Word Count 3,164
Written for the Lancer Writers January 2023 Challenge “Betrayal”
Betrayal and perceived betrayal run rampant throughout the episode ‘Man Without A Gun,’ making it perfect for the challenge. Lancer fans will recognize the words from the script’s author Rupert Wolpert. Thanks to Terri (Doc) for her help with the beta and Diana (Buckskin) for her suggestions.
Episode Tag: Man Without A Gun
When it comes right down to it, Green River isn’t a bad place to live. I wouldn’t call it home, not yet anyway, but it comes closer than any other place I’ve tried to set down roots.
Our blowhard of a mayor will puff out his chest until his buttons are ready to pop and proudly tell anyone who’ll listen that the town is growing, becoming more like one of those big cities back east. There’s no denying the town’s growing, but it sure as hell ain’t St. Louis, or Chicago, or even Sacramento.
There is one thing, though, that Green River has in common with those places; the people like law and order, and that’s where I come in. The name’s Val Crawford, and the Cattle Growers Association hired me to make sure nothing bothered the peace and quiet of the town. That’s what I try to do, but it ain’t easy.
I’ve found it’s the same everywhere. Your history, the baggage you carry around, is who you are. It’s hard to get shed of it, especially if that baggage brings danger along with it. Town folks don’t like their world threatened by anything or anyone, not even me. I guess that’s why most of them don’t take to me. I’ve always had a gun and am pretty good with it. The badge, well, that’s something new. You can’t put on the badge without carrying a gun, no matter what some folks think. Like I said we ain’t some big city back east.
Green River is like all the other newer Anglo settlements in California. The buildings are painted, the streets clean, and the folks … well, they’re friendly enough when they want to be.
Don’t get me wrong, newcomers are welcomed with open arms if they settle into the mold set by the others. Thinking back, I suppose that’s why they took to Clay Criswell.
Stopping in front of the Sheriff’s office— my office— I look up and down the street.
Down the street and on opposite sides are two buildings where folks meet to discuss the town’s unofficial business. On the left is the saloon, which doubles as the barber shop, where a man could find out everything there was to find out about the town and the people in it. On the right is the dress shop, where a woman can relax and gossip to her heart’s desire.
Then there’s the large white church at the end of town, with its tall spiked bell tower. That’s where the town folks get together once a week to profess to be God-fearing people with forgiveness in their hearts, only to have what was preached slip their minds the moment they’re outside.
“Sheriff.” The tall, slim-waisted woman smiled and dipped her head as she walked past. “Nice day.”
Nodding, I tipped my hat. “That it is, Mrs. Gates. That it is.”
She kept walking, dipping her bonneted head to others along the boardwalk.
For the most part, being the Sheriff of Green River isn’t hard. I roust a few drunks on Saturday night and keep the peace the rest of the time. Things were different a few weeks ago when I got myself hurt and couldn’t work. That’s when the fine upstanding people of Green River decided I wasn’t good enough for the job.
Criswell had them convinced they were ready for a gun-free town. He had them turn over all their guns to him, and then he locked all those guns in one of the cells at the jail. On top of that, by the time he was done talking and scheming, he’d had them believing they didn’t need me anymore.
Here I am, shaking my head, thinking about how I was treated. I’d given a lot to the town, and they’d betrayed me. By my way of thinking, the entire town had turned on me. That I could handle; I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the way these people felt about me. Never had.
No, it was when Criswell came out to my house telling me the people in town didn’t think I was dignified enough to be their Sheriff, and they were laughing at me. He handed over some money and said Johnny Lancer and his brother had gotten a good laugh at my expense, but now I should leave.
That was the ultimate betrayal… the boy I looked at as a friend had turned on me… and it hurt.
Johnny Madrid had been my friend, no, more than a friend. We’d ridden together, saved each other more times than I cared to remember, and always…always he was the only person I truly trusted—until that day. The day Johnny betrayed our friendship, or so I thought.
I was mad. So mad that I rode out to Lancer. Jelly was out front when I got there. I didn’t want to see Johnny, I couldn’t face him, but I did want to leave a message. I tossed down the bag of food Johnny had brought me the day before and handed Jelly the money from Criswell.
