Streets of Laredo

By OpalGirl 



Author's Note: 

For more information about the Clay Culhane character, check out Blondie's Black Saddle site:  The characters of Nick Barkley and Clay Culhane were both played by Peter Breck. 



Nick 29

Heath 25

Scott 30

Johnny 26

Teresa 22



Heath 18

Johnny 20

Clay 26



“Heath, you are going to love this place!” the dark-haired cowboy enthused as they rode under a white stone arch with the name Lancer written on it.  “Murdoch Lancer’s a good friend of Father and Mother; he knew them from around the time I was born.”

“That long,” mumbled the blond cowboy wryly.  He was riding slightly behind his brother, his neck swiveling around to take in the lush fields and rolling hillsides and the foreground dominated by the a large white Spanish hacienda.  A good looking operation, he thought, everything neat and tidy.  ‘Not as pretty as home.’   Home.  Stockton, the Barkley ranch, not Strawberry.  He’d been living with his father’s widow and their children for almost a year now, and he no longer thought of Strawberry as anything other than the place his mama was buried.

As his eyes swept the fields, he caught sight of the reason for their trip to the southern San Joaquin Valley.  Palominos.  Nick was set on obtaining a pair for Audra’s birthday in two months, a colt and a mare.  Murdoch Lancer’s son John raised the golden horses.  While his father and brother, Scott, concentrated on raising cattle, Johnny’s attention was focused on horses.  Heath had never cared for the color himself - he thought them too flashy - but he knew that his beautiful blonde sister would look like a princess perched on one. 

His attention was pulled back to the house as he and Nick came to the front door.  Before they could dismount, it was thrown wide open by a very tall gray-haired man.  “Nick!” he cried, his arms opened wide to embrace the slightly shorter younger man in a bear hug.  “Let me look at you boy,” he held the dark-haired cowboy at arm’s length and looked him up and down, “It’s been how long? Three or four years since I last saw you?”

“Three years,” Nick confirmed, nodding his head.  He stepped back and swept his hat from his head. Turning slightly, he gestured with it to his companion. “Come here, Heath; meet Murdoch.” 

The blond man stepped forward, extending his hand.   “Mr. Lancer.”

“Aw now, Heath, it’s Murdoch; all my friends call me Murdoch.”  He gripped Heath’s hand and looked at him as critically as he had Nick.  “Yes, I do see the resemblance.” 

Heath ducked his head slightly.  While he was usually pleased when people commented on his resemblance to Tom Barkley, he never really knew how to respond.  So he said nothing, but he did allow a small grin to grace his face.

“Come inside.  Teresa’s waiting to greet you.”

Murdoch Lancer ushered his guests into the great room of the hacienda, “Teresa!”  He indicated with a wave of his hand a coat rack upon which Nick and Heath could hang their hats.  “Teresa!” he called again, stopping abruptly as the petite woman came into the room with a tray of sandwiches.  “There you are.  Nick, you remember Teresa.  Heath, this is Teresa O’Brien, my ward.”

Heath’s sky blue eyes brightened and his smile grew wide.  Teresa O’Brien was only a year or two younger than he, with long, dark, curly hair hanging almost to her waist.  “Hello Nick, Heath,” she said in slightly husky voice, looking up at each of them in turn. 

“Look at you,” Nick whistled softly in appreciation, “Last time I saw you, you were just a little girl.”  He walked around the woman, looking at her from all sides. 

“Nick, she’s not a prize heifer we’re buying,” Heath said shaking his head at his brother.  “If this is how you treat women, it’s no wonder you’re still unmarried.” 

“Thank you, Heath,” Teresa said.  “Sometimes all these men forget I am a woman and not a part of their herd.” 

“I would never think of you as part of any herd,” Heath promised.  “You’re a one of a kind.”  The two older men laughed at the blond’s show of interest in the young woman.  Heath reddened. “I mean I would never think of you as a cow . . . I mean . . .”

Murdoch came to his guest’s rescue.  “He means you’re beautiful and we shouldn’t be taking you for granted, and he couldn’t be more correct.”  He put his arm around his ward’s shoulders and turned her towards the kitchen of the house. “We’re going to visit for a little bit, eat your delicious sandwiches, and then hopefully, Scott and John will be here.” 




Following their lunch, Murdoch showed his two guests to their adjoining rooms on the second floor of the hacienda.  After washing up, Nick opened the door between his and his brother’s rooms.  Leaning against the door frame, he watched Heath hang his shirts and spare pair of pants in the armoire.  “Told you that you would like this place,” he said with a knowing smile.

“You said I’d like this place, you didn’t tell me there was a beautiful woman living in it.”

“I’d forgotten she was so pretty.”

Heath snorted at this.

“She was only sixteen years old last time I saw her, just a little girl.  I’ve known her almost her entire life.  She was like Audra, just another girl,” Nick said in defense.  “The last time I saw her was at Father’s service.”

Heath nodded at this; he could understand how Nick could have let a pretty girl get by him at that time.  “What happened to her parents?”

“They’re both dead.  Her mother died years ago when she was an infant, I think, and her father died seven, almost eight years ago.  He was killed the winter before Father died.”

“It was good of Lancer to take her in.”

“Her father was foreman here.  Paul O’Brien.  He and Murdoch really raised Teresa alone since her mother’s death.”

“Well, she grew up with Murdoch’s sons, no?  She wasn’t the only child here.”

“No, she was the only child.  It’s a long story.  His sons were raised in different parts of the country and didn’t come here until they were grown.  I’ll tell you more later.  Right now, we need to get back downstairs. Murdoch’s waiting for us.”




When Nick and Heath returned to the great room, they discovered that Scott Lancer had returned home.  “Heath,” he said, his deep voice cool and formal, shaking hands with the newest Barkley brother.  “I’m very pleased to meet you.” 

Heath smiled and nodded to the blond Lancer son.  Scott’s greeting to Nick was warmer, “Nick, it’s so good to see you again.  I was hoping to get away to Stockton for Audra’s party, but it seems the cattle market has other ideas.”

Nick laughed.  “We should be concentrating on the summer round-up too, but Audra’s birthday comes first this year.”  He accepted a tumbler of whiskey from Murdoch Lancer.  “She’s turning twenty; Mother has planned a huge dance and we have been informed that we will all be there no matter what.”  He looked up as Teresa entered the room.  “I hope the cattle market doesn’t keep you away from Audra’s party.”

“Since no one has told me that I’m to be sold this year, I hope to be able to get to Stockton.”

“I can come and make certain you get there safely,” Heath offered.

“We’ll make sure she gets there safely, Thomson.”

All eyes turned to the doorway.

Heath straightened his back and drew his shoulders taut. “Madrid.”





