Man Without A Gun - Missing Scene
Val had an awfully bad feeling when he saw the ruckus in front of the jail as he headed the buckboard in that direction. The sight of the figure in the oh-so-familiar red shirt being lugged out of Val’s own office without his boots touching the ground made him give the horses an urgent flick with the reins. “Dammit, Johnny, what trouble have you got yerself into now?”
“What in tarnation’s goin’ on here?” he stormed as he brought the horses to an abrupt stop by the sidewalk and scrambled down awkwardly, inwardly cursing the soreness in his leg.
Zeek looked up with an oily smile on his face. “Looks like our Johnny bit off a bit more’n he could chew, Val.”
Val threw the barber a filthy look before halting the men who were hauling Johnny so unceremoniously out of the jail. The rise and fall of Johnny’s chest and the lack of any bloody wetness put his worst fears to rest. “Who did this?” he snapped, his eyes going immediately to Criswell.
“Nothing to worry about, Sheriff.” Criswell spoke in that annoyingly ingratiating voice that made Val itch to hit him. “I just had to teach the boy a lesson in manners. There are always a few hotheads who think they know better than the law,” he sententiously told the assorted throng who’d gathered to gawk.
“What’re we gonna do with him, Sheriff Criswell?” the man holding Johnny under the shoulders asked. “Maybe we should dunk him in the horse trough?” he suggested, taking a look at Johnny’s face. “He’s out cold.”
“You jest put him in the buckboard…real easy like!” Val added warningly as he saw their intent to simply dump his friend hard on the wooden boards.
Val turned to Criswell, his voice low and threatening. “I don’t hold with,” and he almost choked on the next word, “lawmen who beat up on prisoners.”
“It was a fair fight, Val. Johnny here challenged Sheriff Criswell to a fist fight,” Mayor Higgs told Val and the assembled crowd officiously. Val had never disliked the pompous little man more so than at that moment.
He returned his irate gaze to the temporary sheriff, this time with scornful, open disbelief. “You tryin’ ta tell me that you took Johnny out single-handedly? Why I seen Johnny take on five men bigger’n you and an ornery dog an’ still come out standing, and you’re tryin’ to tell me that you whipped him all by yerself?”
Criswell looked for a moment like he was about to step back in the face of all that incredulous fury, but instead he took his jacket by the lapels and said clearly, for the benefit of all those standing around, “Like I said, the boy needed to be taught a lesson. Better a dent to his pride now than an early grave by insisting on wearing that gun of his.”
Val guffawed outright at that, just itching to tell Criswell who it was he was trying to reform. “Plenty of men better’n you have tried to dent Johnny’s pride but not many of ‘em are still alive t’talk about it.”
There were a few sniggers from the crowd at Val’s words, making Criswell cast a look around. He sensed there was some hidden meaning behind Val’s words that some of the local onlookers clearly understood. He came to a quick decision. The crowd had seen all that needed to be seen – better to disperse them before Sheriff Crawford turned the tide in his own favour. He’d learnt from experience that crowds could be notoriously fickle.
“Come now. I’m sure you good folks have something better to do rather than standing around here. The excitement’s over all too quickly, I’m afraid,” he told them almost apologetically with his ever ready modest smile, as if he were sorry that Johnny hadn’t put up more of a fight for their entertainment.
With a few murmurings, the crowd dispersed, most meandering back to the saloon as Criswell ushered them on their way.
Val kept his emotions in check, something he wished Johnny had done, and climbed wordlessly back onto the seat of the buckboard.
“You keep yer big mouth shut,” he warned Zeek as the barber handed him Johnny’s hat, jacket and gunbelt.
“I wasn’t gonna say a thing, Val,” Zeek protested with suspicious meekness before following the rest of the crowd over to the saloon.
Johnny had shown no sign so far of coming round, and Val initially considered the idea of tossing a hat full of water in his face. On second thought that could be a very bad idea, he decided almost in the next breath. Criswell would try the patient of a saint – and Johnny was definitely no saint. It was more than likely that Johnny’s first response, on awakening and finding Criswell giving him one of his smarmy lectures, would be to get up and try to hit him again. Nope, for the time being, best to just get him home in one piece.
Criswell was studying Johnny solicitously. “I do hope the boy’s all right, Sheriff Crawford.”
“Never you mind about Johnny, Criswell,” Val drawled back, gruffly. “It’d take more’n a lucky punch from you to lay him out fer too long.”
“Well, pass on my apologies to his father. Sometimes, these young hotheads just have to be taught a lesson. I’m just sorry that it had to come to this.”
Val flicked him a glance, then gave the reins a tug, thinking that if he heard Criswell say another word he just might have to hit him himself.
Val took the buckboard out of town towards Lancer at a fast pace, determined to put as much distance between Johnny and Criswell as possible, for the time being anyway. He didn’t think Johnny would be out for too much longer – from experience he knew his friend had a notoriously hard head.
A low moan from behind made him let up on his speed a little, and he turned his head to see his decidedly groggy friend struggling to sit up as the buckboard bounced along the uneven road.
Val pulled on the reins and brought the buckboard to a complete halt. “So ya finally had enough time lazin’ around back there, huh?” he grunted as he twisted on the hard seat to take a good look at Johnny.
Johnny rubbed the back of his head, trying to turn a blurry gaze on Val. “What am I doin’ back here?” he mumbled.
“What, you don’t remember that little fracas in town?”
“You mean those two cowboys outside the saloon?” Johnny murmured vaguely, still concentrating on trying to focus.
“Nope, I’m talkin’ about that one yeller bellied snake.”
“Val, will ya quit talking in riddles and tell me what happened?” Johnny finally snapped wearily. He couldn’t work out why so many parts of his body were complaining to him.
Val fixed Johnny with a keen eye. “You ain’t got a clue what happened?”
“I remember the cowhands stirrin’ up a ruckus,” Johnny offered, gingerly feeling the back of his head and finding a good-sized lump there.
Val chewed on Johnny’s words as he thoughtfully handed him the canteen he found behind the seat.
Johnny leaned forward and grabbed it gratefully, grimacing at the sudden twinge in his side. “Sure hope the other fella feels as sore as me,” he groused before removing the cap and taking a huge gulp of the tepid liquid.
When Val didn’t answer he cocked a suspicious eye at him.
“Well, from the looks of it, the other fella ‘pears t’be in perfect health,” Val admitted cautiously.
“Criswell?” Johnny spat out in disgust.
“Word is you challenged him to a fistfight and according to Criswell he took it upon himself to teach a young hothead like yerself a lesson.”
Johnny groaned suddenly.
“You hurtin’, boy?”
“Yeah, only just like you…not where it shows. Boy, I gotta hand it to that Criswell…” Johnny admitted morosely before a familiar fire lit his eyes. “Val, we gotta turn this thing around.”
“Oh, no I don’t,” Val said firmly. “I’m takin’ you home to yer daddy and he can check ya out and make sure yer head is as hard as I think it is.”
“No buts, now, ya hear! You been plaguing me fer days ‘bout this leg, time you got a ‘lil taste of yer own medicine. Now hush up,” he interrupted his friend’s protestations. “Won’t do you a lick a’ good, ‘cause I ain’t listening.”
Val gave Johnny a satisfied grin when he saw him give in. “You wanna come an’ sit up here with me or you intendin’ to sulk in the back the resta’ the trip home?”
“No, guess I’ll come an’ sit with you,” Johnny grumbled, swinging a leg over the seat to thump down heavily beside Val.
Val gave the horses a good flick with the reins and got the buckboard moving again. After a few minutes Johnny put his elbows on his knees and rested his face in the palm of his hands.
“You feelin’ poorly?”
“No, no…well… a little…but it’s just this whole Criswell thing, ya know. Damn, I’d sure like to bring him down a peg or two and wipe that cocky smile off his face.”
“You said Murdoch met him. What did he think a’ Criswell an’ his smarmy ways?”
“Oh, you know my old man…he’s big on reform. I kinda think he’d like it if we were all like big city folks an’ carried walking sticks instead’a guns.” His chuckle was a pale impersonation of his usual one. “Scott said it’s ‘very stylish to carry a cane’ in Boston.”
Val grinned at his mimicry of his brother’s expression. “Oh, I can just imagine yer brother all fancied up and struttin’ around town in one a’ them shirts a’ his with all them ruffles. Bet he was a big hit with all them there society ladies.”
Johnny suddenly sobered. “You an’ me both know that makin’ townsfolk get rid of guns ain’t gonna solve the problems out here.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“Then again, what?” Val prompted, glancing at Johnny and finding a thoughtful expression on his face.
Johnny caught his eye and looked a little self conscious. “Well, it makes me kinda wonder if Murdoch thinks it’d be a way of keepin’ me outta trouble. I get the feelin’ he feels kinda responsible for me bein’ who I am.”
Val nodded, seemingly suddenly interested in the horses’ heads as he casually said to Johnny, “Must be kinda nice havin’ a daddy to care about ya after all these years.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Val saw Johnny duck his head as the hint of a shy smile pulled at his mouth before he softly drawled, “Yeah…I guess.”
“Never woulda taken Murdoch Lancer fer a fool, though!”
Johnny looked up at those words.
“Well, only a complete fool’d think there was a way a’keeping you outta trouble!”
The rest of the trip back to Lancer passed in relative silence. After a few more comments from Johnny about what he’d like to do to Criswell, he’d grabbed his hat from the back, sat it low over his eyes, folded his arms and hunkered down on the buckboard seat, to all intents and purposes soundly asleep.
It wasn’t until the buckboard rattled its way under the Lancer arch that he stiffly sat up, pushing his hat back uneasily.
“You think yer old man’s gonna bawl you out for takin’ on Criswell?” Val asked, mildly.
“Well, that’s the thing with Murdoch…you never can tell. Sometimes he kinda surprises you, ya know?”
“Well, get ready to be surprised ‘cause he’s already lookin’ this way.”
Johnny looked towards the hacienda and sure enough, there was Murdoch out front, only just having dismounted from his horse by the looks of it, one hand shading his eyes as he watched their approach.
“How does he feel about you brawlin’ with sheriffs in general?” Val murmured sardonically.
“Guess I’m about to find out,” he answered under his breath. “Hey, Murdoch!” he greeted his father with far less than his usual exuberance.
“Johnny. Val,” the older man replied by way of greeting, but Val saw his eyes were sharply appraising his youngest son. “What happened to you?”
The sheriff decided he ought to dive in first. “Johnny here got himself into a bit a trouble in town. You might wanna take a look at him.”
“Aw, Val, there ain’t nothing wrong with me that a nice, long cool drink and a soak in a hot tub won’t cure,” Johnny protested without much conviction as he gingerly climbed down. The next instant he was surprised to find his father grabbing onto his arm as the world did an unexpected tilt to the side and the ground started to move from under him.
“Oh, I can see you’re just fine,” Murdoch responded dryly, resisting Johnny’s attempts to shrug off his hold. “Come on, let’s get you inside where you can lie down.”
Val watched his friend allow himself to be ushered into the hacienda. ‘Must be feelin’ worse than he let on,’ he surmised with a snort as he pondered his next move. He didn’t quite feel enough at ease with Murdoch Lancer to just barge in after them, particularly with the memory of his inauspicious presentation to the Cattlemen’s Association still so fresh in his mind. He needed to get back to his own place, but he had no horse…
“You coming in, Val?” Murdoch’s voice interrupted his meanderings a few minutes later, calling to him from the front door.
‘No, you know what, Mr Lancer. I reckon I’ll head home. Let Johnny get some rest. If you don’t mind me borrowin’ yer buckboard a mite longer, that is.”
“No, no problem with that. As long as you’re sure that’s what you want to do?”
Johnny’s father answered easily enough but Val had the sense he was keen to get back to his son.
The sound of Teresa’s voice calling for Murdoch interrupted them
“Murdoch? Oh there you are,” Teresa told him, flicking a smile in Val’s direction before saying, “Poor Johnny. His head hurts. I’m just going to get him a cold compress.”
“I’m coming in…just saying good bye to Val.”
“Yep, I’ll get goin’, Mr Lancer,” Val hastened to say, keen to get out of their way now that Johnny was in good hands.
“Thanks for bringing Johnny home, Val,” Murdoch told him, coming over to the buckboard and holding out his hand in appreciation.
Val gripped the proffered hand and shook it, but he denied needing any thanks. “No need ta thank me, Mr Lancer. That son a’yours has helped me out plenty a’times – just returnin’ the favour.”
Murdoch smiled and said no more, wondering yet again about the history between the two. On the face of it they seemed unlikely allies – the lawman and the gunfighter – but then again, knowing Johnny as he’d come to the last few months, maybe not. One thing he did know, he was truly grateful to anyone who’d been a positive friend to his youngest son during his years as Johnny Madrid.
“Murdoch,” Theresa’s voice called again.
“I’d better head inside. You’re a good friend to Johnny, Val. He’s lucky,” Murdoch told him, surprising Val with his warmth, before turning to go back inside.
Val merely nodded, for a moment silently staring at the huge door behind which Murdoch had disappeared.
“Yep, that Johnny sure is lucky,” he murmured before flicking the reins and setting the buckboard in motion for home.