“I want to drop that off for Johnny.” I tried to find the words without showing how badly I was hurting. “Tell him thanks,” I said with as much of a smile as I could muster, then handed him the money. “Glad I gave him a few laughs, but I think I can make it on my own now.”
Jelly looked at the money and asked, “But who’s gonna be looking after the town?”
“They made their choice. They’ve got Criswell. Let him look after the gold shipment.”
I rode away and headed back to town.
I went straight to my…the Sheriff’s office, not wanting to waste any time getting out of town.
When the office door opened, I was throwing my meager belongings into a burlap sack. I glanced up, to see Johnny striding in and looking like he’d done nothing wrong.
Before he could open his mouth, I got in the first word. “When I took this job, I threw 17 rounds in the kitty. I’m taking ‘em back. This town owes me something.” I turned to look at Johnny and held out my hand, showing him the bullets. “You want to count ‘em.”
“What’s going on around here?” I could hear the concern in his voice but remembered Criswell’s words of how Johnny had played along, making fun of me.
“You oughtta to know. You had all the laughs.” I took my badge off and tossed it on the desk. It clinked and bounced once before coming to rest.
“Who told you that?”
“Criswell, of course.” I pointed my finger at him. “At least he had the guts to come right out and say it.”
“What else did he say?”
“Oh, just about being fired and some getaway money. I didn’t take it.” I inched him back a few steps as I continued throwing my belonging into the sack. “You get it back.”
“It wasn’t my money,” Johnny protested, throwing up his hands. “You believe me. It wasn’t my money.” When I didn’t answer, he asked, “Where’s Criswell?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
That’s when Zeek, the barber, ran in frantically, yelling, “Guns! Guns! Guns!” He ran to the jail cell stacked high with the town’s guns. He shook the bars, muttering, “Locked… keys… where are the keys?”
I sat on the edge of the desk and watched the man running around. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Val, Val, get out there and do your job.”
My job. Zeek sure had a short memory. “It ain’t my job no more.”
He turned to Johnny, begging, “Oh, Johnny, Johnny, we need you —”
Johnny pushed the barber back. “Relax, what’s going on out there?”
Zeek took a breath and then told us what a low-down, double-crossing snake in the grass Criswell really was.
“Criswell’s taken over. He’s only got four men out there, but we ain’t got a gun to fight back.”
I knew it. Knew it all along. Criswell was nothing more than a fancy-dressing crook. He’d talked his way into the town’s good graces, taken my job, and turned me on the only friend I’d ever had.
The town’s people were fools to think a man could wear a badge and not carry a gun; fools to think they could turn in all their guns, without question— to a stranger no less— and not get burned. Well, it served them right, and now they could see what it felt like to be betrayed. Yes, Criswell had betrayed them just as they’d betrayed me. What’s the old saying… what goes around, comes around.
I knew what Criswell was up to now. “The gold shipment, that’s what he’s after.”
Zeek looked as if he was gonna cry. “All our money…, everything we’ve got…, everything we’re building—”
Johnny, ready for action, slapped my leg. “Val, let’s go.“
“It ain’t my job no more, Johnny.”
“Criswell was lying to you. Don’t you see that?”
Yes, I did see that, but it didn’t make no never mind. The town had turned on me, and I’d had enough betrayal for one day. If I helped them, they wouldn’t thank me for it. I’d still be the same man, carrying around the same baggage I’d always had. They couldn’t get past the way I dressed or looked or my past. If they wanted some clean-cut, fancy-dressing Sheriff, they had him, and he had all the money the town had saved.
“Yeah, I guess so. But they made their choice before.”
“We were wrong, but that’s past. We’ll pay you anything you want, Val,” Zeek begged.
Of course, now they needed me; needed my gun. Well, that pissed me off. “Too late. That’s it.”
Zeek’s eyes went from me to Johnny. “What else can we give you?”
Johnny answered for me. “You could have started with a little respect. I guess it’s easier to give money.” That’s when Johnny looked at me. “Val, you listen to me.”
I shook my head and looked at Johnny, who was already shedding that new leather coat he’d been wearing. I‘d seen the transformation before and knew he was getting ready for a fight.
