Parchment and Old Ink

Even though it was only just May, spring in California was already glorious. Green River was blossoming with it and Carrie was getting complacent, even smug, about the garden that she cultivated in their back yard each year. It was to be the envy of the rest of Green River this year, apparently, and James could only laugh and wish her luck—even with the new well he'd had dug last autumn, she and old Manuel would be putting in some hard labour if they were to have a garden, rather than a dust bowl, by August.

But at this stage of Carrie's horticultural programme, the weather was perfect. The daytime temperatures had climbed steadily over the last two or three weeks. Each day was warmer than the one before and the rain was light and refreshing, making the country flourish with countless shades of new green in tree and grass and leaf. The people flourished with it, the ladies especially; Carrie had already cleaned her dull, heavy, winter dresses, putting them away with sprigs of lavender in the folds to ward off the moth, and changed them for thin calico or lawn sprigged with pink or pale blue or green (she didn't wear yellow, claiming it made her look sickly, and truthfully it wasn't a colour that James liked). A man leaving his horse outside for any length of time hitched the reins to the railings enclosing the group of oak trees that did duty for green countryside in the middle of the town's little square, where the animal could at least stand in the shade of the new leaves and whisk its tail to keep off the flies; not so many flies yet, but the warmth would soon have them swarming in enough numbers to be a biblical plague to man and beast alike. Even the town's dogs seemed to be getting sun-lazy already, gathering under the sidewalks and drowsing so that only the faintest growls and barks marked Green River passing them by.

James ran a finger under his tight, stiff collar and knew that in another month he'd be feeling the pinprick of perspiration on the back of his neck. Another month after that, he thought, and we'll be stifled by heat and dust.

He stretched to ease a back bent for too long over parchments covered in ink so old it was fading to reddish-brown. In the outer office, a voice was raised briefly just as the door to his own office opened. James glanced inquiringly at his chief clerk, who was struggling through the doorway with a pile of books under his arm.

"Is that Mrs Janners?" he asked.

Harold Sheffield nodded, and let the door swing closed behind him, leaning against it until his weight made the latch snick closed. The woman's angry voice was instantly muted and James was grateful for the sound-defying properties of the green baize with which he'd had the local jobbing carpenter, Charlie Wingate, sheathe the door.

"And her husband," confirmed Sheffield. "I told them to make an appointment." He smiled, slightly. "She's not inclined to wait, sir."

"Her father's will, I expect."

"Yes, sir. Young Garcia is talking to them. He has his instructions and knows better than to let them through."

A door banged, the sound loud enough to penetrate even the green baize. James walked to the window. A thin muslin privacy blind allowed light through, but prevented anyone in the street seeing inside; James raised it just as a woman in a sunbonnet walked quickly by, going towards the store. He wasn't surprised to see that Marcy Janners was alone but for the child she was pulling along by its arm. The saloon stood on Main Street in the other direction to Mayor Higgs' General Store and Dry Goods and there was no doubt which establishment Adam Janners preferred to favour with his patronage.

Mrs Janners' face was shadowed by the bonnet's side-slats, but he caught a glimpse of her downturned, discontented mouth. He felt a faint sympathy for her. In his (personal rather than professional) opinion, she had good cause to be discontented, wed to a man so work-shy he couldn't keep a job for more than a month or so. Carrie and the rest of Green River Ladies Guild had the Janners family under their eye, he knew, and Adam Janners' sinful idleness was the cause of many a good lady's horrified murmurings. His own involvement had been less pious but very satisfying: he had tied up the small legacy from Marcy's father in such a way that the child would benefit, but Janners couldn't. Sadly, Mrs Janners didn't seem any less irritated by that than Janners was. James concluded that she was probably bullied as well as overworked.

"She'll want it overturned, I guess, sir?" speculated Sheffield. He carefully piled the books on the corner of a desk already strewn with parchments.

"Probably," agreed James, watching the street. "I don't think she'll take it to court, though. She and Janners must know that they can't win."

