped them on his shirt. The pain snapped into him full force and he knew why his back was hurting. He had to get Johnny back to Lancer before he lost touch with reality. Feeling adrenaline kick in once again, he slowly pulled himself up behind his brother, reached for Barranca’s reins and hurried towards Lancer.
Scott breathed a sigh of relief as they rode through the gates and up to the house. Darkness had fallen but he could see a familiar black rig outside the door. “Hey, Johnny, looks like Doc Jenkins is already here,” he said to the unconscious man in his arms. “I need help out here,” Scott called. He didn’t have the energy to get down himself, let alone to hold Johnny as he did it.
The front door opened and he recognized the figure of his father. Murdoch Lancer took one look at his sons riding double and hurried forward. “What the hell happened?” he asked Scott as he took the younger man from his arms.
“We ran into a little trouble. Johnny took a bullet in the shoulder,” Scott said as his father lifted his brother into his arms and headed for the house.
“Mike hurt his hand, so Doc Jenkins is already here,” Murdoch said as he hurried inside.
Scott sat on his horse, wondering where he was going to get the energy to dismount. Now that he’d made it home and his brother was being helped the adrenaline quickly left his body. He slid from the saddle and landed hard on the ground. New waves of agony burst from his back as he struggled to his feet. His worry for his brother made him ignore the agony he felt and he stumbled towards the house. At least he thought it was the house. Pain and blood loss caused his vision to blur and he stumbled towards the barn instead of the warmth of the house. His strength finally gave out and he fell, his body lying next to the stone fence, inches from the spot where Drago and Chapel had used the Gatling gun months before.
“How bad is he, Doc?” Murdoch asked worriedly.
“The bullet’s against the bone and it’s hard to grip. Hold him down,” Jenkins said as Johnny’s body threatened to come off the bed.
Murdoch held his son tightly and watched as his face was overcome with a grimace of agony, “Easy, Johnny, Doc’s gotta get the bullet out,” Murdoch said as he took Johnny uninjured left hand in his. He felt his son tighten his grip as he endured the doctor’s ministrations.
Minutes passed as Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly waited for the doc to pull the tiny piece of metal from the injured man. Finally the bullet was out and they heard it clang as it hit the metal bowl.
Jenkins cleaned and bandaged the shoulder and stood back from the bed. “He should be ok as long as you keep him in bed for the next week,” he said as he cleaned the blood from his hands.
“I’ll see that he does,” Teresa said with a relieved smile. She looked around the bedroom searching for Scott. “Murdoch,” she called, “Where’s Scott?”
“I thought he was in here,” Murdoch said as he realized his oldest son was missing. “We’d better find him. He’s probably feeling guilty about what happened to Johnny,” he said hopefully.
“Was he hurt?” Jenkins asked.
“I don’t know,” Murdoch said as he left the room in search of his missing son. “It didn’t seem like it when he passed Johnny to me, but it was dark and I couldn’t see anything.”
“You folks find him. I’ll stay here with Johnny,” Jenkins said.
“Thanks, Doc,” Jelly said as he followed Murdoch and Teresa from the room.
“Teresa, you check the house. Jelly, you take the barn and the bunkhouse. I’ll check the yard,” Murdoch ordered as he walked out the door into the darkness. The sight of Scott and Johnny’s horses gave him a feeling of foreboding and he knew he’d made a mistake in not making sure his oldest son was ok.
“Scott,” he called anxiously as Jelly hurried past him on the way to the bunkhouse. He continued to search the yard, but it was hard to see anything in the total darkness. He hurried back in the house and grabbed the nearest lamp.
“He’s not in here,” Teresa said as she followed him outside. Her fears grew as she saw the saddled horses. “Scott!” she called.
Scott lay near the fence as wave upon wave of agony rolled over his body. His back felt as if it were on fire as he forced his way back to consciousness. “J…Johnny,” he said weakly.
“I think I heard something, Murdoch,” Teresa said as she stood by the fence. “Scott,” she called again.
Scott struggled to answer the worried voice. His strength was nonexistent as he opened his eyes and gasped for breath, “h…here,” was all he could manage.
“Over there,” Murdoch said as he indicated the area of the fence he’d heard the feeble cry coming from. He heard Teresa’s footsteps following him. “We’re coming, Scott,” Murdoch said as he rounded the corner and took in the sight of the oldest Lancer son. “Where are you hurt?” he asked as he knelt beside the blond.
“B…back,” Scott gasped in pain.
Murdoch gently turned his son on his side and in the swirling light of the lamp he could see the blood soaked cloth that covered his son’s back. “Why didn’t you say something?” Murdoch asked as a tinge of anger came into his voice.
“H…had t…to make s…sure J…Johnny’s ok. I…is h…he?”
“Johnny gonna be fine,” Murdoch said and turned to Teresa. He ignored the tears that ran down the young woman’s cheeks as he ordered her to go get help.
“H…hurts,” Scott groaned as he arched his back to try and escape the offending agony.
“I know it does, Son, but you have to lie still. Help’s coming and Doc’s gonna fix you up,” Murdoch said as he touched his son’s fevered brow.
Jelly and two ranch hands hurried up to Murdoch. “Teresa’s gone to tell the doc,” Jelly explained breathlessly.
“Good,” Murdoch said simply. “Scott, we’re gonna carry you inside now. It’s gonna hurt but Doc’ll fix you up.”
“K,” Scott said feebly.
“You two take his legs,” he ordered the two ranch hands. “Jelly, you grab that side and I’ll get this side. Let’s do this fast,” Murdoch said as they lifted the injured man.
Scott screamed as he was lifted off the ground. The moans and gasps continued to be wrenched from him as he was moved into the house and up to his bed.
“Damn fool,” Jenkins said as they hurriedly removed the blond’s clothing. The angry wound low on the right side continued to seep blood and Jenkins worried about its loss. He cleaned the area and began to probe the wound gently.
Scott moaned as he lay on his stomach. The doctor’s hands felt cold to his fevered skin and goose bumps covered his skin. “P…please s…stop,” he cried weakly as the doctor continued to examine the wound.
“The bullet’s in deep, but I don’t think it’s hit anything major. I’m gonna have to make an incision to get it out,” Jenkins explained.
“Can’t you just use the probe like you did on Johnny?” Murdoch asked as he reached for his son’s hand.
“There’s too many organs in this part of the body and I’m afraid of doing more damage if I go in blindly. There’s no way around it. I have to cut the bullet out. Here, give him some of this,” Jenkins said as he passed Murdoch a tiny brown bottle.
“Laudanum?” Murdoch asked.
“That’s all I have. I used the last of the ether and haven’t received the new shipment. Give him that and hopefully it’ll keep some of the pain at bay,” Jenkins said as he finished cleaning the wounded area.
“Here, Son, drink this,” Murdoch said as he lifted the damp blond head and placed the tiny bottle to his lips.
Scott swallowed the liquid and felt it burn down his throat. He waited for the welcoming warmth he’d come to associate with the liquid. His eyes began to feel heavy and he slipped wordlessly into unconsciousness.
“Ok, we’re ready to begin,” Jenkins said softly. “I need you to tie his hands and feet to the bed,” Jenkins told Murdoch.
“What!!” Murdoch exclaimed, a horrified look washing over his face. “There’s no choice here, Murdoch. The laudanum is not gonna keep him under and he’s gonna try to buck off that bed. Remember what Johnny just went through? Well, this is gonna be worse because I have to cut into his flesh. Now do as I ask. We’re wasting valuable time arguing,” Jenkins ordered.
It didn’t take long for Murdoch and Jelly to secure the thin strips of cotton to Scott’s wrists. Murdoch sat beside his son holding his hand as Jenkins’ scalpel bit into Scott’s fevered flesh. He tried to sooth the younger man as Scott tried to pull away from the offending instrument.
“Talk to him, Murdoch,” Jenkins said as he searched for the tiny bullet.
“Scott, you remember the day you decided you weren’t going back to Boston?” Murdoch asked. Scott’s answer came out as a moan as Jenkins reached into the wound with a probe. “That was one of the happiest days of my life. I knew then that I should have come for you earlier despite what Harlan said.”
“Oh, God,” Scott screamed as the probe bit deep into the wound.
“S…Scott,” Johnny’s weak voice from the door caused Murdoch and the others to look up.
“Johnny, get back in bed right now,” Murdoch ordered.
“No, M…Murdoch,” Johnny said as he staggered into the room. “W…hat happened to S…Scott?” he asked as he finished what felt like the longest trip of his life. He saw the bloodied wound in his brother’s back and felt the anger building inside him. “What are you doin to my brother?” he asked, as he sank to his knees by the bed.
“Scott’s hurt, Johnny. He was shot too,” Teresa said as she touched the dark-haired man on the shoulder.
“Shot? But… when? How? He c…carried me home. H…he was f…fine,” Johnny cried as he watched his brother suffer the torment of the doctor’s ministrations.
“He must have been hit just after you were,” Murdoch said as he continued to hold his oldest son’s trembling body.
“J…Johnny, y…you k?” Scott’s pain-filled voice asked.
‘I’m fine, Boston,” Johnny said as he reached out and took Scott’s hand in his own good one. “W…why didn’t you say something?”
“I…I didn’t k…know. Oh, God, i…it h…hurts,” Scott’s moans soon became screams as the doctor once more reached into the wound and pulled free the twisted hunk of metal.
“Easy, Scott, I got the damn thing,” Jenkins said as he dropped the bullet into a bowl. “Teresa, can you get me some clean water?” he asked and watched as the sobbing girl hurried from the room. “Johnny, go back to bed.”
“I’m staying,” Johnny said with more force than he thought he could muster.
“You’ve got a bullet hole in your shoulder and you need to rest,” Jenkins said as he continued to work on Scott’s exposed back.
“I’ll rest later,” Johnny said as he felt Scott’s hand tighten its grip on his own hand.
“Damn fool young uns,” Jenkins said as he took the water from Teresa and quickly cleaned the blood from Scott’s back. He reached into his bag for a tiny bottle and took the cap off. “Hold him still, Murdoch,” he said as he poured the burning liquid onto the wound.
Scott felt the pain as the fire built in his back and he screamed against the pillow. The muffled sound wrenched cries from all present.
Johnny held Scott’s hand through the pain and gently stroked his brother’s sweat soaked forehead. He ignored the pain radiating from his own wounded shoulder as he wiped the tears from the pale cheeks. “Easy, Boston, Doc’s almost finished,” he said as he watched Jenkins threading a needle. “Just a little longer,” he comforted, knowing his brother still had to endure more torture.
Jenkins stitched the gaping wound in Scott Lancer’s back, all the while hoping the man would succumb to unconsciousness. He knew he was causing the young man considerable pain, but there was nothing he could do about it. He breathed a sigh of relief as he finished the last stitch and quickly snapped the thread. He reached to the table near the bed and took the square white bandage.
Scott breathed deeply as the final touch was put on his wound. He closed his eyes against the feeling of nausea that welled up and hoped he wouldn’t be sick. The strong urge became more than he could handle and his rebelling stomach emptied its contents over the pillow his head lay nestled in.
“Doc,” Johnny cried worriedly.
“It’s ok, Johnny, probably just delayed reaction to the bullet wound and treatment. You just move back and sit down while we clean him up,” Jenkins ordered.
“I’ll be right here, Scott,” Johnny said as he felt his brother’s hand slip from his own.
“G…go, s…sleep,” Scott told his brother weakly.
“Come on, Johnny, let’s get you back to bed,” Murdoch said as he watched Teresa and the doctor remove the bindings from Scott’s wrists and ankles.
“He’s my brother, Murdoch. I’m staying,” Johnny said, as he stood his ground.
“Oh, of all the stubborn, wilful, stupid ideas. You and your brother need to learn that you’re not indestructible. Scott’s being looked after and its high time you were back in your own bed. I’m not gonna argue anymore, Johnny. If you don’t go back to your room and get some sleep, I’ll tie you to the bed and you’ll stay there for a week,” Murdoch threatened, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“No buts. You’re hurt and you need to rest. Now, do you walk or do I carry you,” Murdoch said, and regretted the harshness of his words as Johnny’s eyes showed the pain he actually felt.
“Will you come get me if something happens?” Johnny asked weakly, his legs turning to rubber as he sagged against his father.
“I promise I’ll come get you. Now let’s get you to your room,” Murdoch said softly.
Scott watched as his father helped his brother from the room. He felt a cool cloth touch his face and looked into the smiling face of the young woman he thought of as a sister. “Thanks,” he whispered as he closed his eyes.
“He’s sleeping,” Jenkins said as he saw the worried look come over the girl’s face. “He needs that now. Let’s finish cleaning him up and then I’ll check on the other fool.”
Murdoch gently lowered his Johnny to the bed and stared into the troubled eyes, “What’s wrong, Son?” he asked, knowing it was more than the bullet wounds he and Scott had suffered.
“Why’d he do it, Murdoch?” Johnny asked, a hint of fear in his voice.
“Why’d who do what?”
“Why’d Scott put my life ahead of his own? I’m not worth it,” Johnny said, closing his eyes against the tears that threatened to flow.
“That’s not how Scott thinks, Johnny; that’s not how any of us think. Your brother put your life ahead of his own because that’s what a brother does.”
“I should never have come to Lancer,” Johnny said quietly.
“Don’t say that, Johnny,” Murdoch told his son.
“If I hadn’t come to Lancer, Scott wouldn’t be lying in there fighting for his life. It’s all my fault. Will he die, Murdoch?” Johnny asked, remembering the pale grey skin on his brother’s face.
“What makes you think it’s your fault, Johnny? Did you see who shot you?”
“No, I didn’t see anyone. The first warning we had was when the bullet hit me in the shoulder.”
“Well, how do you know whoever did this wasn’t after Scott?”
“Because I’m the gunslinger. I’m the man who’s made more enemies than friends. Who’d want to kill Scott?”
Murdoch couldn’t suppress the angry laugh that tore from him at Johnny’s comment, “Scott doesn’t have any enemies, you say? What about Dan Cassidy? I know he was wrong about Scott, but he still tried to have him killed. On the same thought, what about the two men Cassidy had with him? They didn’t care that Scott was innocent; they wanted him dead anyway. Did you have anything to do with either of those men? No! Believe me, Johnny, Scott has his own share of enemies without you trying to take all the blame,” Murdoch assured his youngest son.
“I know what you say is true, Murdoch, but Scott should’ve told me he’d stopped a bullet too. He could have died. He could still die,” Johnny said in a worried voice.
“But he didn’t and he won’t. Scott proved today how much he loves you, Johnny. Don’t let it all be for nothing. Let yourself heal and then you’ll be able to help your brother heal as well.”
“I don’t deserve that kind of unconditional love,” Johnny told his father as his eyes closed in sleep.
“Oh, Son, you do. You both do,” Murdoch said as he turned down the lamp and exited the room.
He stopped Jelly as he came out of Scott’s room and the two walked down the short flight of stairs.
“What’s wrong, Murdoch,” Jelly asked.
“I want some guards posted tonight,” Murdoch said as he poured two glasses of whiskey.
“You think whoever did this is gonna come back?” he accepted the amber-coloured liquid from his boss’s hand.
“Whoever did this wanted one or both boys dead, Jelly. I have a feeling this isn’t over. For now Scott and Johnny are helpless to do anything about it, but we’re not. Have someone ride for Val. Maybe he can help us find out if someone new is in town,” Murdoch said as he downed the drink.
“Sure, Boss, I’ll get right on it,” Jelly answered.
Murdoch acknowledged the older man and walked back up the stairs. He stood between his sons’ bedroom doors, wondering which one he should go to. He knew Scott’s wound was more serious, but his younger son’s unwarranted guilt worried him. His decision was made when Jenkins opened Scott’s door and signalled for Murdoch to join him.
Murdoch entered the darkened room and was immediately assaulted by the sickly odour of stale vomit. Teresa hurried past him carrying the soiled linen in her arms.
He stepped forward and looked down at the pale form on the bed. Scott lay on his stomach, one arm raised above his head and the other tucked under his gaunt cheek. His eyes were closed, but even in sleep Murdoch saw the thin lines of pain on his normally peaceful face. His blond hair, normally so well cared for, was plastered to his scalp by sweat and whatever Teresa had used to wash the vomit out of it. He was covered to the waist with a thin blanket and Murdoch gasped at the deep bruising that covered his son’s lower back. A white bandage covered most of the bruise and stood out boldly against the skin on his back.
He sat in the chair vacated by Johnny and gently touched his son’s fevered brow. “Stay with us, Son,” he said as he prayed for both of his sons. “Will he be alright?” he asked Jenkins.
“I’ve had to do some things to him that I normally wouldn’t do. Scott’s strong, Murdoch, and with a lot of rest he should be just fine. You’re gonna need to keep him in bed for at least a couple of weeks, but he should pull through.”
“What about Johnny?”
“Johnny needs to give himself time to heal as well. That means you have to keep him in his own bed for at least a week. I know that’s gonna be hard especially with Scott injured as well, but it has to be done.”
“That’s not gonna be easy. What would you say to bringing Johnny’s bed in here so he can be close to his brother?”
“That just might work, Murdoch. You’d be able to keep them both from getting out of bed,” Jenkins said, a grin on his face.
“I’ll get some of the boys to help me,” Murdoch said.
“Any idea who did this?” Jenkins asked as he finished cleaning his hands.
“None, Johnny said there was no warning until he was hit. I’m posting guards until we find out who did this,” a moan from the bed drew his attention and he continued to stroke his forehead. “Easy, Scott,” he said.
“It’s h…hurting. B…back h…hurts,” Scott moaned as he tried to reach the wound.
“Give him some more of this, Murdoch,” Jenkins said as he passed the tiny bottle.
Murdoch lifted his son’s head and gently poured a small amount into his mouth. He repeated the process until Jenkins told him he’d had enough.
“W…water,” Scott asked.
Murdoch looked at the doctor.
“Just a little. Don’t want him getting sick again,” Jenkins said. “I’ll be back in the morning, Murdoch. Just make sure you keep him quiet and the other one in bed.”
“That’s a simple job,” Murdoch responded sarcastically.
Johnny watched his brother from his own bed across the room. Scott hadn’t stirred since Johnny had been moved into the same room. He could see the gleam of sweat on Scott’s forehead and exposed back. He watched as Teresa bathed the man’s fevered brow.
Teresa felt eyes drilling into her back and she turned away from the fair-haired Lancer brother. “You should be sleeping, Johnny,” she reprimanded him.
“Seems like that’s all I’ve been doing. How is he really doing, Teresa?” Johnny asked, his voice scratchy from fatigue and pain.
“He’s developed a fever, Johnny, but you know Scott. He’s a fighter,” Teresa said as she walked over to Johnny’s bed. She picked up a pitcher of water and poured some into a glass. She handed it to Johnny and watched as he drained the cool liquid.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Feel like eating a little something?”
“You been baking?” Johnny asked hopefully.
“No, besides you wouldn’t be allowed to have any just yet. Dr. Jenkins said only broth for a few days.”
“Where is the doc? Shouldn’t he be here with Scott?” “He had to check on the Miller boy. He broke his leg three days ago and Dr. Jenkins wanted to make sure he was staying off it. I’m going to get you that broth. I’ll be right back. Stay in bed, Johnny,” she ordered as she left the room.
As soon as Johnny heard her retreating footsteps, he threw back the blankets and hauled his trembling body from the bed. He staggered to his brother’s side and knelt in front of him. “Hey, Boston, hell of a mess we’ve gotten into again,” he said as he took the wet cloth and bathed Scott’s fevered brow.
“J…Johnny,” Scott’s voice was low, but Johnny didn’t miss the quietly spoken word.
“Hey, Scott, how you feeling?” he asked, only slightly relieved to hear his brother.
“I’ve f…felt b…better,” Scott said as he tried to lift his head. A grimace of pain marred his handsome features and Johnny placed his hand gently on his shoulder.
“I bet you have, Boston. You’ve looked better too,” Johnny laughed.
“T…thanks,” Scott said, forcing a weak smile to his lips.
“Johnny Lancer, I told you not to get out of bed,” Teresa said as she returned with a mug of broth.
“He’s awake, Teresa,” Johnny told her and hid a smile as her attention was turned to Scott.
She placed the mug of warm broth in Johnny’s hand and looked into Scott’s open eyes, “How’re you feeling, Scott?” she asked.
“I…I’m fine,” he said.
Johnny laughed at the response Scott gave Teresa. He’d told Johnny the truth, but tried to hide it from the dark-haired girl. “Sure you are, Boston,” he said.
“Johnny, let’s get you back to bed so I can look after Scott. Murdoch and Dr. Jenkins just rode up and you know what they’ll do if they find you out of bed. You’ll end up back in your own room,” Teresa told him.
Johnny looked at Scott and was tempted to stay where he was. He needed to feel close to Scott, to protect him from anyone who’d do him harm.
“Go,” Scott said softly.
