The Play is the Thing
by  EJ

(Sequel to The Surprise)

Before ya’ll yell at me, I know that line is from Hamlet but I think it works here.

I would also like to thank Helen Cooper (Coop) for her suggestions about some of Johnny’s reactions to the play.


Jelly sat on the seat of the buckboard containing two trunks for the trip to San Francisco.  He smiled when he saw the three Lancers come out the front door.  Since there didn’t appear to be any bloodshed it must have gone better than expected.

“Well, ya’ll ready?”  Jelly tried to stifle the smirk.  But the chuckle escaped when he saw Johnny strapping on his gun. 

Scott and Johnny smiled at the older man, Murdoch just huffed but then smiled, “Yes Jelly, we’re ready.” He tossed the saddlebag in the wagon and climbed onto the seat with Jelly. 

Cip brought Barranca and Ulysses around the wagon and handed the reins to the boys.  “Safe trip.”  Then he nodded to Johnny, “Be good nino.”

“Si, don’t see how I can get into too much trouble with Murdoch and Boston  watch doggin’ me.”

Cip just smiled and shook his head, he knew Johnny could get into trouble just walking into a room.


San Francisco:

“I appreciate you packing for us, Scott.  If you had left it to Johnny none of us would have a suit to wear to the play.”  Murdoch laid his brushes on the dresser.  It was a long trip and all he wanted was supper and early to bed.  Tomorrow night was the play and Murdoch  wanted to be well rested.

“You’re welcome sir, do you need anything before I go to my room?  I don’t want to leave Johnny alone too long.” Scott stood at the door.

“No, I’m fine, best to check on your wayward brother.” Murdoch chuckled at his older son’s expression.  “Knock when the two of you are ready to go down for supper.”

In their room Johnny was going through the trunk, just as he feared, Scott had packed the hated suit.  Then he spotted them, “Bless you Maria” she had packed his skin-tight leather pants, embroidered white shirt, and Bolero jacket.  Yeah the ladies liked him in that outfit, made him look like the son of a wealthy Don.

Scott came in just as Johnny pulled the Bolero jacket from the trunk.
“Well I see you are happy with Maria’s choices for your wardrobe.  I suspect Murdoch will want you to wear the other suit…” Scott stopped when he saw Johnny’s scowl.

“Get cleaned up, the hotel has a very good restaurant and I think Murdoch wants to make it a early evening.”  Scott hid his smile when he saw Johnny’s expression.  He knew his brother was hoping to check out the town and the ladies.

“Dios Boston, ya sure went all out with these rooms.  Good thing you’re rich.” Johnny laughed and headed for the water closet.

The Supper:

Murdoch and Scott wore suits but Johnny, well being Johnny no suit but at least he had on clean clothes.  The waiter gave Johnny a questioning glance but Murdoch shrugged his shoulders.  “My son doesn’t like suits.”

The meal was good although Johnny didn’t recognize some of the items served them.  Scott reassured his younger brother that said items were editable.  Then he defined editable.

“Why don’t ya just speak plain English, Boston.  Anyway ya know some of this stuff is bait?”  Johnny pushed it around on his plate.

Finally supper was over much to the relief of the waiter and the people at the adjoining tables.

It had been a long day and it was decided to turn in early since tomorrow night was the play.  Johnny wasn’t too thrilled with the decision but kept quiet and plotted how he might slip out without Murdoch catching him.

After Murdoch got to his room and said goodnight to his sons he laid on the bed and thought about the trip so far.

He had enjoyed the evening, especially Johnny’s antics at supper.  The boy had not been disruptive but his introduction to new food had it’s humorous side.  Scott explaining the menu, which was written in French, to Johnny was an experience, just like a little kid he kept asking “what’s that?”.

When the meal was served Johnny’s face developed a slightly greenish tint when Scott offered him a snail.  Murdoch laughed to himself as he remembered Johnny telling Scott “I ain’t eatin’ no bait.”  The lady at the next table overheard him and dropped her fork, Murdoch was afraid she would either faint or throw-up.

