“The Kid” Season 2
In this episode, Johnny Lancer
temporarily resumes his identity as the gunfighter “Johnny Madrid”.
The show opens with Andy Cutler’s unsuccessful attempt to steal
Barranca. Even after the Lancers try to help the hungry, dirty
youngster, he thanks them by running away, taking Johnny’s horse with him.
When an angry Johnny catches up with the boy, Andy finally explains why
he needs the money he could get from selling the palomino.
The boy is looking to hire a gunfighter to kill the two ranchers, Dan
Marvin and Toby Jencks, whom he blames for his father’s death.
Johnny eventually agrees to take the job for the “rock-bottom fee” of
Soon after Johnny’s arrival in McCall’s Crossing, a gunman named Lucky “Lefty” Morgan recognizes him as Madrid; the town Sheriff and others are also familiar with both his name and reputation. Since Johnny Madrid is known to be “an expensive gun to hire”, and Marvin and Jencks are among the few local men who could afford to do so, each of them believes that it is his old friend who has brought the gunslinger to town. Each man also erroneously assumes that he is the designated target, an assumption that Johnny, with his black glove and menacing air, encourages with his cryptic comments. In the end, the two ranchers are stunned to learn that Johnny Madrid is actually working for young Andy Cutler. After hearing the true story of his father’s tragic death, Andy makes the “right choice”, pleading with Johnny to spare the two men.
For the purpose of this story, the sequence of the episodes has been altered, so that Scott Lancer has already had his “Blue Skies for Willie Sharpe” (Season 2 Episode 14) adventure up in Onyx. In that show, Scott took it upon himself to deliver young Willie to his legendary grandfather, “Kansas Bill” Sharpe. Discovering that the renowned “town tamer” had become the Onyx town drunk, Scott postponed the family reunion and stashed Willie in a shack on the outskirts. He then tackled the task of drying out Kansas Bill--- much to the chagrin of the town’s “boss”, one Colonel Andrews, who had come to view the elder Sharpe as his personal source of entertainment. During his stay in Onyx, Scott had the opportunity to witness first hand the process known as “calling out”, first when a young gun (played by Sam Elliot!) challenged the barely sober Kansas Bill and later when Kansas himself “called out” Col. Andrews.
It was still mid morning when Johnny, on
Barranca, trotted up to the front entrance of the Lancer hacienda.
As if on cue, one of the hands, Miguel, quickly appeared to collect the
palomino. Johnny urged the man, quite unnecessarily, to take good care of his
beloved mount. The animal might
only be worth $25 in cash ---without a bill of sale--- but he was worth his
weight in gold to Johnny.
Murdoch Lancer exited the front door of
the house and greeted his son. “Well,
you’ve been gone for a long time, where’ve ya been?” the tall rancher
asked, in a pleasant but curious tone.
Without breaking his stride, Johnny
smiled and then responded obliquely to his father.
“Oh, just sittin’ in a rockin’ chair, rockin’ . . .” Wishing to
avoid further questions, Johnny walked quickly past a puzzled Murdoch and passed
through the front door without a backwards glance.
Still moving purposefully once inside,
Johnny was halfway to the Lancer kitchen before he realized that he had
neglected to remove his hat and gun belt. He
stopped, eased the hat off his head, and half turned to look back at the hat
tree standing just inside the front entrance. It was empty.
Since he wasn’t planning on remaining inside for very long, he
shrugged, and continued on his way. It was a firm rule that guns were not worn
inside the Lancer hacienda, something that, even after a year, still
occasionally elicited only a reluctant compliance from Johnny. But, he reflected
ruefully, as he stepped through the doorway into Senora Maria’s domain, he was
now well enough trained that during the time spent with Dorrie and Andy Cutler,
even “Johnny Madrid” had not eaten a single meal while wearing his gun.
In the kitchen, Johnny Lancer received a
warm, welcoming smile and a delighted “Buenos dias, Juanito” from Maria, who
quickly set about pouring the young man a cup of hot coffee and scrambling some
eggs, adding generous amounts of peppers and tomatoes---- just the way Johnny
liked them. He dropped his hat down on the kitchen table, then pulled out a
seat. Shedding his tan buckskin
jacket and tossing it over one of the other chairs, he rolled up his faded pink
shirtsleeves as he settled in to watch as Maria bustled about.
As he savored the food, Johnny casually asked after his family, and
learned that “Senorita Teresa” had gone into town with Jelly Hoskins, the
grizzled Lancer handyman. Surprisingly,
Maria was not aware of “Senor Scott’s” plans for the day, but clearly his
brother had not gone far; Senora Alvarez generally kept herself well informed of
the family’s whereabouts, the better to plan the evening menu.