Teresa took the mug from Johnny’s hand and placed it on the tiny table. She helped him to his feet and supported him to his bed.
Johnny hadn’t realized just how much energy he’d used up in the little trip he’d made to his brother’s side. He sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Teresa to finish plumping his pillows.
Teresa lifted his feet back on the bed and made him lay back against the soft pillows. She handed him the mug of broth. “Drink it all,” she ordered.
“How are they, Teresa?” Murdoch asked as he entered the room followed closely by Jenkins.
Jenkins walked to the bed where the older Lancer brother lay. He noticed the half-open eyes, the sweat-streaked forehead, the pale skin, and the pain that lined his face. “Morning, Scott,” he said as pulled the blanket down to reveal the bandaged wound in Scott Lancer’s back.
Murdoch watched Johnny sip the mug of broth and was glad to see him finish it all. He turned his attention to his eldest son and watched the doctor work on him. Jenkins removed the soiled bandage and cleaned the excess blood. He heard Scott’s sharp intake of breath as he cleaned the area surrounding the incision and regretted the new pain he was causing. “Easy, Scott, almost done,” Jenkins said.
“K,” Scott said weakly, clenching his teeth against the renewed agony.
Johnny watched his brother’s face and tried to leave the bed. He wanted to help Scott through this. The guilt and pain of the shooting weighed heavily on his heart, and he wondered if he should leave Lancer before anyone else got hurt because of his old way of life.
“Son, you can’t blame yourself for this,” Murdoch said, reading Johnny’s pain-filled eyes like an open book.
“Why can’t I, Murdoch? We both know whoever did this was probably out for revenge against the great Johnny Madrid,” Johnny said the last in a voice filled with anger.
“You don’t know that, Johnny. Scott could have been the target and until we know for sure, I’m keeping some guards posted. Val’s out at the site where you two were ambushed. Hopefully he’ll be able to come up with some answers,” Murdoch explained.
“N…not y…your f…fault, Brother,” Scott said, his voice weak, but it reached Johnny’s ears anyway.
Johnny’s blue eyes met Scott’s blue ones and words were no longer needed. The simple contact was enough to tell each that they would be there for the other, no matter what.
Murdoch watched the unspoken contact and smiled. His sons were more alike than either of them realized. Each man shouldered a heavy burden of pain and guilt for what had happened to them the day before.
Jenkins worried about the fever in Scott Lancer. He knew it was dangerous to the already weakened man. He finished re-bandaging the wound and opened the bottle of laudanum, “Murdoch, I need you to lift his head,” he said.
Murdoch hurried to help the doctor. He lifted Scott’s head so Jenkins could spoon in the medicine. When the medicine was finished, the doctor poured some water into a glass on the bedside table and placed it in front of Scott’s mouth. “Try some of this, Scott,” Jenkins ordered and was relieved to see the man drink a small amount. “That’s enough for now, Murdoch, but I want you to make sure he’s drinking. Next time he wakes up, see if he’ll take a little broth,” Jenkins instructed as he watched Scott’s eyes close and his breathing even out.
“I will, Doc,” Murdoch said as Jenkins made his way over to check on the second patient.
“How are you feeling, Johnny?” Jenkins asked.
“I’m fine,” Johnny lied.
“Sure you are,” Jenkins laughed. “Let’s take a look at that shoulder,” he said as he removed the sling, revealing the bandage covered wound. His eyes narrowed at the fresh blood present on the white cloth. “What have you been doing, young man?” he asked angrily.
“Nothing,” Johnny said, and winced as Jenkins removed the bloodied piece of cloth.
“He was out of bed when I came back with the broth,” Teresa told Jenkins, and smiled at Johnny.
“You’re not to get up for at least a couple of days, Johnny. I don’t want any strain on that shoulder. Do I make myself clear?” Jenkins commanded in a voice that told Johnny the man was a little more than upset.
“Yes,” Johnny said, trying to look chagrined but failing completely.
“Did you drink much broth?” Jenkins asked as he cleaned the younger Lancer’s wound.
“A mug full.”
“That’s good. I want you to take in as much fluid as you can. Lots of broth and water. If you feel up to it, you can have something solid tomorrow. By solid I don’t mean Teresa’s cakes either,” Jenkins laughed.
“Sure, Doc,” Johnny said and winced as the doctor placed his arm back in the sling. “I don’t need any of that. Save it for Scott,” Johnny said as he watched the doctor measure out a spoon of laudanum.
“I have plenty for both of you. Now open up,” Jenkins ordered and waited for Johnny to swallow the medicine.
Jenkins left a few minutes later, leaving instructions for both his patients. Murdoch sat between his sons’ beds and watched them both sleeping. Both faces so different, yet so alike in the pain that showed even in sleep.
Johnny heard whispered voices and tried to hear what they were saying. His mind seemed sluggish and he fought to remember what had happened. He felt hot and tried to move the blankets off his body.
“Easy, Johnny, you have to stay still.”
Johnny opened his eyes and tried to focus on the form before him. He tried to sit up, but pain and a soft touch forced him back into the softness of the bed. He felt terrible and his shoulder throbbed. “What happened?” he asked, his voice scratchy.
“You were shot, Son. Here drink some of this,” Murdoch said as he placed a glass of water in front of Johnny’s mouth. He smiled as his son drank half of the liquid.
“It’ll come back to you, Johnny. Just rest now,” Murdoch said as he wiped his son’s face with a cool cloth.
“You’ve got a fever, Son,” Murdoch said.
“J…Johnny,” Scott’s weak voice carried to the injured man’s bed.
Murdoch turned to the other bed and watched as Teresa bathed the sweat-soaked body lying there.
“W…who’s that?” Johnny asked, blotches of red on his cheeks.
“Scott,” Murdoch answered. Jenkins had warned him that the fever could cause confusion in both men.
“Scott? What happened to him?”
“He was shot too, Son.”
“Who’d want t…to shoot Scott?” Johnny asked softly.
“We don’t know, Son.”
“He gonna be ok?”
“If we can get his fever to break and keep him in bed, he should be ok.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Three days,” Murdoch told him.
“Can I see Scott?”
“Only from here,” Murdoch said as he pushed his chair away from the bed so his youngest could get a clear view of the other bed.
“He’s n…not good, is h…he?”
“No, Son, he’s not,” Murdoch said. He knew he couldn’t lie to Johnny about Scott. The brothers had become very close since they’d been living at Lancer.
“I s…should l…leave.”
“You’re not going anywhere. We’ve been through this, Johnny. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t Scott’s fault. The fault lies with whoever did this and we don’t know who that is yet.” Murdoch said. “I think it’s time for you to go back to sleep.” He watched as his dark-haired son closed his eyes. He gently touched the brow and was relieved to find it considerably cooler.
“How is he, Murdoch?”
“His fever’s broken.”
“Thank God,” Teresa said as tears fell from her eyes. She turned her full attention to the blond on the bed. She continued to bathe him in hopes of getting his fever to break too, but so far it raged and she could tell it was taking its toll on the already weakened body. “Come on, Scott Lancer, fight this thing,” she demanded softly.
“Why don’t you get some rest, Teresa? I’ll take over,” Murdoch suggested as he took the cloth from the young woman’s water-wrinkled hands.
“I’m ok, Murdoch,” she said.
“Sure you are. Come on, let’s get you to your room and you can rest.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll rest as soon as Jelly gets back. He can sit with Johnny and Scott while we get some sleep.” Murdoch watched her face and could tell she was about to protest again. “We need to rest so we can be there for the boys,” he said and helped her stand.
“You’ll come get me if anything happens?”
“I promise,” Murdoch said as he walked her to her room.
Johnny opened his eyes and turned his head in the direction of his brother’s bed. He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d been awake, but it was now completely dark. Jelly had taken over the job of trying to cool Scott down; he could see the slow rise and fall of his brother’s chest. Scott was no longer lying on his back. His body was turned slightly on the left side, his stomach leaning against pillows.
“Jelly,” Johnny said, hardly recognizing his own weak voice.
Jelly turned from the blond man and walked over to Johnny, “Hey, Johnny, how ya feelin’?” he asked.
“Better,” Johnny said. “How’s Boston?”
“He’s still got a fever, but I got him to take a little water earlier. You want some?”
Johnny nodded weakly and sipped from the glass. He finished half of it and lay back in the bed exhausted. “Thanks, Jelly,” he said.
“Welcome, Johnny. Now I’m gonna get back to washin’ Scott. You just let me know if ya want anything.”
“Ok,” Johnny said as he closed his eyes.
The next time Johnny woke up sunlight was streaming in through the window. ‘Gotta stop doing that,’ he thought as he realized he was missing time. He raised his head and noticed two blue-grey eyes staring back at him. “Scott,” he said with a smile.
“J…Johnny,” Scott said, returning the smile.
Johnny pushed himself up in the bed and got to his feet.
“B…better not,” Scott warned.
Johnny ignored his brother’s words and staggered to his bed. “How’re you feelin’, Boston?” he asked.
“Been b…better,” Scott said as he tried to turn further onto his side. He grimaced against the newly awakened pain.
“Think you’d better just lay still,” Johnny said as he placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder.
“G…good idea,” Scott said and noticed the far-away look in his brother’s expressive blue eyes. “What’s wrong, Johnny?” he asked.
“Why’d ya do it, Scott?” he asked sadly.
“Why’d I do what?”
“Why’d ya lay your life on the line for me?”
Scott knew what his brother was asking, but didn’t understand why he was asking it. “Tell me something, Johnny. Would you have put your life on the line for me?”
“Of course,” Johnny said as if the question was unwarranted.
“Because you’re my brother.”
“Exactly. I risked my life to save you because I love you, brother. I can’t stand the thought of going back to my old way of life. Can’t stand the idea of not having a brother.” Scott said tiredly.
“But I’m not worth it,” Johnny said despondently.
“Don’t say that,” Scott cried angrily. He tried to lift off the bed, but cried out in pain as the wound in his back protested the movement.
Lie still, Scott,” Johnny warned.
“No!” Scott’s voice was filled with anger and pain. “Y…you’re worth more than y…you know,” he said as he lifted his head and gazed into his brother’s eyes. The sadness in them made Scott cringe and he vowed to get through to him. “Johnny, please, you have to know that your life means something. I’d never be able to go back to the life I had before I had a brother. Please, B…brother, you’re needed here and not just by me,” Scott said as tears fell from his tired eyes. He didn’t care about anything, but making Johnny see the truth.
Johnny sat in the chair next to his brother’s bed and saw the truth in his eyes. “I…I don’t know what to say, Scott, except thank you,” he said as he wiped the tears from his brother’s face.
“N…no thanks needed, brother,” Scott told him and words were no longer needed between them. You’d better get back to bed,” Scott said. “Teresa j…just went to g…get some b…broth,” he managed through painful gulps.
“Guess I’d better get back before she catches me,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Too late,” Teresa said as she entered the room. She was followed in by Murdoch and Dr. Jenkins.
“Thought I told you to stay in bed,” Jenkins said as Murdoch helped Johnny to his own bed.
“You did and he’s going back there,” Murdoch said.
Jenkins had come to check on his patients and was greeted with the news that both men’s fevers had broken during the night. “Get him settled while I check this one,” Jenkins said gruffly as he sat in the chair next to his patient. “Now let’s have a look at you,” he said as he helped Scott turn totally on his stomach.
Scott bit back the cries of pain, not wanting to show his discomfort in front of the others. He felt the doctor’s hands as he removed the bandage and cleaned the wound. He tried to hold still as Jenkins prodded the painful area.
“How is he, Doc?” Johnny asked from his perch on the bed. He’d refused to lay down till he heard how his brother was doing.
“There’s no sign of infection, but he’s still going to need to stay in bed for at least another two weeks,” Jenkins said.
“Two weeks,” Scott protested.
“Would you like to try for three?” Jenkins asked.
“N…no, two’s long enough,” Scott said sheepishly.
“I believe Teresa has some broth there for you. See if you can drink all of it,” Jenkins said as he poured laudanum into a spoon and gave it to Scott. He helped turn the injured man, so he was back on his side again, propped on soft pillows. As he walked to his other patient, Teresa took his place and began feeding the blond.
Jenkins removed the bandage from Johnny’s shoulder and probed the wound gently.
“How’s he doing?” Murdoch asked.
“The wound’s healing nicely and if he stays in bed the rest of the day, he can get up for short periods tomorrow. But, Johnny, keep the arm in the sling till it heals. Too much pressure will just reopen it and we’ll have to start all over again.”
“Sure, Doc,” Johnny said with a grin.
“You’re both hopeless,” Jenkins said, looking from one brother to the other. “Have something to eat and get some rest, Johnny,” he said as he left the room, followed by Murdoch.
“N…no more,” Scott said as he closed his eyes tiredly.
Teresa looked in the bowl and saw she’d only managed to get a third of it into the injured man. “Just a little more, Scott,” she pleaded, stopping when she realized he’d fallen asleep.
“Did he drink some of it?” Murdoch asked as he returned to the room.
“A little,” Teresa told him.
“At least he got something in him. Now, what about Johnny?”
“Doc said you can have anything you want, Johnny. Something special I can get you?”
“No, Johnny, not cake. Would you like a sandwich?”
“I guess so, but I’d rather have cake and you said Doc said I could have anything I want,” Johnny teased as a grin spread on his handsome face.
“Dr. Jenkins meant anything within reason. I’ll be back in a minute with the sandwich,” Teresa laughed. As she moved past the window it shattered, spraying her with glass as she fell to the floor.
“Teresa,” Johnny called as he heard the glass break and saw Teresa fall.
Murdoch moved quickly to the girl, “Lie still,” he told her as he examined her. He’d heard the gunshot just as Teresa fell. He searched for a wound and smiled as he discovered only minor scratches.
“What happened,” Teresa asked as she tried to gain her feet only to fall back unsteadily.
“Somebody shot through the window,” Murdoch told her as he helped remove the glass from her dress.
Johnny stood next to the open window searching the area. He watched the ranch hands searching and wished he could join them. “You ok, Teresa?” he asked as he turned form the window.
“I’m fine, Johnny. Just a couple of scratches,” she said as Murdoch helped her to her feet.
“W…hat’s going on?” Scott asked from his bed.
“I just fell, Scott,” Teresa lied.
“Thought I h…heard a g…gunshot,” the blond said worriedly as his eyes closed and he once more feel asleep.
“Musta’ been dreamin, Boston,” Johnny told him.
“Murdoch,” Jelly’s voice called frantically. He raced into the bedroom and stopped as he saw the blood on Teresa’s arm. “Teresa,” he said worriedly.
“I’m fine, Jelly. It’s just a scratch, see?” she said as she wiped the tiny stream of blood from her arm.
Jelly’s face showed his relief until he remembered the paper in his hands. He passed it to Murdoch and waited for the man to read it.
“Where’d you find this?” he asked angrily.
“Jake found it outside the window,” Jelly said. “What are we gonna’ do?”
“What is it, Murdoch?” Johnny asked and Murdoch passed him the paper. “At least we know who they’re after.”
Johnny stared at the Wanted Dead or Alive poster and sat heavily on the bed. Any strength he’d felt suddenly left as he looked at the familiar face staring back at him from the poster. “This can’t be right,” he said as he turned worried blue eyes towards his brother. “Why would there be a wanted poster on Scott? And why so big a bounty?” he asked as he gazed at his father.
“I don’t know, Johnny, but we’d better find out. Someone’s offering a thousand dollars for Scott dead or alive and that’s going to make a lot of bounty hunters interested in collecting.”
“We have to do something,” Johnny said as he stood and walked to his brother’s side.
“I’m posting guards,” Murdoch told him.
“That didn’t do any good a minute ago. Teresa could have been killed,” Johnny said.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Murdoch replied angrily. “I’m going to double the guard and someone will be standing outside this window all the time.”
“I’m going to see if Val knows anything about this. I’ll be back as soon as I find out,” Johnny said as he grabbed a shirt and began to struggle into it. He ignored the pain in his shoulder as the abused skin tore.
“You’re not going anywhere!” Murdoch’s voice was low but the anger came through in his eyes.
“You can’t stop me!” Johnny’s voice had turned cold, reminding Murdoch of their first few days together.
Johnny Lancer was once more becoming Johnny Madrid and Murdoch was helpless to stop it.
Johnny gazed into the pain-filled, blue-grey eyes of his brother. “I thought you were asleep,” he said.
“H…heard everything. D…don’t go. G…gotta protect my back and I…I’ll protect yours. S…stay together J…Johnny,” Scott said and grimaced in pain.
Johnny knelt beside him and stroked the blond’s shoulder, “Easy, Boston, I’m right here.”
“S…stay,” Scott begged as he tried to sit up on the bed.
Johnny could tell his brother was in a great deal of pain and used his good hand to press him back down on the bed, “I’ll stay,” he promised, relieved when Scott went quiet under his hand.
“G…good,” Scott said as he closed his eyes against the agonizing pain that seemed to control his every waking minute.
“Is Teresa alright?” Scott continued weakly.
“I’m fine, Scott,” she said as she knelt on the opposite side of the bed.
“B…bullet didn’t h…hit you?”
“No, Scott, it didn’t hit me. Think you could handle a little broth for me?”
Scott’s weak smile did little to disguise the pain that showed on his face as he answered, “I’ll try.”
“I’ll be right back,” Teresa said as she hurried from the room.
“So you heard everything,” Murdoch said.
“Yes.” Scott’s one-word reply conveyed the sense of worry and helplessness they all felt.
“Can you think of anyone who’d put a bounty on your head?” Johnny asked.
“I was in the w…war, Johnny, made a l…lot of enemies,” Scott answered.
“The war made enemies for everyone, Scott, whether they fought in it or not,” Murdoch consoled his oldest son.
“Some more than others,” Scott murmured as his mind wandered back to the visit by Dan Cassidy that had nearly cost him his life.
“What happened during the war was not your fault, Scott, and nobody in their right mind holds it against you,” Johnny reassured as Teresa entered the room with a fully laden tray, “Looks like lunch is here. We’ll talk more later,” he said as Teresa placed the tray on the table.
Teresa placed a plate in Johnny’s hand and then turned her attention to the man in the bed. “I’ll feed you, Scott,” she said, knowing the man couldn’t turn on his back and was lying awkwardly on the bed. “Open up,” she said as she placed a spoon of broth in front of his mouth.
Scott didn’t feel like eating, but he didn’t have the strength to fight her. He opened his mouth and let the first salty taste slide down his throat. He felt as if he were a child in his weakened body and wondered if he’d ever be able to do anything for himself again.
Teresa continued to place the spoon in front of Scott’s mouth, hoping he’d finish it all. She was disappointed when he refused to open his mouth after eating less than a third of the broth. “Just a little more, Scott,” she pleaded.
“N…no more, Scott said as he tried to ignore his rebelling stomach. Even the small amount of broth didn’t set well and he knew he was going to lose it. “S…sick,” he said as he leaned his head over the side and lost what little he’d managed to swallow.
“I got him, Johnny,” Teresa said as she felt the other man come off his chair. She held Scott through it and then helped him lie back in the bed.
“S…sorry,” Scott said, his voice cracking from his tortured throat.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, Scott,” Teresa said as she wiped his face with a wet cloth.
“Get some rest, Son,” Murdoch soothed as he touched the damp, blond hair.
“Can’t, nightmares,” Scott said simply.
“What nightmares?” Murdoch asked as he sat on the bed next to his son.
“The war, it always comes back to the war. D…did some things I’m n…not proud of,” Scott said softly.
“I thought we talked this out after Dan Cassidy and his wife left. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Murdoch tried to reassure his oldest son.
“That d…doesn’t help w…when I’m sleeping,” the blond said as he drifted into the world of nightmares that plagued his unconscious mind.
“I wish there was some way to help him,” Teresa said as she placed the bowl back on the tray.
“There’s nothing we can do about the nightmares. He has to find some way to get past them himself. Right now we have to deal with this wanted poster and whoever’s out to get Scott,” Murdoch said.
“How many guards have you posted?” Johnny’s tired voice asked.
“I’ve got a man stationed at each side and the others know to keep their eyes open. Johnny, you need to get back in bed,” Murdoch said as he hurried to catch his son before he slid from the chair.
“I’m fine, Murdoch,” Johnny said, his voice belying the words. “I need to watch Scott.”
“Bed and sleep. I’ll be here to watch you both,” the older man pledged as he placed his protesting son on his bed. “You need to remember you’ve been shot too.”
“No need to remind me,” Johnny said, gasping as the pain in his shoulder intensified. He closed his eyes and joined his brother in sleep.
A week passed with no other attempts on the life of Scott or Johnny Lancer. Johnny’s wound was healing and Jenkins gave him free rein as long as he didn’t take his arm out of the sling.
Johnny never left his brother’s side as night and day they battled a fever that ravaged the weakened body. The younger Lancer refused to let his brother succumb to beckoning death. He refused to let the dark rider take Scott from him.
