Word Count 7,550
Synopsis – This is a totally Johnny Madrid story which takes place before he ever goes back to Lancer.
“Tell me, have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman.
The dark stranger entered the small cantina slowly and strolled up to the bar. His eyes were coal black and empty. He was dressed entirely in black, even his spurs were painted black. He looked at the camerero with disgust. “I’m lookin for a half-breed name of Johnny Madrid,” he sneered.
The young man sitting at the corner table had been watching him since he came into the cantina. A flickering smile crossed his face as he heard the man’s words.
The camerero’s eyes darted around the room nervously. “Please, senor. No trouble here,” he begged.
“No trouble old man. Just tell me where I can find the kid.”
The young man stood up and sauntered to the bar, leaning against it and looking at the man.
“What do you want with Madrid ?” he asked so softly the man had to strain to hear him.
“That’s my business,” he spat.
“Reckon it’s mine too,” the young man said with an easy grin.
The dark stranger focused on the kid and looked him up and down. ” Madrid .” It was a statement more than a question.
Johnny nodded his head slightly.
“Well, well. How’d I get so lucky so easy?” the man sneered.
“Guess it’s just your day to die, mister,” Johnny drawled.
The man straightened himself and leered. “You gonna talk all day or you want to step outside?”
“Your dime, mister,” Johnny replied with a shrug.
The dark stranger turned and stalked out of the little cantina.
“Johnny, tenga cuidado que el hombre es malvado ,” the camerero warned.
” Usted le conoce , Pablo?” Johnny asked.
“No, puedo detectarlo ,” the old man said.
Johnny laughed softly at the superstitious man and slowly walked outside. He smiled as he noted the man had taken the end of the street with the least sunlight. As if that mattered.
Johnny strolled to his end of the street as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He stood sideways from the man for a minute, then turned only his head to face him.
“Mind if I ask you a question?” he said.
“Go ahead,” the dark man replied.
“Why?” Johnny asked.
The man looked at him strangely then grinned. Johnny thought the old bartender was right after all, that grin was as evil as diablo himself.
“Why not?” he answered.
Johnny smiled at this. “Why not, indeed,” he replied as he turned full on to face down the dark stranger.
It was a small town, much like all the other small border towns Johnny had been in. There wasn’t much life here. A few peons farming in the scratch dirt to feed their families. Nothing much ever happened here. The villagers minded their own business and that’s why Johnny liked the place. He didn’t like having gunplay here, it upset his amigos, still he knew they would understand and wouldn’t hold it against him. The town always welcomed him because they knew he would not steal from them or hurt them.
As he faced the dark man, he felt something very different. He was cold inside. A different kind of cold than he usually felt in a gunfight. This was not of his own doing. He tried to figure out what it was but then he shrugged it off and concentrated on the task at hand.
The stranger stood there watching him. “Are you waiting for something, Madrid ?” he asked.
“You called it, mister,” Johnny replied.
“So? What if I did? Don’t mean I draw first,” he sneered.
Johnny looked at him puzzled. “Mister, if you don’t want to do this, that’s fine with me. I’ll just go back and enjoy my drink,” he said, exasperated with this new game.
The man laughed, it was a bone chilling sound. “Johnny Madrid. Never draws first but always draws first blood. Ain’t that right, boy?”
Johnny stared at him with narrowed eyes, trying to figure this strange man out. Just then, a wagon came barreling around the corner behind the dark stranger and he jumped out of the way just in time. Johnny moved quickly to the side of the street and when the dust settled, the stranger was gone.
Johnny had an eerie feeling as the village became quiet again. He didn’t see who was driving the wagon or where it went for that matter. He searched the street for any sign of the stranger but could find none. Slowly, he walked back into the cantina. He didn’t like this, not at all. No one here even owned a wagon, not like that one. Where had it come from?
Johnny Madrid awoke drenched in sweat. He stared at the dark room, trying to get his bearings. Once he remembered where he was, he sat up on the side of the bed and sighed. He walked over to the little table and poured some water into the basin and washed his face. He couldn’t remember the dream but he was still shaken by it. He’d had nightmares before, many times. But he had always been able to remember them.
He suddenly felt a presence in the room and he stiffened. He turned slowly but could see nothing in the darkness. He walked to the bed and retrieved his gun, then he lit a lamp. The shadows fell away but there was no one there. He laughed at himself and figured he had let the old camerero’s superstitions get the better of him. Still, he could not shake the feeling that something very bad was about to happen. Something he might not be able to control. He stared out the window at the sleeping village and decided it was time to leave this place. Whatever was going to happen, he didn’t want his friends to be caught in the crossfire. He dressed quickly and headed for the livery.
