The Next Production
by  S.

Vickie: After I sent that post, this story came to mind--so its title is dedicated to you. S.

"Damn, I'm cold."

"Well of course you are, Mr. Madrid, you're dead!"

Johnny's eyes flew open. "Who said that?"

From behind a wall walked a small man, dressed in black, except for his face which was unearthly white.

"I did, Mr. Madrid. But perhaps you don't recognize me?"

"Wait! How can I be talking to you if I'm dead?"

"Beause I'm dead too, of course. Johnny blinked.

"How did I die?"

"My my-- I would think one would remember a death by firing squad."

"No, that didn't happen. Murdoch saved me."


"My father. He saved me and brought Scott and me to Lancer."


"My half-brother."

"Oh yes, the man I must now kill."

Johnny tried to get up so he could tackle the mad man. "No! What are you talking about?" Unfortunately, a weight pinned him to the floor so the man knew he was in no danger.

"Hey, this doesn't make sense. If I'm dead from the firing squad, then how could I remember Scott?"

"Maybe you just think you do?"

"Of course, I remember Scott, Murdoch, Jelly and Teresa."

Oh, I am impressed--such a lovely family. It's too bad you took my family from me."

Now Johnny knew the man was insane. "What? I didn't kill your family!" He continued to struggle, but the weight would not let him move.

"My brother was my only family and yet you killed him. Calling yourself a gunfighter when you're nothing but a common killer!" If he had been alive, the eyes would have flashed with fury; but since he was dead, they didn't.

"Who was he?"

"Typical Johnny Madrid carelessness--doesn't even find out the name of his victims! His name was Hank Slocomb and mine is Amos Slocomb. Now do you remember?"

"Hank Slocomb? No. Wait! A little town near Sonora?"

"Exactly. My brother thought he'd be safe from bounty hunters; but no, you tracked him for the few dollars his body would bring."

"He had a knife."

"He did not! You slaughtered him in cold blood."

No. I didn't...I wouldn't."

"Well it doesn't matter--all I care about is that he's dead and now your brother dies too." He turned to walk behind the wall.

"Goodbye, Mr. Madrid. I'll be sure to tell your brother why he's dying."

"NOOOO! NOOOO!' Johnny fell off the bed. Looking around, he knew this wasn't Lancer but where...? Oh yeah. He was in Slumber, California. What an appropriate name. Since his arrival the previous evening, he had only seen a few people and he wasn't sure that 2 of them had been breathing.

What an awful dream! I guess I shouldn't have had thirds on that Tamale Surprise for breakfast.

Johnny had taken a room above the saloon. He was waiting for Scott to join him for their return to Lancer. Scott was at the Barkley ranch near Stockton. His older brother was negotiating for a prize bull that Murdoch had his heart set on. At first Johnny had intended to go along; but after the last little set-to with the Barkleys, he'd decided to just wait--in Slumber.

Hey, it wasn't my fault if Audra liked me. Those 3 brothers of hers are worse than Jelly, Teresa, Murdoch, and Scott combined. They glowered at me like they wanted to cut out my heart--if I even held her hand. No sirree, I'm not tangling with that bunch again.

Finally Johnny dressed to go downstairs. It was still nearly empty except for 2 poker players (the ones not breathing ) the barkeep and a woman he vaguely remembered. "Say where can I get something to eat?"

"Little place down the street. Food's lousy, but it's the only place we got."

"Yeah, well thanks."

Just then the bargirl came over. "Hey Pretty Boy, buy me that drink now?"

Now he remembered. She drank like a fish and couldn't keep her hands off him. Normally this would be no problem, but he hadn't felt like grappling last night. In fact all he wanted to do was go back to
Lancer. He had a date with Lucy on Saturday and did she get mad if he stood her up!

Blast that Scott! Why couldn't he just buy the bull and leave?

"Mister, mister," said a creaky voice. "Are you Jenny Lantern?"

"Johnny Lancer!"

"Oh well I got this here telegram for you. It's from a Spot Lancer."


Oh funny name Spot."

"Gimmee that!" Johnny's head was pounding by now. No more tequila for me--at least for a day or 2.

Johnny's stomach clenched--another ominous telegram: 

"Johnny: Been delayed. Audra has invited me to a party on Saturday. Having a great time. Bull deal sealed. Go back home, if you want. Scott"

He's got a date with Audra! What about those 3 mother hens, those 3 blood-thirsty killers! I talked to her for 1 minute and they were ready to cut off my...! You don't suppose they objected to my former occupation? No, it's that Scott is such a boot polisher. He probably talked culture with Jarrod, and...and punched people with Nick. Oh and I know he probably broke Heath's heart with his sob story about Murdoch abandoning him. I just knew I couldn't trust that blond, blue-eyed weasel! Well I will go back to Lancer. Lucy will be delighted to see me! Who needs a high falutin' dame anyway?

Just then a voice interrupted his brain's ranting. "Mr. Madrid?" Johnny turned to see the man in black. "Mr. Madrid, I'm Amos Slocomb. I wish to hire you to collect my brother."

"Uh Mr. Slocomb, I'm no Pinkerton."

"I know. You have a reputation as a gunfighter. I need someone who is good with a gun; but even more important, knows when not to use it."

Seeing this phantom in person unnerved Johnny. "I...I don't understand."

"Let's sit at one of the tables in the saloon and I'll explain. You see, my brother Hank has a rather large price on his head. I will pay you $500 plus the reward money if you collect and turn him in."

"You've gotta be kiddin'. Your own brother?"

