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Meeting Day by SandySha

Word count 44,200

*I don’t own them, wish I did.
** A/R   Johnny is 15.  Pre-Lancer
**Thanks to Alice Marie, Susan, and Diana for help with the beta


A single rifle shot shattered the still desert air.   The shot was quickly followed by a mumbled curse and a verbal “tarnation.”

“Did you get it?” a young, hopeful voice asked, so close to the man’s words, it was hard to tell where one left off, and the other started.

Turning, Val could see a fleeting smile replaced by disappointment on the boy’s handsome features.  Just as quickly, the disappointed look was gone, and an all too familiar mask settled into place. 

The boy was good at hiding his emotions.

Lowering his head, Val stared at his scuffed, worn boots and then kicked at the dirt under his feet.

“That’s alright, Val,” Johnny said as he tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice.  He knew Val had seen it on his face earlier.  “We’ll get one yet.”

They watched as the rabbit Val was aiming at scurried further away.   It was the first rabbit or anything else they’d seen all day.

Val slid his rifle back into the scabbard on his horse before turning back to look at Johnny.  The mask was still in place.  Val figured it would be for a little longer. 

Mounting, they started riding east again.  They’d left Las Cruces, New Mexico six days ago for the over 300-mile ride to Odessa, Texas.  It wasn’t the first time they’d traveled so far for a job, but it was the first without a guarantee the job would be there when they arrived.

A week earlier, word had reached them, and every gunhawk west of the Mississippi River, of multiple range wars breaking out in West Texas.  The closest one was in Odessa.  All sides were hiring guns and there was good money to be made, if they could get there fast enough. 

They were hoping they had an advantage in that the name Johnny Madrid usually got them hired quickly and with better money than most.   It didn’t matter that Madrid was only fifteen years old.

They’d started with enough supplies to get them to Odessa, or so they thought.  The second day out, Johnny’s horse pulled up lame.   They had rested the horse two days before moving on.

Their food supplies quickly dwindled to the point where Val had given the last piece of jerky to Johnny the previous night and their only hope of something to eat today had just scampered out of sight.

Val was so hungry his stomach was gnawing at his backbone.  He figured Johnny was hungrier.  The boy was always hungry.

Val knew Johnny would never say a word about how hungry he was though. The boy had learned early in life what it was like to be hungry and that there was no use in complaining about something that couldn’t be changed. 

Suddenly, Johnny pulled up hard on the reins; pointing ahead.  

“Look, Papi!   A smile replaced the emotionless mask on Johnny’s face.

Val looked ahead but wasn’t seeing what was making the young man so happy.

Johnny jammed his finger in the air; again, pointing to something Val still wasn’t able to see.


Johnny kicked his horses’ sides and took off in a cloud of dust. 

Val followed, still trying to figure out why the boy was so excited.

Johnny pulled up and jumped from the saddle.  Walking a few feet ahead, he turned with his hands on his hips and a grin on his face.  He was standing next to a cactus.  Five to six-inch-long, pear-shaped growths covered the edges of the cactus pads.

By the time Val dismounted and led his horse to stand next to Johnny’s, the boy was already on his knees next to the cactus, gloves on and knife in hand, cutting away a pear-shaped growth.  Val had heard of the plant called Prickly Pear but had never tasted it.

There were a few ‘ouches’ muttered as the thorns of the cactus found their way through the glove and into Johnny’s fingers, but that didn’t stop the boy from reaching his goal.

“You ever had these before?” Val asked as he gingerly picked up one of the golden-red pears Johnny was piling next to his knee.

“Sure have,” Johnny answered without looking up.  “Lived with the White Mountain Apache for a few months after Mama died.  Not sure how old I was, maybe ten.”  Johnny kept cutting away at the fruit as he talked.

“Ouch.” Johnny laughed, pulling off his glove, he sucked the blood from his thumb.  “Gotta stop doing that.”

“You never told me that,” Val replied wondering how much more he didn’t know about the young man he’d known and loved for most of the boy’s life.

When Johnny was five, Val met and fell in love with Johnny’s mother.  At least he thought it was love.  It turned out it wasn’t Maria he’d loved; it was the small boy with blue eyes.  Val and Maria had lived together for over a year.  Back then, Val was the closest thing the boy had to a father.  He guessed that was still the case.

One day when he was away on a job, Maria packed up and left, taking Johnny with her.  Val looked for over six years until one day he found ‘his’ boy in Tucson, standing in the street facing down another man in a gunfight.  That was the day Val Crawford discovered the little blue-eyed boy, then twelve years old, had turned into a gunfighter going by the name of Johnny Madrid.    He hadn’t let him out of his sight since.

Johnny continued to talk, still not looking up.

“The Apache ate the Fruta del cactus,” Johnny said as he cut the last piece off.  “Now give me a hand.   I want to get all of these, and some of the flat leaves too.”

Johnny took a breath and looked up at Val with a smile on his face.   The smile slid away when he saw the expression on Val’s face. 