He had just finished saddling his horse when he felt that same eerie coldness. He swung around but no one was there. He searched the small livery to make sure. Were his instincts abandoning him? The horse snorted and back stepped as Johnny mounted him and he knew for sure that something was wrong. He headed south out of town still unable to shake the feeling of doom.
Johnny arrived in Sonora a few hours later and headed straight for the livery and his old friend Hank.
“Johnny, hola amigo! How the hell are ya boy?” Hank Jefferson called out.
Johnny smiled and took the extended hand. “Hank, you old rattlesnake. How’s business?” he grinned.
“Oh, pretty fair. It’s good ta see ya, kid,” the older man said warmly.
He liked this one, there weren’t many gunfighters that came through Sonora worth a spit. But Johnny was different and Hank knew it. That boy had a heart of gold, though he’d deny it to anyone and back that up with his gun!
“How’re things around here?” Johnny asked.
Hank knew what he was really asking. “It’s been pretty quiet, Johnny. Matter of fact, it’s been too quiet. Kinda strange, really,” he said.
That feeling washed over Johnny again and he thought it might never leave him now. He only nodded his head and smiled at his friend. “Well, think I’ll get a room and some breakfast. You wanna join me?”
“No, I already ate. But I’ll catch up with ya later,” Hank replied.
Johnny headed to his favorite cantina and secured a room, then he ordered his breakfast and settled down at a table in the back of the room, facing the door. It was an old habit by now and one that had saved his hide more than a few times. Never turn your back to anyone or anything.
The place was empty at this time of the day, save for the perpetual town drunk. Johnny watched him as his nodded…nodded and finally went down for good. He smiled and shook his head. Why anyone would want to get that drunk and stay that way, he would never understand. Life was hard and it was painful and Johnny Madrid had had more than his share of pain. But he never even considered drowning his sorrows in a bottle. Still, he reckoned every man dealt with his own garbage in his own way.
He’d finished his breakfast and his second cup of coffee when the door swung open and a familiar figure stood in the sunlight.
“There you are!” the dark stranger exclaimed and grinned at him. “Thought you could run from me, boy?”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “Seems to me you’re the one who run off. A little wagon scare you that bad?” Johnny said with a crooked grin.
The man’s face fell blank and he stared at Johnny. Then he grinned once more and sat down at the table.
“I don’t remember asking you to join me, mister,” Johnny said with deadly calm.
“You didn’t, but I’m joining you none the less. We have some unfinished business.”
Johnny sighed. “Who are you anyway? You know my name but I don’t have any idea who you are?” he asked.
The man snorted and laughed a little. “Well, why don’t you just call me El Diablo,” he said.
“I don’t think I will,” Johnny said softly.
The man laughed loudly and shook his head, then he became serious. “You will, boy. Before it’s over, you will.”
“What do you want from me?” Johnny asked, aggravated by this man’s obnoxious demeanor.
“Not much, Madrid . Just your soul,” he said with an evil grin. He got up and walked out of the cantina without looking back.
Johnny stared at his back and felt that coldness inside him again. What the hell is going on here? He didn’t know but he was determined to find out. Did this man really think Johnny would believe he was the devil? He’s crazy! And crazy men are dangerous. Hank walked in just then and sat down with him.
“Hank, did you see that man that just left here?” Johnny asked.
“What man? I didn’t see nobody ,” Hank replied. He studied Johnny’s face. “Are you alright son? You look like ya seen a ghost.”
Johnny jerked his head up at his friend and laughed. He realized that no one else had been in the cantina when the stranger was there, even the bartender was nowhere to be seen. He’s playing games with me, trying to get me rattled. Well, it ain’t gonna work! I don’t rattle so easy.
Johnny realized the man was trying to get him off kilter, to make him unsure of himself or even scared so he’d have the upper hand. But why? Who was he and what did he really want?
Johnny spent the next few hours walking around Sonora , asking if anyone had seen the dark stranger. He got nowhere, no one had seen such a man. He had to be here somewhere. Johnny thought maybe he was camping out, keeping a low profile. He rode out into the countryside but could find no sign of the man. Johnny Madrid was an excellent tracker, if the signs were there, he would have found them. This made him even more uneasy and he had to admonish himself for letting this man get to him. It was getting dark and he decided he’d had enough.
He was headed back to town when he felt a sharp pain in his left shoulder. He fell to the ground, drawing his gun as he went. He scuttled to some nearby rocks for cover and searched the landscape. He couldn’t see anything. It was quiet, not a bird sang, not a breeze was felt, not even a cricket could be heard. He stayed there for half an hour, then he retrieved his horse and headed back to Sonora . When he got there, he went to the livery.
