Word Count 4,000
“Where’s Johnny?” Scott Lancer asked his father as he came into the great room. He’d been moving the herd to the south pasture all day and he was tired and dirty.
“He’s not back yet,” Murdoch replied.
“How long does it take to clear out one little creek bed?” Scott asked, a little exasperated. Johnny was supposed to help him when he finished with the undergrowth at the creek bed.
Murdoch smiled at his son. “Maybe it turned out to be a bigger job than he thought,” he shrugged.
His sons had been home for a year now and Murdoch had finally come to trust his youngest. It had not been easy for either of them but Johnny had proven himself time and again and Murdoch allowed himself to hope that the gunfighter had come to think of Lancer as home. There was a knock at the door and Scott went to answer.
“May I help you?” he asked the young man standing in front of him. He was blond, about Johnny’s height and looked like he’d been on the trail for weeks.
He held his hat in his hands and looked a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I was lookin for a friend of mine. I was told I’d find him here.”
“What’s his name?” Scott asked amiably.
Scott immediately stiffened, ready to defend his brother from another man hungry to test Johnny’s reputation. He looked suspiciously at the young man before him but he really didn’t think the kid was after Johnny’s reputation, something told him this one was not like the others.
“My brother isn’t home yet, but he should be along anytime. Would you like to come in and wait?”
The boy looked at him in surprise. “Your brother?” Â
“Yes, Johnny is my brother. Do you want to come in?” Scott repeated.
“Sure, I guess so,” the kid shrugged.
Scott showed him into the living room. “This is our father, Murdoch Lancer. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Scott said as he introduced them.
“Clint. Clint Weston.”
“Mr. Weston says he’s a friend of Johnny’s.”
“Oh? How long have you known my son?” Murdoch asked.
“Oh, couple, three years now, I reckon,” Clint answered. He was very uncomfortable. He had assumed Johnny was working for this rancher as a hired gun. He was stunned to find out this was Johnny’s family. A family Johnny had never mentioned to him.
“I see,” Murdoch said.
“Well, won’t you have a seat? Johnny shouldn’t be much longer,” Scott said, always the gentleman.
They sat in awkward silence and Clint was beginning to think he was wrong about this.
“Look, mister, maybe I made a mistake here. I’m lookin for Johnny Madrid.”
“Yes, I heard you the first time. There’s no mistake,” Scott assured him.
Johnny sauntered into the house, tired and dirty and a little more than disgusted with how long it had taken him to get the job done. He was sure Scott was going to let him have it. He walked into the living room and started to apologize to his brother when he eyed their guest.
“Clint?” he said surprised.
Clint stood up and greeted him. “Hey, Johnny. Long time.”
“Yeah, sure has been,” Johnny said, then smiled and walked over to shake hands with his old friend. “How’ve ya been?” he asked.
Scott and Murdoch were watching this exchange; neither of them could see any hint that Johnny was unhappy to see this young man.
“What’s the matter?” Johnny asked when he saw the strange look on his friend’s face.
“Sorry, Johnny. I’m just a little surprised is all. I expected ya to be workin here but I had no idea,” he said.
Johnny nodded his understanding. “Yeah, well a lot has changed.”
“Sure has,” Clint answered. “Look, Johnny, I need to talk to you, alone.”
“Sure. Let’s take a walk,” Johnny said. He was feeling a little wary at his friend’s behavior. They walked out into the yard and strolled around the outside of the house.
Clint shook his head in awe. “This all yours?” Â
“Well, one third of it,” Johnny smiled.
“I don’t get it, Johnny. How’d this all happen?”
Johnny explained the last year of his life to his friend, the shortened version anyway. Clint was astounded.
“I didn’t even know you had a father,” he said.
“Yeah well, I knew about him. I just…well that’s another story. What did you want to talk to me about?” he asked, not wanting to get into the details of his mother’s deception.
“I need your help. I’m in some trouble,” Clint said.
Johnny put his hand on his friend’s shoulder for support. “Tell me about it.”
Clint sat down on a bench nearby and slumped his shoulders. “Well, the short of it is this. I ran into some trouble in Nogales and these fellas are pretty mad at me. They been doggin me since I crossed the border.”
Johnny eyed his friend closely.
“I think I lost em in the mountains but I ain’t sure,” Clint continued.
“What are they after you for, Clint?”
“I killed their brother. It was a fair fight, Johnny. He was cheatin at cards and I called him on it. He drew and well, I had to kill him.”
Johnny sighed at hearing the all too familiar story of vengeance, right or wrong.
“Look, I wouldn’t trouble you with this except there’s three of ‘ em and, well I heard you were around here. I thought if I had some backup, I could just get it taken care of,” Clint said.
Johnny nodded his understanding. He was thinking how he would explain this to his father. He could just imagine Murdoch’s reaction.