“Madrid!” the youth yelled.  He was tall, blond, and looked far too young to be wearing the badge of a deputy sheriff.  “Madrid,” he said again walking out of the saloon behind the shorter, raven-haired man.

“Not now,” Madrid answered in a soft voice.  “I’ll talk to you in a couple of minutes.”  He continued to walk slowly and confidently until he reached the middle of the street.  There he stopped; the sun at his back.  He lifted his hat and resettled it on his head as he eyed the man opposite him.  “Last chance,” he called to him. “You can still walk away with your life.” 

“Just draw!” the man said in response as his hand came to rest on his gun.  ‘I’ll kill him and walk away like it was nothing.  I hope Lupe’s watching.  She can tell me how I looked when I killed the great Johnny Mad . . .’  The man was surprised at the sudden blossoming bloodstain that appeared on his chest.  He looked down at it, his mind wondering what it was it was.  It was his last thought. 

The deputy walked out into the street to stand over the dead man.  The gunfighter joined him.  “I hope he has enough money on him to bury him”, the deputy drawled.  “The undertaker don’t like charity cases.”  He beckoned to a man watching, “Run and tell Mr. Caverness he’s got a new client.”  He lifted his sky blue eyes to the gunfighter’s face and studied him silently.  The young man couldn’t be more than a couple of years older than himself, too young to have such a fearsome reputation.

Johnny Madrid, his mixed heritage betrayed by his sapphire-like eyes.  His father was rumored to have been a wealthy Anglo rancher who’d married and then thrown out his Mexican wife a few years into their marriage.  As the legend went, Madrid had been raised then in the poverty-stricken border towns between Texas and Mexico, having to learn how to fight those who would challenge him because he was a half-breed. 

It was a harsh series of lessons that Heath Thomson could understand.  He continued to study the gunfighter as the dark-haired man reloaded his gun. 

Madrid looked up to catch the deputy watching him.  He smiled, but it contained no joy.  “What did you want?”

“Well,” the young blond drawled, “I WAS going to ask you what your business was in Laredo, but I guess that’s unnecessary now.”  He looked up as the undertaker’s wagon came alongside him.  While the undertaker, Mr. Caverness, climbed down, Thomson squatted next to the dead gunfighter and began checking his pockets.  “A tobacco pouch, some papers, and about five dollars.”  Nothing to tell him who the man was.   He handed the five dollars to the undertaker, “That’s the best you’re going to get.  I’ll ask around to see if anyone knew his name.”  The undertaker accepted the money and with the help of his assistant began to remove the body.

The two men watched as the undertaker drove away towards his place of business, there to quickly lay the unlamented gunfighter to rest.  “Why?”


“Why did you want to know what business I had in Laredo?”

“Just thought you might be signing on with the McLeod outfit.”

They began walking back towards the saloon, the street traffic was returning to normal.  “Why aren’t you worried about that now?”

“Cuz now you’re gonna leave Laredo.”

“I am?”

They paused at the doors to the saloon, Madrid glanced inside catching the eye of the beautiful saloon girl, Lupe.  She was already sharing a drink with a new man but appeared to be tiring of his company. 

“We don’t need any more gunfighters around here.  The town can’t afford to use up the space in the graveyard for you all.” 

“Well, I’ll do my best to keep out of it.  But let me tell you, I’m . . .”  The sound of gunfire erupted from across the street.  Both men turned towards the sound. Their hands dropped to their holsters, and they each drew their guns in smooth moves. 

Neither man fired. People were now running in all directions and screaming.  Horses were shying and neighing, but despite the general panic before them, both men centered their attention on the doorway to the town’s bank.  They could see three men leaving it with guns drawn and their bandanas pulled up over their faces.  The trio were firing their guns into the air, but one pointed his gun into the bank firing at someone unseen. 

The bank robbers caught three horses and, mounting them quickly, began to ride down the middle of the street away from the bank.  Deputy Thomson ran into the street, raising his gun to fire at the fleeing men.  Before he could, his arm was slapped down by Johnny Madrid.  “You’ll hit the wrong target!” he yelled at him over the din.  “Come on!”  He ran towards two horses still tied to the hitching rail in front of the saloon.  Pulling them both loose, he threw the reins of one to Thomson and vaulted into the saddle of the other. 

He didn’t look back to see if the deputy was following him; he couldn’t afford that luxury.  If he looked away from the robbers now, he’d lose them too quick.  He was a good tracker, but with all the horse traffic that had passed this way, it would be easy to lose the three they wanted.  As it was, he could just see the cloud of dust their horses were raising.  He wanted to maintain some distance between himself and them; he didn’t want to risk having them realize they were being followed so closely.  No, he’d hang back slightly and wait for the posse that was sure to be gathering to catch up with him.

After forty-five minutes of hard riding, the bank robbers began to slow down, their horses’ strength now rapidly waning.  Madrid slowed too.  He patted his horse’s neck and spoke softly to it, “You’re a good horse.  You see that bunch up there?  You keep them in sight, okay?”  The horse tossed his head as if in agreement with his rider.

The bank robbers appeared to be heading towards a particular destination.  Madrid was unfamiliar with this area around Laredo; he dropped back even further.  Now that they were away from the main streets of the town, it would be easier to trail the trio by their tracks alone.  The gunfighter risked looking back over his should to see if anyone was riding to catch up with him.  He saw no one.  ‘I thought that deputy had more guts, but it seems he’s given up already. Or he’s such a bad tracker that he can’t find his way out of town.’  Madrid shook his head, ‘Why am I still tracking them?  Oh well, maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be a reward.’




Johnny Madrid pulled his horse to a halt on the edge of a scrubby meadow.  Across it he could see the horses the bank robbers had ridden, tied to a short rail in front of a small line shack.  He scowled at the sight of the three winded horses still saddled.  The young man had no use for people who didn’t take care of their mounts.  He settled down to watch the shack.  It seemed as if they would be here a while.

In the still quiet heat of the afternoon, he started as he felt a hand touch his right arm.  “Deputy,” he hissed, more angry at himself for allowing the blond man to sneak up on him than he was at the deputy.

“Thought you might like some company,” the blond man drawled softly.  “I took a look around the shack.  There’s only the front door and that one window.  We only need to watch the front.”

“Got a posse?”

“Nope.  It’s just you and me.”

“Where’s your horse?”

“Left him back there a ways.  There’s a small stream and some grass.  Want to take yours?  I’ll keep watch for a while.”

“There’s just the three of them.  They haven’t moved for a couple of hours.”

“Bring back my saddlebags.”  Madrid noted that the deputy had brought a rifle with him.

The dark-haired gunfighter moved away from the deputy as quietly as he could, to where his borrowed horse was tied.  Standing slowly from the covering brush, he stretched his back and led the horse in the direction the deputy had indicated.




