Design a site like this with
Get started

The Impostor by Millicent

This story is an orphan – that is, the writer has not been active in the fandom for a long time, and the story has been rescued from the old, defunct Yahoo groups. So that we don’t lose the story entirely, we’re storing it here.

However the original author still owns this story. Should they reconnect with the fandom at some point, we will naturally respect whatever they want to do with their story.


Word Count 19,379

Beta Readers for this entire story were Geraldine and Cathy


Part One: Ladies Choice

Teresa looked at the colored lanterns softly glowing and took in a long slow breath of the warm evening air. She turned her head towards her brother who was leaning on a pillar close by, watching her and their surroundings.

“Come on Johnny, dance with me.”  Teresa grasped her skirts and rustled them to and fro.  “I’ve planned this party for weeks!”

Johnny let out a long sigh and looked down at the smooth ground. A short while ago it was fairly quiet. Now the crickets and the crackling fire were drowned out by the intrusion of the fiddles, guitars, and of course, people. As the tempo and the intensity of the music escalated, so did Teresa, it seemed. Her eyes were sparkling and she was teeming with energy.

“Nah, Teresa. Just don’t feel like it.” He adverted his eyes and kept his voice soft.

“Then I’ll go find someone who does!”   Teresa, still enjoying the swishing of her skirts left in her youthful determination, to go join her friends. Johnny knew that Teresa was still a little cautious with him, never pushing a point too far. She was better able to get Scott to go along with her.

Scott, the gentleman brother from Boston – his manners probably wouldn’t permit him to say no.  Johnny smiled as he thought about how little more it would take from her to convince him to her way of thinking sometimes, but dancing sure wasn’t going to be one of them.

He watched Teresa wave to a friend who then joined her at the refreshment table, for food and gossip. When a new young ranch hand asked Teresa for a dance, she accepted. She purposefully looked back at Johnny with a grin on her face. Johnny could see Scott dancing with the daughter of their neighbors; a lively girl called La, next to Teresa.

Murdoch, standing next to the overburdened food table, was laughing and appeared to be telling an amusing story to a group of friends, all members of the Cattleman’s Society.

Still looking around and taking in this unfamiliar setting, Johnny could see Maria was roasting a side of beef over an open fire, turning it on a spit as a group of people hovered, drinks in hand, watching her.   Murdoch should have a man doing that job – doesnt seem right that Maria has to attend to that all night, Johnny advised himself to bring it up to Murdoch later.  Maria, after all, should be with the ladies and enjoying the party too. 

Sparks and embers from the spit danced slowly upwards in the night sky and their glow caught the interest of Johnny’s eyes. He missed having his own campsite, enjoying the quietness of a starry night alone. Some of the most pleasurable things in life didn’t involve people. He savored an old memory of his peacefully sleeping dog, envying the entente that only a dog could have with this world. He shivered and he suddenly realized just how tired he really was.

Johnny turned his watchfulness back to Teresa. She was always cheerful and smiling even though she had survived tragedies of her own. Like himself, she didn’t have a family outside of Murdoch and Lancer. Her new-found ‘brothers’, as she had triumphantly and brazenly claimed them to be, were her family now. She was unlike any girl he had ever met, somehow naive yet smart, and outspoken too. He watched Teresa unconsciously smoothed the crisp new linens of her dress and touching her hair, she looked up at the young ranch hand, smiling at something he had said to her.

Johnny made his way over to the food table, thinking there were enough platters brimming with beef and tortillas, pies and tarts, fruit and nuts to feed a whole village back in Sonora. He carefully chose a selection, filling his plate, as he stifled a yawn.

He took notice as a couple of attractive young women passed behind him, giggling behind their hands, and in return he gave them a quick grin that he knew would go over well.  He felt a little uncomfortable socializing politely with these women, as they were not the sort of women he was accustomed to. In fact, this wasn’t his kind of party, either.

With his plate in hand, he avoided the women, and dodging around groups of chatting people, Johnny made his way over to the temporary bar to get a much needed drink.

“Well brother, I can clearly see your not doing your part in all this.” Scott’s tone was light and mocking as he moved to Johnny’s side and poured himself a scotch.

“What do you mean my part?” Johnny took a good swallow of his tequila and waited for his brother’s reply. He squinted his eyes while the burning fluid raced to his stomach.

Thoughtful for a moment, Scott lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Teresa’s young friend Lia is following me around like a puppy. She is just a kid and she won’t let up. I think she is more your age little brother. Anyhow, I’m a bit more inclined to head over that-a-way.” He turned and pointed towards an elegant young blonde woman.  They both knew her as Susan, the niece of Campbell’s Dry Goods and Wares storekeeper, in Morro Coyo. Johnny knew that Scott had been impatiently waiting for just such an opportunity as this, hoping to get to know Susan better.

“What Lia are you talking about?” Johnny popped some crunch nuts into his mouth.

“Why, Lia Serra – Teresa’s friend. Here she comes, got to go!” Scott turned and left Johnny’s side in a hurry. Watching his brothers’ back as he retreated quickly, Johnny took a bite of lime and followed it up with a tequila chaser. Felt good. He barely had time to take another sip of his drink, sensing Lia’s approach from behind.

“Hello Mr. Lancer. Are you enjoying the party?”

”Well, Lia,” he said as he turned to greet the dark-haired girl, “I’m just thrilled.” Lia didn’t perceived Johnny’s sarcasm, nor would she have understood his discomfort with such a large gathering of people.

“Oh . . . ” Lia was surprised that Johnny Lancer even knew her name. Trying to peer around him with her pretty brown eyes she seemed to be searching for his brother. Looking around, she stood with her hands clasped awkwardly, embarrassed to find herself unable to locate the source of her quest. Johnny couldn’t help smiling down into her oval face at her discomfiture. Kind of pretty he thought, and yep she sure was young.

The air between them was awkward but Johnny was use to silence.  He tried to hide his amusement as the young woman before him shifted nervously from one foot to the other. She finally broke the silence. “You know,” her voice rose, “with all that Pardee trouble we had, and how you lured him back to Lancer and how you and Scott got rid of those outlaws . . . well, we’re real proud of both of you and glad you’re here.” Lia gave a firm nod with her head.

Johnny looked deep into her eyes that were big as saucers. “A lot of men died for this land Lia, I don’t think you should give Scott and I all the credit you know.”

“Oh I know,” she agreed. “I heard that it took the efforts of the whole ranch, all the hands, and you and Scott of course, to bring down all of those . . . those. . .killers.” Lia suddenly looked taken back by what she had just said.

Johnny knew she was thinking of the reputation of the man who stood before her. He saw her shiver and she avoided looking at his face. Johnny slowly raised a hand to rub his eye. He never got used to the look that came over some people when they recalled whom they were speaking to. “Oh,. . .before I forget Lia,” Johnny turned slightly away from her. “Scott, he mentioned you when he passed by. I think you’ll find he’s over that way.” He swept his hand broadly, indicating a large area of the patio. He laughed a little to himself as she left hurriedly.

As Johnny started to retreat to a quieter spot with a bottle of tequila he nabbed off the table.  Murdoch though, caught his eye and waved him over to join him and several men. Although he hadn’t been at the ranch for very long, he had met many of the neighboring ranchers and found them to be surprisingly welcoming, despite his reputation.

Murdoch proudly introduced his son to the one man Johnny didn’t recognize. “This is my younger son John. John meet Dave Bell from San Francisco. Mr. Bell is representing Forbes and Landers. He is here looking at the stock and it looks possible that we may be doing some business on a long term basis.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Johnny met the man’s intense blue eyes while he shook his warm hand. Mr. Bell, a tall man in his mid-thirties had a receding hairline and a strong hand grip.

“Just call me Dave, Johnny, wonderful party you are having here. Miles from town and you still manage to pull a good crowd Murdoch. Must be the smell of that barbecued beef.”

“Yep, just one fine time we’re all having.” Johnny replied sarcastically, under his breath. He looked around for a quiet spot to sit and eat his food. The noise of the chatter and music with all the people that look him up and down as he passed by, was enough to give a man indigestion.

The evening wore on and the more he tried to retreat to his own corner of the world the more others seemed to be attracted to him.   Most people offered idle chatter but as the son of the host he guessed he should expect as much.   Johnny grew tire and his patience was wearing thin. He could see Teresa still dancing, changing partners with every new song, seemingly in her element. Looking around some more he located his brother.  Scott was looking frustrated.  Lia looked like she had Susan and Scott cornered, and poor Scott wasn’t getting any chance to speak with Susan privately.

Out of the corner of his eye Johnny was drawn to Dave who was leaning up against the fence and was studying Scott and Susan.  Instinctively, without further thought, Johnny serenely moved towards them. His leisurely progression towards them did not bid any attention to Johnny, but he felt an urgency to be close to his new brother.

Upon his advancement, Johnny heard Dave’s proclamation. “Ma’am, may I have the pleasure of this dance.”

She shook her head; her blonde curls swaying, and gently smiled as she refused him the dance. She looked tired and threw a few frustrated looks at both Lia and Dave.

Dave’s face took on a stunned appearance as the rejection sunk in. “I’ve admired you all evening ma’am – you remind me of the finer things of home.” He stood boldly before Susan and held his hand out, ready to accept hers. He stared at her intensely with cool blue eyes.

“Thank – you, but I’m quite tired.” Susan’s face was now rosy and her gray eyes lowered to avoid the ones seeking hers.

“I’m a long way from home,” Dave persisted, and his voice grew louder with his coercion.. “Surely you wouldn’t deny a man, who longs for the company of a elegant lady such as yourself, just one dance. No-one else will do. Just one dance now”.

A few of the women watching on looked at each other and gave a small collective laugh. Young ladies whispered to one another, wondering why Susan refused a dance with this noble man whom was obviously a powerful figure in the cattle business.

“Susan, let’s go for a walk.” Scott took hold of her elbow to guide her away as he meet Dave’s cold glare with a direct warning. “The lady says she is tired.”

“Well, hospitality sure has room to grow out here doesn’t it.” Dave’s voice sent shivers down Susan’s back.

“Move on friend,” Scott commanded in a serious tone, his voice deceptively soft. They stood on either side of the young woman as the crowd was forming.

Lia giggled aloud and moved her hands too slowly to conceal it. There was whispering amongst the women in the crowd. Lia turned her back on the arena and scurried off. Teresa could see the pain behind the nervous laughter as Lia brushed past her.  Teresa immediately followed the distraught girl.

“Look, there is no need for this to get out of hand.” Scott was calm has he placed himself between Susan and Dave.

A few long seconds passed as Dave met the blond man’s eyes as he thought things through.

“Why don’t you go show Susan those new puppies, Scott.” Johnny’s eyes locked with Dave.

Dave’s attention focused on Johnny. He noticed his easy posturing against the fence, but those eyes and the air around the young Lancer seemed to freeze the time between the two men. Dave’s acuity heightened with sensing this new danger. His adrenaline kicked in and he now blocked out all the other people around him. Everything seemed to slow down and voices beyond the two were now muffled. He felt trapped in Johnny’s stare and felt he was unable to move away even if he wanted to. His mind somehow had even made the distance between them seem further. Before Dave would notice, the young Lancer had already assessed Dave’s ‘response time’ and stress level. Dave’s brow had beaded with sweat. His jugular vein could be seen palpating, and there was a slight twitching under Dave’s left eye.  Dave refused to break the eye contact and returned the hostile glare.  He had already wiped his sweating palms against his pants a couple of times. Johnny left the man speechless.

Dave’s thoughts were consumed with estimating the options he now had. He berated himself for earlier missing the signs that this boy spelled trouble. Long silent seconds passed.