“Ok, Clint. We’ll figure it out,” he said and smiled at his friend. “In the meantime, you’ll stay here,” he added with finality and Clint knew that tone. Johnny had made up his mind and that was that.
After supper, Johnny showed Clint to a bedroom and his friend decided he would just turn in. It was obvious to Johnny the boy was exhausted. He returned to the living room and the questioning faces of his family.
“Well?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny poured himself a glass of tequila and sat on the couch, stretching his legs out in front of him. “Well, he’s my friend and he’s in trouble,” he said softly.
“What kind of trouble?” Scott asked.
Johnny relayed the story Clint had told him. No one spoke for long minutes.
“How well do you know this man?” Murdoch finally asked.
“Pretty well, Murdoch. He’s a good kid. He’s honest. I don’t think he’d lie to me. “
“What are you going to do?” Scott asked.
“I don’t know, Boston . I’d like to avoid any trouble but, from what Clint’s told me, it doesn’t look too good.”
“Maybe he did lose them in the mountains,” Scott suggested hopefully.
“Maybe,” Johnny whispered.
“Son, I don’t want to sound unsympathetic, but this isn’t your fight,” Murdoch said gently.
Johnny knew what his father was saying. A few months ago it might have angered him but he knew Murdoch was only concerned for him. “He’s my friend, Murdoch. I can’t just let him be gunned down for something that wasn’t his fault.”
Murdoch sighed. “Well, he’ll stay here for a few days. Maybe Scott’s right. Maybe he lost them.”
“I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed,” Scott announced.
They bade him goodnight. Johnny wasn’t tired anymore, he was worried.
“Tell me about this young man, Johnny. Where did you meet him?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny smiled at the thought of the kid. That’s what he had called him for a long time. Kid. He was a kid when Johnny met him, he was only sixteen. Johnny had only been a year older than him, but he was much older in mind if not in body.
“I met him in Sonora playin poker. We just seemed to get along right off. I liked him. He’s got this….I don’t know…innocence? about him. I guess I kinda wanted to protect him. He rode with me for over a year, then we parted ways. I don’t really even remember why now.”
He laughed softly and continued. “He was always talkin bout being a gunfighter like it was glamorous or something. I tried to tell him just how great it was, but he wouldn’t listen. He kept talking about being famous and being in those dime novels.” He finished with a deep sadness on his face now.
Murdoch came over to sit next to him and put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “What did you tell him? About that life, I mean.”
Johnny shrugged. “Guess I tried to show him more than tell him. But every time I got in a fight, he just thought it was great. There was more than once I just wanted to wring his neck!”
Murdoch smiled at his son. “You know, Johnny, for a long time I thought you really loved that life.”
Johnny stared at him in utter disbelief. “Why?”
“Well, it seemed like you wanted to go back to it a time or two.”
Johnny shook his head. “There was a time I guess when all I ever wanted to be was Johnny Madrid. Now, it just seems like a waste. I’ve seen so many men die for that life. I don’t even understand now why I thought it was so great.”
“Maybe you didn’t. Maybe it was just all you knew,” Murdoch said.
It had been three days since Clint showed up at their door and there had been no sign of trouble. Johnny put him to work on the ranch. He hoped the kid would like it and maybe decide to change his life. They talked a great deal in those days. Johnny told him some things he would never have otherwise but he was trying hard to make the kid see the light.
He told Clint about his childhood, to an extent, and how his mother’s death had left him alone and how he had turned to the gun for lack of any other options. He explained why he hadn’t sought out his father and what had happened when they finally did meet. He made sure Clint understood how hard it had been for Johnny to change his life but that it was possible. The boy seemed to be listening and Johnny hoped he understood.
On the third day, they were just finishing up a repair on a portion of fence line when Johnny decided it was time to see if his words had made a difference.
“Let’s sit down for a minute, Clint. I want to ask you something.”
They sat in the shade of a tree and shared a canteen. “I’ve been talkin my head off the past few days. I want to know what you think of everything I’ve told you,” he said.
Clint looked off into the distance and was silent for a while. “Johnny, I’m happy for you. You sure did luck out. Wish I had an old man like that. Truth is, I ain’t got nobody .”
“You have me,” Johnny said softly.
Clint smiled. ” You been a good friend to me, Johnny. You always have been and I appreciate it.”
“You could have a good life here, Clint, with us. You could build something if you’d just put down some roots.”
“I don’t know. I mean, you had all this to work for. I ain’t got nothin . Bein a ranchhand …I don’t know,” Clint said with defeat in his voice.
Johnny shook his head sadly. “It’s a good life. It’s honest work. Give it a chance. Stay here and if you feel like it’s not for you, then I’ll help you all I can.”
“It sure is beautiful here. Maybe I’ll hang around for awhile. Ya never know, right?” he smiled.