“There you are, boy. I was beginning to think you’d done left. What the ..” Hank said as he noticed the blood staining Johnny’s shirt.
He grabbed his friend and took him into the back room where he kept a cot. He examined the wound, and saw the bullet had gone clean through and felt relief. He tended his friend’s wound and bandaged him up without a word. Once he had finished his doctoring, he asked for the first time.
Johnny shook his head. “Ambush,” is all he said.
“You get a look at ‘ im ?”
“Nope. I didn’t see anything,” Johnny replied.
“Well, get some sleep. I’ll stand watch.”
“Thanks, Hank,” Johnny said and smiled gratefully at his friend.
He knew he was in good hands and he trusted this man. He drifted off to sleep but still uneasy in his mind.
When he awoke, Hank was still there watching over him. He smiled at the man.
“How ya feelin kid?” Hank asked.
Johnny sat up slowly and tested his left arm.
“Not too bad, just a little sore,” he said.
“Yeah, right. You’d say that if ya had a bullet in your head!” Hank said, admonishing his young friend’s cavalier attitude. He sure was hard headed.
Johnny laughed softly at his friend. “I’m ok, really. Thanks for your help,” he said with a smile.
“What’re ya gonna do?” Hank asked.
“About the ambush? Not much I can do, I didn’t see anything,” Johnny answered.
“Well, just be careful, Johnny. Evidently, somebody out there ain’t none too happy with you.”
“What else is new?” Johnny asked with a snort.
He returned to the cantina and sat at ‘his’ table. It was crowded now that the sun had gone down. Crowded and noisy. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother Johnny but tonight he wasn’t in the mood to watch a bunch of drunks make fools of themselves . He decided to go to his room for the night. He had business in Tucson and he needed to get going first thing in the morning. He had heard someone was looking to hire him.
That’s the way it happened. Someone would put out the word and when it reached Johnny he would either go or not. Since he didn’t have anything better to do, he decided to check this out. He fell asleep unable to shake the uneasy feeling the dark stranger had given him.
Two days later, he arrived in Tucson . After making sure his horse was taken care of, he headed for the biggest saloon in town. He had to make it known he was in town and ready to listen to this business proposition. It didn’t take long for the word to spread that Johnny Madrid had arrived. He was nursing a bottle of tequila when the rancher came into the saloon and saw him. He didn’t hesitate, he walked right over to the table.
“You Johnny Madrid?” he asked.
Johnny looked up slowly and took in the man. He was tall, gray haired and his face was tough as leather. He spent a lot of time outdoors and Johnny noticed the big calloused hands of a man who had worked hard all his life. He simply nodded and pushed a chair out with his foot. The man sat down and studied him. He seemed confused.
“Problem?” Johnny asked.
“No, I just thought you’d be older,” he answered.
Johnny smiled at this. “What’s on your mind, Mr—?”
“Kaplan, Harold Kaplan. Mr. Madrid , I have a problem,” he started.
“No kidding? I didn’t think this was a social call,” Johnny said a bit sarcastically.
“Yes, well. I, uh ..”
“Just tell me about it and Mr. Kaplan, I don’t like being lied to,” Johnny said, locking eyes with the man to drive home his point.
The rancher was very nervous and he didn’t like it, he wasn’t used to feeling this way. He had never backed down from any man.
“Right. The short of it is, there’s a range war brewing and it’s about to explode full out. This fella , O’Hara, he’s trying to take over the whole area. He’s tried to buy me out, then he tried to burn me out. It didn’t work, I’m not gonna be run off my own land. Look, I’m a fairly wealthy man and I can afford you, but I have to know if you can do this. I mean, just by yourself and all,” he finished.
“Before I can answer that I have to know a little more. Tell me about this O’Hara. Why is he so hellbent on taking the land? Why doesn’t he just buy some land?” Johnny asked.
“He has about a thousand acres now, but he’s a greedy cuss. He wants to control the whole area,” Kaplan explained.
Johnny nodded his head, he was thinking. “How many men does he have?”
Kaplan dropped his eyes, “About forty.” He looked back up quickly to see Johnny’s reaction.
There was none. He just kept nodding his head.
“And how many men do you have?”
“About thirty, but they’re ranch hands. O’Hara’s men are stone cold killers,” he said and then blushed a little realizing who he was talking to.
“Ok, let me think about it. I’ll have an answer for you tomorrow,” Johnny said and dismissed the man.