With a smile, and a quick peck on the
cheek for the matronly older woman, Johnny complimented her cooking in his
mother tongue. Maria scolded him
and shooed him away, responding in rapid Spanish that it was “only eggs” and
promising to prepare an evening meal that would be a more suitable welcome home.
Johnny flashed a wider grin at that, but refrained from questioning her;
he would enjoy the anticipation of wondering what her special supper might be.
Reaching into the vegetable bin, he pulled out a carrot and then removed
an apple from the next box. Maria
clucked at him, shaking her head and saying something about how he was always
spoiling “que caballo”---“that horse.”
Still grinning, Johnny offered another “gracias” and headed out the
back door of the kitchen towards the stable with the well-deserved treats for
Stepping through a side door into the
dim interior of the large stable, Johnny was immediately greeted with a
welcoming whinny from his golden palomino.
Barranca looked out over the edge of his stall, tossing his white mane in
eager anticipation of the treats in his master’s hand.
As Johnny strolled down the center of the big barn, his boot heels
tapping the plank floor at each step, he could see that the other stalls were
empty; the building appeared to be quite deserted.
His footsteps continued to echo dully in the dusty quiet of the stable,
but as he drew closer, Johnny realized that Barranca was not alone in his stall;
there was a familiar blue shirted figure inside the enclosure, vigorously
wielding a brush along the animal’s hindquarters.
At the sound of his brother’s
footsteps- -the clicking of the spurs accompanying the wooden footfalls, the
steps themselves occasionally muffled by the hay underfoot, Scott Lancer turned
in three-quarter profile. With his
hat set back on the crown of his head, the elder Lancer’s hair seemed to match
Barranca’s dark gold coat in the dim light. Dark blue sleeves turned up to
just below the elbows, Scott paused momentarily in his effort, uttering his
brother’s name by way of greeting as Johnny stepped up to offer the carrot to
the still nickering horse. Johnny
nodded and responded in kind: “Scott.” The older man returned his attention to his task, while
offering a dry observation. “You’d think he hadn’t seen you
lately—he’s got a lot to say.”
Johnny grinned and considered that no
one was much likely to make the same comment about his brother, who had a
tendency to dole out his words rather sparingly. He patted the face of the
contentedly crunching horse as he framed his reply.
“Oh, he’s just tellin’ me how much he always did like ya, Boston;
says you’re not half bad with that brush.”
“I was working in the tack room when
Miguel brought him in; seemed he could use a bit of attention.”
“Yeah, we’ve been gone a while.”
Using one finger to raise the brim of
his hat up higher on his forehead, Johnny glanced over the half wall of the
stall and immediately noted that Scott was not wearing a weapon. Shaking
his head at that, he offered the apple to Barranca, and wondered idly whether
his older brother had simply forgotten to put it on again, or if his gun belt
was hanging on a nail somewhere nearby.
“So you must have found your Wolf
“Yeah, Scott, I found ‘im.”
Scott continued to methodically work the
stiff bristled dandy brush while Johnny rested his folded arms on the top of the
wooden barrier to watch. His brother had large, strong hands, hands that were
usually sheathed in the leather gloves now tucked up under the belt securing his
brown work pants. Scott was lean and tall—taller than Johnny—a hard worker
who had turned out to be quite a bit tougher than he’d appeared on first
acquaintance. Angular features, serious expression and usually pretty
reserved; Johnny knew from past experience that his brother wasn’t likely to
ask very many questions, which suited the younger man just fine most of the
time. But he realized that if there
was anyone who would understand his own lack of regret over the risks he’d
taken to help out young Andy Cutler, well, just maybe it would be Scott, who
never seemed to sour on giving a hand to folks who he thought needed it. Johnny considered some of the things he knew that Scott had
done to help people out under some pretty questionable circumstances---like that
time his brother had been dead set on rescuing pregnant Polly Foley, even after
Johnny had let Scott know the woman had been flat out lying to him.
And then Boston had gone and made a complete fool of himself over that
McGloin family, none of whom had been on speaking terms with the truth.
Not that the boy, Andy, had been dishonest exactly, just that in order to
see what was right, the kid’d needed somebody to point it out to him.
Unlike Scott, Johnny usually wasn’t all that eager to jump into other
folks’ business, but he’d maybe seen some similarities between himself and
Speaking so quietly that Scott had to
halt his currying actions in order to hear him, Johnny abruptly began to relate
a small part of the story. “Turns out his father was killed a while back.