Johnny grabbed him around the neck and gave him a shake. “Nope, you just never know, Clint,” he laughed.
Â * Â Â Â
Scott knocked gently on Johnny’s bedroom door and opened it. “Hi, can I come in?” Â
“Sure, Boston . What’s up?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Clint. Johnny, I get the feeling that you feel some obligation to this boy and I just have to wonder why. I mean, I know he’s your friend but it just seems like more than that.”
Johnny nodded and motioned his brother to sit next to him on the bed. “I guess it is more than friendship, Scott. He’s just so young.”
“He’s not that much younger than you,” Scott reminded him.
Johnny laughed softly. “Yeah he is. In his head I mean. He’s just a kid who never had anything or anyone. His folks died when he was real young and he grew up in an orphanage.”
Scott understood now why Johnny was so drawn to this boy. “So, what you’re saying is, he reminds you of yourself and you want to save him because no one ever tried to save you.”
Johnny hung his head and nodded. He knew if anybody could understand, it was Scott . He felt his brother’s hand on his shoulder and smiled. “You’re pretty smart, Boston . Guess that college education wasn’t wasted.”
“I just wish they had courses on being a brother,” Scott said with a smile.
“Why? You don’t need any learnin in that area. You do just fine. Hey, maybe I need a lesson on being a younger brother,” Johnny teased.
“No, you don’t. I guess we both do just fine.”
“For being the big brother I always wanted,” Johnny answered.
Scott stared at his brother and felt a little embarrassed at the compliment. “Well, somebody had to come along to keep you in line.”
As always, whenever one of them felt things were getting a little to sensitive, they would start teasing to cover. But they both also knew exactly how the other felt.
No words were ever needed to express the love they had for each other. They started wrestling and ended up on the floor.
Clint was walking past when he heard a commotion coming from Johnny’s room. He threw the door open wide, gun drawn to protect his friend. Johnny and Scott stopped wrestling and stared at the kid holding a gun on them then, they started howling. Clint laughed at the sight and felt a deep gratefulness that his good friend was so happy. Â
The man walked out of the saloon and over to the livery where the others were waiting for him. “Barkeep says a kid was in a week ago looking for Madrid . Then he got real nervous and said he didn’t know no Johnny Madrid,” he said with a sneer.
“Somebody round here must be willin to talk. Unless Madrid ‘s got ‘ em all too scared,” the middle man said.
“Come on, let’s ask around,” the older one said.
They watched the ranch for two days. Noting all the comings and goings and figuring out who was who. They had recognized the kid right off, and Madrid .
” What’ya think , Ben? I mean we’re talking about Johnny Madrid. If he’s protectin ‘ the kid, this ain’t gonna be easy.”
“I don’t care who he is. That boy killed our brother and he’s gonna pay! If Madrid gets in the way, he’ll pay for it too!” Ben spat.
“How we gonna do this?” the middle one asked.
“Straight out. We’re gonna ride right in there and call the kid out. If his friend wants to get in the way, I’m sure the three of us can take ‘ em .”
The other two weren’t so sure. They knew Madrid ‘s reputation and they knew he had earned it.
Johnny headed out to the barn to saddle Barranca when he saw the three men riding in. He knew instinctively who they were and he sighed. He headed back to the house.
“Clint, stay inside. No matter what happens, stay inside,” he instructed.
Clint looked at him questioningly then understood. “No, Johnny. This is my fight and I want you to stay out of it.”
Johnny stared at him. ” There’s three of them, Clint.”
“No. We’re gonna talk to them and see if we can get this settled peaceably,” Johnny said.
Murdoch and Scott checked their sidearms and it didn’t escape Johnny’s notice.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” he asked.
“We’re backing you up. I don’t want to hear anything else about it, Johnny. The subject is closed!” Murdoch stated.
Johnny knew what that meant and there was no point in arguing with his father. “Alright, but stay out of sight. If they see all of us out there, it’s gonna be a bloodbath.”
“Well, guess it’s time to be famous, right?” Clint said with a grin.
“You think this is funny? It isn’t! You just let me do the talkin , Clint. If you don’t, I’ll shoot you myself!”
The two of them walked out into the yard as the three men were dismounting. Johnny strode up and with a smile asked, “Can I help you?”
The oldest man looked him up and down. “Yep. You can stay out of the way Madrid ,” he said bluntly. “You know why we’re here. Thought you could hide, kid? Forget it. It’s time to pay for what you did.” He spat the words like venom.
“Just a minute, Mister. What exactly is it the kid was supposed to have done?” Johnny drawled softly.
“He killed our brother!” he yelled.
“Way I heard it, your brother was cheatin at cards. Sounds to me like he needed killin ‘,” Johnny said with the same soft drawl. He allowed a faint grin to curl the corner of his mouth.
Scott and Murdoch were listening from just inside the French doors and both groaned audibly.
