As always, gratitude and thanks to my betas, Suzanne and Margaret
“You lookin’ for me?”
Hiram Whitesell jumped at the quiet voice beside him in the darkness. He quailed even more when a match flared. In its quickening flame he saw a revolver pointed steadily at his chest.
This whole assignment was going from bad to worse – he was simply trying to deliver a message. His only escape was the door he’d just come through, but the cocking of the hammer on that Colt stopped him cold.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d close the door.”
Whitesell was persuaded. He shut the door and shrank back against it, hands raised, afraid to speak. He was going to die. He was going to die in this miserable hotel room in this hellhole of a town.
The intruder released the hammer of his gun and lit the wick of the lamp. Its wavering light revealed a young man of average height, better groomed than most of the men he’d seen in this town. Trim, clean shaven, Mexican dress, light eyes…
As the gunman shook out the match, Whitesell swallowed the lump in his throat. “Are you Johnny Madrid?”
“Who wants to know?” The gun never moved away from Whitesell’s chest.
“My name’s Hiram Whitesell. I’m a Pinkerton agent. We find people.” He’d thought the agency’s catchphrase faintly ridiculous when he’d started, but in border towns like Bullskin most folks had no idea what Pinkertons did. At least it offered some explanation, unlike the inane motto on his business card. “We Never Sleep.” What was that supposed to mean?
“Well, you found me. Or at least, one of us found the other one. What can I do for you?” Madrid’s eyes, partly shadowed by the brim of his hat, glinted with what Whitesell dared hope was amusement.
That twinkle emboldened him to let his hands down a bit before he answered. “Your father hired my agency to find you.”
Madrid tilted his head to the side. He met Whitesell’s gaze and held it. “Now, I doubt that. See, my father died a long time ago.”
That didn’t make sense. Very little about this situation did, come to think about it. “No, he’s very much alive. At least, he was three weeks ago. That was my most recent contact with him.”
Actually, it was his only contact with... wait. Didn’t Murdoch Lancer’s runaway wife have a common-law husband, now dead? Perhaps Johnny Madrid considered that man his father. Comprehension dawned on the pistolero’s face just as it hit Whitesell, too.
“I think you’d better start talking.” Madrid’s voice was harder than before. No glimmer of amusement remained in his eyes.
Whitesell broke out in a sweat. This man was a dangerous pistolero, after all. He was just supposed to deliver a message; how did he end up on the wrong end of Madrid’s gun?
Whitesell blew out a big breath and took a chance. “May we sit?”
Madrid glanced around the tiny room before motioning with his gun for Whitesell to take the only chair. He perched uncomfortably on the hard wooden seat as Madrid dropped onto the bed. The creaking of the frame muffled a soft grunt when he scooted back against the headboard. Madrid pulled off his hat and Whitesell saw a jagged wound, not yet scabbed over, on Madrid’s temple, matched by a bruise blooming on his opposite cheek.
Seeing Madrid was hurt calmed the agent’s nerves a little. He may have appeared like a ghost in Whitesell’s locked room but the gunfighter was human after all. Just a man. A man with a gun. A man staring expectantly at him.
Well. Finally. Whitesell could deliver his message and go home.
“Your father has been looking for you for many years. When he heard of the existence of the Pinkerton Agency he employed us to continue that search. It’s taken some time – particularly because of the name change – but once we confirmed that you were indeed his son, he instructed us to approach you.”
There. He and his superiors had prepared that little speech. It encompassed all he knew about his assignment. His job was done and he could get the hell out of Bullskin.
Madrid showed no emotion. “OK. You did that. Now what?”
Well, that was irritating – not least because he wasn’t sure how to answer. All they told him to do was deliver the message; no one said anything about what came next. He began mentally composing a complaint to his superiors about this woeful lack of preparation. Meanwhile, Madrid waited for an answer. Whitesell took a stab at one.
“I suppose he wants you to return home.”
