When Push Comes to Shove - Val's Point of View
Not mine; Sam Peeples created the boys, wished he would have written more of the shows. And shame on Fox for not putting the series on DVD’s!
Okay, I lied about being done. This is a Val muse. Some second hand cussing. No sex; just Val and Johnny, and what happened before “the whuppin’.”
When Push Comes to Shove - Val’s point of View
Sometimes, I wonder why the Hell I even bother tryin’ to go to bed!! Green River is feelin’ growin’ pains, and most of them are centered smack dab in the middle of my ass end. If it ain’t some Yahoo tryin’ to test out that whole string of new town ordinances the City Council just passed; it’s some idiot cowhand who thinks he’s at end of trail and he’s got a God-given right to tree the town! Don’t these jackasses ever have the sense to sleep?
And then there’s always Johnny.
Told Ty Underwood, my new deputy -- when he caught up with me this mornin’ -- the last thing he needs is to mess with Johnny. The two of ‘em have some history over that little red-headed trick Murphy just hired; both of them stakin’ claim. Dumb asses. She’s a fickle little bitch, and she’s playin’ ‘em like a harp.
Trouble is, Ty hasn’t learned yet; not about women, and sure in hell not about how to handle a smart ass like Johnny. Give Johnny even a small hint of what riles ya, he’ll worm his way under your skin and plant an itch that don’t never go away; and then stand there laughin’ his ass off watchin’ you scratch.
That’s what he does to Ty; every damned time they get within shoutin’ distance. Ty’s the most stubborn half-breed I’ve ever known. Well, maybe the second most stubborn. Think that’s part of his trouble with Johnny. Every damned time the two of them get together, it’s a major pissin’ contest: which one of ‘em’s put up with the most shit ‘cause of their mixed blood.
Still, I’ve told the boy often enough: when Johnny’s raisin’ hell somewhere, it’s my problem, and if I’m not around, then it’s up to Scott.
So here I am, eight o’clock in the mornin’, haven’t even been to bed yet, and I’m headin’ down the street towards the Silver Dollar tryin’ to figure out what the Hell Johnny is doin’ in town this early, and why the Hell he thinks Murphy should be servin’ drinks before noon.
Jesus, you’d think I could walk a block without some citizen comin’ up wantin’ to make conversation! Mrs. Johansson, of course. Five foot nothin’, ninety pounds soakin’ wet; and that spoiled rotten little runt of a son, Junior, trailin’ behind her. Kid’s always got a runny nose! If that little pup tries usin’ my britches for a snot rag, I’m goin’ blister his ass!
As usual, she gets right down to business. Get away from me kid…
“I want to know what you intend to do about that Johnny Lancer, Sheriff.”
I pray for a gust of wind; just enough to send her flyin’ down the street. God ain’t listenin’. I smile and take off my hat. “Well, Ma’am, I haven’t seen him yet this mornin’. Somethin’ happen?”
She snorts. Like everyone else in town, she thinks I got eyes in the back of my head, and I can see through wood. “He’s at the Silver Dollar!”
Like Ty hasn’t already told me. I grit my teeth so hard I can feel it clean up to my ears. “Well, Ma’am, last I heard, this is still a free country. It ain’t my place to be tellin’ people when and where they can go, if they ain’t breakin’ the law.”
That damned snort again. Dollar to a donut, the woman’s a snorer. Must be why her old man spends so much time traveling.
“Town ordinances say the saloon can’t be open ‘til noon!”
Leave it to the old hag to read the law her way.
The kid’s gettin’ close and I back up a pace. “Ordinance says the saloon can’t serve liquor before noon. Doesn’t say anything about havin’ to keep the door locked. Mr. Murphy has to clean the place up; clear out the stink from the night before.”
Her nose crinkles at the word stink.
“I heard Johnny Lancer ask for tequila.” She considers her words and tries again. “Demanding a bottle of tequila!”
I smile, and lift my hand to smooth my moustache. And to hide the smirk. “That doesn’t mean Murphy’s goin’ serve him, Ma’am.” Not unless Murphy wants his ass kicked.
