Word count: 3,314
An agitated Johnny Madrid walked into the great room at Lancer where he found his father and brother discussing a proposed land purchase near Green River. The tall rancher straightened at the sight of the shorter man. “What’s the matter, Johnny? You look like a polecat was after you.”
“Somethin’ like that. I shot a kid.”
Both Lancers started at the dark-haired man’s statement. “You did what? What the hell have you gotten yourself into this time, Johnny?”
“Now, just wait a minute, Murdoch. It wasn’t my fault. It was a mistake.”
“Johnny, why don’t you sit down and tell us what happened.” The gunfighter looked over at his brother with gratitude. At least, his brother did not immediately condemn him.
“I was in the saloon havin’ a beer when some of the cowhands from the Twisted J rode into town. I guess they just got paid and they were firin’ off their guns and makin’ a ruckus. I tried to ignore ’em until I heard this scream from outside. One of ’em must have already had a few drinks ’cause he was botherin’ this pretty girl so I went over and told him to move on. One of his friends grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into the saloon so I thought that was it.”
Murdoch, who had taken his place at his desk like the stern schoolmaster, inquired, “Was the girl hurt?”
“No, no, just scared. I told her I’d walk her home since some of the men from the Twisted J were still roamin’ the street. That took me about thirty minutes.”
“To walk her home?”
“Well, Scott, if you must know, I stayed for tea.”
“Her aunt insisted that I should stay for tea. Is that all right with you?”
“I have nothing against tea,” the blond informed him.
“Anyway, just as I headed towards the livery stable to pick up Barranca to head home, a shot whizzed past my ear. Lookin’ up I spotted the sun glintin’ off metal so I. . .I fired back.” The other two Lancers sat there waiting for him to continue. “Anyway, I heard this yell so I knew I got him. That’s when everything got crazy. I tried to get into the building to grab the shooter, but I was attacked by this little woman yelling and hitting at me. She was one of them foreigners from China or Japan or one of them countries. ‘Course I couldn’t understand her so I just kept goin’ up the stairs. When I got up there, I found this kid lyin’ on the floor of the room. He was aholdin’ his right shoulder which was bleedin’ and in his hand was one of them skinny musical instruments. It was real shiny, except for the blood on it. He just looked at me with these huge dark eyes.”
“You mean it was the glint off the instrument that you saw?”
Johnny nodded. “His pa told me he liked to play out on the balcony.”
Murdoch Lancer sat there for a moment. “So, you don’t know who really fired at you?”
“No, Sir. His pa didn’t speak much English, but I tried to explain what happened. He’s the new laundryman in Spanish Wells. We got the boy to the doctor. I think he’s gonna be all right.”
“Well, that’s good, but I’m worried about the fact that someone took a potshot at you. I think Scott should ride into town and find out what he can.”
The blond immediately jumped up. “I’ll get my horse.”
“I’ll go with you, Boston.”
“No, you will not, John. If someone wants to kill you then you’ll be much safer here.”
“But. . . .”
“No arguments. Scott can handle this. Scott, be sure to talk to Val.”
“I will. Don’t worry, Johnny, I’ll find out all I can.”
“Thanks, Boston. Uh, I have a feeling it mighta been one of the yahoos from the Twisted J–shootin’ off his gun.”
“Maybe but we’re not going to take chances. You’re staying here, Son.”
“All right, all right but I can ride out and do some fencin’, can’t I?”
The tall rancher smiled, “Why, John, you know I would never turn down an offer from you to do fencing!”
The dark-haired son walked out to the courtyard with his brother. “Thanks for going into town, Scott.”
“No problem. I’ll see if Val knows anything about this and do what I can.”
“Yeah, he wasn’t too happy with me when he came over to the doctor’s office. I told him it was an accident, but you know how he is about his town.”
“Right. I’ll be back in a few hours. Have fun with the fencing.”
Johnny Madrid watched as his brother rode out under the great gate in the direction of Spanish Wells. **Yeah, Brother, you just go take care of things in Spanish Wells. I’m going to go talk to certain people at the Twisted J. I’ll just bet that I can really take care of things! Nobody shoots at Johnny Madrid and gets away with it.”