Another hour passed after Johnny Madrid and Heath Thomson finished eating the jerky the deputy carried in his saddlebags.  While eating, the deputy filled the gunfighter in on what happened after he’d ridden after the bank robbers.  The head teller in the bank had been shot when one of the robbers had fired back into the building as they were making their escape.  He was still alive when Thomson left town, but his chances didn’t look promising.  Heath stopped long enough to fill the other deputy in on his plans to track the robbers and grab his rifle from the gun rack in the jail. 

“Why no posse?”

“I’ve learned not to expect help around here.  McLeod’s got the townsfolk intimidated.  I guess they’re waiting for him to put together a posse,” Heath took a long look at the dark-haired man.  “Do you want out?”

Two pairs of blue eyes met and each assessed the other:  Is this a man I can trust at my back? 

Heath Thomson had learned that sometimes you had to trust someone at face value.  Was this man someone he should give that to? 

Johnny Madrid had always tried to keep his thoughts and feelings hidden deep within him; when hired by someone, he performed the job, but didn’t give any more personal information than he needed to.  This deputy seemed like a straight dealer, but was he someone he should trust?

“Nope, just asking,” Madrid opened the canteen and after a deep swallow of the tepid water, said, “Who’s this McLeod you don’t want me hiring on with?”

“Frank McLeod.  Doesn’t have the biggest ranch.  Yet.  He wants to be running this area, so he’s trying to drive out all the little ranchers.  He’s been hiring gunfighters to help him.”  Thomson indicated the cabin with a nod of his head, “That shack belongs to McLeod.”

The blue-eyed gunfighter considered that last statement.  He raised his eyebrows at the deputy who was silently watching him think. 

“No, I don’t think HE had the bank robbed on his behalf,” the blond answered the unasked question.  “He’s greedy, but not entirely stupid.”  He settled back down on the ground after shifting his legs.  “But his son is.”  His mouth quirked up in a smile.

“And dumb enough to have his men hide out in his property.”  Madrid studied the blond man.  “Don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.  Johnny Madrid,” he said.

“Heath Thomson.” 

“A little young to be a lawman aren’t you?”

“Old enough.”

He indicated the rifle Heath had brought with him, “You any good with that thing?”

“I don’t use it just to get rabbits.”

“I bet your pa taught you how to shoot.”

Heath shook his head, “No.  Never knew the man.”

Johnny nodded his head at this.  It was something they had in common.  “Where did you learn?”


He raised his eyebrows at this answer, “You didn’t last long with them.”  It was said mildly with no slight intended.

“It was during the war.”

Madrid took another long look at the blond man.  It was sometimes hard to tell a person’s age, but he’d stake money on the fact that this man was no older than he was.  He recalled hearing that the war had ended four years before. 

Heath caught the appraising look and tried to hide his smile.  “Gunfighters are usually better at hiding their thoughts.”

The gunfighter chuckled.  “Just surprised me.  But I can’t always tell how old you gringos are; thought you were younger than me.”

“You’re how old?  Twenty, twenty-one?”  Johnny nodded in confirmation of Heath’s assumption.  “I AM younger than you.” 

“Were they so desperate for soldiers that they took babies?” Madrid asked with a smile.

“Right out of the cradle.  When I got out of the Army I came here and pinned a badge on my diaper.” 

Johnny turned his attention back towards the shack.  “This junior McLeod, he about thirty?  Wears a dark brown hat and a bright white shirt that’s just begging for dirt?”

It was Heath’s turn to look surprised, “Yeah.  Have you met him?”

“Not yet, but if he rides a bay horse, I think I’m going to meet him soon.”  He pointed across the meadow at a horse and rider heading for the shack.




The gunfighter and the deputy watched Charles McLeod ride straight to the line shack.  “He sure don’t care if anyone sees him does he?” asked Madrid.

“Doesn’t look like it.  It’s either because the shack belongs to his pa or he knows who’s in there.”  He grinned at his companion.  “I’m betting it’s the second.” 

The two men watched as McLeod dismounted and entered the shack leaving the door open behind him.  “Shall we see if we can hear what they’re saying?” asked Heath, his blue eyes studying the landscape between their hiding place and the shack.  Up till now they’d been biding their time, waiting for night to fall to offer its dark cover before venturing closer. 

“You first, you’re in charge”

Thomson moved quietly towards a small bush about one-third of the way towards the shack; it and the bush beyond it would bring them to the side wall of the shack.  Since there was only one window in the shack and it was located to the left of the doorway on the front of the small building, there was little chance of their being seen, but Heath wanted to live a good many more years and had hoped to have more darkness to hide them.  Their movements became slower and quieter once they’d neared the wall.  Heath eased his way towards the front corner of the shack; he could hear the sound of conversation inside, but not make out the words.

There were no raised voices indicating anger or surprise on the part of either the bank robbers or Charles McLeod, confirming the suspicions that were forming in the deputy’s mind.  As he continued to listen, trying to make out words and not just tone, he thought about whether he should just ride away.  It was McLeod’s shack, McLeod’s son, McLeod’s problem.  He shook his head at these thoughts.  He could no more walk away from this than he could sprout wings. 

Heath turned around towards where he thought Madrid was waiting behind him.  He was surprised to find he was alone.  His blond head swiveled from side to side as he tried to catch sight of the dark gunfighter, but he was nowhere to be seen.  ‘Great,’ he thought, his shoulders drooping.  ‘Where is he?’ 




Johnny Madrid craned his head around the far side front edge of the shack, catty-corner to where Thomson was discovering he was alone.  He looked at the bank robbers’ horses tied to the rail in front of the small shack on the side with the window.  The dark-haired man cursed the fact that he was not at a better angle to see if anyone was looking out the window or the open door.  ‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘you only live once.’ 

Moving as softly and quietly as he knew how, he eased his way out from the shelter of the sidewall towards the horses’ reins.  He reached the horses unnoticed; he quickly untied the reins and began to lead the four animals away to the open meadow.  He almost made it.

Just as he dropped the reins and prepared to quietly shoo the horses away and deprive the robbers of their mounts, a shout from the shack told him he’d been discovered.  Tearing the hat from his head he waved it at the animals, scaring them into a dead run away from him.  In one smooth move, he turned back towards the building, pulling his gun from its holster as he did so.

The first man through the door shouted to his companions, “He’s stealing our horses!”  He drew his gun from his holster and shot at the unknown horse thief. 

Madrid never hesitated.  Before running for the shelter of the building the gunfighter shot the man in the center of the chest, killing him. 

At the shout and the sound of gunfire erupting from the far side of the shack, Thomson moved out from the other side of the shack.  His rifle in firing position, he yelled “Deputy Sheriff!Raise your hands, you’re under arrest!” 

Two more men were now on the porch; they both turned towards the deputy and fired in unison. 

