The Wallet by Desert Sun

Word Count 4,045

Note:
This is a missing scene from the Lancer episode, “Julie”.  It was written and posted to the Lancer groups on Yahoo in 2002.  I revised it in September of 2003 prior to putting it on my Web page and made more revisions in February of 2014 prior to uploading to the files at the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook.

***

Standing near the corner of the building where he and his brother had sought refuge moments before, Scott Lancer stared after the cause of their troubles as the dark-haired, young woman fled from sight at the end of the alley.  He sighed and looked over at his brother.

Johnny Lancer was still rubbing the back of his neck where the barrel of the sheriff’s rifle had hit him.

Scott let out another slow breath and stepped sideways between his brother and the older man with a star pinned on his shirt.

 “Where do you think you’re going?” the sheriff said.

Scott stopped, ran his fingers through his hair, and stiffened his back.  “I am free to go, am I not?  She said that she lied.  Doesn’t that prove to you that I am not Jonas?”

“Maybe.”  The sheriff stretched the word out, skewed his mouth and rubbed his chin for a moment.  “Guess it’s time I had a talk with that young lady.”  He then looked back at his deputy, who still had a gun aimed at the Lancer brothers.  “Bring them along.  I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Johnny scowled.  “Sheriff, what more–.”

Scott jabbed an elbow into his brother’s side and shook his head in warning.   Johnny didn’t look happy, but he shrugged and followed the sheriff as they all headed for the main street of town.

Relief flooded over Scott.    As he tagged along behind his brother, the events of the past two days ran through his mind.   He and Johnny had been on a cattle-buying trip with their father.  Murdoch had left them in this town while he went on alone to an auction at a ranch near a small town a few hours to the north.  Looking for something with which to occupy their time, the brothers had discovered there was to be a dance that same evening so each had tried to find a young lady to escort.

About the same time that Johnny’s attempt had ended in failure, Scott had noticed a pretty girl enter the stage depot and had followed her inside.  After peering out the window and pretending to ignore her, he had struck up a conversation by suddenly acting like he recognized her.  He had used the same tactic back east and had found it to be a very effective way of getting a young lady to talk to him.

I certainly showed Johnny the art of meeting a woman, Scott thought ruefully.  The young woman had insisted she didn’t know him and had shown no desire to talk.  Although he had found her coldness a little surprising, her behavior hadn’t seemed unreasonable at the time since they actually had never met before.  Thinking back on it now, Scott knew he should have been suspicious when she had quickly become overly friendly, agreeing to go with him to the dance and offering to spend the day with him.  Setting up a schoolboy wouldn’t have been any easier.  He had been flattered by her apparent trust in him and had gladly accepted the envelope and the kiss on the cheek.  Then while he was busy congratulating himself on his conquest, someone had knocked him out.  The next thing he had remembered was waking up in a chair at the sheriff’s office.

Scott reached the end of the alley and rounded the corner of the building that faced the main street.  Up ahead he spotted the young woman who was responsible for the predicament he had found himself in.  At least she had admitted the truth before it was too late.  Johnny must have said something that had finally gotten through to her.

Once again Scott’s thoughts went back in time to two days earlier.  A couple of bounty hunters had insisted that he was Jonas Barrett, a man wanted dead or alive for robbery and murder in Denver, Colorado.  When he had looked for his billfold to prove that his name was Scott Lancer, he had found that it had been taken.  Having Johnny vouch for him had not been sufficient either.  His brother’s papers had only verified that the younger man was Johnny Lancer.  There had been nothing in them about a brother named Scott.   Fortunately the sheriff had agreed to give Johnny two days to find Miss Barrett and bring back proof of who he was.