Madrid’s mouth smiled; his eyes didn’t. “Well, now, that’s a pretty thought. The trouble is, it just don’t make sense.” An intake of breath suggested he was going to continue, but Madrid paused instead, then changed the subject. “What name change?”
“Madrid isn’t the name you were born with.”
“What name was I born with?”
He asked the question so innocently that Whitesell was flat footed again. “Don’t you know?”
This smile lit up Madrid’s whole face and made him look for all the world like a carefree kid – except for that deadly Colt. “Hell, friend, you’re the one tellin’ this story. How should I know?”
When they went over the case it never occurred to any of them that Johnny Madrid might not know he was Johnny Lancer. Could this be the wrong man? No, that couldn’t be. Surely they couldn’t have made that big a mistake. A simple task, he’d thought, delivering a message, only it was becoming a real mare’s nest.
What else did he know that might clear this up? “How old are you, Madrid?”
Madrid seemed to be enjoying Whitesell’s discomfiture, damn him. He definitely chuckled when he answered, “You tell me.”
Between the agency’s lack of preparation and Madrid’s prevarications, this assignment was nothing but a disaster.
“No, I think not. Our client – your father – wants to be sure we have the right boy…” Whitesell stopped. The gunman in front of him was no boy. “The right man.”
Madrid leaned forward a little and tapped the barrel of his gun thoughtfully against his free hand. “Why do you think it’s me?”
Whitesell didn’t really know. He was simply a messenger. Why was this young man asking so many questions? “I can’t reveal that. Trade secrets, you know.”
Whitesell had nothing else to say. Madrid wasn’t a big talker either, it appeared. Finally the pistolero frowned and rolled to his feet, spinning his gun on his finger before he dropped it into his holster.
“I got my name from my papa – my stepfather – just like you Anglos do. If I had a different name when I was born I never heard it. It doesn’t matter, though. The name I’ve got is workin’ just fine, wouldn’t you say? You’ve heard of me.”
Madrid settled his hat firmly on his head as he moved to leave but stopped with his hand on the doorknob. “You never said who hired you.”
So the gunfighter didn’t know who his father was. The Pinkerton Agency’s evidence supported Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer being one and the same, but Madrid himself wasn’t aware of it.
Well, telling Madrid his father was looking for him meant nothing if he didn’t know who his father was, did it? Whitesell could think of no reason to withhold the information. “Murdoch Lancer. He has a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California, near Moro Coyo. He’s been looking for his son – for you – for a long time. Over twenty years, he told me.”
Madrid slouched at the door, head bowed, eyes once again masked in shadow. “Thanks for the fairy tale, Pinkerton man. Now, if you know what’s good for you you’ll hightail it out of town. It could get pretty ugly here soon.”
The lamp flickered as he opened the door; Johnny Madrid slipped through to dissolve into the shadows. Hiram Whitesell moved quickly to lock the door behind him. Tomorrow he’d get out of here, back to civilization. It couldn’t happen a moment too soon.
His room was just down the hall from Whitesell’s, but that fool Pinkerton man didn’t need to know it. Johnny eyed the downy feather he’d stuck on the bed post with a lick of spit. It was still there, but before he could relax and feel safe, the nerves he’d been stamping down jangled up. His knees went weak and he sank down on the edge of the bed.
The son of a bitch who fathered him had a name. The faceless gringo who kicked him out was a rancher in California. He could find him now. He could face this Murdoch Lancer. He could see the man he’d hated his whole life.
Damn. Not this. Not now. Here he thought he was being clever, sneaking in on Whitesell – thought the man was playing some role in the fracas likely to blow up here in Bullskin. If he’d known what the Pink wanted him for, he’d have left the man alone. He couldn’t think about a father now. He had a job to do.
What kind of a name was Murdoch Lancer anyway?