Heath dropped to one knee as he fired two quick rounds from the rifle, killing both men before diving for the safety of the side wall.  Catching his breath, he peeked from the corner of the building, grinning as he could see Johnny Madrid doing the same thing from the other side.  He raised one finger and pointed into the shack.

Madrid nodded, understanding that Thomson was telling him that one man was inside the shack.  He slowly stood and reloaded his gun, waiting to see what the deputy had planned.

“Inside the shack!” Thomson called from the corner of the building. 

No answer. 

“Give it up!  Throw your gun out the door, and come out with your hands up!” 


Minutes ticked by.  Heath Thomson and Johnny Madrid both watched the front of the shack from their respective corners.  There was no hurry now; it was two against one. 

Finally, a gun was thrown through the open door, followed by a shaky shout, “I’m coming out!  Don’t shoot!” 

The last of the four men who’d been in the shack slowly edged out onto the porch, his hands raised above his head. 

“Move down off the porch!” the deputy instructed.  He watched carefully as the man stepped over his dead companions, down onto the dirt. 

Keeping his eyes on the man’s face, Heath stepped out from the corner of the building, the rifle raised to his shoulder.  He approached the man cautiously. 

Suddenly the bank robber dropped his hands and began reaching behind him, to where he had a gun hidden in his waistband.

“Get down!” yelled Madrid in warning. 

Heath dropped straight to the ground in response, the bullet from the last robber’s gun passing over his head.  Madrid fired as soon as he saw Thomson fall, his shot catching the bank robber in the back, killing him. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”  The deputy got to his feet.  He joined the gunfighter in checking the four men to ensure they were dead and not merely wounded.  “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”  Johnny reloaded his gun as he turned slowly and scanned the area for the horses he’d chased away earlier.  “I’ll fetch our horses.” 




When Johnny Madrid returned with their two horses, he found Heath Thomson surrounded by four armed men.  The deputy was being stabbed in the chest by the forefinger of an older, bald man.  Riding slowly and casually up to the shack, he called out as he neared, “Thomson?”

“I’m okay,” Heath answered.  “Frank McLeod.  Johnny Madrid,” he said in introduction. 

One of the armed men, still seated on a rawboned gray horse, raised his head in recognition of the gunfighter’s name. 

“Mr. McLeod doesn’t believe me when I say his son fired on us first,” Heath continued. 

Madrid remained silent.  He was studying the armed men.  They didn’t look familiar to him, but he remembered the deputy telling him about McLeod’s gunfighters and decided to be cautious.  He kept his hands on the pommel of his saddle and away from his holstered gun. 

“Check his gun; you’ll see it’s been fired recently,” Heath was telling Frank McLeod. 

“Of course it’s been fired, he was defending himself!” McLeod shouted.  He backed away from the deputy sheriff.  “Okay, tie him and his friend here up.  I know where there’s a good tall tree.”

Three of the armed men started towards the deputy and the gunfighter.  “Now, Frank, just wait a minute,” said the man on the gray horse mildly.

McLeod turned towards the man, “Stay out of this Culhane.  These men killed my son and I’m gonna get my justice.”

“Frank, he’s a sheriff . . .”

“He’s only a snot-nosed kid.”

“Doesn’t matter his age, he’s still a lawman.  You can’t just string him up.”  The man stepped off his horse, walking towards the angry rancher.  “Let’s take them to town.  Let the sheriff investigate.  If he finds enough evidence that they killed Charlie, then they’ll be put on trial.”

“The sheriff can investigate all he wants.  I’m gonna hang these two now.” 

“I can’t let you do that.  You’d be guilty of murder.”  The man named Culhane reached the side of Frank McLeod.  “You want to be a leader in this community?  Then you have to do things in the proper order.”

“Fine.  Tie them up, we’ll have a trial, find them guilty, and hang them.”

“The town will have the trial.  If they’re found guilty, they’ll hang.” 

McLeod regarded Culhane.  “Ever since you took up the law books, you’ve become a pain to deal with,” he told him.  “Take their weapons, get him on his horse, and take them into Laredo.” 

The three men started forward again.  Thomson looked at Madrid.  “Should’ve rode off when you had a chance,” he told him. 

“Naw, I got a fatal flaw.”

“Oh?” asked the deputy as he was disarmed.

“Yep.  Just gotta meet new people and I don’t think I know any of these.”

“I’ll take their weapons,” said Culhane.  He took Heath Thomson’s rifle and the pistols carried by the two men.  Placing the guns in his black saddlebags, he re-mounted his horse and held the rifle.  “I’ll ride into town with them.  You’ll see that the dead men get into town?  We need to find out who they are.  Will you see that the money from the robbery gets to the sheriff?  See you later, Frank.”

Not waiting for an answer, he gestured to Thomson and Madrid to turn their mounts and begin the ride to Laredo.




Once out of sight of the shack, Madrid turned to the man on the gray horse.  He eyed the man’s fancy etched black saddle and neat dress.  “Culhane?  I know a Dan Culhane.  Any relation?”

“My brother.”

“I know he has some family, but can’t remember the names.”

“Had.  He’s dead.”

Johnny bowed his head, “Sorry to hear that.  I liked him.  He never sold his gun to the highest pay.”

Culhane nodded in acceptance of this statement.  “My brothers, Ben and Dan, were killed in a shootout near Marathon about two years ago.  I’m Clay.”

“Hate to break up this reunion,” Thomson broke in, “Are you working for McLeod?”

“No.  I stopped at his place while on my way back to New Mexico.  Just visiting.”  Culhane turned his hazel eyes on the deputy.  “Mind telling me what went on back there?”

“Yes.”  Thomson met Culhane’s assessing gaze.  “I prefer to wait to talk to the sheriff.”

Clay Culhane pulled his horse to a stop.  “Look, you’re in a lot of trouble.  If you’ve been here any length of time then you know McLeod’s reputation.  He’ll have the sheriff investigate, find you did kill his son, and hang you before breakfast tomorrow.  I’m a lawyer, maybe I can help.” 

Heath Thomson exchanged looks with Johnny Madrid.  The two young men were wondering the same thing:  whose side was Culhane on?

Finally, Madrid shrugged and said, “Tell him.”

Deputy Thomson related the events of the day beginning with the bank robbery and ending with the shoot-out at the shack. 

The lawyer turned his horse back towards town and began riding slowly.  “Do you really think Charlie McLeod was involved in the robbery?”


“I didn’t know him well, but I don’t find it hard to believe.” 

The three men rode in silence until they reached the edge of town.  It was now full dusk.  Culhane again pulled his horse to a stop.  “Do you want my help?  Do you want me to be your lawyer?”

Thomson and Madrid again exchanged looks.  “Don’t have much money to pay a lawyer,” Madrid said.