There were a coupla ranchers he figured were the ones responsible and
. . . Andy was lookin’ ta get even with ‘em.” Barranca tossed his
head and nickered in complaint, and Scott set the brush in motion once more.
“That’s why he wanted Barranca,” Johnny added softly, “to raise
money to hire a gun.”
Scott cocked an eyebrow at that, but his
gaze remained focused upon his work. “And did he hire one?”
Johnny had kept his own eyes fastened on
the top edge of the half-wall, scraping at the wooden surface with the thumbnail
of his gun hand. Now he looked up just a bit, so he could watch for Scott’s
reaction. “Told Andy I wouldn’t
mind hirin’ out for short money.”
Boston turned at that, all attention
now, even while resting one arm in a casual manner across Barranca’s broad
back. He studied Johnny for a
moment, then “How short?” he asked lightly.
Johnny grinned as he looked down at the
floor. “Oh . . . $26.37.”
He could feel Scott continuing to stare
searchingly at him, trying to puzzle things out.
Johnny figured that right now he’d offer a lot more n’ a penny for
the older man’s thoughts. Hell, there’d been times he would have given a twenty
dollar gold piece, Scott could be that hard to read.
He wondered now how his brother would have reacted to the news if a
gunfight had taken place. What if
Madrid had actually had to kill those two ranchers on behalf of the “Wolf
Cub”? But whatever was going
through Scott’s head, as usual, he wasn’t giving too much of it away.
All he said was, ”That’s not a bad price. . I’ll have to keep you
Now Johnny looked up to coolly meet his
brother’s eyes. It was his Madrid
voice that responded. “Well,
Scott, those that can pay. . . . pay,” he said with a shrug.
Scott regarded him silently for another
long moment. “I suppose young Andy got his money’s worth,” he finally
said, in an even tone.
Johnny looked away at that, a tiny smile
playing about his lips. “Oh . . . .I
didn’t shoot anybody, if that’s what you’re worried about. Both those
ranchers are still walkin’ around in one piece.”
Scott returned his concentration to a
noticeably more emphatic brushing of Barranca’s hide. Several long moments
passed while the dandy brush continued its short flicking motions.
Johnny busied himself rolling down the sleeves of his familiar pink
shirt, fastening the buttons at the wrists, still wishing he knew what was going
through that blonde head. Finally, the man actually asked another question; that
in itself was a bit of a surprise, but the focus of Scott’s concern was not.
“What about the boy?”
“Andy’s gonna be okay.
When his old man was killed, those ranchers were there, but it seems like
it was an accident. In the end, the
kid was beggin’ me not to shoot those two men.”
Scott nodded and continued to wield the
brush, now lifting Barranca’s mane and stroking the long neck beneath,
something that the palomino particularly enjoyed.
Johnny regarded his older brother’s profile thoughtfully for a few
moments before offering another comment. “I guess maybe he understands now
that killin’ a man ain’t the way t’ solve things.”
That had, after all, been the whole
point, hadn’t it? To make sure the kid, who’d had hating and killing on his
mind, didn’t end up getting that “education” Johnny had warned Dorrie
about, didn’t end up spending all his time studying a gun the way that Johnny
had. Yeah, he thought with renewed
certainty, Andy was gonna be okay. But when Scott looked up at him with a glint of
------approval?---- in his light blue eyes, Johnny swiftly changed the subject.
“You done the other side yet?”
“No,” and a quick shake of the head
was the other man’s response, gesturing with the brush in Johnny’s
direction. As he strolled around the half wall of the enclosure, Johnny pushed
his hat off of his head so that it hung on its cord down his back.
Accepting the brush from Scott’s extended hand, he moved to position
himself between the wall and Barranca’s left side as Scott exited the stall.
After fending off Barranca’s attempt
to nuzzle his head in gratitude, Scott Lancer took his turn at leaning on the
top edge of the half wall marking the boundary of the palomino’s stall.
As he watched Johnny’s hands guide the brush over the animal’s golden
surface, Scott thought about his own rather limited acquaintance with the
gunfighter, “Johnny Madrid”. He had noticed that his dark-haired younger
brother still wore a slightly guarded look and had been using the cynical low
tone that Scott had come to associate with the Madrid persona.
