“Blessing? Only the rottenest town I ever had to shoot my way out of” – Johnny Lancer
There. See that road over yonder? Points to Blessing. That’s where I knew Johnny Madrid. Quietest sonuvabitch I ever met. Young guy, y’know. No one had heard of him else he wouldn’t’ve been riding shotgun hauling freight to Tucson. But he kinda made an impression on me and when his name started poppin’ up here and there after a time, it didn’t surprise me. No sirree, didn’t surprise me one bit.
You know him? You lookin’ to hire him? I hear he’s fast but I never saw him draw, so I couldn’t say. I can tell you he hit ever’ thing I saw him aim at, and he didn’t hit what he wasn’t aiming at. Tough hombre, too. Got pounded into the dirt and got right back up swingin’.
It was a while back when I was still freighting. Drove a four mule team hauling silver, mostly. Used to be six, seven, sometimes eight wagons from Sonora to Tucson with silver from the Ayones mines. Round trip took close to a month. Long time to be away from home, ain’t it? Missed my woman and my kids somethin’ fierce…
Not a bad haul except for the Apaches, but at the time they weren’t like to attack any white men with long guns so we just hired us a bunch of gunfighters carryin’ rifles. Now, I never cared much for any of those gunmen. I hate gunfighters when you come right down to it. Scary fellas, only in it for the money and a fair number of ‘em just plumb like killin’ stuff.
So when Blessing – the man, not the town – put out the word to us teamsters that we could make easy money ditching our loads in his town, it were no extra trouble to pay off the hired guns once we had the cash in hand. They took the money and run.
Except Madrid. Wasn’t it just my luck that when I finally had enough of haulin’ an’ was looking to get out with a sweet payday I was stuck with him? We was a couple of miles outside of Blessing – the town, not the man – when I explained the deal to him. Damned if he didn’t shake his head and say nope. He said the silver belonged to Señor Ayones and he would see that it got to the agent in Tucson who was buying it from him because that’s what he was paid to do. I told him right back that no one in his right mind would walk away from easy money like this, and he just says “Who said I was in my right mind?”
I was mad, let me tell you. It had took me a while to work up the nerve to ditch the load, and here was a two-bit pistoleer still wet behind the ears stoppin’ me! That was before the flood hit. See, it was just the one wagon this time because it was the rainy season which is not a time to be hauling heavy freight. Don’t rightly remember why, but it was just the one wagon…me drivin’ and Madrid sittin’ there watching for Indians. And damned if he didn’t pull his pistol on me and tell me not to bother turnin’ off to Blessing, that we would sleep on the trail tonight. And he meant it.
Them big ol’ storm clouds was rollin’ in as the sun went down but Madrid just looked at me cool as you please and kept that Colt pointin’ in my general direction. Now, the good thing about haulin’ with mules is that they just keep a-goin’ all day. But the bad thing about haulin’ with mules is that they just keep a-goin’ and sometimes you find yourself doing stupid things like not bedding down on high ground when the sun sets behind a fast-movin’ bank o’clouds. Madrid didn’t realize how soon the rain would hit, that’s for damn sure.
Before we knew it we was soaked to the skin and the mules were complainin’ about gettin’ their feet wet. That brown water rushed in deeper and deeper and finally even Madrid could see the flood that was coming.
“Can we go back now?” I yelled at him, angry-like, and he shrugged and put his gun up. I turned the mules off the trail and up the side of the gully. Took me drivin’ and him pushin’ the wheels to get the damn load safe and when we did we was nearly in town anyway, so we drove to Blessing which is what I’d wanted to do all along, damn it.
It was pourin’ down and I couldn’t hardly make out my hand in front of my face. We run around knockin’ on doors but even if a body peeked out they wouldn’t open up. The hotel was locked tight. We found the livery and took the mules in but it stunk so bad we couldn’t stand to stay there ourselves. We unhitched the mules, left the wagon right there outside the barn, and splashed our way to a church, which shouldn’t have been locked but it was anyway. Between the two of us we managed to break open a side door, and we spent the rest of the night tryin’ to dry out and sleepin’, if you want to call it that, on the hard pews. It was a miserable evenin’ for sure.
It only rained another couple of hours; that’s the way of them storms, you know. Rain frightful enough to wash wagons away and then the next morning you’d never know it happened.
So I’m thinkin’ that now that we’re in Blessing, maybe I can work that deal Madrid put the kibosh on. And since he weren’t in on it I wouldn’t need to pay him his cut, which was agreeable to me. So first thing before he woke up I snuck out of the church and made my way to the mining office to talk to Mr. Blessing.