“You’re in luck.  I work cheap for those I think are innocent,” Culhane grinned at them.  “When we get to the sheriff’s office, I’ll do the talking.  You two keep quiet.  I don’t want to give McLeod an excuse to break you out and hang you.”

The gunfighter and the deputy nodded their agreement.





Heath Thomson could not suppress the shudder that ran through him at the sound of the cell door closing behind him.  The young man had a horror of confined spaces.  He’d been but a boy, fourteen years old to be exact, when he’d been captured and imprisoned in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp not long after joining the Union Army.  He never got to send his Army pay home to his mother as had been his plan and reason for joining.


Johnny Madrid did not shudder at the sound of his cell door closing.  He’d been in one before.  He was certain he’d be in one again someday.  ‘At least this one’s clean,’ he thought as he looked around.  “Didn’t think we’d get private rooms in this fine establishment.”

The imprisoned deputy’s mouth quirked up in a grin. 

Madrid stepped up on the cot and looked out the barred window, “And it’s got a fine view of the alley.”  Johnny returned to stand in the middle of the small cell and slowly turned around in a circle.  “Yep.  All the comforts of home.”

“The food’s okay, too.  Service right to your cell.  You can eat in bed if you want.” 

Johnny sat down on the low cot and tugged his boots from his feet.  Lying down, he pulled his hat over his face.  “Wake me if anything happens.”




It was almost 10 PM when the door separating the cell area from the sheriff’s office opened admitting Clay Culhane and Laredo Sheriff Pete Hernandez. 

Heath was sitting on his cot, his back against the wall, one knee drawn up, his only acknowledgement of the pair’s entrance: a raised head. 

Johnny was asleep; he lay on his side facing the wall.  He didn’t stir until Clay sharply called the gunfighter’s name.  He rolled slightly onto his back and looked blearily at his lawyer.  Rubbing his face, he rolled fully onto his other side and sat up.  “I’m awake,” he said testily.

“Not at all cheery when he wakes up is he?” asked Heath of no one.

Culhane smiled tightly at his clients; raising his arm he braced it against the bars of Thomson’s cell door.  “I’ve been talking with Sheriff Hernandez about your problem.”

“Which problem would that be?  The one where we caught the bank robbers and ended up in jail for our efforts or the one with Papa McLeod?” 

“He IS testy,” Sheriff Hernandez observed dryly.  “The one with Frank McLeod.  Mr. Culhane and I have been discussing your adventures this afternoon.  I agree with him.  You boys are in a heap of trouble.”  He shook his head.  “McLeod’s just crazy enough to try and break you out and lynch you both.  I don’t want to see that happen to either of you.”

Pete Hernandez was a middle-aged Texan; he’d been sheriff of Laredo for the last five years spending part of what seemed to him like everyday clashing with Frank McLeod.

“The circuit judge is due here in two days.  If we can keep you alive that long, we’ll ask for a quick trial,” Culhane said.

Madrid looked over at Thomson who met his gaze.  They both started laughing at the same time. 

“What’s so funny?” asked Hernandez.

“You really think a trial is going to make McLeod give up?” Heath asked.  He stood and walked over to the cell door and spoke directly to Clay Culhane.  “McLeod will wait ‘til we’re released; he’ll grab us, and hang us.”

“That is a weak spot in my plan,” Clay admitted.  He straightened and ran his hand through his dark brown hair.  Dropping his arm to his side, he shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.”

“At least he’s honest,” Madrid said.




The next two days passed quickly for lawyer Clay Culhane, slowly for his two clients. 

The gunfighter-turned-lawyer spent each day trying to talk Frank McLeod into seeing that his son had been killed in a fair fight.  He gained no ground with the angry rancher.  Clay was upset with the man, who in the past, he’d called a friend.  He could understand if McLeod was out for revenge because the father truly mourned his only son, but Clay had the distinct feeling that the reason the rancher was angry was that Charles had been caught in something Frank couldn’t explain or bully away.

The need for revenge was something the hazel-eyed young man could understand, but couldn’t condone.  A year and a half ago, he’d had a family.  He and his two older brothers, Dan and Ben, had returned from the war to Texas.  They’d taken work protecting the MacQueen ranch near Marathon.  But in a raid on the ranch, his brothers had been killed and he himself seriously wounded.  Luck had been on his side; he was able to get away and fell into the care of Judge Mercer McKinney.  The stern former judge tended to the gunfighter’s wounds, treating him as he would a son, and in return, Clay had worked at restoring the judge’s small ranch. 

While recovering, the young man found the judge’s law books.  To pass time while unable to do much physical work, he began reading them.  The judge took notice and offered to train Culhane for the bar examination.  Judge McKinney’s estranged son returned home and killed his father in revenge for the judge’s sentencing and hanging of his brother, his twin.  Although the son had been convicted in a fair trial, and was truly guilty, his brother never forgave the judge, his father

Culhane mourned the judge, swallowed his need for revenge, and swore to dedicate the rest of his life to the practice of law.  It was what Judge McKinney had taught him and expected of him.  Now he was going to prove to his late mentor that he’d learned well.

When Frank McLeod had contacted him, Culhane thought the rancher wanted to hire him for his legal skills, but soon after his arrival in Laredo, he learned the true reason.  McLeod wanted his gun.  Yes, he had heard the rumor that Culhane had hung up his gun and no longer hired out as a gunfighter.  However, McLeod thought that by offering the man an obscene amount of money he could buy what had once been considered the fastest gun in the Big Bend country of Texas.  A quietly worded, “No,” had been the lawyer’s only response time and again.

Clay Culhane’s clients spent the two days playing checkers, chess, poker, and pinochle.  And talking. 

Talking about the girls they knew, and wanted to know.  Talking about places they’d been, and wanted to see.  Talking about their lives.

Heath told his cell neighbor about his mother.  “She lives in a town called Strawberry up in California.”

“Sounds pretty.”

“Its not.”  Heath sighed as he began re-setting the checkerboard.  So far he and Johnny had played to three draws in a row.  “It used to be a good-sized mining town, but the mines ran out, all that’s left now is folks too old or lazy to move on.”

“And your mama.”

“And my mama.  She’s too stubborn.”

“Wondered where you got it from.”

“What about you?  You got family around?”

Johnny Madrid took a deep breath and considered his reply.  Finally, he figured if these were to be his last days on Earth he wanted someone to know his story.  “My mother’s dead.  Been gone, oh, ‘bout six years now.  My pa, well, last I checked, he was still alive.”

“At least you know who your father is.  Have you ever spoken to him?”

“No,” Johnny shook his dark head as he studied the board in between them before reaching through the bars to move a red disc.  “He, uh, he threw my mother and me out years ago.  I figure if he wanted me, he’d have kept me.”

“My mama used to talk about my father.  Made him seem like the greatest man there ever was.  But, as I got older and he didn’t return, she quit talking about him.  Don’t suppose I’ll ever know who he is.”  Thomson was silent, lost in his thoughts.  “Don’t suppose I really care.”