“I know it isn’t much,” Johnny hesitated, “but it tastes alright and ….”

“I figure you know what you’re talking about, boy,” Val smiled.  “I just didn’t’ realize you knew so much about the Indians.   I wish I’d have been there for you back then.”

“I do too, Val,” Johnny lowered his head.  Then looking up again, the smile was back. “Don’t matter, though.  We can’t change the past.  Guess it’s a good thing I spent some time with them, or we’d be eating trail dust tonight for supper.”

“That we would,” Val put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.   “So, you gonna’ show me how to fix this … ouch.”

Val pulled his thumb away from a thorn and sucked it as Johnny had done only moments earlier.

“Yeah, I will.” Johnny rocked back on his knees and looked at the cactus.  “There, got them all. Give me your hat, Val.”

Putting the small cactus fruits in their hats, Johnny looked around.  He was hungry now and wanted to eat.  Looking up at the sun, he sighed.  There was still a good three hours of sunlight left.  They could make a few more miles today.  With luck, they’d be in Odessa early tomorrow afternoon.

Val could see what Johnny was thinking. 

“What do you say we make camp up ahead.  It looks like there may be some shade in those rocks,” Val pointed east.   “I want to see how you’re gonna’ fix this feast for us.”

Johnny lowered his head and blushed.  “Ain’t gonna’ be a feast, Val.”

“May not be,” Val laughed, “but I right now anything to eat would be a feast.  Let’s go.”

Less than an hour later, the camp was set up and a fire was blazing.

Johnny stabbed each of the pear-shaped fruits with his knife and held them over the fire, burning off the thorns.   When they were all cleaned, he started to peel them.    Under the thick skin of the pear was a deep red, juicy fruit.     Johnny handed the first one to Val with a grin on his face.

Val looked at the offering and then back at Johnny, who had another of the fruits now peeled.

“Like this,” Johnny said as he bit into the fruit, juice running down his chin.  “Watch out for the seeds in the middle.”

Val bit into the red flesh of the fruit, surprised at the sweet taste.  

Johnny laughed at the look on Val’s face.

The two made short work of their ‘feast.’

“That was right good, boy,” Val sighed, watching Johnny wash the sticky juice off his chin.  “Not a rabbit mind you, but good all the same.  When we get into town tomorrow, I’ll buy you a real meal.”

Johnny frowned. “We got any money left?”

Val looked down and brushed the dirt off his shirt before answering. 

“Got close to two dollars.  Enough to get you something to eat.”

Johnny understood what Val was saying.  There was enough to get him something but not enough for them both.  By the time they paid to stable the horses, there wouldn’t be enough left for two meals.

Johnny changed the subject.  “You think we’ll get hired on somewhere pretty quick?”

Val knew what the boy was doing and decided to play along.

“Sure, we will.  Bet we get a job right off, and we’ll ask for an advance.  We get us some money, and we’ll be eating steak tomorrow night instead of beans.”

Johnny laughed.  “Me, I’m gonna’ get two steaks and all the trimmings and wash it down with a tall beer.”

Val chuckled.  He liked it when Johnny smiled.  It was if his entire face lit up. 

“Now hold on, boy,” Val countered.  “You get one steak with the trimmings, and we’ll talk about the beer.”

“Val, you know I’ve been drinking beer for as long as I can remember, and nothings gonna’ stop me tomorrow night,” Johnny rebutted with a smile.  “Well, that is unless we can’t find work right off.”

“Don’t you worry,” Val reassured him.  “You got to remember we have an ace in the hole and that’s you.  Nobody’s gonna’ turn down hiring you.  Me, maybe, but not you.”

“No, Papi,” Johnny sat up and gave Val one of his best Madrid glares.  “They either hire us both or neither one of us.  I won’t work without you, and I sure as hell won’t work on the other side of you.”

“Calm down, hijo,” Val reached across and put a hand on Johnny’s arm.   I was just funnin’ you.  You’re right, though.  Ain’t no way I’d work on a side you weren’t on.  We’re partners, and partners stick together.”

Val watched the mask slip away, and the fifteen-year-old boy reappear.   It frightened him at times how Johnny could become Madrid in the blink of an eye.

“Let’s get some sleep.  We’ll head out early in the morning.  The way I figure it we’ll get into town tomorrow afternoon,” Val said as he smoothed out his bedroll and laid down.  Watching as Johnny laid down, he wondered if going to Odessa had been such a good idea after all.


It was late afternoon when Johnny and Val rode into Odessa.  Between the trail dust and the lack of food, both were dragging. 

Their first stop was the livery stable.  With less than two dollars between them, they had to be careful about how they spent their money.  While Johnny checked out the stalls, Val negotiated a price for stabling the two worn out and hungry horses.  When Johnny nodded his approval of the livery, Val and the man running the stable agreed on two bits apiece for the stalls.

Making their way down the boardwalk, Johnny was taking in the sites.  Odessa was bigger than any of the towns along the border they usually worked.