Johnny fell backward on the bed with a groan. He was hungry and his head ached from the deputy’s lucky punch earlier that day. What he needed was sleep. He needed to be sharp when the action started at sun up. He needed to clear his mind. He needed….
He needed to know why the bastard who threw him and his mother out was looking for him.
Well, he could have slept better, that’s for sure, and Johnny was glad when it was time to get up. With each scrape of his razor he pushed Hiram Whitesell further to the back of his mind. With a little more effort he shoved Murdoch Lancer there, too. By the time he slid his hiding gun into its pocket he could pretend there was nothing to think about except the job he had to do.
Early morning Bullskin was a surprise. Johnny stepped out of the hotel to see its buildings boldly outlined against the orange-streaked sky. The town’s aging planks were washed pink by the rising sun; crumbling adobe walls picked up the color and turned it peach. Johnny slowed his pace to enjoy the scene; it wouldn’t last, but it sure was pretty.
Appreciating the sunrise made him the last man to find his way to the back room of the Bullskin Saloon. Some kid in a greased-stained apron fried up bacon while five other pistoleros slouched around, yawning. Next to the kid Johnny recognized the fellow that hired him. Chet Paxton was the town mayor, but right now he stood at the stove scrambling a couple dozen eggs. When he pointed his spoon at each man and grunted his name by way of introduction, flecks of cooked egg fell onto the floor.
Johnny nodded at the other gunfighters as he dished up his breakfast, then swung a leg over the bench to sit at the end of the trestle table. Hunched over his bacon and eggs he discovered Paxton was a better cook than a host – the food was good, the coffee hot and strong. Johnny had been living mostly on air for the past day or two and a decent breakfast set real well. Murdoch Lancer probably never went without breakfast.
Damn – where had that come from? Johnny stabbed his eggs so hard they skidded off his plate.
When Paxton was done with kitchen duty he brought his own tray over and slid in across from Johnny. “What happened to you?” Paxton raised a spoon from his coffee and pointed it at the scrape on Johnny’s temple.
Johnny rubbed at the scab. “I guess I forgot to duck.”
One of the other guns –Isham, was it? – snorted; Johnny shot him a grin under his hand.
Paxton frowned. “Don’t be a smart aleck with me, Madrid.”
Shit. Never a good idea to sass the boss man. “Deputy Holt didn’t like me askin’ questions, that’s all.”
“Holt? What the hell were you up to? I’m not paying you to ask questions.” Paxton sure was loud. Every man in the room could hear him.
“I wasn’t working for you at the time.” Which was mostly the truth; he’d been trying to find out about the Pinkerton man when he stumbled on that duty-bound deputy with the Texas accent and the hard left hook.
Paxton jabbed a finger in Johnny’s direction. “Once you sign on you’re working for me and only me ‘til the job’s done.” The other gunmen studied their coffee.
“Mr. Paxton.” Johnny lowered his voice so Paxton had to lean in to hear him. He knew it would aggravate the boss but after the public dressing down Johnny was okay with that. “It had nothing to do with you or this job. You hired me for my gun and that’s what you’ll get.” Paxton glared at him across the table for a few seconds before he pushed to his feet.
Isham leaned over and whispered loudly, “How’s that deputy look?” Johnny answered him with a wink as Paxton called for their attention.
“Everybody know your man’s name and where to find him? Good. Have him at the courthouse and in the voting room before nine o’clock. Got it?”
The gunmen nodded. Johnny knew playing bodyguard was nobody’s idea of a good time, but they were professionals; they would make sure their men were protected.
“Once your men are in and the door is locked, surround the building. Don’t start anything, but don’t let anyone in or out until I say so. Keep an eye open.”
“For what?” Isham again. The man sure had a big mouth.
Isham smirked. He looked like he did that a lot.
“Once the vote is announced and the crowd goes home, you’re done. Come back here for your pay off.”