Scott had had a few conversations with
“Madrid” in the past; for example, when the brothers were keeping watch over
old Charlie Wingate’s construction of the jail in Spanish Wells. He had
recognized Johnny Madrid then, in both the words and tone of the sardonic young
man who had said that he’d “learned his lessons the hard way”, an
announcement which had been followed by a careful discourse on the fatal merits
of various types of weaponry. But immediately after, it had unquestionably been Johnny
Lancer who had exuberantly grabbed Scott around the neck and joked about making
a “professional” out of him.
Of course, it had been Madrid, not
Lancer, whom the Easterner had met when he’d first arrived at the Lancer
ranch. Scott had subsequently read Murdoch’s Pinkerton reports on his
brother’s career as a gunman; he and Johnny had touched upon it as well in a
few brief conversations. But Scott
had never really wanted to probe too far into what it had actually been like for
Johnny to be Madrid. Intellectually,
he knew that his brother could not have felt extreme remorse over each and every
man he had gunned down--- otherwise he would never have survived, could never
have gotten to be so good. As an ex-soldier and former prisoner of war, Scott understood
all too well how a man could become inured to almost anything, even killing and
senseless loss of life. But during the War, it had been a uniform, or rather, a
mass of uniforms that he’d shot at, not a single man with a name and a known
history. A gunfight seemed much
more . . . personal.
It sounded, in some ways, like a duel.
Of course he’d read about the famous confrontation, shortly after the
turn of the century, in which Vice President Aaron Burr had fatally shot
Alexander Hamilton, the bullet ending Burr’s political career as surely as it
had ended Hamilton’s life. Closer to home, New England’s own Daniel Webster
had, early in his political career, rejected a proffered challenge, possibly
sparing himself the fate of an otherwise obscure Maine representative named
Cilley who had been killed in a duel with one of his Congressional colleagues.
They’d blasted at each other with rifles at one hundred yards in that
one, if Scott recalled the story correctly.
Purported to be affairs of honor, dueling had apparently not been
uncommon in the pre-War South, amongst the “gentry” at least.
A gunfight, on the other hand, while perhaps upon occasion entailing some
elements of “honor”, seemed more often to be a mercenary affair, involving
at least one participant who had “hired out”.
Or one who was seeking a reputation, out to prove himself at the cost of
another man’s life.
Scott’s rambling thoughts were
interrupted by his brother’s voice, still low, but now sounding more
“Lancer” than “Madrid”, his words seemingly directed at the brush now
grasped firmly in his gun hand. “Thing
is, Scott, there were people in that town recognized me. More that’d heard of
Scott nodded slightly; he didn’t fail
to notice the undertone of pride in the statement.
He’d always understood that his brother had been—still was--rather
famous. Pushing away from the half
wall, he straightened and stretched his back.
With one hand he lifted his hat off of his blond hair, repositioning it
on the crown of his slightly damp head. It
was nearing noon, and it was getting warmer in the stable, the smells of horses
and hay growing stronger, the sound of buzzing flies increasing in volume.
Barranca snorted and Scott reached up
and idly stroked the palomino’s face. When
Johnny did not immediately elaborate upon his revelation, Scott leaned his right
shoulder against the adjacent wall, folded his arms across his chest and settled
in to wait, watching his brother at work. Even
at such a mundane task as grooming his horse, one could see that Johnny had
quick hands. He was shorter than
Scott by several inches, with shoulders slightly broader than his own, narrow
hips weighted down by the ever- present low-slung gun belt and accompanying
hardware. The mercurial former
gunfighter could be all threatening dark storm clouds of intensity one moment,
then as welcome as the sudden arrival of springtime in New England, his visage
might be brightened by that warm, infectious grin.
“Word might get out I’m working
There was no grin, no warmth at all
accompanying that spare statement, and, although his brother’s attention still
seemed to be on that brush in his hand, Scott kept his own expression carefully
neutral, unwilling to reveal that he was instantly concerned.
While Johnny had been away, of course his family had wondered where he
had ended up, and young Andy’s hometown of McCall’s Crossing had seemed a
likely destination. Scott knew that
if many more days had passed without any news, then he would likely have
suggested to Murdoch that he might make his own journey south.
Not that it had been at all surprising that Johnny had neglected to send
word of his whereabouts back to the ranch. Before Murdoch’s summons had
rescued him from a firing squad and brought him home to Lancer, Johnny had been
entirely on his own for quite some time. Scott
was fairly certain that during his recent absence it hadn’t once occurred to
his younger brother that there were people who might actually be worried about
him. Of course, if Johnny had resumed his former identity as the gunfighter
Madrid, he would have been even more reluctant to send a message.