Scott shuddered at the memory of how close the bounty hunters, Thatcher and Hackett, had come to killing him when they had forced him to break jail. They would have accomplished their plan if the sheriff hadn’t intervened at the last minute.  The situation, though, hadn’t taken a turn for the better when his brother had returned with Julie Barrett.  Johnny had accidentally killed her brother in a fight, and she had sought her revenge in the only way available to her: by deliberately lying and saying that he, Scott, was indeed her brother, Jonas.  Thankfully Johnny’s intervention had prevented the bounty men from accomplishing their plan of delivering a dead man to the authorities in Denver.

The sheriff halted his little entourage next to Julie Barrett, who was sitting on a bench in front of the stage depot.  “Miss Barrett, will you please come along to my office,” he said.  “I want to make sure I have all the facts, and I don’t intend to discuss this in front of the whole town.”

Miss Barrett, still clutching her brother’s saddlebags, pushed the stray strands of long, dark hair away from her face.  Without looking at any of the men, she slowly rose to her feet and went with them to the jailhouse down the street.

Once inside his office, the sheriff settled into the chair behind his desk.  He leaned back and looked at Julie.  “Now, Miss Barrett, I want the truth . . . all of it.”

She bit her quivering lip, looked down, and appeared to be studying the floor in front of her.  “I’m sorry.  I lied.  He . . . he’s not my brother.”

Scott felt a touch of sympathy for her but those thoughts were interrupted when the door burst open.

The two bounty hunters entered and stationed themselves just inside the doorway, like vultures watching their prey.  Lucas Thatcher, the taller of the two, leaned against the doorjamb while the one known as Wade Hackett remained standing upright beside him.

“Are you going to believe what she says?”  Lucas’s voice was high pitched and almost whining.  “How do you know she isn’t lying now to protect her brother?”

The lawman looked at the girl.  “Well, Miss Barrett.  Do you have any proof that this man isn’t your brother?”  He pointed a finger in Scott’s direction.

Julie’s voice quivered.  “I . . . I don’t know what you want from me.  I told you he isn’t.  What more proof do you need?” 

“Wait a minute, Sheriff.”  Scott took a step forward only to feel a sharp jab in his ribs as the end of the deputy’s rifle poked him in the side.

“Let him talk,” the sheriff said.  He nodded to Scott.  “Go on.”

“My billfold, Sheriff . . . it will prove who I am.  She had to have taken it . . . so either she has it on her, or she knows where it is.”

The lawman turned his attention back to the young woman.  His stern eyes searched her face.  “Miss Barrett, did you take his wallet?”

She nodded as she chewed at her lip and blinked at the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

“Well.”  There was a sharp edge to the sheriff’s voice that clearly indicated he was reaching the end of his patience.  “Would you mind telling me what you did with it?”

Miss Barrett sniffed and spoke in a trembling voice.  “I left it with the man at the livery stable.”  She turned pleading eyes on Scott as more words tumbled out.  “I never meant you any harm.   All I wanted was some time.  Time to get away without them following.  I had to get to my brother.  Can’t you see I didn’t want to lead them to him?”  Her shoulders began to shake as tears ran down her cheeks.

Johnny Lancer quickly stepped to her side, put an arm around her shoulders, and held her for a moment as she buried her face against his chest.  “It’s all right, Julie.  It’s over now.”

When Julie’s sobs had subsided, Johnny held her out away from him.  He brushed the tears from her cheeks.   “You said you left Scott’s wallet with the livery man.  What’d ya tell him to do with it?”

Julie slowly lifted her head until her eyes met Johnny’s.  “He . . . he was supposed to bring it here . . . an hour after I had gone.  I never intended for those men to take Scott.  I . . . I only wanted to keep them from following me.”  She gave Scott a pleading look.  “I’m sorry.  Truly I am.  I should have told the truth when I arrived here.”  Her voice shook again.  “I . . . I was . . . just so upset . . . about my brother . . . the way he died . . . all those lies Johnny told me to get to him.  I believed Jonas was innocent.  I . . . I was wrong.  Please forgive me.”