Scott remained oblivious of his brother’s fight to keep him alive. He heard voices talking to him, but the voices would change from friendly and caring to angry and terrifying in an instant. He cried out when tortures were inflicted on his body in the prison camp. He relived the shooting when Lewis and Hardy had come seeking revenge for something he hadn’t done.
Johnny bathed his brother’s pale face, always hoping to see his eyes open. He cringed as his brother once more rose up on the bed in an effort to get away from another form of pain. He’d place his hand gently on Scott’s back and make circular motions in an effort to offer comfort. His touch always had a calming effect on his brother and he made contact with him often.
“You gonna sleep forever, Boston. I’m gettin’ kinda tired of these one-sided talks,” Johnny said as he stroked Scott’s back. “Sides I ain’t the conversational type; that’s always been your job,” he said as a lump formed in his throat, making it hard to swallow. “Please, Scott, don’t leave me now. I haven’t even begun to learn about you. There’re so many things I want to ask ya. So many things I need to say to you. We need you. Hell I need you,” Johnny said and his strong gunfighter demeanour disappeared as he sobbed in the darkness.
“I…it’s k, Johnny.”
Johnny Lancer’s head snapped up and he looked into the dull blue-grey eyes of his brother. The sight he’d longed to see since the fever had taken hold of his brother caused his own exhausted mind and body to tremble in relief. “Oh, God, Scott, I…I thought I was gonna lose you,” he said as he swiped at the moisture on his cheeks.
“N…not a chance, b…brother,” Scott said, smiling weakly.
“Can I get ya somethin’?”
“W…water,” the blond answered.
“Here,” Johnny said as he lifted the glass to his brother’s lips. They’d been forcing water into the injured man’s mouth whenever he was conscious enough to swallow. “Not too fast, Boston, don’t want ya gettin’ sick. I’ll give ya some more in a minute.”
“How long have I been out?”
“A week since you were shot. Five days since you’ve had the fever.”
“Shot,” Scott asked, closing his eyes as he struggled to remember what had happened. Suddenly his eyes snapped open and he looked into his brother’s eyes. “You were shot!”
“I’m fine, Scott. Arm’s a little stiff, but gettin’ better. You took the worst of it.”
“Yeah, Boston, you did. Took a bullet in the back,” Johnny said, beginning to worry about his brother’s confusion over the shooting.
“Who s…shot us?” Scott asked as his eyes clouded with pain.
“Don’t know yet, Boston, but I aim to find out.”
Scott tried to retrieve the elusive memory of the shooting. Something niggled at his mind but he couldn’t quite grasp it. He’d seen someone that night, but he didn’t know if it had anything to do with what had happened to him and Johnny. The pain in his back became almost unbearable and Johnny reached for the tiny bottle of laudanum the doctor had left. He lifted his brother’s head and urged him to drink some. “You just rest, Scott. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“T…thanks, brother,” Scott said and waited for the laudanum to take affect.
“No need for thanks, Boston,” Johnny said as he massaged his brother’s temple. He listened for the even breathing that would signify his brother was sleeping and not caught up in another fever-induced nightmare. He was rewarded when a soft sigh issued from the dry lips and he smiled. ‘Stay with me, Boston. I need you more than you’ll ever know,’ he thought as he stretched his aching body.
“How is he?” Murdoch asked as he entered the room.
Johnny smiled tiredly at his father. “He was awake for a few minutes,” he said.
“That’s good news,” Murdoch said as he walked up to the bed. He looked from the sleeping form on the bed to the exhausted form in the chair. The dark circles under his youngest son’s eyes told of his lack of sleep. “I think it’s time for you to get some sleep as well.”
“I’m fine, Murdoch,” Johnny protested and then grinned as he was unable to stop the yawn that consumed his face.
“Sure you are, Son. Let’s get you to bed.”
“I have to watch Boston,” the dark-haired man said as his father pulled him to his feet.
“I’ll watch him for awhile. You get in that bed and sleep. I’ll wake you if anything happens.”
“Guess you’re right,” Johnny said as his weary legs were unable to hold him. “Can’t do much for Scott if I’m dead on my feet,” he said as he lay back against the pillow.
Murdoch watched as his youngest son was instantly asleep. He touched a pale cheek and thought of the time he’d lost with both of his sons. As he glanced at the other bed, he wondered whether he’d get the chance to try and make up for the mistakes he’d made with both of them.
He sat next to the bed that housed his oldest son and reached out to touch the gaunt face. Scott had been lean since the day he’d come to Lancer but now, due to the fever and injury, his body seemed to have shrunk even further. ‘You got to pull through this, Son,’ he thought as he placed a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Murdoch,” Johnny shouted as he stumbled from his bed grabbing for the ever-present gun.
“It’s alright, Son,” Murdoch said as he pushed the young man back on his bed.
“I heard shots,” Johnny said as he checked his gun.
“A couple of the hands decided to have a sharpshooter contest.”
“I’m sure, Son.”
“Not after Scott?”
“Not this time,” Murdoch said as he eased the man back on the bed.
‘We gotta find out who’s after him, Murdoch.”
“We will, Johnny, we will.” Murdoch said as Johnny’s eyes closed. The older man walked out of the room and hurried down the short flight of stairs. He spotted Jelly coming towards him and asked. “Who was shooting?”
“We caught two men sneaking up to the house,” Jelly told him.
“Where are they?” Murdoch asked angrily.
“Dead, boss. They kept shootin’ at us and we didn’t have much choice but to shoot back. Seems like everyone wants a piece of Scott since that bounty was put out on him.”
“I know, Jelly. Can you go sit with them? I want to take a look at the bodies.”
“Sure, Murdoch,” Jelly said as he hurried up the stairs. He looked at the sleeping brothers and wondered if they’d have them for much longer. He knew from experience that these two would do anything to protect the other one. Johnny and Scott Lancer may not have grown up together but since their first meeting, a bond had formed and it would not be broken.
Scott didn’t want to open his eyes. To do so would be to acknowledge the pain in his back. He wanted to slip back into the void where pain receded and he could at least feel some comfort. A soft, worried voice seemed to drift into the void and wouldn’t let him stay there. With considerable effort he opened his tired eyes and gazed into the worried face of his brother, a man who’d came to mean more than life itself since their first meeting.
“Welcome back, brother,” Johnny said, a tiny smile lighting up his handsome face.
“Thanks, brother,” Scott answered, his voice weak and showing the pain he still felt.
“Thought you were gonna sleep forever,” Johnny said, the depth of his worry apparent in his voice.
“How long have I been out?”
“Three days since the last time you woke up. Had us all worried you didn’t want to come back.”
“I didn’t,” Scott told him. “At least not till your voice found me. I heard you, Johnny, you kept me anchored to this life”
“I ain’t no ship, Boston, but I’ll gladly be your anchor,” Johnny said as his eyes misted.
“Can I have some water?” Scott asked, not wanting to embarrass his younger brother by acknowledging his tears. Johnny was a strong young man and it wasn’t often that he wore his emotions on his face.
“Sure, Boston, but just a little for now,” Johnny said as he lifted the glass to his brother’s lips.
“Can you help me up?” Scott asked after his thirst was slaked.
“Not yet, Scott, have to wait till the doc gets here. If he say it’s ok, we’ll get you sitting up.”
“When’s he going to be here?” Scott asked as he tried to find a more comfortable spot on the bed. Pain made him grimace and he decided he was better off staying the way he was for the moment.
“Sometime today,” Johnny answered. “He’s been out every second day to check on you. He’ll be really glad to see you awake,” Johnny said and smiled as his brother yawned. “Why don’t you go back to sleep until he gets here.”
“Could use something to eat,” Scott said as his empty stomach rumbled loudly.
Johnny laughed; he laughed until his sides hurt. The tension of the last ten days seemed to dissipate in the five words his brother spoke. His eyes sparkled mischievously as he released his pent-up emotions. “That’s good to hear, Boston, Teresa’s been waiting for you to ask for some of her broth. She’s made a gallon of the stuff.”
“I don’t want broth,” Scott said as he closed his eyes. “Get me a steak. A big steak,’ he smiled as he closed his eyes to sleep.
“How’s the arm, Johnny?”
“It’s better, Doc,” Johnny answered.
“Let me be the judge of that. Get your shirt off,” Jenkins ordered.
“Now, Johnny, I want to make sure you haven’t been doing anything you shouldn’t be doing.”
“Me?” Johnny asked innocently.
“Don’t give me that look, Son, just get the shirt off.”
“Al right, Doc,” Johnny said as he unbuttoned the bright blue shirt, revealing his lean, hard body bronzed by days in the sun. The white bandage covering his shoulder was the only evidence of the trauma he’d suffered ten days before.
Jenkins removed the bandage and inspected the wound. A tiny smile covered his wrinkled face as he realized the younger Lancer had indeed been taking it easy on the arm. The skin around the area showed no sign of infection and he recovered the wound with a new bandage. “I think you’ll be able to leave the bandage off in a day or too. You can put your shirt back on,” Jenkins said as he turned to the patient in the bed. “Has he been awake?” he asked worriedly.
Murdoch stepped into the room as his younger son began to button his shirt, “How is he Doc?”
“He’ll be fine, Murdoch, he just has to take it easy on his arm for a little longer,” Jenkins said as he sat in the chair next to Scott. He placed a grizzled hand on Scott’s back and spoke softly. “You gonna open your eyes and look at me, Scott?” he asked softly.
“Huh,” Scott said as he forced his eyes open.
“That’s better. How are you feeling?” Jenkins asked as his experienced eyes took in the gaunt features, the pale, translucent skin, the dull eyes.
“Better,” Scott answered softly.
“Good, but I don’t really believe you,” Jenkins laughed. “I’m gonna take a look at your back,” he said as he removed the bandage from the wounded area.
Scott bit back a muffled cry as the elderly hands probed at the wound. He kept his back rigid as the pain washed over him in waves.
“Easy, Son, I’m almost finished,” Jenkins said as he continued to inspect the wound. “Looks good, Scott,” he said as he finished and placed a new bandage over the area. He was surprised and happy that there was no sign of infection. He laughed as Scott’s stomach growled loudly. “Feel up to eating something?” he asked.
“He wanted a steak earlier,” Johnny laughed.
“I don’t think so, young man,” Jenkins told Scott. “We’ll start you off with a little broth. If your stomach can handle that, we’ll start you on more solid foods in a day or two. Murdoch, can you ask Teresa to bring up some broth?”
“I’ll be right back,” Murdoch said.
“Can I sit up?” Scott asked.
“You sure you feel up to it?” Jenkins queried.
“Think so. Tired of lying down all the time,” Scott told the older man.
“As soon as Murdoch gets back, we’ll see about sitting you up for awhile. But I don’t want you overdoing it. As soon as you’ve eaten, we’ll be lying you back down. Understand?”
“Sure, Doc,” Scott said with a grin.
Johnny recognized the smile. He’d seen it on his brother’s face before and knew the doctor would be in for an argument when the time came for Scott to lie back in the bed.
“Teresa will bring food up in a couple of minutes,” Murdoch said as he entered the room.
“That’s fine, Murdoch. Now I need you to help me turn Scott and get him in a sitting position,” Jenkins said.
“Is that a good idea right now?” Murdoch asked worriedly.
“I’m tired of lying down, Murdoch,” Scott answered.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Jenkins said as Murdoch moved to the opposite side of the bed. “Johnny, when we sit him up I want you to place extra pillows behind his back.”
“Sure, Doc,” Johnny said as he grabbed his own pillow and stood next to the bed.
“Scott,” Jenkins said as he placed his hand on the blonds shoulder. “This is gonna hurt. If it gets too much, just let me know and we’ll stop. Ok?”
“Sure, Doc,” Scott said as he braced himself for the pain he knew would come with the move.
Murdoch and Jenkins gently turned Scott unto his back.
Johnny watched his brother’s rapidly paling face and moved to help.
“No, you don’t, Johnny.” Murdoch warned as they lay Scott against the pillow.
Scott tried to ride out the reawakened pain. His back felt as if it were on fire and beads of sweat broke out on his face, chest, and back. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes in an effort to catch his breath and relax the tremors that persistently shook his body.
“Easy, Son,” Murdoch said as he rubbed Scott’s arm.
“I…I’m fine, M…Murdoch,” Scott said in a tremulous voice, fighting the urge to give into unconsciousness.
“Sure you are, Scott,” Jenkins said. “Here drink some of this.”
Scott opened his mouth and swallowed the obnoxious liquid without opening his eyes. He knew if they saw the pain there, they’d make him stay in the position he was in and he desperately wanted, no, needed to sit up.
“Now you just rest for a couple of minutes. There’s no hurry on this and I want to let the laudanum take hold before we continue. If it gets too much for you, just let me know and I’ll stop it,” Jenkins told the trembling man.
“K,” Scott ground out through clenched teeth. He let his mind wonder back to the night of the shooting, trying to picture the elusive memory that refused to clear. He could see a man’s outline, but not the face. There was something eerily familiar about him and it caused Scott to shiver uncontrollably.
“I don’t think he’s ready for this,” Murdoch protested as he felt his son’s body tremble under his touch.
“You may be right,” Jenkins said.
Scott shook his head at the two men, the memory once again fading. “No, please I have to do this. I have to do it now,” he pleaded.
“Why?” Johnny asked.
“Feel too helpless. Need to be able to reach my gun,” Scott told them. “Have to protect Johnny.”
“I can protect myself, Scott,” Johnny said.
“Shot Johnny,” Scott’s voice sounded far away even to his own ears. “Can’t let him know I saw him. Wants me dead, can’t let him near Johnny,” his voice took on a dreamy quality as the laudanum numbed his mind. “Can’t let him kill the others. Have to leave,” he said softly.
“Who wants you dead, Scott?” Murdoch asked.
“Him. Never knew his name. Hated him then, still do now. Kill him if I could,” the blond’s voice seemed terrified as he continued to talk as if in a stupor. “He killed them all. The kids never had a chance. Wants me dead cause I saw him. Grandfather wouldn’t believe me. He said it was all in my head,” tears fell unbidden from his eyes.
“Who is he, Scott?” Johnny asked.
“The Dark Man. Saw him, know who he is. What he did. He’ll be after me,” Scott said in a little boy’s voice.
“Do you know his name?” Murdoch asked.
“Huh. Whose name? What’s going on?” Scott asked as he came fully awake. “Thought you were going to help me sit up.”
Jenkins shook his head at Murdoch and Johnny, signalling that he didn’t want them to continue to question Scott. “We are, Scott. I just wanted you to let the laudanum take care of the pain before we continued. Do you feel alright now?”
“Hurts, but not too bad. I need to sit up,” the blond repeated.
“Ok, but let us do all the work,” Jenkins said. “Ready?”
“I think so,” Scott said, not at all sure he was really ready for another move. He set his teeth against the onslaught of new pain he knew he’d feel as the two men lifted him forward.
By the time he was sitting up, pain radiated from his back to every nerve ending in his body. He felt Johnny tuck the soft pillows behind his back and the two men gently lay him back against them. “T…thanks,” he said breathlessly.
“You’re welcome, Boston,” Johnny said as he sat next to his brother.
Scott’s body trembled as he fought to control the pain. He bit his lip in an effort to keep just how much he was hurting from the people in the room.
Johnny knew his brother well enough to know what he was doing and he reached down and took his hand in his.
Scott didn’t open his eyes as he felt the familiar touch. He squeezed the hand holding his own and let a tiny smile touch his lips. “Thanks, Johnny,” he said in a tremulous voice.
“Anytime, Scott, anytime,” the younger Lancer said.
“I hear someone’s hungry,” Teresa said as she entered the room with a fully laden tray.
Scott opened his eyes and smiled at the dark-haired, young woman, “A little,” he said with a smile.
She lay the tray down on the tiny bedside table and pulled a napkin from it. She placed it on the blond’s chest and sat in the chair next to the bed.
“I can do it,” Scott said as she went to feed him the broth.
“I’d rather you let Teresa help you right now, Scott,” Jenkins said.
“I can do it,” the blond repeated a little more firmly.
“Look at your hands, Son,” Murdoch instructed.
“My hands,” the older Lancer said. “Why?”
“Take a look,” Johnny told him.
Scott held his hands out in front of him and was shocked to see how shaky they were. He tried to bring them under control, but only managed to make it worse.
“Now you see why you need help?” Jenkins asked.
“Guess so. Will this stop?” the blond asked worriedly.
“It’ll pass soon enough. This is the first time you’ve been allowed to sit up since the shooting and your body is feeling the effects of being in one position for so long. You’re also pretty weak and this is the way it’s letting you know to take it easy. Let someone else do things for you for a while, ok?”
“Ok, Doc,” Scott said as he gripped the blanket on his bed in an effort to stop his hands from trembling.
“Open up, Scott,” Teresa said with a smile.
Scott opened his mouth and swallowed the slightly salty tasting liquid. The warmth began to seep into his body and he realized just how hungry he really was. He finished half the bowl before the effects of the laudanum made his eyes close.
“Scott?” Johnny said as he felt his brother’s body relax.
“He’s sleeping,” Jenkins said. “Let’s leave him for now. When he wakes up, I want you to get him to try some more. It’s important to make him drink. Whether it’s water, juice or broth, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure he’s drinking. Now let’s take one of those pillows out and let him rest.” Johnny and Murdoch lifted the sleeping man as Teresa pulled out one of the pillows. They eased the injured man gently back against the last pillow and tucked the blanket over him.
“I’ll stay with him,” Johnny said.
“Alright, Son. I’m going to check with the men and see if they’ve seen anything,” Murdoch said.
“I’ll be back in a couple of days to check on him,” Jenkins said. “Just make sure he’s getting those liquids and don’t let him try to move about on his own yet!”
“Don’t worry, Doc, we won’t,” Johnny said.
The young boy hated spiders. Hated the way they crawled around in the dark. Crawling over his hands, his legs, his feet, but worst of all was when they crawled over his face. His bound hands made it impossible for him to get rid of them. To his tired mind, they owned him. They were his master, at least until the dark man came to see him. His terrified screams only added to the man’s perverse pleasure.
He watched as the man selected one of his victims and the frightened child was tortured in front of the others. There were five other kids in the tiny root cellar. He was the most recent acquisition and the dark man seemed to want him to see everything he did. Scott Lancer closed his eyes and mind to the panic-stricken screams of the other children. He fought his own fears in an effort to stay sane. There was nothing his eight-year-old body could do to prevent what was happening.
“Your time will come, young Scott,” the heavily accented voice said. “You will not be leaving this place alive.
“NO! Oh please don’t hurt me,” the young boy cried as he felt two strong arms holding him. “I can’t do this. Oh, God, they’re all dead. I’m next! Have to escape. NO! He’s after me. Gotta run! Grandfather! Help me please!”
“NO! Oh, God, No!” Scott screamed as two strong hands reached down and refused to let him go.
“Scott! It’s ok, Scott.”
“NO! They’re dead. He’s killed them all and I’m next! Oh, God, so much blood!” the blond screamed as he fought against the arms that held him.
“Scott, listen to me! It’s just a dream! You’re safe. No one’s gonna hurt you,” Johnny tried to get through to the older man, but Scott Lancer was caught in a nightmare that had lain dormant for nearly seventeen years. The horrific ordeal he’d endured had finally broken through to his consciousness as his nightmare brought it all to the surface. Sobbing, bone-wracking cries tore from the blond’s mouth as tears fell from his closed eyes.
“What’s going on?” Murdoch asked as he hurried to the bed, Teresa and Jelly right behind him.
“He’s having some kind of nightmare,” Johnny said as his own tears joined his brother’s.
The young boy ran until his tiny legs could stand no more. Somehow he’d gotten away but he couldn’t remember how. He screamed louder as a body fell in front of him. The body was that of a man. He didn’t know why the dark hair and sightless blue eyes should affect him, but he screamed and lifted the man’s head into his lap.
“No! Not Johnny!” he screamed into the room and tried to come off the bed.
“Scott!” Murdoch called as he joined Johnny in trying to hold down the blond.
Scott continued to be held in the grip of his worst nightmare. He heard the voices but didn’t recognize them.
Jelly held Teresa as she sobbed against his shoulder. There was nothing they could do until Scott snapped out of it.
“Jelly, send one of the men after Doc Jenkins,” Murdoch shouted above his son’s terrified screams.
“Go,” Teresa said as Jelly stepped away from her.
“Come on, Scott!” It’s just a dream!” Murdoch said.
“Come on, Scott, wake up,” Johnny said as he pushed a sweat soaked lock of hair from the blond’s forehead, his own tears dropping unnoticed on the pale cheeks.
Someone was calling him. Trying to bring him out of this nightmare world. Someone who cared about him. He turned his head as something struck him from behind sending him flying into the darkness. He landed heavily up against a fence. His breath was driven from his lungs as he tried to scream. The dark man was coming for him, but he didn’t care anymore. Johnny was dead and he’d never look into those caring blue eyes again. “Please let me die,” he said softly.