He looked out towards the Green River Hotel, standing catty-corner on Main Street across from his office. Raúl Alcántar and Henry Reagh, two of the local ranchers, stood outside the hotel's main doors, chatting amicably enough given they were currently in dispute. They were neither of them owners of big spreads but comfortably off; solid, respectable citizens. James hoped that they were talking through that supply contract for cattle feed and would be back in his office to finalise it before the week was out; otherwise they'd face penalties that neither would relish. A little farther down the street Bill Kerr, Mrs Conway's foreman out at the Broken C, loaded a wagon outside Higgs' store, trotting briskly backwards and forwards with sacks over his shoulders, intent on his work. A man more unlike Adam Janners couldn't be found in the San Joaquin. It was a pity that Marcy hadn't married Bill instead.

Sheffield joined him. "Warm day, sir."

"And you a Californian! You should be used to it."

"Born and bred," said Sheffield, cheerfully. He nodded towards the street outside, as if reminded that James was not a born and bred Californian, but an immigrant from the East. "It must be very different to what you were used to, sir."

James looked thoughtfully out onto the street. Marcy Janners and child turned into the store; the two ranchers shook hands and parted company; Bill Kerr trotted back out to the wagon, a keg in his arms.

James wondered what made the scene say Green River to him, rather than Morro Coyo or Stockton or Sacramento, because it might have been a street scene from any town in the South West. It might even be his home town—well, it might have been his home town but for him knowing the names and much of the history of everyone he saw in the street, the unsophisticated and severely practical country-style clothes, the gun that every man out there wore openly, and the fact that the storefronts wore faces of sun-bleached wooden slats and faded paint rather than blocks of dressed brown sandstone.

Sheffield was right. It was very different.

He smiled. "Well, Green River isn't much like New York, I grant you. But, you know, I think I have the best of the bargain. Thank you, Harold. I'll read through the papers again, I think, before Mister Lancer gets here."

Sheffield nodded and took his dismissal with good grace, closing the door behind him softly.

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James let down the blind again, turned his back on the window and stared at the deeds and documents spilling out of the deed box on the table. For a moment his memory substituted Green River with the sophistication of New York City. There, spring would still be unfolding to a pattern of cool days and pale blue skies above the canyons of the streets, with a thin sun barely warming the brownstone walls by day and leaving behind it the risk of frost when it went down. New York had a longer spring, a harsher winter and summers that were slower to arrive and swifter to leave. Here, the cool Californian winter and the balmy, damp spring were soon over and the long hot summer would be on them before they could turn around.

It wasn't that he regretted the city. He didn't, not a bit of it. He hadn't prospered there.

The problem had been one of fashion more than anything else; fashion, and the fact that New York's faint loyalty to the College had grown ever dimmer over the years, victim to the pressure to make a buck as fast and cheaply as possible and the overwhelming desire of the city's magnates to make sure, if they were spending those precious bucks, that they got the very best in return and were seen to get it. In that sense, in indulging an ostentatious regard for self-defined quality, it was a matter of business. It was clear-eyed and unemotional and rational and it derided loyalty to the local College as unbusinesslike and foolish.

The College graduates just couldn't compete, not when Harvard and Yale law schools were turning out more lawyers than their states could reasonable employ. New York, young and thrusting and growing and greedy, swallowed up all those excess lawyers and put them to work on contracts and business and commerce, on keeping the city's lifeblood pumping and making it richer and richer and ever richer. All it took was a year's apprenticeship and the New York Bar examination (or being rich enough to bribe the three assessors, and James knew for a fact that had happened and more than once) and all those Massachusetts and Connecticut lawyers moved in on the city and took the best jobs. Or if they set up for themselves, they got all the best and most lucrative business. New York loved them. Harvard and Yale, said New York, turns out the best and sharpest legal minds there are.

James, of course, was not an uncritical fan of such popular theories. He had heard that Columbia was finally beginning to regain some of the reputation it had lost with a law school that had been in the doldrums for the better part of a half-century, but there was no denying that in his day, the College's law school had not been what he would describe as thriving. It couldn't compete, not against the richly endowed schools attached to Harvard or Yale or Philadelphia, and its graduates suffered in the comparison. When he was young and ambitious, James had railed against the humiliating knowledge that his relative poverty meant that he couldn't attend one of those more prestigious institutions and that this would count against him in every post he applied for afterwards. His relative poverty would, he knew, at best, hamper him from reaching the pinnacle of his profession because his way there was barred by richer men than himself.