Bullskin looked dingy again when the gunfighters left the saloon. Johnny and Isham headed west on the main street. Isham was a funny guy and he kept Johnny laughing until he waved him off to turn north. In a couple more blocks Johnny was at the home of Orval Burkitt, president of the bank. The bright yellow clapboard siding and white picket fence struck Johnny as pretty in an out of place kind of way, like a daisy in a desert.
A woman opened the door before he even knocked. Her eyes were rimmed in red and she sniffled into a lacy handkerchief. Her yellow dress almost matched the house.
“Please come in.” That was a surprise. Johnny felt the urge to check his boots for manure before he stepped onto a fancy hooked rug just inside the door. Orval Burkitt entered the room, buttoning his vest and looking grim.
Johnny nodded at him. “Mr. Burkitt, I’m Johnny Madrid.”
“Madrid,” Burkitt said, like he wasn’t really thinking about it. He had worry lines all over his face. Turning to his wife, Burkitt took her hands in his. “I’ll be fine, Maggie. Don’t worry.” He gently kissed her fingers, then pushed out the door, clapping a bowler hat on his head. Johnny followed with a touch of his own hat to the crying woman.
He thought he had plenty of time to get his man to the courthouse, but Burkitt moseyed along so slow Johnny wished he’d gotten him earlier. He stayed just back of Burkitt’s right shoulder so he’d have a clear shot if need be, but that left him no way to hurry the banker up short of giving him a shove.
Folks seemed to be going about their business in the usual way. Johnny and Burkitt were back on the main street when Burkitt turned his head.
“You know what this is all about, Madrid?”
“Mr. Paxton told me to see you to the courthouse for some vote.”
“Yes, yes, but do you know what we’re voting on?” To Johnny’s relief Burkitt picked up the pace a little.
“Nope.” He didn’t really care, either.
“Bullskin has the opportunity to deed our whole county to a consortium of investors from Europe. They’ve offered top dollar. It’s a wealth of opportunity for every man, woman, and child in this town – in this entire area!”
The man sounded like he was running for office. Johnny moved a little closer to make it easier to talk since talking made Burkitt walk faster. “What do the folks from Europe want with your land?”
“Minerals. They intend to begin mining as soon as possible.”
That made sense. “So what’s the problem?”
“The small ranchers and farmers don’t want to sell their land. They don’t understand the opportunity being offered to them. They’re afraid of change, of progress.” The disdain in Burkitt’s tone rubbed Johnny the wrong way.
“Well, it’s hard to ask a man to give up what he knows.” Johnny tried to keep his tone neutral, but Burkitt shot him a hard look anyway. Keep your mouth shut, Johnny boy. This ain’t your fight.
“That’s what the troublemakers have been saying. That’s why Mayor Paxton hired you gunmen, to make sure they don’t interfere.”
“Interfere how?” Keep walking, Burkitt.
“By voting against the syndicate.”
Johnny couldn’t help himself. “Ain’t that what an election is? Both sides vote and the side with the most votes wins?”
Burkitt scowled, then started walking again. Johnny waited a beat before he followed, shaking his head.
Dozens of men milled around the courthouse steps by the time Johnny got Burkitt there. Voters pushed through the crowd to reach the election table where Paxton checked each name against a list. If the man’s name was on the list he got a ballot and a wave up the steps to the portico. If his name wasn’t on the list he had to step aside. Every time a man who wanted to vote didn’t get a ballot, the crowd got louder.
All the men escorted by gunfighters got ballots.
Anger grew as those without ballots joined the men in the square. When some of them tried to push up the steps Paxton ordered the gunfighters to block their way. Mindful of the reputations – and the weapons – of the pistoleros, the farmers and ranchers backed down. They moved away from the courthouse to stand in tight knots in the dusty square, pistols tucked into their waistbands or shotguns in hand.
By quarter past nine all the ballots had been passed out and the delegates tucked away behind locked doors. Johnny stood at the top of the stairs in the shade of the portico with its fancy stone columns. Isham and the other gunmen spread out around the edges of the porch. All of them kept a sharp eye on the men in the square.