Her back stiffens. “I’m quite sure that Mr. Murphy isn’t going to refuse Johnny Madrid!”
Christ! The boy’s been here almost four months now, and still the Madrid shit. It’s gettin’ harder to smile. “Ma’am, I was just headin’ that way to check on things.” I put my hat back on, but she doesn’t take the hint.
“I heard that boy let fly with a whole string of vile obscenities, Sheriff!” She jerks a thumb at her kid. “My boy heard every one of them! It was disgusting!”
Not as disgustin’ as that booger the kid’s got hangin’ from his snout. Junior is sidlin’ up to me again. I reach out, grab his arm, and rub his shirt sleeve across his snot pump. He starts to bawl.
“Well, I never!” She grabs the kid. The frown almost reaches her knees when she sees the mess on his sleeve.
At least once, I think. Otherwise where’d the kid come from? And then it hits me. “Ma’am, if I’m not mistaken, it’s past eight o’clock. Town ordinances are pretty clear about schoolin’ and truancy.” Now it’s my turn to frown. “Any particular reason Junior here isn’t in school?”
She starts to say something, only to stop before the words come out. Changing her mind, she sidesteps me and hauls the kid off down the street.
“That was quite a maneuver, Val. I haven’t seen a diversionary tactic that well executed since the War.”
I smile. “Mornin’, Scott. Didn’t spend all that time scoutin’ for Crook without learnin’ something.”
There a slight creak of leather as he dismounts. “Have you seen Johnny?”
“Nope.” I nod in the direction of the saloon. “Ty came runnin’ earlier to tell me he’s at the Silver Dollar. What the hell is the kid doin’ in town so damned early?”
Scott’s still standin’ in the street, next to Remmie. “He snuck off some time last night; after we all turned in He’s been in town all night.”
I didn’t need to hear that. Makes the third time this week. “Shit. Your old man know?”
“Not unless he’s been out to the barn and has seen that Barranca’s gone. Teresa thinks Johnny and I were coming into town together.” Scott steps up onto the boardwalk. “I’ll go find him.” He ties off the gelding.
“I don’t see Barranca, Scott.”
He looks up the street, shading his eyes against the sun. “Tied out back, perhaps?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Hector Baldemero heading in my direction; movin’ like his old lady’s on the warpath again. He’s wavin’ his hands in the air.
¡“Alguacil! ¡Alguacil Crawford!” (Sheriff! Sheriff Crawford!)
The old man steps into the street, and damned near gets run over by a waddy from the Timmons’ spread. I call out to him. ¡“Vuelve a su tienda, Sr. Baldemero; estaré allí directamente!” (Go back to your store, Mr. Baldemero; I'll be there directly!) I turn back to Scott, catching his arm before he takes off. “You see if you can find the kid. If he hasn’t made any trouble, take him home.”
Scott nods, and gives my right hand a quick shake.
I head for Baldemero’s. The storekeeper is waitin’ for me on the porch; talkin’ a mile a minute. I raise my hand, signaling him to shut up. “Va más despacio, el amigo. ¡No puede mantenerse al ritmo de con usted, si usted no habla en el pedacito más lento!” (Slow down, friend. Can't keep up with you, if you don't talk at bit slower!)
He catches his breath, extending his arm as he ushers me into the store. This time when he speaks, he’s calmer. “Es Juanito, Alguacil. El nos preguntó para permiso para salir su caballo atado fuera atrás nuestra tienda, y el animal se comporta loco." (It's Juanito, Sheriff. He asked us for permission to leave his horse tied out behind our store, and the animal is behaving crazy)
I can hear the noise from the back of the building; the solid blows of the horse’s hind legs beating a steady tattoo against the exterior rear wall. Señora Baldemero is screamin’ at the top of her lungs; each shriek producing another assault with the palomino’s hooves. If it wasn’t for the chance of some serious injury happenin’, it would almost be funny. And then I hear the distinct sound of wood shredding, followed by a panicked shriek. Señora Baldemero comes runnin’ from the back room and straight into my arms. I pass her off to her husband. “Any one else back there?” When she shakes her head, I head out.
