by  S.

Johnny and Scott Lancer rode into the small town not far from the border. For the better part of a week the two brothers had ridden through one dusty town after another, experiencing scorching heat, unfriendly desert creatures and even more unfriendly town creatures. This town didn't seem to be much different than any of the others except for the fact that they were now headed north--north toward Lancer and home.

As the two rode slowly towards the so-called livery stable, a shiver coursed down Scott's spine, despite the temperature which registered close to 100 degrees. "Johnny, what do you say we skip this place and keep riding? I don't mind spending the night in my bedroll on the road."

The dark-haired man looked over at his brother. "You may not mind it, but I want a cold beer, a hot bath, a bed and the company of a warm female for a coupla hours."

"And you think we'll find all that in this town?"

"Sure, every town along the border has a cantina. In fact, there's one over there: El Veneno Negro. Sounds just your type."

"But what does it mean? You know I don't speak much Spanish."

"Never could figger out why an educated man like you couldn't pick it up?"

"Maybe I could if my brother would condescend to teach me. I have been somewhat busy learning the finer points of ranching, you know."

This sent Johnny Madrid into a howl of laughter. "Gotta hand it to you there, Boston. You have been takin' on them finer points, although down here they call 'em cactus."

Scott flushed. "I still don't know how that happened. I'm sorry we were delayed because of it."

Sapphire eyes gleamed with amusement. "Oh well, I had time for a shot or two of tequila while you were gettin' free of those spines. Bet you won't tangle with one of them anymore."

As soon as the two entered the cantina, all of the talking stopped as the handful of patrons carefully perused the strangers. Walking over to a vacant table, Johnny immediately asked for two cold beers. The waitress only nodded. Not even the Madrid charm changed the expression on the bored face.

When the beer arrived, Scott took a sip and grimaced. "Uh, it's not very cold."

"Ice is hard to come by around here."

"I suppose. At least, it's wet." The blond took another sip, but this time something tipped his nose. A dead fly stared back at him. "Uh, Johnny?"

"You know, Scott, maybe it would be a good idea for you to put the horses into the livery stable and I'll grab another drink and then we'll find a place to stay."

"You want another drink?"

Gulping down the brew in his glass, the young man simply remarked, "Sure, mine's colder than most of the beer we've had this week."

"All right if you say so, I'll go take care of the horses." As the older Lancer stood up, one of the men at the next table did too so Scott walked right into the shorter man with a massive scar on one cheek.

The scarred man pushed at Scott before growling, "Odios Americanos. A semejanzade americanos hurto nuestra tierra."

The Bostonian quickly stepped back. "I'm sorry. I didn't see you." He then walked out the door.

Johnny leaned back in the chair, tilting his hat forward to cover his eyes. He stayed that way for sometime while he sipped at his second beer. Finally, he got slowly up and also left the cantina. Hopefully, Scott had found accommodations for the night. The gunfighter had spent too many nights on the trail in his life. He definitely preferred beds to bedrolls.

Walking past the livery stable--such as it was--Johnny ducked his head in, but did not see anyone who resembled his brother.

Since the town was small, Johnny reluctantly decided to search for his missing sibling. Scott sometimes had a habit of getting himself in trouble and Johnny wasn't looking for trouble--only a bath, a meal and a bed. Unfortunately, he might have to settle for one out of three.

Twenty minutes later the elusive blond still had not been located. Hands twitching with annoyance, Johnny Madrid decided to make one more search near the stable area. There just weren't that many places he could be. There wasn't even a brothel in town.

Cutting around the corner behind the stable, Madrid heard the sounds of a scuffle. Unholstering his gun, he quietly approached, only to find four men, two of whom had been in the cantina. The third man was kicking at the man on the ground, who just happened to be Scott Lancer.

Since the three villains were not even aware of his approach, Johnny calmly approached, gun out and demanded, "Drop the guns!"

The largest of the men glanced up. "This is none of your business senor. Go on your way."

"You'd better get rid of the guns or you're going to have another hole in your head."

"Senor, why do you stop us from killing this man? He has insulted our sister and we seek only justice."

"I don't know who you think he might be, but he's my brother. Understand? Mi hermano. We just got to town about an hour ago. So whoever it was who insulted your sister, it wasn't Scott." 
 "Consuela said it was an Anglo with hair of wheat. When he came into the cantina. . . . ."

"I get the picture. Next time make sure you get the right man when you want to defend your sister. Now, get out of here before I regret being so generous."

"Si, Senor. We are sorry. Adios."

The three men scurried off. The big man pushing the other two along. It was one thing to beat up a helpless Americano, another to take on a gunslinger who obviously was no stranger to guns.

Moving over to Scott's side, Johnny leaned over to survey the bruised and bleeding man. "Scott, I think you're right about not stayin' in this town tonight. I'll get the horses."

Through his one good eye, Scott peered up at his brother, before attempting to rise. Johnny reached over to give him a hand up, then both of them headed into the stable.

About a mile out of town, Scott began to slump over in the saddle. Johnny rode over near him so that he wouldn't slip to the ground. "Well, it looks like we're gonna have to bed down here for the night, Brother."

"I. . .I'm sorry. I just don't think I can make it much farther."

"S'okay. I can wait one more night to find a bed."

Making sure that Scott was covered by the one extra blanket, Johnny set out to make a small fire, even he didn't think they would need it in the heat. It would help keep some of the non-human creatures away. Leaning back against his saddle, Johnny began to hum off-key. "Well, Boston, I would say you've learned a valuable lesson here."

"Wh-what's that?"

"There are some things worse than bad beer and contrary cactus."

Wincing as he turned over to try find a comfortable position, Scott could only reply, "You're right, Johnny, and one of them is a smart-mouthed little brother."


I apologize if my Spanish is incorrect.



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