As the morning wore on, the stream of people rubber-necking past the square dried up. There’d been no women by at all, and Johnny was glad they were staying inside today. No more thoughts of Murdoch Lancer crossed Johnny’s mind.
Except…didn’t thinking he hadn’t thought about Lancer mean he was thinking about him? Johnny snorted a little.
About noon a fellow wandered past the square looking out of place with his clean town suit and bulging satchel. When he turned up the path to the square Johnny recognized Hiram Whitesell. Seemed the Pinkerton hadn’t taken Johnny’s advice to get out of town. The man really was a fool.
Whitesell studied the crowd for a few minutes before eying the gunmen on the portico. He touched his hat to Johnny; Johnny nodded back and thought of Murdoch Lancer again. Shoot – mind your job, Madrid.
Just then the courthouse doors opened. The farmers and ranchers pressed forward as Paxton stepped through. “You men ready?” he growled out of the side of his mouth. Johnny steeled himself for what was coming next.
The mayor stepped to the front of the portico and held up his hands for attention.
“Gentlemen. The matter was debated and the votes have been cast. The final tally was six votes against the syndicate, and seven votes in favor…” Shouts from angry men drowned out his next words. Johnny took partial cover behind a column before aiming a few shots at the ground to keep the crowd honest.
But when the courthouse doors opened again and the first delegate came out, the crowd became a mob. They rushed the steps with a roar. Chet Paxton shoved the delegate back into the courthouse, falling in behind him before slamming the door as the mob began shooting. When the pistoleros returned fire they weren’t aiming at the ground any more.
Haze clouded the air until Johnny couldn’t make out what was happening in the square; all he could do was aim at flashes of fire. When smoke rose from the pillar in front of him his heart raced for a minute until he realized it wasn’t smoke at all – just plaster exploding into fine grit as buckshot tore into it. Blinking fast, eyes watering, Johnny kept shooting into the square, stopping only to reload.
He flinched as pellets whizzed by him, but the farmers and ranchers were not as true in their aim as the hired guns. Isham showed up beside him and handed him a loaded gun when his own was empty. Johnny didn’t stop to question it.
The shots from the farmers and ranchers in the square died away until the only gunfire came from the professionals surrounding the courthouse. The battle was finished.
The haze blew away revealing dark forms, unmoving, on the ground. Those that could had run away.
Johnny knew the silence following a gun battle was unreliable, that any one of the bodies could rise up and shoot. But a man couldn’t just hide behind a column all day, could he? Slowly the pistoleros moved out from their cover, guns drawn and ready.
Nothing moved. Johnny banged on the courthouse door. A voice inside shouted “Friend or foe?”
“It’s Madrid. Everybody OK in there?”
“Is it safe to come out?”
Paxton opened the door a little and squeezed out. He looked over the square, now deserted except for the dead. The mayor bowed his head and heaved a deep sigh. After a moment his expression hardened and he opened the door the rest of the way. As the delegates edged out Johnny turned to Isham and saw his hand clamping a bloody gash on his gun arm. He took Isham’s bandana and wrapped the wound. When they looked to Paxton for help he waved them off.
“You’re done. Go get your pay.”
Battle’s done. Time for the gunfighters to get out of town. Johnny shrugged it off. “C’mon, Isham, I’ll see you to the doctor.”
“What doctor? There ain’t one in this town,” Isham said, but he walked off with Johnny anyway. Isham wasn’t cracking jokes now. They avoided the bloody forms in the square, headed for the main road. Both gunmen jumped a little when a body close to them moaned and rolled over.
Isham just stood there while Johnny crouched down to help the man on the ground.
It was Hiram Whitesell.