He stood up, unsure and walked out without another word. Johnny didn’t take a job on one man’s word. He liked to know for sure what the whole story was. He would ask around, and he knew who to ask, to find out if this man was telling him the truth. He seemed sincere, but Johnny trusted no one when it came to his livelihood and his life.
Johnny looked up a few ‘friends’ he knew would be straight with him. What he found out made him mad. Kaplan had told him the truth but not all of it. It seemed this O’Hara was just plain mean. He had hit all the smaller ranches in the area and run them out. He had been pretty successful with the larger ranches as well, except for Kaplan’s. Evidently, this was the last hold out. Johnny couldn’t stand bullies. That’s how he thought of this O’Hara.
The last person he talked to that day had a piece of more recent news. O’Hara had a new gun. A man nobody knew, who dressed completely in black. His spurs were even black. That feeling, that coldness deep inside came over him again and he had to fight against shuddering.
He returned to the saloon unsettled. Why was this man following him? He stood at the batwings of the saloon and took in the scene before him just like he always did before entering any room. He saw the dark stranger sitting with another man. Johnny headed for the opposite side of the room and took a table where he could see them both. ‘Must be O’Hara’, he thought. The stranger leaned over to his companion and pointed to Johnny. The man turned around and looked him up and down. Â Â Â Â Â
He came over and introduced himself.
“Mr. Madrid , I’m Charles O’Hara,” he said as he extended his hand.
Johnny looked at the hand, then at the man and didn’t move. O’Hara dropped his arm and stood there, his face red with anger.
“I’d like to make you an offer, Mr. Madrid . Would you care to listen?”
Johnny detected a slight Irish accent in the man’s voice. He said nothing but motioned to a chair. He kept an eye on the stranger as well.
“I’d like to hire you,” O’Hara said.
“For what?” Johnny asked softly.
“Well, I’m having a bit of trouble with another rancher. Seems he just doesn’t want to sell to me. I want that ranch and I intend to have it,” he explained.
‘Well at least he’s straightforward’, Johnny thought.
“Looks to me like you got all the help you need,” he said.
O’Hara turned and looked at his hired gun. “One can never have too much help,” he said with a grin.
“I don’t think so, Mr. O’Hara, but thanks for the offer,” Johnny said flatly.
“I pay very well,” he persisted.
Johnny sighed softly. “I said no,” he stated.
O’Hara was taken aback and he was angry. He stood up abruptly and stalked away. Johnny’s expression never changed. The stranger had to know he would not accept the job. He was getting his entertainment for the evening and also, sizing Johnny up.
They locked eyes across the room and the stranger smiled at him, the same evil grin as before. Johnny reciprocated with his most charming smile and the stranger’s face dropped.
Johnny came downstairs the next day in the late morning. He seldom was up early, gunfighter’s don’t work much in the mornings. He had his breakfast and waited for Kaplan to come in. He didn’t figure he’d have to wait long. The man was desperate.
Kaplan was there within the hour. He approached Johnny hesitantly and took the offered seat.
“I understand you had a visitor last night,” he said warily.
“Yep,” Johnny said.
“What’s your answer?” he asked.
“Mr. Kaplan, you didn’t give me the whole story yesterday, but you didn’t lie to me either. I don’t like people who think they can take what belongs to another man. I’ll take the job Â but we have to go over a few ground rules first.”
“Ground rules?” Kaplan asked suspiciously.
“Yes, ground rules. I work alone. I expect your men to do what I tell them and I expect you to accept that I know what I’m doing and not question me. I won’t ask you or your men to do anything that’ll get you killed, but I will need their help on a few things. That’s it, do you agree to the terms?” Johnny finished.
Kaplan thought it over quickly, he wasn’t a man who gave up control easily, still he didn’t think he had any other options. “I agree,” he said.
“Okay, now as for my fee. I’m not a greedy man. I can’t give you an exact figure until I know how long this is going to take, but I will tell you it won’t be more than a thousand dollars.”
Kaplan stared at him stunned. “A thousand dollars?”
“You want the best, you have to pay for it,” Johnny said.
Kaplan nodded his agreement. “Mr. Madrid , O’Hara has hired another gun.”
“I know and you can call me Johnny,” he said with a slight smile.
Kaplan couldn’t help but smile back. “Do you know anything about this man?” he asked.
“Not much. I’ve met him a couple of times. He thinks he’s the devil,” Johnny said with a grin.
Kaplan’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. Johnny laughed softly at this reaction.
“I said he thinks he’s the devil. Some men need to feel important, dangerous. If they can’t do it on their own, they come up with some scary name for themselves that’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of men. Don’t worry about it,” Johnny said amused.
He laughed again as he looked over Kaplan’s shoulder. “Speak of the devil,” he said.