“Please let me die.”
“No, Boston, I won’t let you die, cause if you do I’ll be going with you,” Johnny said sharply.
Scott’s terrified mind focused on one word. Only one man called him Boston. A man he’d known only a short time but had grown to care for a great deal. Somehow Johnny’s plea got through the tortured dreams and he looked away from the dark images that surrounded his mind.
Johnny Lancer looked into the now lucid eyes of his brother. “Thank God, Scott,” he said as he felt tears of relief join the scared ones he’d already shed.
“What happened?” Scott asked as his mind once again locked the terrifying memories of a tortured past away.
“You were having a nightmare, Son,” Murdoch said.
“Nightmare,” Scott said and his eyes began to cloud.
“No, Scott, don’t try to remember right now,” Johnny said, not sure he could relive the terrifying sight of his brother caught in the throes of a nightmare he barely woke up from.
“Scott,” Murdoch said and was relieved when Scott’s eyes focused on him. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” Scott said but found he was reluctant to go back to sleep.
“What about your back?” Johnny asked, worried that the thrashing his brother had done during the nightmare had caused a setback in the healing process.
“It’s ok,” Scott lied.
“Sure it is, Boston. I’m just gonna reach my hand under you and check for myself,” the dark-haired Lancer said.
Murdoch watched the exchange between his sons and held the blond still while Johnny slipped his hand under his brother. Scott moaned as he felt the hand touch the bandage that covered the wound, causing Murdoch to hold him tighter.
Teresa watched as the two men cared for the injured blond. She gasped as Johnny pulled his hand out and found his palm covered in blood. Scott stared at the bloody hand, unable to fathom its meaning.
Johnny stared at Murdoch, both men exchanging a look of horror as they realized Scott had reopened the wound in his back.
“Scott, we’re going to have to turn you so we can stop the bleeding till Doc. Jenkins gets back here,” Murdoch told him.
“No, p…please,” the blond pleaded as he remembered the pain he’d suffered when they’d moved him onto his back. “It’ll s…stop. Just l…leave me.”
“Can’t do that, Boston,” Johnny said. “I know it’s gonna hurt, but we have to see what’s happened.”
“W…wait for the d…doc,” Scott tried.
“Teresa,” Murdoch instructed, looking at the pale young woman. “Bring us something we can use to stop the bleeding.”
“Right away,” she said as she hurried from the room.
“I think so, Murdoch,” Johnny said, steeling his heart against the pain he was about to help his father inflict on his brother.
“P…please,” Scott pleaded again.
Murdoch and Johnny carefully turned the blond on his side. Johnny’s eyes met Murdoch’s as he saw the extent of the bleeding in the older man’s back. Blood now soaked the square white bandage, seeping through the sides to run slowly down his bare skin.
“S…stop,” Scott cried breathlessly.
“Just a little more, Boston,” Johnny reassured his brother as they continued to turn the blond till he was lying on his stomach.
Scott tried to control his shaking body as he rode out the pain radiating once again from his lower back. He didn’t hear Teresa coming back into the room. He didn’t feel Johnny cutting away the bandages, but he did feel Murdoch press a clean towel over the wound in an effort to stop the bleeding.
Johnny sat with his brother, waiting for the doctor to come back. Three hours had passed when he heard a carriage pulling into the yard.
“The doc’s back, Scott,” he told his brother as he bathed the warm skin.
“K,” the blond said softly.
“Hey, Boston,” Johnny said, “I didn’t know you were awake.”
“B…been awake for a…awhile,” the blond answered tiredly.
Murdoch, Jenkins and Jelly entered the room together and Johnny felt his shoulders sag in relief.
“Well, Scott, what have you been up to?” Jenkins asked as he placed his bag on the table beside the bed.
“Really?” Jenkins asked with a grin. “Then why did Murdoch send one of the men for me in such a hurry?”
“D…don’t know,” Scott answered.
“Well let’s see if we can find out,” Jenkins said as he removed the towel from his patient’s back. His long years of being a doctor had made it easy for him to hide any reaction from his patients. “Teresa, bring me some clean water,” he said as he looked at the partially reopened wound. “Scott, I’m gonna need to re-stitch this,” he explained as he measured a dose of laudanum. “I want you to take this and we’ll give it a few minutes to take effect before we start.”
Scott swallowed the liquid and turned pleading eyes on his brother. “Please. J…Johnny d…don’t let him…”
The blond’s voice sounded weaker than Johnny had ever heard and Johnny’s handsome face reflected how grim he felt the situation was. “Come on, Boston, I’ll stay here with you, ok?”
“Ok,” Scott whispered softly as his brother’s presence soothed his tortured mind and body.
“Thank you, Teresa,” Jenkins said as she placed the pan of warm water on the table beside his open bag. Jenkins watched Scott for a few minutes, relieved when his heavy eyes remained closed for longer and longer periods. “I think we can begin,” he said as he lifted the tiny needle and began to replace the broken stitches.
The boy ran from the horror of the cellar. His small legs seemed to get him nowhere as he tried to escape the never-ending nightmares that chased him. He could hear heavy footsteps closing in behind him and he tried to outdistance them in his nightmare, as he had during the first minutes of his escape from the Dark Man. Stumbling blindly in the dark, his small body rolled down a steep hill and came to rest by the side of a white picket fence. He screamed for help as he saw the Dark Man standing at the top of the hill. Suddenly, his eyes were blinded by a white light and he looked towards the house, surprised and relieved to see an elderly couple standing there. The woman rushed forward and knelt beside him, brushing the dirty hair from his equally dirty eyes. Scott Lancer looked into the kind blue eyes, lined with aged wrinkles and let the tears fall as great wracking sobs burst from his tiny body.
“Scott, come on, brother, it’s just a dream. You’re safe now,” Johnny reassured.
“N…never be safe w…with the Dark m…man after me,” Scott’s voice was distant and scared as he continued to dream of his past.
“Who’s the Dark Man?” Jenkins asked.
“We’re not sure,” Johnny answered. “I think he’s someone from Scott’s past, but why he’s causing these nightmares I don’t know.”
“I think it’s important that you find out,” the doctor told them
“I think it’s time to contact Harlan,” Murdoch said begrudgingly.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Johnny said.
“Doc, can you send a telegram for me when you get to Green River?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure,” Jenkins said as he followed Murdoch from the room.
Johnny could hear Jenkins giving Murdoch last minute instructions on the care of the injured blond. The old doctor had taken a look at Johnny’s shoulder after he’d finished with Scott and had made him put the sling back on his arm with a warning to stop abusing it. He glanced at his brother before turning to the open window.
The scene before him had always been a soothing balm for his own troubled mind. The lush green hills that surrounded the ranch were one of the things that kept him at Lancer. The scene did nothing for him today as he listened to his brother struggle with nightmares he couldn’t help with. ‘Who are you and what did you do to Scott?’ he asked as he gazed at the setting sun. ‘Whoever you are, you won’t hurt my brother any more. I’ll see to that if it’s the last thing I do!’
Over the next few weeks Scott Lancer improved rapidly under the care of his family. His brother’s love helped to extinguish some of the vivid nightmares and the Dark Man seemed to be a thing of the past. There were still times when Scott would wake up a muffled scream on his lips, but they were slowly becoming a distant memory.
There’d been no more attempts on his life and he’d finally convinced Jenkins to allow him out of bed. He sat in front of the house, ignoring the twinges of pain he felt when he tried to get comfortable. Once in a while a tiny groan escaped his lips and he’d reach his hand to his lower back and massage lightly. He’d stopped needing the laudanum the week before and the confusion that had surrounded him since he’d been shot had lifted.
“Hey, Boston, you’re lookin’ better today.”
“Thanks, Johnny,” the blond said. “Is that for me?” he asked, reaching for the glass of lemonade in his brother’s hands.
“Well, it wasn’t, but if you ask nicely I just might let you have it,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Johnny, stop teasing and give that to Scott,” Teresa ordered as she joined the two men. “I’ll make more for you later.”
“Johnny,” the blond mocked as he took the glass from his brother.
“Can’t a guy have a little fun? Is that chocolate cake, Teresa?” Johnny asked eyeing the single plate on the tray Teresa had placed on the table between herself and Scott.
“It is. But it’s for Scott. If I remember correctly you’ve had more than your share,” she laughed at his chagrined look. “Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong, Johnny. I saw the mess of crumbs in your room. Which reminds me, the broom is in the kitchen when you’re ready to clean it up.”
“Ah, come on, Teresa, you know it’s my favourite.”
Scott Lancer closed his eyes and listened to his brother and Teresa bantering back and forth. With his eyes closed he could forget the guards still posted around the ranch, an ever-present reminder that someone still wanted him dead.
Murdoch Lancer stood by the door watching his family. He’d received word from Harlan Garrett stating that the Dark Man from Scott’s nightmares was just a remnant of Scott’s having been lost as an eight-year-old boy. Garrett’s nonchalance in the matter had angered Murdoch to the point that if the elderly man had been handy, he would have hit the man.
Murdoch Lancer had learned a few things in the year and a half his sons had been living on the ranch. Scott’s paleness told him his oldest son was still not as well as he led them to believe, and the solemn quietness told him the blond was still being haunted by nightmares.
Johnny’s attitude had changed from showing his worry to trying to keep his brother laughing and carefree. Every night Johnny Lancer walked out of the house and searched the surrounding grounds. He needed to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows, waiting to take his older brother from him.
Murdoch watched Teresa as she kept up the light-hearted banter with the two men. He knew she was trying as hard as Johnny to make Scott forget the nightmares. They’d all been awakened by the blond’s childlike screams as they echoed through the house on more than one occasion.
Scott’s lack of restful sleep had also contributed to the blond’s extreme paleness. Jenkins had told them the wound in his back was healing nicely now and it was important to prevent any setbacks. Murdoch vowed he wouldn’t let anyone or anything hurt his sons.
The Dark Man stood in the shadows, watching, waiting, anxiously expectant. He had to get his hands on the boy again. He didn’t consider Scott Lancer a grown man. He was the Boy; the Boy who’d escaped. The Boy who’d cost him everything he’d had going in Boston. The Boy who could now cost him everything he had going in Green River. He needed to get his hands on the Boy before that happened and this time there would be no escape for Scott Lancer. He closed his eyes, envisioning the last time the Boy had been in his hands. He’d nearly broken him then but the Boy had slipped away. ‘You will not escape me this time, Scott Lancer. This time I will finish what I started and you will break under my hands,’ he thought as he continued to watch the house.
Scott was finally alone. He slipped out of the house and stood in the front yard, gazing at the round, full moon overhead. He was tired of being under everyone’s watchful eye. The shooting had happened a month ago and he was finally feeling close to normal, except if he overdid things. He knew there were still guards posted and he wished Murdoch and Johnny would realize that the threat was finally over.
‘He’s alone,’ the Dark Man thought as he leered at the boy standing in the front of the house. He waited for the guard to pass his hiding place and threw his arms around the man’s slender neck. With a powerful twist he snapped the neck, cutting off any cries from his victim. He dropped the man beside the barn and pushed him into the shadows.
The Dark Man looked back at the yard and a tiny glimmer of fear surfaced when he didn’t see his intended victim. He finally spotted him leaning against the fence to his left. He needed his victim closer in order to get him where he wanted him.
Scott heard a noise beside the barn and walked slowly towards it. He’d seen the guard a moment before and wondered if the man was ok. “Roy, are you there?” he asked.
Scott heard the whispered voice and any concern for his own safety disappeared in the face of an injured man. He picked up his pace as the gasping became more pronounced. “Roy,” he said again as he rounded the corner of the barn. The sight that greeted him in the moon’s white light made him back up a step. Roy Murphy’s body lay in the shadows, his neck obviously broken, his eyes staring unseeing at Scott.
“Oh, God,” Scott’s voice quivered as his mind drifted back in time. A time when a small boy gazed into the dead eyes of another victim.
“Not God, Scott Lancer.”
Scott heard the voice of his nightmares and tried to turn. A hand snaked around his head and a cloth was placed over his mouth. He recognized the smell of chloroform as he struggled against the hand. He held his breath as he fought, but a knee delivered to his lower back caused him to breathe deeply, the noxious fumes making his head spin.
“You’re mine, Boy,” the Dark Man gloated as Scott lost his fight to remain conscious.
Johnny stretched his body, trying to work out the sleep-induced kinks. The sun had yet to make its appearance and he wondered why he’d awakened so early. He had never been a morning person and it usually took his brother to get him to open his eyes before breakfast was on the table.
The thought of his brother sent a shiver down his spine and set his nerves on edge. He knew instinctively something was wrong and he climbed out of his bed and hurried to the blond’s bedroom. He wasn’t surprised when he found the bed empty. He’d learned from their first few days together that Scott was an early riser, but the fact that he didn’t smell fresh coffee worried him. If his brother were up, he’d have made the coffee and the rich smell would have permeated the house.
Johnny made his way down the stairs and searched the lower level. His anxiety rose as he found no trace of his brother.
Silently he buckled on his gun belt and opened the front door. The lightening of the sky signalled the arrival of dawn. Normally the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding countryside took his breath away, but Johnny Lancer had little thought for the majestic beauty of nature.
He stalked from the house and glanced around the front yard. The first warning that things were not what they should be was the fact that he couldn’t see the guard who’d been posted the night before.
Heart hammering in his chest, hands held at his sides, trigger-like reflexes ready for anything, Johnny made his way towards the barn. The quiet of the pre-dawn hours had given way to the sounds of birds, crickets, and other animals, but the younger Lancer heard none of these sounds.
He reached the barn and moved slowly towards the side. His eyes were caught and held by the shape of a man’s body. His first thought on seeing the tuft of blond hair was that he’d lost something more precious than life itself.
Johnny knelt by the body and was relieved that it wasn’t his brother. He recognized one of the new hands and felt sorry for the way his life had ended; but in truth and honesty, Johnny had to admit he was glad it wasn’t his brother lying cold and lifeless on the ground.
‘Where are you, Scott?’ he thought as he studied the area surrounding the body. A tiny patch of white caught his eye and he bent to pick it up. Johnny could detect a faint trace of odour from the cloth. He recognized the smell because it had been used on him a few times over his years as a gunslinger.
Holding the cloth in one hand, he searched the area as the sky around him brightened. He discovered some signs of a struggle, but what held his attention was the small trail through the grass. It was a distinct pattern as if a body had been dragged through it. There was no doubt in Johnny Lancer’s mind that it was Scott’s feet that had left the trail. He followed the trail as far as a copse of trees behind the barn where they disappeared to be replaced by the tracks of a horse.
Johnny rushed back to the house, yelling for help as he did so.
Murdoch heard the sounds of yelling and rushed to the open door. In the pale light he saw his youngest son running towards the house. He knew something was wrong by the heaving shoulders and angry eyes. “What’s wrong?” he demanded as Johnny rushed past him.
“Roy’s dead and Scott’s missing,” Johnny told him.
“What?” Murdoch gasped as he grabbed his own guns and followed his son out the door.
“What’s going on?” Teresa asked as she came down the stairs in time to see Murdoch and Johnny rush back out the door. She finished tying her dressing gown and followed the two men.
“Stay there, Teresa,” Murdoch yelled as she stepped out the front door.
“I found Roy’s body over here,” Johnny shouted as his father tried to keep up with him.
Murdoch knelt beside the dead man and shook his head. “Looks like his neck’s been broken,” he said.
“I know. Takes a mighty strong man to do that. I came out searching for Scott and found him here. God, Murdoch, I thought it was Scott!” Johnny exclaimed as he struggled to control his pent-up emotions.
“It’s ok, Johnny, it’s a normal reaction.”
“I keep telling myself that but I feel guilty for reacting like that. I mean this man is dead,” Johnny said.
“There’s nothing we can do for him now,” Murdoch told his son. “We have to find Scott.”
“I found tracks leading away from here. It looks like someone was dragging someone else. I found this too. Smells like chloroform,” Johnny said as he passed the small piece of cloth.
Murdoch took the cloth and swore angrily, “It’s chloroform. Something tells me your brother’s in more trouble than we thought. Where do the tracks lead?” he asked.
“They disappear into those trees. There is one set of hoof prints leading deeper into them. I’m gonna follow them as soon as I get some supplies.”
“We’re going to look for him. I’ll have Jelly get the rest of the men searching as well.”
The older man looked into his son’s eyes and saw the fear and worry there, “I know, Johnny.”
“We have to find him,” Johnny said simply, his voice shaky even to his own ears.
“You get the horses ready. I’ll tell Teresa and Jelly and grab some supplies.”
“Alright, Murdoch,” Johnny said as the older man hurried away. Johnny Lancer looked towards the trees wondering where his brother was. A silent plea on his lips. ‘Stay alive, Boston. I’ll find you! Somehow I’ll find you and when I do I’ll kill the sick son of a bitch who’s doing this to you,’ he thought.
Miles away in a deep, dark cellar, a lone man opened his eyes to darkness. Fear emanated from every pore of his body. ‘Oh, God, spiders,’ he thought as he felt the fuzzy creatures crawling over his sensitive skin.
Scott Lancer tried to move, but his arms were twisted behind his back, pulled so tightly that his hands felt numb. His ankles were tied as well, his legs bent at the knees; a rope linked his ankles to his elbows and snaked up and around his neck, making it impossible for him to move without pulling the noose tighter and cutting off his air supply.
He wanted to scream, but the filthy gag in his mouth made his stomach queasy and he couldn’t take the chance of choking on his own vomit. Somehow he had to get away from the Dark Man.
He tried to roll unto his stomach but the ropes made it impossible. He wanted to use the privy so badly that his kidneys ached. He wondered if he’d be allowed to relieve himself or if the Dark Man would make him wait till there was no choice but to let it out.
He heard something above him and knew his worst nightmare was about to visit him for real. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he found himself reliving the early days of his childhood captivity. He vowed not to show the fear that had taken hold deep in his belly, spreading outwards till it encompassed every nerve, every fibre of his being. He couldn’t show the Dark Man just how much he terrified him.
He closed his eyes as a bright light was thrust through a narrow opening above him. “So, Boy, you are finally awake.”
In spite of his vow not to show his fear, the familiar voice of his childhood and adult nightmares sent icy shivers down his abused spine.
“How do you like your new quarters, Boy? I admit they are not as big as the ones in Boston, but at least here you don’t have to share your residence.”
Scott felt some relief, knowing that others were not here to share his own personal hell; but the man’s next words took away that tiny sense of relief.
“If you try to escape I promise not only will I hurt you, but I’ll bring others here. You remember what happened to the other kids that kept you company. I’m happy right now just to have you back, at least for a little while. But so help me, I will bring others here if you do anything to make me angry. Blink your eyes if you understand.”
Scott blinked his eyes, letting anger come to the front and beating back his own fears. He could not allow this man to take his anger out on others. He’d stay until he found a way to kill the Dark Man, even if it cost him his own life to do so, and he knew that was likely just the price he’d have to pay.
“Good. I think it’s time for a few games, Boy,” the Dark Man threatened as he reached down and lifted the blond from his prison.
Scott fought to breathe as the rope tightened around his neck. Pain reverberated from cramped muscles in his arms and legs as he was pulled from the tiny cellar and dropped onto a cold hard floor.
“I’m going to cut the ropes around your neck and ankles. Try anything and I’ll punish you, then I’ll go find some kid. Understand?” he asked as he pulled the filthy gag from Scott’s mouth.
Scott breathed deeply of the foul smelling air in the basement.
The Dark Man lashed out with his boot and connected with Scott’s left side. “Understand?” he snarled again.
“Y…yes,” the blond answered as he tried to breathe through the flaring agony in his side.
“Good,” the Dark Man said as he sliced through the ropes on his captive’s ankles and neck. The Dark Man slipped his arms around Scott and lifted him to a chair. He forced him to sit and then secured his arms to the back and his ankles to the legs. “Do you know what you cost me, Boy?”
“I wish I’d have cost you your worthless life,” Scott said defiantly.
The Dark Man laughed at his victim. “It didn’t cost me that, but it will cost you your life. Oh, it may take some time but eventually I will kill you. For now I want to show you something I learned from a close friend,” he snickered as he turned away and walked to a large wooden shelf.
Scott took the time to look around his prison. He was being held in a basement lined with shelves and wicked looking devices he didn’t recognize. The dusty area was covered in shadows from the tiny lamp set on a table a few feet from where he sat. His attention was brought back to his tormentor when the light flashed off a metal object in his hands.
“I’m sure you know what this is, Boy. I bet Doc Jenkins used one of these to get the bullet out of your back. But what I have in mind is a little different than what that old man did with his,” the Dark Man gloated as held the tiny blade into the flame of the lamp.
Scott had no idea what his tormentor had in mind, but he knew it wasn’t going to bode well for him. He clamped his teeth shut to stop himself from asking, not really wanting to know the answer.
