Showdown in Four Corners
Where to start? Number one,
I guess, a big “thank you” to AJ for the beta.
Not to mention for getting me into “Lancer” in the first place!
I really appreciate it!
Second, this is a
crossover story with “The Magnificent Seven” TV series, and I apologize in
advance to the M7 readers out there who will no doubt notice my tampering with
canon/fanon timeline—what can I say? I
plead artistic license! But I
didn’t know how else to make it work….
Third, I don’t own
Johnny (how unfair is that?) or Scott, or any of the M7 boys; I’m just messin’
with their lives a bit.
Okay, this is my first
posted fic (and how many times have you all cringed at those words?
LOL!), so please be kind. Last
but not least, thanks to all the other wonderful writers at this site with their
great stories who made me want to do this as well because it seemed like so much
fun. Thanks, everybody.
**Site Owner's Note** Read the sequel "Gunfight at Nogales" after this.
“Showdown in Four
Two dusty, tired cowboys rode into the equally dusty and tired town of Four Corners in the late afternoon of a warm August day, their shadows thrown long by the westering sun. The few citizens out on the sidewalks paid scant attention to them, as such a sight was hardly a rarity, and the two men made their way slowly down the main street to pull up in front of the saloon.
Johnny Lancer pushed his hat off to dangle down his back, ran a hand through his dark hair, and squinted askance at his brother. Said brother squinted back, sighing, stretching, sighing some more, and Johnny had to laugh.
“If I look as bad as you, brother, I’d better stay away from mirrors.”
Scott Lancer snorted and slapped dust from his clothes. “You look like a three-day-old corpse. I feel like a three-day-old corpse. So what’s first? Beer or a bath?”
Johnny considered that carefully. “Beer. Bath. Then more beer.”
Nodding gravely, Scott said, “I bow to such great wisdom. Let us proceed and see what this lovely borough has to offer in the way of libation.”
A little stiffly, lacking his usual fluid grace, Johnny dismounted and tossed Barranca’s reins over the hitching post. “Yeah, Boston, and maybe they’ll have somethin’ to drink, too.” He grinned as Scott rolled his eyes.
Settling his hat back on his head, he climbed onto the boardwalk as Scott quickly joined him. Even as he casually stretched weary muscles, his finely honed survival instincts took in the details of the town around them. His sharp eyes scanned the street from beneath his hat without seeming to, and he did not quite touch the gun tied low at his right side.
With Scott slightly behind him, the way he liked it when entering strange surroundings, Johnny pushed open the batwing doors of the saloon. His gunfighter’s senses noted the woman pouring drinks behind the bar, the four men playing poker at one table, two more men quietly drinking at another, and the requisite town drunk seemingly asleep on a stool at the far end of the bar. Again, no one paid much attention after a first look, and Johnny allowed himself to relax a notch or two. Just a quiet afternoon in yet one more backwater town….
The brothers ambled their way to the counter; Johnny nodded to the woman as she returned from delivering a tray of whiskeys to the men at the poker table. She was strikingly beautiful, and he suddenly felt much better. He gave her a smile.
“Two beers, por favor, señorita.”
“Certainly, gentlemen,” she replied, her voice carrying a lilting accent. She filled two glasses and set them in front of him as he dug for money in a pants pocket.
“Gracias,” he said, giving her the coins, smiling again, ignoring the nudge from Scott’s elbow.
As she moved off, he glanced at Scott. “What?” He took a long drink then slanted another look at his brother.
Scott just shook his head as he picked up his glass and drained half of it. He sighed and leaned back against the counter. “Don’t have time to get friendly, Johnny. So just stop flashing that smile at the lady before her husband or father or whatever other male figure might be in her life decides to do something about it.”
“All I did was smile, Scott.”
“With you, that’s all it takes,” was the dry response.
Johnny gave his brother a smack on the arm and had another satisfying swallow of beer. “All right. No more smilin’ the rest of the way home. After three weeks of looking at you, though, it’s mighty hard not to smile at the prettiest woman I seen since leavin’ Lancer….”
Three weeks. Johnny groaned quietly and rubbed a hand across his eyes. Three weeks away from the ranch and nothing to show for it. He and Scott had left Lancer to take a look at some horses on the word of a friend of Murdoch’s, but their quality was not up to Johnny’s exacting standards, and he was not looking forward to facing his father upon getting home.