They weren't necessarily smarter than he was, of course, but he had to concede that people thought that their law degrees were shinier.

It was more than twenty years since James had walked out of the College gates for the last time to graduate summa cum laude, marry his childhood sweetheart and try to make his fortune in the city. After a year or two of low-level cases and a meagre living, he and Carrie took the biggest gamble of their lives and moved west, to the newest state in the Union where American lawyers were few, the body of foreign law to be brought into line was enormous and opportunities to make good were greater. Despite her apprehension about the move to a place that didn't even have a good American name, Carrie had grown to love life in Sacramento. James had been less enthusiastic. Eight years ago now, he had decided that he was no longer young and no longer ambitious, and that he would rather be a big fish in the San Joaquin pond than a minnow in the legal sea of San Francisco and Sacramento.

He didn't regret the move to a country town, even if it took him away from the lucrative work of the Legislature. Instead, he relished his quiet, responsible life and the steady and respectable income it gave him (he was no longer concerned just to be rich—he'd gained that much in wisdom, at least, over the years), and most of all for the time he had for reflection and study. He was as much scholar as lawyer now. And if he didn't think that one day he'd write the Californian equivalent of Storey's Commentary on the Constitution or Jacob's Practising Attorney's Companion or (heaven forbid!) Coke on Littleton, he did think that his treatise on the Spanish-Mexican legal heritage on the body of Californian law, his Codification of the Laws of California, was a thing worthy of note and commendation.

James smiled. He found that he really didn't mind the difference, after all.

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A Mexican vaquero had brought the message shortly after the office opened at nine, and Murdoch Lancer and his sons would only be a couple of hours behind him. James had been expecting the message for a week, ever since he'd heard the rumours that the younger Lancer son had made a good recovery from being shot from his horse and, in the last couple of days, had even been seen riding about the countryside. James had had Sheffield bring him the deed box from the strong-room almost before the vaquero was back in the saddle and heading home to Lancer.

It was a history of California in miniature, this deed box, its contents mirroring the story of the state. The oldest document in it wasn't old in itself: the 1844 Bill of Sale for the land grant for the Velásquez estancia, the piece of land that was the core of the now large Lancer holdings. The Bill of Sale, dripping with red seals and with the Mexican governor's florid signature in fading ink approving the land transfer, marked the sad decline of a once-great ranchero family; its last scion a childless old hidalgo, selling his land grant to one of the first in an inexorable tidal wave of incoming gringos who would go on to change California beyond the old man's ability to recognise his homeland. It was the start.

The rest of the contents—the contracts and bills of sale, deeds and wills and testaments—charted the failure of Mexico to hold on to its dominion, the clash of war, the raising of that rebellious ursine flag above Sonoma, the advantage that men like Judd Haney took of the unrestful times to try and take the disputed land by force, sickness, murrain and drought. There were copies of the successful deposition made to the Committee of Private Land Claims, and more bills of sale and contracts as more land was acquired to build what had become one of the biggest ranches in the San Joaquin valley. Now the contracts to move or buy or sell cattle or hides or tallow, and the land purchases that extended the Lancer boundaries, charted the rising wealth and prosperity of one of the new rancheros who ruled the old Mexican province. All these steps, some confident and brash, some faltering, had gone into the creation of a new state.

And the box was also the history of one man's life. The papers told of Murdoch Lancer's wives and sons; of gains and losses; of Mexican citizenship taken to allow him to buy the land (almost certainly with his rich wife's money, James thought; although that wasn't entirely clear from the papers, he felt that was a reasonable inference) and of the American citizenship granted by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that allowed him to keep it; of untimely death in childbed and legacies and marriage settlements, and the bills and written opinions from the Boston counsels (Harvard men, of course) who defeated him, rang rings around him, and kept the eldest son from him; of a New Orleans gambler thousands of miles from the Mississippi, wagering everything for love (or lust); and of elopement and abduction. And it told of failure, of countless reports saying No information. Whereabouts unknown. Search continues.

Sheffield knocked quietly and poked his head into the room. "The Lancers just came into town, sir. I saw them stop at the livery along the street." He paused and grimaced, looking far more nervous and excited than a legal man of his age and training had any right to look. "All of them, sir."