The ride to the Twisted J took some time as he had to cover quite a bit of Lancer property. The Twisted J belonged to Thomas Johnson who had come west after the War to make his fortune. Riding up to the ranch house, Johnny was surprised to see many of the hands over at the corral. He had assumed that they had stayed in town to spend their earnings. Walking confidently over to the corral, he was immediately accosted by the man who had been bothering the young lady in Spanish Wells. “What are you doing here, Madrid? This ain’t Lancer.”
The bantam stood directly in the face of the burly George Flint. “Someone took a shot at me in town and I just wondered if it might have been one of you–cowhands.” Johnny spit out the word with distaste.
Flint laughed. “If I’d a been shootin’ at you, you’d be dead. I didn’t leave the saloon until we came back here–if it’s any of your business.”
“And I suppose all of these lily-pure cowpokes will testify to that?”
“You got that right, Madrid. Now why don’t you just hightail it back to your pa at Lancer? You may have been some fancy gunfighter down Mexico way, but around here you’re just your pa’s spawn.”
Sapphire eyes glinted with anger. For an instant he wanted to draw his gun and shove it down the man’s throat, but he knew that would be stupid. More than ever he was convinced that Flint had shot at him and now, he had to find a way to prove it.
Johnny Lancer had ridden about a half-mile when he heard a voice shouting at him in the distance. Pulling up the palomino, the dark-haired man turned to see a rider at full gallop, obviously trying to catch up to him. From the distance Johnny could not make out the identity of the man except for a shock of red hair. As he drew closer, the man’s features became familiar–Jed Blair, a wrangler that Johnny had met on a trip south of Lancer. Murdoch had sent his younger son to the Bar X to pick up a prize bull which Johnny had escorted home with some trepidation.
Blair finally pulled even with Johnny’s mount, his own horse snorting flecks of foam from his flaring nostrils.
“Jed, what are you adoin’ up this way?”
“I left the Bar X to work for Mr. Johnson. I saw you at the corral with Flint, but I didn’t want him to know that I knew you. He is one mean hombre.”
“Yeah, he smells too.”
Jed chuckled. “He sure does, but I wanted to warn you. I know what happened in town today and I figured you came out here to see who caused it. Am I right?”
“Does President Grant smoke cigars?”
“Never mind just tell me what you know.”
“Well, I heard Flint tell you that he was in the saloon the whole time. That’s a baldfaced lie. He slipped out for over twenty minutes and when he came back in his ears were asmokin’ he was so mad.”
Sapphire eyes narrowed. “You sure about that?”
“Sure as I’m sitting here.”
“Well, thanks, Jed. That makes what I gotta do a lot easier.”
“I’d better get back now. I don’t want Flint to suspect I rode after you. Maybe I’ll see you in town.”
“Sure will and I’ll buy you a beer. Hell, I’ll buy you two of them.”
“Thanks, Johnny. See you.”
The youngest Lancer sat motionless for some time. His first instinct was to ride right back to the Twisted J, but after thinking about it, he decided that he might not be able to handle all the cowhands at the Johnson Ranch. He had to figure out a way to get Flint alone. Deciding to play for time, he rode into Morro Coyo. A cold beer always made thinking easier.
Normally, he preferred to act first and then think about it, but Scott had hinted that he was too impetuous. This time he would prove his brother wrong. He would plan this battle with all the skill of Napoleon at Borodino–whatever that was. Scott was always talking about Waterloo, Inkerman, Borodino, all those foreign battles. Well, Johnny Madrid Lancer may not have been a soldier, but he knew how to fight.
Finally, after one or two beers at the cantina, Johnny bade goodbye to the pretty waitress, Conchita, and headed for Lancer. He hadn’t worked out his whole plan yet, but there were vague glimmerings all of which ended in George Flint lying in the dust with his blood running like a river. Flint didn’t figure to be the type to be scared off so once again the Madrid gun would have to do its work.