“It’ll be all right,” Scott said softly. “It’s hardly your fault those mares weren’t quite what Sampson claimed them to be.”
Johnny grinned tiredly at his older brother. “When did you add mind reading to your list of talents?”
“It only works with you,” he teased back, the fondness evident in his voice. “Don’t worry,” he went on. “You know Murdoch trusts you when it comes to horses. What do you think would make him angrier—us wasting time traveling practically to Mexico and back only to get home empty handed, or us wasting money on inferior stock?”
“I’ll be sure to use that argument with him. Promise me you’ll be there to pick up the pieces.”
Scott slung an arm over his brother’s shoulders. “Drink up, boy. That bath is waiting. We’ll deal with Murdoch when we get home. For now, I say we go get cleaned up, put on some clothes that don’t have four days of trail dust on them, and get dinner at that hotel down the street. Then more beer, and then we have a lovely night’s rest in real beds.”
“I like that plan.” Johnny finished his beer, and with Scott’s comforting arm still around his shoulders, his brother steered him out of the saloon into the deepening golden light of a summer’s day.
Sheriff JD Dunne had idly watched the two men from his tipped back chair on the boardwalk in front of the jail as they rode into town. He considered it his job to watch everybody new that came through; drifters or gamblers, cowboys or fine folks just off the stagecoach, it didn’t matter, he kept an eye out. Well, these fellas didn’t look like trouble. They looked way too tired to start anything, and he knew that Josiah and Nathan were in the saloon, along with Ezra, of course, where he guessed the newest arrivals to Four Corners would wind up.
Yep, there they went. JD sighed contentedly. Another day over without a fistfight or shots fired. Sometimes he really liked his job. Now if only Buck would get back from patrol reasonably on time, they could go get a drink while Josiah took over out here for a while. Yes, sir, it was a mighty fine evening.
“Well, at least that kid sheriff is done checkin’ us out,” Johnny murmured to his brother as they mounted up again and headed for the livery stable they had seen on their way in.
“Huh? What?” Scott started to crane his head around, but Johnny slapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Don’t turn around, or he might decide to take another look.”
“Oh, sorry.” Scott managed a wry smile. “I’m sure the kid sheriff has no interest in a couple of scruffy-looking cowboys who obviously don’t have more than four bits to rub together….”
“Ya never know,” came the quiet response, and Scott felt a chill run down his spine despite the warmth of the evening. Johnny Madrid’s voice had a scary habit of coming out of Johnny Lancer’s mouth at the oddest times.
They took care of their horses at the livery stable, stripping off the tack and rubbing them down. Johnny somehow came up with a treat for his palomino. The stable owner made a few admiring comments to Johnny about his horse as they settled on payment, and Johnny could not hold back a grin.
“Smartest, fastest, easiest-going horse I ever had,” he said, giving Barranca a pat on the neck. “Wouldn’t trade him for anything.”
“Well, I’m about ready to trade you in for a bath and some dinner. Come on, Johnny.”
“Yeah, yeah, keep yer shirt on, there, Boston. The man appreciates a fine horse….”
Scott just grabbed him by the arm, turning him toward the door. “Thank you, sir,” he called over his shoulder, continuing to push his brother. “We will see you tomorrow morning, unless Johnny here needs to come in and say goodnight to his horse.”
The man just laughed. “Goodnight, boys. Your ponies are in good hands.”
Johnny waved a hand in thanks as his brother shoved him out the door.
Chris Larabee, resident gunfighter and leader of the seven peacekeepers of Four Corners, rode into town at an easy pace obscurely pleased with the fine day and life in general. He had spent three days out at his cabin working on various repair jobs, and though he could still hear Vin drawling on about it being a shack, not a cabin, he had no complaints about what he had managed to accomplish around the place.
He pulled in a deep breath of sweet evening air and dismounted in front of the saloon, sure to find most of the boys there; it was time to catch up on the happenings in town. It all seemed quiet, amazingly enough. He hoped the past days had not seen any of the boys wind up with bullet holes or broken bones, or, in Buck’s case, an irate husband ready to call him out.
