Johnny Story Challenge Story
Madrid? . . . Buenos dias, senor.”
slight, thin-faced older man stood diffidently beside the table, holding a shot
of whiskey in each bony hand. If Johnny Madrid Lancer’s checkered career had
taught him anything, it was not to be too easily taken in by an unassuming
appearance or a polite turn of phrase. That “Senor” was a sight more
friendly a greeting than what he was accustomed to hearing in a place like this.
But ever since Johnny’d first sat down, he’d been keenly aware of the darkly
intent gaze fastened upon him; the former gunfighter had kept half an eye cocked
in the man’s direction ever since, wondering what was on the stranger’s mind
and, more importantly, what he intended to do about it. He was a Mexican,
clean-shaven, and not a gunman; Johnny had made note of that last when his new
admirer had left his chair to head over to the bar to fetch the two drinks he
was now holding. Oh, sure, the hombre was wearing a piece, but it was belted
tight about his waist, and the gun resting in the holster was an ordinary
looking one, not likely to have seen a lot of use.
nodded, regarding the man coolly, watching and waiting. After a slight
hesitation, the two glasses were placed side by side on the scarred surface of
the oval table. The man took a
seat, sliding one whiskey towards Johnny, who nodded again, before lifting the
glass and draining it. Whatever business this man had with “Madrid,” Johnny
wanted to get it handled before Scott got back.
had been a time not so very long ago, when Johnny Madrid had expected to be
identified by name in such a place, had in fact taken a good deal of
satisfaction in being so recognized. Today,
when he and Scott had entered the unfamiliar saloon together, Johnny had scanned
the room, looking for faces he might recognize, alert for the low-slung gun belt
that might indicate the presence of a “professional”. He could usually
identify both the full-fledged gunhawks and the would-be gunhands during this
first sweep of the room. The man now seated across from him had not attracted
any attention at all.
his hat as they entered, Scott had also taken took a long look around the room,
though not at all for the same reasons. His Boston-reared brother hardly
expected to see anyone he knew by name here in a dingy bar in an out of the way
cow town, much less someone who might pose a threat to him, but Scott still had
his own eye out for “professionals”. Johnny knew exactly what would attract
his brother’s attention, and it wasn’t the colorful display of bottles
behind the bar or the green covered card table and the money to be won. It was
the same whenever they found themselves in a saloon far from home. Actually, it
had gotten so that Johnny had made himself a game of trying to pick her out even
before his brother did, the woman “Boston” would be escorting upstairs. She
was never the youngest, least experienced girl, and certainly not one who was
care-worn or coarsened. Not necessarily the prettiest, though he’d never known
his brother to spend time with a really plain-looking female. Of course, all the
Ladies would notice Scott, and the meaningful smile he’d throw in their
direction, but Boston seemed to always manage to draw to his side the one woman
who most looked like she took some pride in her work and would really enjoy doin’
his new drinking partner had approached, Johnny had been thinking a bit about
that, how, for all his proper manners, his brother sure did appreciate the
ladies--- just as long as they weren’t in Morro Coyo or even Spanish Wells.
Evidently Green River was a respectable enough distance from the ranch.
“Well, Little Brother, it’s always best to stay out of your own backyard,”
he’d said in reply to Johnny’s question, grinning wickedly and laying what
Johnny understood by now was an “Authentic New England Accent” on that word
“backyard”. The Lancer brothers might joke with each other about which of
them had gotten the most “attention” from the females at the local dance,
but apparently Scott didn’t consider more private interactions to be suitable
for conversation. On at least one occasion Boston had carefully explained, quite
seriously too, that “a gentleman” never spoke about such matters; but then
he’d lightened it up by offering, still with a straight face, to give Johnny
any “advice” that he might happen to need.
likely he’d ever need any. Johnny was quite satisfied with the steady
arrangement he had with a very fine young woman in Morro Coyo. He’d always
been that way, one lady at a time. He’d always kinda liked the idea of there
being somebody waiting for him somewhere, though in his line of work he’d had
to be careful not to let any female get too attached.