They gave up on getting him to try any food he couldn’t identify.
Murdoch instead ordered a steak for Johnny to head off anymore discussions of exotic foods.

In their room Scott made sure his younger brother wouldn’t be taking off for any late night exploring.

Johnny was scowling, he would get even later.


Breakfast started out uneventful, much to the relief of Murdoch and Scott.  There was not much the restaurant could do to that meal, and Johnny recognized what he ate.

During breakfast they told Johnny the story of the play.  Murdoch was now thinking maybe breakfast was a tie with supper last night.   Johnny seemed okay with killing off the king, the war, but he didn’t buy the walking forest.  “Hey Scott, was that Shakespeare guy a little crazy from too much peyote?”

“No Johnny.”  Scott was beginning to think maybe taking Johnny to a play wasn’t his best idea.

Trip to the museum:

Johnny was full of questions at the museum, both Scott and Murdoch enjoyed watching Johnny explore the place.  He was like a kid and Murdoch wasn’t sure who had the best time.  Murdoch scowled when he saw Johnny reach up to touch the breast of one of the nudes.  Scott just chuckled and pulled Johnny to the next gallery.


For lunch they found a Mexican cantina, much to Johnny’s relief and he proclaimed it the best meal so far.

Scott was sure it was because Johnny was able to identify every item on the menu. 

Murdoch had been fine with the spicy food but Scott had to drink several glasses of milk to put out the fire. 

The Play:

Everyone was scrubbed clean, and suitably dressed.  Johnny in the outfit Maria packed for him and Scott and Murdoch in suits. Murdoch was a little disappointed Johnny didn’t wear the suit he had ordered for him but had to admit Johnny looked handsome in the Mexican clothes.  They did better suit him.
It had been the beginnings of an argument when Johnny started to strap on his gun belt.

“You are not wearing a gun to the play young man.”  Murdoch ordered.

“Johnny a gentleman doesn’t attend a play armed.  None of the other men will be carrying a gun.” Scott tried to reason with his brother.

“I ain’t going out naked.”

“You won’t be naked, I told you no one will be wearing guns.” Scott didn’t want Johnny and Murdoch to get into a fight.  Not tonight.

Scott pulled Johnny into the hallway, “Please Johnny, we don’t want to spoil the evening for Murdoch.”  Scott used guilt for coercion.

“Okay...okay Boston.”  Johnny huffed and returned the their room and put away his rig but he pulled out his derringer and hid it in his jacket.

Then he returned to Murdoch’s room.  “Happy?”

“Yes, thank you Johnny.” Scott said and Murdoch nodded his approval.

The three Lancer’s made quite an impact when they arrived at the theater.

Johnny smirked at Scott when he noticed some of the ladies checking him out.  “Told ya Boston, the ladies love me in these pants.”

“Yes they do little brother.”  Scott had to agree, the ladies were almost leering at Johnny.

Scott had reserved a box for them, Murdoch and Johnny were properly impressed.

“Real fancy Scott.” Johnny was busy leaning over the edge checking out the ladies.

Scott and Murdoch discussed the actor playing MacBeth.  Scott had seen him play the role in Boston and said he was very good.

Murdoch was just happy being with his sons.  He always loved the play and was anxious to share it with his boys.

“Johnny please don’t fall.” Murdoch whispered to his son but he couldn’t help be amused watching Johnny take in all the newness of the situation. 

Murdoch and Scott each wondered what memories this evening would bring.

The lights dimmed and the curtains opened.

Thunder and lightning echoed in the theater causing Johnny to jump.  He glared at his father and brother when he heard the chuckles.

Three witches appear on the stage,  “Damn Boston those Scottish brujas sure are ugly.”

“Shh.” Murdoch huffed.

The witches left and new actors appeared, “Who’s the guy bleeding?” Johnny whispered to Scott.

“Shh, just listen.” Scott whispered.

Johnny sat back and tried to understand what was going on.  “Hell Boston I don’t understand a word they’re saying.”