“Come on, boy.  Stop gawking,” Val laughed as Johnny craned his neck at the pretty girl who past them.

“Val, did you see that dress she was wearing,” Johnny grinned.  “She’s about the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Even prettier than that blond filly in Las Cruces?  You remember, the one you kissed.”

Johnny blushed.  “No one’s prettier than her, Val.”

Val laughed, pulling Johnny along.    

Finding the saloon, Val stood back, waiting for Johnny to go in first.  It was Madrid, who was about to step into the saloon, and Val knew it.

From this moment on the way, Val treated Johnny would change.  The youthful boy would be put aside to be replaced by Val’s partner, a gunfighter with a reputation known and feared on both sides of the border.

Johnny stood at the batwing doors.   Pushing them open, he took a step inside before stopping to let his eyes adjust to the lower light.   Gunhawks filled the room, not a good thing, but one he expected.   If rumors were right, there were going to be a lot of gunhawks in town.

All eyes went to the doors as he stepped in.  Most of the talking in the room stopped.  Johnny almost smiled.  At least some of the men in the room knew who he was.

Johnny stepped further into the saloon and sidestepped to allow Val to enter.  Val went straight to the bar with Johnny a few steps behind him.  

“What’ll be, mister?” the bartender asked, looking Val over cautiously.  He’d been dealing with gunhawks for over two weeks and knew that one wrong step could get him a bullet.

“How much for a beer?”  Val asked, turning sideways to survey the room, knowing Johnny was doing the same. 

“Two bits will get you two glasses,” the bartender answered.

Val nodded.

“Two glasses then,” he answered, digging into his pocket for a quarter, as Johnny stepped up to the bar joining him.

The bartender looked at Johnny and frowned. 

“Mister, we don’t serve kids in here.”

The room went quiet again, as Johnny turned to look at the bartender, giving the man an icy glare.

“Mister, I haven’t been a kid in a long time.  Like my partner said, two beers.  Make sure the glasses are clean and the beer cold.”

The bartender hesitated.  He wasn’t going to let some wet behind the ears half-breed talk to him like that.   The bartender started to say something when another man moved behind the bar and whispered something in the bartender’s ear.

The bartender flushed and then nodded.  Reaching for two glasses, he filled them and set them on the bar; one in front of Val, the other in front of Johnny.  

“On the house, Mr. Madrid,” the bartender choked out in almost a whisper.

Johnny’s mouth turned up on one corner. “Thanks, mister.  We appreciate it.”

Taking the beer, Johnny raised it to his lips.  Looking at Val, he could see he was trying to hide a grin.

“You got any food to go with the beer?”  Johnny asked as he slowly drank his beer.

Johnny and Val had been to a saloon in El Paso that served free food if you bought a beer.  This beer might not have cost them anything, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask about the food.

The bartender shook his head. “No, sir, Mister Madrid.  There’s a place across the street that serves a good meal if you want something fancy.”

Johnny nodded, trying not to show his disappointment. 

“How about something not so fancy?” Val asked while taking another sip of his beer and licking his lips.

“There’s a Mexican cantina a few streets over if you like that kind of food.”  The bartender gulped when he realized who he was talking to and what he’d said.

Val watched Johnny’s face color at the bartender’s words.  Val stepped in, cutting trouble off before it started.

“Thanks, that’s the kind of food we’re used to eating since we come from along the border.  I expect there are a lot of fellows here like us.  You might want to think about how you tell someone about the cantina.  Comprende?”  

The bartender looked confused.

Val added, “Understand?”

“Yes, sir, I understand,” the bartender answered as he nervously wiped the bar surface with a towel.

“Now, you know who’s hiring around here?”   Val sat his glass down and looked around the room.

“That would be me,” a smooth voice with the hint of a southern accent came from a table in the corner.

Johnny and Val turned to see a man with a dark mustache, dressed in dark clothes grinning at them.

Johnny pushed off the bar, taking his beer with him.  He’d waited a long time for this beer, and he planned to drink every drop. 

Val started to move forward and stopped himself.   Johnny was best at negotiating the jobs and their pay.  The name Madrid was known to pay off.

“We’re looking for work,” Johnny said in a soft voice.  “You said you were hiring.  Want to tell us about the job?”

The man looked at Johnny and sighed, seeing only another wannabe looking to make a name for himself.   He’d watched the exchange at the bar.  Although he couldn’t hear, he figured the man with the boy had backed the bartender down. 

The man looked past Johnny and nodded to Val.  “I’m hiring ‘men.’  Are you interested?”

Johnny’s face had gone dark, and his eyes fixed on the man at the table.  Those in the room, who knew who Johnny was, had once again gone quiet.

“It’s me you want to talk to, mister,” Johnny’s voice was a soft drawl.

Val moved to stand next to his partner.  He didn’t want to get into a gunfight tonight and he sure as hell didn’t want Johnny shooting the man who might hire them.

“Mister, you have to excuse my partner,” Val drawled. “He don’t take kindly to being ignored. You might say it puts him into a pucker when someone does that.”