The dark stranger stood in the doorway of the saloon watching Johnny. He strolled up to the bar and waited. When Kaplan left he approached the table.
“Well, Madrid . Looks like we’re on opposite sides,” he said grinning.
“Just like you planned,” Johnny said flatly.
He sat down and looked surprised. “Why, Johnny. How was I to know you’d be here?” he asked in mocked innocence.
Johnny smiled at him. “How indeed?” he answered.
The man laughed and it reminded Johnny of an injured animal’s cry. “This is going to be fun, Madrid . I can’t wait to see how you think you and a few ranch hands are going to defeat me,” he sneered.
“Defeat you? You sure do think a lot of yourself, don’t you? A man that cocky usually ends up in the ground,” Johnny drawled.
“Aren’t you sure of yourself, Madrid ?” he asked.
“As sure as I am of anything. I just don’t go around announcing it to anybody who’ll listen.”
“You should, Johnny. You should. Be proud of yourself, you’re one of the best,” he said with that ugly grin plastered on his face.
Johnny looked at him thoughtfully. “You know, you shouldn’t smile. It’s about the ugliest thing I ever did see,” he said.
The man laughed. “I do enjoy our little talks, Madrid . It’s going to be a sad day indeed when I kill you.” Â
Johnny grinned at him. “Aw, you gonna miss me? How sweet,” he said sarcastically.
The man stood and left still laughing. Johnny shook his head in disgust. He’d had a lot of men call him out but he had never had one that liked to play games with him.
Johnny rode out to the O’Hara ranch that evening to survey the enemy. He took mental note of everything of importance and starting planning his strategy. The next morning he arrived at the Kaplan ranch. He was greeted by the owner and invited in like an old friend. Kaplan had a son and a daughter, both were small children. His wife had died a year earlier. Kaplan tried to be cordial but the gunfighter wanted none of it.
“Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Mr. Kaplan, but this is a job. I don’t need to be a part of your family,” he said as gently as he could.
“I understand. I just don’t want you to think we don’t appreciate your being here,” Kaplan replied.
â€œAppreciate it when I’ve done something to earn it,” he said with a smile. “Now, I need to talk to your foreman.”
Kaplan sent for the foreman. He was about the same age as his employer and he was definitely seasoned. He was not happy about the gunfighter being there and he made no bones about it. Johnny appreciated a direct man. He didn’t like a lot of hemming and hawing, just give it him straight. However, this foreman was being pretty disagreeable and Johnny knew what he needed to do.
“Look, I didn’t come here out of the goodness of my heart. I was hired to do a job, same as you and I intend to do just that. Mr. Kaplan has assured me that his hands will do as I say. If that’s not gonna work, tell me now and I’ll leave,” Johnny said.
Kaplan looked at his foreman sternly.
“Fine. What do you want us to do. “
Johnny nodded. “The first thing we’re going to do is make life a living hell for our friend O’Hara.”
The foreman smiled, he liked that idea! Johnny laid out his plan and the foreman shook his head amazed. He even laughed.
“As long as we’re doing this, I guess you can call me Joe,” he said when they had finished.
“Ok, but is that your name?” Johnny asked and a grin spread across his face as they both laughed.
They finished their meeting and Johnny was relieved he’d won the man over. He had learned the hard way what could happen if everyone wasn’t working together and he had the scars to prove it.
They waited until after midnight to start the raid. Johnny led the ranch hands to the O’Hara ranch through the darkness as if he’d been there a hundred times. Joe was impressed with the young man’s stealth and grace. The hands could hardly contain themselves on the ride home but Johnny’s look quieted them quickly.
When O’Hara awoke the next morning, he got the surprise of his life. His foreman was waiting for him in the living room when he came in.
“Mr. O’Hara, you’re not gonna believe this,” he said apprehensively. “Somebody knocked all the cattle in the east pasture down last night,” he continued.
“What do you mean knocked them down?” O’Hara asked.
“Just that, Sir. They were all laying on their sides this mornin . The men are still trying to get em all standin again,” he said embarrassed.
O’Hara glared at him.
“Guess it was some kids havin a little fun,” the foreman offered.
The ranch hands at the Circle K laughed their way through the next days work. That night, they hit again. This time, O’Hara was to find his barn painted with a fresh coat of manure. Kaplan approached Johnny that day as he was sitting on the porch in a rocking chair he had requested specially.
“Johnny, I know you said you didn’t want to be questioned, but what good is all these pranks going to do? It’s like a child’s game,” he said.
Johnny smiled at him. “Exactly. It is a game,” was all he offered in response.