Judge Nethers rapped his gavel on the saloon’s bar.  “Okay, court’s in session.  No more liquor is going to be sold until we get this business taken care of.”  He picked up the piece of paper from the wooden surface in front of him, “First and only case, People versus Heath Thomson and John Madrid.”  The judge shook his head as he read the words written on the paper, “Is this right?”  He looked at the Laredo prosecutor, Andrew Dornin.  “You’re going to try the deputy sheriff for the murder of a bank robber?” 

The prosecutor reluctantly stood, “In a sense, Your Honor.” 

“Alright,” the judge said skeptically.  “Let’s get started.”

With a look at Frank McLeod, Dornin stood and addressed the judge.  There was no jury. 

Thomson and Madrid, on the advice of their attorney, had waived their right to trial by a jury and had instead chosen to have Judge Nethers hear their case and render a verdict.  Clay Culhane met the previous evening with the judge; he’d petitioned him to allow the New Mexico lawyer to act as attorney for the two defendants.  Knowing that no other Laredo attorney would take the case because of McLeod’s reputation, Judge Nethers agreed.

“The People maintain that Laredo Deputy Sheriff Heath Thomson and gunfighter John Madrid shot and killed Charles McLeod during an ambush at a line shack on the property of Frank McLeod.  We call Frank McLeod to the stand.”

As Frank McLeod walked to the chair set next to the end of the bar and swore to tell the truth, Thomson and Madrid exchanged dark looks. 

“Mr. McLeod,” began the prosecutor, “Please tell the court how you learned of the death of your only son, Charles.”

“One of my men said he’d heard gunshots; we rode out to the line shack to see what was going on.  We found Thomson standing over my son’s body.”

“Did you ask Deputy Thomson how your son died?”

“He said that Charlie had been killed in a shootout while he was arresting the bank robbers.  I thought he meant that Charlie had been caught in a cross-fire.”

“Did Deputy Thomson say why he or Mr. Madrid shot your son?”

“He tried to tell me that Charlie was one of the bank robbers.  That’s rubbish.  My son was no bank robber.”

“Why do you think Charles was at the shack?”

“I think he was there because he saw someone at the shack and went to see who they were.”

“No more questions.”

Clay Culhane stood and walked towards the witness chair.  “Mr. McLeod, you said that Deputy Thomson told you that your son had been killed in a shoot out.  Did he not also tell you that it was very apparent to him that Charlie was friendly with the bank robbers?”

Frank McLeod glared at the lawyer, “No.  He did not.”

“Mr. McLeod, if you’ll recall I was there.”  Culhane looked at the man he’d once called a friend. He understood why McLeod was lying, why he wanted to slant the truth, but he was disgusted that McLeod would do it to his face.

“Well, you heard what you wanted to hear.  I heard the truth.”

“Mr. McLeod, did Deputy Thomson tell you that your son fired his gun at him and Mr. Madrid first?”


“Mr. McLeod, are you going to tell the Court the truth or are you going to continue to lie?”

“Objection,” said Dornin.

Judge Nethers waved the prosecutor back into his seat.  “Now, Mr. Culhane, you know better than that.”

“I apologize to the Court.”  Culhane studied Frank McLeod for a moment.  “No further questions at this time, Your Honor.  I reserve the right to recall this witness at a later time.”

The prosecutor called the two gunfighters who had been at the line shack with Frank McLeod and Clay Culhane.  Their testimony mimicked McLeod’s.  In fact, they kept their gaze on their employer the entire time they were on the witness stand.

Once their testimony was complete, the People rested.

“Will you be ready to present your defense after lunch, Mr. Culhane?” asked Judge Nethers.

“Yes, Your Honor.”




With a tight smile for his two clients, Clay Culhane left them in Sheriff Hernandez’ care while he sought a refuge from Frank McLeod.  Walking down the main street of Laredo, Culhane stopped at the sight of a beautiful woman.  It was obvious that she was waiting for him.  Taking his arm, she led him into and through the quiet mid-day lunch crowd at a nearby cantina.  The couple exited the back door and walked a short distance to a steep staircase leading to a set of rooms. 

“Senora,” he began as he stopped and looked between the stairs and the woman.

“Please, sir,” the woman said in perfect unaccented English.  “It is important I speak to you.  You have nothing to worry about.”  She began to climb the steps.

Culhane took a few moments to look around the alley.  His gunfighter’s instinct, honed by many years of watching his and his brothers’ backs, told him it was safe, that there was no ambush awaiting him.  But, still he thought it was better to be cautious.  Slowly climbing the stairs to the door left open by the woman, he paused and peered into a short hallway.  The woman was waiting by a door half the way down it.

She beckoned him on, “Please, we only have a short time to speak.” 

The lawyer removed his hat as he stepped into the woman’s room, holding it lightly in his hands he studied her.  “I know you.”

“Yes, you bought me a drink last night in the saloon.”

He peered closer at her.  Without harsh makeup and revealing dress, she was almost unrecognizable from the night before.

“My name is Lupe Alvador.”  She removed her shawl and faced the lawyer with a defiant look, “I am a saloon girl.  Many men have loved me, but I have given my heart to few.  Two of those are Heath Thomson and Johnny Madrid.”  Her face softened.  “They respect me.”

Culhane nodded in understanding.  “But, I don’t see . . .”

“I have not finished.  Two of those that I do not consider friends are Charles McLeod and Joe Harrington.”

“The head teller of the bank?  The one who was killed during the robbery?”





“The Defense calls Lupe Alvador.”

Two pairs of blue eyes pierced the tall lawyer as he stood next to them.  “What the hell are you thinking?” hissed Johnny Madrid.

“Trust me,” was the only response Clay Culhane made.  Stepping around the defense table, he moved to stand in front of the saloon bar serving as the judge’s bench.

“Miss Alvador, where do you work?”

“I am a saloon girl at Maximilian’s.”

“What does a saloon girl do?”  Culhane ignored the snickers which rose from the gallery.  He moved slightly so that Lupe could not see anyone in the saloon court save for the judge and himself.

“We drink with the customers and get them to buy more liquor.  We listen when they want to talk.”

“Was Charles McLeod someone who wanted to talk to you?”

“He was.”

“What about Joseph Harrington?  Did he talk to you also?”

“Yes.”  The buzz in the courtroom became louder.

“What did they talk to you about?”

“They didn’t exactly talk TO me.  They spoke together while I was in the room.”

“Why would they do that?”

“They were under the impression I did not understand English.”

“Why would they think that?  You speak English very well.  Like a native.”

“I am American.  I was born and raised in Illinois before moving here.”

“So, you let them think that you didn’t understand the English language.”


“What did they talk about?”

“Last month they began coming to the saloon.  They would chose a corner table and talk about robbing the bank.”

“LIAR!” Frank McLeod stood and pointed at Lupe, “Liar, you’re a liar!”

The Judge pounded his gavel on the bar, “Sit down, Mr. McLeod or I’ll have you removed from this court.” 

“No! I will not sit hear and listen to this whore try to pin this on my son.  She’ll say anything to save her lovers!”

Moving to stand before the defense table, Culhane whispered to his clients who had both turned and started to stand, “Sit down and don’t say a word you two.  Not one word.” 

“Enough.  Sheriff?  Remove this man from the court.”

Pete Hernandez and his deputy each grabbed one of Frank McLeod’s arms.  He began twisting to try and free himself from their grasp.  “Let me go!”  Their only response was to grip McLeod tighter and begin to pull him towards the saloon door.  “No! No!”

“Mr. McLeod?  Will you refrain from any more outbursts?”

McLeod glared defiantly at the judge, but said, “I will.”

The judge nodded to the lawmen, who released McLeod’s arms.  “Now sit down and be quiet.  If I hear you so much as cough, I will have you ejected.  Is that understood?  And that goes for everyone else in this room.”  Judge Nethers’ eyes swept the room finally coming to rest on Heath Thomson and Johnny Madrid.

Nodding reluctantly, McLeod returned to his previous seat.  

“Please continue, Mr. Culhane.”

“Miss Alvador, do you know why Charles McLeod and Joseph Harrington wanted to rob the bank?”

Shrugging her shoulders, she said simply, “For the money.”

Clay Culhane allowed himself a small smile and a soft chuckle ran through the gallery.  “So as far as you know, McLeod and Harrington had no particular reason for the money?”

“They never spoke of one.  The only thing Charlie said was that he would finally be free of his father.”

Madrid shifted in his seat, turning his head slightly he looked at McLeod trying to see his reaction.  Heath Thomson touched his arm and silently called his attention back to the witness.

“Did you overhear when they would carry out the robbery?”

“Yes.  Joe, Mr. Harrington, said that there would be very few customers in the bank on Thursday mornings, but that the vault would be full of money.”

“Did he say why the vault would be full?”

“Because Friday would be the day the ranchers would get the cash for their payrolls.  Thursday, they prepared for Friday.”

“How was the robbery to happen?”

“Mr. McLeod said that he had three men who worked for his father who would be willing to do the robbery.  He said that he couldn’t do it because too many people knew who he was.”

“Do you know why Mr. Harrington was shot and killed by the robbers?”

She shook her head, “No.”

“Miss Alvador, why did you not speak about this to the sheriff at the time of the robbery?”

“I did not believe they would actually put Heath and Johnny on trial.  They are not murderers.”  She smiled fondly at the two defendants.

“No other questions for this witness.”

“Mr. Dornin, your witness.”

Andrew Dornin sat quietly for several moments before saying, “The People have no questions.”

Judge Nethers looked down at the paperwork lying before him on the bar in an effort to hide his face.  “You may step down Miss Alvador.”  After Lupe Alvador returned to her seat behind Heath Thomson and Johnny Madrid, the judge said, “Your next witness, Mr. Culhane.”

“The Defense rests.”

“Mr. Dornin?”

Dornin’s shoulders twitched as he fought an internal battle.  He’d never wanted this trial to occur in the first place, and except for Frank McLeod’s pressure, it never would have.  Finally, he raised his head and slowly stood, “The People rest.”

“Mr. Dornin, are you ready to proceed with your closing remarks?”

“No, Your Honor.  I have no summation.”

The judge murmured, “No sense prolonging this.”  He looked at the defense table, “Mr. Culhane?”

“The Defense has no remarks it wishes to make.”

“Fine.”  Judge Nethers gathered his papers and shuffled them as he thought.  “I will now render my verdict.”

Frank McLeod leaped to his feet, “No! No! This whole trial has been a farce!”

“In that you are correct, Mr. McLeod, now do you want to hear my verdict or do you want to leave the court room?”  Judge Nethers kept his voice calm. 

McLeod turned on his heel and left the court room.  He was no seer, but he knew what was coming.  When he left, so did five other men, all in his employ.

“Anyone else want to leave, then do so now.”  The judge waited patiently.  When no one did, he said, “Good.  Mr. Thomson and Mr. Madrid, please stand.  This court finds you not guilty.  I also find that you were both acting as we always expect townsfolk and lawmen to do in such a situation, but seldom do.”  He brought his gavel down on the bar, “Court is over.  The bar is open.  Give me a scotch, and it had better be the good stuff.”




Clay Culhane walked out of the door of the saloon and stood on the walkway with his clients.  Lupe Alvador came to stand between Heath Thomson and Johnny Madrid.  “Well, gentlemen and lady,” Culhane said as he settled his hat on his head, “Would you like a . . .” He never finished his question.  Gunshots erupted from several directions but all aimed at the foursome.

Madrid grabbed Lupe’s arm, spun her around, and shoved her back into the saloon, diving in after her.  Thomson and Culhane both sought cover behind a horse trough directly in front of them.  Neither the lawyer, nor the gunfighter or deputy was armed.

Thomson looked at Culhane and grinned tightly, “Now who do think is shooting at us?”

Culhane didn’t bother to answer. 

“Heath!”  Thomson glanced back towards the saloon doors, he saw Madrid waving a gun at him, “Catch!” 

“Nothing for me?” asked the former gunfighter.

“Don’t worry, lawyer man, I wouldn’t forget you.”  Madrid tossed another gun towards the horse trough, Culhane caught it in the air. 

As he did, more gunfire came from the roof of the general store across the street from the saloon.  Spotting the gunman, he fired quickly at him.  The man retreated. 

From the ground floor doorway of the store, McLeod yelled, “You can ride out, Culhane, I don’t blame you.  Alls I want is those two murderers!” 

“Sorry, they’re still my clients.”

“I hope this doesn’t cost extra,” Thomson said, “I haven’t been paid this week.”

“No, this is included in the defense.”  Culhane grinned at the young deputy.  He liked this man’s humor and serenity in tough situations.  Thomson reminded him of his brother Ben.  Culhane glanced back at the saloon. “Is Lupe okay?”

Madrid nodded.  “Got a plan?”

“Nope, I’m making it up as I go along.”  Culhane took time to look along the street as far as he could see from his place of refuge.  He could see Sheriff Hernandez peeking out from the safety of a doorway a hundred yards away.  “Frank!  You’re not going to like how this ends.  Why don’t you just accept the judge’s decision and head home?”

“Brave words, but I think it’s YOU and your friends who aren’t going to like the ending.”

“Culhane’s right, McLeod!” yelled Hernandez, “You’re caught between us; there’s no escape.  Give it up now, and go home before anyone else gets hurt!”