The Pinkerton agent had been shot in the gut. Curled on his left side, hands trapped between his knees, he shivered. His arms covered most of his wound but pale coils of blood-streaked entrails peeked out. His bag lay open beside him, its contents spilled in the dust. One look told Johnny Whitesell was beyond help, but he asked Isham to go for water anyway. Isham looked glad to have an excuse to leave.
After a moment, Whitesell knew who Johnny was.
“I’m shot. I’m dying.”
“It’s okay, I’m here now.” Johnny grabbed some of the clothes from the satchel, rolled them up, and slipped them under Whitesell’s head. He tucked a long coat around the man to hide the blood and the innards that were hanging out.
Whitesell’s face was gray. He shut his eyes and moaned again.
“Oh, mother, it hurts.”
“I know, I know. It’ll quit hurting soon.” Whitesell raised a hand to his head. Johnny grasped the other and held on. “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, Pinkerton man. You shoulda left last night.”
Isham returned with a skin of water. Johnny took it with a nod of thanks but Isham didn’t catch it; he was too busy trying not to look.
“Hey.” When Isham glanced at him Johnny tilted his head toward the saloon. “Go on. I’ll be along.”
With a grateful, “Catch you later,” Isham was gone.
Soon Whitesell opened his eyes again. Johnny helped him drink a little of the water.
“De nada. Look, Whitesell, you got anybody you want me to write to?”
Whitesell blew through his lips before he could answer. “No….but...in my pocket...”
Johnny fingered open Whitesell’s bloody vest and pulled an envelope from the inner pocket. It was addressed to the Pinkerton Agency.
With a wry smile Johnny put it inside his own jacket next to his hiding gun. “You tellin’ them you found me?”
Whitesell tried to smile, but the effort was too much. He coughed and gasped and pretty soon his eyes lost focus. He kept breathing but he moaned a little with every breath.
Johnny sat cross-legged on the ground waving flies from the dying man’s face. The day was heating up; he helped himself to some of the water Whitesell didn’t need any more.
How did it end up like this? Him and this Pinkerton man, here in Bullskin, brought together by Murdoch Lancer. Lancer, the man Johnny always blamed for every bad thing in his life, even before he knew his name. This was Lancer’s doing, and it was one more reason to hate him.
Wasn’t it? But bad things happen all the time. Johnny knew that for a fact. Bad things happen no matter who pulls the strings, and it wasn’t Murdoch Lancer who made Whitesell stroll past the courthouse this morning. It wasn’t Murdoch Lancer who fired the shot that blasted the guy’s guts out. Tempting as it was to try, Johnny couldn’t lay this death at Lancer’s feet.
The god-awful moaning stopped. Johnny stayed put until Hiram Whitesell breathed his last. And when he finally did, Johnny sat back and hoped it hadn’t been his bullet that killed him.
He sat there for a while, arms resting on his knees, hands holding his head, trying not to think about much of anything. He tried until a shadow crossed Whitesell’s body and settled on him, cooling the heat of the sun a little. Damn it. He didn’t feel like talking to anybody. Maybe if he kept his head down whoever it was would go away.
No such luck. “I thought I told you to leave this fella alone.” Deep voice, Texas accent – Johnny knew who it was right away.
He squinted up at the deputy who’d knocked him down yesterday. “I did. Looks like he got caught in the crossfire after the vote.”
Deputy Holt took a puff of the thin cigar clenched between his teeth. “Convenient.”
“You think I’d stay here with him if I shot him?” Johnny got to his feet to face this pendejo eye to eye.
The lawman shrugged and blew smoke into the air. “Maybe you were just making sure he was dead.”
“Or maybe I was just trying to ease his passing.” It wasn’t only the sun making Johnny hot.
“Is he dead?” Holt poked at Whitesell’s body with the toe of his boot and Johnny snapped. His hard left to the deputy’s stomach felt good but only moved the man back a step or two. It didn’t even knock the cigar out of his mouth. Holt returned the favor with a sharp jab to the same cheek he’d hit the day before. The pain sent Johnny to his knees and Holt stood over him, fist drawn back again.