“Fine. You win, Lancer.” As he slowly withdrew, Dave snickered.  His stare only discontinued when his body had completed his turn away from the scene.

“Are you all right Susan?” Scott looked at her with some concern, offering her his arm.

Susan gave a weak smile at Scott, put her arm around his and leaned into him. “Thank you for helping me Scott.” Susan permitted Scott to lead her away from the crowd.

The party picked up again as if nothing had happened. People laughed, talked and danced with their friends and neighbors. The evening went on like any other party that would be remembered for its good company and music, but this party was different. It marked the future with change.

New relationships were formed that night, some which would prove to be long-standing and joyous. Others though, had made fateful turns that would change many people’s lives.


Part Two: The Game

“Ahh! Beat you again!” Johnny jumped up, squeaking his chair back on the veranda’s dusty tile.

“I don’t believe it!  I lost again!  I’m obviously more overworked and tired than you.” Scott raised his hands and tucked them behind his head. He put his boot up against the wall and balanced his chair on its two back legs.

“I doubt it, just look at you! There’s never a drop of sweat or a speck of dust on ya!” Johnny thumped his fist on the wooden table, delighting in the defeated look on his brother’s face.

“I just change my clothes more often little brother, some of us are . . .   civilized.”  Scott wide grinning face indicated he quite enjoyed his bantering with Johnny. Making light of their differences seemed to be an easy way for communicating and measuring up one another.

“Looks like you two are ready for milk and biscuits.” Teresa burst onto the patio with a heavy tray. She poured from the pitcher while the two young men still tested each other with their verbal wrestling. They instantly stood still with the sight of a rider drawing near at a full gallop. The sun shone brilliantly overhead and a halo of dust encircled rider. Scott and Johnny stood up and a mutual puzzled glance was shared.

“Senor! Senor Lancer! Something very terrible happened at the Serra Ranch.”

“Whoa, take it easy Manuel, what’s happened?” Johnny grasped for the horse’s reins. He ran a hand over the sweating animal, allowing it to drink from the trough.

“The girl, the girl. . . was found dead!” Manuel’s speech was broken with coughing spells as he tried to clear the dust from his lungs.

Teresa audibly gasped and shock depleted her face of her natural glow.

“Girl – dead?” Scott turned and help Teresa sit down into the wooden chair he had just vacated.

“They found her . . .  her body was down by the river, she was all bloody I heard . . . Mr. Serra told me to come and get help . . .   Mr. Lancer here?”

“We will go back with you Manuel.  Murdoch will be back sometime tomorrow.” Scott quickly grabbed a glass of milk and gulped the cool liquid down.

“I’m coming too!” Teresa was already heading back through the kitchen.

“No, that’s not a good idea Teresa.” Scott spoke with finality.

“Don’t! – I’m going to be able to do more there, than here!” Teresa’s voice was shrill and she didn’t turn back.


The Serra’s home reflected a harmonious mix of Mexican and European heritage. Teresa entered through a large arched doorway, with Scott and Johnny following her. The foyer held a massive wooden table with efficient large candlesticks and a polished brass lamp dominating the surface. The great room was very quiet with plenty of daylight spilling in. Teresa glanced and quickly drew her eyes away from the couch. Lia spent a great deal of time sharing local news and sewing with Teresa on that comfy couch. Johnny could see her eyes were brimming with tears as they were immediately directed through to the kitchen.

Mrs. Serra had just finished the cleansing of the young women’s pallid face. The lifeless body was lying on a soft brown blanket spread out on the kitchen table.  Mrs. Serra whispered in a hushed voice, “How could this happen. . . . why? God, why. . .” Both Johnny and Scott were concerned about how Teresa would take this.  She entered the narrow doorway ahead of them both, bracing herself to what she knew she had to face up to. They saw her slight shoulders raise as she consciously stiffened her pose upon entering the kitchen. Teresa had seen people dead before, but not someone whom had been like a sister to her.  When she tumultuously cried out, Johnny standing behind her placed his hands on her shoulders.  He peered around her to see the girl.

Teresa’s shaking hands hid her mouth, but unadulterated relief shone in her eyes. She ran and embraced Lia who was standing behind her mother against the far wall. Mrs. Serra and her daughter suddenly understood the misunderstanding that just took place, the three of them retreated to the living room, clinging, together for support.

Susan’s peaceful face betrayed the tragedy she endured in her last moments. Her clothing was dirty and torn. A large cleaned wound was on her forehead, and she was badly bruised. Scott’s mouth opened and he was speechless as his body crumpled up against the back wall. With his head bent over low, he clasped his knees with his hands. Scott took a few minutes to catch his breath. The room went hush. Johnny stared down at his feet, not wanting to intrude with his gaze upon Susan and her predicament, for his brother’s sake. 

“Lia found her by the river,” Jose Serra whispered. “Maybe an large cat?”

“No Jose, those aren’t cat wounds.” Johnny shook his head slowly.

“A fall perhaps, maybe she was up on top of the bluff, lost her balance.” Jose tried once again, hurriedly attempting to make some sense of this.

“No she didn’t fall. ” Johnny voice was filled with annoyance.   “Jose, go ask your Anne if there are bruises or wounds anywhere elsewhere on her.” Johnny didn’t want any further chatter and interruptions.

“Scott, you going to be okay?” Johnny spoke slow and very softly while he placed his hand out towards Scott’s arm. He hesitated, and didn’t follow through with the intended touch. He lowered his head, trying to see his brother’s face. Scott took a deep breath. Johnny doubted that Scott would let his anger escape. 

How close Scott was to Susan was not entirely known, but this silent controlled reaction spoke for itself. Scott raised his head and nodded. He moved over towards Susan and looked down at her. He stood quietly with a remorseful look, a look that spoke of a loss of all their tomorrows. Johnny could see something had a hold on his brother. A piece of him was lost with Susan, already. Scott moved very slowly, almost stumbling over his own feet.  As he encompassed the table, he brushed her skin with his fingertips.  With light caresses he memorized the softness of her arms, hands and face. 

Johnny was familiar with what he knew Scott would have to face now.   He himself had been embraced by love, to find that all it took, was a few seemingly insignificant moments, and all that he had cherished could be ripped away violently, forever. 

The anger Scott had on his face would be useless though, he was already defeated, and he couldn’t win against life.  Johnny wondered what other losses in life had Scott experienced, if any.

Johnny spoke quietly with Jose who was explaining what Anne had seen when she cleaned Susan’s body.  They agreed to go out to where Susan’s body was found.

“Since Lia found her, perhaps she should come out too, Jose.” Johnny pointed to where the women had retreated in the great room.

“No Johnny, my daughter has been through enough, its best she stay here. I can show you where Susan was found.” Jose was firm and already grabbing his hat, headed out of the kitchen door.

Jose led them out for a brisk twenty-minute hike to the river area where Susan’s body had been found. Over dry hard ground their shadows scattered large beetles. The ones they didn’t crush survived by running under the dry bushes and tumbleweed. Closer to the river there was long grass which led up to a bluff of rocks and boulders. They made their way down to the riverbank. The air was appreciatively cool off the water on this hot day; it felt much better than the Serra house.

“Well, this is where she was found.” Jose was somber and pointed his hand to an area close by. “She was right here.”

“Here?” Johnny crouched down and scoured the area, searching for anything that the smooth sandy area could reveal to him. Scott’s face had a little more color in it now Johnny thought. He was able to ask some questions of his own now too. They spent about an hour at the river and when the air chilled and the day grew late, they decided to return to the Serra ranch.

Anna Serra, along with her daughter and the foreman, had driven into town. Susan had been wrapped and placed in the back of the squeaking buckboard. It was time to serve the needs of the surviving relatives of the deceased woman.

Teresa had prepared bread and cuts of meats for the three men when they returned. The kitchen at the Serra’s hacienda was no longer the warm room it had been on previous visits. It was too difficult for them to eat at the table in the kitchen where Susan’s lifeless figure had so recently been lying, so they moved into the larger dining room.

Scott and Johnny ate in the uncomfortably solemn room; each wrapped up in their own thoughts. Jose was pensive, offering very little in conversation but taking several trips to the kitchen on his own.

The journey home in the Lancer buggy was in silence of human voices.   Nature’s orchestra of tiny night critters, sung out a melody that ordinary would have gone unnoticed.  Johnny could see that Teresa remained in her own clashing world of shock and gratefulness. Her entire body shivered in between them, even though she had brought her thick wrap.   Scott sat on her other side and stared out towards the stars, the entire trip home.  Withdrawn in their own separate world of private thoughts they traveled along the bumpy road.   The one thought that worried Johnny the most was that he knew this was a murder.


Part Three: Across Time and Waves

“Come Lawrence, look Murdoch! Your Dad is home!” Mrs. Lancer waved her arm in a large arc hoping that someone on the ship would pick up the motion. The British ship Erebus had made its return after a very long voyage.

Thirteen year old Murdoch and his eleven year old brother had been excited ever since they were down to less than 5 ‘sleeps’, as their mother would say to them. Murdoch loved the dockyards as much as his older brother Robert did. Robert was now sixteen had been working at Murphy’s Carpentry for four years now.

Murdoch breathed in the heavy smell of tar and the lighter odor of the salt water. The creaking and groaning of the wooden beams beneath his feet comforted him. He peered over the edge of the dock and could see the barnacles just above the water line sticking to the beams.

Other ships were busy unloading and men could be heard giving out orders and yelling to one another. Sea gulls competed with the ground noise.  Aloft, they glided and keenly looked for handouts. Looking up Murdoch admired the seagulls’ precision of flight. They too, seemed excited by the ship’s return.

Murdoch marveled at all the business on the dock before turning his keen eyes back to the Erebus. He admired the ships rigging, the masts, and the power these huge vessels had to sail the world, to go to new frontiers. He thought sailing must be like the freedom of being a bird, soaring over rolling waves that never ended and encircled the entire earth. That must have been what drew his father to the seas.

Murdoch was nervous about his father’s return. This time he would approach him with more determination than ever and convince him that he was old enough for apprenticeship. He would sail with him on his next trip, or he would go sign up on another vessel!  He was tired of school and wanted adventure, just like his Dad. The last time he had asked, he was 12 years old and he was told in no uncertain terms that he was going to get an education.  Later, he could then sign up in a higher capacity. 

Although Murdoch enjoyed his studies, he yearned more for excitement and physical challenge. He had heard about his father’s experiences abroad and wanted the exploration, the freedom and even the dangers of facing the unknown.

A few friends of his had already signed up and he was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer this time. His father was a big man, and Murdoch was taking after him.   Since he had last seen his Dad, he knew he had sprouted up. This would be a surprise to his father, for sure, and it would no doubt give him more clout, Murdoch thought. His father would have to deal with him in a more adult way now.

Murdoch anxiously clasped his hands together and silently prayed that the ship would dock quickly.  Before the ship docked though, his mother took them home to prepare supper. She knew it would be hours yet before her husband would be free from his duties.

When his father finally arrived, it was long past suppertime. It was well worth the wait though, because when Dad came in that door, it was like Christmas again. Murdoch, his brothers, and mother were accustomed to getting gifts upon each of his father’s returns.

Although this trip didn’t take him anywhere exotic, Murdoch’s father had traded with a fellow sailor for some goods from the Orient. Gifts for his mother included several selections of silks. For his sons, he had brought home colorful kites that they would take up a hill and fly tomorrow.

Murdoch, like his father, was not born with a patient disposition.  He was itching to discuss his future with his father. His better judgement said wait for tomorrow, that was the proper thing to do. While his father was telling them about the efforts of the Erebus to reach the South Pole, Murdoch could no longer hold it in any longer.

