Set a year after the series ended. The final gunfight for Johnny Madrid.
“Madrid! I’m callin’ ya out, Madrid!” The words stopped Murdoch Lancer’s heart mid-beat, or at least it felt thatway.
Murdoch had reached the point that the fear of this day, this moment had receded to a shadow in the back of his mind almost all the time. His sons had been home nearly three years now and the memory of Madrid was nearly gone from most people’s thoughts when they saw his younger son. Johnny had been tense and suspicious and constantly wary when he first arrived. He had continued to practice his draw in idle moments, and tend his weapon with care because “any day, Murdoch, someone could call me out. And then I’ll have no choice. Kill or die.”
Murdoch shivered every time he thought of the cold eyes and matter-of-fact tone of voice that had accompanied those words. But he thought of them rarely these days, because the boy he saw now – nearly every moment of every day – bore little resemblance to the hardened gunfighter who had come home to Lancer. Being home with his family had given Johnny the chance to let down his guard, and show the world who he really was inside. A young man, barely more than a boy to his father, with an infectious grin, a mischievous spirit and bottomless well of kindness in his heart. People all over the valley remarked on Johnny’s willingness to help and his almost supernatural ability to know when a neighbour was in trouble.
Murdoch was proud of both of his sons and immensely grateful that they had formed a bond that made people forget that they had not grown up together, that they had in fact only met each other for the first time just three years earlier. Throughout the valley, they were known now as “the Lancer boys,” two handsome and light-hearted young men who had become knowledgeable ranchers and who continually demonstrated their commitment to the community and the San Joaquin Valley, the place they both now called home.
It had come together better than Murdoch Lancer could ever have imagined, until today. Walking out of the bank, he had exchanged a handshake with Jim Perry after depositing the windfall from this year’s cattle drive. His sons had been running assigned errands of their own and then the three of them planned to meet for a beer before riding home. But this day, their plans changed suddenly and irrevocably.
“Madrid! I’m callin’ ya out, Madrid! Come on out!”
The shout from down the street caused everyone in town to stop momentarily. Then in the next moment women pulled their children to them and headed indoors. Numerous men stepped back behind poles or into doorways, watching to see what would happen.
Murdoch saw Scott with a barrel on his shoulder carefully place it in the back of their wagon in front of the general store. Charlie, one of their hands was right behind him with a sack of flour that he dropped into the wagon bed.
His heart in his mouth, Murdoch saw Johnny step out from the sheriff’s office, Val Crawford right behind him.
“You lookin’ for me?” Johnny drawled, his voice calm and even.
Johnny looked down at his own boots for a split second, then met the other man’s gaze. “Yeah,” he said softly. “I’m Madrid.”
“Then I’m callin’ ya out,” the other man said again.
Murdoch’s heart sank. This was not a young man looking to make a reputation. The gunfighter seemed hardened and sure of himself.
“I like ta know who I’m fightin’,” Johnny said. Around him men were making the same calculation as Murdoch and slowly moving away from what would be the line of fire.
“Calloway,” the other man said.
There was a murmur of recognition in the crowd. Hank Calloway had a growing reputation in these parts and south into Mexico. He had taken down several other known pistoleros in the last year. From what they’d heard and read, he enjoyed the reputation and the press. Johnny had once remarked that he was “the worst kind of gunfighter” because he seemed to like the killing. Murdoch’s mouth went dry with fear. This man was practiced and hard, unlike his son nowadays.
Johnny nodded. “Okay. You sure?”
“Don’t give me none o’ that sweet-talk, Madrid. I heared about you. Ain’t interested in jawin’. Just shootin’. One of us dies today. My money’s on you.”
Murdoch watched as Johnny took on a persona he had not seen in a long time and moved out into the middle of the street. He’d spent the past three years hoping never to see Madrid resurface and today he prayed the gunfighter would take over and see his son safely through the next few minutes. But in his heart he was mortally afraid. Johnny was out of practice. And even if he prevailed in the next few minutes, what damage would be done to the young man who thought he’d left all of this behind?
Johnny took a stance familiar to anyone who had ever seen a gunfight, his right hand a few inches from the gun. The other man mirrored him. All over town people held their breath, waiting.
A familiar figure stepped into the street behind Johnny, ten feet back and to his left. Tall and lean, Scott Lancer had a rifle in his hand, hanging loose by his side.
“Scott, get outa the street,” Johnny said, never taking his eyes off Calloway.