“Please Johnny be quiet and listen.”  Scott was losing patience.

Johnny decided this play stuff wasn’t for him and started looking around for an escape route.

The sound of thunder startled him out of his escape thoughts, he looked at the stage.  The brujas were back and one of them was holding...damn it looked like a thumb.  I gotta get outta here.

Blanking out on the play and back to the possible escape routes, Johnny checked to see what Murdoch and Scott were doing.  They were both intently watching the stage, he might be able to slip out without them seeing him.

Johnny wiggled around on the chair and checked the door behind him.

Murdoch looked over at Johnny, he put his finger to his lips.

Well so much for slipping out.  He settled back into the chair, wrapped his arms around his chest, and bowed his head.  Could it get any worse?

He looked to the stage and saw a man with bloody knives talking to a woman, she seemed mad about something.  She took the knives and left.  Johnny figured this is where Murdoch talked about the king being killed.  With all the blood it must have been one hell of a mess.  He was surprised the ladies in the audience weren’t make a ruckus about all the blood.  Hell at Lancer Maria and Teresa would be yellin’ their heads off at him.

Johnny looked at Murdoch who seemed lost in the play and Scott was silently mouthing some of the lines.  He shook his head and phased out again.

He looked up again when the lady who had taken the knives started talking to herself.  Johnny guessed all that blood must have been too much for her.  Then she jumped out a window.  “Damn, why the hell did she do that?” Johnny asked just a little to loud.

“Shh, Johnny.” Scott whispered again.

Murdoch just glared at his younger son and returned his attention to the stage.

Johnny leaned back in the chair and eventually fell asleep much to the relief of Scott and Murdoch.

The ‘forest’ marched across the stage making the sounds of war which unfortunately woke Johnny.

Startled out of sleep Johnny grabbed for his missing gun at his hip and knocked his chair to the floor.  “What the hell is goin’ on?” he yelled.

Murdoch and Scott both jumped at the shout, Scott reacted first and reached out to calm his bother.  “It’s alright Johnny, it’s just the play.”  He tried to push his brother to back of the box.  Johnny still trying to draw the missing gun.

The shout was so loud the actors on the stage and the audience all looked up to the box holding the Lancers.

Murdoch was trying to apologize to the actors and the audience while Scott talked to Johnny at the back of the box. 

“Please forgive the outburst, unfortunately my son fell asleep and the battle startled him awake.  I am sorry we have interrupted the performance, please continue.”  Murdoch looked over his shoulder and saw that Johnny was now calm. 

Scott and Johnny came to the front of the box and Scott offered his apology , Johnny just nodded.  The three Lancers sat down and waited.

Some of the members of the audience were chuckling but most of them looked at the stage and waited.

The actors looked at each other.  MacDuff smiled up at the box and the decision was made among them to continue the performance.

In the box Johnny kept a low profile which included absolute silence on his part.  The only reaction he had was when MacDuff held up MacBeth’s head, he slapped his hand over his mouth.

Scott pulled Johnny out of the theater before the rest of the audience and rushed him back to the hotel.  He wanted to talk to Murdoch before Murdoch got his hands on him.

As he left the theater several people told Murdoch that this was the most interesting performance of MacBeth they had ever attended.  Murdoch was not amused.

Back at the hotel:

Johnny was sitting on the bed listening to his brother’s lecture. His butt was numb from the chair at the play and now he had to sit through Scott yelling at him.

“All you had to do was sit, you may not have understood everything the actors said but would it have killed you to be quiet?”

“Hell Scott, I tried but your talk about the play sure didn’t say how fucking weird it was.  Ugly ass witches, some crazy woman playing with knives, talkin’ to herself, and damn she jumps out a window.”  Johnny paused to take a breath.  “And big brother you didn’t say nothing’ about head choppin’ off.  Didn’t see that comin.”

Scott just stared at his brother, he shook his head and, “I’m sorry Johnny, you’re right.  I should have explained the play better, or better yet I should have read it to you.”

“Dios Boston, if I didn’t understand it here what’s make you think I’d understand it when you read it to me?”