James rolled the last of the parchments and tied it carefully with thin, red bias-binding tape. Carrie made yards of the tape for him every year. A traditional colour, the red calico tape, but he'd never been sure of how appropriate it was. Red was the colour of passion and flame and life; and what of those hot emotions matched the dry precision of the law? The law went so far as to record them of course, dried and desiccated into marriage lines and divorce papers, and wills and deeds, but that was as far as it went.

He finished off the tape with a neat bow and put the parchment back into the deed box, not commenting on Sheffield's manner or words. "Show them straight in, please, Harold, when they get here. You had better stay to witness the signatures."

"Miss O'Brien's with Mister Lancer in the buggy, sir."

"A very nice young lady," conceded James. "But both very young and female, and debarred from witnessing the signatures on both counts. Send young Garcia out to greet them and escort them here, would you?" He smiled, also conceding that a lawyer's office was not entirely devoid of the softer emotions: Alfonso Garcia, the junior clerk, was suspected of being deeply smitten with Teresa O'Brien. "True love may motivate him to greatness for the rest of the day."

Sheffield's return smile was thin. "If he doesn't day-dream it away, sir. Excuse me for a moment, and I'll see it done."

James watched him go and turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. He had kept the three copies of the partnership deed out of the deed box; Murdoch Lancer would bring the original with him. Sheffield had drawn up the original with his usual careful, clear script and his eye for detail. Young Garcia had probably been the one to make the copies, but there was so little distinction between their trained calligraphy, the clear law hand that a man needed to spend years perfecting, that the untrained eye wouldn't be able to distinguish between them. Only the word Copy, carefully inked in red at the head of each duplicate, would tell which was which.

James had scanned them all, but knew he could rely upon Sheffield's conscientious and thorough sense of duty that ensured that nothing left either his desk or young Garcia's that wasn't perfect: the deed set out exactly what Murdoch Lancer had instructed it do and the copies were exact and accurate. Not for the first time, James wondered if he should have advised Murdoch Lancer differently. While the deed wasn't unprecedented, it was unusual and in any event, its essential principle—making sure that the Lancer sons inherited Lancer equally—had been the cornerstone of the father's will for the last twenty years. All that had changed was that one son had returned to Lancer from Boston and the other had finally been found. The new deed gave the sons equal shares with the elder Lancer now, with his third to be split between them in due course, Mr Randall, Murdoch Lancer had said, only the faintest hint of the Scotchman's burr left in his accent, in due course, and not for a few years yet; which was, James supposed, the man's dry humour indicating his refusal to die despite the bullet in his back.

On the whole, James's job—his duty—was to listen to what his clients wanted, advise them on what was permissible under state and federal law, and then do his damndest to get whatever it was for them provided that it wasn't actually illegal. He usually tried to keep personal opinion out of it, although there had been the rare occasion when even though something was legal, he had refused to act if he'd thought that what the client wanted was morally ambiguous at best and doubtful at worst.

Of course, the Lancer partnership deed didn't fall into this category at all. It was perfectly legal and couldn't possibly offend James's sense of morality. It clearly set out the terms of joint ownership of Lancer, with Murdoch Lancer as senior partner—calling the tune, was how Mr Lancer had phrased it when he'd asked for the deed to be drawn up.

Nothing at all to worry about, really. Except that the eldest son was a green Easterner and the other... . Well, James knew better than to believe every rumour he heard, but the sheer quantity of stories about the notorious gunfighter known along the border as Johnny Madrid meant that said rumours were a little hard to ignore.

James imagined that Scott Lancer would see his partnership in a cattle ranch as an amusing rustic diversion from the sophistication of Boston. It wouldn't be the monetary value of the ranch that drew him, because surely the man had money enough? From what Murdoch Lancer had let slip, the eldest boy was heir to his rich maternal grandfather as well as inheriting whatever his mother had left him; so, yes, James could conceive that the Boston gentleman might wish to play at Californian rancher for a while.

But James's imagination failed him when he tried to come to a conclusion about why Johnny Madrid would settle down to be a rancher, and even more important, whether and how the gunman would leave his previous profession behind. What a dangerous, infamous killer like Madrid might want at Lancer was enough to keep the respectable people of Green River and Morro Coyo... well, if not awake at night worrying, certainly enough to keep them gossiping and speculating. Johnny Madrid had been the biggest topic of conversation that James could remember in his entire time in the San Joaquin, even outdoing Day Pardee and Pardee's depredations against the local ranchers.