The anger that Scott had harbored earlier waned and his heart filled with pity.  If the situation had been reversed and it had been his brother in danger, he knew he would have done whatever he could to protect him. He really couldn’t blame her for doing what she had done, especially since it seemed she hadn’t actually meant him any harm.

“Think I’ll go have a talk with a man about a wallet,” Johnny said.  He let go of Julie’s arm and started toward the open doorway.

“Wait,” Scott said.   He focused his eyes on the man behind the desk.  “I promise you that I’ll be right back.  It was my billfold, and I’d like to be the one to retrieve it, if that’s all right with you, Sheriff.”

“You’re not going to let him go,” Lucas said.  “Can’t you see that this is all a part of their plan?  They’re in this together, the three of them.  If you let that boy leave, you’ll never see him again.”

The lawman got up from his chair and went to stand next to Scott.  Looking over at Lucas, he said, “As long as I’m the sheriff of this town, I’ll say who goes and who stays.”  He returned his attention to Scott.  “I’ll let you go . . . but . . . you see to it you come right back.  And, young man, you be careful how you go about gettin’ that wallet.  I hear about you getting out of line, you’ll be right back in my jail.  Is that understood?”  His finger tapped against Scott’s chest.

Scott tipped his head in agreement.  “Understood . . . but I do intend to retrieve my property and find out why it wasn’t returned to me sooner.”

With his jaw set in a firm line, Scott brushed past Thatcher and Hackett.  As he stepped outside and paused on the boardwalk, he heard the lawman say, “You two stay right where you are.  You’re not going anywhere at the moment.”

Scott smiled.  At least there would be no interference from a couple of bounty hunters.

***

 Hearing footsteps behind him, Scott glanced over his shoulder to see who was following him.  His eyebrows knitted together, and he slowed his pace until his brother caught up to him.  “Just where is it you think you’re going?” Scott said.

“With you.”

“Oh no, you’re not.  I’m quite capable of handling this on my own.”

“I know that, Scott.”  A fan of little creases appeared around Johnny’s blue eyes and the corners of his mouth twitched upward.  “Now did I say anything about helpin’ yuh?  Did I?  All I wanna do is watch.”

“You’re not going.  I don’t need an audience.”

“A what?”

“Audience.”  At the puzzled look on Johnny’s face, Scott stifled a smile.  “Watchers, Johnny.  I don’t need anybody watching.”

Johnny’s mouth formed an ‘O’ and he shrugged.  “Could’ve said so.”  The expression on his face turned more serious and his eyes almost pleading.  “Come on Scott.  I won’t be in the way.  After all I’ve done for ya . . . can’t I get in on a little of the fun?”

Scott’s resolve slipped.  He reached out, laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and looked him sternly in the eye.  “On one condition.”

“What?”

“That you promise to stay out of sight.  I’m not about to have the man claiming that we ganged up on him.  You heard what the sheriff said.”

Johnny gave Scott a wounded look.  “I told you I’d stay out of it, didn’t I?”

Scott quickly glanced away.  If he were to keep the upper hand, he knew he had to continue the facade of being serious.  “I want your promise,” he said once he had regained his composure.

“Okay!”

“That’s not good enough.  I want to hear you say the words.  Promise me you will stay out of sight no matter what happens.”  Scott tightened his grip on Johnny’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes.  “Promise?”

Johnny laughed lightly.  “Brother, you just never give up, do ya?”  He raised his hands in mock surrender.  “Okay. I promise I’ll stay out of sight no matter what.”  His upper lip curled a little and his head bobbed slightly to emphasize his next words.  “There.  That make ya happy?”

“Uh, hum.”  Scott nodded as he mumbled and released his hold on his brother.  He then strode on down the street toward livery stable.

***

The ring of a hammer against steel met Scott’s ears as he pushed on the rough wood of the livery stable’s door to open it wide enough for him to pass through.  In the middle of the dimly lit, main floor of the building, he saw someone at the forge.  The man was holding a ‘U’ shaped piece of metal by its middle with a pair of long handled tongs.