In the end, evidently, Johnny had managed to avoid having to “face”
anyone down in McCall’s Crossing but Scott recognized that a rumor that Johnny
Madrid was working again just might bring gunmen into their own area who would
be intent upon issuing a challenge. Aware that Johnny’s career as a gunfighter
had begun when he’d sought revenge for his mother’s death, Scott had quickly
surmised that it was a concern about whereyoung
Andy’s anger might lead that explained why his brother had been
determined to help the boy----- even at the risk of resurrecting Madrid.
Scott had never seen Johnny Madrid in
action, not really. Oh, he’d watched Johnny use his gun, many times, knew very
well that his brother was both quick and deadly accurate with the weapon. But he
hadn’t yet seen him in anything akin to a gunfight. Scott sighed softly as he considered that it had been enough
at first simply to become accustomed to the idea of having a brother at all, let
alone one seemingly so different from himself.
When the Bostonian had first learned some of the details of the life that
Johnny had led, it had seemed altogether unreal.
Scott’s shadowy impressions of his
brother’s past had come into much sharper focus when he’d stood and watched
that young gun challenge Kansas Bill up in Onyx.
Scott had been greatly disturbed by the idea that a youthful
up-and-coming gunslinger would try to make his reputation by killing an aged,
drunken has-been, unsettled enough that he’d even mentioned it to Johnny upon
returning to Lancer. His brother hadn’t seemed at all surprised.
“Oh, there’s those who don’t much care how they come by their
reputations,” he’d said darkly, with a knowing smile, “or even what kind,
long’s they got one.” Scott had nodded soberly at that, and had started to walk
away, his question asked and answered.
“So what happened?” the younger man
had tossed out before Scott could effect a retreat to his own room.
Scott certainly had not intended to mention his own role in the
event—standing behind Bill Sharpe in the shadow of the Onyx stable, cradling
his carbine. “He backed down, fortunately,” Scott had replied from the
doorway, intending to let it go at that, but Johnny’s curiosity had been
piqued. “Backed down? From an old
man, with people watchin’? .
.Now why’d he go and do that, Boston?”
Knowing from the gleam in his brother’s eye that Johnny had pretty much
guessed why, Scott had come clean. “I
suppose it may have had something to do with where I was standing . . . . or the
gun I was holding,” he’d said lightly, confirming Johnny’s suspicions
before making his departure.
At the time, Scott hadn’t stopped to
analyze his actions, his sole focus being on introducing young Willie to the
grandfather of whom he was so proud. Since
the well known gunman had never responded to the letter the lawyer had sent him
about his grandson, leaving the boy in the shack outside of town and going on
ahead to find Kansas Bill on his own had simply seemed to Scott a prudent course
of action. But when Willie had
asked the hauntingly familiar question “What if he doesn’t want me?” Scott
had known then and there that he would do anything and everything to see to it
that the calm assurances he had offered to the tow-headed youngster were
justified. Of course, he had had no
way of knowing that he would have to spend days sobering up –---and cleaning
up---the former “town tamer”, let alone back him up in a gunfight.
Later on, when Kansas Bill had “called
out” Col. Andrews, Scott remembered feeling certain that one of the men
wouldn’t be walking away from the fight and he’d feared that it would be the
veteran gunman-- that young Willie Sharpe was about to witness his recently met
grandfather’s bloody demise. Scott had been more than ready to back up Kansas
again, if any of Andrews’ men had intervened, but when that seemed unlikely,
he had very reluctantly stepped back to watch the event unfold. It had all
turned out well, but after hearing Johnny’s assessment that “when a red-eyed
old timer goes and shoots a gun out of a man’s hand it’s nothin’ but pure
damn luck,” Scott had felt some regret over his decision to acquiesce. Scott
realized now that if he were to ever witness his brother facing down a man in
the street, his greater confidence in Johnny’s ability would still be more
than offset by his intensely personal interest in the outcome.
And now Johnny was suggesting that such a situation could very well
When Johnny’s soft drawl interrupted
his thoughts, Scott was startled to hear a reference to those events up in Onyx.
“You remember you told me ‘bout that young gun backin’ down, after he’d
called out Kansas Bill?” Johnny asked, without looking at Scott.
Johnny stopped his work and thoughtfully
studied the brush in his hand, before turning and looking over at Scott with his
deceptively casual grin in place. “Well,
I figure you musta had some cold eyed look on your face, to scare him off like
that.” Scott’s own carefully neutral expression did not change.
“You’re gonna hafta show that t’ me sometime, maybe I can add it to
my . . t’ my . .”