Just as he set foot on the boardwalk, he heard his name and turned to see a frantic and flush faced JD bearing down on him.
“Chris!” he gasped, drawing closer to the gunman. “Chris! Glad I caught ya. I just can’t believe it, Chris!”
A knot clenched in Chris’ stomach, but he only narrowed his eyes and said, “What is it, JD?” Who’s hurt this time?
The young man stepped quickly up beside Chris and his panting voice dropped to a low whisper. “Just had a visit from Tiny, and he says he recognized…Chris, he said it was Johnny Madrid!”
That was not what Chris had expected to hear, in more ways than one. His mouth quirked, his hands settled on his hips, but all he said was, “Is that right?”
“But, Chris, do ya think he’s here ‘cause of you? Is he gonna call ya out? What should I do? Should I arrest him?”
Chris eyed the boy and replied mildly, “What’s he done, JD? You can’t arrest him just for being in town. Has he shot anybody yet?”
“Well, no,” he stuttered. “But he’s a gunfighter!”
“So am I. You gonna arrest me?”
“Well, no,” he said again, faltering, then, “but he’s a hired gun! I’ve read about him in my dime novels! He’s a blue-eyed Mexican devil who’s the scourge of the border! He kills people for money!” JD firmly repositioned his bowler, mirrored Chris’ hands on hips stance, and looked indignant.
Chris pulled a cheroot from his shirt pocket, struck a match against the hitching rail and lit up. Head bent, he gave himself a moment to think as he slowly inhaled and blew out a breath of smoke. Blue-eyed devil? Scourge of the border?
“And just what do you think I did for all those years before the Judge put us on the payroll here?” Chris said in a quiet voice. “Gun for hire, JD. Ain’t against the law. No, you leave Madrid alone. I’ll handle him. You got any idea where he is now?”
JD swallowed a couple of times, trying to get himself under control; he hated looking like a flustered kid in front of Chris!
“Tiny saw ‘em heading for the bathhouse. I think they’re still there.” His eyes dropped to the ground. “Sorry, Chris.”
But Chris latched onto something JD had said. “Them? He wasn’t alone?”
“No, some other fella was with him. Tiny didn’t know who he was. Said Madrid called him ‘Boston’ or somethin’ like that. Do ya think he’s another gunfighter?”
“I’m sure we’ll find out, JD.” Chris gave him a slap on the shoulder. “Why don’t you go back to the jail and keep an eye out. Just sit outside like always and if Madrid comes out of that bathhouse looking for trouble, you come get me, all right?”
“Right, Chris. You can count on me.” With that, JD turned and loped off to the jail, leaving behind a very bemused Chris Larabee.
Johnny Madrid, huh?
In the few months that Scott had known his brother, he had almost gotten used to the sight of him without a shirt on. As they both shed their clothes in the warmth and steam of the bathhouse, he had to remember not to cringe as he saw the scars on his brother’s body. He really didn’t know which was worse: the scar on Johnny’s back from Pardee’s bullet that he’d watched their father dig out, or the other, older scars that bespoke such a hard and dangerous life in all those years when Johnny lived by the gun.
As for Johnny, he more or less ignored them.
The dark-haired man stepped into the deep tub and slid down until only his head was visible. He leaned back against the side, eyes closed, smiling in utter bliss.
“Oh, yeah, this was worth stoppin’ for.”
“I could not agree more,” Scott sighed, sinking low in his own slice of heaven.
“I’m gonna be scrubbin’ desert outta my hair ‘til Christmas.”
“I’m going to be finding it in my teeth until New Year’s.”
Johnny grinned. “Shot of tequila would be good right about now.” He started soaping up, filling the tub with suds. “Or maybe a señorita….”
Scott rolled his eyes. “Forget about the lady barkeep. We’re leaving in the morning. Early in the morning.”
“All right, all right. But I’m stayin’ in this here bathtub for at least an hour.”
And an hour later, feeling like a new man, Johnny Lancer pulled on his favorite (and mostly clean) pair of low slung black pants with the silver studs down the sides, tucked in a heavily embroidered shirt of warm, faded red, and strapped his gunbelt around his slim hips.