“The only people who are going to get hurt are Madrid and Thomson.  Just give them to me, and I’ll leave town!”  Frank McLeod took several steps into the street.

Hernandez also moved into the street, “No.  They were found not guilty.  You had your trial, and just because you don’t like the verdict doesn’t mean you get to mete out justice as you see fit.”

“That was no trial; that was a comedy!” McLeod turned and raised his gun towards the sheriff.

“Don’t do it, McLeod. I’m the one you want,” Thomson called out as he slowly stood.

Frank McLeod quickly swung around to face Heath Thomson.  “Where’s the other one?  I want you both!”

Madrid left the shelter of the saloon to lean against the door frame.  His hand hung loosely at his side, gun dangling from his fingers.

Rising and walking into the middle of the street, Culhane tried again, “Frank, this is ridiculous.  You don’t want revenge for Charlie’s death.  You want revenge because he got caught in something you can’t make go away.  You’re angry because you’re embarrassed.  Stop this foolishness and go home.”

“Foolishness?  Do you think I’m joking?” McLeod quickly raised his gun and fired towards the tall blond.

Thomson threw himself sideways in an effort to escape the bullet.  He almost succeeded. 

Madrid and Culhane fired as one, the dual sound of their guns deafening. 

Frank McLeod stood in the middle of the street and rocked slightly before slowly falling to the ground, dead.

Racing from the saloon, Lupe gathered the fallen deputy into her arms.  “Heath, oh Heath.”

Heath’s eyes were closed.  Johnny Madrid and Clay Culhane came to stand over the silent man and crying woman.  

“I don’t see a wound, do you?” Madrid asked quietly after studying the unmoving man.

“Nope, I don’t think he was shot at all,” answered Culhane.

“Quiet, you two, I’m mortally wounded and this poor woman is grieving.”

“What!?!”  Lupe shoved Heath’s body away from her.  “I thought you were dead!”

“I could be,” Heath sat up and fingered the sleeve of his shirt where two neat holes were.   He stood and pulled Lupe to her feet.  “If you’d like, I could show you where I might be shot.”

“Oh no, you’re too seriously wounded.  I’ll take care of this poor thing.”  Madrid slid his arm around Lupe’s waist and drew her away from Thomson.   “Sides you’re still a deputy, you got work to do,” he gestured at the body of Frank McLeod.  He began to walk away, pulling Lupe behind him.

Watching the interplay between the two young men, Culhane shook his head, half in amusement, half to clear his memory.  They reminded the lawyer of his brothers and their banter.  The pain of their death, which he thought he’d buried with the passage of time, came back in full force.  Taking a deep breath, he took the deputy’s arm and led him to where Sheriff Hernandez waited near Frank McLeod’s body.




Four days later, the three men found themselves again standing in front of the saloon where the trial had been held.  This time they were saying good-bye.  To each other, and to Laredo. 

“You don’t have to leave town now, Heath.  I know Pete Hernandez doesn’t want to lose a good deputy,” Clay Culhane was saying.

“I know.  But,” Heath’s blue eyes looked away toward the open end of town, “I haven’t seen my mother in quite a while.  I think I need to go there before I get sidetracked any more.” 

“I understand.  What about you?  Where will you go, Johnny?”

“You can come with me, you know.  You’d like my mother; I know she’d like you,” Heath offered.

“Yep.  Mothers love me,” Johnny teased back.  “I got a job offer down south, in Mexico.”  He turned and reached behind him.  “I know you don’t have a rifle of your own, so I want you to have this one.”  He handed Heath a long, black rifle in a leather scabbard.  “It’s Mexican.  Like me.  Shoots like a dream.”

“Thank you, but I didn’t get you anything,” Heath stammered.  He held the rifle and felt its balanced weight.  Growing up, he’d always wanted a rifle this good.

“That’s okay, I think I got the better prize,” Johnny said catching sight of Lupe Alvador walking towards them.  “She’s never been to Mexico.  Got some relatives in Monterrey she wants to visit.”

“I bet there’s some mothers there too that’ll love you.”

“They can’t help it,” Johnny heaved a deep sigh at the troubles his charm brought his way.

Clay Culhane found himself shaking his head at the continuing brotherly banter.  “Well, now, I’ll have you know that Heath won’t be all alone for the entire trip.”

The blond grinned at the dark-haired lawyer, “Nope, gonna take a little side-trip to Latigo.”

“Where’s that?” Johnny asked, a frown creasing his tan face.

“New Mexico,” Clay answered, “My law practice is there.  Its time I got back to it.”

Culhane shook Madrid’s hand before mounting his horse.  “Take care.”

“I always do.”

The former deputy strapped the rifle scabbard to his saddle before turning and extending his hand to the gunfighter.  “Madrid.”






“It’s Lancer now.”


Nick Barkley, and the two Lancers, Murdoch and Scott, stood between the two men, their heads swiveling back and forth as they followed the terse comments.

Heath’s mouth quirked up in a grin, “I guess you decided to look up your father after all.”

“He decided to look me up.  You, too, huh?”

The blond shook his head, “No, it’s a story.”

“We have time,” Teresa said reaching out and taking Johnny and Heath by an arm.  The trio turned and began to make their way out of the great room heading for the patio.  “I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.”

For several moments, the three remaining men stood still; then Nick asked, “What just happened?”

“I’m not sure,” answered the elder Lancer, his face creased in puzzlement.

“Well, I for another one am going to go hear this story,” Scott said as he began to walk towards the door leading to the patio.  Before leaving the hacienda, he paused and looked back, “Coming?”


The End


As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy wrapped up in white linen,
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.

"Oh beat the drums slowly and play the fife lowly;
Sing the Death March as you carry me along.
Take me to the valley, there lay the sod o'er me,
I'm a young cowboy and know I´ve done wrong."

" I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy."
These words he did say as I boldly walked by.
" Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story;
Got shot in the breast and I know I must die!"

"My friends and relations they live in the Nation:
They know not where their dear boy has gone.
I first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman,
O I'm a young cowboy and I know I've done wrong."

"It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing:
It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.
First to the dram house and then to the card house,
Got shot in the breast and I'm dying today."

"Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;
Get six pretty maidens to sing me a song.
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Put roses to deaden the cods as they fall."

"Go gather around you a group of young cowboys,
And tell them the story of this my sad fate.
Tell one and the other before they go further,
To stop their wild roving before it's too late."

"Go fetch me some water, a cool cup of water
To cool my parched lips," then the poor cowboy said.
Before I returned his spirit had left him
Had gone to his Maker, the cowboy was dead.

We beat the drum slowly and played the fife lowly,
And bitterly wept as we bore him along.
For awe all loved our comrade, so brave, young, and handsome,
We all loved our comrade although he'd done wrong.

Francis Henry Maynard 1876


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