“What’s that?” Johnny asked
Scott hesitated, mildly surprised that
he had to think about it. Repertoire
meant . . . well, repertoire. “It’s
a list,” he said finally. “Of
your skills and abilities.”
“Not sure I got a list.
I can read a gun hand. I’m
fast—real fast.” Scott nodded briefly in the intensity of his brother’s
gaze. “I pretty much always hit what I’m aimin’ at.” Johnny recited
these attributes in a matter of fact voice, his tone indicating that the list
was complete. Scott was about to
protest that the younger man’s abilities were not limited to that one area of
expertise, but, thinking that it might be time to lighten the mood, he first
wracked his brain for some suitably facetious examples of
“other skills” to point out. Before the Easterner could come up with
what he considered suitable additions to the list, Johnny added his own
“I don’t need any back up,” Scott
heard him add quietly. Johnny’s
meaning was unmistakable.
Backing Barranca up so that he could
pass in front of the horse, Johnny exited the stall.
Scott remained motionless for a few beats, then straightened up, pushed
himself away from the wall where he had been leaning and turned to face Johnny,
recrossing his arms on his chest. Standing
at the door of the stall, Johnny studied Scott’s now closed off expression and
hooded eyes and waited.
“So what do you expect me to do,
Brother?” Where another man might
have sliced off the question with an angry or defensive edge to it, Boston just
set it out there, like he simply wanted to know.
“Stay outta it.”
Scott expelled a breath, allowed a wry
smile to touch his lips, but made no other response.
“I mean it, Scott.
If it comes to it, you just let things work the way they’re s’posed
Scott fastened his best ironic look on
his brother. “Right. Of
course,” he said, gesturing with one hand. “There are rules of gun fighting
and everyone follows them.”
I follow ‘em.”
There was a long pause, as they stood
regarding each other. Even Barranca remained motionless.
Scott considered that for duelists, there were in fact written rules,
many men actually followed them as it was a matter of honor to do so.
He was far less certain that the same was true of participants in a
gunfight, at least based on his own scant observation.
“Well,” he offered carefully,
“I’m not from around here, so perhaps I can’t be expected to know the
Johnny sighed. “It ain’t like I’m
gonna go lookin’ for a fight,” he pointed out, with just the slightest hint
of exasperation in his voice. After a beat, he added, “If I can avoid it, Scott, . . .
Somewhat reassured by the quiet
sincerity in his brother’s tone, Scott nodded.
“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Abruptly, Johnny’s gaze changed from
liquid blue to solid sapphire. “Well,
like you just said, you’re not from around here.” His head tilted and his
chin jutted out slightly, but he still tried to keep his voice slow and easy.
Scott pressed his lips together, held
Johnny’s gaze for a moment and then abruptly broke it off. Apparently there
was more to it than simply accepting or rejecting a challenge; Johnny seemed
almost to be suggesting that he would feel forced to comply, if he were in fact,
”called out”. Why? Reputation?
Pride . . or perhaps Honor?
As much as Scott’s affinity and affection for his younger brother had
grown steadily once the awkwardness of their initial meeting was behind them, he
had to acknowledge that he still knew relatively little about the gunfighter
known as “Madrid”.
Slowly, Scott reached around his back
with his right hand to pull his gloves out from where they were tucked beneath
his belt. Appearing to devote his
attention to pulling them on, Scott continued to ponder the subject at hand. If
Johnny was one day unable to avoid a confrontation, his elder brother knew that
he would be hard pressed to simply “stay out of it”.
Duelists, as Scott understood it, typically had “seconds”-- friends
to carry out the preliminary negotiations for the combatants, and to act as
witnesses to insure that the proper procedures were followed.
Ideally, the seconds would prevent the duel from ever taking place. Now
that he thought of it, Scott realized that perhaps he had served in that
capacity for Kansas Bill, though the veteran gunman was no doubt entirely
unfamiliar with the concept, just as he had been unaware of Scott’s protective
position, stationed in the shadows well behind him. And the Easterner was reasonably sure that even Mr. Sharpe
would have vehemently insisted that he “didn’t need any back up”, despite
all evidence to the contrary. He
may not have “followed the rules” up in Onyx, but Scott knew without a doubt
that he had prevented the first gunfight from taking place; based on his
subsequent conversation with Johnny, he was now convinced that he should have
done more to prevent the second one as well.