"Oh you misunderstand, Mr. Madrid, I love my brother. If he isn't brought in, some bounty hunter with no conscience will gun him down. This way you bring him in, he serves a few years and then he'll be

"What makes you think I can take him without gunplay?"

"Oh I've heard of your reputation and I'm sure for $500 plus the reward, you would be careful not to hurt him, wouldn't you?"

"But what if he shoots at me?"

"Oh come now--you can come up with some kind of plan surely?"

Johnny pondered. $500 plus the reward! A man could have a good time with that kind of money. After all Murdoch only offered me $1,000.

"Well I was going to head home so I'm not really looking to go out of my way."

"No need. He's staying at a small cabin just outside town."

Johnny look at him skeptically. "Why should I believe all this? What if you're trying to set me up?"

Amos twittered, "Oh Mr. Madrid, you are so droll. Why should I want you dead?"

There seemed to be no answer for that. "Okay, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll ride out there and if--if I can nab him I will. But if it looks like I'll get my head blown off--no deal."

"That's fine with me, Mr. Madrid. Just to show you that I trust you, here's $50 on account."

Johnny look at the money. He could buy Lucy a bonnet, a frilly parasol, some skimpies and a bustle and....

For one brief moment, his nightmare paraded before his eyes. Could he trust this man? Aw it was just a dream. You're no better than Jelly with his superstitions."

Johnny Lancer rode out to the cabin. He settled in to watch for awhile. It would be easier if Slocomb came outside so he could get the drop on him.

1 hour passed, then 2. Then the door to the cabin opened. A huge, brawny man emerged and started to chop wood. Quietly Johnny moved up behind the shed. Fortunately Slocomb seemed oblivious to everything but the growing pile of firewood. How'd he stay alive this long?

"HANK SLOCOMB! Hands up!" The man stopped to straighten up. He was well over 6' tall and built like a rhino. He grunted like one too as he started toward Johnny, axe in hand. Johnny fired into the ground just ahead of the charging hulk. Slocomb halted.

"Who are you? "Name's Madrid. Your brother asked me to bring you in."

"Brother? Ain't got no brother."

"You don't have a brother named Amos?" Oh oh!

"Nope, I was an orphan. No family a-tall."

"Well I was hired by a small man in black to bring you in. He said he was your brother."

"Indeed I did, Mr. Madrid; but you see I lied." 'Amos Slocomb' stepped out from behind a tree. In his hand was a Colt 45. "Thank you, Mr. Madrid. You can go now. Your $450 is waiting at the bank in town. Once the body is confirmed you'll also get the reward."


"Oh yes. I intend to kill Hank here. I just needed your help to corral him--as they say."

"I don't like being used, Mr. Slocomb, or whatever your name is."

In an oily voice he replied, "Oh but I'm sure the $500 will help ease your conscience, won't it?"

"I guess so." He turned to leave when his gunfighter's sense told him to move. Quickly he turned and fired at 'Slocomb'. The man in black was dead before he hit the ground.

Johnny slowly walked over to the corpse. The huge man came towards him. Johnny turned and trained the gun on him. "Hold it!"

"Is he dead?" 

Johnny nodded. 


"Who was he?"

"His name was Amos Carpenter and he was my brother-in-law."

Johnny lowered his gun. "What?"

"You see, I married Amos' sister, Belinda. She was a beautiful little thing. He hated me for taking her away. One night while I was in town, I got a bit drunk and passed out. When I got back to our ranch in the morning, I found Belinda dead--her throat slit. Everybody thought I did it in a drunken rage. Amos even lied on the witness stand. He said that I hit her and that we fought all the time. I was convicted but before they could hang me, a bargirl named Jody came forward to say that I had spent the night with her. Of course, I hadn't, but she was real nice to me. I guess she didn't want
to see me hang. When I moved here, she followed. Sometimes when I get real lonesome, I go
in and talk to her. I guess I just never realized how much Amos hated me."

"Well, I'm real sorry this happened."

"Not your fault. I did have some money on my head for awhile. I'll go bury Amos. I think Belinda would want that."

Johnny rode into town. Sure enough the money was waiting at the bank. He took the cash and headed to the saloon. Jody was working as usual.

"Jody, this is for you." She stared at the money. "What do I...what do I have to do for it?"

"Nothing. Just get out of this town, start over, and make a new life."

Eagerly Jody agreed. "Oh I will."

"Maybe Hank can help you?"

Jody smiled. "Maybe he can."

Johnny went upstairs , packed and headed back to Lancer.

When he arrived, he was met by Teresa. "Johnny, glad to see you home. She hugged him. "You need a bath."

"Yeah I suppose I do. Heard from Scott?"

"He sent Murdoch a telegram mentioning that the bull would be here in a few days and that the whole Barkley family had invited him to stay over for another week."

Johnny looked at Teresa. He shook his head. Why him? It must be because he's blond like Audra.

"Oh and Johnny, Lucy sent you a note. Here now, I've got to go do some work, Not all of us can sit around in a saloon all day."

The note was perfumed: 

"Johnny darlin' boy, I saw this scrumptious dress at Mme Latour's Emporium. It's $50, but I would be ever soooo grateful if you could get it for me. I'll wear it when I see you Saturday night--at least for a little while.
xoxoxoxo Lucy"

Johnny flushed. I sure hope Teresa didn't read this. $50! That was all he had left from the money that Amos had given him. "Oh well, easy come, easy go! I guess I'd better go get cleaned up if I'm going to go shopping with Lucy." He began to whistle.



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