 “Da, I’ve decided this next trip, I’m to go with you, Sir.” Murdoch’s earnest expression almost caused his father to laugh. He understood his son’s compassion and lust for the seas, his own youth having been spent in worship of the clipper ships. His own heart swelled at the mere sound, sight, and feel of a ship’s bow smoothly parting the waves.

“No Murdoch, you’ll just have to be patient boy. Your turn will come. You’re a smart lad, get your schooling and you can apprentice and be an officer! Don’t do it the hard way, lad.”  His father, with many more years of experience with being stubborn, initially had been patient with his young son.

Murdoch was unflinching with his demands though.

“Look Murdoch, I know that ache you have for the oceans boy, but schooling it must be!”

With his youth blinding him to the finality of his father’s words Murdoch didn’t give up. “But Da, you don’t understand, some of my friends are. . .  “

The senior Lancer finally had enough and his voice boomed in anger. “Enough lad, respect your Da or you’ll be in a sorry state!” Standing up and looking down into the eager blue eyes of his son, he hid his pride for his strong willed boy. His wife stepped between them and insisted they stop this at once. She was fearful the red-faced boy would do or say something foolish. Young Murdoch, suddenly realizing that he was no match for his father, willingly complied and went unhappily to bed.

By the time the next autumn came, Murdoch would never again want to be a sailor. Recalling that night in the many years that followed, he chose to remember his mother’s calm voice as she talked to his father, afterwards. He had waited until all was quiet before peeking out of the room he shared with his brothers. He had watched his parents go quietly, hand in hand, to their own bedroom, earlier than usual that evening.


The stagecoach ricocheted Murdoch and the other passenger about roughly. Jerked out of his memories, he felt relieved that they were getting close to Morro Coyo. It was early afternoon and his body had bruised from some rough bumps along the road. Overall it had been a pleasant and successful trip though. A smile crossed his lips at the thought of his having two sons waiting for him upon his return. Although they were full-grown adults, he had decided to purchase small gifts for them and Teresa. He had always looked forward to the day when he would be the one to bring home the gifts, just like his father had done.

The dusty, disheveled driver threw down his baggage and Murdoch cautioned the man for his roughness. Looking around, he saw no family members had arrived yet. Although this seemed strange, he soon heard the familiar sound of the buggy approaching. It had a squeaky axle that made a distinctive sound, and he reminded himself to get on to Walt to fix it. His foreman obviously hadn’t done the work on the buggy as planned.

When the source of the sound turned the corner he remained puzzled, as there was still no family member to greet him, just Walt. “Its been hectic today Mr. Lancer. Everyone is catching up on the work missed yesterday, especially Johnny and Scott.”  Walt looked unhappy as he loaded up Murdoch’s baggage.

“Where is Teresa? What to you mean ‘hectic’ day yesterday?” Murdoch was baffled by the absence of his family. Walt explained to Murdoch the recent bad news but admitted he knew very little of the details. He told his boss that Susan Campbell had been found dead. Murdoch asked several questions and when there were no answers forthcoming, he quickly became frustrated. Surely one of his sons would have realized that even a ‘tyrant’ could excuse a little work not being done in perspective of what had happened. He had to wait until they arrived at Lancer, over an hour’s ride from town.

They approached the front of the house and no one was there to greet the weary traveler. When Murdoch got out of the buggy, he attempted to jump out spryly, but he knew that to any observer, it was a slow, stiff departure, accompanied with his loud groan.

Teresa came out from the heavy carved doors, wiping her hands on her apron before receiving his warm hug.  He saw his son’s approaching from the direction of the barn and felt his irritation growing.   “About time I saw some family. Nobody think it was important enough to come get me? Anyone think I might be anxious to hear about what’s been going on here?” Murdoch’s voice was loud with frustration and he glared at all of them. They all looked tired and Teresa escaped quickly by saying she would prepare tea.

Murdoch was surprised to see so much worry and sadness in all of their young faces. A discussion was obviously needed, as the tension was palpable. He wanted very badly to see his sons relieved of their obvious distress. He then spoke gently, thanking them when they reached for his other belongings and helped him carry them in.

They each took their places in the great room. Scott placed himself in the corner blue chair and Teresa, Murdoch noted sat beside him. Johnny took a familiar spot and stood with his shoulders resting against the fireplace, fingers snuggly tucked in at the top of his pants, with only each thumb sticking out.

“Well, somebody want to tell me what happened?” Murdoch broke the silence while taking his tea from Teresa’s hands. The room was quiet.

“OK, I’ll explain.” Scott sighed and seemed to hurriedly want to get this over with.  Murdoch figured that Scott, being the eldest, might feel it was his role to speak up. He did so with detachment, as if he was giving a report to a general about a battle fought and the unfortunate loss of lives. Murdoch considered Scott for a long moment. He was amazed and concerned at the self-control the young man displayed.

“It wasn’t a natural death, Murdoch,” Johnny impatiently interjected. “Her head was crushed.” Johnny’s bluntness was a brutal contrast to his brother’s account of the event. Scott put his tea down and slowly crossed his arms refusing to meet Johnny’s eyes, as if by denying his words, it would change what had happened.

“Susan was killed? Is that what your saying? Maybe she fell!” Teresa obviously was stunned; her eyes searched Johnny’s face, then Scott’s for answers. The question remained on her serious face.

“The ground where she was found had been swept, Teresa. Someone is hiding something. Her knuckles were bruised but there were no scrapes, not like a fall would cause. What I mean is, if she fell, she would have been injured all over. Closer to the embankment, under the bluff, there was sand that soaked up a lot of blood. I think she crawled into that space to die after being attacked. Then someone dragged her out into the open to be found.” Johnny looked down at his feet and clenched his teeth, wishing he didn’t have to be the one to explain it.

Teresa’s face momentarily flashed a look of horror. “Oh, no, no!” She looked at Murdoch with tears rolling down her face. He reached out with a look of confusion on his face while he embraced her. They all took a second to realize what she was crying about.

” No, no, Teresa. Mrs. Serra told her husband she wasn’t . . . ‘violated’. . .” Johnny shook his head in anger and reviewed the words that he used that may have given her that impression. After finding nothing he could pin it on he wanted to reassure them. “There may be no law here, but who ever did this is going to pay.”

Scott reached for his tea and biscuit and looked at his brother who nodded back to him.

“There were several horses at the bluff. Two horses’ tracks appeared to head back to town, and at least one back to the Serra ranch. There was a lot of coming and going before we got out there Scott.” Johnny finished his tea and indicated to Teresa with his outreached cup that he wanted more.

“You said it was at Rocky Bluff . . . that’s where Lia and I took our picnics. I never want to go there ever again even if it is Lia’s favorite place.” Teresa took his cup and refilled it too close to the top. She spilled some in the handing it back to Johnny. “See, you should use the saucer.”

Scott looked at Teresa. “Lia goes there a lot Teresa?” Teresa wiped her hands on a towel and nodded to him. “How has Lia been since the party?”

 “Oh, she was embarrassed Scott, of course, but OK I guess. If only that Mrs. Williamson would stop gossiping about all the stuff that happened at the party between Lia, you and Susan. No wonder Lia is so angry these days!”

“I think we should have a little talk with Lia in the morning,” Scott looked into his empty teacup and finished the last bite of his biscuit.

“You can’t think Lia had anything to do with this Scott!” Teresa shook her head in disbelief. “She would never hurt anyone!”

“I don’t know Teresa, but we’ve got to start somewhere.” Scott got up from his chair, “I’ve got work to finish.” He placed his napkin down near the server with his cup and saucer. With determination in his movements and his face, he made his way to the front door.

“I know Lia, I know her like I know myself, her dreams, fears and her secrets. She could never harm anyone – no more than I could.” Teresa’s voice quivered but she continued. “I didn’t know Susan, as she was new in town.” She suddenly broke out sobbing. “I’m so torn, Murdoch! I’m so glad it wasn’t Lia! I just can’t help feeling so guilty – its not that I’m happy it was Susan or anyone! I’m . . .   I’m being selfish I guess, but I’m so grateful it wasn’t Lia! I can’t feel for Susan . . .   How awful is that!”

Murdoch moved himself to Teresa’s side and with a large rough hand he stroked her soft brown head.  He had done this after many scrapes and falls over the years.  He once again took pleasure in his ability to console her.  She had always needed him since her mother had died. 

He often wondered how empty all those years would have been for him, without her.  This child to whom he was first an uncle to, and now a father.  Without her, he would never had listened to the spontaneity and joy of a child’s infectious giggling, nor alleviate and rescue a lonely child’s fear –  of monsters under the bed.  Murdoch tucked her head against his chest and unconsciously made familiar soft sounds to her.  He offered no words but his strong arms remained knitted around Teresa, and her arms held on tight to his sleeves.  When Murdoch looked down at her after a long while, he could see her sobbing had subsided.  Her breathing was slowed and her eyes were closed.  He closed his eyes and worried about Teresa, thinking about how he would talk to her perhaps tomorrow, when things were calmer. 

When Murdoch reopened his eyes he remembered that Johnny had previously been in the room.  He was no longer here.  He had silently and unnoticeably left. Murdoch felt remorse now that his son had perhaps felt uncomfortable and left.  He felt penitence that his own son never had his comfort growing up.  Never had the protection and nurturing that he would have offered. He also felt regret, that even now he seemed to have little to offer two grown men, except property.  Murdoch closed his eyes again.  The best he could do now was to be strong, in control, and be the leader of this family.   They survived without his arms encircling them.  A man could hug a boy, but how does a man hug a grown man, who is a stranger? 


Part Four: Brothers

Beta Readers: Geraldine & Cathy

Scott rolled over in bed and pulled the sheet up to his chin while his mouth muttered a few incomprehensible words. The sensation of the sheet’s fresh crispness felt good against his smooth, exposed shoulder.  Scott, vaguely aware of the dawning of the new day, took in a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and succumbed to the pleasure of sinking back into sleep.  The soft chirping of the birds outside his window barely penetrated his consciousness as he drifted away from the reality of his bedroom.

 [Susan’s blonde hair floated slowly across the sun’s red silhouette.  Scott watched in amazement and then reached out to touch what he knew would feel like silk.  A soft breeze was playing with the shiny strands like wind blowing wheat on the prairie. The tossing hair waved across her face and he searched for her sparkling gray eyes.  He longed to feel the tenderness of her lips brush once more against his ears. Holding her close, he could smell the freshness of her home made lilac fragrance.   His long fingers caressed down the slope of her slender neck . . . she tried to break away.]

Scott gasped. With a shuddering breath, he consciously pushed his thoughts to a recessed part of his mind. As he lay there in disappointment, he pulled himself into the reality that he had once again awakened to.  He rolled over and moaned. He could hear his brother, noisily up and about, in the next room over and realized that Johnny and he were the only two people he knew of that could solve this murder.


Johnny awoke in a nasty mood and threw what covers remained on him to the floor. He flung on yesterday’s pants, sniffed his shirt and decided against re-wearing it. Teresa would probably have something to say about that. He felt like throwing the curtains open and taking a few rounds out on the pesky crows.

While pulling on his boots, he thought about what Scott had suggested night before.  Johnny preferred to work alone, though. With his military background, Scott would no doubt think he’d be helpful. Johnny gave him some credit, but trusted his own instincts better than those ‘skills’ taught at an academy. His stint in the Mexican Army hadn’t helped instill any great respect of those who called themselves officers. Johnny knew that since Scott was courting the girl, he would insist on being involved.

