This is a “Lancer” crossover story with the TV show “Magnificent Seven.” I am tickled to say it was the FIRST PLACE winner of the “Mag7” 2015 Convention Fanfiction Contest, held in October 2015! I do love me a challenge . . . . I’ve included the rules of the contest, so you can see the constraints placed on the story. If any plot point or slice of dialogue seems forced, well, check out what I had to deal with! Although the story was not required to be Mag7 related, I couldn’t resist – I mean, pairing Johnny Madrid with Chris Larabee was just too much fun.
Mag7 2015 Convention Fanfiction Contest:
- Contest opened August 1, 2015.
- All Universes are accepted
- Keep it PG-13 (the winning story will be read aloud at the convention)
- Use one of the offered scenarios.
- Use one of the offered quotes.
- Use all the words on the supplied word list.
- Minimum 2,000 words, maximum 5,000 words.
- A writer may submit one story for each scenario, but will be eligible for only ONE prize.
- Stories must be double spaced.
- Stories must be submitted in either Word or PDF format
- Story must be emailed to [closed by midnight, August 31, 2015.
(Use one scenario per story/three stories maximum per author)
SCENARIO#1: The story must have a lion at the beginning. The story must involve a quiver of arrows. A character will prepare for a holiday. A character is happy throughout most of the story. During the story, a character misunderstands someone. In the middle section of the story, there must be a duck involved.
SCENARIO #2: A character will go clothes shopping. During the story, a character has an accident at home. The story ends during a police investigation. The story takes place in mid-fall. During the story, there is an attack. During the story, there is an assassination. The story must have a dolphin in it. The story must involve a bottle of beer at the end.
SCENARIO #3 [This one used for FRESH BLOOD]: The story starts in a graveyard. The story takes place in mid-fall. During the story, there is a visit by an unexpected visitor. A character is vengeful throughout most of the story. The story must have a possum in it somewhere. The story must have a battle-axe appear in the middle (of the story... and an additional middle if desired!)
THE WORD LIST
(Use all of these words per story)
REPUGNANT: Extremely distasteful; unacceptable
EXTIMULATE: To stir up; spur on
VERBARSTRINGENDO: Urging or hastening the time as to a climax
CAPRICCIOSO: In a free, fantastic style
(Use at least one of these quotes per story – ALL CAPS quotes used in FRESH BLOOD – see if you can spot ‘em!)
"Send lawyers, guns, and money." - Warren Zevon
"As the soon-to-be-purple area on my jaw will attest, I did not 'let' her go." - Rupert Giles
"That rug really tied the room together." - From The Big Lebowski
"I have my pride. Okay, so I don't have a lot of my pride, but I have enough so that I can't do this." - Xander Harris
"I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question." - Spock
"DRIVER PICKS THE MUSIC, SHOTGUN SHUTS HIS CAKE HOLE." - Dean Winchester
"What do you wanna do, poke her with a stick? Dude! You're not gonna poke her with a stick!" - Sam Winchester
"For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars, and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons." - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
"And in the end you wind up dyin' all alone on some dusty street. For what? For a tin star. It's all for nothin', Will. It's all for nothin'." - Martin Howe
"BADGES? WE DON'T NEED NO STINKING BADGES!" - From Blazing Saddles
"No, I said 'allo', but that's close enough." - From The Labyrinth
"Ha, Ha, HA! Mine is an evil laugh ... now die!" - Hoban 'Wash' Washburne
"Ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!" - Hoban 'Wash' Washburne
"After all my erstwhile dear, My no longer cherished, Need we say it was not love, Just because it perished?" - Edna St.Vincent Millay
"EVERY MAN IS AS GOD MADE HIM, AY, AND OFTEN WORSE." - Miguel de Cervantes
By Maureen Preuss
The sun passed a second hour painting the town of Four Corners, but it made slow progress cutting through the bite of a swift mid-fall chilled breeze. Chris Larabee stood within the exposed graveyard at the edge of the burgeoning community. His dark green eyes peered into the distance for sign of the morning stage. He scowled as another gust slapped his face. He tightened the stampede string on his wide-brimmed black hat, and then turned up the collar of his long black duster.
