by  Sandra



March 2016

#6 in the series – It All Adds Up

Thanks to Margaret P. for all the help. She pushed and pushed, but believed I could do it even when I didn’t think I could.

Disclaimers:  Johnny and Val belong to Fox.  Toni belongs to me.

Warning:  cussing, violence, adult situations, bigotry 


One push is all you'll need
A fist-first philosophy
We watch with wounded eyes
So I hope you recognize
I'm on the front line
don’t worry I'll be fine
the story is just beginning
I say goodbye to my weakness
so long to the regret
and now I see the world through diamond eyes

DAMN! damn it all down
took one to the chest without even a sound so
WHAT! what are you worth
the things you love or the people you hurt
HEY! it's like deja vu
a suicidal maniac with nothing to lose
so wait, it's the exception to the rule
every one of us is EXPENDABLE*

Read more: 
Shinedown - Diamond Eyes Lyrics | MetroLyrics 


Chapter 1

Val Crawford poured a cup of coffee, then turned around and leaned against the table. As far as bunkhouses go, this one wasn’t so bad. He and a kid gunfighter he’d met in the local saloon had hired out to Mr. Owen Roberts to help him regain a disputed piece of land.

Val glanced over the top of his cup at the boy still asleep in the bunk across the room.  Setting his drink down, he poured another cup of coffee. He started to walk toward him but stopped.  They’d only met a little over a week ago, but Val had already seen first-hand how jumpy the boy was when he woke up. Staring at the wrong end of a gun first thing in the morning was a poor way to start the day, and his momma hadn’t raised no fool.

He set the cups of coffee down and grabbed some pecans out of a pail by the stove.  Taking careful aim, he threw one toward the boy.  Missed.  His next one hit true on the top of the boy’s head. In a blink of an eye, the boy jerked awake. Smooth as a cat, he brought his gun up from under his pillow and sat up, eyes scanning the room for any danger. 

“Hey, Madrid, want some coffee?”

He grabbed the coffee again and went over to the boy and handed him a cup. 

“I told you last night, Val.  Call me Johnny.” Yawning, Johnny wiped the sleep out of his eyes; then reached for the cup of coffee. He still held the Colt.

“Ya know, you can let go of that piece if you’ve a mind to. Ain’t no one here but you and me.  The ranch hands are already out working.”

Johnny looked down at the gun, seemingly surprised he was still holding it. 

“Habit.” He laid it down beside him. Rubbing the back of his head, he reached down and picked up one of the pecans that had been tossed. “Ah, Val?  Did I get bushwhacked by squirrels or something this morning?”  Johnny lifted his eyes at Val and grinned. 

Val snorted.  “No, but seemed the safest way to wake you after seeing how you scared that kid, Vince, shitless yesterday morning.”

Johnny chuckled. “Yeah, well, like I said, habit.”

“Well, come on and get up lazy ass. Roberts wants to meet with us after lunch and go over what we got planned next.  It’s almost time now.” Val grabbed Johnny’s cup and walked over toward the dry sink while Johnny got up and got dressed.

“Hey, do you get the feeling that Mr. Roberts ain’t quite being honest with us? Got this feeling that there’s something he ain’t telling.”

“You too?” Standing by the sink, Val waited as Johnny walked toward him. He had to wait some while Johnny got his rig settled right.  That boy seemed to be mighty particular about that rig.

Johnny looked up and continued his conversation. “Yeh, it ain’t like he’s lying, more like what he hasn’t said.”

Val picked up his hat and headed for the door. “Well, guess maybe we ought to find that out. Might be important to our hides. You coming?” 


Mr. Roberts was waiting for them at the front door of his house. “Come on in.  Thought we would eat lunch in the study and talk at the same time.” He didn’t wait to see if Johnny and Val were following him, he just strutted like a little bantam rooster across the living room toward his study.

“Sit down men. Alice will bring our lunch in a minute.  Hope you don’t mind sandwiches, but I don’t stand much on formalities this time of day.”

Val walked over to two seats across from the boss man’s desk. He had no more than sat down when a woman struggled into the room with a large tray. Her dress was all catawampus and her gray hair had lost the battle to stay in place.  Johnny took the heavy tray from her. Val raised an eyebrow.  So the kid hadn’t quite been raised in a barn.

“Just set the tray on that table there, Madrid. Alice, see we aren’t disturbed.” Owen Roberts began filling his plate. 

“Was that Mrs. Roberts?” Val helped himself to a sandwich.

The question must have surprised Roberts as he stopped in mid-bite and took a moment before answering.  “No, there hasn’t been a Mrs. Roberts since she up and died on me during the war.  I left her here to look after the place while I was serving my country.”

“Your country?” Johnny looked puzzled.

“Texas, man, Texas.”  Mr. Roberts took a big bite of his sandwich and continued talking and chewing at the same time. “Anyways, I get back home and find out that not only did she die, but she let that scalawag brother of mine take charge when she got sick. That’s why I’m in this mess.”

“Well, Mr. Roberts, I’m sure she didn’t die on purpose,” Johnny replied softly.

“Don’t be too sure of that.  It doesn’t matter anyways.  When all this business gets settled, I’ll get another.  Plenty of widowed women right now, I can be choosy.” 

Val choked on his last bite and started coughing.  Johnny looked over toward him and sat his sandwich down. 

“Since I’m not from around here, mind telling me just what a scalawag is?” asked Johnny.

Owen Roberts went red in the face, tensed his shoulders and stuck his neck out.

To keep the rooster from busting a gut, Val decided to answer Johnny. “A scalawag is someone here in Texas who pretended to be on the South’s side during the war, but afterwards, joined up with the Northern Reconstructionists running the state now.”

Roberts slammed his fist on his desk.  “A traitor, sir. A traitor.  While I was gone, my brother stole that section of land from me and has every Yankee official running this county on his side.”

Suddenly, the door to the study burst opened and the foreman hurried in.

“Damn it, Bill, I said I wasn’t to be disturbed!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Roberts.”  Bill took his hat off and worried the crown of it with his hands.  “I just thought you should know.  We sent three men out to the north pasture and they were attacked.  Another work crew saw their horses; then found them.  All three are dead.  Should I get the sheriff?”

Roberts slammed his fist down again.  “And what good would that do?  Were there any witnesses?”  He turned to Val and Johnny to explain. “Sheriff Briggs was hired by my brother. Be a waste of time calling on him.” 

Roberts sat back down and took a drink.  “Go into town and see if you can hire some replacements.”

As Bill walked out, Johnny called out to him.  “Who were killed, Bill?”