“Look, Deputy. I didn’t do it.” Panting, Johnny fingered his throbbing cheek and hoped his words were the truth. Tears streamed out of his eye as he raised his right hand to block another blow. Damn it all, he was still mad. He struggled to his feet and glared at the deputy.
“Listen, Holt. I want to see the mayor. The fella that hired me? You know – Paxton. The one that paid me and a bunch of other guys to shoot people today?”
Holt’s eyes slid to the side when Johnny mentioned the mayor. He took his cigar out of his mouth and slowly turned it around in his hand. He listened without meeting Johnny’s eyes.
“If you want to toss me in jail for doin’ what your mayor hired me to do, okay. Go ahead. Let’s get it over with.” Johnny thrust his hands out toward the deputy. “Well, go on.” He shook his arms for emphasis and left them hanging there in the air.
Deputy Holt studied the ground for a long moment.
“I don’t need to cuff you, boy,” he said, finally. He put the cheroot back in his mouth and talked around it. “But you better settle down or I will haul you in.”
Johnny dropped his arms and looked down at the ground, too. Whitesell’s body was already covered with ants and flies. All the vinegar drained out of Johnny. He was tired now. Just tired.
“Look, Deputy, can I go?”
The lawman looked at him sideways. Still sucking on that skinny cigar, Holt waved him away.
Johnny’s pay sat heavy in his inside pocket, but the Pinkerton envelope sat heavier. Isham was coming by later for cards and a drink. Johnny had a head start on the drinking part as he sat alone in the saloon, poking through all the thoughts he’d stuffed far back in his head.
Murdoch Lancer. He’d never heard the name before yesterday but it was like he’d known it all his life. He didn’t have any doubts that the man was his father. Even Whitesell looked confused there for a minute last night, wondering if he’d got the wrong man. But it felt right, and Johnny knew to trust his instincts.
He stared into his beer and wished he’d never found out.
So his name was Johnny Lancer. Well didn’t that sound all respectable…John Lancer. Sure didn’t have the same ring to it as Johnny Madrid. Nope, not at all. He’d always been Johnny Madrid, and he always would be Johnny Madrid. Who was Johnny Lancer anyway?
Murdoch Lancer had a ranch in California. God, Johnny hated ranchers. Loud, bossy men, all full of themselves...Did he know Johnny’s mother was dead? Would he care? Naw, a man who tossed his wife out wouldn’t care a whit if she died.
Wonder what Murdoch Lancer thought about having a gunfighter for a son?
There it was. The only reason his father – his father! – was trying to find him now. He’d discovered his son was Johnny Madrid. Ranchers can always use a man handy with a gun. Lancer couldn’t be bothered to raise his own kid but when the kid grew up to be a hired gun, good at his trade, he came looking for him.
Well, Johnny had no intention of using his gun for Murdoch Lancer. Maybe he’d use his gun on Murdoch Lancer…
When he was a stray kid on the border it was easy to swear to kill the man who had caused his mama such pain. Easy to imagine a nameless, faceless gringo as a target when he was learning to use a gun. Easy to hate someone he didn’t know.
Hell, three years ago he would have been on his way to put a bullet in Murdoch Lancer. Hate was that important then. It had kept him alive.
But hate didn’t keep him alive now. Skill did. Skill and smarts. Knowing which battles to pick. And he was in no hurry to rush into a battle he wasn’t sure he wanted to fight.
He knew his father was looking for him, but Lancer didn’t know he knew. If he sent Whitesell’s letter he lost the advantage of surprise. He could….
Johnny raised his eyes and his gun at the same time to see who called his name. It was Isham, standing across the table from him, hands up and grinning.
“Boy, you were miles away, Johnny Madrid. Pretty quick with that piece, though, ain’t cha?”
Johnny smiled, holstered his Colt, and waved his friend to sit down.
The way to get an edge now was to do nothing.