Movement caught his eye, outside the cemetery, across the road, a shadow skirting alongside the church. A slash of sunlight glinted off its fur just as a fat possum disappeared into a hollow, barely visible at the base of the back wall.
Boredom again drew his attention toward the stately headstone in front of him. Chris had stared at the inscription enough that morning to know it by heart:
BORN 2 FEB, 1800
DIED 1 JULY, 1868
‘Honor for what,’ he wondered, ‘the man or his deeds?’
The tedious quiet broke with the distant clatter of the awaited stage. Chris took another drag on his cigarillo, considered the headstone before him, and then flicked the butt to land outside the weathered picket fence of the cemetery. ‘There’s a bit of honor for you,’ he thought, with a nod toward the dearly departed Mr. Akin.
Chris took up a position at the edge of the wide dirt road just outside the graveyard. His right hand swept his coat back to expose his holstered handgun as the coach rumbled to stop before him.
“Why you meetin’ us here, Chris?” the rugged, broad-shouldered veteran coach driver called down.
“Got any passengers today, Lou?”
“Yeah . . . two.”
Chris took a few steps back and a couple more toward the door of the coach. Two of the leather weather curtains were down, so the shadows of men were all he could discern through an opening in the door. “Inside the coach,” he hailed, “I need you to come out.”
One of the horses stamped repeatedly at the road, but there was no movement from inside the coach. Chris heard the shotgun rider up top cock his rifle.
Finally, from within the coach, a man demanded, “And what gives Chris Larabee the right to be orderin’ people around?”
Chris’ eyes narrowed as he strained to see into the coach, then he looked away, as if the surrounding hills had captured the identity of that voice from his past. An unimagined notion came to him. He faced the coach and called back, “Johnny?”
The coach door opened and a man stepped out. His build and height were medium, but his smile broad. He was dressed Mexican-style in a bolero jacket, a shirt with embroidery down the front, and leather calzoneros pants that had a row of silver buttons down each side. His raven black hair contrasted piercing blue eyes – but the tied-down low-worn holster left little doubt for how Chris had previously made this man’s acquaintance.
“Well of all the people I might have expected today, you would not have been one of them,” Chris said as he walked forward, hand extended.
Johnny slapped his own onto it. “Bit surprised myself, compadre.”
Chris pulled Johnny into a back slapping hug.
“Guess I’m lucky I ain’t the one you’re lookin’ for,” Johnny said. “So who is it got your interest? Bad element, I reckon.”
“Worse. Man named Colin Reed, and he’s pure evil. This town has always been a bit wild, but Reed and his gang were a terror. Was before I got here, but from what I hear it got pretty bad. The townsfolk finally got brave enough to call in the territorial marshal. He and a very large posse managed to corral him, but he just escaped from the federal prison where we thought he’d rot. That was two weeks ago, so he’s had plenty of time to round up help.”
“And you think someone like Reed is gonna come ridin’ back in on a stage?” Johnny asked.
Chris laughed. “Not him, but maybe some of his men.”
“You expect many?”
“Yeah. Already got two locked up.”
“Got anyone else backin’ you?”
“Some, but not all my regulars.”
“I don’t see a badge.”
"Badges? We don't need no stinking badges! Circuit judge appointed seven of us as local peacekeepers. But I’ve been caught down two right now. You . . . . ?” Chris’ smile grew downright wicked.
“You what?” Johnny put his hands on his hips.
“You wouldn’t consider staying on for a few days and lending a hand?” Chris asked.
“Johnny?” someone called.
For the first time since the stage stopped, Chris acknowledged that his old friend was not traveling alone.
“Chris Larabee,” Johnny said, “meet Scott . . . Garrett.”
The pause was brief, but telling. Chris sensed a secret, but let it pass, Johnny one of the few men he could surefire trust. He held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“And you as well,” the tall, blonde, well-groomed man said as he offered a firm handshake.
“Chris,” Johnny continued, “I’m . . . retired. Scott and I . . . . Well, we’re . . . in business together. I don’t hire out any more.”
“I didn’t mention anything about pay. But I do need guns.”
“And I need to get movin’, Chris,” the coach driver called down.