Johnny moved over to the mirror, then absent-mindedly rubbed his growling stomach with one hand and scratched his chest with the other. He poured water into the basin and while shaving, reviewed his own ideas. He smoothed his hair down with his hand, then thought better of it and used the comb. Keeping his thoughts to himself for the time being would be best. He really didn’t need the help of the fair-haired, city boy. He had already proven that.


The smell of the bacon, corncakes, eggs, fresh rolls and coffee seeped through the house.  Even blindness couldn’t have prevented Johnny, finding the kitchen.  He arrived at the same time as Scott did.   Johnny took as seat and dug in like he hadn’t eaten for days. He stabbed the bacon with his fork and hungrily shoved the food into his mouth. He glanced sideways and saw his brother watching him. He couldn’t help but notice that Scott took only scant amounts of toast, eggs and coffee and that while he ate, he aimlessly moved the eggs around his plate. However, his brother did appear a bit more alert after the strong coffee had a chance to surge through him.

When Johnny finished his second helping of eggs and eyed Scott’s plate of leftovers, he heard his brother mutter, “Growing boy.”

“What?” Johnny gulped down some milk, and noticed that Scott didn’t answer.  

As Murdoch reached for more hotcakes, Johnny sensed his father’s eyes curiously watching him and his brother.  “I don’t expect you boys to be around much so make sure you assign your duties before you go.”

Unwilling to look up from his plate of food, Johnny nodded. “Yea, sure.”  He noted from the corner of his eye that Scott clipped him a look of annoyance.  Scott gave a heavy sigh and moved his hands off the table.  Johnny could sense that his brother wanted to get going. 

Teresa, moved over with the coffeepot but Scott quickly covered his hand over his cup.   “Well, lets get on with this.” Scott briskly shoved himself away from the table.  He stood looking at Johnny expectantly.  Johnny didn’t miss the grimace on Scott’s face.

“Haven’t had my coffee, yet!” Johnny waved over to Teresa with the coffeepot.

“I’ll go saddle up then.” Scott left the room without further comment.

Teresa kept an eye on Scott heading out the door. “Scott seems so angry, but I don’t blame him.  She returned her attention back to Johnny and poured him a cup of the steaming coffee.  “Here, these biscuits are for the ‘TWO’ of you . . . and I must say you look fine this morning Johnny.”

“Why, thank you, Ma’am.” Johnny grinned; he didn’t mind the extra work for the small reward.

“I best be moving along too Teresa.” A  Murdoch nodded in appreciation as she handed him his lunch.  Murdoch raised his eyebrows, “Hope you and Scott work things out between the two of you.”  Johnny gave a simple nod of his head as he watched the older man leave. 

Teresa gave Johnny a side-glance a moment later, then shyly averted her eyes away.  He tested her by following her around the kitchen with his eyes.  He knew she couldn’t resist another peak towards him to see if he was still watching her.  In just a matter of time, she would look back at him.  ‘How different this was,’ he thought, ‘and fun.’ The only place he could have stared at a woman this long in the past was in a saloon.

Teresa gathered dishes from the table and moved them over to the sink. While her back was turned, he observed her head to toe. Her fresh scent lingered on his mind still, from when she stood close with the coffee. He wondered if perhaps she was too over protected by Murdoch, and therefore didn’t notice that men might appreciate her.   He watched her pick up more dishes. When she turned her back this time, he caught her sneaking a peak at him.   He could tell from her rosy cheeks that she was embarrassed.  Johnny grinned at her, and she threw her wet dishtowel at him, returning his grin.   


When Johnny and the still reticent Scott arrived at the Serra ranch, Jose allowed them to question his daughter, though he made it clear that he didn’t see the need for it.

Scott took the lead. “Jose, we just want to ask the girl a few questions. She found Susan’s body. Maybe she saw someone hanging about, someone who might have harmed Susan.”

“What do you want to ask me?” Lia’s face flushed as she looked at Scott.   Scott looked at Lia, then looked sad and confused.

Johnny wondered why his brother was suddenly at a loss for words.  Was it some kind of guilt for putting this girl on the spot?   If only Scott would open up and talk more.    His brother was tired and Johnny figured this silence had lasted long enough.  “You found Susan, Lia . . . we just want to know what you saw that day. Was they’re anyone else around?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Johnny toyed with the brim of his hat while he closely watched Lia.  She had moved her eyes to look at the floor.  “It is a common spot for people to have picnics. Were you there to have a picnic? Is that it? Were you meeting Susan?”

“All these questions! Why are you asking me?” Lia looked like a frightened animal as she turned to leave the room.

“Lia, come back here. You just tell the Lancers what you know. Don’t be difficult.” Mrs. Serra supported her daughter with a hand in the center of her back.

“I know nothing.”

“No! Lia, you must stand up to this now!”  Her mother’s voice was gentle.

“I don’t see why you need to do this. If she knew anything more, don’t you think she would have told us!” Jose moved towards his daughter and gave his wife an angry look while he avoided the pair of quizzical Lancer eyes.

“Did you see anyone else out there Lia?”  Scott once again appeared to have gained his composure and returned to questioning the girl.

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, you did or you didn’t; which one is it?” No answer was offered to Scott.  Lia shrugged her shoulders while moving her eyes to watch Johnny’s hands work over the hat.

“Did you see anything unusual? Think Lia; anything could be important.”  Johnny could tell from Scott’s voice that he was trying to encourage the girl to talk.

Johnny tried to not stare at the girl.  She looked uncomfortable enough with Scott looking down at her.  Johnny noticed the girl’s eyes following his fingers as they moved over the smooth, braided leather of his hatband. 

“I can’t think, I can’t recall anything out of the . . . “

Irritability erupted in Scott’s voice.  “Why did you go to the river?”

Lia’s face reddened and her voice raised. “What?”

“It’s just a simple question Lia.  I want a simple answer.” Scott raised his hands to his hips.  He glared into the young red face.

“I just knew it.  You’re blaming me!” Lia clenched her fist.

“You have been putting Susan down and saying nasty things about her, Lia.” Scott turned his head up towards the ceiling and clenching his teeth he shook his head slowly.

Johnny, noticing that Scott was angered with himself for relaying gossip, quickly caught his brother’s eye.

“You think of me as, as just a . . . a . . .  estupido, pais, inculto, mujer, a . . .  a tonto!” Lia’s eyes narrowed as she spat the words out.

“What?” Scott looked taken back and confused. He looked over to Johnny, raising his arms in the air.

Johnny worked hard at restraining a grin on his face.   Knowing that his brother was asking for his help he gave the literal interpretation of what she had just said.  “A . . . a, well, a simple, uneducated, country woman.”

“Enjoying this, brother?”  Scott glared at Johnny before returning his attention back to the girl.  Johnny gave him a shrug before he shook his head at the uselessness of his brother’s persistence of pushing this girl too far.

And you, Lia, you’re young and emotional, with some growing up to do.”  Scott stood over her with an authoritarian air.

“Don’t talk to me like I am a child, Scott!”  Johnny could see that the girl had taken all she could.  He saw it coming before Scott ever did.  It was in her angry shaking voice, the reddening face with furrowed eyebrows, and one fist slowly, forcefully, and unclenching.   Her open hand abruptly cracked against Scott’s face.   Scott’s cheek bloomed a shade of fuchsia while the room reverberated in the echo of her slap.  The blonde young man stood motionless, his blue eyes locked with her brown ones. They both seemed frozen in their emotions, forgetting the onlookers in the room.

Johnny spoke slowly while his head remained bent over his hat, “Well, perhaps if Lia recalls anything later, she will let me know.” He spoke softly and tried to hide his amusement with this frisky diversion to their otherwise serious day. He was surprised by his brother’s own emotional involvement in this conversation with Lia and he watched Scott move towards the huge hallway doors.

Lia started crying as her mother wrapped her arms around her.  AI never want to see you again Scott!”

Grimacing, Scott opened the door.  “It wasn’t a social visit Lia.”


Part Five : Lia

Light ebbed out from the candles on the dining room table.  The room normally seemed amiable and intimate.   Scott usually was quite talkative at dinners and Johnny sensed that he seemed to favor meals in the formal dining room.  Tonight though, Johnny noticed that his brother was quiet and picked sparingly at his food.

“Do anything else interesting today Teresa?”  Murdoch had a tired look on his face and his voice lacked luster. 

Teresa’s findings in the old storage room were initially interesting, but now she just shrugged her shoulders.  “No Murdoch. Johnny, anything interesting happen today?”

“Nothing I really want to discuss here, Teresa.”  Johnny didn’t really want to eat in this uncomfortable room but he was hungry and the meal was tasty.  He preferred the kitchen area for meals, as it seemed homier to him.  Keeping his eyes on his own food, he created his boundaries by placing his arms on either side of his plate.  

Murdoch and Teresa continued their conversation since the two brothers offered little.  Teresa shrugged her shoulders and smiled at Murdoch.  Johnny watched as Murdoch gave her a small nod, acknowledging her efforts to try to make the atmosphere pleasant.

Once settled into the great room after the meal, Johnny presented the note.  “This had been left for Susan at the hotel.  Just take a look at it, here.”  Johnny passed the note to Murdoch who took it by its corners. 

The grease, spit and grim gave it an opaque appearance as Murdoch held it before a lantern.  Shifting it about, he read it aloud;  “Susan, meet . . .  I . . .  talk?   . . .   Then a  .  .    name?  Yes, with an  . . .  a?”

“It could be Sarah, yes I’ve seen Susan talking with Sarah at the store.” Teresa’s spoke gingerly.  It was obvious to Johnny that she was eager to help.

“Let’s see it Murdoch.”  Scott took the note and held it for all of them to see in front of the lamp.  He manipulated the lantern’s knob, increasing the brightness.  The lamp hissed and the note became even shinier.

Scot’s voice sounded edgy. “Why is everyone avoiding the obvious?   It could read Lia.” 

Johnny shifted his weight and crossed his arms. “Ah Scott, I told you, she didn’t kill no one.”

Scott messaged his neck with one hand and drew himself to his full height.  “What makes you so sure about that?”  He glared at his brother; his angular features took on a hard, stubborn semblance.

“Like I already said, she really doesn’t have a clue, the girl is scared silly.”

“Teresa stood with her hands on her hips and faced Scott squarely.  Scott, how could you still suspect her!”

Scott sighed heavily.  “We have all heard, the whole town has heard.  Lia despised Susan.  This is how I see it; Lia sends a note to Susan.  “Come out to talk, meet at Rocky Bluff.  Maybe she wanted to apologize.  Susan arrives and heated words occur.  Perhaps Susan falls accidentally, maybe not.  It’s that simple.” 

Teresa was near tears with her frustration. “She was embarrassed, more angry at you Scott, than Susan!”

Johnny, hoping to lighten up Scott’s seriousness, grinned and reached out a lending arm towards Scott, with his palm open. “There you go Scott, next she’ll come to kill you!”

Scott turned his attention to Johnny, his eyes narrowing. “Your attitude!  Come to your senses will you!” 

Johnny considered his brother for a moment.  Scott must have perceived this attempt at humor as belittling.    Scott was sinking further into an abyss.  Yet his brother’s words were uncalled for.

Johnny met the man’s glare and spoke slowly, each word measured.  “Think I’ve got more sense about this than you right about now, brother.” He shifted his body weight and opened his stance.  Being told to ‘come to your senses’ wasn’t taken lightly.  He had survived by his senses, not on the wealth of a relative.

The room suddenly became too small to hold the likes of Johnny Madrid and Scott Lancer.  They directly faced off.

