The Weapon. . . .
It had always been a part of Johnny Madrid, from the time he was very young. It was a natural. Like breathing. But it wasn’t until he was the age of twelve that he realized how important it was to his being. To his very survival. And that is when he began to perfect it. To use it to his advantage.
Its very existence got him out of many a predicament, and people came around to his way of thinking when confronted by it.
The Weapon commanded respect; it could be deadly, or it could be a tease. It just depended on his mood, and who he was with.
People were awed at how well he could use it. No one, it seemed, could resist it.
The Weapon was well-taken care of by its owner, and it glistened when the need arose to use it.
And use it he did. To intimidate, tease, charm, and impress. And always, to protect.
The Weapon had never failed him.
Until now. . . . .
He should of known better, really. Should of known that he couldn’t get by using the Weapon with these people. Not because of them. But because of himself.
He was too emotionally involved. After all, this was his Old Man, Murdoch Lancer, that he was playing this mind game with. And his brother. . .his older brother, Scott.
And Day Pardee. If it would have been any other ranch, any other person besides Murdoch Lancer, Johnny Madrid might of joined his old pal in his plan to take over the Lancer ranch. But it wasn’t. . .
It was his land. His birthright.
His family. . . . .
And no one would take that from him.
He had let his guard down, for one fraction of a second. And it had cost him.
The bullet in his back didn’t kill him, but it sure as hell felt like it did. So here he lay, in this very proper bed, being taken care of like a little kid.
And he was just too tired to use the Weapon on anybody right now. . . .so he closed his sapphire eyes and fell into a deep, peaceful slumber.
Johnny knew someone was watching him sleep.
He opened his eyes and eventually they cleared enough to see his father. A large hand came toward his forehead, then brushed his cheek, and gently felt his neck and chest. The hardened face of the older man softened as he said, “Your fever is down, you’re nice and cool. How do you feel?”
“Fine,” came a raspy response. “I’m all right, really.”
“You’re a bad liar. Now. . .how do you feel?” the older man asked, his tone commanding an honest answer.
After a heavy sigh and a roll of the eyes, Johnny slowly told his father the truth. “Tired. And sore. My throat hurts. . . and I’m thirsty as hell. My back is stiff from lying in this stupid bed. . . . . . .”
All of a sudden, a glass of cool water appeared at his parched lips, and he drank it. Gratefully.
“Thanks,” he managed to say. “You did ask.”
“So I did,” his father admitted, this time with a chuckle in his voice. After a few moments, Murdoch’s tone turned serious. “The doctor says you’ll be fine, but you need to rest. He said we need to fatten you up, though. You’re a little too thin for his liking. Do you think you can manage some hot broth?”
This sounded good to the tired gunfighter, and he nodded yes. “Might feel good on my throat. . .” his voice barely a whisper.
“I’ll get it for you,” Murdoch advised. Then, as an afterthought, he said, “I have a. . .surprise waiting for you. When you’re up to it.”
Johnny looked at him questioningly.
“Do you remember the first night you were here? You were upset with me because I didn’t have any tequila.”
Johnny had to think really hard to break through the fuzziness in his brain. But he remembered that first night, barely. And he sort of remembered his annoyance that his old man didn’t have any tequila on hand.
“I think so. . .you said you’d order some,” he suddenly remembered.
“Well, I did, the next morning. It came in yesterday afternoon. Three bottles of the finest Coso del Rio Tequila you’ll find,” Murdoch proudly announced.
Johnny’s tired face suddenly brightened up, displaying a dazzling smile of pearl-like teeth that glistened.
“How? That stuff is hard to get, Old Man,” the reference being used affectionately. “Must of cost a pretty penny.”
His father winked. “I have my connections. Anyway, when you’re up to it, it’ll be waiting for you.”
“I don’t think my stomach will ever stop doing flip-flops.”
“The broth will help,” Murdoch coddled. Suddenly, he began to stare at his son, as he lay in the bed, looking so young.
“What are you staring at?” Johnny asked, the Madrid mask making an appearance.
“It’s just that. . .you have the most beautiful smile. Your whole face just lights up. Your. . . .mother. . .had that same smile. You should. .do it more often. Smile, I mean,” Murdoch stammered.
Johnny slowly looked down, displaying long, dark eyelashes. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond; so he looked up and saw his father’s face, which looked almost. . . . .loving.
Johnny couldn’t help but smile, it just came naturally. Like breathing. “Even with this stubble?” he asked, touching his face that bore a 5-day old beard.
“Even with the stubble,” Murdoch chuckled. “I’ll be back with your broth,” he said, then gently patted Johnny on the shoulder.
“Thanks,” came the quiet reply.
Murdoch left the room, and Johnny was alone with his thoughts. And it occurred to him that his father. . .the man that, through the years, he had shot a thousand times in his mind, had made him smile. And he realized that maybe, just maybe, these people would accept the Weapon for what it was.
A glistening, dazzling smile that for the longest time had been a weapon he used to intimidate, tease, charm, impress, and. . . . protect.
But this time, the smile came straight from the heart. A genuine boyish grin.
And it felt good.
The sapphire eyes of Johnny Madrid began to grow heavy, and he knew he would never make it to “soup time” with his father. But it didn’t matter. Because he felt safe here. He was warm and comfortable. And truth be told, he kind of liked being fussed over.
For now, anyway.
And as he slowly drifted off to sleep, a smile crossed over his handsome face. A contented smile. No weapon of protection was needed around these people. Not around. . . .his family.
And he thought that he just might like living here. . . . .
By Laraine Van Etten
For the 2006 Lancer Convention