Word Count 1,801
Episode Titles Challenge Story
This story was written in response to a challenge on one of the Lancer groups on Yahoo. The title of every episode is listed in the order it aired. Beef to Bowie is the only one that was never released. To bring the story full-circle, I chose to end with the title of the pilot movie. The only major change I made was to eliminate the use of all capital letters for the titles of the episodes. I thought they were a distraction.
Johnny Lancer arched his back and drew his shoulder blades together, his chest muscles stretching tight. As he relaxed, he looked at his brother and pointed at a gathering of men further down the street. “Ain’t that the high riders we saw the lawman of Blood Rock send high-tailin’ for the hills last week?”
“Let it go, Johnny. This is no time to chase a wild horse. Murdoch gave us strict orders to stay out of trouble,” replied Scott Lancer, who was three years older than his brother and as fair-haired as the other young man was dark.
“What’s happened to your sense of adventure?” Johnny asked. He grinned and nudged an elbow into Scott’s ribs. “You sure had no qualms about robbing one last train for Charlie Poe.”
“That was different. Charlie was a good friend, and he needed our help. Besides, if we land in jail, who’s going to aid in our escape? Julie or that silly blonde, Glory, you were sparking the last time we came through this town?”
Johnny let out a snort. “You know good and well, they wouldn’t give a hoot about us. They’re thicker’n thieves with the prodigal nephew of the mayor, who’s a Foley to boot. You could lump the whole family together, except for Polly’s girl, and they wouldn’t have the heart of Pony Alice.”
“Speaking of Alice, it would be a shame to miss the wedding for the likes of them,” Scott said.
“Guess you’re right. We can’t fight everyone’s battles for them. People have to learn to stand up for themselves.”
This brought a frown to Scott’s handsome face. “Sometimes that isn’t possible.”
“Like with Polly and the black McGoins?” Johnny faked a feeble attempt to hide his contempt.
“Yes, like them and others,” Scott retorted.
Johnny let out a snort. “Scott Lancer, the fixit man. Is that it?” He sidled his horse in front of his brother’s mount. “You do know people can survive without our help, don’t you? I mean look at Jelly. That loco sheriff from Texas wanted to turn him into death bait, all because of some yesterday’s vengeance. That turned out okay without our help.”
Scott tugged at the knot at the end of his braided horse-hair reins. “You didn’t hesitate to fight to keep Warburton’s edge, either.”
“The man was shot in the back,” Johnny replied, acting defensive.
A wagon rolled past with large letters painted on the canvas covering. Scott watched it for a minute and said, “You were ready to fight Angel Day and her Sunshine Gals, too,” he said.
Johnny, continuing to block Scott’s path, leaned forward with one elbow propped on the saddle horn. “Teresa needed our protection. That crook her mamma was runnin’ with was lyin’ through his teeth the whole time, and you know it.”
“The great humbug out to snare the child of rock and sunlight . . . is that it?”
Scott’s smile was infuriating, but it was a sure sign that Johnny’s plan was working. Just a little more resistance and the trap would snap closed with its prey held fast.
“That’s one way of putting it.” Johnny shrugged indifferently and switched to a soft, commanding tone. “Come on. We need to make Camp Juniper by dark.”
“Look!” Scott pointed down the street.
As Johnny twisted in the saddle to look, Scott said, “Are you going to stand by and let those bullies beat up that old man without a gun? He can’t even defend himself?”
“What do you expect me to do?” Johnny asked. “There’s a dozen of them. Those odds ain’t too promisin’.”
Contempt filled Scott’s voice .”Haven’t you always said that the measure of a man is his willingness to face danger head-on despite the prospect of losing?”
His brother’s words hit a nerve. Johnny ducked his head. “Yeah, well.” He shrugged in an attempt to hide his elation. “I ain’t about to be no Devils’s blessing, either. A man’d have to be a fool to face twelve guns at once.”
“Did I say anything about a gunfight?” Scott said, his shoulders visibly squaring. “This calls for a little devious intervention.”
“Like what?” Johnny asked, barely holding back a chuckle.
“We divide and conquer.”
Although his brother had taken the bait and was in full military mode, Johnny still faked uncertainty. “How?” he asked, squinting into the sun.
“I think a game of blind man’s bluff will do nicely, don’t you?” Scott replied.
Johnny merely answered with a blank stare.
“We’ll leave our horses tied here and walk the rest of the way,” Scott said. “I’ll pretend to be blind. When I get up to them, I’ll distract them by muttering something about locating the Lorelei for Zee. You can back me up by saying we need to find the legacy for the kid.”