 Johnny stood calmly, and retreated into his place of mental refuge.  This atrium in his mind was a place of solitude and peace.  It was a comfortable dwelling of surreal detachment.  He breathed the greatroom’s warm heavy air, cooling it with his own exhalation.  He could smell and taste the apprehension within the room. Teresa was pale and shivering.  Murdoch was a few feet to the other side of him, motionless. Scott stood with alertness, and Johnny thought he might have detected a new awareness in his brother’s eyes.

The room had slowed down and the colors receded with less importance.   Johnny was void of any intrusive thoughts.  Created a long time ago, this atrium with its power and hold on him only grew stronger with each retreat taken here. The clock’s rhythmic ticking was the only reminder that time still moved forward.   The stillness and tension in the room was palatable, but this energy was something that fed men like Johnny Madrid.

Scott jabbed his finger in Johnny’s direction, obviously unwilling to back down.  “Think you always know best, don’t you.  Your way’s the only way.” 

“You trying to say something Scott?” Johnny’s eyes narrowed while instinctively he drew up both arms closer to his mid section.  “Why don’t you just say it?”

“You’re taking this all a little too casually.  You have more feelings for dead cattle!”

Johnny raised his voice sarcastically.  “What do you know, the Army experts a mind reader too!”  He never appreciated people telling him what he thought.

“No, I suppose you’re the expert when it comes to . . .   “

“Hell, you know . . .” Johnny’s left arm attempted to block any reaction of Scott as his right fist came up with force and met its mark in Scott’s gut.  Scott pulled back, then swung his fist at his brother, making contact with Johnny’s rough chin. Spinning backward, Johnny fell, while Scott in nausea, lurched forward.  They toppled over one another, connecting with punches, and rolled extremely close to the fire in the hearth. 

Teresa screamed at Murdoch as she ran across the room first pulling away the lanterns, and then other valuables.  “Do something Murdoch!”

Murdoch’s voice shook the room.  “Stop now!” He physically wedged himself between his two sons.  He quickly received a few unintended insults, and doubled over, retching.   The two young men quickly took more notice of Murdoch than they did of each other.  Scott stood up hunched over, guarding his bruised abdomen, while Johnny slowly wiped blood from the corner of his own mouth.  They both helped Murdoch to his feet, eyeing each other warily.

“Just look what you’ve done to this room!”  Teresa waved her arms in the air, then proceeded to pick up the items scattered about.  “You should all be ashamed of yourselves!  Grown men behaving like schoolyard boys!”

Johnny looked at Murdoch who glanced at Teresa sheepishly.   “Teresa, leave us alone, please.”  She acted like she was quite put out, but quickly left the room.

Johnny picked up a chair lying on its side.  They all stood in silence staring at one another and breathing heavily. Still angry and not willing to say the first word, Johnny swore loudly as he picked up a cushion, pummeled it, and then threw it back onto the chair.  He reluctantly moved towards the front door.  He wasn’t going to stand around and pretend to accept any advice from Murdoch.  He couldn’t remember ever backing down in a fight.  He would deal with Scott another time when Scott wasn’t so blinded by his love, lust, or guilt.  The evening air was refreshing once he was out on the verandah.  He breathed the cool air in deeply and rejected those other images that resided inside the atrium.


Teresa and Johnny were in the kitchen talking over coffee when Scott burst in holding up the note.  “I just got back from seeing Sara, she had nothing to do with the note. I’m going back to the Serra ranch.  Lia is going to answer about this here note!”

“I’m going with you then.” Johnny knew the suggestion would not go over well.

Scott ‘s eyes dared him to speak more. “No you’re not.  I can handle this.”

Johnny didn’t flinch.  His knew his brother needed more help than he could possibly realize.  “Look Scott, slow down.  Do you think you’re seeing things clearly right now?  Look at you, you look like you haven’t slept in days.”

Before he could reply, Teresa had her input, “He’s right Scott, listen to him will you!”

Scott paused and stared down at the floor in thought.  He gave the smallest of smirks to Johnny.  AI suppose your right.  Surprised you’d even be willing after . . .  “

Johnny looked at Scott with regret written on his face too.  “Let’s just go Scott.  Forget it.”

The two brothers left again for the Serra Ranch.  Johnny kept quiet, letting Scott initiate any conversation.  Johnny contemplated his brother for a while.  Scott was an incredibly intense young man who was focused and driven.  Johnny thought how this may have come from his military training or maybe from living with his domineering grandfather.

The Serra family was surprised to see them again, but guardedly consented to call Lia into the room. 

Scott spoke in a gentle, controlled tone. “Lia, what made you go down to the river on Monday?”

Johnny noticed that Lia’s shaking hands were clasped together tightly.  Was each hand to restrict the other from any urges of slapping?

Soft brown eyes questioned both the brothers and her voice was tired, as if she no longer had any fight left in her.   “Why are you asking me that, you know.”

“No, we don’t know.” Johnny looked over at Scott who now was leaning forward to hear the girl’s soft quieter voice.

“Teresa would have told you.  We were to meet there in the afternoon.”

Scott looked at Johnny. “No, Teresa said no such thing.” Both men were stunned with this news, and both looked doubtfully at the girl.

Seeing the disbelief in the Lancer’s faces, Lia spoke with firmness.  “She sent me a note, telling me to meet her there.”

Johnny hoped this could be cleared up easily.  “Do you have the note?”  She shook her head in response.

Scott asked in a tone a little less gentle.  “Why not?” Johnny threw a warning glance at Scott.

Lia started crying now under the scrutiny. “No, I threw it into the fireplace. There was no reason to keep it!”

“That’s enough!”  Mrs. Serra moved in protectively to her daughter’s side.  “She is having a very rough time with this.”

Johnny raised his finger indicating he had just one more question. “How did you get the note?”

Mrs. Serra spoke for Lia. “Manuel brought it back from town, I think.  It was left at the hotel for Lia by a ranch hand . . . from your ranch.  They send notes this way to one another.

“Was there anything different about this note?  I need Lia to answer that.” Johnny peered down into the girls wet face.

Lia made an attempt to wipe off her tear stained face, and accepted a handkerchief from her mother. “Maybe – I was surprised by it looked mostly empty just said >meet me, mid afternoon.  T=” 

A long drawn out sigh escaped from Johnny, and they left the Serra ranch.  “Two things I’m getting really tired of, this wild goose chase with notes, and that girl crying all the time.”


Part 6: The Meeting

The Cattlemen’s Association’s meeting were often held at Lancer or the home of Cipriano, another well-respected rancher in the area.  The home was small in comparison to Lancer, but the dwelling’s heart was seen in the large dining space. Mrs. Cipriano was revered for her culinary works and when they had the home built, she insisted on a large dining room to enjoy gatherings around her meals.   The table was large and roomy, with a rustic appearance.  Murdoch was grateful that the two large candle chandeliers that hung over the table provided ample lighting to read by. 

The dozen men were gathered around the table and discussions of Susan’s death prevailed.  Rumors flew so quickly that their wives would have been embarrassed.  The men had to report all the details back to their wives, Murdoch thought.

“Should we bring this meeting to order?” Murdoch announced.  They then discussed old business brought forward, before commencing with the new issues.  The figures discussed by Dave Bell and Murdoch on his latest trip were discussed and his offer beat the competitors by 15%.  The cattle drive would be a bit longer, so further discussion centered on this additional cost.  The group came to a majority decision in favor of the proposal, though two people didn’t like the change.

“We should stay with Jordan’s. They may raise the money if we put more pressure on them.  We haven’t heard anything about this new comer, Dave Bell. I just don’t like him.”  Although Joe Cipriano’s opinion was well respected, money could always be a coercive factor. 

 “Joe, if we go with Dave, they will see we are serious. It’s cut and dry, dealing with another distributor in San Francisco will only increase our market.  If you’re referring to the Lancer barbecue, well that was just foolishness on young men’s parts.  It has nothing to do with this.  The man had a few drinks, it was wasn’t even a disturbance really.”  Nods of agreement circulated around the table supporting Jake Smithers.

Someone had to make the final call and Murdoch did so.  “Well, that about settles it then.  Dave Bell will be back by Friday and we will finalize the purchase at that time.  I motion to close.”  Other hands around the room confirmed its closure.  Now they would enjoy some pleasure.

Within seconds they were all back to discussing business boisterously.  The beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding served was one of Murdoch’s favorite meals.  Mrs. Cipriano made it especially for him whenever he came to supper.

A relaxed discussion, aided by the bounty of fine Scotch and other liqueurs, local and imported, would complete the evening.  Some members enjoyed the meetings more for the meal and socializing than the business portion itself. 

Working together through these alliances made life easier and safer out in these new lawless towns.  They remarked how settled the area was now, so quiet that they didn’t see a need for a sheriff.  With simple, enjoyable meetings like these they, the landowners, could control the entire area by just working together.  Murdoch silently wished he could still believe this.


The Erebus

Murdoch poured another Scotch from the stout decanter. The Cattlemen meetings were always enjoyable yet taxing. He stoked the fire in the Lancer great room and put more wood in the cavernous hearth.  His shadows frolicked off the walls while the lanterns glowed on him softening his features.  Murdoch decided to pick out a book, but when he leaned back into his comfy chair, he did not read it.  For some reason, with his sons finally home, his memories of his youth became clearer.

He sat back in comfort with the amiable fire sharing it toasty warmth. Resting his shoulders against the soft leather, he pulled a plaid blanket up over his legs.   Closing his eyes he could hear the clocks rhythmic ticking, he slowly breathed in, and then exhaled.

. . . .He stoked the fireplace and positioned another log on. He felt the heat from the blazing fire seep through his wet clothing.  The run home through the rain had been exhilarating after sitting all afternoon in his classes.

North Berwick, where he grew up in Scotland was damp this time of year.  The rippling ebbs of rain were like tiny crested waves racing him down the Cobblestone Street.  He was a happy boy full of zest and he was going to be an explorer like his dad someday.  He knew this in his heart for sure; as sure as he knew that his father was now preparing to leave again on another trip.

When Murdoch finished prodding the logs to encourage the fire, he headed off to do his homework. He found his brother Robert in their shared room packing his belongings. Murdoch stood paralyzed with his mouth gapping.

“What’s going on?” Murdoch knew the question was a stupid one.

“I’m going with Dad!  To apprentice as ship’s carpenter!”

Murdoch’s heart sunk, animosity brewed.  His face turned crimson. “What! I’ve been the one whom’ always wanted to go!”

“You’re not the only one, I’ve mentioned it!  I’m older so why wouldn’t I go!”  Robert spoke as if indignant.

“Because you’ve never made a big deal about it, I have. Your happy working here!” Murdoch rebuked.

“Well maybe if you ever got your nose out of books you’d take notice of what was going on around you.” Robert threw the last of his clothing into a duffel bag.

“Yea, well maybe if you ever learned to read properly! ” Before he could finish Robert grabbed him and forced a punch into his spinning head.  Murdoch knew that Robert would not tolerate being teased about his poor reading ability.

Murdoch spun backwards but kept his grip on his older brother, crashing him to the floor as they tumbled forward.   Protecting themselves, their angry blows still made connections.   Each caught his breath when he felt an excruciating pain on his ear.  Willingly moving to lessen the pain they both came to their feet.  Holding each boy by the ear Mr. Lancer gained control over his yelping sons.

An explanation was forthright from each upon their father’s demand.

“I don’t need to explain to you Murdoch, do you understand! You’ll do as I say!” His father wasn’t going to answer to a son! “Now go do your homework and leave Robert be.”


Thick gray fog permeated the dock the following morning.  People gathered to send their family members off to the Erebus.  Murdoch watched as people moved about as ghosts.  Sometimes visible, and at other times they seemed to walk away and just vanish into the air. 