“What makes you so anxious to help this town?”
Johnny threw the coat over a chair and headed for the door. “Cause I don’t want Criswell to get away with it.”
I knew then that Johnny Lancer had slipped away and Johnny Madrid had taken his place. He was dressed as I’d seen him back in the day— when he was facing a man down in the street or working a range war. There was no mistaking it was Madrid who was headed for the door and checking his gun.
I couldn’t help myself. “You can’t go up against five guns.”
He gave me ‘that look’ I’d seen before. When Johnny made up his mind, it was damn hard to change it. “I’m gonna try.”
He stood at the door a moment, and I knew he was waiting for me to join him, but the town had turned its back on me; betrayed me, and I wasn’t in any mood to help them.
I walked to the door, hoping to stop him. “Johnny, if you think I’m going to help because you’re my friend, you’re wrong.”
He gave me a slight nod and slipped out the door. I saw him run across the street and behind the buildings, knowing he was headed for the bank.
I waited another thirty seconds and made my decision. No matter what I said, there was no way I would let my friend take on that many guns by himself. I knew Criswell had tricked me into thinking Johnny had betrayed our friendship. I was going to help him, not for the town’s sake, but because he was my friend.
We got two of Criswell’s men without firing a shot. When we faced Criswell, he tried to get away in a buckboard loaded with gold. Stupid move cause there was no way he was gonna get away in the wagon.
Criswell’s men opened fire, but Johnny took them down with two quick shots. Then he left Criswell for me, and I appreciated it.
Criswell slapped the horses and started down the street, and then for some reason, he turned the wagon around and came back my way. I started running, bound and determined to stop the man who’d caused so much hurt.
I heard Johnny yell, “Go get him, Val.” I jumped on the back of the wagon and tackled him. With one good right cross, I sent the well-dressed man sailing into the nearest watering trough. It felt good knowing he could get dirty.
About that time, Murdoch and his ranch hands rode into town, guns blazing. I guess I know why Criswell turned around and headed the other way. Still not sure what the hell they were shooting at, but at least Johnny and I knew they were there if we needed them.
Johnny joined me at the water trough. We looked down at Criswell’s red face, water dripping from his hair and you know what…I felt better than I had in days.
Now it was my turn to apologize. When I’m wrong, I admit it. “Thanks a lot for helping out.”
“What do you mean?” Johnny grinned. “You did all the work.”
“Oh, I mean…before. You know what I mean.”
Johnny nodded and gave me a faint smile, he knew what I was talking about. He’d made me see the truth of the matter when it counted.
The gold was safe, and so was the town. Criswell and the men he had left were locked in the same jail cell that once held all the town’s guns.
When things settled down, I went back to the Sheriff’s office to get my sack. I had nothing left to stay for. The town had decided, and they could find another man to keep the peace as far as I was concerned.
“Sheriff. Going somewhere?”
I turned to find Murdoch and Johnny standing in the doorway. Behind them was Mayor Higgs. Well, to make a long story short, Higgs apologized. The fat man lied through his teeth, saying Criswell was only supposed to be temporary until I was back on my feet.
Higgs wiped his fat face with a kerchief. “We look forward to you coming back to work, Val.”
I stared at the mayor and then turned to look up at Murdoch Lancer.
There was a grin on the tall rancher’s face. “Well, Sheriff?”
“Yeah, Val, what do you say?” Johnny was grinning too. “You know you can’t just walk away.”
I shook my head and reached for my sack. That’s when Higgs spoke up again. “Val, we need you. I’ll talk to the Town Council about adding money to what the Cattle Growers Association is paying you.”
“And I’ll talk to the Association about a pay increase for you, Val,” Murdoch added. “We agreed to renew your contract after you left the other day.”
I didn’t trust that little toad Higgs any further than I could throw him, but Murdoch Lancer was another matter. I turned and rubbed my chin, thinking about things. I liked Green River well enough; it was the first place I’d felt settled since giving up gun-hawking along the border.
The downside was that I’d still have to deal with Higgs and the people of Green River. I knew they weren’t gonna think any better of me, and I still wasn’t gonna dress to their liking or get invited to dinner at any of their homes.