See, the mine was pretty well played out but Blessing kept his backers happy by showing them a big load of silver ever’ once in a while and they never knowed it was from someplace else. They’d pour more money into Blessing’s mine and then he’d have his own men drive the silver somewhere to sell it, so he made real good money, twice. He was reputed to be generous to drivers who showed up with silver and I intended to benefit since I was gettin’ out of the business for my wife and kids and didn’t need an honest reputation no more.
Anyhow, before Blessing – the man, not the town – would pay me he wanted to see the load so we walked back to the livery. And wouldn’t you know inside was Madrid, harnessing those goddam mules and fixin’ to hitch’em to the wagon? Told us he was headin’ out but Blessing nodded at the livery man who’d been helpin’ Madrid with the mules, and that fella up and conks Madrid on the back of the head with a bucket and slips Madrid’s gun out of his belt.
Reckon that was a mistake.
Madrid had gone to his knees but he fell back and pulled the man’s feet out from under him and punched the guy right in the balls ‘fore he grabbed his gun back and got to his feet. Never saw anythin’ like that before, it happened so quick. Livery man kinda laid there moanin’ and didn’t even try to get up.
Blessing had a gun but was too stupid to pull it, or maybe he was too smart, I don’t know which. Instead he hotfooted it out of there. Madrid looked at me for a second and then he grinned like he was having the best fun of his life. “You comin’?” he says, and I calculated my chances with him or with Blessing, and I decided which way my bacon was fried, and I said, “You bet your ass, Madrid,” and between the two of us we got those mules harnessed up and out of there so fast your head would spin.
Even so, it took more than a minute. Starting out of town we was stopped by a herd of townfolk, blocking the road with their guns drawn. Blessing was there, and a man with a badge, and sundry and assorted other good citizens.
Was I scared? Bet your ass I was. Madrid weren’t. Still had that smile on his face as he set up on the bench next to me; he had his pistol in his hand and his rifle right beside him.
“Appreciate the escort,” he says to’em and he tips his hat.
“Not so fast, boy,” says Blessing, and he takes a step forward and raises his gun.
And Madrid smiles even bigger and starts talkin’ as he waves his Colt around. “Think I’ll take you down first,” he says, pointing his gun at Blessing, “and then the sheriff next.” He moves the gun to aim at the man with the badge, who kinda swallowed hard and took a step back. I forget what Madrid said next, but while he was talkin’ some of the other fellas looked real nervous and finally someone took a shot at us.
At which Madrid begins shootin’ so furious we was all dumbfounded. He fanned that Colt so fast no one knew what hit ‘em. The idiot who’d fired went down and Blessing did too, holding his gun arm. “Move!” Madrid shouts at me and pulls another gun I never seen before outta somewhere and keeps shootin’, and I urged them mules to make tracks.
Mules go all day but they don’t go so fast, least not at first. I was whippin’ and slashin’ with the lines and Madrid had wedged hisself against me shootin’ his rifle now and I was prayin’ to the good Lord that the townfolk of Blessing had bad aim since we was headin’ right for them. Heard a couple of thunks when their bullets got the wagon, and a couple of shouts when Madrid’s bullets found their mark, but then we was out of range and not a bullet hole in either of us, nor in the mules neither.
Madrid ducked down while he reloaded his weapons, bouncin’ around while we hightailed it outta there. Then he watched back for a bit to be sure they didn’t come after us, but they didn’t. He blew out a big breath with a “Whoo-ee!” and turned to me with a shit-eatin’ grin.
“Nice drivin’,” he says to me.
“Nice shootin’,” I says back.
And we made it to Tucson and delivered the silver to Ayones’s buyer and Madrid hardly said another two words. We shook hands when we parted ways, and that’s the last time I saw him. Don’t know where he is now. Got himself some kind of reputation, don’t he? I do know he’s the only gunfighter I ever met who was worth a damn. And that’s sayin’ something. I hate gunfighters.
Why’d you say you’re lookin’ for him? You one of them Pinkertons? One of them detective fellas?
Me? Not drivin’ any more, that’s for damn sure. Told my foreman after I got back from that haul that I was quitting the freighting business and damned if he didn’t hire me on to maintain the equipment. Told me an honest man deserved an honest job in his old age. Wages nearly as good, and no travelin’, no Apaches, and no gunfighters. I hate gunfighters.
My kids and my woman are good and so am I. Hey, if you find Madrid, mention me to him. And thank him for me. OK?