While his parents quietly talked Murdoch recalled a book he had read.  It was about a mysterious monster that crept from coastal village to coastal village, killing and maiming the residents.  The rhythmic lapping of the calm water and the fog almost put him into a dreamy trance.               

. . .Slowly, he saw the creature’s octopus like arms sweep up the moist old dock.  The creature pulled its heavy body up onto the aged wooden deck that groaned under the heavy weight.   Then the creature floated on the fog, unnoticed by everyone else.  Murdoch couldn’t believe his eyes, the creatures two tentacles encircled each his brother and father.  They kicked and screamed in horror, but they were both much too weak to fight it off . . . He heard his brother say to him “You’re the man of the house now.  Take good care of Ma. . . ..”

“Your brother is talking to you Murdoch.  Never leave those you care about, angry.”  Murdoch realized that Robert was indeed speaking to him and obeying his father’s request he turned to Robert and accepted the grasp of Robert’s extended hand.  Grinning at the damage they had done to one another they shook. Murdoch wished Robert well and told him he expected two gifts now.

Mr. and Mrs. Lancer embraced. Longer hugs were given to Robert and his mother broke down in tears giving him added attention that he wasn’t too pleased about. He quickly looked around to see if any of his buddies were watching and moved on up the gangway after she unlocked her embrace on him.  He never looked back.

They later watched the Erebus leave. The sun was burning off some patches of the fog. It would be a beautiful first day of sailing for Robert.

The Erebus wasn’t the most beautiful ship with her body being stout. She was originally build as a bomb ketch and was used to mount heavy mortars for shore bombardment. Now she was reinforced for her research endeavors along with the ship ‘Terror’, that she would meet up with for this second voyage. It would be a beautiful day she sailed on, but the memory would for be bitter sweet for the rest of Murdoch’s life.


. . .  Johnny gently touched Murdoch’s sleeve as he repeated his name. “Hey Murdoch, you awake?” Murdoch jumped out of his thoughts, surprised that he hadn’t heard Johnny’s approach.

“Yea, I’m awake. . . Scott back? You two doing OK?” Murdoch rubbed his eyes and stretched.

“Yea sure, everything is fine between us, don’t worry.” Murdoch could see through his son’s non-chalant attitude.

“Your both new at being brothers, it must seem strange . . .@ The fog from the dock still seemed to permeated his mind.

“Nah, but you should of had me first you know . . .” Johnny grinned as he sat down across from Murdoch.  He pulled up a seat allowing his back to face the warm hearth.

“Yes, its hard being the younger one at times Johnny.   Being older sometimes has its price too.”

“Why you say that Murdoch?  Are you the oldest in your family?” Johnny said while munching on a red apple he picked up from the kitchen.

“No, the middle. Had two brothers, Robert, a few years older, and Lawrence was the youngest.  My father was first mate; ships carpenter Johnny. We lived in Scotland and he usually sailed on British ships.”

“Went to some pretty interesting places I bet.” Johnny thought about this and he wanted to hear more. He didn’t have too much experience around ships or the ocean. He was enjoying this private conversation with this older man, especially after the evasiveness of Scott.

“He did indeed. His earliest trips were for merchandise, trades and such. Later he signed on the ‘Erebus’ for exploration to the South Pole. He always brought us interesting things home.”

“Never had the urge to follow in his footsteps though?”  Johnny took another large bite encompassing one whole side of the apple.

“Actually I did when I was a lad. Until ’41, after that I never looked back. The ‘Erebus’ and the other ship she was exploring with, the ‘Terror’ reached the most southernmost point anyone had ever reached. Avoiding icebergs, the two ships struck each other and ruined both rudders.  Lives were lost John, both my father and my brother Robert.”

“Sorry to hear that Murdoch.”  Johnny sat listening to the fire crackling softly. Every few moments it hissed and sputtered out its’ contribution to the conversation.

Murdoch gave a soft laugh “You know though, I think that’s why I came over here – I still wanted to be an explorer. I never lost that ambition. It’s not the South Pole or anything exotic, but I wouldn’t change anything now Johnny, well, I mean about coming here. It’s a rugged vast land. This valley often reminds me of Scotland, without the sheep of course!”

“Here? Really!” Johnny sounded genuinely surprised. Murdoch could see that his son looked relaxed.  He hadn’t seen him like this; it was a pleasure talking with him right now.

“Yes” Murdoch, said. “Here, why don’t you get this old man another drink and get yourself one too.” He handed Johnny his glass. “Someday Johnny, I hope you will ‘love’ and yes I mean ‘love’ this land, as much as I.”

Murdoch watched Johnny pour them each a hefty drink.  He seemed to be thinking about what Murdoch had just said.  They sat there quietly in their own thoughts for a while, enjoying the tranquilizing effect of the fire. Johnny took some large gulps of the fiery amber fluid.

“Never stayed in one spot too long Murdoch.”  Johnny glanced over at him while taking another gulp.  “Whoa that burns!  Good stuff.”  He took a long relaxed sigh before his next gulp.

“You give this place time Johnny, you’ll get use to it. It owns you after a while.  Hard to leave the lure of this grand lady.”

“That my problem I guess, getting ‘lured’ isn’t likely. Kind of use to moving around. Hard to grow roots.”

“I know your life hasn’t been easy and I know you must have been angry through those rough years.  If I could change things Johnny . . .  @

“It’s in the past – just forget it will you.” The mood was abruptly ruined between the two men. They both sat quietly, neither one willing to make the first move.

Murdoch took the sign of Johnny staying as positive.  After a lengthy pause he made the decision to speak first.  “How did today go, you two find out anything?”

“It’s a wild goose chase . . .. I don’t understand a killing like this. It doesn’t make sense, killing a woman, hurting them old folks.  I haven’t made sense of it.  Feel we’re being toyed with, especially with this game of ‘notes’. It really makes me . . .” Johnny stopped, catching himself from finishing his own thoughts.

“Angry Johnny?” Murdoch’s voice was kind. Johnny lowered his head as a log in the fireplace rolled over.  The little explosions and sparks entertained them briefly.

“There is nothing wrong with anger Johnny. Anger is just a combination of hurt, confusion, . . .and some type of fear I suppose.”

Johnny scoffed. “I don’t fear ‘easily’ Murdoch.   Even thought that I got that from you.”  Johnny took another heavy swig of the alcohol.

“Perhaps fear of not finding this person, not getting a grip on this whole thing. Everyone wants to feel in control Johnny.  Life doesn’t always make sense, God only knows.”

Johnny looked rosy in the face.  Murdoch noticed he had finished the hefty drink now.  “Next your going to tell me how good misery is for us.  Lean on each other, and a higher power.  She use to like that one.  Heard it all before Murdoch.  She probably said the same things to you, so save your breath.”

“No Johnny, but I can say that things I never believed would happen, have happened.  She, your mother, if you don’t mind Johnny, had her beliefs.  She used to say even if she gave up on herself; God never did. No matter what your mother did later, I still believe that for her. Maybe that kind of trust is difficult for you. I hope that changes in time, but right now I’m tired and calling it a night. See you in the morning.”

Murdoch knew that his son could be argumentative and he got the last word in without it turning into a bigger argument.  Murdoch gave himself a little congratulatory smile.  As he got up from his chair he could see the surprise on Johnny’s face. When he walked to the door he could make out this stubborn son’s attempt to have his last word.

AI could tell you a few things too, Murdoch.”

Murdoch was not about to respond to Johnny.  He had to concentrate on his balance as he headed out of the room.  Despite the ending to their conversation, Murdoch knew this conversation was needed.  He was grateful it had occurred, and he slept peacefully.


Part 7  Disruption

Johnny, Scott and Teresa discussed the note that Lia had said was from Teresa. They sat in the cool kitchen as it was already heating up outdoors.

Teresa shook her head and raised her eyebrows.  “Lia wouldn’t lie, she must have really thought I had sent her that note.”  She looked quizzically at Johnny then Scott.  Scott gave a heavy sigh and shaking his head looked over his shoulder away from the table, in deep thought.

Murdoch took in his second cup of strong coffee.  Johnny watched him with a smile on his face.  He looked a little worn out this morning.  “Sleep okay Murdoch?”

“Fine Johnny, how about you?”  Murdoch never seemed to waste words, except maybe when he had a few drinks, like last night.  Johnny grinned at him and Murdoch gave a small smile back, acknowledging Johnny’s enjoyment of his hangover.   

“Look, these notes are being written by who ever did this.  It’s a wild goose chase. More time spent on that just distracts us.”

Scot’s voice raised and the irritable look on his face was becoming permanent.  He scoffed and added, “Distracts us from what?  We don’t even know who we are being distracted from Johnny!”

The banging on the front door could be heard from the kitchen.  They all noticed the urgency in the knocking and followed Murdoch to the huge doors.  A ranch hand took his hat off when he entered the hall and looked up at Murdoch. He looked pale and nervous, with a noticeable fine hand tremor.

“Mrs. Williams has been found. The whole towns are in an uproar. Her body was found in the river. Her shawl was torn to shreds and stuffed in the pigeon hole boxes at the hotel. Women are not to be out without an escort.  A meeting is being held this afternoon at Ciprianos. Everyone is to be there Mr. Lancer.”

Johnny shook his head in frustration and anger.  “Well that, unfortunately answers your question Scott.”


They quietly sat in the kitchen. 

Teresa’s voice was shaking.  “This is unbelievable!”

“About time the townsfolk woke up.  Lost time and another woman dead.”  Johnny spoke seriously then suddenly grabbed Teresa’s arm. “Come on, Teresa, I’m going to teach you how to shoot.”

He looked at her in annoyance at her struggle to break away from him.

Teresa shook his hand off of her arm in aggravation.  “But I already know how to shoot!”

“Nope, your going to carry a .45 – on you at all times.  You can’t work carrying a rifle around.”

“I’m not going to wear a gun belt Johnny!”

“You can hide it under your petticoats, er skirts. ” Johnny glanced at Murdoch to see if he’d said anything improper.

“No I won’t!” She stood firm with her hands on her hips. “Will you just tell him Murdoch!”

“No Johnny she won’t. But you Teresa will not leave this house alone, or be unaccompanied. You understand that now!” Murdoch once again had the last word.


Before Johnny would meet the others at Ciprianos home he made a junket into town. Today was Friday so he went over to the hotel to enquire about the stagecoach that was due earlier this morning. He got the answer he had expected.  He also went over to ask some questions from the telegrapher.  He sent a couple telegraphs off.  He would come back tomorrow to see if there were any replies.

The living room at the Ciprianos home was packed with people. A few women gathered in the kitchen preparing food and coffee. The conversation was turbulent from one side of the greatroom to the other.

A familiar voice from the back piped up.  “It has to be someone new to town, an outsider, one of the new ranch hands.”

Another voice replied.  “That is right, one of the new ranch hands, how many did we each take on a dozen plus?”

Cipriano could be heard responding. “I can’t imagine anyone of them doing this, the only way would be to tell all of them to leave. . . it wouldn’t be fair.”

The dialogues were the same throughout the room.  “Hell, forget fairness, our women are being killed, lynch them all if we have too!”  Mendoza received support.

Murdoch, standing above the crowd spoke up, the crowd hushed. “Gentlemen, lets keep our heads about us now. No need to turn into a mob.” They moved in closer. “We are all on guard now. Our women will not be alone under no circumstances. We need everyone to be vigilant, watch for anything that is unusual.”

“Maybe we should have everyone close shops early.” Mr. Campbell in a weaker voice spoke up and had to repeat himself a second time. “Drinking holes too.” Several groans were heard throughout the room.

The same voice from the back spoke up again.  “Lets post up guards in town too.”