Johnny squinted and skewed his mouth. “Think it’ll work? I mean, six to one is still pretty stiff odds. We could both end up rivals of the black angel.”
“Come on, Brother. Weren’t you just complaining about me losing my sense of adventure? Just think of this as being one of Jelly Hoskin’s American dreams. Let’s cut the wolf loose and use the gifts God gave us.”
“Okay, Brother. But remember, if Gabriel gives us a personal welcome to Genisis, this was your idea.”
The Lancer brothers dismounted, secured their reins to the hitching rail, and made their way down the street. As planned, Scott walked unseeingly up to the group of men and mumbled something about hidden treasures.
“You got any idea where that little darling of the Sierras hid that pot of gold?” asked a burley man with a mustache nearly the size of the scrub brush that Teresa O’Brien kept under the kitchen sink.
“No,” Scott replied, “but I heard the mayor reading an article written by someone who saw her hide it.”
“Who?” the man asked. Several of his companions seemed to forget about the elderly man they had been harassing.
“According to the paper, it was a person unknown,” Scott said.
Johnny deliberately staggered into a giant of a man and turned to the splinter group on the left. “Pardon me,” he said, slurring his words as he gazed upward into the glaring eyes of a straw-haired man, who could have been a twin to the scarecrow at Hacketts.
“Get out of the way,” the big man groused.
“Soon’s I get a hold of him,” Johnny replied, jabbing a finger in Scott’s direction. “Guess ya noticed there ain’t gunna be no blue skies for Willie Sharp.”
“Yeah. His pa’s a famous sheriff south of here. Old Bill had high hopes for the boy before he went blind.”
An evil grin spread over the outlaw’s face, and Johnny feared the experiment wasn’t going to work. Unless they were real lucky, the only shadow they would be throwing from now on would be the shadow of a dead man.
A curtain billowed out from an upper window of Rosa’s Cantina and a mass of long, black hair mixed with the bright fabric. An idea formed in Johnny’s mind. He waved real big and yelled as loud as he could. “Goodbye, Lizzie!”
Johnny looked sideways and gave his foe a conspiratorial wink. “Lizzie’s quite a gal. Poor old Chad don’t know what he’s in for. Maybe one of you fellas oughta go rescue him.”
“Lizzie, you say. She real friendly?” the tall man leered.
“None friendlier. Why it’s a pure shame for her talents to be wasted on a kid that ain’t even shavin’ yet. It’s kind of like parin’ up the lion and the lamb.”
Several of the buscaderos looked longingly at the window as though it were a lamp in the wilderness. Johnny tossed out a few more encouraging words by raving about Lizzie’s charms, and then he chuckled softly as one of the men broke into a run for the cantina.
Soon the street was empty except for the Lancer brothers and a grateful old man, who needed little urging to head straight for home. Johnny grinned at Scott. If they were lucky, Lizzie would see to it that every one of the outlaws had a reason to dream of falcons until morning. By then the Lancer brothers would be half-way to Lifeline.
“Won’t the old man be surprised when he loses that bet he made with us, and he gets stuck taking all that beef to Bowie?” Johnny asked.
Scott laughed. “He sure will. It might be wise for us to plan something extra special for his return.”
“Yeah. We could have Teresa cook his favorite meal. Jelly could help us.”
And so it was that the Lancer brothers plotted a perfect family reunion that never came to be, because the trip to Bowie was unexpectedly cancelled. They did make it to the wedding in time to witness Florida and Witness Tree’s new doctor exchange vows. Alice then returned with them to Lancer for a short visit while her adoptive parents honeymooned in Sacramento.
When the boys arrived home, Murdoch was reluctant to concede defeat and admit that he had lost the bet that his sons could not stay out of trouble for an entire week. He kept insisting that they had left an episode out of their story of their travels.
“Murdoch, we gave it to you straight,” Johnny said, finally losing patience with the older man’s skepticism. “Not one thing was left out, and we told you everything in the exact order it happened.”
Scott moved to his brother’s side. “Johnny’s telling the truth, Sir. Now, don’t you think it’s time you gave us credit for staying out of trouble?”
“Yeah, and how about a bonus for being home early?”
“All right! You win,” Murdoch replied. “Now do you think we could sit down and enjoy our supper before it gets cold?”
“Sure,” Johnny said, sliding out a chair for Alice. Then when he had settled into his own chair at the long dining table, he grinned over at his brother, who had helped Teresa be seated, and said, “Nice homecoming.” To which, Scott heartily agreed.
First posted around June 1, 2005
Edited and Posted to Facebook in January 2014
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