For Johnny, the uncertainty in his older
brother’s eyes did not go unnoticed; in fact it prompted his own look of
concern, an expression that Scott, his concentration focused elsewhere, failed
to see. It was true that just because some man with a gunhand thought he might
want to take you on, you didn’t have to go along with it. But sometimes, well,
sometimes you couldn’t exactly walk away, either.
As Johnny wondered how to explain this to Boston in a way that his
Eastern-bred brother would understand, he found himself automatically studying
those hands that were being eased into the tan leather work gloves. Large hands,
with long fingers and those big oval nails---just like Murdoch’s.
Steady, as usual. Not
usually too many signs there.
Johnny was used to noticing little
details --- and looking for “tells”. When
he’d mentioned that he’d been recognized down in McCall’s Crossing, he’d
seen, out of the corner of his eye, his brother press his lips together then,
his fleeting concern quickly masked. That
had been one of those things that had intrigued Johnny when he’d first met
Scott: he’d been surprised that his new found brother had been so difficult to
read, puzzled that a city fella was able to conceal things so well. When he’d
finally learned about the year that the former Union officer had spent in a
Confederate prison camp, well, then it had made some sense.
Seemed like the college boy must have learned a few hard lessons of his
own there, gotten himself a different kind of “education” from what they
taught him at . . . that school, Harvard.
Scott kept his gaze fixed on his gloved
hands, methodically pushing the material down between the fingers, but Johnny
doubted he’d be able to see much in his brother’s eyes anyway.
The former gunfighter was less accustomed to looking there—facing a man
in the street, his expression shaded by the brim of his hat, it wasn’t the
eyes you watched, but always the hands, waiting for the tell-tale twitch of the
fingers that would warn you that your opponent was going to make his move.
But inside, close up, if you were watching, you often could see something
hidden deep in a man’s eyes.
His brother’s eyes, now, typically had
that sad look to ‘em. It was
something about the slant of the eyelids, the left one angled more than the
right, which gave him a squinting aspect. .
. . . Details again. With
Scott, mostly what Johnny’d noticed were those times when he told the man
something that most people would have reacted to, times there hadn’t been so
much as a flicker in those eyelids.
Unwilling to let the subject go, Johnny
stood and waited until Scott looked up at him, then tossed him the brush. Scott
deftly caught it in his gloved hands. As
he turned away to return the implement to its place on a nearby shelf, Johnny
addressed his brother from behind.
“I figure I can still get the drop on
most men, ‘specially if I stay in practice.”
Scott glanced over his shoulder briefly
at that, wondering exactly what “practicing” might entail.
To the Bostonian’s surprise,
Johnny’s next words sounded almost -----apologetic? “Look, it ain’t like I
don’t ‘preciate you watching my back, Brother, . . . I do.” He softly
repeated the last two words, before he continued.
“Other times. But if it comes to a gunfight, there’s just a particular
way it has t’ be.”
There was no response from Scott, who
was rearranging a few of the items on the small shelf.
The set of brushes and currycombs had actually been his gift to Johnny,
in honor of his first birthday since his return to the ranch.
“’Course, you might do a better job
watchin’ my back if you were carryin’ a gun.”
Scott turned at that, not making any
effort at all to hide his annoyance, which, with his hat still set back on the
crown of his head, was clearly on view. The blue-grey eyes narrowed and his gaze
hardened when Johnny added “Jelly must be slipping,” with a friendly grin,
trying to lighten his previous remarks. Scott
just looked at him for a moment, then moved to the doorway of the tack room.
The older man very deliberately reached inside the entry way with one
blue sleeved arm and lifted his gun belt down from a nail just inside the door.
He looped the buckled circle of leather over his left shoulder, the holstered
weapon dangling beneath his elbow.
“Yeah, that’s better.”
Gripping the belt on his shoulder with
his gloved left hand, Scott sighed softly and glanced down at the hay-strewn
planks of the stable floor. It was true that he had forgotten to don the belt on a few
occasions, simply hadn’t thought of it. In
truth, the Easterner failed to see the need to put it on each and every time
that he stepped through the front door.
Johnny, on the other hand, well, Scott suspected that his brother slept
with his gun under his pillow, if not actually in his hand.
Out on the trail at least, that probably wasn’t really much of an
“It’s time for lunch. Are you
Johnny shook his head, murmuring that
Maria has just fed him and announcing with a pleased expression that she was
planning something special for supper. His
own face still serious, Scott nodded and turned to leave.
“I didn’t say anythin’ to Murdoch
Realizing that Johnny might have a bit
more to say to him, Scott halted en route to the bright square of the open
stable doors. The damp, darker
streak dividing the back of his blue shirt was plainly visible as he stood and
waited with his head slightly bowed in the warm gloom.