Lancer seemed deserted upon his return which fit his purpose perfectly. He went out in the back to set up some rusty cans, old dishes and other unwanted items then he proceeded to gun them down with a concentration that would have put William T. Sherman to shame. Of course, he had frequently had to use his gun in defense of Lancer, but a gun duel was an entirely different matter. He just might have lost his edge and he didn’t intend to be the one lying in the dust–dead.
Because of the gunfire, Johnny didn’t hear his father walk up behind him until the last second. Whirling, he came to a stop with the barrel of his gun pointed at his father’s heart. “Shouldn’t sneak up on a man like that, Murdoch!”
“Sorry. What are you practicing for?”
“Don’t wanta be sloppy when a man is after my hide.”
“He wouldn’t try to kill you here.”
“You don’t think I’m gonna run and hide, do you?”
The tall rancher gazed down at his son. “Johnny, I know that you’ve always settled things with a gun, but sometimes, well, sometimes there are other ways. Maybe Scott and Val will….”
“Murdoch, this is my life we’re talkin’ about here so I think I should be the one to say how I handle it. After all, you got me here just for my gun so why shouldn’t I use it to take care of me?”
The patriarch stood there. “I guess you’re right. It should be your
decision. I just came out to tell you that dinner is almost ready.”
“Thanks. I’ll be in after I do a few more targets.” With that the gunfighter threw four small plates into the air. Not one reached the ground in a piece bigger than a half-dollar.
Dinner that night was consumed in an air of tension. Teresa tried to make conversation, but after a few grunts from the two men at the table, she gave up. Excusing herself, she went into her room to look at one of the catalogues that had arrived from San Francisco. The beautiful dresses helped take her mind off the stubborn men in the other room. Dishes could wait until later.
Just as Johnny and Murdoch stood and started to go their separate ways, they heard a horse ride up to the front of the hacienda. Seconds after, Scott Lancer entered, a very dirty, disheveled and bruised Scott Lancer.
“Hey Boston, what happened to you? Get into a fight?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Scott, I sent you to town to find out news, not get into a fight. What happened?”
“Sorry, Murdoch, Val and I didn’t have much choice.”
“You and Val? Wait’ll I get on him–fightin’ in his own town!” crowed the youngest Lancer.
“The fight was out at the Twisted J, not in town.”
“The Twisted J? Why would you and Val go out there?”
“To arrest one of the cowhands for shooting at Johnny!”
Murdoch looked at his son. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”
The gunfighter nodded his head vigorously. “I tried to tell you that one of ’em had done it, but how’d you find out about George Flint, Scott?”
Cerulean eyes narrowed in confusion. “George Flint, who’s that? The man Val arrested was a Jed Blair.”
Johnny dropped down onto the couch. “Blair? But that doesn’t make sense. He’s…well, maybe he wasn’t a friend, but I liked him. Why would he try to kill me?”
Scott moved wearily to the brandy decanter to pour himself a stiff drink. “Why don’t you let me tell you what happened? Maybe then you’ll understand.”
“Go ahead, Scott,” remarked his father.
“When I got to Spanish Wells, I went over to the Chins to talk to the boy. He’s going to be fine by the way. Anyway, he told me that he had been out on the balcony playing his flute when he heard the gunshot that almost hit you, Johnny. He glanced over to the other side of the street and saw a man with red hair and a gun.”
“Wait a minute, I thought the kid didn’t speak English.”
“He speaks it very well. He was just so frightened because he thought you had come to finish him off that he didn’t say a word to you. Anyway, I took him with me to see Val and from the description, Val thought he might be one of the new wranglers at the Twisted J. I remembered your saying that, so the two of us decided to go out there and see if we could talk to this guy. Unfortunately, the cowhands were already up in arms about something so they made it difficult for us to find the red-haired man. In fact, I thought they were set on beating up both of us, but finally Mr. Johnson stepped in and told us that Jed Blair fit the description.