The man at the table straightened in his seat and gave them a crooked grin.  “Guess we ain’t been introduced properly. My name’s Day Pardee.”  

Pardee stood up, holding out his hand.

Val waited for Johnny to make the first move.  Finally, Val nudged Johnny’s arm. 

Johnny looked at Val and then at the outstretched hand.   Taking a few steps forward, he shook Pardee’s hand.

“Madrid,” Johnny’s voice was stilted, “Johnny Madrid.”

“Madrid?   Well, it’s good to meet you.  I’ve heard a lot about you,” Pardee commented, while still standing.  “You’re younger than I thought you’d be.”  Turning from Johnny, he looked at Val.

Val stepped forward and extended his hand. “Val Crawford.”

Pardee nodded. “Have a seat.”  Looking toward the bar, he called out, “Bartender another of whatever their drinking.”

Val pulled out a chair and sat down, once again giving Johnny a nudge.  Johnny looked around the room and then at the table.  Pardee was sitting with his back to the wall; the only open chair would put Johnny with his back to the door.

“I don’t sit with my back to any door, especially in a saloon,” Johnny drawled.

Pardee’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the boy still standing in front of him.

“That makes two of us,” Pardee answered.  “Don’t fancy having my back to the door, either.”

Johnny stayed where he was, his eyes fixed on Pardee.  Pardee returned the look.   Neither man moved.  Finally, it was Val who broke the stalemate.

“Hells bells, you two.” Val stood up and grabbed the table, jerking it away from the corner it was in, knocking over his chair in the process.   Pardee jumped out of the way as Val took two chairs, slamming them down in the corner, and then shoved the table back into place.

“Now,” Val hissed, “both of you, sit down.”  

Pardee looked at the new seating arrangement and laughed.  Bending at the waist, he waved his arm at Johnny.

“Take your pick, Madrid.”

Johnny moved around the table and sat down.  Pardee took the chair to his left.  Both men now sat with their backs to a wall.

Val huffed as he picked up his chair, put it back in place and sat down.

“Now, where the hell’s that beer!” Val demanded.

The bartender brought two beers to the table, sat them down, and quickly moved back to the bar.

As the room came alive again, Johnny picked up the beer and took a sip.  He didn’t want it.  This was his second beer on an empty stomach, and he knew if he drank it, Val would have to carry him out the door.

“You said you’re hiring,” Val spoke up.  “What’s the job and how much are you paying?”

Pardee settled, taking his eyes off Johnny and looked at Val.

“I only need one more man.  I’ve heard of Madrid, but I don’t need a named gun.  I’ll hire you, Crawford, if you’re interested,” Pardee offered.

“What about Madrid?” Val put the glass down that was almost to his lips.

“The other side is hiring.”

“Well, I guess we’ll both get hired on by the other side,” Val said as he pushed back from the table.  “Madrid, you ready to go?”

Johnny nodded.  He knew there was no way Val and he would ever split up on a job.  The thought of shooting at Val made him sick to his stomach.

Johnny pushed back from the table.

“Thanks for the beer, but it’s like Crawford said.  It’s both of us or neither.  We’ll be seeing you… or at least you’ll be seeing my gun.”

“Come on, Amigo.” Val stood up and started to walk away.

“Hold on,” Pardee called out.  “Alright, both of you, but Madrid gets only half pay.”

Val smiled.

“Naw, that’s not how it works.”   Val looked around the room, recognizing a lot of men that had worked with and for Johnny.   “You see Johnny here is usually ramrodding the outfit, not playing second fiddle to the likes of you. Talk to some of these fellows and ask them about Madrid.   If you change your mind, and we haven’t hired on with someone else, you can find us at the cantina.”

Johnny smirked at Pardee and turned away, leading the way out of the saloon.  Once on the boardwalk, Val and Johnny headed toward the cantina.  They got a few buildings away before Johnny stopped, pulling Val into an alley.

“Val, …,” Johnny started biting his lower lip.

“Hold up, hijo,” Val smiled, putting a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “I know what you’re gonna’ say.”

“No, you don’t, Val,” Johnny grinned. “I was gonna’ ask if we had enough money to split a meal?  I gotta’ tell you beer on an empty stomach has just about done me in.  I gotta’ get something to eat.  Right now, I’m ready to go share the oats with the horses.”

Val chuckled.  He’d completely forgotten about food with everything happening in the saloon.  Leave it to Johnny to get their priorities straight.

“Come on, boy,” Val put an arm on Johnny’s shoulder. “Let’s see what we can find.”

Johnny stopped short and looked up at Val with a frown.  “Where we gonna’ sleep tonight?”

“Probably with the horses.  You wouldn’t mind that, would you?”

“Naw, I wouldn’t mind.  Now, can we eat?”


Val and Johnny had no trouble finding the cantina.    The aroma of carnitas, frijoles, and fresh tortillas drew then through the door.  Walking into the dimly lit building, they quickly found a table in the back.