“No, both women were from town but neither were found dead in town. We can’t put guards in the whole territory.”

Cipriano stepped up onto a chair,  “Does anyone have some other ideas?” There was personal chatter all around him.

Johnny turned to Scott while the conversation went on boisterously around them.  “Mrs. Williams, wasn’t that who Teresa mentioned was the gossipy women.” Johnny asked in a low voice to Scott. “The women who worked at the hotel?”

“Yes, to both. She knows everybody’s business that one.” Scott looked at Johnny. “Maybe she figured out who killed Susan?” Johnny nodded then turned to find Murdoch.

Murdoch was found easily in the crowded room.  Johnny pushed his way through.  “You still set to have that meeting with Bell tonight?”

“No, I saw him this morning, we postponed it for tomorrow. Need to deal with this anyhow.” Murdoch returned his attention to Cipriano who was back up on the chair shouting out orders.

The town’s decision was to post guards on each entry point. Business would close down earlier and all newcomers were to be watched closely and not left alone with women. The town was in frenzy.

Joe Serra and the Lancers decided to leave early, nothing new was being discussed that they weren’t already aware off. The people were at the point where they no longer were helpful to one another.

The shock of this situation was just hitting them now.

Murdoch agreed to stop by the Serras to pick up a wagon borrowed previously. They both welcomed the chance to mend their relationship, which had been strained by the recent events. Scott remained quiet and decided not to join them but Johnny chose to stay with Murdoch.  He may need help with the wagon.

Mrs. Serra called Lia to the kitchen to help out to prepare tea for the visitors. A few minutes later she could be heard clamoring away with dishes in the kitchen and again calling for Lia. Thinking she was avoiding the quests, Mrs. Serra went to her room.

Mrs. Serra was nearly doubled over when she ran back into the greatroom.  “She was in her room resting, I didn’t see her go out.  Something is wrong, the room is a mess,  Joe!”

“Where’s her room?” Johnny followed her pointing hand down the hall.  He found the window open and items from her dresser strewn all over the floor. The chair was lopsided and the curtains ripped.

Luckily there was some hours of daylight remaining. Johnny mounted his horse in the front and immediately went to the rear of the home. He found evidence that a horse had been concealed within a grove of trees behind the house. The two pairs of footprints supported that a man and women had not long ago left, and on one horse. Johnny thought about this as he tracked them. The abductor’s purpose could not be to travel fast nor far.  He heard another horse approach him from behind and turned to see Mendoza. 

“Go check out Rocky Bluff Mendoza.” Johnny knew with instinct that something would be found there. That was a part of this heinous mind game that was being played out.


Part 8  Stolen

The gag was taut and dry. Tears from her eyes had collected on the gag at the corners of her mouth. The constant rubbing into her face created raw exposed skin that was stinging. The thought of vomiting panicked her. A strong mind spiraled shamelessly in fear.  She cried out wringing her hands tightly bound in rope. She couldn’t believe that she had actually thought this man was handsome at one time. He was a fake, why couldn’t she and the others seen through him earlier. He wasn’t a gentleman at all, he wasn’t kind. He was quite an impostor, she thought.

He pulled her hair from behind her and told her to shut up while he thrust her dizzyingly forward. The horse was kicked and moved up the embankment where it left the shelter of the tree line. He knew where he was headed, an old abandoned line shack not too far away. “Before anyone gets out of their foolish meeting in town this will be all over, don’t you worry, I’ll make it easy for you. These people are fools.  I’ve had the upper hand the whole time and they didn’t even know what was going on. Thrilling!” He spoke more to himself than her.  She could feel his tenseness with every word he said.  He watched her closely to absorb her every reaction. His body behind her was sickening.  He continued with his blunt honest boasting, as if reading her mind, “This is always better than sex.”

The narrow dry road was isolated. After dismounting he yanked the girl off the horse easily and viscously. He seemed to enjoy watching her face and enforcing his will and control over her. She scolded herself for giving away what she felt, which she knew was told in her fearful, angry eyes.  Walking into the woods in a barren area he brought out a wagon and horse he had placed there last night. He shoved the girl up in the seat and smacked the rump of the other horse that had carried them this far. The horse took off in the direction down the road, away from where they were heading.  “Well, that will throw them off real good now won’t it.”  He laughed with joy and excitement in his voice.

Dave trotted the fresh horse and wagon down the smaller path, he was anxious to get on with this now and have a nice supper in town and a good rest. He would enjoy watching the town’s people thrashing about in their stupidity and confusion.

“You know, I didn’t mean to kill Susan, honestly I didn’t. She talked too much, thought she was superior to me.  Ha!  She thought that by just talking to me, she could actually make me go away . . .. So I cracked one over her head. Told her to shut up first though.” Dave gave a short burst of laughter. “So, she went into these fits then, so I decided to help her out. Might as well be dead, than live with fits all your life. Don’t you think? I’ll be a gent and not tell you the rest,” he laughed at her while she averted his cold blue eyes.


Johnny found it difficult to track in the treed area; it took precious time and daylight that would restrict him. He got off his horse and walked ahead of  Barranca, noting every animal or man made trace. It was slow but he finally made it to the margins of the tree line. He then remounted his horse with weightless effort and was able to speed up a little. About 45 minutes later he found the small road. Most of the tracks were old; it hadn’t rained in a week. There were fresh wagon tracks that were untraceable on the road. He shortly found out why, coming out from under a sheltered barren area. He saw that the horse headed in one direction than the wagon and that the horse’s tracks were not as deep now. He followed the wagon and a different horse’s tracks. He was pleased since this would be slower and easier to track, but it would also be more out in the open. He would travel quickly up the center for a while then closer to the sides for cover.  It was obvious that someone thought that he was pretty clever with his plan.  He had met this type before though.  They were playing on his turf now.  Johnny felt encouraged that he was gaining on his enemy.


Mendoza had made it to Rocky Bluff quickly by horse. He found the girl beaten, but alive. There were cuts to her head and arms. There were dirty streaks of tears cutting through the dried blood on her cheeks. She weakly grabbed on to him and said A . . . Mr. Bell, . . . Dave Bell did . . .” She gave in without expending more energy than she had.  She let him lift her up onto the horse, laying her across the animal. Once up behind her he helped her into a sitting position. She lay back in his arms as he moved his horse a quickly as possible up the hill back to the ranch.


“Well little lady,” he said to Teresa, “time to switch again”. Dave took the wagon off the trail and into a secluded area. As he jumped off the wagon, Teresa made a run for it.

Her hands were bound tightly behind her so when she fell, she quickly rolled over and onto her knees to get herself up again. She was out on the road running with all the might she had within her. Her legs couldn’t go as fast as her brain told them to move. ‘Come on, faster, keep on going Johnny and Scott are probably just over that hill, >Please God,’ she screamed inside her head. She knew she made good headway as the older and heavier man chased behind her. She considered running into the tree area but the road lay straight ahead.  She could see the horizon and if she reached the peak she felt she would be okay. Then she would be running down hill.

The crest grew closer in her mind, but she knew that was wishful thinking. ‘Keep moving girl.’  She could hear Murdoch’s voice now in her head, ‘Come on Teresa, we are just over here coming to get you.’  Her breathing was mostly through her nose and she couldn’t get enough air. Her fear now was she might pass out before she could get away. She continued to beg her legs to move. She ignored the cramp to her calves and just blindly kept running for her life. All she could hear was her own frantic labored breathing and her heart was pounding against her ribs. 

Teresa felt her footing slide several times on the gravel but she did not loose her balance. She turned her head slightly to the side and could see something-dark running up behind her.  Sensing his approaching footsteps she decided to get into the woods, at least she could hide in there.

Jumping over dead trees and rocks she continued.   The scrapes to her elbows and knees were ignored.  She tumbled forward in a frenzied attempt to save her own life.

When Dave’s hand gripped her shoulder savagely she thought that a bear had clawed her. She was hardly able to breathe anymore let alone walk. He dragged her through the woods merciless and back to the wagon. Teresa’s heart was broken but not her spirit. She wouldn’t let up; he would live to regret this. If she didn’t get away from him, her brothers would catch up. The thought of dyeing was unacceptable to her.  But if she did, she knew that her brothers would hunt him down and make him pay, and not through a judge either. Through the gag she made a feeble attempt to threaten her captor with this knowledge. Her voice was weak and he couldn’t make out what she had said but he could see her determination in her eyes and scolding tone.

“Well aren’t you a feisty one, not hysterical like that last one! But my girl, you’ve made me loose time now.” He threw her up onto the horse and she weakly tried to kick the horse away from him just as he was mounting up. She received a cuff to her head for this and nearly passed out. She was vaguely aware that he kept a low profile, not going over any hills, but around them. He kicked his horse to move it quicker. They soon could see another wooded area in which the line shack was. It wouldn’t be long now.

“Your towns people will put this all together way too late. Thinking I’m one of them, ha! Teach them to laugh at me!” Dave Bell had played out his plan perfectly. Soon he would finish this game off and move on to another town – just far away where the local news couldn’t travel.


Johnny knew he had made good time tracking them. He moved to the side of the trail and guided  Barranca with haste.  Before long he perceived that he had moved too fast and he needed to retrace his steps. He quickly did so and found where the thin wagon tracks had left the road.  The horse once again left with two people.

He quickly examined the site and found that there was a foot chase into the woods. Then he found a piece of cloth, printed beige with blue flowers on it. It jolted him when he recalled seeing this pattern this morning B Teresa’s blouse. He leaned forward dizzy with disorientation and rested his hands on his knees. He realized the stakes were higher now. He would not let this cloud his thoughts, and taking a deep breath he returned to Barranca. A fervor of anger flashed across his face, a new raw energy empowered him. He had to get this man if it were the last thing he ever did.

He tracked them in and around dusty dry hills. Soon he comprehended where he was probably headed. Just as Johnny realized this and slightly turned Barranca to get off the trail, a shot rang out. His left arm had a scorching sensation as he was flung down off his horse, in part by the shot and somewhat in his own spontaneous reaction. He reached out to grab Barranca’s reins and pull the horse behind some coverage. Barranca received a shot close to her hind feet and bolted her hind legs up in the air and pounded the earth close to Johnny. Dry dusty dirt sprayed in his eyes.  His horse then sped off after some coverage.

Johnny’s keen eyes scoured the area that lay in front of him. He could see the line shack up ahead nestled in the trees. The problem was the barren space between the line shack and himself. He fought with the yearning to get there as quick as possible. He contemplated the reality that Teresa could be laying there bleeding or dying.

Then realizing he was bleeding himself.  He took out a bandanna and tied it snugly around the wounded area of his arm. It stung and bled out good but it was no big deal. He had experienced much worse. He knew it was minor, wouldn’t even need sutures here, a tight bandage would do.

He knew his best bet was to wait for darkness. By the time he could try to out flank him, it would be dusk anyhow. Johnny bit on his lower lip. He contemplated other scenarios. None of them would work. He heard something behind him. His gun was drawn before he hit the dirt behind the boulder.  Hitting his wounded left arm left a wave of nausea that enveloped him.   He gave the best smile of relief he could muster up at the site of his brother crouching down low, frozen in his own state of surprise.


“Thought you could use some help.” Scott crawled along the dirt moving himself along side of Johnny.

“Why are you whispering?” Johnny pretended to be annoyed with the new arrival.

“Because you look trigger happy right about now brother.”

“It’s Teresa he’s got up there Scott.” Johnny’s voice indicated some relief in seeing Scott beside him.

“I know, Mendoza found the Serra girl, she’ll live. Have you caught site of him, do you know who it is?