Chris acknowledged Lou with an upraised hand, but Johnny had his attention. “Stick around so we can talk about it?”
“Well, I guess anything would be better than getting back into that coach. Been a bit . . . entertaining.”
Chris looked up to the driver’s box. “You been serenading the passengers again, Lou?”
“Sure! Always do! Makes the trip go faster!”
“For you maybe,” the grizzled shotgun rider said. “Would help if you knew more than four songs.”
"Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cake hole,” Lou barked. “What’s it gonna be, fella’s . . . you stayin’ or goin’?”
“Scott?" Johnny asked.
“If Johnny has taught me anything, it is that ‘every man is as God made him, ay, and often worse.’ Therefore, as repugnant as the proposition is, I believe we will stay.”
“My, ain’t you a fancy talker,” Chris declared. “Ezra’s gonna love havin’ you around.”
“Then I shall look forward to meeting the gentleman,” Scott replied. “Driver, may we have our baggage, please.”
“Drop it off at the depot, Lou,” Chris said. “Boys, let’s walk. I’ll show you the lay of the land.”
Scott reached inside the coach and pulled out two cowboy hats – one boasted its years, the other was impeccably clean. He pushed the door closed. Lou snapped the reins and let out a hearty “Heya, horses!” The inharmonious strains of “Oh! Susanna” faded to a discordant whisper by the time Scott and Johnny donned their hats and buttoned their jackets against the still-frigid wind.
“Four Corners is a fair sized town,” Chris explained as the trio made their way up the dirt road toward the main street. “There’s good people here who want it to grow bigger – and quieter.”
“Will they back you?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. But they may be willing, but this ain’t their job. My men are gonna have keep the odds in our favor.”
“Scott’s a dead shot with a rifle,” Johnny offered.
“Thank you for the compliment,” Scott returned.
“That’s good to know,” Chris said. “I could use you covering the Clarion.”
“What’s that?” Johnny asked.
“Local newspaper. Reed’s vengeance burns hottest against the Clarion. Their stories and legal connections pushed the townspeople to finally say ‘enough’.”
Johnny’s pace slowed, and then he stopped. “Newspaper, huhn? I’m retired . . . remember?”
Chris smiled. “I know the owner well. She won’t print your name. I’ll see to it.”
“She?” Now Johnny smiled. “Pretty?”
“Ugly as sin,” Chris said and laughed. “Come on. I’m cold. Let’s keep movin’.”
As they passed the livery, a burly, bearded blacksmith stepped back from his anvil toward a shotgun perched against a nearby wall. Chris’ reassuring wave set him back to work.
Another building along a young man wearing a peculiar brown tweed suit came running at them from out of an alleyway. “Chris,” he hollered, “who you got there?” His erratic, boisterous movements sent his hands brushing over the handles of his twin holstered ivory-handled Colts.
Johnny pulled up short and his own handgun left leather. The sight-defying speed of the draw set the boy staggering in his tracks. His arms stiffened away from his holster, his fingers splayed open in surrender.
“Johnny, no!” Chris called. “He’s one of my men!”
Johnny’s aim didn’t waver. “This is one of yours? No wonder you need our help.”
“Hey!” the kid yelped, rightly grasping the offense.
“I say, dear sir,” a voice dripping Southern charm called out from behind them.
Johnny lowered his revolver to waist level, and turned to train it upon a dandy wearing the trappings of a professional gambler. The man walked toward them from out of the mercantile on the opposite side of the street.
“Our Mr. Dunne was remiss in his actions to extimulate you into a draw. Yet I believe he has proven that he is no threat.”
Johnny spared a glance toward Chris, who offered him a sheepish grin. “Yes, he’s another one of mine.”
With an incredulous shake of his head, Johnny holstered his gun.
Chris pointed to each man as he made the introductions. “Ezra Standish and J.D. Dunne, meet Johnny Madrid and Scott Garrett.”
“Johnny . . . Ma – Ma – Ma . . . drid?” the kid stammered. “Did you say Johnny . . . Madrid?”
“Yes, J.D. Johnny Madrid,” Chris repeated.