Val took the money from his pocket, laid it on the table, and counted it.  He had exactly $1.35.   Not much, but enough to get the boy something to eat.

A young senorita watched the two men walk in.  There was no doubt they were gunfighters.  There had been many to visit the cantina in the last two weeks. 

As she started toward the table, an older man grabbed her arm, pulling her aside.  He looked at the pistoleros, giving them a broad smile.

“I’ll see to them, Rosa,” the man said.  “Get your Mama; ask her to come here.”

Rosa did as her father told her.

The older man approached Val and Johnny’s table.   “Senors, what can I get you?”

“Senor, what can we get for $1.35 American?”  Val asked, holding out his hand and showing the money to the man.

“Senor,” the man turned to look at Johnny.  “You are Juanito, Juanito Madrid, are you not?”

Johnny looked at the man and then nodded. “Si, Senor.  I’m Johnny Madrid.  Do I know you?”

An older Mexican woman came from the back, wiping her hands on an apron.  “Papa, que?” (translation:  Papa, what?)

The man ran to the woman and took her arm, dragging her across the room.  Pointing at Johnny, the man grinned, “Este es Juanito, Mama.”  (translation: This is Johnny, Mama)

“Quien?”  The woman looked from her husband to Johnny.   (translation: Who?)

The man looked frustrated as he pointed to Johnny again.  “Este es Juanito, Mama. Juanito Madrid.”  (translation: This is Johnny, Mama.  Johnny Madrid)

The woman’s face lit up as she looked back at Johnny.  Reaching down, she pulled him from the chair.  Putting her arms around him in a hug, speaking in rapid Spanish, she began telling him how happy she was to see him.   Then pushing him away at arm’s length, she scolded him for being too thin, saying he needed fattening up.

Johnny flashed the woman one of his heart-stopping smiles, that turned women to putty in his hands.  

“Si, Mamacita.” 

That’s all it took.  Val had seen this reaction from people along the border.  He never expected it this far north.  Smiling, Val knew they were about to get the best meal of their lives.

Within minutes the food started arriving.  First came tamales, followed by carnitas and frijoles.  A bottle of tequila appeared on the table with two glasses.  The Senora scrutinized Johnny, shook her head, picked up one of the glasses, and brought him a glass of milk.   

Trying to swallow a mouthful of food, Johnny managed to get out the words, “Gracias, Mamacita.”

That sent the woman scurrying back into the kitchen only to come out with a plate of churros covered with sugar and cinnamon.

By the time they had consumed as much as they could, both Val and Johnny were ready to bust.  Johnny looked down at his gun belt and then around the room.  Loosening the belt, he let out a sigh of relief.

Val leaned back and looked at the two people who’d feed them. 

“Senor, Senora, I gotta’ tell you that’s the best food I ever ate.  Gracias.”

Val reached in his pocket and pulled out the $1.35 and held it out to the cantina owner.

“No, Senor… es gratis.  Free for Senor Madrid and his amigo.”   The man and woman smiled as they looked at Johnny.   (translation: is free)

Johnny’s elbow was on the table and his head resting in his hand, eyes closed.   

“Gracias.  We appreciate it.  I better get Juanito over to the livery and bed him down for the night before he falls out of that chair.” Val laughed as he started to stand up.

The woman looked at him in horror.  “No.  No, Senor.  Juanito cannot sleep in the estable.  We have a room… in the back with two beds.  You will sleep there.”

Val looked past the woman to the back.   Scanning the cantina, he saw only a few people were eating, and none of them gunhawks.    He knew he needed to check the room out before letting Johnny sleep there.

“Senor, … I don’t know how to say this without insulting you, but you know some would stop at nothing to hurt Johnny.  I need to see the room first before…”

The owner nodded his understanding. 

“Si, entiendo, Senor.”  He waved an arm toward the back of the cantina, “Go. See the room.  There is an outside door down the hall from the room so you can come and go as you need.   We keep it locked from the inside at night.”

Val shook Johnny awake.

“Amigo, wake up.  I need you to keep your eyes open for a little longer.  The Senor and Senora have a room they’re gonna’ let us use.  I’m gonna’ go check it out.”

Johnny was wide awake now.  He looked around the room as he listened to what Val was saying. 

“Sure, Val, go ahead.  I’ll wait here.”

Val followed the man to the back of the cantina and looked the windowless room over.    It was small, but the two beds that looked mighty good to him right then.  Val walked to the end of the short hall and pushed the outside door open.  It opened into an alley with access from both ends.   They could get out quickly if needed.

Val walked back to the front of the cantina.

“Looks good.  Come on; let’s get you to bed.” Val motioned Johnny to follow him.

Johnny stood up, picking up his hat.  He looked at the couple and smiled.  “Senor, Senora, gracias.  I have to ask you why you’re doing this for us?” 

The couple spent the next few minutes telling their story.  The cantina owners were Sofia and Arman Diaz.  They along with their daughter Rosa had moved to Odessa from El Paso the year before.  Before El Paso, they lived in a small village near Juarez.  A village Johnny and Val had helped a year earlier.  