Barranca is backed up to the rear of the building, his right rear leg pinioned by a four inch plank the animal has kicked plumb through. I ease nearer, talkin’ soft; croonin’ the chants Johnny and I learned from the Comanch. Barranca’s ears go back, and he bares his teeth; I give him a good smack, and he calms down.
Got a bit of a problem here, now. Barranca’s right rear leg is hung up in the hole, and he’s hell bent on pullin’ loose. “Whoa, now, hoss,” I whisper. I’m still at his head, lookin’ over the mess he’s made. “Back up now, old son,” I slip under his head, puttin’ my right shoulder against his chest. “That’s it…little more.”
Keepin’ my right hand on his body, I move closer to his rear end; usin’ my fingers to stroke his skin, to feel the tightness. A slight tremor now as I get close to his flanks, and I hear the curb chain jingle as he turns his head. Bite me, you son of a bitch, I’ll put a bullet in your fuckin’ head. As if he understands what I’m thinkin, he gives a little whicker and I feel his lips flutter against my shoulder.
I’ve got him backed up enough now I can take a good look at that leg. Couple of scratches; not even deep enough to do more than scrape off the hair, some of the featherin’ above the hoof. Gently, I reach into the hole and lift; dropping its foot to the ground.
Barranca snorts. I see him pick up his right foot; give a little kick. He puts it down again, cocking it at rest. Another small spasm, that golden hide quiverin’, then nothing. I do another quick exam; a little pokin’ and proddin’, and feel nothing. A final pat on his rear, and then back to his head. Can’t believe Johnny tied him off to a tree, instead of the hitch ring on the wall.
Untying the reins, I start leading the horse around to the front of the building. When Señor Baldemero calls to me from the porch, I shake my head without turnin’ around. “I’ll get Johnny to take care of the damages,” I call over my shoulder. Ol’ Murdoch’s goin’ be plenty pissed over this one.
I head down the street, taking a quick look back at Barranca to see if the horse is favorin’ the leg. Don’t seem to be any problem, which means he’s in good enough shape to carry old Johnny-boy home.
Crossin’ the street, I head straight for the Silver Dollar. Already, I can hear arguin’; four voices. Murphy, slippin’ back into the brogue, which means he’s gettin’ mad. Scott, calm as ever, that deep baritone voice when he’s makin’ big brother ‘suggestions’; Johnny soundin’ as obnoxious as ever and …
Howie Jacobs. I rub my hand across my face. Howie Jacobs ain’t got the good sense to pour piss out of a boot, or come in outta the rain. Swear to God, someone musta fed him stupid pills before he was weaned. Even worse than his lack of sense, is that voice. More worked up he gets, more he starts screechin’; soundin’ just like the parson’s wife tryin’ to hit those high notes. Joyful noise unto the Lord, my ass.
I ground-hitch Barranca and head up the stairs. Scott again, his voice rising slightly. “God damn it, Johnny!” This ain’t good. Boston don’t usually swear unless…
It happens like a bolt of summer lightening. Toe of my left boot just touches the boardwalk, and the brand new plate glass window -- the one with the gold leaf letterin’ -- explodes out into the street; Howie Jacobs comin’ out headfirst right through the big painted Silver Dollar Murphy is -- was -- so proud of. And right behind Howie, Johnny Lancer, doin’ a good imitation of a mountain lion makin’ a kill.
I make a little jump, movin’ outta the way as they come rollin’ across the walkway, a tangle of arms and fists. Before I can get my footin’, they’re down the steps and into the street, Johnny plantin’ his fist into Howie’s belly. He lifts him up by his shirt front, and charges; and the two of them fall ass over elbow into the waterin’ trough.
“You or me,” I feel Scott’s breath on my cheek. It’s like fire.
“Both of us,” I answer. “I’ll take Johnny.”
There’s a good crowd now, clustered together first, then partin’ as they choose sides. It ain’t no fifty-fifty. Push come to shove, there isn’t a man in town wouldn’t side with Johnny over Howie.