James discounted the reactions of the other nearby township. Spanish Wells was newly established, was what was euphemistically called an 'open town' and could plausibly be expected to clutch a gunman to its civic bosom. Indeed, given what was rumoured about many of the men living in or near or passing through Spanish Wells, a man who hired out his gun would probably pass as a model and upright citizen. Certainly Spanish Wells hadn't balked at the presence of Day Pardee's gang of land pirates in the area and was suspected of having given him covert – and not so covert – support. So far as James knew, at least Madrid wasn't actually an outlaw and wanted criminal, which certainly could not be said with any confidence of many of the denizens of Spanish Wells.

Something would have to be done about it all soon, he thought; they couldn't continue in this lawless way. Murdoch Lancer was agitating for the Cattleman's Association to appoint a lawman for Green River and build a jail, to leave them less dependent on more distant law enforcement bodies or on the old guardroom on Lancer itself, which was the closest they had to a jail in the entire county. James, as the Association's legal adviser, supported him fully. Day Pardee's reign of terror (thankfully based in the countryside around Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells, rather than Green River) had shown how foolish it was to rely on law as far away as Modesto or San Jose.

It would be progress indeed to get some law into the Valley. It would another step in the long campaign to tame the land, to subdue it and Americanise it; and any civilised man would welcome that. Law and order, peace and prosperity were what most people wanted for themselves and their families. Naturally they feared that having a gunfighter in the community threatened those hopes and dreams. After all, it was less than a month since the last gunfighter in the vicinity had been comprehensively defeated in his attempt to take the Lancer ranch, and Day Pardee hadn't exactly set a precedent that had left the townspeople with a soft spot in their hearts for a gunman.

Particularly, thought James, with a lively memory of some of Carrie's expressed opinions, the worthy Ladies Guild.

And if nothing else in this life worried deadly, dangerous Johnny Madrid, that should.

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Sheffield heralded his entry with a discreet knock, before ushering Murdoch Lancer through into the inner office. James rose to greet the rancher when he came in with his two sons and Teresa O'Brien.

"Mister Lancer, sir," said Sheffield.

James smiled and held out his hand. "Good day to you, Mister Lancer."

Murdoch Lancer didn't seem very different to the man he'd known ever since he'd moved to Green River and hung up his shingle—to use the local vernacular—by buying out Señor Carrasquillo's legal practice when the Señor retired: that is, the man was as tall and broad and solid as the San Bernito mountain on his ranch's southern border, iron-gray hair topping a strong face and cool grey-blue eyes. James was sorry to see that Mr Lancer still used a cane, although he thought that the Scot looked less grim and stooped and more like his old self than when he'd last seen him, the day Murdoch Lancer had commissioned the partnership deed. Mr Lancer was evidently recovering, and James was glad to see it. He wouldn't call Murdoch Lancer a friend, precisely, but he did respect him.

He glanced at Teresa O'Brien and briefly pressed her hand in greeting; she was, as he knew, Mr Lancer's ward (he'd made that guardianship tight and legal, for the girl's protection) and Murdoch Lancer had made more-than-generous provision for her in his will, but she was neither a key player in all of this nor of any great interest to James. She could be discounted for the main part of the meeting.

The sons, though, were the unknown quantities and inherently more interesting than either rancher or ward.

He shook hands with Scott Lancer first. The Bostonian was shorter than his father—but then, who wasn't?—but still a tall man. The dark blond hair was already sun-streaked, James saw, and there was a trace of sunburn over the strong cheekbones. It seemed Scott Lancer was already spending his days in the open air and looked none the worse for it. But despite the western clothes that he wore with a faint air of discomfort, Scott Lancer still had the unmistakable look and air of a Bostonian gentleman. James liked the look of the man; he had a strong grip, his expression was frank and open when he shook hands, and his clipped accent, so unlike the lazy drawl James had become accustomed to, brought back vivid memories of the East.