“Gus, Tom and that young kid, Vince.” 

Val cleared his throat. “They were good men, Mr. Roberts. They’ll be missed.”

“If they got themselves killed, then they were careless.  You two don’t have to worry about us being short-handed for long. Unemployed men are as thick as ticks on a dog around here since the war ended.  Bill won’t have any trouble finding replacements.”

You couldn’t get more to the point than that. Sharing a meal now with Mr. Roberts kinda stuck in Val’s craw so he didn’t even bother pretending to eat. He looked over at Johnny and from the way he was moving that food from place to place on his plate, he figured Johnny felt the same way.

Johnny spoke up. “Well Mr. Roberts, it seems you forgot to mention your problem is your brother.”

“That doesn’t make any difference to me, Madrid, and it shouldn’t make any difference to you.  I hired you for a job because I heard you were good and could get it done.”

Johnny’s shoulders tightened and a mask seemed to fall over his face.  Val hadn’t worked with Johnny Madrid long, but there were times when he looked like just what he was, a sixteen year old kid.  This wasn’t one of those times.

“Mr. Roberts, maybe you better tell me exactly how far you want us to go now that we know it’s your blood kin over there.”

Roberts got up from his seat and walked around his desk to stand in front of Val and Johnny.  They stood and waited to hear their instructions.

“What I want is for you two to make my brother’s life hell.  I got my lawyers working on this in Austin.  Even lowered myself to hire one of those damned Yankees.  Until I hear from them, I want you to disrupt his ranch anyway you can. My brother is greedy and hitting him in the pocket is the best payback I could get. Use any of the ranch hands you need, just leave me enough to run the ranch.  This shouldn’t take long.”

“You’ve already had three killed, what if there’s more?”

“Madrid, I was in the war.  Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.”

Johnny stared at their boss, not so much as a flicker of emotion ran across his face. “You, being the greater good.”

“Yes, Madrid.  And don’t you forget it.”


Later that night Val and Johnny leaned against the corral watching the horses.  It would soon be late enough to saddle up and get the night’s work done.

Val enjoyed being with Johnny.  Unlike the rest in the bunkhouse, he didn’t jabber to hear himself talk.  He kept his thoughts to himself, but when he did speak, you could tell it was something he’d thought out.

“Val, You have any brothers?”

“I did, two of them in fact; one older and one younger. They’re both gone now.”

“The war?”

“Yeh, Josiah, the oldest joined up right away.  I got word he was killed at a place in Tennessee called Shiloh.  The youngest, John, stayed at home to help my folks, but he joined up when they died.  Not real sure where he was killed.”

 “So you had a little brother named John?”

“Yes, and he was as cussed as you.” Val could almost swear he saw Johnny grin in the dark.

“So how come you didn’t join up?”

“Well, I guess you could say I was never cut out to be a farmer.  My pa had the two of them to help so I lit out as soon as I could.  Most of the war I was in Mexico or Arizona, some in California.  Just picking up work where I could, ya know? What about you?”

Johnny didn’t answer right away, and Val wondered if he’d gotten too personal.

“Nope, no brothers.”  Johnny sighed.  “It was just always my momma and me when I was little.  I used to wish I had one, though.” Johnny’s voice trailed off.

“You got a Pa somewhere?”

Johnny answered back in a hard voice.  “No.  Seems he’s this rancher in California.  Kicked my momma and me out when I was near a baby.” 

Val had seen for himself how half-breed kids and women alone were treated around the border.  He could imagine without asking what kind of childhood Johnny had had. He was curious though and Johnny seemed to be in a talkative mood.

“So what does your momma think about you hiring yourself out? You’re good kid, but awfully young for this kind of life.”

Johnny dropped his chin to his chest. “She’s dead. Died when I was about ten.  Been on my own ever since. Well, almost on my own.”

“Damn, Johnny! You telling me that you been riding on your own and hiring out that long?”

Johnny sighed.  “Well, I’ve only been hiring out since I was about fourteen and I ain’t always alone.  Got someone to ride with most times. We’re supposed to meet back up when this is over.”

Val was too surprised to say anything else.  He’d thought his younger brother had been too young to join up at seventeen.

“Since you’re the one with brothers, Val, how likely is it that Mr. Roberts will carry this through?”

“I’ve been thinkin’ on that myself. No matter how mad I got at Josiah—and let me tell you, the two of us had plenty of knock down, dragged out fights—my momma always reminded me that blood was thicker than water.  I guess that’s true ‘cause you let someone go against Josiah, and I forgot all about being pissed at him, and I’d be on who ever in a minute. Mr. Roberts’ already shown us he don’t have no loyalty as far as his wife or hired hands go.  He acts like he don’t care about his brother either, but I don’t know, Johnny, blood kin is blood kin.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking, too.  Guess now we know what he wasn’t telling us at first.  I’ve already said I’ll do the job; can’t back down now.  But I’m gonna be keeping my eyes wide open on this one.”

Val pushed himself off the corral and stretched, slapping Johnny’s shoulder. “Well boy, guess we’ll just have to watch each other’s back.”

 “Reckon your eyesight is still any good, Old Man?” 

“Why you…” Val took off his hat and whacked Johnny across the head.  “Come on, quit messing around and let’s get the other men.”  He looked up at the night sky. “Time to earn our pay.”


Chapter 2

“I’m telling ya, that ole’ colored, he just looked up at me and asked, ‘Why’?”  Bill slapped his hand on the table, the force making the coins piled at each man’s side, tilt and slide.  “As if I needed a reason to whup his ass.”  Taking a few coins from his own pile, he tossed them toward the middle.  “I’m raising you, Ralph.” 

Looking at his cards, Ralph counted out his own coins. “Your turn, Madrid. Hey Bill, tell about that guy in our unit.  You know, that other Bill.”

“Who, that mick, Irish Bill?  He was something, wasn’t he?  All that crossing hisself and not eating meat on Fridays.  I tell ya now, it just weren’t natural.  We were in this one town and they had one of those Catholic Church men there.  I saw Irish Bill talking to him.”

 Bill took a drink and looked at his captive audience.   The pot was high and no one was going anywhere. 

“Yep, that should tell you something right there.  What kind a man would spend his life running around in a dress and never having himself a woman? I tell ya, ain’t natural.”

“Didn’t Irish Bill get hisself killed?”

“Sure did, Yankee cannon tore his head right off.  I seen it happened.  It was the damnedest thing!  It just kind of spun around like a top.  Bet he was surprised!”   Bill and Ralph began to laugh, great belly laughs that shook the table. 

Val looked around and saw that the other men weren’t laughing; like Johnny, they were looking at their cards awfully hard.

Bill must have noticed too. “Oh, it don’t matter none, his momma probably had plenty of kids left at home, those Catholics do, ya know.” 

Val got up and walked over to the door.  He might have to share a bunkhouse with all kinds of men, but Bill’s kind of talk made his skin crawl.  He had folded early so no need to keep sitting with the scum.  Crossing his arms and leaning against the door jam, he watched the game from afar. 

Johnny was still in the game, but Val noticed that he gripped the cards a little tighter and settled his hat lower over his eyes.

“Always lived in Texas?” asked Don.

Bill took another drink. “All my life.  It’s different now.”  He shook his head. “ Used to, you could always get a job or if you wanted a piece of land, you just took it from some Mex or Indian.”

He shook his head sorrowfully.  “Now them Yankee carpetbaggers says we got to be legal. And some of these ranches will hire a Mex instead of a white man.  Can ya believe that?  You’ll never see Mr. Roberts doing such a thing.  He was raised right.”

From his position, Val saw several of the men cut their eyes over toward Johnny.  Johnny just continued to look at his cards, but Val saw that his right hand was now at his side. 

“One thing I got to say about Mex’s, though, their women are the hottest sluts I’ve ever had.  There’s this one in Mason, she is a firecracker; young, maybe fourteen and tits out to here.  She’s like all of them. She’ll do anything for a dime.” 

In less time than it takes to blink, Johnny had his gun pointed right between Bill’s eyes.  “Shut the fuck up.”  He cocked the hammer, the only sound now in the room.  “If I ever hear you say another word about Mexicans, women, whores, or anyone else, you’ll be seeing out of that third eye I’m gonna give ya.”

Sweat broke out on Bill’s forehead, and he visibly swallowed. Carefully, he nodded his head.  Johnny released the hammer and holstered his gun.  Grabbing a handful of coins, he stalked out, brushing past Val. 

The men let out their breaths.  Then after a moment Don started to snicker.  Soon the whole room erupted in laughter.  Bill and Ralph jammed their hats on their heads and left out the back way.


Val sat outside waiting to see if Johnny would come back.  At first he’d whiled away the time cleaning his gun, but that had been over an hour ago. His gun hadn’t been that dirty.  Suddenly he saw Johnny emerge from the back of the main house with a gunnysack.  He walked past Val, the gunnysack clanking, and stopped a little ways ahead.  “You coming?”

Together they went to the barn and saddled their horses.  They rode for a few miles, neither saying a word.  Johnny led Val to an out of the way clearing.

Tying off their horses, Johnny walked over to a fallen log and began taking tin cans out of the gunnysack. Val sat down against a tree as Johnny began to fill the cans with lead.  Val loved watching the kid shoot. He had to say, he’d never seen anyone faster or smoother than Johnny Madrid.  What beat all was that he’d just turned sixteen.

About an hour went by before Johnny stopped and sat down on the log, his head bowed.  Figuring it was safe to go over, Val went to sit beside him.

“Ya made an enemy back there.”

Johnny sighed. “I know.”  Johnny raised his head and looked at Val. “I can take a lot of kinds of talk, Val.  Been used to it all my life.  But there is just some things I can’t stomach.”

“Well, Johnny, I was thinking earlier that a man has to pick his battles. ‘Right’ don’t always win, but I guess you already know that.”

Johnny turned his head from Val and looked across the clearing.  Slowly he nodded. 

“Standing up for what is right in our profession just might get you killed one day, Johnny.  Just be sure.  I’m curious about something, though.  Would you have shot him?”

Johnny stood up and began picking up the fallen tin cans.  He stopped after a moment and looked Val in the eye.  “Yes.”

He went back to collecting the tin cans and when the gunnysack was full, he went over to his horse.  Val followed. After they had mounted, Johnny moved his horse so he was facing Val.

“I won’t kill someone in cold blood, and I won’t back-shoot.  But I would have egged him on until he drew.  He wouldn’t win, but technically it would be a fair fight.  I don’t have much, Val. But I’ll do what needs to be done on something I think is important.”

Well, he’d asked.  Couldn’t get any plainer that that. He waited until Johnny turned his horse around and then they both rode back to the main compound. 


Chapter 3

Johnny and Val led Owen Roberts’ men on nightly raids against his brother’s ranch.  Otis Roberts’ hands were kept busy at night fighting fires and during the day moving cattle with fewer and fewer places to graze.  Rumor had it his men were either dropping from exhaustion or out and out quitting.

One evening, about a week later, Val, Johnny and a select group of men worked on the northern fence line of the disputed land.  It was a secluded area, almost a valley. The entrance to the southern end was flanked by rocky hills forming a narrow chute. It broke out into a wide, flat piece of land with lush green grass, bordered by groves of trees.   There was a sharp drop off at the northern-most end.

When finished, to the casual eye, the fence looked intact, but there were partially cut posts, loose U-nails and missing brace posts. A couple of men rode the tree line, stopping every now and then to tie bundles they’d prepared earlier to the trees.

The whole process took awhile, but eventually Johnny called a halt to the work and smiled.  “Men, good job tonight.”

He was a straight shooter and called it as he saw it.  If someone did a good job, he let them know and was relaxed and easy to get along with.  If someone got on his wrong side, well…….  Val didn’t figure many men got a second chance to get on Johnny’s wrong side.

Looking across the group, Val nodded at the ranch hands.  “Tomorrow’s Saturday so we’re going to take a few days off, you deserve it.  Besides, it will give the other ranch time to ponder what we’re gonna do next.  Hopefully, it will make them jumpy. We’ll make our next move Monday night so whatever you do, don’t get thrown in jail this weekend!”

Laughing, the men returned to the ranch for a well-deserved rest.


Val stopped when Johnny grabbed his arm. “Hey, about how far is it from here to El Paso?”

Val rubbed his chin.  “About a two weeks ride.  Why?”

“Gotta send a telegram to my friend, Toni, to meet me there when this is over. Toni’s probably about two weeks from El Paso on the other side so that would be about right.  I don’t figure we have much more than a week left here anyway. Hey, I won’t be but a minute.  Why don’t you go on in and get us some drinks?” 

Val found a table at the back of the saloon. He was already on his second beer when Johnny came in.  Val kicked out a chair and waited for Johnny to take his first sip. “So is this Tony another gunfighter?”

Johnny snorted and coughed, choking on his drink.   Val got up and thumped him on the back.

Once Johnny caught his breath, he burst out laughing.  “A gunfighter?  That’s a good one.  I’ll have to tell Toni about that.”  Johnny snickered some more.   “Now don’t get me wrong, Toni’s pretty handy with a gun, better than some town folk.  Just not as good as me or you.”

Johnny took another drink and after wiping his mouth on his sleeve continued.  “Toni is actually better with a knife.  That’s what you gotta watch out for.  Hey!  You got any plans after this?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Well, why don’t you ride with us?  Heard there were some mines in New Mexico hiring protection.  No offense, knowing you’re from Texas and all, but I don’t think I’ll be back here for awhile.  Might visit the Texas border towns but not this far inland.  Don’t reckon I care for the people too much.”

“No offense taken, Johnny.  Why do you think I left?”


The bell jingled as the door opened. Carl Logan looked up to see Owen Roberts’ foreman walk into his telegraph office.

“Can I help you?”

“Hey Carl, I just saw Madrid leave here. Did he send a telegram?”

“Now Bill, you know I can’t tell you that.”

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.  I want to know what Madrid’s up to.  I don’t trust him.”

Licking his lips, Carl glanced down at the papers he held. His hands were trembling.  Telegrams were supposed to be private; he could lose his job if he told someone the contents. On the other hand, a job wouldn’t be much good if he was dead.

“It wasn’t about the ranch, Bill.  Madrid sent a telegram to a T. Madrid in Mexico telling him to meet him in El Paso in about three weeks time. Do I go ahead and send it?”

“Yeah, go ahead.  Just don’t tell nobody that I asked.”

“Oh, I won’t, Bill.  I promise I won’t say a word.”


Chapter 4

It was late when Val and Johnny left the saloon and headed toward the livery on the outskirts of town.  It was a poor area, dotted with shacks housing Mexican day laborers. 

Val and Johnny hadn’t quite reached the livery when they realized they were being followed.  Picking up the pace, they tried to make it to their horses. Suddenly, several riders overtook them.  Between the men on foot and the men on horseback, the way to the livery was blocked.  Val and Johnny weaved their way through a maze of alleys trying to get back to the center of town, but they rounded a corner and there was no place else to run.

Val burst through the front door of the last shack, Johnny following. The pack of men were hot on their tails.  A woman screamed as Val and Johnny barreled through the front door and fell headfirst into the dirt. The floor of the hovel dropped off about eighteen inches, dug out to provide some cool relief from the hot Texas temperatures. 

Johnny and Val laid flat in the recess of the floor.

“Bajar!  Bajar!” Johnny cried out.  (Get down!)

The woman made a run for the door, her two small children following.  Johnny threw himself toward them but she skirted around him.   Val grabbed hold of the back of Johnny’s belt and pulled him back down.

“No, Johnny! It’s too late.  You can’t help them.”

She threw the door opened and turned to face Val and Johnny.

 “No salir a la calle,” pleaded Johnny.  (Don’t go outside!) 

She held her hands out to her children and gathered them in her arms. Giving one last wide-eyed look at Val and Johnny, she turned and stepped out, the door slamming shut behind her.

The sound of gunfire erupted. A piercing scream was quickly cut off with the thud of bullets now hitting the door. Both men flinched and ducked, lying as flat as possible.  Bullets flew only inches above their heads, striking any and everything in the hovel. 

Round after round fired into the shack from all sides until suddenly there was a lull. Val slowly lifted his head to look around.  The few household items were shot to hell. The wall and door resembled Swiss cheese. Then the shooting resumed. Val ducked down into the recess of the floor, arms covering his head.

Finally, the shooting stopped. 

The quiet seemed loud after the hail of bullets. Val and Johnny continued to lie in their haven for almost an hour. Smoke from all the gunfire drifted through the thousands of holes in the shack, hovering just above their heads.

Eventually, Johnny looked at Val. “Ya think they ran out of bullets?”

They slowly got up, ready to drop if the shooting began again.   It was the dark of the moon and would be impossible to see anything far outside. Cautiously, they drew their guns.

“We need to see what’s going on. Reckon you can squeeze through that?”  Val motioned to some boards at the back of the shack.  The boards had been so shredded with bullets it wouldn’t take much strength to pull them apart.  

“Yeah, think so.  I’ll cut around toward the front and see if we still got company.”

Val waited in the shack for the all clear from Johnny. 


Easing the door open, Val edged out and stumbled as he saw the bodies of the senora and her children.  They hadn’t gotten far.

“Ah, hell.” 

Gun out and ready to fire if need be he waited for Johnny to join him.   

“Didn’t see anyone out there.”

Val nodded toward the woman and children lying by door.

 “Damn it!” Johnny kicked the side of the shack.  He sighed deeply. “Okay, Val, let’s end this.”  

 His back to the shack, gun up, Johnny eased around the corner.

Suddenly, two men stepped out from the shadows. Already away from the safety of the wall, Johnny threw himself to the left and hit the ground, rolling under an abandoned wagon. Pressed against the wall, gun up, Val listened for more shots. When he heard Johnny return fire, he launched himself away from the shack and came out around the corner.  Firing as he ran, he made for the wagon, bullets spitting fast and furious. He dropped next to Johnny, landing hard. For a moment, it was quiet.

“Kid, your idea of ‘clear’ seems to be different than mine.”

“Ah, Val.  I just figured your old bones needed exercising after being hunkered down in that shack for so long.”

Snorting, Val began to reload.  “Know where they are?”

“Nope, but I can find out.”

Johnny crawled to the end of the wagon and raising himself up, fired a shot toward the shack.  He dropped back down, his back against the wheel as two shots answered his, the flash of fire giving away their opponents positions.

“Did you see?” he asked as he reloaded.

“Yeh, one’s by the shack about ten yards to the left and the other one is further back behind that one.”

“You cover me. I’ll go this way and backtrack around the shack and get behind that last one.  Here,” and he handed Val his hiding gun from his jacket.  “See if you can fool them to thinking I’m still here.”

“Wait a minute.  Who said you’re going?”

Johnny slapped his hand on Val’s shoulder.  “You know I like my fun.”

Crouching down, Johnny said “Now” and Val began to fire. Johnny ran into the shadows the opposite way to the shack.  Val continued to fire— first one gun, then the other.  The ploy must have worked since the two unknown gunfighters continued to return Val’s fire.

Suddenly, he saw the flare of a third gun behind the man farthest from him.  The first gunman must have turned because his next shot was not at Val, but at the person behind him. Another shot and all was quiet.


“It’s okay, Val”

Slowly standing, gun still at the ready, Val began to walk over to where he’d last seen the muzzle fire.  As he got closer, he could see the two gunmen lying on the ground.  Johnny was standing by one so he walked toward the other and kicked the gun away from the lifeless hand.

Val looked over toward Johnny and his eyes widened when Johnny dropped to his knees and grab hold of the hand of the man he’d just shot.

What the hell? Val scanned the area for more trouble while trying to keep an eye on Johnny.  The man on the ground was dying. He had a hole in his chest, and it was hard for him to talk.

 “Lo siento, Juanito.  Que no me dijeron que usted estaba allí.   (I’m sorry, Johnny.  They didn’t tell me it was you in there.)

The man gasped and went rigid.  As he let out his last breath, he whispered one last thing,  “ Decirle a Toni yo………”     (Tell Toni I……)

Val stood behind Johnny and put his hand on his shoulder.  He couldn’t see his face, but he could hear a catch in his breathing.He looked away as Johnny wiped his eyes with his sleeves and slowly got up.

“I’m sorry, Johnny. A friend?”

“Yeah. Knew him when Toni and I were at that orphanage.  He’s the one who helped me get started in this.  Look, Val.  Would you mind going and getting the sheriff and undertaker?  I don’t want to leave him here alone.”

“Sure, Johnny. Keep an eye out though.  Whoever wants us dead might have more surprises.” 

Johnny nodded. He leaned back against the shack, his eyes closed.  Val looked after his friend with concern, but he knew there were things to be done.  Finding out who was behind this would have to wait. 


The undertaker gasped and his eyes widened.  “Mr. Madrid, do I understand that you are paying for the burial of the man who tried to kill you?”

“Yes, I want him to have a decent burial.  I want a headstone, too. How soon can it be done?” 

“Well, the headstone will take a few days, but the burial can be Monday.  What would you like on it?”

“Well……”Johnny just shrugged and didn’t continue.

Val cleared his throat. “Ah, usually, Johnny, you put the name and when they were born and died.  Sometimes you can say something else.”

After a minute or two, Johnny spoke up.  “Don’t know when he was born.  Just put Jose’ Alvarez.  Died 1866.  Un Bien Amigo (a good friend).”


Chapter 5

“Crawford!  Madrid!”

Johnny and Val looked up from currying their horses to see Mr. Roberts stamping across the yard.

“Bet ‘cha a dollar that this has something to do with that letter we picked up from town after the funeral.”

“Johnny, I don’t waste my money on a sure thing.”

Red-faced, Mr. Roberts waved a piece of paper around like the starting flag of a race as he reached Val and Johnny.

“Those no-good- sons of bitches! Scalawags, everyone of them.” He waved the letter under Val and Johnny’s nose. “My lawyer didn’t get anywhere. I want you to…..”

Roberts started to jab Johnny’s chest.  He only got one jab in before his hand was grabbed and held in a tight vise.

“Mr. Roberts, don’t touch me again.” Johnny spoke softly yet menacingly.  His face was without expression.

“Mr. Roberts, I’d back up now if I was you.” Val spoke calmly.

Owen Roberts’ face turned even redder.  A big vein bulged at the side of his neck.  He would drop from apoplexy if he wasn’t careful.

“You two, I want you to do whatever it takes to annihilate my brother, and I want it done now! Before it’s all over, I want that piece of land to be the ONLY thing my brother has. If you can’t do it, I’ll get someone else. You got that?”

“Seems someone has already tried to get rid of us, Mr. Roberts,” said Val.

“You mean that shooting in town Friday night? Yeah, I heard about that.”  Roberts snickered.  “My brother never could hire anyone that was any good.  First his cowboys couldn’t tell the difference between two men and a woman with children, and then they couldn’t even hit you. They must have missed over a thousand times. Then that has-been gunfighter he hired misses at a few feet. Nope, Otis never could do anything right.”

Val and Johnny looked at each other and winced.

“What? What’s wrong with you two? It was their fault. Wrong place, wrong time.”

Val could feel the energy rolling off of Johnny beside him. The kid was wound up tighter than a wagon spring.  

Val put his hand on Johnny’s arm, hoping to stop him before he did something both of them would regret. He turned his attention to Roberts.

“We’ll do it your way but understand this.  There’s bound to be someone killed.  Once that’s done, you can’t change your mind, no matter who dies.”

Roberts got in Val’s face.  “I don’t care who gets hurt or who dies on either side.  This is all my brother’s fault so lay the blame on his head.” With that, Roberts spun around and headed back to the house.


The next night Val and Johnny positioned Owen Roberts’ men around his brother’s ranch. Most were hidden in the north pasture, watching cowboys settle what was left of his brother’s herd for the night. The frequent moving had left the cattle edgy. 

Perhaps if Otis Roberts’ cowboys hadn’t been so occupied with the cattle, they would have noticed small circular glows in the tree lined pasture. The glows blazed, then dimmed, blazed, then dimmed, almost as if someone was puffing on a cigar. 

“Johnny,” hissed Val.  “Get the men to hurry up and light those firecrackers. You ain’t no fine gentlemen with your whiskey and cigars. Get on with it.”

Suddenly, loud bangs erupted from the trees.  Hundreds of pops sounded out one after the other, faster than Madrid’s gun. 

The cattle began to stampede.  A huge explosion sounded behind them at the opening of the chute.  The only place for the cattle to run was ahead and run they did.  The cowboys were unable to stop the herd. They could only watch as the cows easily broke through the northern section of the barbed wire fence and ran over the sharp drop off.


Later, Val watched from the edge of the trees as men rushed out of the bunkhouse, the fire bell clanging.  Pulling suspenders up and putting on shirts and their gunbelts as they ran, they rushed to the barn to saddle their horses.

“What the hell is going on?” shouted Otis Roberts as he and his servants gathered on the front porch in their nightshirts and robes. 

“Look! Over there!” shouted an older woman. Everyone looked west to where the ranch’s timber supply now glowed in the night.

 Spurring their horses, the ranch hands rode out toward the fire.

Val, Johnny and their men emerged from the shadows as soon as the ranch hands left the compound.

“Get inside and get weapons!” Otis shouted to his servants, but before they could do as ordered, two men walked out the front door of the house with guns pointed.

Crossing the yard, Val nodded to the men on the porch. “Grady, Joe!  Escort Mr. Roberts and the others over to the corral so they’ll be out of the way.”

Val turned around and met Johnny and a few of their men walking toward him.  Johnny handed off a can of kerosene he was carrying to Ralph and stood next to Val.

“Barn or house?”

Johnny smiled, “House.”

“Boy, you’re having way too much fun with this.”

Johnny looked down and kicked the dirt with his boot. Slowly he glanced up at Val and grinned.  “Nothing wrong with a man having pride in his trade.”

Val snorted then looked over toward the men with the kerosene.

“Jim! You and Carl go over to the barn.  Make sure all the livestock are out before you light it up.

“Ralph, get that second can of kerosene and go with Johnny. The rest of you make sure those people don’t do anything stupid.”

Everyone stopped in his tracks as two men rode up to the house. Looked like Mr. Owen Roberts had brought along his foreman, Bill, to watch the demise of his own brother’s ranch.  Roberts and Bill dismounted and Val walked over toward them by the corral.

“Everything okay, Crawford?”

“Yes, sir. It’s all good.” 

All three men ignored the shouts and cursing coming from Otis Robert.

It wasn’t long before Jim and Carl emerged from the barn, flames licking at the kerosene-drenched hay behind them.

Everyone’s attention turned to the house. Val could follow Johnny’s movements as first one room and then another glowed through the windows in the second story.  Soon, Johnny and Ralph were backing out of the front door. Ralph splashed the last of the kerosene onto the outside walls on either side of the door.   Throwing the can down he jumped off the porch and went to stand next to his boss and Bill.

Val called out. “Flames got the upstairs pretty good, Johnny.  Better finish it off.”

Johnny lit a cloth covered stick and fired up the outside walls under the porch.  He then tossed the stick into the living room through the open front door.  Running from the house, he joined Val and the other men by the corral.

Val looked over his shoulder at Owen Roberts.  The man had a smile big enough to split his face.

“Are ya sure you still want a brother, Johnny?”

Johnny cracked a smile.  “Seems to me there’s brothers and there’s brothers.  With my luck, I’d have gotten someone like those two.”

Val let out a guffaw. “Well, Johnny…”

A scream pierced the air.

Otis Roberts had managed to grab a gun from Grady. Otis swung the gun around toward Owen.  Val pulled out his gun, but Johnny was faster.

His shot ended the brothers’ feud once and for all.


By morning, most of the fire was out.

They wrapped Otis’ body in a blanket from the bunkhouse, and a sad procession made its way to Owen Roberts’ ranch.

Leaving the body in the wagon until a coffin could be built, the men went one way to the bunkhouse while Owen went the other way to the ranch house.  He hadn’t said a word.

Johnny and Val washed up a bit and packed their saddlebags.  They said their good-byes and walked toward the main house.

“Hey Val, did you see Bill or his friend, Ralph?”

“You know, I don’t reckon I did.  Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing them at all after the house collapsed. I wouldn’t go wondering on it too much, Johnny.  Men like that always seem to turn up like a bad penny.”

“Guess you’re right. Still seems strange, though.”

Johnny knocked on the door.  The maid let them in and directed them to the study.

Roberts was sitting behind his desk, drink in one hand, ledger in the other.  “Gentleman, I thought you’d be here soon.  Come on in and sit down.” 

 “Ah, that’s okay, Mr. Roberts.  We just came to get our pay and then we’ll be going.”   

Roberts stood up, knocking the ledgers to the floor.  The little rooster strutted around his desk over to Johnny. “You listen to me, you no account half-breed piece of shit. You killed my brother and you want me to pay you?” He poked Johnny in the chest, but swallowed hard when he found himself staring down the business end of a Colt. 

“No, Mr. Roberts.  It’s you who’s gonna listen.  It was you who didn’t tell us until afterwards that you were going against your brother.  It was you who told us to make his life hell on earth.  It was you who said everything was okay for the greater good.  It was you who said to leave him with nothing NO MATTER WHO GOT KILLED!” Johnny jabbed his Colt into Roberts chest each time he said the word ‘you’.  Robert backed up until he was pinned against the wall.


“What, Val?”  Johnny placed his left hand on Owen’s chest. His right hand held the gun against Owen’s forehead.   “A lot of innocent people got killed because of this cabron.” (dumbass)

Val was worried about the kid now.  Hell, he thought Johnny was right, Owen Roberts needed killing, but as far as he knew, Johnny hadn’t killed in cold blood yet.

His mind racing, Val tried to think of something he could say that would cut through Johnny’s rage.

He winced when Johnny pulled back the hammer.

“You’re a small man, Roberts.  You have a small mind and a small heart, if you have one. Hell, you probably can’t even find your dick when you have to take a piss.  I’ve known men like you all my life and the world would be a better place without you.” 

Johnny pulled the trigger.

The hammer clicked on an empty chamber and Roberts pissed himself

Val closed his eyes and whispered, “Thank you, God.” He’d forgotten Johnny kept one chamber empty—for safety he said.

Roberts opened his eyes, his face scrunched up as if he could cry. 

Johnny put away his gun. He grabbed Roberts by one arm and jerked him forward.

“Now open the safe and give us our pay, pinche pendejo.(fucking asshole)

Roberts quickly got their pay out and handed it over.

Not trusting Roberts further than he could throw a snake, Val counted his. Johnny must have had the same thought, because he was counting his money too.

Then he put it in his pocket and walked out the door without saying another word.


Chapter 6

It had been a little over two weeks since Val and Johnny had left the Robert’s ranch and headed for El Paso. For a five hundred mile trip, it had actually gone by quickly.  Val was a pretty good tracker if he did say so himself and the two men had whiled away the hours on the trail by practicing. Johnny was no slouch, but it did seem like there were some things the bear could still show the cub. 

“So where is this Tony meeting you?” 

They had stopped on the outskirts of the town and Johnny seemed to be scanning the place. Val stretched his back. He could tell the boy wasn’t paying him no mind so he asked again.

“So where is this Tony supposed to meet up with you?”

Johnny nodded toward the end of town. “Either the saloon or livery most likely.”

Johnny led the way to the saloon. “Why don’t you go on in there and get us a table.  Get a bottle of tequila, too.  I’ll go check the livery first.”

Val walked up to the bar and ordered their drinks.  He heard rather than saw some men get up from a table and walk out the door.

Picking up the bottle and glasses, he chose an empty table in the back and poured a drink before looking around.

He’d been to El Paso three years ago; seemed it had gotten busier. He took another drink, stretched and leaned back in his chair, figuring to enjoy sitting in a chair rather than a saddle.

He had no more than got comfortable when he heard shouting coming from outside the saloon. 

A small boy ran into the saloon shouting, “Hey, some guy just called out Johnny Madrid!” 

Chairs scraped the floor and a mass of men surged toward the doors, like pigs called to the trough. 

Val slapped his hat on his head and pushed and prodded his way through.

Hurrying over to his horse, he grabbed his rifle then ran down the boardwalk, eyes on the two men in the middle of the street. He barely noticed a kid dropping the reins of the horse he was walking.

Val stopped in front of the kid and gazed at Johnny and the other man.  His eyes narrowed as he recognized Bill Nowell. 

Now how the hell did he get here? Val had always known Bill was stupid. Hell, he’d listened to the man enough. He just hadn’t thought he’d be so stupid as to think he stood a chance against Madrid.

Val stepped out onto the edge of the street.  Cocking the rifle, he ignored the two men facing each other in the street and scanned the rooftops.  If Bill was here, Ralph wouldn’t be far behind.

He heard rather than saw the kid draw and cock his gun.

Damn!  I told Johnny I’d watch his back, but I can only watch so many places.  Now would be the time to grow those eyes in back of my head my momma always said she had.  This kid better not be looking for an easy way to make a reputation.

The dance ended before it really had begun. Bill reached for his gun and it was over before he even got off a shot. Johnny’s speed saw to that.

Suddenly, something moved on the roof across the street!


Faster than a duck on a June bug, Val swung the rifle up. Three shots fired: his, the kid’s and the shooter on the roof.  He saw Ralph fall and hit the ground hard.  Didn’t make no difference though, he was already dead. 

Val ran across the street to make sure—old habits die hard.

The kid grabbed his horse and pulled it over to Johnny. 

“Vamos, vamos!”

Val saw blood high on Johnny’s back.  He was trying to mount. The kid held the reins for him, “Sal de aqui!  Vamos!”  (Get out of here!  Go!)

Throwing the reins up at Johnny, he ran past Val shouting, “ Voy a coger mas tarde.”( I’ll catch up later.)

Val watched Johnny ride out and saw the kid run to Johnny’s horse tied in front of the saloon. “Hey!” The kid grabbed Johnny’s horse, swung up and rode after Johnny. 

“Well, hell.” Val shoved the rifle back in the scabbard and mounted.  He lost precious time as the crowd moved from the boardwalk to the street, blocking his way.  He’d never run a man down with his horse, but there was always the first time.  Shouting at the crowd and urging his horse forward, he finally convinced the gawkers to move.  Putting his spurs to his horse, he cantered to the edge of town, then broke into a gallop.  He didn’t think he was too far behind the two he was following, but already they were far enough away that he couldn’t see them. 

Slowing his horse down, he put his tracking skills to good use.  The kid must be Tony.  Hadn’t got a good look at him, but he hadn’t figured he would be so young.  Those two sure were fast and good at not being found. It was taking him longer than expected.

But what did he expect?  A wild thing always goes to ground when hurt. 

Finally, he picked up their trail.  Two sets of hoof prints veered off the road to the right.   He rode through a narrow trail, more like a deer path really, limbs and branches pushed away by his horse.  By the broken tips of the bushes, he knew he was on the right track. Suddenly his horse broke out into a clearing.

Johnny was on the ground and judging by the way he was splayed out, he must have fallen off his horse.  The kid was starting to get off Johnny’s horse. Val must have startled him because he reached for his gun and swung it up, hammer cocked and ready.

Val let out a piercing whistle, the kind he’d heard Johnny use on his horse.  The horse reared. The kid fired his gun, his aim off.  Val had less than a second to veer his gun a mite to the right and fire.  The bullet just grazed the kid’s gun arm, but it paid off. The kid dropped his gun.

Quicker than you could spit, he was off his horse, running over to where Johnny lay. Val dismounted and followed.  Johnny’s warning that Tony was real good with a knife, flashed through Val’s mind as the kid reached in his waistband. He stood legs slightly apart with knife drawn.

“Quien eres tu?   Que no te necesitamos, pinche estupido. Dejarnos solos!”  (Who are you? We don’t need you, you fuckin’ idiot.  Leave us alone.)

The kid lunged forward, knife in hand.  He had balls, Val had to give him that.  Not wanting this to get any uglier, Val grabbed the kid’s wrist with his left hand and swung his right, slamming it into the kid’s jaw.  

The kid dropped like a stone, but Val didn’t pay him no mind.  He stepped over him and knelt down beside Johnny.  Already on his stomach, Val lifted his shirt to look at the wound.  The kid’s shout must have worked because the bullet had hit to the side of his shoulder.  If Johnny had ducked just a couple inches more, the shot would have missed him altogether. 

Val grinned and began to snicker.  This really wasn’t a time to laugh, but he couldn’t help it.  He’d just realized what the kid had shouted out first.  “Agacharse.” Duck.  It was street slang, but Johnny must have known what it meant.

He rolled Johnny over to see if there was an exit wound.  Ah, hell, there wasn’t.  He turned Johnny back on his stomach and got up. Stepping over the kid, he went to his saddlebags for supplies. He really wasn’t too good at getting bullets out.  He’d have to think about this one.

Moving from his horse, he stared at the young’uns in front of him.  There was Johnny, on his stomach, blood soaking his shirt, bullet still in.  And the kid, lying where he’d dropped, hat knocked off, duster wide open. Val’s eyes widen as he took his first good look at who had been protecting Johnny—a long braid loosed from the hat, a delicate heart-shaped face, eye lashes even longer than Johnny’s, high cheek bones, full lips, and the swell of breasts that the duster had hidden.

 “Johnny’s gonna shoot me.”


Chapter 7

Val sat in front of the fire, the two kids on either side of him.  He guessed he’d hit the girl pretty hard, because she was just now coming to. 

He hadn’t been able to get the bullet out of Johnny’s back, but he’d slowed the bleeding with a pressure pad.  While trying to make Johnny comfortable, he found more weapons than you could shake a stick at.   Those were in the other pocket of his saddlebag. 

He’d cleaned and bandaged Toni’s arm.  It wasn’t a serious wound, but he had an idea she was going to be madder than a wet hen when she woke. To be on the safe side, he searched and found all her weapons. Those were also now safely in his saddlebag.  Between the two of them, those young’uns had an arsenal.


Val leaned over and poured a cup of coffee.  “Toni!  Time to wake up, now.”

Her deep blue eyes opened and looked around in confusion. She popped up and her right arm went down by her side to grab a gun that wasn’t there. 

“Here ya go.” Val offered her the cup of coffee—a peace offering.  He’d never shot or knocked out a woman before. He wasn’t real sure how women reacted to something like that.  Hell, he was usually lost just trying to figure out something to say to them.

Ignoring the offered cup, Toni got up, stumbled a bit and went to Johnny’s side.  She caressed Johnny’s face with her hand, stopping to feel his forehead for fever and then lifting the bandage to check his wound.

“The bullet’s still in there,” she said accusingly. Reaching into her waistband, she looked puzzled.  She bent over to her boots and soon realized there was nothing there either.  Straightening up, she fixed Val with the hardest, most disgusted stare he’d ever seen from a woman.

“So where’s my knife?”

“I’m not so sure I ought to give it back to you.”

“Look señor, last I heard, bullets don’t fly out by themselves.   Since you haven’t taken the bullet out, guess that means I have to, and I don’t know of no other way except using a knife.” 

“Now you’re up, thought we’d go back to El Paso and see the doctor.”

“You’re kidding, right?  That bullet needs to come out now, and even once it’s out, we ain’t going back to El Paso. There might be someone else waiting for him, and I’m not going to take that chance.”

Val wondered if Johnny’s cussedness had rubbed off on her, or if she came by it natural.

“Can you do it?” he asked.

Toni ignored him and started rummaging through her saddlebags. 

“Here”. Val got up and walked past her to his saddlebags.  “Will this one do?”

She grabbed the knife, and put a cup of water on the spit over the fire.  She plopped the knife into the tin cup and went back to gathering her things.

Before it was all said and done, Val didn’t think a doctor could have done any better.  She was just as efficient and a hell of a lot cleaner.  She also made the tiniest, prettiest stitches you ever did see.  It would have done a quilter proud. 


Once Johnny was taken care of, Val sat back and enjoyed another cup of coffee. Toni moved her gear over by Johnny.

She sat crossed legged and watched Val over her cup of coffee. “So, who are you and how do you know him?”

 “We were together at that job in Mason.  The name’s Val Crawford. He asked if I wanted to come with him. Said he was going to meet you in El Paso.”

She looked at him, eyes big.  “He told you about me?”

“Not exactly. Said he heard there were some jobs in New Mexico, and we would go there next after picking you up. Of course, he did leave out one tiny little detail. He forgot to mention you were a girl.”

Val gave her his best menacing look, but she just giggled and nodded her head towards Johnny. “If a Madrid look don’t scare me none, don’t reckon a Crawford look will.”

“So why do you have a boy’s name?”

“Well, my full name is Antonia Madrid.”

Val choked on his drink.  “You two married?”


“Well, it can’t just be a coincidence that you both have the same last names.”


She just laughed at him again.  Val was getting pissed off.

“See, Johnny and I were together in the same orphanage for a few months.  I guess we were about eleven then.  I’d been there since I was a baby, never had no last name.  When Johnny decided to use the name ‘Madrid’, I started using that name, too.”

“So you have been together ever since?”

“Except for a couple of years in between, yeah.”

Val was puzzled.  Age-wise, he knew they were young, but the way she acted it seemed there was more there than just amigos. Johnny had made that trip to town though and visited one of the girls in the saloon.  Val wasn’t sure what to think.

“He take a trip to town while he was with you in Mason?”

Val looked at her in surprise. 

“I sure hope you don’t play poker much, mister.”

There was no way to win with this so he just kept quiet.

“It’s really simple.  We’re more than friends, but we ain’t married—yet.”

He couldn’t help himself. “And you’re okay with that?”

“He’s practicing.”

Val spewed his coffee all over the place.

Toni laughed. “I told him he must not have gotten the hang of it, if he needs to practice.  I told him when he gets good at it, I’ll be ready to marry him then.”  She gazed down at Johnny again and smoothed his bangs back. “He’s getting better.” 

Val just stared. His mouth opened and closed, but no words came out.  What could he say? 

Toni’s face was deadpan. Then she smiled and burst out laughing. She started to get up, but it took her a try or two to get her balance and actually stand. “You’re easy to josh with, I like you.”

Val poured himself another cup of coffee.  “And your sense of humor is about as warped as a saddle left in the sun too long.”

She spread her blanket out behind Johnny.  Turning him so that he was on his uninjured side, she got behind him. She scooted in close, throwing her arm across his middle to hold him in place. Val was impressed.  Johnny’s injured shoulder was protected and Toni had positioned herself so Johnny wouldn’t roll back on his bad side while asleep.

“Yeah, we’ve had to do this a time or two before.   Wake me up in a few hours so I can take the next watch and you can get some sleep.  I’m guessing you’ll want to find us another place to go so he can heal up?”

“You trust me? Even after hitting and shooting ya?”

“He does so I guess that’s good enough for me.” She gave Val a hard stare and pointed to the bruise on her jaw.  “Just don’t make a habit of this.” 

Val tossed another branch on the fire. Getting his bedroll out, he fixed his bed for the night, then settled back against his saddle.  He stared at the fire, watching sparks shoot upwards with each hiss and pop. 

“Val, what happened?” Toni whispered.

He sighed and took a drink of coffee.  He’d been thinking on that and was still having trouble wrapping his head around it.

“Seems we hired out to a selfish man.  He thought right highly of himself. Didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else.  Made him feel bigger to tear everyone else down.” Val sat his cup down.  “The men today were his.”

“He knew how good Johnny is and sent them anyway?”

“Ah hell, Toni, Roberts didn’t care.  He didn’t care about nothin’. Johnny and his two men weren’t even a thought to him. Besides, Bill and Ralph saw everyone else as something to use up and throw away too. They had run-ins with Johnny at the ranch over it. They’d have jumped at the chance to get rid of him.”

Toni didn’t answer right back.  Val wondered if she had nodded off, but then he heard a soft, sad voice.


“’Scuse me?”

“Expendable.  It’s what someone I worked for when I left the orphanage called me.  I didn’t know how to speak English then so his wife explained it to me.  It means…….”

“Yeah, I know what it means.”  Val got up and threw another piece of wood toward the fire.  He threw it so hard, it bounced before finding its place in the flames. Roberts, Bill and Ralph were blind, judging folks on what they looked like instead of their doings.

Johnny moaned in his sleep, and Toni whispered, trying to comfort him. They were good kids.

Going back to his bedroll, Val sat down and leaned against his saddle, settling his hat over his eyes.  He took his gun out and placed it next to him.

“Go on to sleep, Toni.  I’ve got y’all’s back.”


^^The incident in the shack really happened to gunman Elfego Baca.  Baca was born in 1865.  In 1884, as a deputy sheriff in Frisco, NM, he arrested a cowboy for being too loud. The man’s fellow cowboys took exception to this and after a trial and a $5 fine, the group of cowboys turned on Baca.  He took shelter in a shack and lucky for him the floor was dug out.  Between 50 to 80 cowboys surrounded the shack and fired on it for 36 hours.  The door alone had 400 bullets in it. Baca survived and died in 1945.






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