“Pretty certain its Dave Bell. Murdoch said he saw him in town earlier this morning. When I asked about who came in on the stage, well he wasn’t on the stage. That means he’s been around all the time, or came back earlier.”

“You suspected him all along didn’t you Johnny?”

“Sort of, him or one of the new ranch hands. I don’t see away around this Scott. It will be dark soon and I think that’s our best bet.”

“He won’t know there is two of us now, what if I close in from the right, keep us separated okay?”

“Okay, we can probably start edging our way up in about forty minutes when the sun goes down.” Johnny replaced his gun back into its holster.

They lay there together waiting for the sun to sink into the cooling sky. The two young half brothers ready to take on adversity together. Both now seemed pleased that the other was there. The chances for Teresa to survive they both knew were better with the two of them.

Johnny contemplated that although he still figured he could do this alone, that bullet could have been eight inches over into his chest area. He was still alive. ALIVE! Some of these thoughts he’d hadn’t experienced in a long while. He had resolved the will to live on that hill in Mexico when he was next up to the firing squad. At this moment he felt the will to live more strongly than he had in a long time. He also had a bad itch lately – to kill. It was always more gratifying to kill for another person, another reason.  Yet no one cause had ever seemed as important to him as this.

These were the slowest 40 minutes each had lived in a long while. Johnny needed to stay focused and became quiet. Scott recognized that Johnny needed his space, this time around.

Johnny watched the heavy sun starting to sink over the horizon.  Despite what they were out here for, it was indeed a beautiful rugged land. Johnny recalled Murdoch’s love for this valley while he waited for dusk to surrender. He watched as the sun slowly kissed the earth and then it fell asleep below the horizon. It was time to get moving.

Scott edged towards the right hill and followed the rocky crevice at its edge. Johnny crawled along the ground and tried moving towards the left, out of alignment to where he was last spotted by Bell. It was quite a ways for both men to move, especially while there was little coverage. Scott could feel large heavy beetle’s track over his head and face. He would try to brush them off but he seemed to disturb an area they were fond of.

A shot rang out and Johnny loudly whispered to Scott and received an answer. Bell was getting nervous but he just confirmed he was still there. Johnny was relieved, as he knew he had him now. Soon they both had made it to the treed area. Johnny’s stomach was growling for food loud enough to be heard in the shack, he was sure. They ran each at the opposite sides of the cabin.   Closer now they had the safety of trees and boulders.

Johnny hollered and threw a rock at the door.  “It’s over Bell, come out now, and leave the girl there. He yelled again and was met with silence. “Get out here now or I’ll be coming in,” Johnny waved at Scott, indicating he would approach the shack. He hunched over close to the ground and ran up against the shack quickly.  Keeping low he kicked the base of the door. Teresa’s muzzled voice screeched. Scott ploughed through the woods to the right side of the cabins flimsy door. In the darkness shots rang out from within the shack. Bell was shooting at anything wildly.

“You come any closer and I’ll kill her.” Bell’s threat was validated by the scuffing sounds of feet and Teresa’s muzzled voice attempting to warn them. “I’m leaving here with her, if you don’t let me out you’ll never see her alive again!”

Johnny’s foot had hit something across the door; he bent down hugging the door jam. Getting Scott’s attention in the light, provided by the rising moon, he pointed to the rope. It was intended to trip him once he attempted to run into the shack.

Johnny waved at Scott indicating time for action. Scott pounded the right side of the door brace and backed up quickly while shots were directed at him. Johnny flew over the rope, landing on rough dirt flooring and shot at Bell hitting his abdomen. Bell swung around towards Johnny moving Teresa in the momentum, a split second behind his actual turning, Johnny’s next slug sliced through Bell’s right lung, inches away from Teresa.  Bell’s eyes shone with disbelief.  He fell forward onto his face at Teresa’s feet. His raspy moist respiration’s ceased abruptly after a couple of breaths.

Teresa’s first deep breaths of air were filled with the smell of the gunpowder and the metallic smell of fresh blood. Her eyes shone with gratitude and relief for both her brothers.  She clung to both of them, not wanting to let go and she shook uncontrollably.

“I just knew you would come and get me.” Teresa was weak and looked exhausted. Her arms and face were covered with streaks of blood from the whipping of the branches in the wooded area she had run through. “Now lets go home, I don’t want to stay one minute more in this place.”


Part 9: Gifts

Mr. Serra had eaten so much he pulled at his belt and loosened it.  “The dinner was superb Teresa!”

“Hey papa, I helped out too!” Lia had enjoyed the evening just as much as her parents had.  The Lancer’s all too, were spontaneous with laughter.

“Oh of course dear, I’d better watch out or I won’t be eating for the rest of the week.” Jose Serra hugged his daughter.

“Lia,” Scott moved to her side, “could I have a word with you, just for a minute.” Scott indicated in private outside, and guided her gently towards the heavy doors. They moved out on to the tiled entrance closing the door behind them.

“Lia, I owe you an apology for how I treated you, I am truly sorry.”

She smiled looking up at him and was bouncing on her tiptoes.  “Scott, I forgive you.”

Scott smiled at her and bent down and kissed her forehead. “Now don’t go taking that the wrong way.” He instantly wondered why he had even done it.

“Oh, I won’t right now, but if you chose to kiss me in a couple more years, I might just think of it differently!” Lia obviously still cared about Scott a lot. The look in her eyes now was direct and honest with him. There was something stronger about the girl he thought.

“Well, that’s fair enough Lia.” They both were smiling as they entered the house. Scott wondered what two more years would do to this young and beautiful girl. From this ordeal she had seemed to mature quickly.

A short while later the Serra family got into their buggy and departed for home. Murdoch called everyone into the greatroom. The room was well lit and warm.

“Well, things got kind of crazy there for a while didn’t they?” He brought out three packages from a large bag. “I almost forgot that I have something for each of you, from the city.” Murdoch handed Teresa a heavy flat package and each of his sons a lighter package.

“Well, open them!” Murdoch appeared more excited than the three younger people did.

“What’s the occasion?” Johnny looked puzzled and rotated the package he held, and then shook it.

“Just open them, please!” Murdoch’s face was red now, his voice was impatient and he actually looked nervous.  Scott enjoyed seeing Murdoch like this, it was a new side to him.

Teresa unwrapped hers first. She had often received gifts from Murdoch and her father’s trips. With delight she pulled apart the layers of beautiful silks. She bear hugged Murdoch for a long minute afterwards.

Johnny unwrapped his gift glancing at Scott to see if he was opening his. Once unwrapped they could all see something made of light red material and light wooden pieces. “What is this?”

“Why, its a kite Johnny!” Scott was laughing happily while examining his blue one.

“Well, I feel kind of foolish now. Open your other package too.” Murdoch looked sheepish and he appeared a little doubtful looking at his purchases now.

The brothers opened the smaller gift enclosed and found each a pocketknife. It was expensively made with the Lancer ‘L’ engraved on its surface with a circle around the ‘L’.

“Wow, that’s a beauty!” Johnny looked astonished; he had probably never owned such a beautiful and expensive pocketknife.

“Fine workmanship on this.” Scott examined it appreciatively.

“So the kites, what’s up with them, we suppose to fly them?” Johnny returned to taking the pieces out of the wrapping and was looking at the enclosed instructions.

Teresa peered at the bright kite fabrics.  “Well if you don’t, I will!”


Johnny changed the topic.  “Tell us about the trip.” He was pleasantly surprised by the gifts, but felt a little uncomfortable with it.

Murdoch sat down and he told the three younger people about his trip to the big city. Trips like this were the highlights of conversation and it had been many days since he had returned.

A sense of home was once again established. Teresa asked about the latest fashions in San Francisco. She also asked about the few people both her father and Murdoch had spoken about in the past. Scott inquired about news from out east and news about military deployments across the country. Johnny was a good listener and enjoyed the conversation by all.

Teresa yawned a little later.  She and Scott were the first to retire. Johnny stayed a bit longer sensing something more needing to be said.  “So what’s the story behind the kites.” Johnny instinctively was getting to know Murdoch. You had to ask questions directly and best if he was in a good mood with a drink in hand.

“Well, pour us a nightcap and I’ll tell you John.” Murdoch told him about the gifts his father would return with on his travels. “After the accident, well I just never had the urge to be a sailor again. Sometimes your life takes a new course, a course you never planned on. That last gift my father had given me was the kite. The first gift I’ve given to you is a kite. I guess to me, kites reminded me of the bird’s freedom, flight and adventures. The beauty to rise above and go with the wind I suppose you could say.” Murdoch finished and they both sat back savoring their drinks.

“You trying to tell me something here Murdoch?”

“Take what you will Johnny, but always be yourself. Each bird sings a different song like an instrument in an orchestra. When you put it all together, well its pure music isn’t it. Each part is necessary.” Murdoch closed his eyes and took another swallow of his drink.

Johnny thought back to the thoughts he had just before tackling the line shack. He thought his father at times had an uncanny ability to see through him.

“You can also rise above everything, including your past.” Murdoch got up and poured himself more whiskey then offered Johnny a refill, he accepted.

Johnny contemplated this for a while. These moments with his father could become comfortable he thought. As much as he didn’t like talking about his past, he found he wanted to connect with his father. He wanted to come clean with him.

“You know, Murdoch. There are parts of me you don’t know. Like, I enjoyed killing that man today Murdoch, I ENJOYED IT!”       . . . . I think that sometimes I’m living a fake life here, pretending to be a cowhand. I’m not one of you really Murdoch, I don’t know if I can pretend being a rancher forever. It all comes down to this; I can’t take Johnny Madrid out of me – always be around imposing on me. I will always be looking back and a piece of me wants to go back!” Johnny blurted this out, but it felt right.

“I didn’t need another ranch hand these last few days Johnny. We needed you this week, all of you, past and present. Can’t you see?  If you weren’t Johnny Madrid, Teresa probably wouldn’t be alive.”  Murdoch sat in his large soft chair silently thinking.

Soberly Johnny looked at Murdoch.  “Maybe that’s the problem Murdoch.    . . . I feel like Johnny Lancer is I just acting like a cowhand.  It’s not real to me.”

“I’ve known a lot of people Johnny.  Successful people who think they live their lives faking

it, fooling others.  Seems to be a part of being human.  Never allowing themselves to be whom they really are, always thinking they don’t quite measure up. They are not ‘Imposters’ any more than you or I.”  Murdoch eyed his son.

Johnny sat quietly thinking about his father’s words.  Was he really this easy to see through?  But then, he rarely spoke this openly to anyone.  He quickly thought that he had revealed too much now already.  He would have to careful with this ‘old man.’ He was too perceptive, and it scared Johnny.

Murdoch spoke with a soft knowing voice, “Don’t ever think you have to be an Imposter John. You aren’t faking either Madrid or Lancer, they will become one.  You’ll find in short time that you will understand ranching and that imposter feeling with grow into self assurance.”

Johnny nodded to Murdoch;  “You’re saying just go with it.  Never have to be that ‘Imposter’ if you are true to yourself.” 

“If you were not here today John, things could of turned out differently.  Trust in that. There’s no mistake about your life, and what we needed here today.”

The End
August 2002

Epilogue:  A couple days later Johnny went back into town.  He received a telegram.  “No employee by that name.  You have an impostor.”



Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. You can do so using the ‘reply’ box below.

Sadly, we can’t pass the comment on to the author, as we don’t have a current email address. Don’t let that stop you commenting! If the author reconnects with the fandom in the future, she will see how much her work is appreciated.


4 responses to “The Impostor by Millicent”

  1. This was a great story ! Thank you.


  2. Wonderful story and great plot. Thank you.


  3. Very exciting story!


  4. Great love reading it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: