El Paso by Winj

Word Count 5,110


Johnny Madrid rode into El Paso at a canter. He was hot, tired, hungry and dirty. He had just crossed the border ahead of the federalies who had been hot on his trail for two days nonstop and he was in a foul mood. He deposited his horse at the livery and headed for the barber shop. “Howdy, what can I do fer ya?” the little balding man asked with a friendly smile.

Johnny didn’t return it, he wasn’t in the mood. “A bath and a shave,” he clipped.

“Looks like ya could use a hair cut ta boot,” the man commented.

Johnny looked past him to the mirror and back to the little man. “Guess so,” he replied. He sank into the tub of hot water and let his muscles relax as the man lathered and shaved him.

“Looks like ya been ridin hard,” he commented.

“Yeah,” was Johnny’s only reply.

“Where ya from?” he kept on.

“Look mister, I ain’t in the mood for a chat,” Johnny said harshly.

“Sorry mister. Just tryin ta be friendly,” the little man replied. Johnny said nothing more and closed his eyes, feeling every stroke of the blade the man held to his face and neck. “Well, why don’t ya just soak fer a while and I’ll give ya that hair cut when ya come out,” the man suggested as he finished the shave.

“Thanks,” Johnny sighed then added, “Look I’m sorry I’m just not in a very good mood right now.”

“No kiddin. Don’t worry about it mister. I’ve had worse come in here,” he said as he left the room.

Johnny sat in the tub for a half hour before he figured he’d be water logged if he didn’t move. He dressed and came out to the barber shop and plopped in the chair.

“Well, feel better?” the little man asked.

“Yeah, much,” Johnny said and offered a small smile.

“How short ya want it?”

“Not too short,” Johnny said, narrowing his eyes at the man who smiled and nodded his understanding. “Not bad, not bad at all. How much?” Johnny commented.

“Two bits.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, if’n I was in this fer the money, I’d a quit a long time ago. ‘Sides, I know who ya are,” the barber said.

“So? What difference does it make who I am? How much do you charge?” Johnny asked again.

The barber looked at him seriously. “Mr. Madrid, you helped out a friend of mine once and I ain’t never forgot that. Two bits,” he said firmly.

Johnny sighed and handed the man his money and thanked him. “Where can I get a decent meal?” he asked.

“Well, let me see. If’n your wantin Mexican food, the cantina just down the street’s the best but if your wantin a good steak, the hotel’s got a nice restaurant,” he replied. Johnny nodded his head and walked into the streets of El Paso. The cantina sounded pretty good and he was about to starve to death so he headed to it.

He opened the door and pushed it all the way back, scanning the dark interior quickly. It was pretty empty so he made his way to the back and sat down. A very pretty girl came out to wait on him and he smiled. ‘I gotta thank that barber’ he thought. He ordered and asked her to hurry or she might just bring the food back to a skeleton. She smiled at him and he wondered just exactly what her job duties entailed. Once he had eaten, he started feeling human again but he was still mad as hell. The federalies had given him a run for his money and it really pissed him off. He wasn’t planning on crossing the border at that particular time but he reckoned it didn’t matter much, he wasn’t doing anything anyhow.

“Can I get you anything else, senor?” the girl asked, breaking into his thoughts.

He smiled and considered her for a minute. “How about some company?” he asked.

The smile left her face and she got angry. “That is not my job!” she huffed.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Johnny said a little embarrassed for her.

“There are girls at the gringo saloon if you are interested,” she said.

“Not really. I just wanted to talk,” he said.

She looked at him, trying to decide if he was telling her the truth. She sat down with him and smiled. “Well, since we are not busy, I can talk with you if you like, but only talk,” she warned.

Johnny laughed softly. “What’s your name?” he asked.


“I’m Johnny.”

“I know who you are, senor,” she replied simply.

He nodded his head. “That’s a pretty name,” he said.


They sat and talked for awhile mostly about her, since he wasn’t in the habit of talking about himself. He liked her but he figured it didn’t matter, he never stayed anywhere long enough to get to know a woman. He thanked her for her time and got up to leave. “Where are you staying?” she asked.

“Don’t know yet. Any suggestions?” he asked.

“Mia tia has a boarding house at the end of the street. It is very nice and she is a good cook,” she answered.

“Thanks, I’ll try it and thanks again for your time,” he said with a smile.

“Denada,” she answered and went to the back room.

He walked down the street looking for the boarding house. ‘Well, I’m clean and fed now all I need is a little sleep’ he thought. Maria’s boarding house was a big white clapboard structure with a garden in front and a white picket fence. Johnny thought it looked very out of place in this town but it also looked very welcoming. He noticed the vacant sign and knocked on the door. The woman answered the door and he stared at her, dumbfounded.

“May I help you, senor?” she was asking.

Johnny pulled himself together to answer her question. “Uh, yeah. Isabella said you had rooms,” he said in a haze.

“Si, come in, please. Are you alright?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, you just look like someone I use to know,” he said, embarrassed.

“Oh, who?” she asked.

Johnny cleared his throat and smiled a little. “My mother,” he answered.

She smiled at him and showed him a room. “Breakfast is included in the price of the room and is served between six and eight o’clock,” she instructed.

“Thanks but I don’t usually eat breakfast,” he said.

“Oh? I am sure your mother would not approve of that,” she said maternally.

“I reckon not but she’s dead so it don’t matter,” he said sadly. She looked at him, sympathy in her eyes and smiled.


It was a nice clean room and he thought he would have to thank Isabella. He couldn’t believe how much this woman looked like his mother, even had the same name. Of course, it was a common name, still it had thrown him to look into the eyes of this woman. He decided he wouldn’t stay here very long. He sure didn’t need to be reminded of the past. He removed his gunbelt and hung it on the bedpost, then flopped down on the bed and relaxed. Boy, this feels good! That was his last thought as he entered blissful sleep. Johnny awoke the next day to sunlight streaming in through the open window. The lace curtains billowed softly on the breeze. He felt a hundred times better and wondered idly what time it was. He got up and prepared himself to be seen in public then he went downstairs to find the kitchen. Maria and Isabella sat at the table with a bowl of greenbeans between them, preparing for the evening meal.

“Buenos dias,” Johnny said as he peeked around the corner.

“Buenos dias, senor. I was beginning to think you would sleep the whole day away,” Maria said with a smile. “Sit, I will get you some coffee,” she said as she rose.

“Gracias, senora,” he smiled and nodded his head at the young lady. “I owe you a thanks too, Isabella. I haven’t slept that good in a long time,” he said sincerely.

“You are most welcome, senor. Though it was purely selfish. I was only trying to bring business to my tia,” she explained.

He smiled at her and thought once again how much he liked her. “You work here too?” he asked.

“No, I only help out sometimes,” she answered.

He smiled at the woman as she sat a steaming cup of coffee in front of him.

“Would you like something to eat?” she asked.

“No, I don’t want to put you out. I’m not hungry anyway,” he said.

“Not hungry? I have never met a man who was not hungry for something, senor,” she stated. Johnny stole a glance at Isabella and thought he actually blushed a little. He downed his coffee and begged off as quickly as he could.

He walked out on the front porch and spied a rocking chair. ‘Perfect’, he thought as he eased himself down. Isabella came out and handed him a plate. “What’s this?” he asked.

“My tia said to feed you. She must like you, she does not break her rules about meals,” she said with a grin.

Johnny accepted the sandwich and she handed him a glass of milk with a suspicious look. “Yes, I like milk,” he answered the unspoken question. She sat with him and this pleased him immensely.

“You missed all the excitement from what I hear,” she said after a moment.

“What excitement was that?”

“In the gringo saloon last night. Black Jack Slade killed a man in a fight over a card game,” she explained.

Johnny chuckled. “Black Jack’s always killin somebody over somethin,” he said.

“You know him?” she asked.

“Not well, but our paths have crossed a time or two,” he said simply.

“Why do you do it?” she asked.

Johnny looked at her confused and shook his head slowly.

“Why are you a gunfighter?” she clarified.

He looked closely at her and didn’t answer for a long time. “Why do you care?” he finally asked.

“I don’t, I was just curious,” she answered briskly.

“And do you ask all the gunfighters you meet that question?” he teased.

“No,” she said, blushing now.

Johnny reached out and stroked her cheek and she turned to look at him. “Why do you care?” he asked again, softly.

She looked into his eyes then turned away. “I must go to work now,” she said and walked off quickly.

He watched her leave and smiled to himself. ‘Maybe I will hang around for awhile’, he thought.


Johnny strolled around El Paso that afternoon. He had spent little time here, it was a pretty rough place and he didn’t need to cross the border to find that. He wished he had though, thinking about Isabella. She was beautiful. He found himself in front of the cantina and decided it was time to eat, whether he was hungry or not. He went in and sat at the same table. She saw him from the back room and smiled despite herself. The place was busier tonight and he frowned, having hoped he’d have a chance to talk to her again. An older man came to wait on him and this did not improve his mood. He ordered tequila and sat back waiting to see her. He did see her but she was avoiding him which only peaked his interest in her. He knew she was interested in him, too, so the cold shoulder didn’t bother him. She was playing a game he had played many times before. He watched her all night as she flitted deftly about the tables serving her customers. He suddenly realized why she always referred to it as the gringo saloon, there sure weren’t any in here.

The cantina emptied slowly and it was well into the night before he was the only one left. She spied him from the back room and decided she would approach him. “Have you nothing better to do than sit here all night, senor?” she asked.

“I guess not,” he answered with a smile more brilliant than anything she had ever seen. She sucked in her breath and he looked quizzically at her, pretending not to understand the problem. “Are you done for the night, senorita?” he asked.

“I am.”

“May I walk you home?” he asked. She pretended to consider the offer, then waiting what she thought was an appropriate amount of time, she nodded her head. He escorted her out the door and waited for her to show the way. “You were avoiding me tonight,” he said.

“I was doing no such thing, senor. As you saw, I was very busy. Why would I worry about avoiding you?” she asked.

“Because you want me to think you’re not interested when you really are,” he stated matter-of-factly.

She stopped and turned to look at him, indignant by his bluntness. “I have no time for such silly games, senor. Perhaps if you are looking for such things…”

“I know, I know, I can go to the gringo saloon,” he finished for her, laughing. She turned on her heel and walked away at a brisk pace. He followed her of course. “Where do you live?” he asked.

“I do not believe I wish you to walk me home now. Goodnight,” she huffed. Johnny kept stride with her, grinning at her game.

They reached her door and she stopped, turning to face him. “Thank you, goodnight,” she said and turned away.

“Just a minute, Isabella,” he said as he took her arm and turned her back to him. He looked deeply into her eyes and she was unable to look away. He kissed her softly once, then again and took a step back. “Goodnight,” he smiled and walked away, whistling.

She smiled and watched him until he was out of sight then she sighed as she remembered the feeling his kiss brought to her. She opened the door to find her father standing there waiting. “Who was that?” he asked.

“Just a friend papa,” she answered whimsically.

“Hmm, and what is this friend’s name?” he asked.


“Johnny what?” he demanded.

“Oh papa, it’s late and I’m tired. Goodnight,” she said and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, hurrying to her room to avoid his interrogation.


He showed up at her door the next day at noon with a surrey and a picnic basket. She was no longer playing games as she accepted his offer readily. He smiled at the change, the game was cute but it could become tiresome in a very short time. She directed him to a shady place outside of town and they sat under a tree talking.

“Are you ever going to answer my question?” she asked after a period of silence.

“What question?” he asked.

“Why did you become a gunfighter?”

“Why do you want to know that?”

“Because, you are not like those others. You are nice,” she replied.

Johnny laughed softly. “Maybe I’m only nice with pretty girls,” he teased.

“So you will not answer,” she said.

Johnny’s face turned serious as he stood up and turned his back to her. “It’s a long story,” he said softly.

“I have time,” she said just as softly.

He felt her hand on his back and turned to meet her dark eyes. “I can think of better things to do than talk about that, or anything else,” he said as he kissed her. She responded to his kiss and he decided to go for broke. She stopped him only long enough to find a more secluded place.


Madrid stayed in El Paso another week before he knew it was time for him to leave. He had business in Mexico and it couldn’t wait any longer. He took Isabella for a ride to tell her. “Why, Johnny?” she asked, her eyes pleading.

“I’m sorry, miel. I made a promise to these people,” he explained.

“But they do not care about you. They only want your gun,” she countered.

“Maybe, but I don’t break my promises,” he said softly.

“Will you come back to me?” she asked.

His eyes darkened and he swallowed hard. “If there’s any way, I will. I promise,” he said huskily.

“And you do not break your promises,” she said with a small smile. “I will wait for you, Johnny. I will wait forever, mi amor,” she whispered as she laid her head against his chest.

He could feel his heart pounding and knew she could as well. “Ti amo, Isabella. I will come back to you if there’s anyway. I swear it,” he whispered. They spent that last night together making love and promises to each other. He had never felt like this before and he knew it was real. He’d had the gnawing feeling that this would be his last fight, that he would not survive this time. It hadn’t bothered him until now. He considered not going, staying with her but he had promised his services and he couldn’t let the villagers down. They were fighting for their very lives and he knew it. He also knew he would never see her again and it was breaking his heart.


Ten months later:

“Hey, Jelly! Do me a favor and mail this letter for me,” Johnny called as he raced to the wagon.

“Sure, Johnny. A letter, huh? Must be important. Didn’t know ya could write!” Jelly teased.

Johnny smiled at him. “Yeah, it’s important Jelly, very important,” he said turning serious.

Jelly’s smile left. “I’d say so. You can count on me,” he said as he flipped the reins and pulled away.

Johnny watched him go and felt the anticipation swell. He prayed she had waited, though he had braced himself for the very real possibility that she hadn’t. He wouldn’t blame her, it had been almost a year. He considered telling his family but he wanted to be sure of what would happen first. If she was no longer interested, it wouldn’t matter. But if she agreed to come to him, well that was a whole other story! He had already figured out how to tell Murdoch and Scott about her. How he had never forgotten her or his promise. He loved her still and knew he always would. It had taken him this long to decide that his life was going to be better, that he was staying at Lancer and he wanted more than anything to share it all with her.


“Uh, Miss Maria? This letter came today and Mr. Halloran said I should bring it to ya,” the boy stammered as he entered the back door of the boarding house. “It’s addressed to Miss Isabella,” he explained.

“Oh!” Maria gasped and her hand went to her heart. She thanked the boy and gave him a nickel. She stared at the letter, particularly the return address and her heart broke all over again. She cried freely, then pulled herself together to read what she already knew the letter contained. When she finished, the tears were streaming down her face. ‘Oh Johnny, how am I to tell you’ she thought. She sat down, determined to answer the letter promptly. She didn’t want him to have to wait any longer than necessary.


“Letter for ya, Johnny,” the stage master said as he handed him the envelope.

Johnny smiled at the return address and stuck the letter in his shirt pocket. He wasn’t interested in that beer anymore and he headed home at a gallop. He raced to his room, answering the calls of welcome from his father and brother with a dismissive wave of the hand. He ripped the envelope open and settled on the bed.

‘Dearest Johnny, I am so sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. My poor boy. I can only just say it, there is no other way. Isabella is dead.’

He stopped reading as his heart stopped beating for a second. He stared into space, shock adorning his face. There was more written and he knew he had to read it, know what had happened to her, but it took long moments to wrap his mind around these first few sentences. Finally, he continued.

‘She died two months ago. She was giving birth and something went terribly wrong. No one knows for sure what happened. Her last words to me were begging me to tell you that she loved you and that she had waited and that she was so sorry. The child did not survive either. It was a boy. I knew you would send for her, miel. I am sorry it could not have been sooner, but I know you must have had a good reason. I know you loved her deeply, as deeply as she loved you and your child. Please let me know if I can help you in any way. I am so sorry. Maria.’

Tears streamed down his face and he felt an unfamiliar aching in his chest. He sat there for hours staring at the letter, unable to move.


“Johnny, supper’s ready,” Scott said as he barged into the room. He saw his brother sitting in the bed, not moving, barely breathing, holding a crumpled up paper in his hand. “Johnny? What is it, boy?” Scott asked as he moved to his brother’s side.

“Johnny!” he said again, taking hold of his brother and shaking him. Johnny blinked and came out of his catatonia. He looked at his brother with tear soaked eyes and fell into Scott’s arms. Scott held him for a long time, letting him cry out whatever it was that was breaking his brother’s heart. Johnny finally pulled himself together enough to let go and he pulled away. “Can you tell me about it?” Scott asked gently.

Johnny only handed him the letter. Scott Lancer, like his brother, did not break down easily. But when he read the letter, he couldn’t stop the tears of heartache for his brother’s loss. “God, I’m so sorry, Johnny,” he choked out. He pulled his brother to him again, seeing the pain starting fresh all over.

“I didn’t know. If I’d known I would have never left her,” he whispered.

“Of course you wouldn’t. I know that. She probably didn’t know herself until after you left,” Scott said.

“No, she would have told me. She begged me to stay with her, Scott, she begged me,” he cried. “I loved her so much. Why did I leave her? For what! A stupid revolution that was doomed before it started!” he groaned.

“It was right before you came here,” Scott said, realizing why Johnny hadn’t gone back to her.

He only nodded his head. “I wanted to make sure I was staying before I sent for her. I wanted to make sure I could give her a good life. She said she would wait for me and she did.” Scott held on tighter to his little brother, not knowing how to comfort the inconsolable loss he was feeling.

“Are you two coming to..” Murdoch stopped at he witnessed the scene before him.


“I don’t think we’ll be coming down for supper,” Scott said.

“What happened?” Murdoch asked, concern covering his face.

“Do you want me to?” Scott asked. Johnny nodded his head, but he couldn’t look at his father or brother. Scott handed Murdoch the letter and just nodded at it. Painful memories flooded Murdoch Lancer as he read the devastating news. ‘The sins of the father’, he thought ruefully. He sat next to his sons and gripped Johnny’s shoulder.

“I’m so sorry son. I know how heartbreaking this is for you. You must have loved her very much,” he said gently. Johnny nodded. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to lose someone. I wish I could tell you it would be alright. That the pain would go away. All I can tell you is that it will ease in time, though I know that doesn’t help right now,” he continued. Johnny looked up at his father with the realization that Murdoch knew what he was going through. Even though Scott hadn’t die, he had still lost him for so many years.

“How did you do it?” he asked.

“Oh, Johnny. I just went through the motions for a long time. Day after day until one day I realized that I had actually thought about something else for a minute. It fades with time son, but it never completely leaves you,” he explained.

“I didn’t know about the baby. I would never have left her, I shouldn’t have..” he started, he wanted his father to understand that he hadn’t abandoned her.

“I know that son. You’re not the kind of man to leave a woman like that,” Murdoch reassured.

“If I had stayed…”

“Johnny, we all know from our experiences with each other that ‘should haves’ and ‘if onlys’ don’t help. They only make you sadder. They only tear at your heart, son. We can’t change the past, we can only accept it and try to learn something from it.”

Johnny knew his father was right. The words were of no comfort right now, but in time when he thought back on them, they would give him some solace.

“You would have loved her. She was so beautiful, inside and out,” he said after a time.