Both Johnny and Val remembered the small village plagued by bandits.  As in most situations where they helped people south of the border, they’re only pay was food and a place to sleep.  Now when they needed it, they were once again getting food and a place to sleep from the same people.

“You see, Juanito, we owe you a debt.  It is an honor to have you here; an honor to serve you as you served our people.”

Johnny looked at Val, not knowing what to say.  He never knew what to say to people like this.  People who looked at him as their champion.

“There is no debt to be repaid, Senor,” Johnny said quietly.  “You’ve repaid me with your good food and a place to sleep.  For that, I …we; thank you.”

Val and Johnny said their good nights and went to the small room.

Johnny looked at the bed and sighed.  It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.  They didn’t have a job yet, but fate had given them what they needed most, a full stomach and a safe place to sleep.

Unbuckling his gun belt and removing his boots, Johnny pulled back the blanket covering the bed.  Seeing clean sheets, he sighed again. 

Just as he started to take his shirt off, there was a knock at the door.  Johnny picked up his gun as Val opened the door.  Standing outside were Senor and Senora Diaz, both holding pitchers of water and washbasins.  They also had wash clothes and towels.   Handing their gifts to Val and Johnny, the two wished them a good night and left.

Grinning, Val set his pitcher and washbasin down.   Neither of them had bathed in over a week and they hated being dirty when they climbed into the clean beds.  Val didn’t know how they had gotten so lucky when their luck had been running so bad, but he wasn’t going to question it.

They both cleaned up as best they could and slid between the clean sheets, asleep within minutes. 


Val was the first to wake the next morning. 

Johnny was lying on his stomach; arms and legs spread out with the bedcovering on the floor.   Val had tried to sleep with the boy only once and learned that you didn’t sleep in the same bed with Johnny unless you didn’t want to sleep.  By the next morning, Val had bruises over his entire body from the boy’s arms and legs hitting him.

Deciding to let Johnny sleep, Val dressed and picked up his gun belt.  He walked into the hall and looked around, wondering where the outhouse was.   The aroma of fresh coffee pulled him into the kitchen.

Senora Diaz looked up from what she was doing and smiled.  “Senor Crawford, did you sleep well?”

“Si, Senora, slept real good.  Senora where is the …?” Val cleared his throat and blushed.

Senora Diaz laughed, knowing what he was asking, and pointed to a door behind her.

By the time Val was back inside, Johnny was up and in the kitchen.  Johnny started to ask the same question Val had asked earlier when Val pointed to the door. 

Morning routines out of the way, Senora Diaz sat them down to a hearty breakfast.  

“Senor Diaz?” Val leaned back in his chair, coffee cup in hand.   “Can I ask you something?”

“Si, Senor Crawford, anything.”

“Call me Val, Senor.”

“Si, Senor Val. “What do you wish to know?” 

“What can you tell us about the range war brewing here in Odessa.  Who’s hiring guns?”

Senora Diaz sat down at the table as her husband spoke.  

“There are two muy grande, very large, ranchos in Odessa.  Senor Dean owns one; Senor Tom Dean.  He has the ranch northeast of town.  He has lived here for many years.

Senor Matt Hamilton owns the ranch next to Senor Dean.  Senor Dean claims that Senor Hamilton has moved the boundary markers on his land and is trying to claim some of Senor Dean’s land as his own.   The land, Senor Hamilton says is his, is the headwater of the river that runs across Senor Dean’s property.”

Johnny listened to Senor Diaz, thinking about who was right and who was wrong.  He’d learned the hard way to pick the right side in a fight whenever he could.

“Senor, has Dean gotten a surveyor to confirm the property lines?” Val asked, knowing what Johnny was thinking.

“I do not know, Senor Val.  All I know is that both Senor Dean and Senor Hamilton have hired muchos pistoleros,” Senor Diaz looked from Val to Johnny.   “Senor, do you and Juanito know who you will work for?”

Johnny leaned forward, shaking his head.  “No, Senor, not yet.   We’re going to go out and see who’s hiring today.  We thought we were going to get hired on yesterday, but the man only wanted Val, not me.”

“Que!?” Diaz looked surprised.  “Is the hombre loco!?  Does he not know who you are!?”

Val laughed.

“Yeah, he knew who he was, but all he saw was a fifteen-year-old kid.  There have been a lot of those over the years that look at Johnny and only see how young he is.”

“Quince?” Senora Diaz gasped.  “You are so young to have done so much, nino.”

Johnny closed his eyes.  He wasn’t a nino and hadn’t been in a lot of years, but he didn’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings.

“What is the name of the man who tried to hire you?” Senor Diaz asked.

“Pardee,” Val answered, “Day Pardee.”

“Si, I have heard of this Pardee.  He is new to the area.  I know nothing of him.  I only know the men he has hired so far are very bad.  Many of them come here to eat. They are bad-mannered to Rosa and Sofia.  Sometimes they do not pay.”