As Scott approached, the man laid one edge of the horseshoe on the tapered end of an anvil and pounded on the opposite edge.  He lifted it up for inspection and then shoved it into the fire for a few seconds before removing it and pounding on it some more.

“Excuse me, sir,” Scott said in a loud, clear voice when the man stopped to check the shoe’s shape again.

“What kin I do fer ya?” The bald-headed man glanced quickly at Scott before returning to his work.

Scott forced himself to use a polite tone despite feeling perturbed at the man’s lack of manners.  “I’m looking for the proprietor?” 

“Ya got ‘im.”

“Good.”  Scott moved closer.  “I believe you are just the man to help me.”

The man spoke without glancing at Scott.  “Ya needin’ a horse, Mister?”

“No . . . not at the moment.  What I need, Sir, is my billfold.  A young lady left it with you two days ago.”

The liveryman shifted uneasily and continued shaping the piece of metal.  “Don’t know nothin’ about no billfold.”

Scott took a long step that brought him within a foot of the other man.   “You did see the girl, did you not?”

“Well.”  The man dragged out his answer while his eyes squinted and looked upward.  “Can’t rightly say.  Lots o’ folks been in here in the last couple days.”

“I’m certain that you would remember her.  She was pretty–much shorter than I am–about twenty-four years old with long dark-brown hair.  She was wearing a light green, flowered dress with a darker green shawl wrapped around her shoulders.”

The liveryman shook his head slightly.  “Nope.  Can’t say’s I recall anyone like that.”  He dunked the horseshoe into a bucket of water, releasing a sizzling sound and a puff of steam.

Scott grasped the front of the man’s shirt high up near the collar, pulled him closer, and glared down at him.  “I’ve just spent the last two days in jail for a crime I had nothing to do with.  Two bounty hunters have tried twice to kill me, because they think I am someone that I am not.  Now I have just about run out of patience.  I know for a fact that Miss Julie Barrett rented a buggy from you and that she gave you my billfold.  You were to have returned it to me an hour after she left it with you.”

The stable owner’s eyes shifted and he gulped, but he still insisted that he knew nothing of the missing wallet.

With a twist of his wrist, Scott tightened his grip below the collar of the man’s shirt.  Using his other hand, he wrenched the tongs from the stableman’s fist and jammed the end of it into the burning coals of the forge.  “Mister, I’m through playing games with you.  Now . . . either you return what is mine to me or . . .. I’m going to do something that we’ll both regret.”  He brought the heated end of the tongs around and held it within an inch of the other man’s face.

The liveryman’s voice squeaked.  “You won’t get away with this.  I’ll tell the sheriff.”

“He already knows I’m here . . . and he knows why I’m here.  He’d be only too happy to accommodate you with some free lodging if you insist on retaining my property.”  Scott continued to glare threateningly at the man.

The owner of the livery gulped again as he eyed the hot iron an inch away from his right cheek.  “All right.  I’ll get it.”

Scott lowered the tongs. He loosed his grip on the shirt and gave the man a slight shove, sending him staggering backwards.  “See that you do.”  He moved in closer again and waved the tongs.  “And don’t try any tricks.  I’m not in a very favorable mood at the moment.”

The older man edged his way around Scott to get to the other side of the forge.  He squatted and rummaged through the dirt and bits of metal that lay on the floor.  “Mu . . . might . . . this be . . . what . . . yer lookin’ fer?”  His voice was still high pitched and nervous sounding as he stood up with a filthy, leather pocketbook in his hand.

Scott laid the working end of the tongs onto the hot coals of the fire, accepted the offered wallet, and opened it.  His scowl deepened. “Where’s the money?  I had close to two hundred dollars in here.”

“Don’t know nothin’ ’bout no money.  The girl must’ve taken it.”  The proprietor’s chin lifted a bit as he spoke with a touch of belligerence.