“No, I don’t think so,” Scott said mimicking Johnny’s drawl. “I’ll be here in case this man happens to kill you. I think that’s unlikely, mind you,” he said, sending a hard glare in Calloway’s direction. “But if the unlikely happens, then I’ll kill him.”
“Scott—“ Johnny said more insistently.
“Don’t bother, brother,” Scott said. “My mind’s made up.”
Calloway said. “You’d kill a man in cold blood?”
Scott chuckled. “Seems to me that’s what you came here to do.”
“I came for a fair fight,” Calloway yelled.
“That’s a matter of opinion,” Val Crawford said, coming to stand a few feet beside Scott. His pistol was drawn and aimed at Calloway. “Johnny here was doin’ nothin’ to bother ya. And he ain’t hired out to no one neither.”
Calloway started. “You the sheriff here? You can’t gun a man down for winnin’ a fair gunfight!”
Val pursed his lips momentarily, looking like he was thinking hard. “Good point,” he finally said. He reached up with his left hand and removed the star on his chest. Tossing it to a man on the boardwalk, he said,” Senior Baldemero, would you hold on to that for a few minutes?”
Baldomero nodded, then walked into his store. Coming out, he said, “I left it on the counter, Sheriff.” Then he went to stand behind Scott and Val, a rifle in his hand. A moment later, Charlie stepped out into the street with his pistol drawn. He took a place behind Scott also.
“How many of us do you think you can take this afternoon?” Scott asked Calloway.
Murdoch watched Johnny tense but he never took his eyes off Calloway. “Scott, Val, this ain’t no one’s fight but mine—“
“Shut up, Johnny,” Scott said evenly.
“Listen ta ya brother,” Val added.
As he spoke, four more townsmen walked into into the street.
“You people crazy?” Calloway said. “You cain’t interfere with a gunfight—“ He swallowed hard, and looked around him, at a dozen guns pointed at his heart. “Ya can’t just kill me in front o’ all these witnesses!“
“Witnesses who saw you come into town to kill one of our own,” Jim Perry said as he stepped into the street behind Johnny, his own pistol aimed at Calloway. Several others did the same and Murdoch realized there were now a good twenty men standing behind his son, all with guns drawn.
Looks to me like you have a choice, Calloway,” Scott said. “Die in a gunfight….. or die getting out of town. Either way, you’re dead, and what’s your reputation worth then?”
“You men are plum loco!” Calloway shouted, looking around him nervously.
“You may want to rethink that statement,” a strong, obviously feminine voice called. Aggie Conway was standing in the doorway of the dressmaker’s establishment across the street. And Aggie was pointing a rifle at Calloway.
“And rethink fast,” the Widow Hargis said as she aimed a small pistol at him from the other side of the street. “We don’t cotton to your kind here.”
“As Mayor, I urge you to leave our fair town,” Mayor Higgins added. He too had moved into a place behind Johnny. He stood close to a wagon where he could shelter if needed but it was as strong a stand as the man could take.
Calloway began backing away toward his horse. “I ain’t never seen a crazier town in ma life,” he growled. “Madrid, I promise ya I’ll tell everybody ‘bout this crazy place you’re livin’ now. No self-respectin’ gunfighter is gonna come near this place….!” He leapt up onto his horse and spurred its sides, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
Behind Johnny, people holstered their weapons and went back to whatever they had been doing a few minutes earlier. Several walked past Johnny, patting him on the shoulder or giving him a quick nod. Aggie Conway flashed Murdoch a broad grin and headed back into the dressmaker’s shop. Val Crawford placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and exchanged a silent glance with him. Then he shouted, “Senior Baldemero! Where’s my badge?” and loped off to the general store.”
In less than a minute, only Johnny and Scott stood in the street. The older brother took a few steps forward and put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Murdoch,” he called. “We’ll be in the saloon.”
“I’m right behind you, boys,” their father called back as they walked off.
Jim Perry stepped onto the boardwalk and shook Murdoch’s hand once again. “A pleasure doing business with you, Murdoch,” he said. “And your sons. “
“Es verdad,” Sr. Baldemero called.
“We owe the Lancer family a lot,” Widow Hargis sniffed as she placed her small pistol back in her handbag.
Val Crawford came toward Murdoch. He was repinning his sheriff’s bad on his vest. “And we take care of our own,” he said emphatically. “Now, who’s buyin’ the beer?”
Murdoch Lancer took his first deep breath in five minutes. “That would be me, Sheriff,” he said. “That would be me.”