The bar that night was full to busting. All regulars, except for that table of four strangers in the back corner. For the most part they appeared content to just mind their own business, until he walked in and grabbed their attention.
It had been one hell of a shit day, Johnny thought, as he marched towards the bar. If only that dam sheriff had not kept him for hours asking him too many stupid questions he could have left for home much earlier. Why on earth couldn’t they just trust him for once? Now he was late, his father would not be happy, “Tequila!” he snapped at the bar keeper causing him to jump. Pre-occupied with ordering his drink Johnny did not notice the four strangers in the shadows until one of them shouted.
“Well boys, my birthday must have come early this year - if it isn’t Madrid……. an unarmed Johnny Madrid at that!!”
Johnny recognised the voice and froze.
The crowd around him parted just like Moses had parted the Red Sea, leaving his back exposed. Some chose to remain out of curiously while others vacated the saloon fearing for their lives. At least the bar keeper was kind enough to slide him his drink before scurrying off to join the remaining pack who had found safety at the far end of the bar.
Johnny stared at his tequila and sighed and thought about what the sheriff had said to him just only moments ago?
“I bet you can’t go without your gun for twenty four hours without getting yourself into trouble Madrid!” he had yelled at him.
If only he had not lost his temper, thrown his gun at the sheriff and accepted his challenge he would not be in the mess he was in now!! What on earth was he thinking; was ranch life making him soft, turning him and moulding him into a respectable Johnny Lancer, had he forgotten who is really was… Johnny Madrid, killer, gunfighter!
It looked like the old sheriff had won his bet easily, Johnny thought, now he was in big trouble - unarmed, vulnerable and defenseless.
He had been in this scenario many times in his life yet this was a first without his gun. He picked up his drink carefully he didn’t want to make any sudden movements in case he got a bullet in his back and took a sip of tequila. The drink soothed and warmed his throat as he slowly glanced into the mirror that was hanging in front of him. He could not help himself but wince at Levi’s ugly face staring straight at him from the back corner of the bar.
One of the strangers whispered in Levis ear, Johnny did not recognize him, but whatever it was that was said; Levi started to make his move towards him.
Out of habit his right hand slowly started to descend to his right thigh. But this time there was no weapon there to protect him, except the one hidden in his boot, but there was no way he could get to it quickly. What the hell must have he been thinking, Johnny thought, he must have been stark raving mad to accept the sheriff’s wager?
Johnny started to make his move too and turned slowly to meet his adversary. Within a few strides Levi was within range. He was close, so close that he winced at the smell of his bad breath that wafted over him. How was Levi going to react? He was certain he would not shoot a defenseless man not in front of all these witnesses, Johnny thought, but hell it wouldn’t be the first time he was wrong.
Levi smiled revealing a mouth of missing and broken teeth.
“Congratulations Johnny you’re finally got yourself married!!” Levi grabbed him by the shoulders giving him a firm, but friendly squeeze.
“Ma.. Ma… Married? “Johnny legs buckled. He certainly wasn’t expecting that response.
Levi looked down to where Johnny’s gun should have been.
“You must be, your unarmed, my boy. Now don’t tell me you got married to that old tart from Dodge you were hanging about with a few years ago!!” Levi retorted, releasing his grip from his shoulders.
Johnny looked stunned, his jaw dropped.
“Well she certainly got you tamed!” he added.
“No!! No!! Levi you’ve got it all wrong!” Johnny protested.
“You’re a priest then?”
“Me a priest! You got be joking!” Johnny cried” I’m not married, nor am I a man of god!” He cast his blue eyes upwards.
Levi scratched his grey beard and looked confused “Well the only way I know to disarm a gunfighter is on the body of a dead one…. you sure don’t look dead to me son!”
“No!! “ Johnny started to relax a bit “I am not dead, well not yet” he concluded “The sheriff across the street bet me that I could not go without my gun for 24 hours without getting myself in trouble”.
“You must have turned pure loco boy, you can’t go 24 hours even with your gun!!” Levi snorted “How much you bet him?”
“Nothing, “ Levi translated ,“Just as well you would have lost the wager anyway!” Levi laughed and smacked Johnny on the back. Johnny could not help himself as he joined in the friendly laughter.
By now the regulars had started to relax as the tension in the saloon started to lift. Even those that had hightailed out of the saloon had started to return. It seemed their fears were unfounded they were not going to see a gunfight, well at least not today. The locals returned and even the music started playing again. The night became busier than ever.
It was good to see Levi again Johnny thought. The old boy had been kind to him years ago; he recalled, had offered him a home and had tried to change his gunfighter’s ways before it was too late. He shook his head; if only he had listened to him at the time, taken his advice, his life might have turned out very differently.
After buying a drink Levi invited him to meet his cousins who were seated at the far end of the bar. After sitting down Levi introduced him to his family who had been visiting his homestead for a few days.
They both had lots to catch up on. Within a few hours and a few drinks later the gunfighter had told them about his new found family, a brother he never knew he had and his newly acquired name, Johnny Lancer. They continued drinking and laughing well into the night and by the time Levi had left for home Johnny was quite drunk.
Morning came and Johnny arose with a thumping headache. The thought of facing an angry Murdoch, his father, only aggravated his headache even more. Father…. he thought, while rubbing his aching head, the word was alien to him, it was a name he called him only to himself, rarely had he spoken the name out loud.
With his tail between his legs Johnny reluctantly dropped into the sheriff’s office to retrieve his gun. He hated to admit defeat, but hell the sheriff was right, he was trouble and trouble followed him around. He owed it to Levi and his new found family the need to protect himself. But one thing for certain he would not be taking any further bets.