“Johnny . . . Madrid! I got a dime novel that says your one of the fastest, deadliest shots that ever hired out along the border towns! And I just seen it . . . I mean . . . you just . . . .”
“Chris!” Johnny growled.
“J.D., Mr. Madrid is retired. He’s thinking about giving us a hand, but if you tell anyone Johnny’s last name, I will personally put a bullet into you. You got that?”
J.D. removed his bowler hat and held it to his chest. “Yes, sir, Mr. Ma . . . I mean, Johnny. I won’t be tellin’ no one your you. I mean . . . .” He held out a hand, “I’m mighty pleased to meet you.”
Johnny grasped the boy’s hand and then had to add his other as J.D. pumped his arm in a high-spirited greeting. “And this is Scott,” Johnny said while forcefully relieving himself of the kid’s grip. “That’s all you need to tell about him, too.”
J.D. grabbed up Scott’s hand and shook it with equal vigor. “You have a notable capriccioso manner of saying hello, Mr. Dunne. I am pleased to meet you,” Scott said.
“Ah, a learned man,” Ezra said as he elbowed J.D. out of the way in order to shake hands with Scott himself. “Chris, I do hope that we can verbarstringendo our business with Mr. Reed so that we might have a proper opportunity to entertain our guests.”
Johnny looked at Chris, who matched his befuddled glare. “I have no idea what they’re saying, but I think that means you’re staying,” Chris said.
“Reckon so,” Johnny said. “Let’s finish up this little scouting trip. Who’s the man up top on the Saloon?”
“You always were all business, compadre,” Chris said. “That’s Vin Tanner. Vin reminds me a bit of you,” he said to Johnny, then turned to Scott. “Vin’s a good man with a rifle, too. You can spell each other.”
“I look forward to the opportunity,” Scott said. He offered a wave to Vin, who returned the greeting with a simple raised hand.
As they passed a restaurant then telegraph office on the left, a tall, slender, blonde female headed toward them from the Clarion building. The softening features of her fair skin and pale eyes battled with the resolute determination of her pace and steadfast nature of her gaze. She waved a piece of paper as she neared.
“Is that old ‘ugly as sin’?” Johnny asked.
Chris chuckled. “Yeah. But she ain’t your type.”
“She could be mine,” Scott said, drawing a bemused reaction from the other men, and a snigger from young Mr. Dunne.
“Chris,” she called. “There’s been a telegram about Reed!”
Chris took the message and read as she scrutinized the strangers – and they regarded her. “Reed shot a deputy near Eagle Bend,” Chris said. Looking from Johnny to Scott he added, “That means they could be here at any time.”
“An expedient assessment of the remainder of the town would be prudent then,” Scott said.
“Let’s go,” Johnny said, turning away.
“Chris,” the woman said, “who are these men?”
“Mary Travis, meet Scott and Johnny. They came in on the stage and are going to help back us against Reed.”
“As simply as that?” she asked. “What do you know about them? How can you tell they aren’t part of Reed’s gang? What makes you think they can be trusted? Why . . . .”
“Look, lady,” Johnny said, stepping over to confront her face-to-face. “We’d be perfectly happy to let them burn your place down if that’s what you prefer. Otherwise I suggest you just keep your mouth shut and stay out of the way.”
“I beg your pardon?” Mary put hands to hips and set her own stance in challenge to Johnny’s. “I happen to have a direct stake in how this town is protected. If you . . . .”
“If I decide to stay it will be because of Chris, not you lady,” Johnny said, holding his ground.
“And I and my readers have a right to be informed of decisions that affect us all,” she said, her voice rising.
Scott leaned over to Ezra and whispered, “She’s a bit of a battle-axe, isn’t she? But I think I rather admire her intractable approach.”
“Indeed,” Ezra said, “Miss Travis can be a fearsome force. Your friend best watch himself lest her tongue sharpens.”
“That’s enough!” Chris said as he stepped between the arguing pair. “Mary, Johnny is a friend of mine and he’s good with a gun.”
“Good?” J.D. chimed in. “Why he’s the fastest I ever . . . .”
“Shut up!” Chris and Johnny shouted as one.