“Well, I think you do know . . . but . . . we can play this your way.”  Scott grabbed the tongs and pointed the tip at the other man’s chest.

“Wh . . . what’re . . . ya gunna do?”

“You and I are going to take a little walk down to the sheriff’s office.  The young lady who gave this to you is there.  One of you has my money, and I intend to find out which.”  Scott’s gazed coldly at the other man.  “One more thing before we go.  You had best not be lying to me, because if you are . . . that money is going to cost you a few years in prison.”

Scott motioned toward the door.  “Shall we go?”

The liveryman moved at a slow pace and Scott jabbed a thumb into the man’s back who took a couple more hesitant steps and halted again.

“Keep moving,” Scott said.

“La . . . look a here.  I uh . . . I never meant to steal yer money.  I . . . I just put it away fer safe keepin’.  That’s right.  I was afraid it might get stolen so I hid it away.  Then things got real busy, and I plumb fergot all about it.  That’s the gospel truth.  I ain’t no thief.  Ya can ask anybody around here.  I was just takin’ care of it fer ya.  I didn’t tell ya sooner ’cause ya come in here a threatin’ me.  Had me plumb muddled up so’s I couldn’t even think straight.  Besides, how was I ta know it was even yer money.  Now, if you’ll jest give me a chance, I’ll fetch it fer ya.”

It was hard not to laugh at the way the liveryman rattled on, barely stopping to gasp for air once he’d gotten started with his long-winded excuse.  Despite the twitching at the corners of his mouth, Scott managed to retain his stern demeanor.  Upon instructing the other man to lead the way, he followed him through a door that led into the living quarters, which were attached to the rear of the barn.

***

A while later, Johnny Lancer pulled the cinch of his saddle snug, let the near stirrup down easy, and led the bay horse over to where his brother was putting the bridle on their father’s horse.  “That was quite an act you put on a while ago.”  Johnny grinned and slapped Scott’s shoulder.  “Didn’t know ya had it in ya to be so downright ornery.  Ya sure did have that poor man scared plumb out of his skin.  Good thing you hadn’t thought to take my gun with you.  He might’ve fainted.”

“I was a bit primitive at that, wasn’t I?”  Scott chuckled as he buckled the throatlatch of his bridle.  He turned to face his brother and smiled.  “I guess it comes from living with you for nearly a year.”

“Me?  Purr . . . pur-rimative . . . well, whatever that word ya said is.  When’re ya gunna stop usin’ them college words an’ speak English?  Half the time, it’s like ya was talkin’ in some foreign language or somethin’.”

“Primitive means medieval . . . uncivilized . . . unrefined,” Scott said, although he wasn’t quite certain whether his brother was just teasing or really didn’t know what the word meant.  Upon noticing there was still somewhat of an expression of confusion on Johnny’s face, he added, “Crude . . . rough.  Are you getting the picture, now?”

The corners of Johnny’s mouth twitched as he tilted his chin upward and cast wounded eyes on his brother.  “Yeah, I got it.  Ya mean I ain’t got any manners.”

“Yep, Little Brother, you understand perfectly.”  Scott laughed, gathered the reins of the two horses he had saddled, and coaxed them to follow him out of the corral next to the livery stable.  He glanced behind him as he waited for his brother to lead his own horse out and close the gate.  When Scott next spoke, his tone was more serious.  “So, what are we going to tell Murdoch when he asks what we’ve been doing?”

“Think he will?  Ask, I mean?”

“He’ll ask.  There’s no doubt about that,” Scott said and set out leading the two horses down the street.

Johnny walked beside his brother.  “So.  Whatcha think we oughta tell the old man?”

“Nothing.”  Scott glanced over at his brother and chuckled as their eyes met.  “Absolutely nothing.”

Johnny smiled and raised his eyebrows.  “Ya really think he’ll believe we did nothin’ but watch the dust settle for two whole days?”

“No . . . but it’s worth a try.”  Scott’s hearty laugh then joined that of his brother.

~The end~

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