The metal glowed red hot as the Dark Man pulled it from the flame. Without looking at his victim, he walked behind the blond and spoke in his ear. “A little something I learned from a mad doctor friend of mine,” He said as he pressed the point of the hot blade into the tender skin of Scott Lancer’s right shoulder.
“No!” Scott’s scream was ripped from his throat as the blade slowly sunk into his flesh. He tried to pull away from the source of the burning pain, but the ropes held him immobile and he felt the blade being slowly withdrawn. The smell of burning skin caused his already queasy stomach to lose its contents.
“Damn, that had to hurt, Boy,” the Dark Man laughed as he once more heated the blade.
Scott’s eyes were wide as he watched his tormentor heat the blade once more. He stiffened his body as he felt the cold hands rub his flesh.
“The best thing about this,” the Dark Man said as he effortlessly slipped the sharp blade into his victim’s left arm. “is that the wound is cauterized and shouldn’t become infected. You see I don’t want you to die too soon, Boy. I have seventeen years to make up for. That’s what your escape cost me.”
“You son of a bitch,” Scott swore as the torture became too much. He lost count of the times the dark man heated the blade. The sickly, cloying smell of his own burning flesh finally faded as Scott Lancer’s abused body and mind drifted into unconsciousness.
Johnny and Murdoch followed the tracks till they disappeared into the river. They crossed to the opposite side and tried to pick up the distinct tracks made by the broken shoe on the horse they pursued.
The opposite side of the river was smooth, the few tracks that were there belonged to animals other than horses. “If we split up, we can cover more distance,” Johnny suggested.
Murdoch thought about the suggestion and was about to agree with him when they heard horses headed their way. He recognized the men from his ranch. “Looks like we’ve got help,” he said as the men rode up to them.
“We should split into four groups,” the younger Lancer said. “Two groups for each side of the river, going in opposite directions. That way we cover more ground.”
“I agree, Son. We meet back here in three hours. If you find anything, fire two shots in the air. Johnny, you take Richard and Frank and go south on this side. I’ll take Carl and Sven and go north. Jake, Raymond, and Phil, can take the other side and go south. Burt, Gerry, and Ryan can go north.”
“That’s fine, Murdoch,” Johnny said. “We’ll see you back here in three hours if we don’t find anything.”
Scott woke to find himself once again shrouded in darkness. He was cold and his body trembled, whether from the cold or fear he couldn’t say. Once again the spiders were crawling over his skin, but he didn’t know if that was just his tired mind or reality.
The burns and puncture marks inflicted by the Dark Man were throbbing unmercifully and he moaned against the gag as he tried to find a comfortable position. It was imposable in the close quarters, even though his ankles and legs were not bound as they had been.
He had no idea how long he’d been unconscious, but he knew by his thirst and the cramping in his arms and legs that he’d been here for some time. ‘Oh, God, Johnny, please help me,’ he thought as he felt something crawl across his eyes.
He feared the Dark Man’s return because it would mean some other form of torture he’d be forced to endure. He wondered if he’d be able to withstand what ever the Dark Man had in store for him. Memories from the past, a time when he’d been at the hands of this same madman, continued to flood his mind and he tried to shut them out. He closed his eyes, sleep, pain, and fatigue pulling him into a deeper sleep.
‘Run, oh, God, he’s coming. Grandfather, help me. Someone, anyone, help me.’ The boy screamed as he stumbled towards the house. He collapsed into the arms of an elderly blue- eyed woman. She lifted his tiny body and held him close to her chest as she carried him into the warmth and safety of the house. Somehow his numbed mind knew he was safe here. The Dark Man could not reach him, could not hurt him, could not torture him as long as he was here.
‘Grandfather,’ the tiny voice cried when Harlan Garrett had come for him. He remembered the doctor coming to see him and treating the cuts and bruises he’d suffered from his flight from the Dark Man.
Suddenly he was spilling everything to his beloved Grandfather, but the man stopped him. ‘It was a dream, Scott, a terrible, frightening dream, but it’s over. You’ll forget it soon and it won’t bother you again. You have to be strong cause you’re a Garrett and Garretts don’t give in to childish nightmares.’
‘No! It wasn’t a dream, Grandfather. The Dark Man is real!’ the boy cried, wishing his grandfather would listen to him but knowing he wouldn’t.
‘Scott, I will hear no more of this. You are almost a man and a man is not afraid of dreams. That is the last I want to hear of the Dark Man. Understand?’
‘Yes, sir,” Scott said and he never brought up the Dark Man again. Not even when the nightmares became so bad that he covered himself in blankets and his body shook violently.
“No,” Scott’s muffled voice reached his own ears before his mind was completely awake. He opened his eyes to find himself facing the man of his nightmares, only this time he was real.
“You dreaming of me, Boy?” the Dark Man asked as he pulled the gag from the blond’s mouth. His dark eyes stared into Scott’s blue-grey ones. “You don’t have to answer that. I can see you’re dreaming of me.”
“W…what do you want,” Scott asked as he felt one of his hands being removed from the binds.
“I’ve brought you some food. See that you eat it all or you will not be fed again,” the Dark Man said as he placed a small table in front of Scott.
Surprisingly, the food looked and smelled appetizing and Scott’s stomach grumbled in anticipation. He had no idea how long it had been since his capture by the Dark Man, but his hunger was predominant in his mind at the moment. He reached for the fork and began shovelling the food into his mouth, hoping to get it all down before the Dark Man changed his mind. He scraped the last remnants off the plate and settled back to see what his tormentor had in mind for him next.
“Water,” the Dark Man said as he indicated the glass next to the plate.
Scott picked up the glass and downed the liquid. His thirst was such that he drank every drop before realizing there was something slightly wrong with the taste. His eyes shot up and met the laughing eyes of the Dark Man. “What was in that?” he asked as the first severe cramps took hold of his stomach.
“Just a little something my doctor friend showed me. It won’t kill you, Boy, but it will make for some interesting entertainment for me. I’ll be back as soon as your stomach is empty. There are some things even I won’t watch,” the Dark Man said as he left the blond alone.
Scott felt the cramps escalate and he knew he was going to lose everything he’d just eaten. Over and over the cramps became spasms as his stomach rebelled from whatever the Dark Man had put in the water. His throat constricted and grew sore as his body continued to try to expel the poison. He had no idea how long it continued, but his body felt drained as dry heaves continued to wrack him.
“Did you find anything?” Murdoch asked as Johnny’s group joined the others.
“No, nothing. What about you and the others?”
Murdoch’s only answer was a worried shake of his head. They’d searched the banks of the river and been unable to find any sign of the horse they’d been looking for. Murdoch’s worry for his oldest son grew with each minute that passed. “We’ve got to find him,” he said quietly.
“We will, Murdoch,” Johnny replied, his voice lacking the confidence he so desperately wanted to feel.
“Any ideas on how we should proceed now?”
“We could check all the farms in the area. See if anybody saw anything strange.”
“That’s a good place to start, but the farms are so far apart it could take weeks,” Murdoch stated.
“We have to try,” Johnny said. “Scott’s out there somewhere and I know he needs us. I can feel him trying to call to me, Murdoch. I told him I’d protect him, but I let him down.”
“No, you didn’t, Son. If anyone should feel guilty it’s me. I let you both down. Scott would never have met this Dark Man if I’d taken him from Harlan Garrett when I had the chance,” Murdoch said as he turned away from his youngest son, hiding the emotions that fought their way to the surface.
“You two should wait till after we find Scott to figure out where the blame lies,” Jelly observed as he placed a comforting hand on each man’s shoulder.
“When did you get here?” Johnny asked.
“Just rode in and caught the last part of what you two were discussin’. Ain’t the time or the place to be layin’ blame. Lots of time for that after we find Scott,” the elderly man said.
“You’re right,” Murdoch acknowledged. “Let’s head back to the ranch and set up some search parties.”
Scott had no idea how long he sat in the chair. His stomach felt on fire as the heaving finally stopped and he was able to catch his breath. The tiny sounds that escaped his dry, painful throat sounded pitiful to his own ears. The putrid smell of vomit and sweat permeated the air in the closed confines.
‘Oh, God,’ he thought as he heard footsteps coming towards him. He closed his eyes hoping the Dark Man would leave him to his own misery.
“Open your eyes, Boy.”
Scott kept his eyes closed, ignoring the man’s grating voice, desperate to keep from acknowledging his existence. A stinging slap to his right cheek forced his eyes open and he gazed into the eyes of madness. “L…leave me a…lone,” he said weakly, his voice scratchy from misuse.
“Still got some fight left in you,” the Dark Man laughed. “That’s good cause it means you’ll last that much longer. I’m going to hate having to kill you, but I can’t afford to have you found here. Might even bury you in that hole you’re going to be living in.”
“I’ll get o…out of here and w…hen I do I’ll kill y…you,” the blond pledged, the threat sounding weak to his own ears.
“I don’t think so, Boy. You won’t be leaving here! At least not alive!” the Dark Man said as he leaned in close to his captive.
Scott’s hand came up, punching his enemy in the face and driving him backwards. The blond knew he’d made things worse for himself, but he gained satisfaction as he watched his enemy swipe at the blood that trickled from the corner of his mouth.
“You’ll pay for that, Boy,” the Dark Man said angrily. He grabbed Scott’s swinging arm and tightly bound it to the arm of the chair.
“Go to hell!” the blond said as he felt the circulation to his hand cut off.
“I told you, you’re already there,” the Dark Man said as he walked towards the large shelf. He turned back to his captive, the smile on his face doing little to conceal the evil in his eyes. “Did your grandfather ever cane you, Boy?” he asked as he slapped a narrow switch into his palms.
Scott Lancer cringed at the sound of the switch hitting bare flesh. He didn’t regret his rash retaliation against the man, but somehow he knew he’d pay for it tenfold. He watched as the Dark Man slowly walked around the back of the chair. Closing his eyes, he braced himself against the pain he knew the man was about to inflict on him.
The Dark Man reached out and yanked the shirt away from the blond’s back. Slowly he caressed the taut muscles of his shoulders, relishing in the trembling his touch caused.
Scott hated the feel of the cold hands on his neck and back. Hated the feelings of helplessness and shame it caused. Shame at being so helpless in the face of the evil that stood behind him. The evil he’d first met years ago as a small boy. The shame of knowing that he was just as helpless to fight the Dark Man now as he was then. Tears filled his eyes as he tried to ignore his captor’s touch. Finally the hands were withdrawn and Scott tensed in expectation of the first blow. He heard the whistling of the switch as it moved in an arc over his head, striking his back with a stinging, burning sensation unlike any Scott Lancer had ever felt before in his life.
The Dark Man took pleasure in bringing the switch down on his captive’s back. He struck the younger man over and over till his arm ached. Finally, with the dropping of the blond’s head to his chest, he stopped. The basement was eerily silent after the screams he’d ripped from his victim. He smiled as he removed the bonds and carried the unconscious man back to his tiny prison.
Scott Lancer was frightened. He’d let his anger at his grandfather make him say things he knew he wasn’t supposed to; but his grandfather had refused to tell him about his father. Refused to tell an insecure eight-year-old boy about someone he’d seen in his dreams. Someone he felt he should know, but had seen only once. He’d made a connection with the stranger who’d visited his grandfather’s house and his dreams had been filled with him ever since.
Now, because of that anger, he’d been taken from the warmth of his expansive home and thrown into a tiny underground cellar. The Dark Man had been waiting for him as he’d stepped into the darkened street and Scott had felt rough hands clasp firmly over his mouth. He struggled briefly, but was quickly overpowered. A dirty cloth was forced into his mouth, the smell overpowering and forcing him to fight the rising bile in his throat. His hands were secured behind him by a length of braided rope and his fingers were numb. He could hear small cries coming from all around him and he knew he wasn’t alone in his prison. He felt spiders crawling over his bare hands and face. He hated spiders; they had come to represent his helplessness since he’d been thrown into the cellar with the other kids. Scott knew there were at least two others with him.
He hated when the trap door above them was lifted, as it usually meant one of them was not coming back. There had been four when he first got there and he’d heard the horrible screams soon after one of them was taken away. He knew he was going to die here, never knowing his father and angry at his grandfather for not finding him sooner. His eight-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend the fact that the Dark Man was feeding off his fears.
He had no idea how long he was in the tiny cellar, but now he was alone. The others having been taken away and their were cries embedded on his mind. He fought back his fears as the door above him was opened and he was dragged from his tiny prison. Fear clouded his mind as he was lifted from the cellar and thrown to the floor. “Now it’s your turn, Boy,” the Dark Man said as he sliced through the ropes binding Scott’s wrists and ankles.
“No,” Scott whimpered as he was pulled roughly to his feet.
“Quiet!” the Dark Man ordered as he shoved the boy out the door and into the darkened yard.
Scott’s weak legs could barely hold him upright as he was shoved deeper into the woods behind the man’s tiny run-down house. The deepening shadows added to the boy’s terror as he was forced towards a freshly dug hole. Scott knew it was to be his final resting place and he vowed he wouldn’t go without a fight. He saw his chance as The Dark Man released his hold on his arm and moved to stand by the deep hole. Scott Lancer was not a big boy, but he knew his life depended on his escaping the clutches of this demon. He mustered every ounce of strength remaining in his body and shoved the larger man towards the hole.
The Dark Man heard the boy rush towards him and grinned. He knew there was nothing the boy could do and began to turn on him. His foot landed on a loose stone and he felt himself falling into the grave he’d prepared for his final victim.
Scott couldn’t believe his luck. He’d done it. The Dark Man had fallen into the hole. Without a backwards glance the boy ran deeper into the woods, hoping he’d be able to put enough distance between himself and the Dark Man. He had no idea how long he ran, but he knew to stop would mean his death. His legs grew weaker as he stumbled through the thick forest and he lost track of how many times he fell.
Stumbling blindly in the dark, his small body rolled down a steep hill and came to rest by the side of a white picket fence. He screamed for help as he saw the Dark Man standing at the top of the hill. Suddenly, his eyes were blinded by a white light and he looked towards the house, surprised and relieved to see an elderly couple standing there. The woman rushed forward and knelt beside him, brushing the dirty hair from his equally dirty eyes. Scott Lancer looked into the kind blue eyes, lined with aged wrinkles and let the tears fall as great wracking sobs burst from his tiny body.
“No!” Scott screamed, his mind slowly registering the fact that he’d been reliving the horrible nightmares that had plagued him for months after his ordeal with the Dark Man. He knew the man had never been caught and none of the graves had ever been found. He remembered his grandfather’s insistence that it had all been a horrible dream brought on by their argument and Scott’s becoming lost in the forest.
‘Oh, God, Grandfather, if you’d only listened to me,’ he thought as the memories of the horrid times replayed in his mind and silent tears flowed from his eyes to wash away a tiny streak of dirt on each gaunt cheek. He was alone, at the hands of his worst nightmare and this time there would be no escape except death.
“I don’t believe it, Murdoch,” Johnny said as he ran his fingers through his dark hair. The week-long search for Scott had turned up nothing. No one had seen or heard anything. They’d checked the farms and ranches and spoken to anyone they met. “How can he have just disappeared without a trace like this? Someone has to have seen something!”
“Johnny, we’ve searched everywhere I can think of,” Murdoch Lancer said in a defeated, tired voice.
“Have we, Murdoch? Have we really?”
“What else is there, Johnny?” the older Lancer asked.
“House to house search,” Johnny stated as he slammed his fist down on Murdoch’s desk.
“I don’t think people will agree to that willingly, Son,” Murdoch said as he placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
“I don’t give a damn if they do or not. I have to find him, Murdoch.”
“We have to find him, Son,” Murdoch corrected. “He may be your brother, but he’s also my son. I know you both feel I did you wrong by not finding you both earlier, but I’m trying to make up for it in the only way I know how. You’re both my sons and I will do anything in my power to make up those lost years that can never be reclaimed. We’ll find him, Son. Somehow we’ll find him and bring him home.”
“Thanks, Murdoch,” Johnny acknowledged as his tired eyes shone with unshed tears.
“Get some rest, Son. We’ll start the search again at first light,” Murdoch said as the two exhausted men climbed the tiny flight of stairs to their rooms.
‘Johnny, I need you,’ the blond thought as the trapdoor to his personal hell opened and his eyes focused on the image from his nightmares.
“Time to clean you up, Boy. Can’t have you dyin’ too soon,” the Dark Man said as he lifted Scott from the hole.
“Leave me alone,” Scott’s voice was scratchy from lack of moisture and the screams that tore from his throat during his nightmares, both sleeping and waking.
“No way, Boy, I plan to have some fun with you. Have to make up for all those years you took from me,” the Dark Man declared as he placed Scott in the hated chair.
Scott couldn’t suppress the groan as his back made contact with the back of the chair. The pain was intense as he tried to pull away only to be secured once again by the Dark Man.
Scott could hear the Dark Man behind him and worried what the man had planned. He’d said he was going to clean his wounds, but somehow Scott Lancer didn’t believe him. His body was jolted forward as the cold water was poured over his injured back. He cried out at the burning sensation that invaded his body.
“Did that hurt, Boy?” the Dark Man laughed as he wiped away the excess moisture on his victim’s back.
“Go to hell!” the blond yelled breathlessly.
“Does this still hurt?” the Dark Man asked as he pressed into the tender area left from the bullet wound a little over a month before.
Scott grimaced as the man’s cold hands touched the scar, “Stop! You son of a bitch,” he cried as the other man dug his fingers into the wound.
“Now look what you made me do,” the Dark Man said as he showed Scott the tiny bead of blood on the tip of his fingers. “You really should learn some manners, Boy, and I’m just the man to teach you some,” he said as he gripped Scott’s shoulders and gazed into the pain filled blue-grey eyes. Before he could do anything, there was a knock at the door above him.
“Help!” Scott’s cry was cut off by the dirty rag shoved into his mouth. He was pulled from the chair and shoved back into his tiny prison.
“I’ll get rid of them as fast as I can, so we can continue our little discussion,” The Dark Man promised as he closed the trapdoor.
Johnny wondered if this house would be any different than the countless ones he’d stopped by in the past two days. He knocked loudly on the dilapidated structure, wondering if the door would stand up under his onslaught. He knew someone was home because of the smoke streaming from the tiny chimney set in the roof of the cabin. He turned towards the yard as he waited for someone to answer his knock. His head snapped around as the door was opened, revealing a man about Murdoch’s age and build. His greying hair was swept back from his forehead and his eyes sent a chill through Johnny.
“Can I help you?” the older man snapped.
“I hope so,” Johnny replied tiredly. “I was wondering if you’d answer a couple of questions for me.”
“I’m looking for my brother. He disappeared almost two weeks ago.”
“Haven’t seen anyone,” the man lied as he began to close the door. ‘He must be the Boy’s brother,’ he thought as an idea suddenly came into his mind.
Something about the man set Johnny’s nerves on edge. He hated when people were abrupt and wouldn’t give him a chance to explain things. “How do you know you haven’t seen him if you don’t know what he looks like?” he asked angrily, shoving his foot in the door and effectively stopping the door from closing.
The Dark Man knew what he had to do. He knew this dark-haired man could be just what he needed to break the Boy. He just had to get him in his clutches and, from the looks of the man holding the door, that wouldn’t be an easy task. The man exuded ferocity. The dark glare coming from his eyes added to the dangerous feeling of the man.
Johnny watched as the man’s features suddenly softened and he opened the door all the way.
“I’m sorry. Its just living out here all alone kinda makes me leery of strangers. Please come in and sit down.”
Johnny stepped into the dull interior, surprised at how clean the tiny space was.
“Please sit down and tell me about your brother. Would you like something to drink?”
“Water,” Johnny requested as he realized just how thirsty he was.
“Here you are,” the Dark Man said as he placed a glass in front of the younger man.
Johnny picked up the glass and downed the refreshing liquid.
“Now tell me about your brother,” the Dark Man said.
“Like I said, my brother disappeared almost two weeks ago. There’s been no trace of him since. We’ve been searching all the outlying farms and ranches, but somehow we missed yours.”
“Probably because it’s so far out,” the Dark Man said as he watched the younger man suddenly rub his forehead. “Are you alright?” he asked, hiding the smile he felt at his use of drugs. The sleeping powder he’d mixed into the water would soon have the younger Lancer out cold.
“I’m fine,” Johnny said. “Just tired. Anyway Scott’s…” his eyes closed again as he fought to stay awake. He knew something was wrong as he watched the older man’s face suddenly become animated as he smiled. “Who are you?” he asked as he slid from the chair to the floor.
“Your brother knows me as the Dark Man!” the older man gloated as he stripped the gun belt from the nearly unconscious man.
“Scott,” Johnny thought as he was dragged into unconsciousness by the drugged water.
“Teresa, has Johnny come back yet?”
“No, Murdoch, he hasn’t, and I’m getting worried,” the young woman answered.