“We got work to do, Mary,” Chris said. “Your questions can wait.”
Mary took a step back and a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m just . . . I apologize.” She held out a hand to Johnny. “Thank you,” she said as they shook. She turned to Scott and again offered a handshake. “Thank you as well, Scott.”
“It is an honor to assist,” Scott said, “and I look forward to getting to know you better once this business has concluded.”
“Oh, brother!” Johnny said, shaking his head and walking away. “Let’s get outta here, Chris.”
“We’ll talk to you later, Mary,” Chris said, as he and the rest of the men followed Johnny.
“There’s not much more to see,” Chris said as they meandered on. “That’s Josiah Sanchez on the hotel balcony.”
Sanchez leaned over the railing. “What lost souls do have there, Chris?”
“Recruits!” Chris proclaimed. “Friends, who can handle a gun. Any sign yet? Got a telegram that said they’re probably close.”
“Nothing yet. Time to set the barricades?” Josiah asked.
Chris thought that over a moment. “Think you’re right. Ezra, see to this side of town. J.D., set the other end.”
“My pleasure,” Ezra said. With a tip of his hat he added, “I take my leave, gentlemen.”
“I’ll see you later, Johnny,” J.D. called as he backed away. He added a furious wave, then turned too quick and knotted his feet. He stumbled along for a few steps until he regained his footing and took off at a run.
“Does he ever do anything slow?” Johnny asked.
“Not much,” Chris said. “But you can take my word on this – he can handle himself with a gun, and he’s a good man. Come on . . . let’s see if we can get you something to eat before things get busy around here.”
They made it to the porch of the restaurant before the first shot signaled from the south end of town. “Looks like lunch will have to wait,” Chris said. “Vin can stay where he is. Johnny, cover the Clarion while I get Scott a rifle.”
Johnny glared at Chris. “I swear you timed this on purpose, compadre.”
Chris’ wide grin showed him for the rogue he was. “Pretend you actually like her.”
“Been making you believe that for years!” Johnny left that to hang in the breeze as he took off at a run down the boardwalk, drawing his handgun as he went.
A flurry of townspeople scurried in all directions past Chris and Scott as they made their way toward the Sheriff’s office. The raucous mix of scuffling footfalls and slamming doors could not cover the second gunshot as it rang out from the north side of town.
Chris threw open the door of the jailhouse and headed to the rack of rifles against the far wall. Scott followed and pocketed two boxes of cartridges. Chris handed him a Winchester. “It’s loaded,” he said.
Scott cocked it anyway and checked for himself. “Where do you want me?”
“Pick any room upstairs at Digger Dave’s Saloon.” A quick volley of gunshots rang out from the south end of town. “Those are J.D.’s colts,” Chris said.
“Then I shall not linger another moment,” Scott said.
Chris grabbed a rifle for himself then tracked Scott from the jailhouse doorway as he sprinted down the middle of the now deserted street. A rifle shot sounded from the north end of town, followed by rapid gunfire and a couple of shotgun blasts.
Gunfire echoed ever louder from each end of town. Hoof beats pounded toward him and a rifle shot ricocheted off the doorjamb next to Chris. He cocked the Winchester and aimed it to his right. Two men on horseback entered his line of sight. Citizens in the Post Office and hardware store across the street shot at the pair, but all missed. As they drew closer, Chris fired and brought down the man who held the rifle.
The second man watched his friend fall from the saddle. He turned and brought his handgun to bear on Chris.
Chris levered the rifle again, aimed and fired. His shot caught the man full-on center in the chest and knocked him clear out of the saddle to fall into a heap upon the dirt.
The chaotic beat of many more horses drummed up the road, accompanied by the unruly voices of dozens of men, whooping and howling as they invaded the town. Three men entered Chris’ view, and he fired a rapid series of shots. Another man fell from his saddle but two others rode on. Chris brought his rifle to bear on the back of one, but he fell to the ground as a blast from another shooter hit him in the face and knocked him to the ground.
A series of rifle shots from the direction of the Clarion crescendoed with six continuous rounds from a handgun, fired with a rhythm Chris knew only one other man in town could achieve. “Johnny,” Chris muttered, “don’t let me down, compadre.”
