In Memory of Marlene Campbell
On June 2, 2016 the Lancer fandom lost one of its most active and valued members. I met Marlene in 2014, and she truly was a wonderful lady. Her greatest love was James Stacy (Johnny Madrid Lancer), and she literally glowed in his presence. When they kissed the smile on her face was… Well, you need to read the story to find out. For me, above all else, she was an enthusiastic reader of my stories, and therefore to pay tribute to her I have written her into one of them. This tale fits with the other stories in my Lancer universe, and like me, I hope every time you read it you’ll think of Marlene.
(The kiss: James Stacy and Marlene at McKinney, Texas, 2014. Photo by Antigoni Tsamparlis.)
(With thanks to Terri Derr for doing a very quick beta.)
“Let’s play a game.” Scott nudged Johnny awake and handed him the binoculars. Spying on Murdoch down on the prison farm was starting to lose its appeal. Nothing was happening.
“What sort of game?” Johnny scratched a rib and eyed Scott suspiciously before staring through the binoculars once again. It was none too comfortable lying on the hard ground, even under the shade of a tree.
“Truth or dare. We each toss a coin: heads is truth and tails is dare. I’ll go first.” Scott tossed a dollar in the air, caught it and slapped it down on the back of his other hand. “Tails.”
“So I get to dare you to do something, right?” This could be fun, but Johnny suspected Scott’s motives. Every now and again his brother tried to make him open up about his past, and this sounded like it could be another attempt.
“You got it, little brother. But it has to be something I can do here without letting anyone down yonder know we’re here.”
“That doesn’t leave much.” Johnny frowned. He couldn’t think of anything very entertaining that could be done without drawing attention. He gave up trying to be original. “Stand on your head and whistle Yankee Doodle.”
“Somewhat juvenile but very well.” Scott got up and found a flat bit of ground a little back from the ridge so he wouldn’t be seen by anyone at the farmhouse below. Undoing his gun belt, he dropped it and his hat next to the tree. Then he placed his hands firmly on the grass, positioned his head and kicked up into a perfect headstand.
“Hey, you’ve done that before!” Lying on his side, looking back at Scott, Johnny laughed. “Now whistle.”
Scott’s first attempt was pathetic. Every time he puckered up, he started to laugh and nearly toppled over, but eventually he managed a weak chorus of Yankee Doodle. He collapsed in a heap, rubbing his head. “I forgot how much that hurts. I haven’t done one of those since I left school.” He took the dollar out of his pocket and threw it to Johnny. “Your turn.”
Johnny tossed the coin. He raised his hand cautiously, just enough to see. Damn. “Tails.”
He clapped his hand down again, but Scott grabbed hold of his wrist. “Not so fast, Johnny. I’m sure I saw heads.”
“Pfft, stupid game.” Johnny lifted his hand to show Lady Liberty. “What’s the question?”
Scott stroked his chin pretending to be deep in thought. Then he smiled. “Name the first girl you ever kissed.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. And Scott said his dare was ‘juvenile’. Well, at least he hadn’t asked about Johnny’s mother or other stuff Johnny still didn’t feel comfortable talking about. “Charity. I was thirteen, and she didn’t live up to her name. She slapped me.” Johnny shook his head and smiled.
Scott laughed, but Johnny didn’t join in. This was why he didn’t like talking about the past. Once he unlocked the door to one memory, he kept finding doors to other memories left ajar inside it.
Scott frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Shoot, Johnny was getting too used to Scott’s company. Now he’d let his guard down and his smile slip in front of his brother without even realising it. Well, Scott wanted to know what growing up as Johnny Madrid had been like. Maybe it wouldn’t do no harm to let him know some of it. “When she slapped me she called me a dirty greaser.”
Scott looked embarrassed. “Not a lot I can say, Johnny, except I’m sorry you had to put up with that kind of ignorance.”
“She’d been giving me the eye for weeks. Every time I came into town from the ranch where I was working, I’d see her and her friends, giggling. I was nervous as hell, but she sure was pretty and for once she was on her own. Well, almost; she had one friend with her, but she was such a shy little thing she didn’t seem to count at the time. Charity was fluttering her eyelashes at me, I checked both ways to make sure no one else was watching, and I kissed her. Damn shame, her pa came out of the smithy behind me.”
The blacksmith had chased him down the street hollering like a bull. Johnny had never moved so quick. With his head still ringing from Charity’s response, he’d nearly knocked her friend flying.
He ran south and ducked down under the bridge over the stream. The blacksmith tore right past, then came back searching, but by then Charity’s little red-headed friend had come down the bank to the creek and was gathering watercress.
“Marlene, did you see where that mestizo from the Estancia Vargas went?”
“Sorry, Mr Kyle, I couldn’t say.” She looked up at him through her wire-rimmed glasses like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
“Well, you call out if you see him. I’m going to have a word with Sheriff Davis. It’s his fault that kid’s around these parts anyways.” Johnny could hear the blacksmith stomp over the bridge back towards town. Sheesh, that was close. Now all he had to worry about was a lecture from Mac about keeping out of trouble.
Johnny looked over at Marlene. She’d gone back to gathering watercress. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” She straightened and her face creased into a toothy grin. Johnny scrambled out from under the bridge, and she offered him some watercress to chew on. “Charity likes you, you know— all the girls do.”
“Funny way of showing it.” He rubbed his cheek where Charity had slapped him.
“She only said that cos she saw her pa coming.” Marlene cocked her head to one side like a sparrow. Funny how she’d known the words had hurt more than the slap.
“Don’t matter none. I’m used to it.”
“It does matter. She shouldn’t have called you that, but she was scared.”
“You wouldn’t have called me a greaser.” He knew instinctively that was true.
“My pa ain’t her pa, and besides I ain’t as pretty as Charity.” Marlene looked across the creek with a sad kind of smile on her face. “You wouldn’t want to kiss me so you’ll never find out for sure.” Then she brightened up and grabbed his hand. “Come on we’d better smuggle you back into town so you can get your horse.”
Johnny had pulled her back. Here he’d been holding a torch for the most outwardly pretty girl in town, and he’d never even noticed the one with the most beautiful heart. He kissed her full on the lips.
She had blinked at him like a startled owl and then her smile had out shone the sun. They’d walked back to the edge of town hand and hand.
“What happened later?” Scott picked up the binoculars again. Something was happening down below in the farmyard.
“Aw, we met down by the creek on and off when I came into town, just talked and got to know each other, until one day she didn’t show.” Johnny hung his head and picked up a stone. He threw it as far as he could. “Found out after she’d caught influenza and died. She was such a frail little thing. It didn’t take much to blow her away. But I’ll always remember her and what she taught me about people. Maybe this prison farm idea isn’t such a hare-brained idea after all. I think Marlene would have approved.”
1. This story links to The Experiment, Lancer: Series 2, Episode 18.
2. This story links to my other stories The Beginning, 2013 and From Highlands to Homecoming, Chapter 49, 2014.