“Well, if I had read it to you, you could have asked questions and we would have avoided the fiasco at the theater.”

“What’s a fiasco?”

‘It wouldn’t have been embarrassing.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right.  I’m sorry Scott I guess I spoiled it for Murdoch and you.  Maybe the next time you want to surprise the ol’ man with a play best leave me home.”  Johnny said, head bowed.

“No Johnny, the next time I will prepare you, no more surprises.”

Murdoch had been standing outside the door when he heard the boys talking.  He had been so mad at Johnny but as he listened his anger faded.  Scott was right, Johnny was totally unprepared.

The hotel room door opened and Murdoch stepped in, “I want to thank you boys for the early birthday present.”

Before he could continue Johnny jumped up from the bed and faced his father, “I’m sorry Murdoch, I spoiled the evening for you and Scott.  I didn’t mean to but I did, so just yell at me and get it over with.”  Johnny waited for the explosion.

Murdoch walked into the room and placed his hands on Johnny’s shoulders.  He felt bad that Johnny tensed at the touch.  “Johnny I’m not mad, it wasn’t fair of us to not to prepare you properly for the play.  We should have explained it better.”  Murdoch reached over and placed a hand on Scott’s shoulder, this son did not tense at his touch.  “This was the best night I’ve had in a very long time.  I was with my sons.”

Murdoch stepped back and laughed, “Johnny this is a night none of us will ever forget.  Several people from the audience said it was a memorable experience for them also.”

“You’re not mad?” Johnny was shocked.

“No son, I’m not mad.”  Murdoch smiled at his boys, “Well tomorrow is a long trip home so we better turn in.” 

As he left the room he thought this was definitely an evening he would never forget for as long as he lived.  Murdoch smiled and shook his head.

After Murdoch left, Johnny looked at Scott, “I can’t believe it, he ain’t mad.”

“He’s not mad Johnny,” Scott smiled at his confused brother. “Let’s turn in, it has been a very long day.”

Next morning:

Murdoch was sitting at the table in the hotel’s restaurant waiting for his sons to join him.  He was laughing at the newspaper article he was reading.

When Scott and Johnny finally joined him Murdoch handed the paper to Scott, “You might want to read the story about last night’s performance of MacBeth.”

Scott chucked and read aloud, “Last night’s performance of MacBeth included for the first time, audience participation.  One young man in the audience was obviously not acquainted with the play and exhibited a very unique response to the battle scene. 

In fact the play immediately stopped and all eyes focused on the box causing the commotion.   A young man had been sleeping when the sounds of battle awakened him suddenly.  One witness stated he appeared to be trying to draw a gun since he was grabbing at his hip.  Another witness stated she had seen this young man the day before and he was indeed wearing a gun low on his hip like a gunfighter.  She knew this because her brother reads the novels about the wild west and the young man looked like a gunfighter.”

A groan from Johnny caused Scott to look up from the paper.   He grinned at his brother then continued.

“Now it is a well known fact that sometimes the male members of an audience will fall asleep in the less dramatic elements of a play however this is the first time a nap has stopped a performance.

As a member of last night’s audience I must admit I enjoyed the interruption.  To whomever this young man is, thank you, it is the first time I have laughed at MacBeth.”

Johnny was turning an interesting shade of red.

Scott snickered, “At least they don’t know it was Johnny Madrid who almost shot MacBeth.”

“Very funny Boston.” Johnny glared at his brother.

“Well boys, let’s eat and head home.  I’ve had enough excitement.”  Murdoch smiled at his boys. 

He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Sam, Jelly, and Cip about Johnny and MacBeth.

The End

Thanks Helen for the suggestions.  EJ

" What's he saying?".....what's with all the 'thee's and thou's?" "Heck, them women in Scotland sure are wonder Murdoch left.."   "What, they're witches? Well, why don't they just shoot 'em, would save us all a lot of time...?".' Walkin' trees? Looks like someone's had a little too much peyote to me..."..etc...etc.... 

Helen Cooper






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