Val and Johnny knew the type.  They’d worked with them over the years more often than they would have liked. 

“Senor, do you know who Pardee is working for?”  Johnny asked as he stood and adjusted his rig.

“Si, Pardee works for Senor Dean.  You will try to work for him, or will you go to Senor Hamilton for work?”

“Not sure.  Do you know who’s heading up Hamilton’s gunfighters?”  Val asked as he stood up.

“Si, Senor Jack Slade.”

Val looked at Johnny and shrugged.  They’d worked with and against Slade in the last three years.  Knowing Slade was working for Hamilton made them think twice about who they were going to work for.

Walking out of the cantina and into the bright morning light, Val and Johnny decided to check on the horses.   The short trip to the livery gave them time to talk.

“What do you think?  We gonna’ go up against Slade?” Johnny asked as they walked.

“We’ve done it before.  It’s just how the game’s played.  If this Pardee fellow doesn’t give us what we want, we’ll ride out and talk to Slade.  You alright with that?”

Johnny nodded.  They needed the work and to be on the same side.  If they couldn’t do that with Pardee, they’d try Slade. 

Something was nagging at the back of Johnny’s mind that left him uneasy.  He hadn’t liked Pardee when they met.  There was something about the man that gave him an uncomfortable feeling.

Johnny didn’t know it, but Val was having misgivings of his own about Pardee. 

After checking the horses, they headed to the saloon.  It was going to be the one and the only chance they were going to give Pardee to hire them.

Johnny led the way into the saloon followed by Val.   Scanning the room, Johnny saw Pardee sitting at the same table he was at the night before.    At the bar, Johnny recognized a tall, lean man dressed in black, his gun tied low on his leg.  The last time they’d worked with Slade was the year before in Arizona.

Slade, seeing Johnny and Val, nodded.   Johnny nodded back.  Walking past Slade Johnny went to Pardee as Val stopped at the bar.

“Pardee,” Johnny drawled.  “You’ve had time to think about who you want to hire.”

Pardee saw the two men come in and watched the interchange between Madrid and Slade.  He’d already made up his mind that he wanted Madrid on his side in the coming war. 

“I have.  I’ll hire both you and Crawford,” Pardee answered with a twisted smile that Johnny didn’t like.

Johnny heard Val walking up behind him and waited to ask the next question.

“How much?”

“150 a month, that’s five a day and bullets,” Pardee grinned.

Johnny huffed. “Fifteen a day for each of us, with a hundred dollars in advance.”

“Kid, you aren’t worth fifteen a day,” Pardee snorted.

Johnny tilted his head and smiled.  Looking over his shoulder, he saw Slade watching and listening.

“I’m worth it and so’s Crawford.  Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll give you ten a day, Crawford eight, and twenty dollars in advance.”

“Be seeing you.” Johnny put his fingers to the brim of his hat, tipping it before starting to turn.

“Ten a day and a fifty-dollar advance.  That’s three hundred a month for each of you, more than I’m paying anyone else.”

Johnny hesitated a moment and then looked at Val.    Ten a day was good money, almost top gun money.  Of course, Johnny knew Pardee was hoping they’d get killed and he wouldn’t have to pay either one of them.


Day reached in his pocket and pulled out fifty dollars, tossing it on the table.  

“Come out to the ranch this afternoon.  I’ll introduce you to the rest of the men… and, Madrid, you better be as good as they say you are.”

“I’m am.”

Val reached down and picked up the money, putting it in his pocket before turning back to the bar.  

Slade picked up the glass of tequila in front of him and took a sip before speaking.  “See you two are going to be working for Pardee.  You know anything about him?”

Johnny shook his head.  “Nope.  We just met him yesterday.  Understand he’s working for Dean.  That means you’re heading up Hamilton’s crew?”

“That’s right,” Slade answered.  “Too bad you and Crawford are on the losing side this time.  I’ll be seeing you.”  Slade downed his drink and started to turn away.  Turning back, he said, “You know I’d have given you that fifteen a day.  Keep that in mind the next time we’re in the same range war.”

“I will,” Johnny answered with a lopsided grin.  “The next time.”

The bartender brought two beers and sat them down in front of Val and Johnny.   Johnny looked at Val, hoping that they hadn’t made a mistake in going to work for Pardee.


It was early afternoon when Val and Johnny rode into Dean’s ranch; the Bar D.  Senor Diaz said it was very big.  It turned out Senor Diaz was wrong.  The Bar D wasn’t just big; it was huge. 

The main house was the largest Val or Johnny had ever seen.  There were three bunkhouses, three large barns, four corrals, and a multitude of outbuildings. 

Stopping in front of the main house, two men stepped onto the porch.  One was Pardee, the other they assumed was Dean.  Dean looked to be an inch or so shorter than Pardee’s six foot, and at least a foot wider.  The greying sideburns and mustache gave Dean a look of distinction.

Val was the first to dismount, stepping forward he pushed his hat back off his forehead waiting for Johnny.  He still had an uneasy feeling about Pardee and the job.