“Not likely anyone would come out
here, more like it’d happen in some town.”
Scott half-turned at that. “I didn’t
realize sheriffs allowed gunfights in their towns.”
“One in McCall’s Crossing wasn’t
trying to put a stop t’anything. But,
you’re right . . . most lawmen wouldn’t stand for it.” There was a long
pause, then a short exhale, before Johnny continued.
“Fact is, I’ve had myself a little talk with the badges ‘round
here—Val, Gabe . . . Sam Jayson.
Scott’s surprise was again evident. To
Johnny at least, although Boston probably thought he’d covered it.
Johnny shrugged his shoulders slightly, then offered an explanation.
“I figure a man’s just trying to do his job, oughta know what
Scott immediately considered that it
couldn’t have been easy for Johnny to knock on the door to a sheriff’s
office and make his introduction, revealing a connection to a past he had been
trying to leave behind. But then he smiled in spite of himself, giving his
brother an arch look. “Sam was perhaps in need of a bit more
. . . . explanation . .
. . than the others.”
Johnny grinned back at him.
“You got that right.”
Scott’s own smile quickly faded.
How often, he wondered, did the two of them resort to humor when a
subject became too difficult. . .
.too personal? Johnny’s friendly
grin had been much in evidence throughout the conversation.
Not that he questioned their friendship at all; Scott had no doubt
whatsoever that those feelings were mutual and genuine.
Still, Johnny’s disarming smile was frequently a tactic, one that Scott
had to acknowledge was effective more often than not.
Standing with his gloved hands on his hips, he contemplated his younger
brother, wondering whether or not to pursue the discussion. Scott really
didn’t feel like ruining Johnny’s homecoming by debating something that
might not even happen. He decided that his first task as Madrid’s
self-appointed “second” was to educate himself; it would be impossible to
formulate any sort of plan unless he first learned a bit more about the protocol
involved in a gunfight. Reluctant to enlist Val Crawford’s assistance, since
the man was quite friendly with Johnny, Scott determined that Sheriff Gabe might
prove to be his most likely source of information and resolved to have his own
little talk with the lawman the next time that he was in Spanish Wells.
“I’ll see you later, Brother,”
Scott offered in a conciliatory tone, then turned to leave, adjusting his hat so
that it sat more squarely on his head as he walked away.
Johnny watched until his brother’s long strides had carried him out of
the stable, then turned to face Barranca when the animal emitted a soft snort.
“I know,” Johnny said softly as he stroked the horse’s broad face.
“I know. He didn’t ever say he’d stay out of it.”
But, even though he hadn’t made any
promises, his brother now knew what Johnny expected of him.
Johnny Lancer didn’t really trust too many men, Madrid even fewer.
Scott Lancer was positioned pretty high on a very short list.
One thing Johnny was certain of, Boston would want to do the “right”
thing; though the two of them had sometimes disagreed on what that was. . . . Even if the man didn’t like what was being asked, Johnny
hoped that Scott could still be counted on not to cross him.
With a final pat to the palomino’s
neck, Johnny turned and strolled out of the stable, boot heels tapping a
leisurely staccato rhythm on the wooden planks.
He paused momentarily at the entrance, to stretch in the sunshine and
smile in satisfaction as his eyes traveled around the yard, taking in some of
the changes that had occurred during his absence. Someone had replaced the top
rail on a section of the corral fence--- a task Johnny had been meaning to get
to for some time. Maybe I’ll get back to clearing out that stream this
afternoon, he thought, that is if Murdoch hasn’t already come up with a
different plan. Deciding that he might as well join his family after
all, Johnny sauntered gait towards the front door of the hacienda.
He’d made it a few steps inside before
he halted in his tracks, raised his hand and slipped off his hat.
Head bowed, hat in hand, Johnny very slowly and deliberately paced
backwards to the hall tree whose upper branches were now festooned with
Murdoch’s hat and Scott’s, their gun belts dangling like forbidden fruit
down below. His own hat quickly joined the others.
Even though he was alone in the entryway, Johnny couldn’t stop his lips
from curving into a small, self-conscious grin as he worked the silver buckle
which would release the wide leather strap encircling his hips. After hanging up
his own gun, Johnny paused for a moment to take in the display; then, without
another backwards glance, he headed towards the kitchen, following the sound of
SBC May 2004
The End (for now)
Events to be “continued” in a future
historical information from “Duel!”
by Ross Drake, Smithsonian magazine, March 2004