Kaplan sighed in exasperation and left him alone.
The two children were tearing around the yard playing when they spotted Johnny on the porch. They came running up to him.
“Ya wanna play mister?” the boy asked.
Johnny smiled at him.
“Think I’m a little old for playin those kind of games,” he said softly.
“Can I ask you a question?” the girl said.
“You just did,” Johnny said and she looked at him confused. He laughed. “What is it?”
She shrugged her little shoulders. “Well, if you work for my daddy, why are you just sitting here?” she asked innocently.
Johnny laughed again, he had an easy way with children. They seemed to respond to him. “Well, I do special work for your father. I do most of my work at night while you two are sleeping,” he said.
The little girl seemed to think hard on this answer, then she accepted it and crawled up in Johnny’s lap.
“Are you going to stay here long?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Johnny smiled at the pretty child. “You sure do ask a lot of questions, kid,” he said amused.
“Daddy says the only way to learn anything is to ask questions,” she said with a definitive nod of her head.
“Well, I guess that’s true enough,” Johnny said.
“Can we call you Johnny?” the boy asked.
“Sure you can, it’s my name.”
“That’s not proper, Billy. Daddy says we have to respect our elders,” she informed her brother.
“Aw, Molly, he said we could call him Johnny. It don’t count if he says it’s alright does it, Johnny?”
“That’s right. It doesn’t count if I say it’s ok. But only cause I said it was ok. Understand?” Both children nodded their understanding. “Alright you two, go play. I have some thinking to do,” he said as he eased Molly off his lap.
That night they made their third and final raid on the O’Hara ranch. Johnny knew they wouldn’t be able to get away with it much longer. This time however, he made sure O’Hara knew it was him. He left a calling card.
O’Hara came out of his house the next morning to find his foreman waiting for him, hat in hand and very embarrassed.
“What now?!” O’Hara huffed.
“Well, sir. It seems the wells have been…ruined.”
“How? Which wells?” he demanded.
“All of them, with manure .. and there was a note this time,” he said as he handed the paper to his boss.
‘This is to officially inform you that I am declining your offer for employment. JM.’, the note read.
O’Hara crumbled the paper in his hand and threw it on the ground. He stomped back into the house.
“What are you going to do about Madrid?! He’s ruining me!” he scowled at the dark stranger.
The man glared at him and stood slowly.
“I know you’re not talking to me. I don’t babysit cows, Mr. O’Hara. If you can’t keep an eye on your own land, that’s your problem. My job is to get rid of Madrid and Kaplan and I will do that in my own way and my own time,” he hissed.
O’Hara’s face reddened, partly in anger and partly in humiliation. “Just get it done,” he mumbled and stalked out.
“What’s on for tonight?” Joe asked.
“Nothing. We can’t risk another raid. They’ll be ready for us for sure now. You’ve done all you can, the rest is up to me,” Johnny said.
“I want to help. Mr. Kaplan’s a good man. I don’t want to see him or his family hurt. I’m willing to do anything you need me to, Johnny,” the older man said.
Johnny smiled appreciatively at the man. “I know. I’ll let you know if I need you,” he said softly.
Johnny headed for town. It was time to face the dark stranger again and he knew the man would be waiting for him.
He sat in the saloon and waited patiently. The dark stranger strolled in and headed straight for him. Johnny looked up and smiled.
“You’ve been a very busy boy, Madrid,” he said as he sat down.
“You know, I think I’ll call you George. You look like a George to me,” Johnny said.
The man leered at him. “I told you my name,” he hissed.
“Oh right. El Diablo,” Johnny said and laughed softly. “Nope, I don’t like it. I like George,” he taunted.
“Our time is near to hand, Madrid. You keep right on messing with O’Hara. Makes me no difference,” he said changing the subject.
“Oh I’m done with O’Hara…for now. It’s your turn,” Johnny said, his eyes cold as death.
The man smiled sickly. “When I’m ready, Madrid,” he said.
“What if I said I’m ready now and I’m going to put a bullet right between your eyes,” Johnny said in the same deadly voice.
He kept smiling. “That would be a trick, since I’m going to get up and walk out of here right now. Hard to put a bullet between a man’s eyes when his back’s to you.”
Johnny shrugged. “Not really,” he said.
The man glared at him. Johnny saw his anger for the first time and it pleased him to know he had gotten to the man. He stood and walked away.
“See ya later, George,” Johnny called.
He hesitated a second but didn’t turn around, then kept walking.
When Johnny returned to the Circle K, he knew immediately something was wrong. It was too quiet at the ranch. He walked into the house and found Kaplan and Joe in the living room. Molly was crying and holding onto her father.
