One Night Only
A/N: Originally published in the Lancer Convention Souvenir Fanzine for the Homecoming 2005, by Yucca Flower Press.
“One Night Only”
Our author, overcome with complete exhaustion and stress, and frazzled to the ends of her fingertips, due, no doubt, to the uncompromising deadline schedule of a no-nonsense editor and the severe correction of every line of story by a demanding and perfectionist beta-reader, fell asleep atop her keyboard in the wee hours of the morning and had a most curious dream . . .
It was the first ever Ladies’ Night at the one and only saloon in Morro Coyo. Closed to the general public, tonight’s event was only for those members of the fairer sex, and it had been gossiped about, discussed, and debated in low whispers and giggles among the ladies of the area for days. Women from Morro Coyo, Green River, Spanish Wells, and farms and ranches for miles around crowded into a space far too small for such a gathering.
Women who normally wouldn’t have had a word to say to each other passing on the street chatted and laughed together in a mixture of Spanish and English in easy companionship. Ranchers’ wives and farmers’ daughters (but none under the age of twenty-one, no matter how much certain young ladies may have pleaded) stood or sat drinking – shockingly, scandalously – with over-painted and under-dressed saloon girls. There were schoolteachers, shopkeepers, a host of others, married or single, and one white-haired grandmother who proudly admitted to the age of seventy-four. (“I may be old, but I’m not dead, dearie,” she had said when her blushing daughter-in-law gasped in shock at seeing her there.) But it hardly mattered. Each and every one of them was there for just one reason.
Amid much rustling of skirts, animated conversation, bursts of laughter, and the soft sound of a piano playing in the background, the clock over the bar struck ten, and a door must have opened somewhere for a waft of cooler air cut through the slight haze of cigarette smoke. The noise level rose a little higher, growing louder, quicker, and every face in the room was lit with anticipation.
Sixty-seven sets of female eyes swiveled to the entrance at the back of the saloon and the various conversations just as swiftly died as the evening’s main attraction sauntered his way fully into the room. A wave of sighs spread like ripples in a pond as more eyes were able to catch sight of him. Corsets were surreptitiously and hastily adjusted to compensate for deeper breathing, and several women found themselves needing their fans. Then he smiled, that slow as syrup smile, the one that started at one end of his mouth and curled up the other, and more fans came out and a dozen shawls dropped unheeded to the floor in the suddenly too hot room.
Johnny Madrid had arrived.
Yes, definitely Madrid. Not Johnny Lancer, the hard-working young rancher, oh no. This was the bad boy gunfighter himself. Sleek and lean. In black leather. Mister Dangerous. Mister Dark and Handsome. And if he wasn’t overly tall, well, who was complaining?
“Oh, good gracious,” someone breathed. Or maybe moaned. “He’s wearing the pink shirt.”
The women standing near her nodded enthusiastically. And sighed.
“I’ve always thought of it as Dusty Rose, myself,” one added in a dreamy voice.
“Blush,” said another.
“I don’t care what color it is,” said the first one. “Just as long as he takes it off.”
Another round of fervent and enthusiastic nods greeted that remark, and they all craned their heads to get a better look.
The gunhawk continued to ease his graceful way through the crowd, spurs ringing softly, the perfect white grin flashing as he caught the gazes of his admirers. He tipped his hat and murmured, “Ladies,” and slowly made a circuit of the entire room. Those women not sitting down felt their knees give way as that devastating smile was aimed in their direction.
“He’s not armed, Rachel,” the seventy-four-year-old grandmother whispered. “We’ve got him outnumbered. We could take him.”
Her daughter-in-law’s eyes got wider. “Mother!” She shushed the older woman hurriedly.
“There, there, dear,” she patted Rachel’s hand in return. “I was only teasing.” Then she added under her breath, “Maybe.”
In another corner, a rather short young woman was having trouble seeing over the crowd, and had resorted to standing on a chair. “Up here, Mabel,” she urged breathlessly to her friend, “there’s room if you don’t squirm. I can see lots better.”
Mabel grabbed her skirts in one hand and stepped awkwardly up on the chair next to her friend, swaying a moment before she found her balance. “Oh, my,” she sighed, eyes glazed. “He’s . . . he’s smiling.”
“I know. Oh, Lord,” she gasped, “he just looked at me, I swear, Mabel, he looked right at me.” She put a hand to her forehead in a dramatically appropriate manner. “I think I’m going to faint.” The chair wobbled slightly.
Mabel got a grip around her friend’s waist. “Oh no you don’t, Maude. Besides, he was looking at me.”
The object of their combined interest, or perhaps rather, raw lust, had by this time finished his slow turn about the saloon, and needless to say, every glance was utterly riveted. Johnny Madrid’s dark good looks and sensuous grace had caused many a woman’s heart to flutter over the years, but probably never quite so many all at the same time.
“Ladies,” he said again. “What a pleasure it is to be here tonight.” That soft voice rolled over them, a couple more shawls hit the floor, and Maude wasn’t the only one who felt like fainting. The Madrid charm was in full force this evening, and it would be a miracle if anyone survived unscathed. “Shall we get started?”
And without further ado, he took his rakishly angled cowboy hat from off his dark hair. Without even bothering to look, he sent it skimming across the room where it came to rest neatly atop the bar.
