It was an empty, flat, dusty piece of land. Nothing about the scattered rocks and stunted trees seemed to warrant intense interest by the two men watching from atop a low bluff. Even so, they scrutinized the wasteland as if it were important to miss no detail.
The taller of the pair had blond hair, untouched by gray. His lean body was straight and unbowed. A few deep lines etched his face, rendering it no less attractive, but making clear that this was a man well past his sixtieth year.
His companion was somewhat stockier; a build that had entirely to do with muscle, since there still wasn’t an ounce of spare fat to be found on that solid frame. Thick, dark, curly hair was shot through with touches of gray that only succeeded in making him look pleasingly distinguished.
Certainly the passing years hadn’t dimmed the sparkle in those clear blue eyes. Just now they were slightly unfocused as he gazed down at a scene that existed only in his memory.
“You sure this is the place, Johnny? I can’t see anything about this patch of ground that’s different from what we’ve seen in the last fifty miles.”
“Oh, this is the right spot. I’m not likely to forget it…ever. When that Pink came barreling down there, yelling at the top of his lungs to stop…that he was looking for Johnny Madrid…”
A small grin played around his lips, remembering that long ago day. “Thought at first I must have had a touch of fever from the sun, but when the fool started flashing that roll of greenbacks, I knew we’d both be dead if I didn’t do something.”
Scott Lancer had already heard this tale of an impending firing squad more than a time or two, but seeing the actual site where it took place brought on an especially chilling realization of how close he’d come to losing his brother before he’d even known he had one.
Meanwhile Johnny’s reminiscences had taken a darker turn. “Thanks to the old man, I got a second chance…as Johnny Lancer. But a lot of good men spent those years fighting and dying…because of that bastard Diaz.”
The legacy of General Porfirio Diaz was one of the bloodiest on record. Scott had heard all the horror stories. Massive land grants had been awarded to the privileged few while peasants were forced into labor camps. Wholesale murder was the order of the day. Diaz himself had no compunction about selling off his country’s resources to the highest foreign bidder.
It was impossible to miss the note of bitter regret, and Scott knew his brother was recalling the blood that had been shed over the past forty years. Words wouldn’t be of much help, but he had to try.
“Yes, and among all those men fighting and dying, it’s unlikely one more gun would have made much difference…even the gun of Johnny Madrid.”
Deliberately keeping his tone reasoned and unemotional, he went on, “But I’ll tell you what did make a difference…the money you were able to smuggle into the country. Money that paid for guns, ammunition and supplies…all the things necessary to empower a revolution.”
Yeah,” Johnny took a deep breath. “I remember thinking that ‘no money’ was the reason for the revolution and ‘no money’ was probably the reason why it was going to fail.”
“I couldn’t have done anything much about that on my own, and I sure as hell didn’t think the old man was gonna go for it the first time I went to him with the idea.”
Scott had to agree. Most would have considered Murdoch Lancer a far-fetched choice for someone to fund a peasant uprising, but over the years a percentage of the ranch’s profits had found its way into the war chests belonging to certain leaders of the revolution.
“Well, I suspect Murdoch had reason to feel some strong ties to this county. And he was not the kind of man to condone the sufferings of people being oppressed by a tyrant like Diaz.”
Even now—after nearly two decades—Scott still felt the void that had been left by their father’s death. Knowing that his brother experienced the same loss somehow made it easier to bear. But, that wasn’t the point of this little expedition.
“I thought we’d come here for a celebration of sorts. Diaz has been forced into exile. That at least is good news for Mexico.”
There was still a hint of somber pain in Johnny’s expression, but he flashed a bit of his usual irrepressible grin. “Yep, I would have paid my last dollar to see that cobarde looking for a rock to hide under.”
“In that case,” Scott pointed at the saddlebags draped over his brother’s shoulder, “where’s that world-class tequila you’ve been bragging on? Aren’t we supposed to drink a toast in honor of the great event?”
“That’s my brother…always thinking,” Johnny replied with a smirk.
It only took a moment to come up with a bottle and to fill each of the two glasses with the amber liquid.
“Viva la revolucion!” Johnny shouted in triumph, with Scott’s exuberant whoop-and-holler just seconds behind.
As the echoes of their rousing cheers faded, both men tossed back the contents of their glasses with a single flick of the wrist.
In the silence that followed, Johnny grew pensive. “All these people have ever wanted was to live and raise their families in peace. I’d like to believe they’ll have that chance now.”
“By all accounts, Madero is a good man,” Scott offered hopefully.
“He ‘was’ a good man before he became el president. It wouldn’t be the first time a good man let power go to his head.” Anyone who’d lived south of the border for as many years as Johnny could attest to the truth of that statement.
“Doesn’t Pancho Villa support him?” Scott asked. “You’ve spoken of Villa in the past. Is he someone you trust?”
“Trust him more than most, but Zapata is already stirring things up in the south.”
“I guess sometimes all a country can do is fight one battle at a time, just like a man has to.” Scott clapped his brother on the shoulder. “And now that we’ve done what we came to do, it might be time to start heading back. Our boys weren’t very happy about us making this trip.”
“Ha!” Johnny snorted. “The way those two carry on, you’d think we were a couple of…”
“Enfeebled old men?” Scott suggested, with a gleam of humor in his eyes.
“That wasn’t the same thing at all.” Even though Johnny protested, he couldn’t repress a sheepish grin. “We were just…”
“Worried about him?” .
“All right…all right,” Johnny threw up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I once told Murdoch he’d better get used to having sons to worry about him, so I suppose I ought to take my own advice But, “he growled, “if I find out they’ve been following us…dogging our trail like we’re a couple of wet-behind-the-ears…”
Scott just laughed. “I’ll go take care of saddling the horses.”
Before following his brother up the hill, Johnny took one last look at the deserted countryside.
“Adios, mi amigos,” he whispered, pouring a small measure of the tequila into the dust at his feet. “Viva la revolucion.”
And leaving the spirits of the dead to their private reflections, he turned his own thoughts toward home.