The upside was I’d still be close to Johnny, even if I had to throw his sorry ass in jail every Saturday night. I liked his old man, his brother, and the new little sister that came with the package. They all made me feel welcome whenever I was out to the ranch. Then there was the extra money… it does have a way of talking.
I turned around and nodded. “All right, as long as you come up with some more money, but I’m telling you now, Mayor, I’m the law here, and I’ll keep the peace the way I see fit.”
Higgs wiped his balding head and nodded. “Of course, Val. Of course. Thank you for staying. Now, I’d better go make sure the gold is where it’s supposed to be.”
“And don’t forget about the Town Council, Mayor,” Murdoch reminded the sweating man as he hurried out the door.
Higgs stopped at the door and turned back. “Yes, of course, right away.”
It hadn’t taken me more than a few minutes to settle back into my office and put my things back, including the 17 bullets I added to the kitty.
Two weeks later, the judge sentenced Clay Criswell and each of his men to ten years in San Quentin. The prison wagon took them away the next day.
The town settled back into its old routine. I did notice a change, however. It surprised me that people started talking to me more. More are nodding and smiling, like Mrs. Gates did a little while ago.
It was Saturday afternoon, and payday to boot, so I expected to be busy soon. I looked up the street and saw Johnny riding towards the saloon with Scott Lancer beside him. They both had smiles on their faces.
Johnny was wearing his usual red shirt and that black leather jacket. Not sure I like the way it looks on him, but hell, I don’t have to wear it.
“Hey, Val.” Johnny raised a hand and waved.
“Val,” Scott nodded.
I watched them tie off their horses and walk up onto the boardwalk in front of the saloon. Scott, out of habit, let Johnny go first. The seasoned gunfighter in the boy made him stop at the bat wing doors and peer into the darkened building before stepping inside.
Never thought I’d feel good about being in this town. Who knows, maybe in time, I can start trusting the people I’m paid to protect. Then again, you have to have trust before you can feel betrayal. Either way, Johnny was right; I couldn’t walk away.
Maybe I’ll stick to trusting the one person I know who’ll never betray me.
I found myself smiling and knew I’d better make sure I had the cots in the cells ready for the Lancer boys.
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20 thoughts on “Badge Without A Gun by SandySha”
I loved this! I could hear Val’s voice. Great episode tag.
I love this episode tag! Val was one of my favorite characters in Lancer and Warren Oates portrayed him so well. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Thank you Debra. I’m glad you liked it. Val is one of my favorites also.
Sandy, this makes the third time I’ve read this piece, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I can honestly say that it gets better with each reading. You have Val so perfectly written, and I can hear him speaking in my head. I’m amazed by your talent. I have one suggestion; write more!
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I always love Val. Great little story
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Great betrayal story, Sandy! I admit to being upset when Criswell told Val that Johnny and Scott had laughs at Val’s expense. I didn’t think Val would have believed it so quickly, but hey, the series writers had much wrong during Lancer’s two-year run. This is a great insight into our beloved sheriff. Thank for a good read!
What an enjoyable episode tag, Sandy. Thanks for bringing Scott in at the very end. LOL
Thank you RonD.
I really enjoyed this – wish Val had been in more episodes- lucky we have great writers to include him in more stories for us to read.
I love Val and writing him into my stories.
Thank you for reading.
Hi Sandy, Another great story! I love Val and Val with Johnny is even better. Thank you
Thank you Katie
Sandy, I always love a good Val story, and this is a fabulous one! You write his and Johnny’s friendship so well.
Another great story, well written as usual. Thank you.
Lovely story, it made me smile. Val was a great character. It’s a shame we didn’t see more of him.
Hi Sandy, one of my Favorite Episodes. Love it when Val and Johnny are together in a story. I have to agree with Val not liking the way that Black Leather Jacket looked on Johnny. Can’t imagine why Johnny wore in in this Episode. Glad it was the only one. Looking forward to more of your stories. I love the way you write.
Thank you. I’m glad you liked the story. I hope to have more stories in the future.
I certainly enjoyed this tag from Val’s point of view, although even when I first viewed the episode as a child I somewhat resented Val’s betrayal of his friendship with Johnny by believing Criswell’s lie.