“He probably decided to stay where he was for the night,” Murdoch comforted, trying to alleviate the young woman’s worries.
“I don’t think so. Johnny knows how worried we are about Scott and he wouldn’t want to add to those worries.”
“Teresa, Johnny’s a grown man. He knows how to take care of himself. He’ll show up here tomorrow and you’ll have worried yourself for nothing,” Murdoch said as he pulled the young woman into a fierce hug. His own fears for the safety of his two sons weighed heavily on his heart. ‘I should never have sent the Pinkerton agents after you two,’ he thought.
“I hope you’re right, Murdoch,” she said as she moved from his embrace.
“Go get some sleep, Teresa,” the older man ordered.
“I will if you will,” Teresa responded with a smile.
Midnight found the same two people sitting in the dull shadows of the living room lamp, eyes closed but not in sleep. Worry for the missing brothers kept them from sleeping and with heavy hearts, they’d found themselves needing the other’s company.
“It’s time to wake up, Boy.”
Scott Lancer ignored the hated voice, knowing it could only mean more pain for his already abused body.
“I said it’s time to wake up, Boy,” the Dark Man repeated as he stuck his arms into the hole and dragged the limp body from it. “I have a surprise for you,” he announced as he once again secured the blond to the hated chair. “Come on, open your eyes,” the Dark Man demanded as he slapped Scott’s bruised cheeks.
“Go to hell!” Scott responded, his voice weak and lacking emotion.
“Haven’t you realized that this is hell? Your very own personal hell and I’m the demon who will keep you here,” the Dark Man said as he continued to abuse the blond’s cheeks.
“You don’t know what hell is, but someday I’ll personally give you a guided tour,” Scott said as he found the strength and will to fight the Dark Man.
“So you do have some fight left in you. That’s good cause I didn’t want this to end too soon. I’ve got a surprise for you. Thought you could use some company,” the Dark Man said as he stepped away from the blond.
“That’s right,” the dark man sneered. “I thought you’d be lonely here by yourself, so I brought someone to keep you company in your own little hell,” the Dark Man said as he lifted the lantern and walked towards an area of the basement that was covered in shadows.
Scott Lancer held his breath as the light from the lantern slowly illuminated another chair. His mind screamed in protest at the too familiar form sitting there. “No,” his dry voice whispered as he noticed the blood around the throat, the pale skin, the unmoving body. “Oh, God, Johnny!” his voice, although louder, had none of it’s former strength. The fight finally left Scott Lancer at the sight of his dead brother. “I’m sorry, Johnny,” he cried as gut-wrenching sobs wracked his injured body.
The Dark Man grinned as he realized he had indeed found the one thing that could break his victim. “I take it you’re pleased with my surprise?” he asked.
“Johnny, I’m so sorry. I should never have come to Lancer. Oh, God, no,” the blond continued, ignoring the Dark Man standing before his brother. Scott began to lose focus as his mind tried to deny what his eyes told him. He shook his head violently, crying out as the vision of his dead brother continued to play before his closed eyes.
Johnny Lancer heard the harsh cries, heard the wracking sobs and fought against the darkness that held him prisoner. ‘Scott,’ he thought as he forced himself to control his breathing. Opening his eyes, he cringed as the pain in his head intensified. The terrified screams of his brother made his eyes snap open. The scene before him sent a wide range of emotions through him, anger being the most predominant. “Scott!” he called.
“Oh, God, Johnny, No!” the blond’s voice screamed as he watched the animated corpse of his brother. “I can’t do this anymore! I…I can’t, Johnny, my fault, my fault,” he cried, closing his eyes against the macabre sight that tortured his soul.
The Dark Man smiled as he watched the effect Johnny’s voice and movements had on his victim. He was pleased with himself. He’d used the red pigment to enhance the idea that he’d slit the dark-haired man’s throat and the Boy had fallen for it.
“Scott!” Johnny shouted. The only sound the blond made were soft cries of horror and Johnny Lancer turned on the man who had caused them He knew he was facing his brother’s Dark Man. “I’ll kill you for this, you son of a bitch!” Johnny screamed at the man before him. He struggled to get his hands free, but the harder he fought the tighter the ropes became.
“You can struggle all you want, but you won’t get away. The Boy here is the only one to ever escape. I couldn’t believe my luck when I spotted him in Green River. Imagine my surprise when I heard his name,” The Dark Man revealed as he stroked the blond’s dirty, blood-matted hair. “I knew the day would come when I’d get my revenge. He cost me everything in Boston; then I find out I could’ve stayed cause his rich granddaddy didn’t believe the Boy. It’s kinda ironic, isn’t it?.”
“Get your filthy hands off him,” Johnny yelled as he continued his useless struggle. He could feel the blood welling up on his wrists as he fought to pull them loose of the bonds. His brother needed him and he wouldn’t disappoint him.
The Dark Man continued to stroke Scott’s hair, the touch almost loving in its gentle caress. Johnny could tell Scott wasn’t enjoying it as he trembled and tried to move away. “Scott, listen to me. I’m not dead, Scott. I’m right here and I’m going to help you.”
The Dark Man laughed as he slapped a hand down on Scott’s back, causing the blond to cry out in pain. “That’s really funny, Johnny. From where I sit, you’re also in need of help. Scott and I are going to finish what we started years ago, only this time he’ll watch you die before I finish our destiny. That’s what it is you know, Destiny. I was destined to meet your brother. He is the missing piece that will make me whole again. My destiny is to kill him after I’ve broken his spirit as well as his body.”
“If that’s your destiny, then mine must be to kill you,” Johnny Lancer declared, the softness in his voice starkly contrasting with the hardness in his eyes.
“I think I’ll leave you two to get re-acquainted,” the Dark Man said as he moved towards the door, not wanting the dark haired man to see the fear his words had caused.
“Scott, can you hear me?” Johnny asked as he continued to work on the tight ropes around his wrists.
‘Johnny’s dead, my fault! I killed him. I’m sorry,’ he thought as he listened to the voice of his dead brother. “Oh, God, Johnny!” he sobbed as the fight slowly left his mind, body, and soul.
Johnny’s voice grew hoarse as he tried to get through to his brother. He knew Scott couldn’t handle much more. He’d barely begun to recover from the gunshot to the back and now he was back in the hands of the madman from his nightmares. Somehow Johnny knew he had to break through the wall being built around his brother. A wall of pain and guilt that would only solidify if he continued to believe his brother was dead because of him. Johnny made his voice go soft as he gently used the name that he alone used on his brother, “Boston, I’m not dead. Do you hear me?”
Johnny’s calm, gentle voice began to penetrate the wall Scott had only begun to build. He trembled as he looked towards the corpse wearing his brother’s face. He closed his eyes against the stain of red around the neck. “Oh, God!” he cried again.
“Scott, Boston, it’s not real. I’m not dead. I’m right here,” Johnny continued in the same soothing voice.
“Please, no more. I…I can’t,” Scott pleaded.
Johnny knew he had to do something to bring his brother back from the brink of despair he was edging towards. There was one thing he could do and he called on his own strength to do it. “Boston, help,” he pleaded, forcing his voice to sound weak and helpless. “I need you, brother. I need your help, Boston! You’re the only one who can save me.”
“It’s too late. I can’t help you. I can’t even help myself,” Scott sobbed.
“Yes you can, Boston. I’m not dead and neither are you. Fight it Scott. Fight him. You can’t let the Dark Man win and he does if you give up,” Johnny pleaded.
“I can’t. I’m sorry. Hurts so much,” Scott said weakly.
Johnny heard the voice and knew he was getting through to his brother. “Listen to me, Scott Lancer. You’re not a quitter and I won’t let you be one now. I love you, Brother and I need you to get me outta here. I’ll help you fight the Dark Man. We’ll get through it together.”
“The Dark Man’s too strong,” Scott told the corpse.
“No he’s not! He’s only as strong as you let him be. You’re stronger, Boston. Come on, open your eyes and look at me. That’s it,” Johnny encouraged as he saw the dull blue- grey eyes open and focus on him. “It’s really me, Boston. I’m here and I’m not dead.”
“Oh, God, Johnny, I…I thought he’d k…killed you. I…I,” Scott said as relief swept over him.
“The Dark Man won’t kill me, Scott and I won’t let him kill you either,” Johnny swore.
“Just tell me how you’ll manage that?”
Johnny saw the terror on his brother’s face as the Dark Man re-entered the room. “That’s simple, I’ll kill you first,” Johnny told him, a confident grin on his handsome face.
“Idle threats, Johnny, that’s all you can give. Let me show you just what kind of power I have over you and your brother,” he threatened as he walked towards the blond.
“Leave him alone,” Johnny snarled as he twisted against the bonds around his wrists.
“I’m afraid that’s not an option. Is it, Scott? You see if I leave the Boy alone, I’d have to heap my attention on you. I don’t think your brother wants that. Do you Boy?”
“N…no,” the blond’s voice came out stronger than it had been. Thoughts of his brother being mistreated at this man’s hands gave strength to his voice.
“That’s what I thought. Let me show you just how helpless you are when it comes to helping the Boy,” the Dark Man said as he stepped closer to the blond.
Scott’s eyes met Johnny’s. The fear he felt was not for himself but for his younger brother. Somehow he had to keep the Dark Man from hurting Johnny. He needed to find a way to keep the Dark Man’s attentions on himself. He couldn’t live if his childhood nightmare reached out to encompass his brother.
“What shall I do to prove to your brother that you are in my control?” he asked the older brother. He turned and met the icy blue eyes of the younger brother. “Have you ever heard a bone snap, Johnny? It makes a very distinctive sound that’s almost as painful as the break itself,” the Dark Man said as he caressed Scott’s arm.
“Don’t touch him,” Johnny’s voice belied the inner turmoil he felt at the man’s sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain.
The Dark Man gripped Scott’s index finger without taking his eyes from Johnny. “Even such a small bone as the one in the finger makes the sound. Or maybe we should try the wrist,” he said as his hand continued up Scott’s arm, coming to rest at his elbow. “Or maybe this one here. So easily snapped, yet so painful.”
Johnny watched the Dark Man run his hands over his brother’s body, the movements almost intimate in their soft, caressing nature. “Leave him,” Johnny repeated.
“I don’t think so, Johnny. I have to show you how easy it is to cause pain,” the Dark Man replied as his hand came to rest on Scott’s knee. “Watch and listen carefully, Johnny,” he said as he pulled the older Lancer’s right leg out straight. “If you move it, Boy, I will just have to break your brother’s neck.”
Johnny watched as the Dark Man reached behind him and pulled out a three-foot chunk of wood. “NO!” he screamed as the wood was lifted above the man’s shoulders.
Scott watched the arch of the wood and fought the ingrained instinct to pull his leg out of the way. His eyes met his brother’s as the wood connected with his knee and the sound of the bone breaking could be heard just before the blond’s screams were ripped from his throat.
“You sick son of a bitch! Get away from him!” Johnny screamed as he fought to get out of the chair he was tied to. Adrenaline combined with anger and fear for his brother turned Johnny Lancer into a madman with more strength than normal. He felt the ropes that he’d been working on slacken slightly and continued to pull against them as the Dark Man turned his attention to his brother’s other leg.
The wood was raised above the man’s head, “Let’s see if we can’t do a better job on this one,” the Dark Man laughed.
The rope around his wrist snapped and Johnny Lancer came out of his chair in one fluid motion. Years of being a gunslinger hadn’t prepared him for the monster he saw attacking his brother. Johnny didn’t consider the tormentor before him a man. He was a devil and Johnny was going to send him back to hell.
The Dark Man heard the guttural cry of rage and turned to meet the dark-haired brother. He swung the piece of wood but Johnny Lancer’s gunslinger reflexes made it easy for him to get out of the way of the swinging wood.
“Johnny,” Scott whispered as he watched his brother face the demon from his nightmares. His body ached with the pain of the many wounds inflicted on him by the Dark Man, but he knew he couldn’t give into them until his brother was free.
The Dark Man smiled as he once more lifted the piece of wood over his head. He knew there was no way this man could beat him. He was a demon and he drew power from defeating men who thought they could kill him. He’d deal with Johnny Lancer and then he’d finish his total domination of the blond Boy he’d come to covet as his own.
Johnny rolled away from the swinging board, feeling the wind whistle by him as it came dangerously close to his head. His hands tingled as the blood flowed back into them and he reached out to grab the wood from the Dark Man’s hands. “I’ll kill you for what you’ve done!”
Fear was an emotion the Dark Man never expected to feel, but the soft, lilting voice of the gunslinger succeeded where nothing or no one had ever done. The cold, steel-like glint in Johnny Lancer’s eyes touched off a fear that had never been born in him. He tried to pull the wood away from the angry man but was unable to do so when Johnny Lancer jerked it from his hands. He looked around the basement for something he could use and spotted the knife he’d used to torture his victim a few days before.
Johnny smiled at the man, but there was no warmth in it. Pure, cold hatred tore at his heart as he pulled the wood from the man’s hands. He watched the strange look come into the Dark Man’s hands and he fleetingly realized the man was afraid. “You should be afraid cause I’m gonna take you apart for what you’ve done to him,” he growled as he advanced on the retreating man.
Cold, bleak terror took hold of the dark man and he whirled towards his long time victim. He reached the knife and placed it at Scott’s throat, “Put it down or I’ll kill the Boy,” he said desperately, the tiny blade pressing into the blond’s throat, causing a thin trickle of blood to flow down the blade.
“Kill him, Johnny,” Scott’s voice sounded weak to his own ears. He watched as Johnny’s resolve to kill the Dark Man wavered as he saw the blade placed at Scott’s throat. “No!” Scott’s hoarse voice screamed as he watched his brother drop the board in defeat.
The Dark Man laughed as he moved the blade slightly, easing the pressure on the blond’s neck, feeling the uncertain fear leave as he regained control of the situation. “You shouldn’t have done that, Johnny. The Boy here will pay for your impetuousness.”
With a strength born of desperation Scott Lancer used his unbroken leg to push against the floor. The chair tilted backwards, unbalancing the Dark Man who desperately tried to keep his footing. Seeing his chance to kill the Boy once more slipping away, he drove the knife into his right shoulder and pulled him to the floor.
Johnny watched in horror as his brother’s body tipped with the chair. Reaching for the board he advanced on the Dark Man just as he pulled the knife from the blond’s shoulder. Johnny swung the board in a last ditch desperate attempt to save his brother. His arms shuddered with the force of the blow as it connected with the Dark Man’s arm.
The Dark Man once more felt the rising tide of fear. He lashed out at Johnny, the knife slashing a furrow in his upper thigh.
Johnny knew he’d been hurt, but he couldn’t let the pain stop him from ridding his brother and the world of the insidious monster before him. Once again he swung the board, connecting with the Dark Man’s knife-wielding arm. The blade spun across the dirty floor, the light from the lantern flashing off the blade as it skittered under the large shelf in the corner. “I’ll kill you!” Johnny roared as he stood over the Dark Man. He swung the board once more, feeling no regret as the board connected with the Dark Man’s head, snapping his neck back and driving him away from the sprawled form of Scott Lancer. The blow sent the Dark Man into the table holding the lantern, causing it to fall. Its contents spewed over the dry wood instantly, igniting the table and spreading outwards towards the dry timber of the shelf.
Johnny’s chest heaved as he watched the fire rapidly spread to encompass the shelf. Giving no more thought to the Dark Man, he knelt by his brother. He knew he had to get him out of the basement before the whole place filled with smoke and flames. Steeling himself against the pain he would cause his older brother, he pulled the ropes clear of his wrists and lifted the limp form into his arms. Ignoring the pain throbbing in his leg, he stumbled past the flames towards the tiny ladder leading to the main floor. He struggled under the weight of his unconscious brother until he was standing before their only means of escape. The smoke grew thicker as he struggled to lift the blond over his shoulder, causing him to cough against the choking mass that invaded his throat.
He placed one hand on a rung and slowly, methodically made his way up the rotted wood until he could ease Scott’s body over the top. He took one last look below him as the searing heat from the flames began to lick towards him. “You’ll never hurt him again,” he declared as he lifted himself out of the hole.
Quickly picking his brother up off the floor, he stumbled to the door and out into the late afternoon sunlight. He moved away from the door and gently placed his brother on the ground. “I’ll be right back, Boston,” he pledged as he hurried towards the house, wanting, needing to make sure The Dark Man would never hurt his brother again.
He looked into the house and could see nothing but the flames licking through the floor. The interior of the house was almost completely engulfed in flames but Johnny noticed Scott’s gun belt sitting on a rack. He grabbed it and ran away from the burning inferno. When he reached his brother he was shocked and amazed to see pale blue eyes looking at him. “Hey, Boston, glad to have you back. Look what I found,” he said as he placed Scott’s gun and holster before him.
Scott reached for the gun, holding it against his chest, drawing strength and security from its presence. “J…Johnny, is h…he?”
“He’s dead, Scott, the Dark Man is dead,” Johnny assured him.
“You can’t kill me!”
Johnny and Scott looked towards the house as a burning figure emerged holding a gun in his hand. “No!” Scott and Johnny’s voices melded as one and both hands fell to the gun in Scott’s hands. They continued to fire until both men realized the hammer was clicking on empty.
“N…now he’s dead,” the blond said as he allowed his tortured mind to slip into unconsciousness.
“No, don’t you leave me, Boston,” Johnny cried as he reached out to hold his brother. Tears filled his eyes as he realized they were far from home and in need of help. He closed his eyes and prayed. “Please, God, don’t take him from me now. You can’t give me a brother and make me love him just so you can take him away from me. You took my Ma, but I won’t let you take my brother. You hear me! I won’t let him go. Please, Scott, I need you,” he pleaded as a single tear fell from his eyes.
‘Thank you,” Johnny murmured in silent thanks as six riders came into the yard. He recognized Murdock in the lead as the older man jumped from his horse. “You’re gonna be fine, Brother, help’s arrived,” Johnny said.
“Bout time,” the soft, pained voice of his brother cut through his own pain.
“Let me take a look at him, Johnny,” Murdoch said as he knelt beside the two men he’d spent so many years without.
“Ain’t layin’ him on the ground, Murdoch,” Johnny retorted. “His back’s a mess already.”
“Jed, bring over a blanket. Mike, ride into town and tell Dr. Jenkins to meet us back at the ranch, The rest of you see if you can find a wagon or something to make a litter with,” Murdoch said as a blanket was spread out next to his sons. “Let me take him, Son. You got him this far; now let me help him.”
Johnny nodded his head and gently released his brother into the waiting arms of their father. He listened to the blond’ s feeble moans and once again thanked God they were both alive.
Murdoch began examining his oldest son. The sight of the blond’s tortured flesh as he removed the last remnants of his shirt made him curse angrily. He reached for the torn strips of cloth and the canteen that miraculously appeared in Jed’s gnarled hands. “Where is he, Johnny?” he asked as he began cleaning his son’s numerous wounds.
“There,” Johnny said as he pointed to the burning body next to the house. “We sent him back to hell where he belongs,” he said as Jed knelt beside him and examined the knife wound in his leg.
“Mr. Lancer, we found Johnny’s horse over in the trees. Billy found an old wagon and he and Tom are hitching it up,” Dave Murphy, a relative newcomer to Lancer, said. He was shocked at the sight of the older Lancer son. He’d led a fairly sheltered life and had never seen the damage some men could heap on others.
“Thanks, Dave, make sure you line the back of it with all the extra blankets you can find. We’ll be moving out as soon as Billy and Tom have the wagon ready,” he said as he examined Scott’s broken leg. “Scott.”
“I’m s…still here,” the blond groaned.
“Gonna need to set this leg before we can move you,” Murdoch explained.
“K,” the blond said as he set himself against the new agony he was about to suffer.
“Jed, can you and Dave find something to use for splints?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Lancer,” Jed said as he finished with Johnny’s leg. “That’s gonna need stitches, Johnny, so don’t try to get up.”
Murdoch held his oldest son until Jed and Dave returned with two strong, straight-looking pieces of wood that could be used to splint Scott’s leg. “Scott.”
“It’s time. You just hold on and we’ll be done as fast as we can, Ok?”
“K,” the blond whispered and felt a reassuring hand slip into his own. “T…thanks, J…Johnny,” he said.
“Jed, you and Dave hold him down,” Murdoch ordered as he gripped Scott’s leg above and below the knee. Without warning he snapped the broken bone until it fell into place. The cry of outrage and pain tore at his heart as he quickly bound the wounded limb to the splints. “All done, Son,” he reassured in a trembling voice.
“He’s unconscious, Murdoch,” Johnny said as his own pained eyes met those of his fathers. He refused to relinquish his tenuous hold on his brother’s hand as Murdoch knelt beside him.
“The wagon’s ready, Mr. Lancer,” Billy said as he led the wagon towards the small group.