“What happened?” Johnny asked.
Kaplan’s face was white. “I never thought he’d go this far. I just can’t believe even O’Hara would do such a thing,” he said, his voice quivering.
“Do what?” Johnny demanded.
“He took Billy,” Joe said. “There’s a note for you,” he continued and gave the note to Johnny.
He read it and dropped his head.
“It’s not O’Hara,” he said quietly.
Kaplan stared at him. “Then who?” he asked.
“His hired gun,” Johnny said simply. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I’ll get Billy back, Mr. Kaplan. I promise,” he said as he headed to the door.
“Johnny! What are you going to do?” Joe asked.
“What the note says.”
“He’ll cut you down before you know what hit you,” Joe said.
“Maybe, but I don’t really have a choice now, do I?â€ Johnny said. The sadness in his face was unmistakable.
“I’m going with you,” Joe said.
“No! This is my fight. It always has been,” Johnny said as he walked out.
Joe stared after him, he didn’t understand what Johnny meant.
The shack was just that, a shack. Johnny had long since dismounted and was moving through the trees silently. He saw the shack and he saw Billy, tied to a tree. He shook his head and tried to control his anger. He needed to keep a level head.
“Come on in, Madrid ,” the man called. “Billy here has been waiting for his hero to rescue him,” he said with an evil laugh.
Johnny walked out of the trees to face the stranger. He was standing next to Billy, his gun trained on the boy’s head.
“Nice, real nice,” Johnny said.
“Whatever it takes, Madrid .”
“All you had to do was call me out. This wasn’t necessary,” Johnny said.
“Maybe not, but it’s so much more fun. Don’t you think? Billy here, he’s having a lot of fun aren’t ya, boy?” he said and jabbed the gun into the boy’s head.
Johnny started but the man stopped him.
“Not yet, Madrid ,” he hissed.
“What do you want?!” Johnny yelled.
“I told you that the first day we met,” he said.
Johnny sighed and shook his head. “Fine. Let the boy go and we’ll get on with it,” he said, resigned.
“Oh, no we have to have a witness. Someone must be left to tell the story. That’s how legends are made, Johnny. Someone has to tell the story,” he explained.
“He’s just a boy,” Johnny said.
“So were you when you started. Not much older than this in fact. Isn’t that right?” he leered.
“That was different!” Johnny said through gritted teeth.
“Not so much. He’s got to learn how this world works sometime. You did and look at you. The great Johnny Madrid. Fastest gun in the west or south for that matter. Right, Johnny?”
Johnny said nothing.
“You see, boy. Johnny here doesn’t like to brag on himself. No sir, he’s a real gentleman. He’s just too kind for his own good. Right now, he cares more about you than he does himself. Right now, Billy boy, he’d die for you. Yessir , he surely would. Why, you ask? Well, now that is the question. Why is that Johnny?”
“Let him go” Johnny hissed each word.
“You haven’t answered the question. Why would you die for this kid you barely know? That’s alright. I’ll answer for you. You see Billy, Johnny had a very hard life. Oh yes it’s true. His mother was a tramp and her boyfriends, well they weren’t very nice to our Johnny. He had to grow up all alone, oh yes. His mother went and died on him and he had to manage all by himself. Now look at him. I said look at him! He’s the infamous Johnny Madrid! The killer with a soft heart. You know what’s going to happen to our Johnny, Billy boy? He’s going out in a blaze of glory, that’s right. No little fizzle for him, no sir.”
Johnny glared at him with more hate than he thought he could ever feel. Then, in a flicker of a second, his face changed. His eyes went cold and his expression nonexistent.
“You see that, Billy? Did you see that? That was something! See how he changed right in front of us? He’s turned himself off. He can’t feel anything now. Johnny has a unique gift, Billy. He can make himself inhuman in a second. That’s how he survives, you see. If you don’t feel anything, then nothing can hurt you. Isn’t that right, Johnny?”
“I’ve had enough of this, George,” Johnny whispered.
“Don’t call me that!” the man yelled.
Johnny smiled. “What’s the matter George? Can’t take it? My aren’t we sensitive George! Listen, George, let’s just get this over with. If you win, you get the perks, if I win, I get Billy. Sound fair, George?” Johnny said with a crooked grin that was not reflected in his eyes.
The man straightened himself and seemed to have forgotten about the boy. His eyes were on fire and Johnny could swear he felt the heat from them. He kept smiling, never taking his eyes off the man.
They stood there for what seemed like forever, staring each other down. The stranger was getting his temper under control, he was not done with Madrid yet.
“They say we’re born with sin, you believe that Madrid ?”