L L L L L L L L L
Johnny watched the three men he had targeted crumple toward the ground, then slammed the door and took cover underneath the window next to it. Glass shattered above him as bullets continued to pour into the newspaper office.
Mary stood at the far window and fired a rifle through a large hole that had been blasted into the windowpane.
“Get down, lady!” Johnny called as he loaded his handgun.
“I can shoot, you know!” she yelled back, taking another shot.
“Well, try hitting something,” Johnny answered. He rolled up onto his knees, pulled the curtains down and tossed them aside. He used his handgun to break what remained of the glass in the center pane, then took aim on another passing rider and fired. Two bullets dug into the window jamb beside him and he ducked off to the side.
Johnny waited a second, then peered back outside. Vin at the Saloon and Scott at Digger Dave’s had Reed’s marauding gang in a deadly crossfire. So far Johnny and the marksmen had made short work of the raiders who had ventured into the street in front of the Clarion, but Johnny could hear at least a dozen more horses thundering their way toward their prize.
An apron-wearing citizen in one of the cigar shop windows fired off a shotgun blast at another rider, who fell to the ground. He rose up onto his knees and wiped his face, coming back with a handful of blood.
The outlaw grabbed at his bucking mount and settled it down enough to latch onto the saddle horn and swing back up into the saddle. He kneed his horse into motion and took aim at the cigar shop. Johnny gazed up and watched as Scott targeted the man and brought him down.
Another ricochet off the jamb beside him made Johnny step back.
Two bullets finished breaking the top panes of the window Mary was again aiming out of. She flinched back and covered her head as the glass rained down over her.
Johnny scrambled below the windows until he could reach Mary. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back behind a tall counter. Just as he pushed her to the floor a huge barrage of bullets took out most of the remaining windows.
Mary screamed, and Johnny enfolded her in his arms, covering her head with his own as bullets shattered wood and glass throughout the office.
Johnny could hear Scott and Vin’s rifles continuing to fire shot after shot, and the blast of Chris’ familiar handgun was growing closer.
“Stay here!” Johnny yelled. He stood up just as a flaming torch sailed in through a gaping window opening. Johnny dove forward, grabbed up the torch and tossed it back out the window, just as two more were tossed inside.
Johnny had to duck below the windows as another volley of shots rained into the office building. He waited for Scott’s rifle to start a rhythm of return fire, then reached out for the closest torch and tossed it out the window. As he extended his hand toward the last torch, the door burst open and a brawny man stumbled inside. Johnny raised his gun and fanned the hammer three times, sending the man staggering further into the office, until the brute’s handgun dropped to the floor as his lifeless body draped over the top of a desk.
Johnny grabbed the final torch and flung it out the window, as another man entered through the gaping doorway. Kneeling and off balance, Johnny threw himself to the floor and rolled just as a gunshot flew past him, burying itself into the planks of the wooden floor where he had just been. He stopped his roll and raised his weapon, but the raider convulsed violently. The report of the rifle shot came a moment later, as the man turned to display the stain of blood spreading across his back. The dying man stumbled out onto the porch and dropped splayed across the boardwalk.
“Are you alright?” Mary yelled from behind the counter.
“I’m fine!” Johnny called back. “Stay where you are!” He rose to his feet and took up her old position next to the window, just as a third man entered the doorway. Each man eagled the other at the same time, and their guns aimed from the hip as one.
The outlaw took a step forward into a shielded position in front of the wall beside the windows. Johnny held his ground.
“I look to burn this building and everything in it to the ground, cowboy,” the outlaw announced.
“You must be Colin Reed,” Johnny replied.
“That would be right,” Reed said. “And who might you be?”
“Just the man who’s gonna stop you,” Johnny said.
Reed laughed – a deep, up from his gut wild laugh. “I’ve just spent three years in prison, and every minute of every day I was thinking about the moment when I could watch this whole town go up in smoke. And this building is burning first. I will have my vengeance, and ain’t no one gonna stop me!”
A bullet streaked through the window and hit the wall a foot above Johnny’s head, but he took no notice and his gun remained steady. “Well, you see,” Johnny explained, “in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a few changes made around here. You’ll go back to prison, or you’ll go to your grave, but you’ll be havin’ nothin’ else.”