The older man was livid. “Madrid, this ain’t your fight but if you keep talkin like that, it will be!”
Johnny kept his eyes locked on the older man. He had already figured this was the one he would take. The other two stayed back and seemed very nervous.
“Is that what happened? Your brother was cheatin ?” he persisted, ignoring the threat.
The older man fumed but was speechless for a minute. “Don’t matter what happened!”
“Now wait a minute,” Johnny said, his face very serious. “Are you telling me that a man doesn’t have the right to protect himself when he’s drawn on if the man drawing on him is your brother? Now that just don’t seem right to me. No, that’s not right at all. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I feel right charitable today. If you ride out of here right now and forget about all this nonsense, I might…just might now…let you live.”
The look on his face was no longer amiable. There was no smile now. Only cold dark death was reflected from Johnny Madrid’s eyes and even his family shuddered a little at
the icy words. The other two men stepped forward and took hold of their brother’s arm.
“Come on, Ben. It ain’t worth the three of us dyin for,” the youngest one said.
Ben faltered a moment, seemingly unsure of himself. Johnny saw this and had a glint of hope that they would just leave. Then he saw the change. The man was not going to go and Johnny readied himself. Â Ben reached for his gun, it was the last thing he would ever do as Johnny dropped him like a sack of flour. He turned on the other two.
“You want to leave a legacy?” he asked coldly.
They both raised their hands in defeat and picked their brother up, laying him across the saddle of his horse.
“I trust we won’t be seeing you two in this valley ever again,” Johnny said.
They only shook their heads and rode out fast.
“Boy, Johnny! That was somethin !” Clint said with a smile big as Texas on his face.
Johnny turned on him. “Haven’t you learned anything here?! Do you have any idea what that took away from me?!” The pain in his eyes could not be missed. Scott and Murdoch were by his side by now. Johnny could only shake his head and walk away from the kid.
“What’s with him?” Clint asked, stunned.
Scott walked over to him. “It’s a hard thing to kill a man, Clint. Once it’s done, it can never be taken back, whether he deserved it or not and it cost Johnny more than you’ll ever know,” he said gently, trying to make the boy understand.
He didn’t think he had gotten through to him, though. The look on the kid’s face told Scott he didn’t understand the concept of a man’s soul.
Johnny sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee that he only stared at.
Scott came to his side and sat down. “You okay?”
Johnny shook his head. “All that time, all that talk and he still doesn’t understand. What else can I do, Scott?”
The misery in his eyes was killing Scott. “You’ve done all you can, Johnny. If he doesn’t understand…well, some people are just a lost cause.” Â
Johnny looked at his brother with a deep sadness. “That could’ve been me,” he whispered.
Scott suddenly felt cold as he took in his brother’s words.
“Johnny?” Clint called as he entered the kitchen.
Scott got up and left without another word.
“What did it take from you?” Clint asked.
“What?” Johnny asked, perplexed.
“You asked me if I knew what it took away from you.”
Johnny sighed. “Forget it, kid.”
“I don’t want to, I want to know,” Clint persisted.
“Look, killing a man ain’t easy, no matter what you think.”
“I know. It surprised me how bad I felt after I killed their brother,” Clint confessed. “I just don’t get it though, Johnny. I mean you of all people, it shouldn’t bother you. You’ve killed a passle of men. It was your livin .”
Johnny grimaced and felt his stomach turn. ” Dyin ain’t much of a livin .”
“But you didn’t die.”
“Yes, I did. Every time I kill a man, another piece of me dies. Do you ever think about your soul, Clint? Do you even know you have one? You keep goin like this and you’ll lose it sure as the world. Maybe then you’ll know what I’m talking about.” Â
Clint locked eyes with Johnny for a long moment. He thought he saw something very sad there. A pain he had never seen before. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I guess I’ll be goin now. I don’t want to cause you anymore trouble.”
“Where are you going?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe someplace where I can find some peace.”
Johnny smiled at this. “Maybe you’re not a lost cause after all.”
“You’re sure about this?” Johnny asked Clint as he saddled his horse to leave.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“You don’t have to go. You can stay here you know.”
“I’m grateful to ya, Johnny. For everything you did and tried to do for me. But I think I’ve given you enough problems. It’s best if I find someplace else to put down those roots you were talkin about. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn a little somethin about my own soul,” Clint smiled.
Johnny smiled back at his young friend. “Keep in touch. I want to know how you’re doing.”
“I will, soon as I learn how ta write,” he said with a grin and kneed the horse into a gallop. He waved back as he rode away.
“Think he’s got a chance?” Johnny asked his father as they watched the boy ride away.
“If he listened to half of what you told him, then, yes, I think he has a chance,” Murdoch replied as he put his arm around his son. They walked back into the house together and Murdoch Lancer felt more pride in his youngest son than he ever thought was possible.
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