“Well, if it’s true, then it’s the only thing I never had to steal or win,” he replied.
The man smiled at him and laughed softly. “You were born of the devil, Johnny. You are the devil’s son. Do you pray, Johnny? Do you ever pray for your soul?”
Johnny smiled at him. “First of all, I’m no one’s son. Second, I don’t reckon there’s much point in prayin for that. I don’t have one,” he said.
“Oh but you do, Johnny Madrid, you do. That’s what I’ve been telling you. You have one because you have a conscience. Tell me something else. Have you ever loved or been loved? Mommy don’t count,” he sneered.
Johnny sighed, he was tired of this. He wasn’t about to delve into his life with this psycho.
“Let’s get this done, George,” he said softly.
The man smiled at him. “Whatever happens here today, Johnny Madrid, it’s not over for you. It will never be over for you,” he said and Johnny looked at him, puzzled.
He drew without a blink and Johnny put a bullet in his chest. He fell back against Billy, who screamed, breaking Johnny’s concentration. He ran over and took the man’s gun, then pulled him away from the boy. He was dead. Johnny untied Billy and hugged him.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“I’m ok, Johnny. Can we go home now?” the boy sniffled.
“Sure,” Johnny smiled at him and they found his horse.
Johnny was worried about what Billy had seen. On the way home, he decided to see how much the boy had understood.
“Hey, kiddo. I want to ask you something. How do you feel about what just happened?”
“I was scared. That man was so mean. I don’t understand what you were talking about, but…is it true, what he said about you?”
Johnny stiffened but decided he wouldn’t lie to the boy. “Some of it was true, Billy. I’ve had a hard life. But you don’t ever have to worry about that. You have your family and they love you. Never forget that and never take it for granted,” Johnny said barely above a whisper.
“I won’t,” Billy promised.
Billy ran into his father’s open arms as soon as Johnny let him gently down from the horse.
“Thank you, Johnny. God bless you,” Kaplan said as he took his family inside.
Johnny started to mount again when Joe stopped him.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I still have a job to do, Joe. I’m going to see O’Hara. Think I’ll put the fear of God in him,” he said with a grin, then added in a whisper, “or the devil.”
Johnny Madrid rode right up to the front door of O’Hara’s ranch house and strode in without knocking.
“What the devil are you doing here?!” O’Hara exclaimed.
Johnny laughed. “Exactly,” he said.
O’Hara gawked at him, not understanding. Johnny walked over to stand directly in front of the man and stared into his eyes.
“You sure can pick em , O’Hara. That gunhawk of yours kidnapped Billy Kaplan.”
O’Hara’s eyes widened.
“No, I didn’t think you knew about that. The boy’s alright. He’s back home now and your hired gun is dead. This is over O’Hara, do you understand me? You WILL leave the Kaplan’s alone. You WILL NOT bother anybody else in this territory again. Because if you do, I’ll be coming for you and it’ll be a hell of a lot more than a little dung for you to deal with. Understand?” Johnny hissed at the man and his face was grim and set.
O’Hara could only nod his understanding. Johnny turned on his heel and marched out of the house leaving O’Hara frozen in place with fear. He returned to the Kaplan ranch to make sure the boy was alright.
“I put him to bed. He was exhausted,” Kaplan told him.
“I’ll be leaving now. O’Hara won’t bother you anymore. If by some miracle he loses his senses, send word to me and I’ll deal with him. By the way, he didn’t have anything to do with taking Billy,” Johnny said as he turned to leave.
“Wait a minute. I haven’t paid you,” Kaplan said.
Johnny turned to the man. “Mr. Kaplan, Billy was taken because of me. It had nothing to do with your range war. I can’t accept payment when I put your son in harm’s way,” he explained.
“My entire family was already in harm’s way when you came here, Johnny. I insist on paying you, please. You did a good job, you deserve this,” he said as he pressed an envelope into Johnny’s hand. “The full fee. I can’t ever thank you enough for what you’ve done for us,” he said.
Johnny hung his head and nodded, then turned and walked out.
“Will we see you again?” Joe asked as he was saddling up.
“Probably not, but you never know,” Johnny replied.
“Take care of yourself, Johnny. You’ll always be welcome here. Where are you headed?” he asked.
“I don’t know where I’m going, only God knows where I’ve been,” he said with a laugh.
Joe looked up at him sadly. “Don’t you have any family, Johnny?” he asked.
Johnny shook his head. “Nope. Don’t worry about me, Joe. I do just fine. See ya,” he said and kneed the horse into a gallop.
“Sure you do,” Joe mumbled as he watched the young gunfighter ride away.
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