“Uh, Johnny, you might want to think about putting on your boots,” Scott said from where he sat in front of a shaving mirror, watching his brother even as he scraped the beard from his face.
“I was gettin’ there! Rather have my gun on than my boots any day.” He tightened the belt another notch. “Look at that. Three weeks away from Teresa’s cookin’ and I’m just witherin’ away.”
Scott wiped lather from his face and stood up, eyeing his brother in mock sorrow.
“You poor, starving boy. I guess I’d better get you over to the hotel and start feeding you. I’d hate to see you waste away to skin and bones before we got back to Lancer.”
“Forget the hotel. Let’s go back to the saloon—you heard what the bath fella said. Said that senorita is one damn fine cook. And I doubt if they serve tequila in the hotel restaurant.”
Scott laughed. “You just want to flirt! But all right, you win. Now get your boots on, comb your hair, and let’s go, little brother.”
“Well, whatever you say, big brother.”
They picked up their gear, feeling considerably better than they had upon arriving, and decided to procure a room at the hotel before heading back to the saloon for supper. Emerging through the bathhouse door, Johnny’s eyes quickly glanced from street to sidewalk and back, taking in everything in mere seconds even as Scott fell into step beside him.
He tugged his hat a tad lower and tilted his head sideways to Scott, speaking quietly.
“Well, cat’s outta the bag now. Looks like the kid sheriff done figured out who just showed up in town.”
Scott followed his gaze, and saw the ‘kid sheriff’ trying not to hurry as he walked in the opposite direction on the other side of the street and trying, without much success, to keep from staring.
“Damn,” Johnny cursed softly. “Gettin’ real tired of this, Boston.”
“I know, Johnny, I know.” Scott ached for his brother then; it was all so unfair. No matter how hard he tried, it seemed as though Johnny’s past would haunt him forever, anytime, anywhere. “What do you want to do?”
“What else can I do? Let’s go get us a room and then get something to eat. If anything happens, well, I’ll deal with it when it comes up. Ain’t like I shot anybody yet. Could be nothin’. Anyways, I’m hungry, you’re hungry, let’s just do this.”
Scott could only nod, not trusting his voice.
A room secured at the hotel, they walked back to the saloon in the growing twilight. The streets were quiet, just as they had been that afternoon, but now Scott felt menaced. As they strode down the boardwalk, he could sense his brother disappearing; turning from Johnny Lancer, rancher, into Johnny Madrid, gunhawk. As always, it saddened and angered him, and he wished yet again for his brother to be able to live his life without the threat of Madrid’s past looming behind him like some dark shadow.
He was a half step behind Johnny when they shouldered their way into the saloon. His younger brother had become all Madrid by now: the walk; the stance; the hard, cool gaze; and not least the lack of all emotion on his usually expressive features.
Everyone looked up, of course.
And with Johnny, being, well, Johnny, everyone just kept looking. Scott felt he might as well be invisible.
He noted the saloon seemed to be doing a pretty brisk business tonight, at least for the moment; but with their arrival the two poker games came to an abrupt halt, as well as most of the conversations among the dozen or so cowboys sitting around with drinks in hand. All eyes focused on the newcomer as he sauntered up the bar and leaned his elbows on it.
“Señorita,” he drawled, nodding to the lovely Mexican woman he had smiled at before. “I hear that you are quite the cook. I would love to have whatever it is that smells so wonderful in here tonight.”
“Si, señor,” she replied, after a quick glance over Johnny’s shoulder. “Dinner for you and your friend. Anything else?”
“How about a bottle of tequila? And the name’s Johnny. Johnny Lancer.” He turned slightly sideways and tipped his head. “This is my brother, Scott.”
Scott nodded. “Señorita.”
“Inez. I am Inez Recillos. A moment for your dinners, señores.” She smiled then, as though the tension in the room had not risen tenfold since they walked in, and bustled into the kitchen to bring their dinner.
Johnny still had his back
to the room, but the perfectly positioned mirror behind the bar let him see
everything. Since there was already
a group of men at the one table he would have taken, he decided he might as well
stay where he was. He could feel
Scott’s coiled energy, ready to come to his aid if he needed it.
Oh, Díos, someone to
watch my back. When was the last
time I could count on someone to do that for me?
How did I live this long without you, brother?
Within two minutes of their arrival, only six men remained in the saloon. Either word had spread and the entire town knew who he was, or else they just decided that they’d better stay out of the way of any man who wore a gun tied low on his leg. So what did that say about the six men who were still here? Three of them were at the table he wanted, the one where he could have his back to the wall and see everything in the room; three more sat at one of the poker game tables.
One was the kid sheriff. Eyes wide and staring. Next to him was a big man with a black mustache, looking lazy and relaxed, but Johnny knew it was an act. A fancy gambler man sat at the poker table, shuffling cards with practiced ease. Across from him was a big fella, big as Murdoch, maybe, and he sat drinkin’ calm as you please, looking at his whiskey with what Johnny would swear was tenderness. Also at the poker table was a black man, oddly enough; he was surprised a fancy gambler would play cards with a black man.
And the last man, the man in the almost shadow of the corner table, a man dressed all in black, his head down, one hand curled around a shot glass. He was the one to worry about. Well, let it play out in its own way and its own time, Johnny thought wearily. All he wanted was a drink and some supper. He wondered if he’d be able to finish it.
“Hey, niño, been awhile. Glad to see you’ve grown a couple of inches.”
Johnny slowly straightened. He could see Scott from the corner of his eye, darting glances from Johnny to the man who had spoken, waiting for Johnny to move or give him a signal.
That voice. He knew that voice. He turned and saw the man in black raise his head at the same time, and knew those eyes would be green. Johnny felt his mouth wanting to turn up in a smile, but he fought it off. He kept his gunfighter’s façade firmly in place.
“Damn right I’ve grown a couple of inches, you sorry-assed excuse for a gringo cowboy. You owe me, Larabee, you owe me, and I aim to collect. Right now.”
Scott was staring at him like he was loco. “Johnny?” he whispered.
Johnny stayed focused on the lean gunfighter in black.
The other men, compadres of Larabee’s, no doubt, looked about as shocked as Scott. Five mouths had fallen open simultaneously with a gasp, and they were staring at Larabee, obviously waiting for him to stand up and draw on the smart-mouthed kid who had so rashly insulted their friend.
“Chris,” the kid sheriff finally squeaked. “Did he just call you a cowboy?”
“Yep, JD, he did. But I’m sure Mr. Madrid meant it in the nicest way possible.”
Johnny could see Chris Larabee trying to stay straight-faced, too. Oh, he just needed to hang on for another minute. This was too good to waste.
“What about it, Larabee? Ain’t it about time for you to pay up?”
Larabee stood and pushed slowly away from the table. Chairs scraped the floor as the other men got to their feet as well, coming to stand in a semicircle facing Johnny and Scott, hands resting easily on their guns.
“Six against two. Hardly fair,” Scott murmured. “Now what?”
Larabee walked over and stopped a couple of feet away from Johnny. He took his hat off and tossed it on the bar. Johnny pushed his hat off so it hung down his back. The two men sized each other up for a moment, hands on hips, eyes cool and calculating.
“Yep, you are taller. Even got your hair cut.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Yes, Pa, got my hair cut.”
Jaws dropped again, and this time Scott joined in with the other five. The utter bewilderment on all their faces was too much, and Johnny finally let loose.
With a loud whoop of laughter, he stuck out his hand and Chris took it in a hard grip. The blond gunslinger started laughing as well by the time he let go, and the others had recovered enough to start shouting.
“Just what the hell is goin’ on?”
“You two really know each other?”
“Was all that necessary? You could have told me, Johnny!”
“No gunshot wounds. I like that. Makes a nice change around here.”
“I sense a story, gentlemen.”
“Well, the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways.”
Johnny wiped his eyes and grinned at Chris. “That was fun. Hardly what I was expectin’ when I walked in here, I gotta say.”
“Yeah, well, when JD here said someone recognized Johnny Madrid, I didn’t want to believe him. Imagine my surprise when the blue-eyed Mexican devil himself shows up in my town.”
“Blue-eyed Mexican devil? Where the hell do you get this stuff, Larabee?”
“I have it on excellent authority that that is how certain dime novels refer to you.”
Johnny heard a strangled cough and saw the kid sheriff blushing bright red.
“And what do they call you?”
“Mister Larabee,” Chris deadpanned.
“Uh huh.” Johnny grinned again, and then turned to pull Scott up beside him. “Chris, I’d like you to meet my brother. Scott Lancer. Scott, this is Chris Larabee. We met down in Nogales a few years back.”
“Brother?” Chris looked from black-haired, blue-eyed Johnny to blond, blue-eyed Scott. “Didn’t know you had a brother,” he said, shaking hands with Scott.
“Long story,” Scott replied. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same here. Guess we got some catchin’ up to do, kid.”
They all settled in at the big corner table, with Chris making introductions. The kid sheriff was JD; the gambler was Ezra, and he owned the saloon; the big man with the mustache and the easy smile was Buck; the black man, Nathan, was the local doctor; and the really big fella was Josiah, a preacher man.
“So. Got a brother and a new name. How did that happen?”
Johnny was saved from answering right away when the barkeep reappeared, her arms laden with a tray of food. She put it on the table and set Johnny and Scott’s dinner in front of them. Johnny sighed in pleasure. When she put the bottle of tequila down, he took her hand and placed a kiss on the back of it.
“Gracias, señorita,” he murmured, and then went on in rapid-fire Spanish, too soft for anyone else to hear.
Inez smiled and said something back that suddenly had him blushing. He kissed her hand again before letting go. She picked up the tray and turned away with a swish of skirts, deftly avoiding Buck’s teasing grasp.
“Hey, come on, Inez, darlin’, haven’t ya got a smile and something to say to ol’ Buck here?” He called after her in a beseeching voice. “It sure makes a fella awful lonely to have such a beautiful woman so close and stay so far away, if ya know what I mean, darlin’.”
JD smirked. “Buck, give it up. She ain’t never gonna give you the time of day, much less a smile.”
Buck sighed dramatically, and gave Johnny a suspicious leer. “So, what did she say that’s got you all hot and bothered, Madrid?”
“I was rather wondering that myself, Johnny, oh unflappable gunfighter brother of mine.”
“Nothin’.” Johnny still had his head ducked, finding his dinner highly interesting.
“Right. I’ll get it out of you eventually, you know that.”
Chris took a sip of whiskey and grinned to himself. Johnny had been just a kid when they met, and he was still a kid. He hardly looked like the cold, dangerous professional who had walked into the saloon just a short time ago.
Johnny was digging into his meal, ignoring the scrutiny he could feel coming from Chris—hell, coming from all of them. JD and Buck were still going on about Inez and Buck’s lack of something JD kept referring to as ‘animal magnetism’, with the others occasionally joining in with comments on what seemed to be a very familiar subject.
He knew Scott was curious about Larabee, but he also knew his brother wouldn’t press him on it. They sat and ate, and Inez brought out more food for all of them. Too soon for Johnny’s liking, supper was over and the dishes were cleared away. Everyone kept looking expectantly from Chris to him and back. Johnny toyed with his glass; Chris lit up a cheroot.
“Oh, come on!” JD finally burst out. He’d been squirming since they’d sat down, Johnny had noticed with amusement. “Come on, Chris! How’d you guys meet, anyway?”
“Should I start? Don’t think they’re gonna let us get away with not telling.”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah. Go ahead.” He felt Scott slip a hand onto his shoulder and give it a quick squeeze. Scott knew how much he hated this. Not that this particular story was so awful, he decided; it was just part of Johnny Madrid’s life, and he was trying to leave all that behind.
“Well, it was down in Nogales, like Johnny said. I’d only been in town for a couple of days before a few of the local boys felt like calling the gringo out. I tried to tell ‘em I was just passing through, didn’t want any trouble, but they didn’t care. Just wanted a fight. Must’ve been, what, seven or eight of them.”
“Eight, as I recall,” Johnny said quietly. “Mean and ugly and ready to shoot a man in the back for his boots.”
“Lovely,” Ezra drawled. “At least you keep much better company now, Mr. Larabee.”
Chris snorted. “Right. Anyway, we’re all out in the middle of the main street of town, it’s just past noon, I think, and I’m looking at these eight ugly bastards who want to kill me for no apparent reason.”
“You were a gringo in a town on the wrong side of the border,” Johnny said. “Reason enough for men like that.”
“But not you, I take it,” said Scott.
“Nope.” Then he grinned. “Not that day, at any rate.”
“You want to tell this?”
“No, no, you’re doin’ just fine. Keep goin’.”
“Yeah, so I’m out in the street, facing these idiots, when all of a sudden this fourteen-year-old kid—.”
“Hey!” Johnny yelped. “I wasn’t fourteen! Get it right, Larabee.”
Chris blew a stream of smoke. “All right,” he conceded. “Maybe sixteen.”
“Closer,” Johnny muttered darkly, knocking back some tequila.
“This sixteen-year-old kid comes out of the cantina into the street next to me, easy as you please, and lets loose with a string of insults—in Spanish, of course, so I didn’t quite catch all of them—at the eight guys staring me down. I clearly heard ‘Madrid’ in there somewhere, but at the time, I didn’t know it was his name. So the kid here is letting fly with the insults, and I’ll be damned if half of ‘em don’t just look at each other and decide to back off. The other four, obviously not as intelligent, made the huge mistake of drawing on us.”
Chris Larabee went back to that moment and could still see that slim young man, that kid, who so boldly strolled out of the cantina to stand at his side that hot summer’s day. He thought the kid was crazy, at first. Then they shared a brief glance, and Chris knew the kid was going to back him up; he also knew he could trust him to get the job done. Just like Vin.
Chris had to pause as he thought about what to say next. He knew Johnny was uncomfortable; hell, he was, too—it’s not like he went around boasting about gunfights. Johnny’s brother was leaning forward, arms on the table, hanging on every word; this was all new to him, obviously, and it was also obvious that he cared about Johnny. So Chris was surprised when Johnny spoke up.
“Last time they ever did,” he said.
Chris nodded. “We took ‘em all down, but one of their shots hit the kid in the head.” He swallowed more whiskey, remembering the sick feeling in his gut when he saw the kid spin around and pitch forward into the dust. “Thought you were dead for sure, Johnny.”
Scott stared at his brother in horror. “Shot in the head?”
“Nah, just a graze,” he said, trying to reassure his brother. “Bled a lot, though. But Larabee got me all fixed up at the doc’s, and after a couple of days I was just fine.”
“Right. I’ve seen first hand your definition of ‘just fine’.”
“No, really. Head ached for a while, but what made me maddest was that Larabee here wouldn’t even buy me a damn drink in the cantina. Said I was too young!”
“You were just a kid!”
“I was probably seventeen! That ain’t no kid!”
Chris gestured at him with the cheroot. “That was what, five, six years ago? You’re still a kid! You’re not much older than JD!”
Everyone was laughing by this time, and Johnny had started to feel picked on.
“Well, you can buy me a damn drink right now,” he grumbled. “How about that?”
As the laughter died down, Chris got an odd look on his face. “Actually, I did buy you a drink. A few months ago, I poured a glass of tequila at this very table, put it down across from me and drank a toast to the memory of young Johnny Madrid, who had saved my life in Nogales.”
“I remember that,” said Nathan suddenly. “Wondered what it meant, but you was lookin’ way too mean to ask about it.”
Chris said quietly, “Word came out of Mexico that Johnny Madrid had died in front of a firing squad.”
Johnny shrugged, staring down at his hands. “Almost did. I was the next man in line. Another five minutes….”
“How’d you get away?” JD asked, burning with curiosity.
“Divine intervention, I would think, JD,” Josiah rumbled in his deep voice.
Johnny found himself grinning. “Somethin’ like that, yeah.”
“More interesting to know would be what got you put in front of a firing squad in the first place,” Chris said.
It was Johnny’s turn to squirm. “Well, I sorta got caught up in this revolution. Fightin’ for the farmers.”
JD, for all his youth, looked a bit skeptical at that. “Didn’t know farmers could afford to hire gunfighters.”
“Um, yeah, well, the truth is,” Johnny squirmed some more, “they couldn’t. I did it for nothin’ ‘cause they needed the help, and I thought what they were doin’ was right.” He again stared down at his hands, now clenched in tight, whitened fists, and then went on. “But we were outnumbered, overrun, and they caught us. Whoever hadn’t been killed in the battle, they put up against a wall and shot. I guess I was lucky they waited a day or two to get to me.” He tried to shrug it off by smiling at Josiah. “Then divine intervention arrived in the nick of time.”
“Good Lord,” Ezra said, aghast. “Another Robin Hood.”
The other Four Corners peacekeepers laughed.
“Yeah, sounds like Vin,” Buck said. “Hell, sounds like us, as a matter of fact, fighting for that Indian village. We almost got paid, though—and we won. Sorry about how your revolution turned out, son.”
“Well, damn, but it would’ve been nice if word of your miraculous escape had also found its way across the border,” Chris grumbled.
“Doesn’t get you out of buyin’ me a drink, Larabee. Ain’t my fault I wasn’t here for the wake.”
“All on the house,” Ezra put in smoothly. “I think we owe you that after believing you had come here to call Mr. Larabee out. Mr. Dunne’s, shall we say, enthusiasm, at the idea of having two famous gunfighters in one town just may have made us all a little overly cautious. Though, of course,” and here he shot a look at Chris, “if Mr. Larabee had deigned to inform us of his existing friendship with Mr. Madrid, we might have had a more relaxing evening altogether.”
“Sorry, Ezra, it was too good to pass up. Right, Johnny?”
“Oh, yeah. By the way, the name isn’t Madrid anymore. It’s Lancer. And, yeah, Scott really is my brother, but that’s another story.”
“Different mothers,” Scott said. “I actually grew up in Boston with my grandfather, so I never even knew Johnny existed until our father asked us both to come to California.”
“Enough stories for one night,” Johnny said firmly, rising. “Scott and I are on our way home, and we need to get an early start tomorrow. Right, Scott?”
“Absolutely,” Scott agreed, also getting to his feet.
“So Johnny Madrid has hung up his guns,” Chris mused.
“I’m tryin’,” Johnny said. “But it seems like there’s always some stupid kid who wants to prove that he’s faster, or somebody I used to know comes gunnin’ for me. Can’t exactly walk away free and clear, ya know?”
“I know, kid, I know.” Then he grinned. “Just glad to see you alive and in one piece. Be sure to stay that way.”
The other men stood and bid them goodnight. Johnny gave Inez a wink and a smile, and seeing that, Buck made a final appeal to Johnny to tell him what Inez had whispered to him earlier.
Johnny grinned wider, and because he just knew it would be the kind of thing to make Buck crazy, he said, “Well, Buck, she said I sure cleaned up real nice, but what she especially liked was the way my pants fit.”
The rest of the table hooted at Buck’s forlorn expression, but he perked up almost immediately.
“Johnny, where can I get a pair of pants like that?”
“Won’t help, Buck, trust me,” JD laughed.
“G‘night, boys. Nice to meet all of ya.” Johnny shared a handshake with Chris. “Watch your gringo ass, Larabee.”
“I will. Glad to see you found your family again.”
Johnny looked around at the men in the saloon, nodded, and said knowingly, “You, too.” Then he added in a lower voice, “I’d appreciate it if you could tell the fella with the rifle on the roof across the street he can stop worryin’. We’ll be on our way over to the hotel now, and I don’t wanta get picked off before I get there.”
“Uh, yeah,” Chris managed to say. “That would be Vin. Tends to take guarding our backs pretty seriously.”
“Good kind of friend to have.”
“The best. Why don’t I walk you boys out the door and give Vin a wave.”
“Yeah, hate to get shot after all this. Come on, Scott, thought you were in such an all-fired hurry to get goin’….”
Scott heaved a sigh of long suffering and said to Chris in a loud aside as they all walked out of the saloon, “Little brothers. Whatever is one supposed to do with them?”
“Boss ‘em around, seems like,” Johnny shot back, much to the others’ amusement. He watched as Larabee merely looked across the street, right where he had seen the sharpshooter before entering the saloon, and a slim shadow detached itself from the other shadows on the roof and made a slight gesture of acknowledgment. “Goodbye, Chris,” he said, “Thanks for the drink.” And he knew Chris understood him to mean the one from a few months ago and not tonight.
“You’re welcome, Johnny Lancer.” Chris tipped his hat and watched the two young men saunter down the boardwalk, talking and laughing easily with each other, brothers indeed.