I wade in, plungin’ my hands into the slimy water to grab Johnny’s belt and the collar of his shirt. He half turns, takin’ a swing at my head, and catches himself. “Leggo!” He spits water along with the word. Turnin’ back, he spots Scott pullin’ Howie out of the trough, and takes another swing; his fist skimmin’ off Howie’s nose. “Goddammit, Val! I ain’t done!!”
His boot connects with my right shin. I bunch up his pants, tuggin’ on his belt and givin’ the family jewels a painful surprise; grinnin’ when he lets out a yelp. “You are done, Johnny!” I haul him out of the trough, but I don’t let go. I grab his pistol and stuff it in my belt.
Scott’s got Howie pulled off from the crowd; his arm around the man’s shoulder. They’re talkin’, and Scott reaches for his billfold, takin’ it out of the back pocket of his pants.
Johnny sees the dealin’ goin’ on between Howie and his brother. “Chicken shit,” he mutters. He gives a sharp whistle to get Howie’s attention, and when he catches his eye, starts flappin’ his arms: bluck, bluck, bluck, makin’ like a Banty rooster.
I catch Scott slippin’ Howie another ten spot, just before he turns away from him and marches up the street in me and Johnny’s direction.
“Boston ain’t lookin’ too happy,” Johnny snickers. He dips his head, and I loosen my grip on his belt. I sure in hell ain’t lettin’ go of his collar.
“What ya expect, Johnny? A pat on the head for bein’ a good boy?” I jerk my head toward the glass-littered board walk. Murphy’s already on the prod; standin’ there with his broom, holdin’ it tight like he wants to shove it up someone’s ass. Ain’t hard to figure out who’s.
“John.” Scott is nose to nose with his little brother. I feel Johnny take a step backwards, and he’s tryin’ to pull free. That ain’t happenin’.
“Care to tell me what that was all about, Scott?” I ask.
Scott’s got his arms crossed; lookin’ like its all he can do to not belt the kid. “Pickled eggs,” he answers. He uncrosses his arms; back in control.
Johnny laughs. But he still isn’t lookin’ at his brother. I jerk my head in the direction of the jail, turn, and start walkin’; pullin’ Johnny along. Scott falls in on the other side of his brother. Barranca falls in behind.
“Barranca kicked a hole in the back wall behind Baldemero’s.” Just for the hell of it, I give Johnny a thump on the back of his head. “Had his hind leg caught up in the timbers.”
“He hurt?” Johnny pulls up short, takin’ a long look over his shoulder at the palomino.
“What the hell do you care?” No point in keepin’ the sarcasm outta my voice. I taught him better about takin’ care of his animals, and I’m still more than a tad pissed.
“I tied him off,” he counters.
“You tied him to a fuckin’ catalpa tree! Those damned pods sound like rattlers when the wind blows. You fuckin’ know that!” I reach out, openin’ the door to my office and shove Johnny inside.
Scott’s tying off Barranca. I watch over my shoulder as he gives the horse a once over; and then comes up the stairs.
Ty Underwood is just comin’ out of the back, an empty food tray in his hand. “Fed the drunks,” he announces; all the time lookin’ at Johnny. He puts the tray down on my desk; hands me the keys to the cells. “What’re we doin’ with him?” he asks, noddin’ in Johnny’s direction.
“We ain’t doin’ nothing.” I drop Johnny’s pistol on my desk and pull him across the floor to the door of the holding cell, open it, shove him inside and lock it. “You’re,” I turn around to face Ty, “ridin’ out to Lancer, and tellin’ Murdoch I need to see him here in town.”
Scott gives me a long look, and nods. “Tell him to bring money,” he orders.
Ty looks around like he’s debatin’ what he wants to do. Tellin’ Murdoch Lancer something ain’t at the top of his list, but he knows better than to argue with me. He gives me a single nod, grabs his hat from the rack, and heads out.
I take a different tact with Scott. “You want some coffee?”
He considers it for a bit, and shakes his head. “Murdoch’s going to be a bear, Val.”
“Ya think?” I take a long look at Johnny. The kid is against the far wall of the cell, tryin’ to find a spot in the sunlight that’s comin’ through the barred window. I shake my head and grab a towel off the hook beside the door; walk the few feet to the cage, and shove it between the bars. Then, turning back to Scott. “You got enough cash on you to make some peace with Murphy?”