“Why didn’t you tell us about her?” Scott asked.

“I was waiting for her answer. I wasn’t sure she would wait. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she hadn’t. I wanted to tell you,” he replied.

Scott smiled understandingly at his brother. “So she was as beautiful as her name,” he said.

Johnny smiled for the first time. “Yeah,” he whispered.

“Can you tell us how you met? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked that,” Scott said, realizing it wasn’t the appropriate time.

“No, it’s okay. I met her in El Paso. She worked at a cantina,” he started, then he laughed. “She made it clear to me she was not that kind of girl. I stayed at her aunt’s boarding house. She was something to see. I liked her right away, her smile was…” he stopped here. “Maybe later, Scott.”

“Sure brother. Anytime you want.” Scott said softly, berating himself for his poor timing.

“Johnny, don’t keep this inside forever, son. When you’re ready, we’ll listen. We want to know about her. Just don’t make the same mistake I did by keeping it all locked up inside,” Murdoch said.

“All I can say is, she must have been spectacular to capture your heart, brother,” Scott smiled and hugged him again.


It took a long time, two months, before Johnny was able to talk about Isabella. He wanted his family to know her so badly. They would have loved her, been proud of him for finding such a treasure. He approached Scott in the barn one day. “Hey, Boston,” he smiled.

“Johnny,” Scott nodded.

“I uh … I thought maybe, well if you’re not busy, we could uh…”

“Come on up to my room. We’ll talk,” Scott smiled and grabbed him around the shoulders. They settled in on Scott’s bed and Johnny felt nervous for some reason.

“Whenever you’re ready, take your time,” Scott said.

Johnny smiled at him, he never knew he could love another man this much. “I told you I met her at a cantina. I liked her right off but I didn’t think it would go anywhere. I wasn’t planning on stayin there. I wasn’t even planning on bein there at all. We talked that night and she told me about the boarding house. It was a sight better than any hotel. Her tia, her aunt, ran the place. She was real nice, too. She reminded me of my mother, actually. Anyway, she came there to help out sometimes and we talked again. She was playin with me like she wasn’t interested,” he smiled again at her game.

“But you knew different,” Scott intervened.

“Yeah, I could tell,” Johnny laughed softly. “I walked her home that night from work. The next day I took her on a picnic and that was about all it took. We spent every day together for a week. I never knew how quick a person could fall in love. She was incredible, so sweet, so understanding. She was … everything. It killed me to leave her. I promised her, Scott. I promised her if there was any way that I would come back to her,” he said. The pain was almost too much.

“But there wasn’t any way, Johnny. You had to leave Mexico and you came here. I guess at that time you didn’t figure on staying,” Scott offered.

“No, I sure wasn’t.” Johnny smiled. “I thought I’d come here and listen to the old man, then light out for El Paso. But it didn’t happen that way. The longer I stayed here the more I thought how perfect it would be to have her with me. Here at Lancer, where I could give her a good life.”

“I would have done the same thing, Johnny. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference you know,” Scott said.


“If you had sent for her sooner. Whatever happened to her, it would have happened anywhere. You were right to wait until you were sure. There’s no way you could have known, Johnny. No way at all,” Scott said, knowing his brother would blame himself for her death as well as his son’s.

“I don’t know, Scott. Maybe you’re right. But I could have gone to her. That’s the thing, I could have been with her and our child. Even if it was only for a week or a day…” he trailed off.

Scott hugged his brother to him. “Somethings have no answers. That’s the hardest thing in the world to accept. We always want to know the why of things but sometimes we don’t get to know. We just have to find a way to deal with that,” Scott said softly.

“Yeah, like why my mother lied to me. I’ll never get that one. I’m still having trouble with it. I know you’re right. But, how do you deal with?” Johnny asked.

“One day at a time, little brother. One day at a time,” Scott said.


Comments:  We don’t have this author’s current email address. If you leave a comment below, if she reconnects with the fandom, then she will see how much her work is appreciated.

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