“When Val ordered Blair out of the bunkhouse, he must have panicked because he came out firing, grabbed a horse and took off. Of course, Val and I took out after him. I think he might have made his escape but his horse hit some kind of hole or something and he went flying. When we found him, he was dead from a broken neck.”
Murdoch Lancer walked over to pat his younger son on the back. “I guess we’ll never know then why he wanted you dead, Son.”
Scott Lancer took another gulp of the brandy then faced his father and brother. “That’s not quite true. When Val and I took the body back to the ranch, we looked through his things and found this.” The blond held out a dirty scrap of paper with writing on it.
Murdoch took the note and began to read:
I am ritin’ to tell ya that yur twen brother Ted has ben shot down by men durin’ a bank robry. He wuz a gud man ‘n father ‘n we miss him hear. Come see us ‘n I’ll tell ya more ’bout this do-guder Madrid what got ‘im shot. Yur sis-in-law.”
Murdoch Lancer stood there dumbfounded. “I don’t understand. Why did this woman think Johnny had something to do with her husband’s death?”
“Do you remember when Johnny stopped that bank robbery at Fenwick Bluff?” Murdoch nodded. “Ted Blair was the miner who was killed by the robbers.”
The tall man stood there for a second then crushed the piece of paper and threw it into the fireplace. “Poor woman must have lost her mind. Johnny, none of this was your fault. You couldn’t have known what would happen.”
The sapphire eyes shuttered over for only a moment before they cleared. “Yeah, Murdoch I know, but I guess Jed didn’t agree with you.”
“Then he was a fool and it got him killed. Now, I feel like a hot game of checkers. I still haven’t got my revenge for that one game you won, John Lancer–and I don’t intend for you to win another!”
For a second the young man hesitated then pulled out a chair at the table set up with the checkers board. “Don’t count on it, Old Man. Johnny Lancer plays to win.”
“Well, while you two gentlemen are having this out, I think I’ll get cleaned up and see if Teresa has anything left in the kitchen.”
Neither of the checker combatants noticed his departure as all eyes were on the white and red disks.
After making himself a sandwich, Scott tapped on Teresa’s bedroom door. Teresa opened it immediately. “Scott, I’m glad to see you’re home.”
“I’m glad to be home. I am tired.”
“Did you find out anything to help Johnny?”
“It’s all taken care of, but I wanted to ask you something.”
“Wait a minute, I’ll come out into the kitchen with you. I need to get the dishes done and we can cut into the cherry pie I baked.”
“Great. I am still hungry.”
“So what did you want to ask me?”
“Would you have some extra sheets or somethng you wouldn’t mind letting me have?”
“Sheets? I just put fresh linens on your bed yesterday.”
“I know, but, well, I thought I might take some of the extras into the Chins. They’ve just started up a laundry and a lot of the people in Spanish Wells don’t seem to be too fond of the Chinese.”
The brown-haired girl stood there thinking. “You know, I have some draperies and blankets I’ve been wanting to do. There should be at least three or four bundles.”
“Terrific, Teresa, and thanks. I’ll take them in tomorrow when I order Ti’s flute.”
“Ti Chin is quite an accomplished flute player, but the one he has is kind of battered and blood got inside…so I thought it would be nice to get him a new one from San Francisco.”
“That’s a wonderful idea. I’d love to hear him play.”
“His father wants to send him to a conservatory to study, but well, he’s not sure if any of them around here would take Ti….”
Striding through the door, Johnny walked over to the coffeepot to pour himself a cup. “What’s this about tea? Teresa, promise me you won’t make any tea. I must have drunk a gallon of it at MaryLou’s house and then her aunt still wouldn’t let her go out with me!”
Smiling behind her hand, Teresa promised, “All right, Johnny, no tea for you.”
“Say, Brother, how’s the checker game going?”
“Murdoch’s in there pondering his move. By the time he does, I’ll be an old man.”
“He just doesn’t want to lose again.”
“That’s the trouble, Boston, he thinks too much. You can sure tell where you got it from. Now, me, I’m a man of action!”
“So you keep telling us, Johnny, so you keep telling us!”
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