“This is the, ah, most successful fund-raiser for the orphanage I’ve ever attended,” murmured one especially well-dressed matron, discreetly sipping a glass of whiskey. (She was the mayor’s wife, and had come out of what she considered her civic duty. At least, that’s what she told the mayor.)
“It certainly beats baking pies,” another woman agreed. “Do you think he’d let me run my fingers through his hair?” she added thoughtfully, eyeing Johnny’s dark silky locks. “For the orphans, I mean. If I donated fifty dollars?”
“There was a rumor he might auction off his clothes,” the mayor’s wife said. “Of course, I can’t swear to that at all. But, oh, I do so . . . appreciate . . . those, ah . . . pants.”
The women standing within hearing distance of that pronouncement either gasped or started fanning themselves just a tad faster or checked their beaded, silken reticules for ready cash.
The piano music, by this time, had gotten a little louder, a little faster, playing something with a Spanish flavor. Johnny had never stopped moving since walking into the room, and now he almost appeared to be swaying, hips and shoulders rolling in time with the music.
The white smile flashed and the blue eyes sparkled. And then with a quick twist and flourish the close-fitting black bolero jacket came off. One minute he was teasingly tugging at the sleeves, and then it was flying across the room to join the hat on the bar.
The first screams were heard at that. Whistles came from the saloon girls. Shouts of “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!” echoed in the room. Johnny obliged. He started on the top button of the pink (Dusty Rose, Blush, Coral, or Caribbean Sunset) shirt. By the time he was at the third button, somewhere halfway, the chanting had grown louder and the saloon girls were not the only ones whistling. The mood could, quite possibly, be described as “delirious.”
“Oh, good gracious Lord Almighty,” the pink shirt connoisseur breathed. Or maybe moaned. “He really is taking it off. I can’t breathe. Oh my.”
Off indeed. Three buttons later, and the pink shirt sailed with unerring aim over the heads of the crowd to land on top of the bar near the jacket and hat. Amazingly enough, no one made a grab for it. They were too busy watching. All that Johnny wore now on his smooth bronze chest was the thin chain with its small gold medallion, glinting and flashing as it caught the light.
The evening’s first fainting incident occurred. A prim young schoolteacher, fresh from the East, simply sighed and slid to the floor. Her friends shook their heads sadly over her obviously delicate constitution, then very considerately pulled her out of the way, propped her up against the wall—and surged forward, jostling to take her spot and get a better view.
The sight of that fine set of shoulders, broad . . . muscled . . . shoulders . . . and that smooth chest, by this time covered in a light sheen of sweat, was proving terribly distracting to the average woman’s sensibilities. Sixty-one sets of glazed eyes (the faintings continued to take their toll) were completely entranced by the vision of Johnny Madrid’s naked torso. The only women not too hot were the under-dressed saloon girls, but even they were looking more than a little flushed.
He may not have been wearing that low-slung gunbelt, but the belt with the silver and turquoise links still circled his slim waist and only served to emphasize his flat stomach and narrow hips. Despite the rising hysteria, the crowd had not failed to observe how perfectly Mr. Madrid’s beautiful torso tapered neatly into his waist and slim hips. Nor how exceedingly well his pants fit.
Somewhere along the line, a guitar had joined the piano; the jangle and beat of a tambourine added a wilder flair to the music. Hands clapped along in rhythm, and the chanting was a steady throb.
Still grinning, Johnny flung his head back to shake his hair out of his eyes, and in one swift, graceful movement he vaulted to the top of the long bar that ran the length of the saloon. A mass of bodies pressed forward, closer and closer. He took advantage of the space, moving up and down his chosen stage, while those women fortunate enough to still be conscious drank in the view.
When his hands went to the silver belt, screams went up.
Maude and Mabel fell off their chair, clutching each other’s arms. “Get up!” cried Mabel from the floor. “Get up off my dress! I can’t see!”
“I’m trying!” shrieked Maude. Amid much entanglement of skirts and limbs, each managed to pull the other to her feet. Maude’s jaw dropped. “I’ve died and gone to heaven, Mabel.”
“Oh, Lord,” Mabel agreed, eyes wide in her flushed face.
The belt had come off during their brief mishap. Johnny was now swaying suggestively from side to side, hands on hips, as he strutted atop the bar. He made them wait for the next round, waited for the screams to grow almost deafening.
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!”
He stopped dead. The long fingers of one hand reached for the top silver stud on his black pants.
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny!”
“Don’t stop now!”
The first stud was history. There was a teasing glimpse of flesh below the waistline. The second stud followed, every movement exquisitely and agonizingly slow. There didn’t seem to be any air left in the room as the screaming continued unabated. More bronze skin, he turned, a view of his . . . back. Lower. The pants slid just a little lower. He turned again. Nothing but skin beneath those pants. Another stud . . .
And then, dear reader, the unthinkable happened. The telephone rang. At 3:08 a.m. It awoke our author from her slumber and rapturous dreams. Before she could even reach the source of the interruption, the ringing stopped. We suspect it was that most annoying and untimely visitor from Porlock. We refer you to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his preface to the poem “Kubla Khan,” if you have any doubts. Alas, the dream was over, our author wept tears of rage and loss, and has submitted only this fragment for your reading pleasure . . .
A/N: Thanks to Moe and AJ, for beta reading and plot (there was a plot?) bunny inspiration. They bear absolutely no resemblance to the aforementioned editor and beta reader in the intro . . . (Inspiration also came in the form of that shirtless scene in “Chase a Wild Horse.” Oh my yes.)