“Alright, let’s get Johnny settled and then I’m gonna need all of you to help with Scott,” Murdoch said as he reached for his youngest son. “Come on, Johnny, you have to let him go,” he stated as he noticed how tightly the dark-haired man held his brother’s hand, as if he were afraid that letting go would mean losing his brother forever. “It’s alright, Son, We’ll put him in with you as soon as you’re settled. Come on now, let go.”
“Alright,” Johnny said as he reluctantly released his brother’s hand. Murdoch and Jed helped him to his feet and half carried him to the wagon. They settled him onto the bed of blankets and then moved to the other injured man.
Johnny’s eyes never wavered from his brother as the men began to lift him and carry his limp body towards the wagon. Murdoch supported the broken leg as gently as he could, but the lines of pain were still evident on the blond’s pale features. As soon as they placed him in the wagon, Johnny reached out and once again captured his brother’s hand. Scott’s soft moans quickly subsided as, even in unconsciousness, he felt his brother’s touch.
“Jed, you come with me. Billy you and the others stay here and make sure the fire is out,” Murdoch ordered.
“What do we do with the body?” Billy asked.
“Let it burn till there’s nothing left for all I care,” Murdoch snapped as he looked at his two injured sons. Any compassion he might have had for the dead man disappeared at the sight of Scott’s tortured body.
“Ya can’t mean that, Mr. Lancer,” Dave Murphy said. He hadn’t known the family long, but he knew they were good people and he couldn’t see his new boss leaving a man’s body to burn, even if the man deserved it.
“He’s right, Mr. Lancer,” Jed observed. “Your conscience won’t rest if ya leave em there like that.”
Murdoch shook his head, knowing the men were right. “Bury it somewhere out there,” he said as he waved his hand towards the trees. “You ok, Johnny?” Murdoch asked as he climbed onto the seat and picked up the reins.
“I’m fine, Murdoch. Just get us home,” Johnny replied as he felt the heat emanating from his brother’s hand.
“Try to rest, Son, we’ll be home before you know it,” Murdoch said as Jed rode up beside him and they headed towards the ranch.
Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief as the gates to the ranch came into view. The ride had been especially hard on him and his youngest son as they listened to each tortured moan that crept past Scott’s lips. Even unconscious, the blond had felt every bounce the wagon had taken and now with the ranch only minutes away, he seemed to be coming round. “Just hold on a few minutes longer, Son,” Murdoch consoled as he forced himself to slow the pace of the wagon.
“Easy, Boston, we’re almost home,” Johnny said in a soothing voice.
“H…home,” Scott moaned, his voice filled with pain.
“That’s right, Brother, Home. You’ll be able to sleep in your own bed soon,” Johnny comforted as he felt his brother’s hand grasp his tightly.
“C…can’t s…sleep. D…dark m…man’s t…there,” Scott said as he opened his eyes.
“The Dark Man’s dead Scott. He can’t hurt anyone anymore. He can’t hurt you anymore,” Johnny reminded him.
“Dead, no h…he’ll never be d…dead. H…he’ll come a…after me a…again.” “No, Brother, he won’t. You and me sent him straight to hell where he belongs,” Johnny said as he reached out and lifted his brother’s head onto his uninjured leg. The contact once more calmed his brother. “Hey, Boston, I see Teresa and Jelly waitin’ for us. Think she’s been baking?” he asked as the wagon bounced over a rock causing his brother to groan loudly. “Easy, brother,” he repeated as he held his brother tightly.
“I…it h…hurts so m…much, Johnny,” Scott cried as wave after wave of pain assaulted his senses.
“I know it does, Boston, just hang on for another few minutes. Doc Jenkins will give you something for the pain,” Johnny consoled as tears welled up in his eyes. ‘You died too quickly, you sick Son of a Bitch,’ he thought as his eyes raked over the injuries inflicted on his brother by the Dark Man.
“Murdoch, did you find them?” Teresa asked as she hurried towards the wagon. “Oh, God,” she cried as she spotted the two men in the back of the wagon.
“Hi, Teresa,” Johnny greeted, smiling weakly.
“T…Teresa,” Scott’s scratchy voice said as he tried to smile at the young woman standing beside the wagon.
“Lord almighty,” Jelly said as he got his first look at the two brothers. “I’d best send someone for the doctor.”
“I already sent Mike, Jelly,” Murdoch noted as he jumped down from the wagon. “I want you to get some of the men to help me get these two up to their rooms. Jed, see if you can’t find something flat to carry Scott on,” he ordered.
“Sure thing, Mr. Lancer,” Jed said as he hurried towards the bunkhouse.
“What happened to em?” Jelly asked.
“It’s a long story, Jelly, I’ll tell you all about it later,” Johnny said as he heard his brother moan as he tried to move. “Easy, Scott, won’t be long and you’ll have Teresa fussin’ all over you. Right, Teresa?”
Teresa wiped the tears from her eyes as she forced a smile to her face. “That’s right, Scott, you’re gonna be tired of me soon enough.”
Scott smiled weakly, his body trembling as he struggled to control the pain. He cried out as he tried to lift his head and shards of white-hot agony were reawakened in his back and leg.
“Easy, Scott, just lie still till Jed and the boys get back,” Murdoch instructed.
“I know it does, son, but you have to lie still,” Murdoch repeated.
“Hey, Scott, just think of all the baking you could get Teresa to do for you,” Johnny said as he tried to keep his brother’s mind of the pain.
“Y…you mean g…get here t…to. Oh, God,” he screamed as the pain became too much for him to handle. “Please, m…make it g…go a…way. Johnny, please H…help m…me,” he pleaded weakly.
Johnny held his brother in a warm embrace, careful not to squeeze to tight, afraid of the pain and fear he heard in the blond’s voice. “I’m here, Boston,” the dark-haired man calmed as he felt the tears fall from his eyes. “I’ll always be here,” Johnny promised softly as he placed his hand over his brother’s heart.
“Mr. Lancer,” Jed said as he and four other ranch hands hurried up to the wagon. Two of the men were carrying an old door covered in blankets. “Will this do to carry Scott?” he asked.
“That’ll be fine, Jed. You two get Johnny to his room and then come back and give us a hand,” Murdoch ordered.
“No, take Scott first,” Johnny said.
“We can’t move Scott till we get you out of the way, Johnny. I want to put him on the board with as little pain as possible. That means you have to be moved, so we can put the board next to him,” Murdoch explained.
“G…go, J…Johnny,” Scott said weakly.
“Alright. I’m goin’ but I want the cot put back in Scott’s room for me.”
“If the doc says it’s ok, then we’ll do it,” Murdoch said. “Take him up to his room,” he ordered as he helped Johnny move out from under his brother.
Murdoch watched as his youngest son was escorted into the house. “Teresa, go make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish,” he requested.
Teresa looked at the pale man lying in the wagon. “I’ll see you upstairs, Scott,” she promised as she hurried away from the wagon.
“You still awake, Son,” Murdoch asked, hoping not to get an answer, knowing how hard the transfer from the wagon to the board was going to be.
“Y…yes, S…sir,” Scott’s raspy voice answered softly.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Son, this is going to hurt,” Murdoch said.
“Not your f…fault,” Scott acknowledged as he felt his father kneel beside him in the wagon.
‘Yes it is, So. , I should’ve taken you home with me the first time I went to see Harlan. Would’ve saved you from going through all of this,’ the older man thought as he pulled the covered board into the wagon. “You two get up here and give me a hand. Be careful of his back and shoulders. I’ll handle his leg. Ok, Scott you ready for this?” he asked.
“As r…ready as I’ll e…ever b…be,” the blond answered, only to discover he wasn’t ready when they lifted his body from the wagon bed to the board. His cries of pain were ignored until they settled him onto the blankets.
“I’m sorry, Son,” Murdoch apologized as he finished placing the injured leg on the board.
“k,” Scott’s weak reply sounded pitiful to the three men kneeling beside him.
“Let’s get him inside,” Murdoch instructed as the two men who’d helped Johnny returned.
The four men levered the heavy board out of the wagon and waited as Murdoch Lancer jumped down and stood next to his son. He knew the men were more than adequate to carry the injured man and he wanted Scott to feel his presence. He could see the pain on his son’s face and once more wished he could have exacted his own form of revenge from the Dark Man. He reached for Scott’s hand and held it as his men carried the injured man towards the house. He was pleased to feel his son grip his hand in return.
Teresa continued to bathe the blond’s face as they waited for the arrival of the doctor. She looked at the other bed in the room and smiled at the dark-haired man watching her. Johnny had insisted on being moved into Scott’s room and Murdoch had agreed, knowing Johnny Lancer wouldn’t be kept from his brother if that’s where he wanted to be.
Mike had rode back to tell them that Doc Jenkins would be out as soon as he finished setting Jimmy Hawkins’ leg. The boy had broken it falling from a tree on his family’s farm. As they’d waited, Scott’s fever had gotten worse and he mumbled incoherently about the Dark Man, cellars, Spiders, and dead kids. His cries tore at the hearts of everyone who heard him.
Johnny had tried to get out of bed and sit with his brother but the blood loss and pain kept him where he was. Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly had all warned him they needed him to stay where he was so they could work on his brother.
Murdoch hurried to the window as he heard the sounds of an approaching horse. “The doctor’s here,” he announced, not surprised to see Jelly Hoskins rush out the door to let him in.
“Thank God,” Teresa said as the tears she’d held in check flowed from her tired eyes. She rewet the cloth and continued to bathe the blond as they waited for Jelly to return with the doctor.
“How are they?” Jenkins inquired as he hurried into the room. His professional eyes took in both men and he hurried to Scott’s side. “Johnny, you stay put. I’ll get to you as soon as I’ve looked after your brother. Teresa, get me some hot water and lots of whiskey. Murdoch, I’m gonna need you and Jelly to help me out here. What in God’s name happened to the lad?” Jenkins asked as he took in the damage to Scott Lancer’s body.
“The Dark Man happened to him,” Johnny said hatefully.
“Who’s the Dark Man” Jenkins asked as he opened his bag and pulled out his instruments. “Help me get some of this down him,” the old doctor said. Murdoch lifted the blond’s head and watched as the doctor poured a small amount of laudanum down his throat.
Scott swallowed the liquid, choking as it burned his way down his parched throat. His mind wondered back to the cellar and he grew angry as the Dark Man advanced on his brother. “L…leave him a…alone. No! Oh, God, Johnny I’m s…so s…sorry,” Scott’s pain filled voice, although raspy, filled the room.
“Take it easy, young man,” Jenkins calmed as he signalled for the two men to help hold his patient down. “You’re gonna be just fine,” he soothed as he checked the wounds on Scott’s arms and shoulders. “Looks like someone tortured him,” Jenkins said hatefully.
“Someone did,” Murdoch grimaced as he watched the doctor examine the puncture wounds on Scott’s chest and arms.
“I’ve seen things like this before. Some men were brought into camp with these same markings. I found out they were done with heated knives. Some of these are infected and I’m gonna have to probe them to clean em out. Murdoch, I don’t know if he can handle it,” Jenkins told the older Lancer.
“Do you have a choice, Doc?” Jelly asked, his grizzled face filled with the pain he felt over what they needed to do.
“No, Jelly, I wish I did, but I don’t. We have to clean him up before this gets any worse, but it’s gonna be hell on him. It’s gonna feel like he’s being tortured all over again. I want you all to realize something else as well,” he said as he looked from Murdoch to Jelly to Johnny and back to the man on the bed. “No matter what I do, Scott may not make it. He’s already in the throes of a major fever and with these infections, it’s only gonna get worse. It wasn’t so long ago that he was flat on his stomach with a bullet in his back and now he’s hurt again and I haven’t even checked his back yet.”
“What are you saying?” Johnny demanded, angrily shaking his head. “He’s not gonna die, Doc. You do what you have to and he’ll make it. Scott Lancer ain’t a quitter and I won’t let him go. He’ll make it; you wait and see.”
“He’s right, Doc, we won’t let him go. Do what you have to and we’ll give him the strength to get through it,” Murdoch reiterated
“Alright, Murdoch, I’ll do what I can. The rest will be up to Scott and God.”
Teresa came in just in time to hear what Jenkins said. She placed the water on the table next to the bed and placed a bottle of whiskey beside it. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“I brought some bandages with me, but I don’t think there’s enough. Find something to make some more,” Jenkins requested as he reopened the first of the knife wounds, causing the man on the bed to cry out in agony. The discharge from the wound made Jelly gag and the older man had to look away. “If you can’t handle this, Jelly, get me someone who can,” Jenkins said harshly, his patient foremost in his mind.
“I can do it, Doc,” the older man promised, his face paling as he watched the doctor continue to clean the tiny wounds.
Johnny Lancer listened to his brother’s ever-weakening cries. His own pain paled in comparison to what his brother was going through. He wished the Dark Man hadn’t died so he could mete out his own form of justice for what he’d done to his older brother. ‘Stay with me, Boston,’ he thought as the cries continued to come from his brother.
“Almost done, Scott,” Jenkins spoke softly to his patient, unsure how much the younger man could understand.
“K,” Scott whimpered, surprising everyone in the room with his softly spoken answer.
“Hey, Son, the doc’s gonna fix you up as good as new,” Murdoch said.
Jenkins stood up and stretched in an attempt to ease his aching back. He glanced down at the makeshift splints holding the blond’s broken leg in place. “Did you do this, Murdoch?” he asked as he gently checked the leg.
“Yeah, it was the best I could do at the time.”
“You did a fine job. The bone seems to be in the right place. I may not have to do anything with it.” Jenkins relayed as he once again knelt beside Scott. “Now, Son, we’re gonna have to turn you so I can get a look at your back. Think you can hold out a little longer?”
“I…I’ll try,” the blond said softly.
“Murdoch, you hold his leg. Keep it as straight as possible. Jelly, you and I are gonna turn him. Ready?” the two men nodded as Murdoch gently held onto Scott’s broken leg. As gently as possible they turned the blond on his side and then onto his stomach. Jenkins held back a gasp as he saw the red, swollen switch marks, more of the tiny wounds inflicted by the blade and the reopened wound in his lower back. “Damn, please tell me the man who did this is dead,” Jenkins swore softly, as he listened to Scott try to gain control of the pain.
“He is,” Johnny answered.
“Scott, I’ve got to clean these wounds out. I’m sorry, Son, but it’s got to be done,” Jenkins placated as he picked up a probe and began working on the numerous wounds on the injured man’s back.
Teresa placed the bandages next to the doctor and walked over to Johnny’s bed. She sat beside him and silently cried.
Johnny reached for the young woman’s hand and held it tightly. He looked into her eyes and knew she was hurting as well. He knew she was strong but this was something that he wished she didn’t have to see. “He’ll be fine, Teresa,” he reassured as he listened to his brother’s pain-filled cries.
“I know he will, Johnny. He has to be,” she said.
Jenkins cleaned and stitched the wounds on Scott’s back, beginning with the reopened bullet wound. He was glad the blond had finally succumbed to unconsciousness because the pain he was suffering would have made it harder on all of them. As a doctor who’d served during the war, he’d seen many acts of barbarism, but the damage done to Scott Lancer rivalled some of the worst he’d seen. As he finished the final stitch he knew the young man on the bed had a long road ahead of him, not only with the physical wounds but with the mental ones as well. He’d seen it during the war and knew how hard things would be for the young blond.
“Will he be alright, Doc?” Murdoch asked as he stood away from the bed and stretched his aching muscles.
“I’ve done all I could, Murdoch. The rest is up to Scott and how badly he wants to live. He’s got a lot of healing to do and I don’t mean just physically. The abuse itself takes a lot out of a man. Then there’s the fever he’s running. It’s dangerously high right now and we’re gonna have to do something to bring it under control,” Jenkins commented.
“What do we have to do?” Teresa asked.
“Well, we’ll start with what you were doing when I got here; keep the water cool but not too cold. If that doesn’t work, we’re gonna have to get some ice and place it all around him and that’s gonna be very uncomfortable for him.”
“If that doesn’t work?” Johnny asked.
“The only other alternative is to immerse him in water and ice.”
“What about his leg?” Jelly asked.
“It would be extremely painful, especially with all the open wounds but it’s important we get the fever to break.”
“I’ll get the water,” Teresa said tiredly.
“You stay put, Teresa, I’ll get one of the hands to bring the water,” Jelly said.
“Let’s take a look at that leg, Johnny,” Jenkins said as he picked up his bag and walked to the younger Lancer. He pulled back the blanket and removed the bandage revealing a four-inch, jagged wound to the upper thigh of Johnny’s left leg. “Pass me the whiskey, Murdoch,” Jenkins ordered. “I’m gonna give you a little laudanum, Son.”
“Save it for Scott.”
“I’ve got enough for both of you. Now stop arguing and open your mouth,” Jenkins ordered and placed the spoon in the younger brother’s mouth. “You ready, Johnny?” Jenkins asked, smiling as Murdoch walked over and held his son’s leg straight.
“Guess so,” the dark haired man said as Jenkins poured whiskey into the open wound. Johnny ground his teeth as the fiery liquid burned into the raw gash. By sheer force he was able to bite back the cry that threatened to make itself known.
“Easy, Son, just gonna stitch it up and then we’ll let you get some sleep. I don’t think there’s any permanent damage, but you’re gonna have to stay off that leg for a week or two.”
“As long as I can stay here with Scott, I’ll do as you say,” Johnny promised as the doctor began stitching the wound in his leg.”
Fifteen minutes later the doctor finished settling Johnny under the blankets. They’d managed to get him to drink some water before exhaustion, pain, and laudanum finally won out and he’d fallen into a troubled sleep.
Jenkins turned his attention back to the pale blond who moaned even in his sleep. Teresa had once again begun bathing the fevered man in hopes of saving him any other torment. “Murdoch, I left word in town where they can find me. The way Mike described Scott’s wounds, I knew I’d be needed here for a few days.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Murdoch said.
“There’s something you all need to face. I’ve done what I can for Scott, but it may not be enough. He’s got a tough road ahead of him which means he’s gonna need all of you, so you’d best get some rest.”
“I’ll stay with him,” Murdoch said.
“I don’t think so, Murdoch, you’ve been searching for Johnny and Scott and then you had to get them back here. You’ve spent the evening and most of the night helping me tend the wounds. You, Teresa, and Jelly all need to get some rest. Have one of the hands come in and sit with the boys.”
“No buts, Murdoch, it’s been a long four hours and we all need to rest. Go get one of your men. I’ll wait here and show him what to do. Teresa, Jelly, off to bed with ya. They’ll both need you rested tomorrow,” Jenkins ordered as he took the cloth from the young woman and began to bathe Scott’s flushed face.
For two long days and nights they struggled to get Scott’s fever under control. Sometimes it seemed as if the cooling cloths were doing the trick only to have the fever soar even higher. Jenkins had to insist on Murdoch leaving the room for a few hours each day, but the dark shadows under his eyes told everyone that he wasn’t sleeping well.
Dave Murphy sat in the darkness constantly using the cloth to cool the injured man down.
The silence of the Lancer home was periodically interrupted by the painful moans coming from the blond as he was caught in the throes of a fever induced nightmare.
‘You didn’t think killing me would rid you of me, did you, Boy? I told you that you can’t kill me. I’ll be here in your dreams, I’ll torment your every sleeping moment. I’ll kill your brother over and over in front of your eyes, Boy. Watch and learn,’ The Dark Man said as he lifted an all too familiar figure off the ground.
‘No, please, I’m sorry. Don’t hurt him,’ Scott cried as he watched the Dark Man place a knife at his brother’s un-protesting throat.
‘Help me, Scott!’ Johnny’s voice begged as the Dark Man slowly pressed the blade into the tender flesh, a drop of bright red blood rolling down the shining silver blade.
‘Leave him alone!’ Scott cried as he tried to reach his brother. His legs refused to move and he cried as the knife went deeper.
‘This is all your fault, Scott,’ Johnny said as his life ebbed from his body.
“No! No! Johnny, please, I didn’t mean to. Johnny!”
Scott’s screams pulled Johnny from his sleep and he was halfway to the bed before his leg gave out on him. “I’m here, Scott,” he soothed as Dave Murphy helped him into the chair by his brother’s bed.
“No! Please, don’t kill him. Oh, God, No!” Scott cried as he continued to be caught up in the painful nightmare.
“Scott, I’m right here. Come on, brother, no one’ s gonna hurt you anymore,” Johnny consoled softly. “Get the doctor,” he told Dave as he felt his brother’s body trembling beneath his touch.
“Be right back,” Dave said.
“Scott, listen to me. It’s just a dream.”
“Please, it’s not Johnny’s fault. It’s me you want. Let him go. No! No more, please,” Scott gasped as he tried to move towards his brother as the
Dark Man dropped his body to the ground.
‘You’re next, Boy,’ the Dark Man said, advancing on Scott with the blood-soaked knife.
Scott stared at the lifeless body of his beloved brother, tears falling from his eyes as he watched the Dark Man step over the body and slowly walk towards him.