Reed’s leather-tanned skin took on a reddish glow as his ire rose. “I’ll have your head on a post,” the outlaw snarled.
“Not if I have anything to say about that,” Chris said, as he slowly entered the doorway with his gun pointed at Reed’s back.
Reed glared at Johnny. “Next time I’ll bring dynamite.”
Johnny smiled. “You really think we’re gonna give you another chance?”
Reed pondered that notion for a moment. “No,” he answered – and then his trigger finger flinched.
Chris and Johnny’s guns fired together. Hit front and back, Reed’s body stiffened before his gun fell to the floor. He made a slow grab for the wound in his chest as he leaned forward and, following his weapon, tumbled into a heap upon the ground.
“Chris! Johnny!” Mary called.
The two gunfighters – friends – took each other’s measure, then spun their weapons in a singular flourish back into their holsters.
“Chris!” Mary called again as she made her way over to his side.
Chris put his hands on her shoulders. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Johnny . . . he . . . he risked his life for me.”
Chris gave Mary a hug and said, “Stay inside awhile longer until we make sure the town is clear.”
“I will,” she said. “And thank you. Both of you.”
“Just helping out an old friend is all,” Johnny said.
“You know I have a lot of questions to ask you about this friendship,” Mary said. “Am I going to get any answers?”
Chris and Johnny faced each other, then as one looked Mary right in the eyes and answered, “No.”
The town was quiet as the pair stepped out onto the boardwalk. They spotted Josiah and Ezra coming down the street to their left. J.D. was heading toward them from the right. As they stepped onto the road Scott and Vin exited the saloons and walked toward them. The men met in the center of the street. Beyond a layer of brown dust and black gunpowder, none of them looked the worse for wear.
“Chris promised us food,” Johnny said. “Does he keep his word anymore?”
“On occasion,” Vin said.
“Is this one of them?” Josiah asked.
Chris shook his head. “You all are gonna make an honest man of me yet,” he said. “Come on. Least I can do is feed your sorry hides.”
As they made their way to the restaurant, townspeople exited their shops and businesses, all, once more, protected by the seven.
The sign on the building said “Moro Coyo Stage Depot.” A tall, broad-shouldered middle-aged gentleman stood at the edge of the porch. The crow’s feet around his blue, searching eyes tightened as he squinted into the distance.
“Should be any minute now,” an elderly man said from just behind him.
“You said that an hour ago, Jelly,” the man said without turning around.
Jelly scratched at his long whiskers, then lifted and reset the flat cap on his head. “Yep, Mr. Lancer, I sure did. But I’m just as tired of waiting as you, so it has to be any minute now. Late is late, but this is too late.”
Lancer snickered and spared a look over his shoulder. “Well heaven knows the boy’s should know better than to keep you waiting.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” the old man said, oblivious to the sarcastic quip. “I have a vested interest in them getting back sooner than later.”
“And what’s that?” Lancer asked.
“I’ve been havin’ to do all their chores since they been gone. They may be your sons, but the sooner they come home, the sooner I can get back to just doin’ my own work. And that’s work enough, if you ask me!”
“I’ll have to remember your welfare the next time I consider sending them both off on a stock buying trip. I don’t know what I was thinking letting them travel together.” The thumping of hooves drew his attention back to the road and the edge of town. “You’re in luck, Jelly. I think that’s them now.”
Within a minute the stage came to rest in front of the depot. Lancer reached out and opened the door to the coach.
Johnny stuck his head out. “Murdoch! We didn’t think you’d still be waitin’.” He bounded out of the coach and added, “And Jelly, too.”
“Yep, it’s me,” Jelly said. “Good to see you back. Real good to see you back.”
Scott stepped lightly out of the coach. “Certainly a pleasure to see you both,” he said. “Good to be home.”
Murdoch Lancer’s crow’s feet tightened again. “There wasn’t any trouble along the way, was there?”
Scott and Johnny faced each other, then as one looked their father right in the eyes and answered, “No.”
THE END – LET’S RIDE!
MP, August 2015