He sighs, shaking his head. “There’s more than the window, Val.”
I watch as he takes off his hat, hooks it on his pistol, and finger combs his hair. “Like what?”
He holds up his hand, lifting his thumb. “A couple of tables,” another finger shoots up, “cracked one of the mirrors,” another digit rises, “a half dozen, maybe a dozen, glasses,” one more finger, “a full bottle of tequila.” He’s lookin’ at baby brother right now, and he ain’t particularly happy.
I head for my desk, open the bottom drawer and pull out a bottle of rye and two glasses. I top off both tumblers. Scott doesn’t even think about it. He drains the glass in a single swallow. “At least go talk to Murphy, Scott.” I make it sound like a request.
Behind me, I hear Johnny cat-pawing across the cell floor.
“You two plannin’ on drinkin’ alone?”
“YES!” This from both Scott and me at the same time. I don’t even turn around. “Scott?”
He’s nodding his head. “Any place besides the Silver Dollar and Baldemeros’?”
Johnny laughs. He’s leanin’ against the bars now, the towel hangin’ around his neck, that little shit-eatin’ grin on his face; like he’s proud of what he’s about to say. “Might wanna talk to Rosie an’ Tessa. I kinda forgot to pay ‘em this mornin’…”
Scott shakes his head, rakes his fingers through his hair again, and puts on his Stetson. “I’ll try to make it back before Murdoch arrives, Val.” He takes another long look at his brother, and I got a feelin’ Johnny’s pretty happy about now that he’s locked up.
I watch as Scott heads out into the street; stayin’ still for a bit while I rein in my temper. I ain’t doin a very good job of it. Grabbin’ the keys off the desk, I pull my pistol out of the holster, stash it, and head for the cell.
Johnny looks up, surprised. “Hey, Val…?”
He’s actually smart enough to back up. I open the door and grab him by the front of his shirt. Two more steps, I’ve got him backed up against the cot. I shove him down on his butt; hard. “You and me are gonna talk, boy!”
Like a kid, he raises his hands and covers his ears. I give him a smack; not hard, just enough to get his attention. “I don’t know what the hell’s been goin’ on with you, but I gotta tell you, Johnny, I’m about one nugget shy of havin’ my fill! This makes the third time this week you been in trouble. I wanna know what’s goin’ on, and I wanna know now!”
“Nothin’!” He tucks his head and looks hard at the floor.
“Bullshit!” I grab his chin; pull his head up so I can see his eyes. There’s something there; just for a heartbeat, and then the blue turns cold. The fuckin’ Madrid cold. “That ain’t workin’ on me, boy. That’s never worked on me!
“Talk to me, Johnny.” I ain’t askin’, I’m tellin’, and he knows it.
“Been too long in one place,” he says.
I straighten, turn, and grab the stool from the corner. When I sit down, I pull up close enough that our knees are touchin’. Leanin’ forward, I rest my elbows on my knees; my hands danglin’ between ‘em. “So you’re figurin’ on runnin’. Again.”
That brings his head up quick. “Fuck you, Val!”
I give him a quick, measured smack; right across his mouth with the back of my hand. He knows that if I really want to hurt him, I damned well can. I have. “You listen to me, boy.” I can call him that. Sixteen years separate us; that and a secret or two. “That thousand dollars your old man paid you when you showed up here was the easiest money you ever made, and the best deal you ever cut.” I raise my hand when he starts to speak, cuttin’ him off. “Yeah, you got a bullet in your back; but if you had’a trusted Scott and Murdoch it wouldn’t have happened and you know it.
“And what the f.. Hell did you do with the money? Whored around, partied up with Wes and your buddies.”
He turns his head, lookin’ away from me. “Gave five hundred to the priest at the mission,” he breathes.
“Yeah. Your conscience money. You did the same thing every time you finished a job; tryin’ to buy yourself a good night’s sleep. Didn’t work back then; doesn’t look like it’s workin’ now. Can’t buy your way out of Hell.
“You need to quit runnin’, Johnny.”
I let the words sink in, thinkin’ back; cursin’ God, the fates.