It was yet another difference between
them and another reason why Johnny had been so surprised to learn that his older
brother had once been engaged. Scott liked to imply that he’d had quite a
reputation with the ladies. Well, whatever name and reputation, good or bad,
that ol’ Scott had earned for himself back East, he’d been able to leave it
all behind when he’d decided to settle in California.
Which was not the case for Johnny, his
name and reputation continued to follow him around.
He’d lost count of how many times he’d been recognized, greeted by
name and then had to quietly explain that “I go by Lancer now.” A lot of
those greetings hadn’t sounded too friendly; some of the ones that had,
weren’t. Well, that hadn’t changed, a gunfighter didn’t tend to have too
many friends. What was different was that now he usually had Scott beside him,
alert and not likely to stay out of it. Scott wasn’t one to ask a lot of
questions, just make those comments of his about Johnny being “renowned” or
saying how much he’d enjoyed meeting yet another one of his brother’s “admirers.”
the brothers had picked out a corner table, Scott had deposited his hat on the
stained table top and headed off to get a couple of beers. But he’d never made
it back. Seated near the bar, there’d been a half drunk cowboy with some coins
in his hand who had started getting a bit too rough with the tiniest of the
saloon girls. Maybe she was new to the job, she did look awful young and she’d
kept uncomfortably tugging at her low-cut red dress. She sure didn’t seem to
have much idea at all of how to handle a customer. The cowboy had grabbed her,
the little redhead had started to cry and of course Scott couldn’t stay out of
that either. Words had been exchanged, the bartender –--who seemed to be the
owner of the place---had gotten into it and Boston had ended up angrily handing
over a wad of paper money and then grimly escorting the still tearful young
woman up the stairs, leaving Johnny sitting there alone. His older brother had
to have known Johnny was watching it all pretty carefully, but Scott hadn’t so
much as glanced his way. From the set of his jaw, Boston probably wouldn’t
have cared much for the grin Johnny’d had plastered on his face anyway.
he figured his brother would be gone a while, getting himself a beer had been
Johnny’s first order of business. So he’d ambled over to the bar, introduced
himself and suggested that that the barkeeper draw one for him, seein’ as how
his brother had just handed over a hell of a lot more cash than he’d needed to
for that little girl’s company. Damn if it hadn’t worked. After drinking off
about a third of it, he’d slapped the tall mug back down on the counter.
“Top me off,” Johnny’d suggested with a grin, and the bartender had done
had gotten pretty quiet after Scott’s cowboy “friend“ had staggered out of
the place, his arm wrapped around one of the other girls. Johnny discouraged the
third one from approaching by giving her a friendly smile and a brief shake of
his head. Of course, once he’d
strolled back to his spot, Johnny hadn’t been able to sit contentedly with his
beer, being too preoccupied with wondering how long it would take the fella two
tables away to finally find the courage to do or say whatever it was he was
itchin’ to. Man had kept on staring at him, even while everyone else in the
place was bein’ entertained by Scott’s heated dispute with the drunk over at
the bar. Well, it sure wasn’t a big surprise that when the stranger did
finally decide to talk, the name that came out of his mouth was “Madrid”.
the small shot glass on the table top with his left hand, Johnny coolly studied
the man seated opposite. Past middle-age, and care worn, he was sippin’ slowly
at his whiskey, and didn’t seem in any kind of a hurry to state his business.
buys me a drink, I’d like to know why,” Johnny said finally.
remember Senor, that you shot a man in Santo Toribio?”
stopped twirling the shot glass and deliberately relaxed back in his chair.
“Yeah. I remember.”
His as yet
unidentified new amigo then snatched up Johnny’s empty glass and headed over
to the bar for a refill. Johnny knew he really didn’t need another, but he let
the man go, so he could think about what it was he recalled about Santo Toribio.
He remembered the place all right, a small town near the Mexican border
that had grown up around a little adobe mission church of the same name.
He’d been in a saloon, much smaller and darker than this one, standing
alone at the bar, when he’d once again heard someone behind him announce his
name, the voice too loud, the tone insolent: “Johnnee Madrid.”
turned to see some hair-in-his-eyes, wet-behind-the-ears kid standing a few feet
away. Mexican, tall and fairly muscular, probably actually pretty close to his
own age but unquestionably still a kid in comparison, mouthing something stupid
like “I’m gonna take you, Madrid.” Johnny had just sighed, told him to go
home to his mamá. Kid had taken exception to that, especially since he had
three half-wit friends watching from a nearby table who each then had a few
choice things to say. Johnny’d immediately recognized that his would-be
opponent had had just enough to drink to give him an extra dose of courage. When
the young gun shook the hair out of his eyes, Johnny had taken a real good look
at him. Mean little eyes, hard in the center, yet soft around the edges—soft
as in uncertain. Johnny had quickly pegged him as mostly show, a bully, the type
who usually picked a fight with someone not much likely to strike back. Well,
there was no question the kid had made himself a big mistake when he’d gone
ahead and uttered the name “Madrid”, but Johnny figured it was the liquor
running the kid’s mouth, that and his buddies egging him on, and that if
“Madrid” just left, they’d be more’n satisfied. Johnny shook his
head as he remembered how back then he had prided himself on being able to judge
a man on just one look, how much stock he used to place on his own first rapid
assessment. Then he’d met Scott and, well, since then he’d learned to look
the kid wasn’t any kind of a serious threat, Johnny had simply ignored the
taunts and finished his tequila, hadn’t even looked around again until he was
ready to leave. “I- - ain’t- - fighting- - you,” he’d said, laying
deliberate emphasis upon each word as he walked out of the saloon, setting his
hat square on his head and then pushing his way out through the batwings. He’d
sauntered down the sidewalk to his horse, was already untying the animal, when
damn if the young fool didn’t come out through the doors behind him, cross the
sidewalk and step out into the dusty main street of sleepy little Santo Toribio.
His three amigos were right behind ‘im, one of ‘em even still holding onto a
mug of beer.
had spewed some garbage about Johnny being scared to face him, how Johnny ought
to stand and fight “like a man”. Johnny hadn’t responded, just checked his
horse, tightening the cinch, adjusting the saddlebags, up until the boy had said
something about “don’t make me just shoot you down, Madrid.”
an edge to the voice that warned Johnny that he just might do it. Strolling out
into the street, making sure his ride wasn’t in the line of fire, Johnny’d
tried to talk to the kid, had addressed him in Spanish, asked him his name.
“You don’t need to know my name.
. . . .But everyone else will,----- when they hear how I got the drop on
pals in front of the saloon had hooted and hollered at that. There’d be no
reasoning with the boy, no way he’d back down, not with them cheering him on.
Once he was out in the street, Johnny had naturally assumed his stance, hadn’t
even realized that he’d done it. Then he’d had plenty of time to see it
coming. The kid had taken a big swallow and swung his hair out of his eyes.
Johnny had watched him tense up, could practically hear the voice in the young
gun’s head telling him to just “go ahead and do it”. The experienced
gunslinger had waited until the kid’s weapon had almost cleared leather before
he’d made his own move, squeezing the trigger and planting one bullet like a
seed of death deep in the kid’s chest.
twisted beneath him, the nameless assailant had lain crumpled in a heap on the
ground, his eyes dull and vacant, the blossoming crimson stain of his life-blood
soaking the pale blue shirt. He hadn’t even drawn his last shuddering breath
before his now silent buddies were mounting their horses and heading out of
town, leaving the kid lying there in the street. Taking no pride in so easily
dispatching an unworthy opponent, Johnny had holstered his gun and stood
motionless in the street. He waited
patiently for a moment, waited until the kid lay completely still and until the
dead youth’s so-called friends were completely out of sight before climbing
aboard his own horse and riding off in the opposite direction. The townsfolk who
had witnessed the event were left to tend to the remains.
Johnny recalled now, and clearly, was that as he’d ridden out, he’d passed a
small cemetery beside the little adobe church, and then another, even smaller
graveyard on the edge of town. He’d
thought about how it was likely that the boy would be buried there in some
shallow, unmarked grave. Nothing he could do about it, since the kid had refused
to give a name, but it had bothered him, still did. At the time, Johnny had
taken a very great satisfaction in the knowledge that he would never share the
same fate. He did have a “name”, he was well known. If. . . . or when . . .
it was his turn to lie lifeless in the street, surely someone would carve
“Madrid” into some odd scrap of wood. His grave would be identified, at
least until time and the elements weathered the marking away. Johnny smiled down
ruefully into his beer, thinking about how much his life had changed since then.
The expectation of a name scratched on a piece of board seemed like such cold
comfort now, but it had sure meant a lot back then.
thin-faced man returned with another shot of whiskey. Johnny waited until he was
seated and then softly asked who he was. The question was posed in Spanish and
the response made in the same tongue: “My name is Luis Ayala Elizondo.”
Ayala sipped at his whiskey, gesturing for Johnny to do the same. Resolutely,
Johnny refrained from touching the glass, determined to wait until he had some
answers. Abruptly, Ayala tossed back the rest of the liquid remaining in his own
shot, carefully placed the glass on the table and wiped his mouth with one hand.
“The young man you killed, he was my cousin’s boy. I raised him as my own .
. . he was like a son to me.”
in Spanish, were uttered in a voice devoid of emotion, just a statement of fact.
Despite the absence of any note of anger or resentment on the part of the dead
youth’s self proclaimed substitute father, Johnny still allowed his gun hand
to drop out of sight, below the level of the tabletop.
to thank you, Senor Madrid.”
killin’ him?” Johnny made no effort to hide his skepticism.
Ayala’s hands were resting on the table in front of him, Johnny felt
comfortable bringing his own up and folding them across his chest. “Mind
explainin’ that?” he asked, unconsciously reverting back to English.
seated opposite took a moment to collect his thoughts, then in a torrent of
rapid Spanish, began to relate his story. “I had followed him, I was going to
kill him myself for what he did. To my daughter, to my Lupe.”
her that if she ever spoke of what he had done, he would return and do worse!
Worse!” he repeated bitterly. “I saw her face.
And she could not lie to me. When I went to him, he laughed------ he said
that he knew I would never do anything, for fear that ‘Lupe’s shame’ would
eyes burned in Luis Ayala’s lean face; Johnny wanted to look away, but the
intensity of the father’s pain seemed to draw him in and he could only return
the man’s stare. “Lupe’s shame,” Ayala repeated, shaking his head.
“She was not the first, and I knew this. It was his shame, but also mine,
Senor, because I took him into my house. He dishonored our family name.”
“So you went
out and you got yourself a gun.”
I would have used it!” the man asserted firmly.
Bowing his head, he continued. “But then perhaps I could never have
returned to my family. I might have been killed by Seve’s friends, or hanged
for his murder,---- if you had not spared me this, Senor.” Ayala looked
up at this last, and there was no question the man was sincere. But Johnny
wanted to be sure.
saw what happened?”
yes, I saw.” Luis Ayala slowly rose from his seat. “After I took Lupe to my
sister, then I followed him to Santo Toribio.” He turned to go. Ayala
was almost at the door before Johnny asked one more thing.
Ayala. did you have . . Seve. . buried in Santo Toribio?”
stopped, one hand on the batwing, and made a “Ffft” sound of disgust.
Without looking at Johnny, he answered his question. “Him . . I left in the
street. I save my money . . . for my grandson, Juanito. . . . Juan Madreno
Without another word, without a
backwards glance, Luis Ayala Elizondo left the saloon. Johnny Madrid Lancer
thoughtfully lifted his glass of whiskey and sipped at it as he watched the man
while later Scott Lancer, with a troubled expression in place of his usual
satisfied air, slowly descended the stairs and slid into the chair beside his
brother. “That didn’t take too long,” Johnny commented by way of greeting.
lengthy life story,” was Scott’s even response.
that explains it,” Johnny observed with a grin.
Scott changed the subject. “Have you been sitting here alone all this time?” he asked looking around the room in mild disbelief.
waitin’ for you, Big Brother.” Johnny
gave Scott another hard look. “You’d best go get yourself a beer.”
Scott said looking down at the tabletop with a small sigh.
He shook his head regretfully. “I’m all set.”
Johnny knew then that a certain little red haired saloon girl was probably about to make some significant changes in her life, courtesy of the last of Boston’s cash. Clapping his brother on the shoulder, Johnny eased up out of his seat and strolled over to reacquaint himself with the barkeeper and have a little talk about the matter of one more beer.