Madrid was smaller than either of them; an inch or two shorter than his brother, maybe, but a good head shorter than his father. He shook hands quickly. James had a sudden realisation that he was taking the hand that was so fast to draw the gun strapped low on Madrid's right hip, the hand that (to quote those ridiculously juvenile dime novels that he may have glanced through once or twice, waiting for Carrie in Mayor Higg's store; but truly, only once or twice) dealt out death. He didn't know what he thought about that and he devoutly hoped that he'd hidden his reaction, but the corner of Madrid's mouth turned up in what might have been an amused grin and he couldn't be certain he'd succeeded. He couldn't read Madrid's expression, either. He got a swift, appraising glance out of eyes that were a surprisingly bright blue in the darkly tanned face, and then the gunfighter's expression settled into a neutral, indecipherable mask.

Madrid stepped back until he was standing beside Miss O'Brien at one side of the room and watched proceedings from a slight distance. He had pushed back his hat to hang by its storm strings rather than follow his father's and brother's examples and remove it completely. With one hand he raised the leather cord to chew on it. The fingers of his right hand tapped out incessant patterns on the holster of his gun. In any other man this might have meant nervousness. With this one, James suspected it was more a relentless energy seeking release.

Sheffield took the deed that Murdoch Lancer removed from his bill-fold and smoothed it open. He quickly inscribed it with the date—signed this 3rd day of May, 1870—and handed it to James with a deferential smile, but his eyes flickered nervously towards Johnny Madrid.

"Gentlemen," said James, gathering their attention. He glanced at Teresa O'Brien, and nodded. "Miss O'Brien. I trust you've all read the partnership deed?"

"We've seen it," said Scott Lancer. He shared a glance with his half-brother, and his mouth twitched in a definite grin.

"It's a pretty short piece of paper," said Madrid. He had the expected drawl, but didn't have a Spanish accent, unlike many of those of Mexican-Spanish heritage who lived in California. James saw that Scott Lancer's grin broadened as if the two were sharing a private joke.

James looked from one to the other. "It's a simple deed, gentlemen. This document divides the current ownership of the Lancer ranch, buildings and livestock and all appurtenances pertaining to the property—" He caught the glance Madrid gave him, and added smoothly, "—that is, all the existing rights of access, water rights and so on—into three shares of equal financial and legal value. Mister Murdoch Lancer is named as senior partner. The other provisions ensure the smooth transfer of any one share to the remaining partners in case of death or abandonment of the property, although the latter will have to be proved in a court of law and forfeiture may not be assumed for a grace period of six months. And that's it. Quite simple."

"Uh-huh," said Johnny Madrid.

James ignored that sardonic comment. "I take that you're all ready to sign, and that you all accept the conditions set out in the deed?" He took the short silence for consent, and dipped the pen into the porcelain inkwell on his desk. He tapped the nib gently against the edge to shake off the excess ink.

Scott Lancer was closest.

"Just here," said James, indicating the space on the deed, the place for the middle signature. Sheffield had listed them in seniority by age, of course.

Scott Lancer bent over the desk and signed his name in swift, graceful strokes. He had a good hand, with a clarity that was almost as great as the lawhand with which Sheffield had written the deed. It was a good, strong signature; James nodded his approval. He pushed the deed towards Murdoch Lancer and offered the pen.

"Sign just above your name," he said.

Murdoch Lancer obeyed, his spiky, angular signature familiar to James from a dozen contracts over the last eight years. Mr Lancer didn't smile when he straightened up, the way his eldest son was smiling, as if slightly bemused by all this, the suddenness and the significance of it, but his usually stern mouth softened as if he were thinking about smiling but couldn't quite yet.

James looked across the room to where Johnny Madrid stood with Teresa O'Brien. "And you, sir?"

Madrid let the stormstrings drop, pushed away from the cupboard he'd been leaning against and took a step forward.

"Ah, Mister Randall, I should have told you," said Murdoch Lancer. He looked rather hard at Madrid as he spoke, and the bright blue gaze flickered at him. James was conscious of Scott Lancer's sharp intake of breath and the way the young man stiffened. "That last name—"

Madrid came to a halt and stood waiting, his gaze on his father. Beside James, Scott Lancer stirred, took a half-step, the tension in him obvious.