“I can’t be what the old man wants,” he argues. “What Scott wants.”
I close my eyes, and then open them to stare directly into his. “Why not?”
He shrugs. “Don’t know how.”
Christ, he’s stubborn! “You know, Johnny,” I say softly, pokin’ his chest. “All you got to do is open up that…” I poke his chest again, just above his heart, “… and let ‘em in.”
He comes forward a little, his face close to mine. “You of all people oughta know better than that, Val. You opened up, what’d it get you?”
I can feel my jaws tightenin’; but he’s opened the door, and I’m damned well goin’ through it. “All those years ago, Johnny; down in San Luís,” I keep the words soft. He was only five then; I was an old twenty-one. His Mama was an even older twenty-four. “Six months, I was with you and your Mama. I’d a stayed, Johnny. But I came home one mornin’, and what’d I find? You and your Mama gone. No note; no letter tellin’ me why…” Jesus. It still hurts. All these years, it still hurts.
“She ran, Johnny. I know now she was always runnin’.”
I have to stand up; get on my feet, move a bit. “I looked for you; both of you.” Just like Murdoch Lancer looked. “But one thing your Mama was good at, boy, and that was takin’ you and gettin’ lost.” And tellin’ lies. Never one word about havin’ been married, about who Johnny’s old man was; or that she even knew who his old man was. Not that I asked. It pisses me off, thinkin’ about it; how over the years I’d catch a glimpse of that blue-eyed boy; even grab hold of him and hang on for a while, keep him straight. But, then, like his Mama; he’d be gone.
“You’re a fool, Johnny.”
He’s beside me now, at the window. “Big’a fool as you? You believed all her lies. You even believed she could love you.”
It hurts to see his pain; even more than to feel my own. I also know he’s talkin’ about himself. “So we were both fools,” I whisper.
This has got to stop. “Can’t change what was, Johnny. But you got Murdoch and Scott, now.” And me. “All you gotta do is want it bad enough to make it work.”
He’s quiet; real quiet, his arms wrapped around his chest. He used to do that when he was a tadpole; like he was tryin’ to hide in plain sight.
“The Old Man’s gonna be pissed.”
I gotta laugh at that; hard. “Not as pissed as he’ll be if he ever finds out just how long I’ve known you, boy.” And how fuckin’ good I knew your mama.
The corners of his mouth twitch, the skin at the corner of his eyes wrinklin’ a bit. “So how much you gonna pay me not to tell him?”
I give him a soft swat on his belly with the back of my hand. “Depends on what you plan on tellin’ him.” I wait a heartbeat, watchin’ his face. “About your Mama, or about how I was the one that put a gun in your hand?”
A flash of Madrid; the Johnny Madrid I knew in the beginning. Just a kid who had to grow up too fast and too hard; always runnin’. Or maybe chasin’ a dream.
“First time I remembered havin’ reg’lar meals,” he breathes. “Those months in San Luís.” He’s quiet again, and I watch as his finger tips brush the empty holster. “As for the gun… It kept me alive, Val. Got me here.” He’s talkin’ about Lancer now, not jail.
I have my hand on his shoulder. “It’s past, and gone.” I let my fingers tighten, just a little, and then let go. God help me, I taught him to be a gunfighter, but never a killer; and never on the wrong side of the law. Johnny Madrid was never a killer; never an outlaw.
He’s lookin’ at me now; a big grin pasted across his kisser, white teeth flashin’ and those blue eyes lookin’ like summer sky. “What?” I try to sound grumpy, and miss.
“‘It’s past, and gone.’ That’s what the Old Man said, that first day.”
I snort, and take a swipe at my nose, hidin’ the smile. “Smart man, Murdoch Lancer.”
He turns slightly; I make the same move, and his smile slips a little. We can hear heavy footsteps outside on the boardwalk; comin’ up to the office door. “Jesus, Val. He even walks mad,” he says, noddin’ at the door.
“You can do this, Johnny,” I tell him.
“Ain’t gonna be easy,” he sighs.
“Just watch your mouth, boy.” I warn.
The door opens, and Murdoch walks in; Scott right behind him.