“Go ahead and kill me. I’m sorry, Johnny,” Scott cried and Johnny continued to try and reach him.
“Come on, Scott, it’s just a dream. I’m right here.”
“What happened?” Jenkins asked as he hurried into the room. He shook his head at the sight of the dark-haired Lancer son. “You shouldn’t be up,” he admonished as he knelt beside the bed.
“He’s having some kind of nightmare,” Johnny reported, ignoring the doctor’s last words.
Jenkins felt Scott’s forehead and knew the fever was increasing, “Dave, Murdoch said there’s a block of ice. Get some men to help you chip it down and bring as much as you can up here. Send someone into town to get more.”
“Yes, sir,” Murphy said.
Scott continued to stare at the advancing Dark Man. He felt detached from his own body as he watched the knife touch his chest. The cold steel sent shivers down his spine but he didn’t fight. He waited for his nightmare to end in one quick thrust of the knife.
‘This is not what I want, Boy,’ the Dark Man said as a drop of bright crimson fluid welled up where the blade broke the skin. ‘Maybe we should start again,’ he laughed.
‘No, Please, just kill me and get it over with,’ Scott pleaded.
‘Oh, but that’s too easy, Boy. No, I think it’s time to kill someone else you care about. What about that lovely dark-haired girl. Should I see how much you care about her?’
‘No! Leave her alone!”
‘Will you beg for her?”
Scott remembered another time when he’d been forced to beg for another’s life. The Dark Man promised to let the boy go if he begged and Scott had done so. He’d got down on his knees in the filthy, spider-infested cellar and pleaded for the life of his fellow captive. The Dark Man had smiled and then snapped the boy’ s neck anyway. Part of Scott Lancer had died that day as well. ‘It wouldn’t do either of us any good if I did,’ he said.
The Dark Man’s laughter sent chills down Scott’s spine. “Shall we find out, Boy?”
“No! Don’t kill her, Please, Oh, God, not Teresa!” he cried out as Jenkins placed the ice around his body.
“Come on, Scott, you’re home. You’re safe,” Johnny comforted, watching his brother shiver uncontrollably as more ice was added to the bed. He looked up at Murdoch and Teresa, who’d joined the vigil by his brother’s bed shortly after Jenkins had started placing the ice around him. The sun was now high in the sky and its brilliant rays flooded the room, enhancing the pale features of the injured man who lay enthralled in a living nightmare.
“Keep talking to him, Johnny,” Murdoch ordered.
“Scott, you need to wake up. It’s only a dream. I need you to fight, Boston. I need you to come back to me. To us. We all need you,” Johnny pleaded tiredly.
Scott heard the familiar voice and tried to reach out to the lifeline. Somehow he knew Johnny wasn’t really dead, but the Dark Man continued to hold him in his grip. He fought against the depths of despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He knew to stay would mean constantly watching the ones he loved die at the hands of the Dark Man and knew he couldn’t do that. He’d face any amount of pain if it meant getting away from his personal demon. He had to wake up; he had to make the nightmare images that gripped his mind go away. Caring voices began to penetrate the fog that enshrouded his mind.
“Come on, Boston, you can do it,” Johnny begged softly.
“Scott, it’s time to wake up, Son,” Murdoch encouraged.
“Please, Scott, we need you,” Teresa pleaded.
“Keep talking to him. I think he’s coming round,” Jenkins observed as he watched his patient’s eyelids begin to flutter.
“Hey, Boston, you gonna sleep all day. We got work to do, ya know?”
‘Johnny? That’s Johnny, he’s alive. You didn’t kill him,’ Scott screamed at the Dark Man.
‘How do you know this is not real and that’s the nightmare?’ the Dark Man laughed.
‘As long as Johnny is alive, I would live in a nightmare.’ “Johnny, H…help me, he’s here, oh God the Dark Man’s here,” Scott cried, his body thrashing on the bed as he floated between reality and nightmare.
“The Dark Man’s dead, Scott. We killed him, remember?”
“No, h…he’s h…here. C…can’t escape h…him. H…he’ll kill you and its m…my f…fault.”
“Scott, Boston,” Johnny pleaded as he reverted to his own nickname for his brother. “You’ve gotta believe me, brother, the Dark Man can’t hurt you anymore. He can’t hurt anyone anymore.”
“D…dead. He’s d…dead?” Scott’s weak voice asked.
“That’s right, Boston, we sent him to hell, remember?”
A tiny smile lit up Scott Lancer’s pale face as he realized his brother was really talking to him and that he could leave the nightmare behind. “J…Johnny, Y…you ok?” he asked, shivering as the ice melted around his body.
“Open your eyes and see for yourself, Boston,” Johnny teased in a relieved voice.
Scott opened his eyes, only to shut them again as the bright sunlight sent daggers of pain through his head. “H…hurts,” he said weakly.
“Close the curtains,” Jenkins ordered “Try again, Scott,” he urged.
Once again pain-filled blue eyes opened, but this time they landed on the bright blue eyes of his brother. “Y…you’re r…real?” he asked.
“Yep, I am, Boston,” Johnny laughed.
“T…thought he k…killed you,” Scott said.
“Not a chance, Boston. Not when the two of us are together,” Johnny said, placing his hand on his brother’s shivering chest.
“How do you feel, Scott?” Jenkins asked.
“C…cold,” the blond answered.
“Well, that’s probably because you’re lying in a bed of ice,” Murdoch commented. “You’ve been running a fever for a couple of days and we needed to get it down.”
“T…to c…cold,” Scott said as his teeth chattered loudly.
“Well, young man, it looks like your fever’s a bit lower, but we’ll leave you like this for a little longer just to be sure.”
“W…want out n…now,” Scott shivered as the words left his mouth.
“Not much longer, Scott. Murdoch, can I speak with you for a minute?”
Murdoch followed Jenkins out the door and closed it behind him, “What aren’t you telling us?” he asked.
“Nothing, Murdoch. Look, I warned you about his mental state. Those nightmares he’s been suffering from are not gonna get better by themselves. I want you to listen to him if he wants to talk about them. Encourage him to get it all out in the open. The quicker he faces what he went through, the quicker he’ll start to mend,” Jenkins said. Johnny and Murdoch had explained everything that had happened to Scott both as an adult and what they knew of his experience with the Dark Man as a child.
“You sure that’s the best thing?”
“Didn’t you say his grandfather wouldn’t let him face it as a child?”
Murdoch eyes turned to ice as he thought of his son’s elderly grandfather. “Harlan said that Scott had tried to run away and that he’d made up the story of the Dark Man so he wouldn’t be in trouble,” he snapped angrily.
“If you try to stop him from talking about it, you’ll be doing the same thing his grandfather did. I’m not saying you should bring it up to him, but if he brings it up, don’t try to stop him. Let him get it all out.”
“Alright, Doc, if you think that’s best,” Murdoch pledged.
“I do,” Jenkins said as they walked back into the room.
Johnny met Murdoch’s eyes for a moment, sending a silent message that he wanted to know what they’d talked about.
“Later,” Murdoch mouthed as he sat in a chair opposite his youngest son.
“Scott, I’m gonna give you some laudanum to help with the pain,” Jenkins said.
“K,” Scott agreed and swallowed the liquid that was placed before him.
Johnny picked up a glass and held it to his brother’s lips, smiling as Scott drank greedily.
“Don’t let him have too much all at once, Johnny,” Jenkins reminded.
Scott continued to shiver as the ice melted around his body. “O…out now,” he said, his tone weak, but demanding.
Jenkins checked his forehead again and found it even cooler. “All right, Scott, I’ll make a deal with you,” he bargained.
“W…what k…kinda deal?” Scott asked, shivering uncontrollably.
“We’ll get you outta there if you drink a little broth for me. Think you can do that?”
“T…try t…to,” Scott answered. “Teresa, can you get the broth? Murdoch, get a couple of hands in here to help get him off the bed. You did say you have another mattress, right?”
“Yes we do. I’ll have it brought in right away,” Murdoch said as he followed Teresa out of the room.
“Johnny, I want you back in bed,” Jenkins commanded.
“I’m fine,” the younger Lancer said.
“S…sure you a…are, B…brother,” Scott observed with a grin.
“Can’t keep nothing from you, can I, Boston?”
“No, so d…don’t e…even try. G…go get in b…bed.”
“Yes, Boss,” Johnny laughed and let Jenkins help him to his own bed.
“Ok, Scott, looks like we’re ready to make you more comfortable,” Jenkins said when Murdoch returned fifteen minutes later, Billy, Jed, and Jelly in tow.
“Dave’s bringing in the new mattress,” Murdoch reported “You ok, Son?” he asked Scott.
“I w…will be w…when you g…get me outta h…here.”
Johnny sat on the edge of his bed and watched as the four men made ready to move his brother. “You can put him over here till you get his bed changed,” he suggested.
“You’re supposed to be lying down,” Jenkins retorted, but knew what Johnny was suggesting made sense. “Alright, boys, here’s what we’re going to do. Murdoch, you and Jelly take his shoulders. Billy, you take his left leg, Jed you help with his stomach. I’ll hold his left leg. Let’s do this carefully. Ready, Scott?”
“Lift on three,” Jenkins said. “One. Two. Three.”
Scott tried to stop from crying out as his body was lifted out of the wet bed and carried across to his brother’s bed. Tears of pain welled in his eyes as his body shivered from the cold and the newly awakened pains emanating from his leg, back, and chest. He couldn’t suppress the pain-filled cry as they lowered him onto his brother’s bed.
“Won’t be long now and you’ll be able to sleep again, Boston,” Johnny placated as he reached out and took his brother’s trembling hand.
“T…thanks, brother,” Scott whispered painfully as Johnny used his other hand to pull the blankets up over him
Scott listened as Teresa gave orders on changing the mattress, smiling as she told the men what they were doing wrong. He felt himself slipping into sleep again and wondered if the Dark Man would be there to greet him. The thought of the Dark Man made him open his eyes and ignore his body’s demand for sleep. He had no idea how much time passed before Jenkins was standing over him again.
“Scott, we’re gonna put you back in your own bed, but before we do that I’m gonna need to change those wet bandages. I know it hurts, Son, but it has to be done.”
“D…do it l…later,” Scott pleaded in a trembling voice.
“Can’t do that, Son. Now you just relax and let us do all the work. Johnny, can you sit in that chair until we’re done?” Jenkins asked.
“Don’t leave me, Johnny,” the blond requested as he gripped his brother’s hand tightly.
“I won’t, Boston,” Johnny said soothingly. “Sorry, Doc, gonna have to work around me.”
Jenkins saw the look of determination on the younger brother’s face and knew arguing would get him nowhere. “Alright, Johnny, but you be careful of that leg. Don’t want to have to stitch you back up,” he warned.
“Yes, Sir,” Johnny saluted with a grin.
“Murdoch, give me a hand here,” Jenkins said.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Help me lift him forward. Have to keep his leg supported, so I want you to sit in behind him and let his upper body rest on you,” Jenkins explained.
“Ok,” Murdoch acknowledged as Jenkins lifted the blond forward and he slid in behind him. Jenkins gently laid the injured man back against his father’s strong body. Unconsciously, Murdoch reached up and flicked a stray lock of sweat-soaked hair from his oldest son’s forehead, trying to soothe away the pain he knew was a constant in his son’s body.
Scott kept his eyes closed as the doctor began removing the bandages that covered his upper body. He knew the doctor was doing all he could to finish quickly with as little pain as possible, but it wasn’t working. The more the doctor touched his wounds, the harder it was for Scott to concentrate. Nausea and dizziness assaulted his senses as Jenkins cleaned the open wounds on his chest and back. Without warning, his body expelled the small amount of water he’d taken in earlier. His stomach churned as his movements succeeded in sending him into the hell of a pain-filled world.
“Easy, Son, we’re almost done,” Murdoch promised as he watched the doctor use a whiskey-soaked cloth to finish cleaning the raw wounds.
“P…please, no more,” Scott begged as the alcohol burned into his wounds.
“That’s it, Scott, just have to put clean bandages on you and get you back in your own bed,” Jenkins said as he had Murdoch lean the younger man forward.
Johnny released his brother’s hand and held the quivering shoulders as the doctor began wrapping bandages around his brother’s chest and abdomen. He knew the doctor was doing what needed to be done in order to help Scott’s wounds heal, but he hated the muffled cries as his brother fought to keep the pain to himself.
“That’s it, Scott, all done,” Jenkins said. “You men get over here and help us get him back to his own bed,” he ordered.
Johnny reluctantly released his brother into the waiting arms of the other men. He knew they were being as gentle as they could, but the weak cries from his brother tore at his heart and burned into his tired mind. He sighed in relief as the doctor finally pulled the thin blanket over his brother’s body. He sagged tiredly into his own bed, the long hours of sitting with his brother finally catching up to him as his mind lost the fight to stay awake.
“That’s one down,” Murdoch observed with a grin as he pulled the blanket up over his youngest son.
“It’s about time,” Jenkins said. “It was just plain stubbornness that kept him awake this long. Now, Scott, Teresa made you some broth. You ready to try some?” he asked.
“L…later,” Scott pleaded as he waited for the pain to recede.
“Come on, Scott, I made it especially for you,” Teresa said as she sat in the chair next to the blond’s bed.
Scott looked into her eyes and saw the worry in them. He slowly nodded his head and soon found his father supporting his head so the young woman could spoon the broth into his dry mouth. It wasn’t long before his eyes grew too heavy and he surrendered to sleep.
“He didn’t eat very much,” Teresa commented worriedly.
“It’s enough for now,” Jenkins said. “I want you to try and get him to take some every time he’s awake. Make sure you give him lots of water as well. Now, why don’t we all get something to eat and try to get some sleep? Scott and Johnny are gonna need all of us over the coming weeks. I have a feeling we’ll have trouble keeping Johnny off that leg.”
“You got that right, Doc,” Jelly said as he followed the others out of the room, leaving the two brothers to sleep in each other’s company.
~~~~~~~~~~The next week passed slowly for Johnny as he tried to convince everyone that his leg was fine and he didn’t need to stay in bed any longer. So far he’d lost the argument, but today he was determined to be up and around before anyone else woke up. He slid his legs over the side of the bed and slowly pulled on his pants. A soft sigh from across the room drew his attention and he looked into the blue eyes of his brother.
“Going somewhere?” Scott asked, the weakness and pain still evident in his voice, the paleness of his skin, and the droopiness of his eyelids.
“Just gonna visit with Barranca,” Johnny said.
“You’re not supposed to be up.”
“You’re not gonna tell, are you?”
“Course I won’t if you use the cane the doc left for you.”
“That’s blackmail, Boston,” Johnny observed, smiling at his brother as he pulled on the blue shirt.
“Seems blackmail has been running in this family lately,” Scott teased with a grin.
“Hey, we had to get you eating somehow,” Johnny said as he pulled on his boots and stood up. “I won’t be long,” he said as he began limping towards the door.
“You’re forgetting something, Brother,” Scott said.
“I am?” Johnny asked sheepishly.
“You are,” Scott said, pointing to the cane leaning against the wall by Johnny’s bed.
“Oh, hell, Boston, I don’t need it.”
“Murdoch,” Scott’s voice rose loudly.
“Sh, alright, I’ll take the damn thing. You gonna be alright till I get back?” Johnny asked as he took in the pained look on his brother’s face.
“Yeah, I just have to learn not to move around,” Scott said as he leaned into the soft pillows.
‘Wish I could take it all away, Scott,’ Johnny thought, remembering the nightmares his brother was suffering from since the Dark Man had come back into his life.
“What’s got you thinking so hard, Brother?”
Johnny shook his head and looked into his brother’s eyes. “Just thinking how glad I am that you’ve become part of my life. Get some rest, Boston, I’ll be back soon.”
“Don’t be long, Johnny. If Teresa catches you out of bed, you might end up with mush instead of those flapjacks you love so much.”
“Oh, yuck, don’t remind me. How long are they gonna make you eat that stuff?” he asked, wincing at the thought of the pasty substance Scott had been eating the past two days.
“Don’t know, but you think you could slip me one of those flapjacks if she brings them?”
“I might be able to arrange something,” Johnny said with a grin. “Go to sleep, Scott, I’ll be back by the time you wake up.”
“I’m not tired,” Scott objected, but laughed as a yawn gave lie to his words.
“Goodnight, Boston,” Johnny said as he leaned heavily on the cane and made his way out the door.
“How are you doing, Scott?” Jenkins asked as he sat in the chair by his patient’s bed.
“I’m ok, but I’d be better if you’d let me out of this bed.”
“Let me take a look at your wounds. If everything’s ok, then we’ll see about letting you sit outside for awhile.”
“Really,” Scott said with boyish enthusiasm. Three long weeks of being laid up in his bed were starting to grate on his nerves.
“Really, now let’s have a look,” Jenkins said. Half an hour later the doctor stood up and looked down at his patient.
“Let me get someone to help you outside,” Jenkins said and smiled as his news caused a large grin to spread over the blond’s still pale features.
“Thanks, Doc,” Scott said gratefully.
“You’re welcome, Scott. Just remember not to overdo it and stay off that leg,” he warned.
“Yes, Sir,” Scott said as the doctor left the room. The delight Scott felt at getting out of bed was quickly overshadowed as his mind wondered over the nightmares he continued to suffer from. He vowed to keep it all inside and not worry anyone, especially his brother, over something they couldn’t help with. Sometimes the nightmares were from his childhood and he relived the deaths of the other faceless children he’d been held with. Other times the faceless children were replaced with the face of his brother and he was forced to watch as the Dark Man killed him over and over again. Sometimes he cried out as the horror of what he’d lived through both as a child and as an adult overwhelmed his every sleeping moment. ‘It’ll go away someday,’ he thought and forced a smile to his face as Johnny, Jenkins, and Murdoch entered the room.
“I hear you wanna go outside,” Johnny said.
“You got that right,” Scott told him.
“Well let’s see if we can get you out of here,” Murdoch said. “Johnny, move out of the way.”
“Alright now, Scott, we’re going to take it slow. You’ve been in this bed so long, you’re bound to feel dizzy when we stand you up.”
“Ok, Doc,” Scott said as his father and the Doctor helped him sit on the side of the bed, his right leg straight out in front of him. He closed his eyes and fought the dizziness that threatened to engulf him.
“Let me know when you’re ready to stand up, Son,” Murdoch said.
“I’m ready,” Scott asserted as the dizziness subsided and the excitement of getting out of his room once again took over.
“Alright then, lean on us,” Jenkins said as they helped the blond stand up.
“How are you feeling, Boston?” Johnny asked as he watched his brother staring out over the darkening landscape.
“I’m fine, Johnny,” Scott said, his voice filled with sadness.
“How’s the leg?”
Scott unconsciously rubbed his right knee remembering the pain he still felt when he stood too long or did too much walking. Jenkins had told him the pain would subside as time went on and he’d have full use of his leg if he didn’t overdo it. “Not as bad as it was,” he answered.
“That’s great. I see Teresa is still mothering you,” Johnny said as he noticed the pitcher of lemonade and the tray full of cookies.
“Yeah, she seems to think I need to gain some weight,” Scott said.
Johnny saw the sad look in his brother’s eyes and wondered if he would ever see the brightness that had once been in them. He’d listened at his brother’s door as he quietly suffered the after-affects of the nightmares. He’d tried talking to Scott, tried getting him to open up and tell him what he was really feeling, but Scott had shrugged it off. He would only say that it would go away in time. Almost two months had passed since Scott had been tortured at the hands of the Dark Man and the nightmares had not diminished in terror or frequency. He knew from his own nightmares of watching the board connect with Scott’s knee that things were ten times harder on his brother. Somehow, with the help of his family, Scott Lancer would get through the mental pain. That was one promise that Johnny Lancer made to himself and vowed to keep. “She’s right, you know?” he agreed softly, noticing how his brother’s shirt hung on his gaunt frame as if it were three sizes too big.
“Don’t you start,” Scott said, forcing the nightmare images from his mind.
“Well if you’re not going to eat those cookies, can I have em?” Johnny asked hopefully.
“Help yourself,” Scott told him as he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found two worried blue eyes looking back at him. “I’m fine, Johnny,” he reassured.
‘Sure you’re fine, Boston, that’s why I hear you scream out in your sleep. That’s why you look so sad when you think no one is watching,’ Johnny thought. “Would you tell me if you weren’t?” he asked.
Scott smiled at his brother, but was unable to hide the sadness in his eyes. “Grandfather always said there were things a man had to deal with himself,” he remembered.
“Your Grandfather may have been a good businessman, Scott, but he didn’t know anything about caring for a family. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
“Maybe someday I will, Johnny. For now I just want to forget any of this ever happened.”
Johnny saw the determination on his brother’s face and knew he’d get no further. “Alright, Boston, just remember I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk,” he promised.
“I know that, Brother,” Scott said. Somehow he knew that his brother’s love would get him through the nightmares to come.
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