Murdoch Lancer swallowed visibly. "That last name should read 'John Madrid'."

Scott Lancer took another sharp breath and blew it out with a soft sigh, relaxing. Murdoch Lancer watched his youngest son.

"It won't take but a moment," said James, keeping his voice expressionless and deliberate. He pulled the deed towards himself and took up the pen to make the alteration, thinking that the source of the sudden tension was apparent enough.

"No," said Johnny Madrid. "Let it stand."

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James watched Johnny Lancer fold his copy of the deed carefully and tuck it into the inside breast pocket of the short bolero jacket he wore over an embroidered shirt. He wondered who Johnny Lancer would prove to be. He looked away when Murdoch Lancer spoke to him.

"Thank you, Mister Randall." Murdoch Lancer had finally smiled when his youngest son had bent over the deed and signed it with his legal name, and it seemed that the man couldn't yet quite clear the remnants of the smile from his face. He looked younger and less worn. He offered his hand.

James shook it heartily. "I'm pleased that we've been able to help," he said, and turned to take his leave of Scott Lancer. "I trust this is the first meeting of what will be a long and mutually beneficial relationship," he said.

"As one Easterner to another, I hope so, too," said Scott Lancer, smiling. "New York, I'd say from your accent, sir."

"Yes. Manhattan itself."

"I know it well," said Scott Lancer. He made a little gesture that seemed to gather up the whole of California before their eyes to better allow them to compare it with the Eastern states they knew. "It's so very different here. I'll be looking to you, sir, for tips to help me adjust."

"I know, of course, that you grew up in Boston." James allowed his smile to broaden a little. "A Harvard man, I'd guess."

"Yes," said Scott Lancer. "Although I didn't study law."

"That, sir, is an advantage rather than otherwise," said James. He turned to Ma… Johnny Lancer and offered his hand. "Mister Lancer," he said with a little nod.

Johnny Lancer looked, very briefly, surprised, but shook hands warmly enough. "Mister Randall," he said, with his own nod back. He added, with a glance at his brother, "That was as neat a piece of cutting and corralling as I've seen."

James raised an eyebrow enquiringly.

"Not bad for a lawhand," said Johnny Lancer.

"Johnny!" protested Scott Lancer, throwing an arm around the smaller man's shoulders. "It's not the same as a cowhand! I told you what law hand was."

Johnny Lancer's head ducked, but not before James had seen the young man smile, a brilliant smile that lit his entire face and made James wonder mightily about how it could be squared with the cold reputation he'd read about in those dime novels. The brothers grinned at each other and stepped back to allow Murdoch Lancer to leave first, Miss O'Brien's hand tucked under his arm.

Sheffield ushered them out with a bow and a polite farewell, escorting them out through the outer office. The door closed behind them, leaving James to walk to the window and raise the privacy blind a little, enough to let him watch the Lancer family cross Main Street to the Hotel on the other corner. Going to celebrate, he surmised. He wondered what Carrie and the Ladies Guild would make of a gunfighter with a sense of humour. He wondered, too, what Murdoch Lancer would make of it.

The next few months, he thought, would be interesting.

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That was twice in one morning that James had been reminded of New York and he was surprised at the mood the remembrances provoked in him. He hadn't expected that it would make him think about himself and what he'd achieved in his life.

He thought it was quite a lot.

He had frustrated a wastrel through the tight drafting of a will, he had witnessed the signing of a new partnership deed and he would have to mediate the supplies dispute later that week: all of these were small beer, things that a Harvard lawyer would probably disdain to handle. But through these small legal doings, every bit as much as his work on the early Californian legislature, he had contributed to the Americanisation of California; he had written a text that every aspiring Californian attorney (including the apprentice in his own office) was busily studying and précising and transcribing into a commonplace book; and he was respected across the state.

As far as professional pinnacles go, that more than satisfied him.

He smiled to himself, wondering what it was about spring that made him so reflective when really he should be thinking about the future and the promise that spring always brought of new life and renewal. It was the nature of the profession, perhaps, to graft the future onto the precedent of the past.

He returned to the desk and rolled the signed partnership paper, tying it with Carrie's red tape. He dropped it into the deed box that held both the history of a state and the future of a family within its enamelled-tin sides, and closed the lid.

January 2009