Johnny swung his leg over the saddle horn and slid to the ground.  Taking his place next to Val Johnny waited for it to begin.  It was always at this point in a job where the boy had to prove he was a man.  Most folks saw only his youthful appearance, not the battle-hardened gunfighter he turned into when needed.

Tom Dean looked at Johnny before turning to Pardee.

“Pardee, you’ve got to joking.” Dean took the cigar out of his mouth and spat out a piece of tobacco.   “You hired a boy for what did you say, ten dollars a day?”   As Dean turned to go back inside, he glared at Johnny and then ground out the words, “Un-hire him.”

Johnny gave Dean a slight smile and in a soft, low voice said, “Mister Dean, I’m already hired, and I stay hired until I say different.”  

“Is that so, boy.  Go grow up, then you can play with the big boys,” Dean laughed, as he put his cigar back in his mouth and again started to turn.

A single shot took the end of the cigar off.

Dean sputtered and stumbled back, pulling the remains of the cigar from his mouth.  Turning, he saw Johnny with a Colt in his hand and a wisp of smoke snaking from the barrel.

“Why you little…,” Dean growled.

“I wouldn’t, mister,” Val spoke for the first time, hand on the butt of his gun. “If he’d wanted you dead, you would be.  If you’re sure you don’t want us here, we’ll leave, but we’re keeping the advance.  Slade’s already offered us fifteen a day.”

Val looked at Johnny.  Gun still in hand, the boy was coiled as tight as a rattler ready to strike. 

“Madrid, let’s go.  We ain’t welcome here.” Val patiently waited for Johnny to make the next move.

Giving Dean another faint smile, Johnny holstered his Colt.  Stepping back to his horse, he was about to mount up when Dean called out to him.

“Hold on, boy.   Was that just luck, or are you that good?”

Johnny gave Dean a long, hard glare.  When he did answer is was in a soft drawl, “Pardee knows.  Ask him.”

Dean snorted, “Well, I’ll be damned.  Pardee didn’t tell me your name.  I’m Tom Dean, and I own all this.” 

“The name’s Madrid, Johnny Madrid.”

Dean’s brow wrinkled, and he swallowed hard.  He’d heard of Madrid.  It was Madrid he’d wanted to ramrod his gunfighters before Pardee had shown up.  Finding out Madrid was so young was a surprise.

Regaining his composure, Dean started to put the remnants of his cigar in his mouth before looking at the stub and tossing it aside.  

“Madrid, you’ll do,” Dean gave Johnny a weak smile.  “Pardee will show you where to bunk.”

Johnny nodded.   Looking at Val, he couldn’t tell from the expression on his partner’s face what he was thinking. 

Pardee stepped down from the porch. 

“We have the first bunkhouse.  You can stable your horses in the middle barn over there.  I’ll be out later and give everyone their orders.”

Neither Val nor Johnny said anything as they led their horses to the barn.    Stepping into a stall, Val spoke for the first time.

“Got a little close, didn’t you?”

Johnny smiled.  “Nope.  I knew what I was doing.  Missed him by a mile.”

“Sure, you did.  Do me a favor and try not to kill the boss before we get paid.”

Johnny laughed.  “Like you said, amigo.  I always hit what I aim at.  If I’d have wanted him dead, he’d be dead.”


Once the horses were bedded down, Val and Johnny made their way to the bunkhouse.  It wasn’t hard to tell Dean’s regular cowhands from the gunfighters; it never was.   The regular ranch hands had, for a better word, a look of respectability to them.   They also stayed clear of the gunhawks.

Finding a place against the back wall of the bunkhouse, Val and Johnny dropped their saddlebags on the beds.   Val plopped down and stretched out.

Johnny looked around at the men Pardee hired.  Thirty gunhawks were milling around.   Johnny recognized several men he and Val had worked with before.  The majority, however, were strangers.  

“Val, I’m going to clean my gun,” Johnny announced, taking a pouch out of his saddlebag containing gun oil and cleaning supplies.

Val nodded.  “I’ll see if they have anything cooking.  Don’t know about you, but I could eat.”

“I could eat.” Johnny smiled as he turned toward the door. 

“Johnny!” Val called out.  “Take your back up piece with you.  Don’t want you out there with your gun in pieces if one of these fellows decides they want to make a name for themselves.”

Reaching into his saddlebag, Johnny lifted out another pistol.  Checking the cylinder, making sure it was loaded, he slipped the gun into his waistband then grabbing a blanket from his bunk, before heading out the door.

Finding a shade tree to the side of the house, Johnny spread the blanket on the ground.  Looking around to make sure he was alone; he took off his rig, laying it down.  Sitting down, he began the ritual of cleaning his Colt.

Johnny learned early there were two things that you took care of before himself, and that was his horse and his gun.  Not necessarily in that order.

He’d just gotten his Colt when someone blocked the light throwing a dark shadow across the blanket.  His hand was on his back up piece in a split second.

Looking up, Johnny found a tall, skinny boy with blondish-brown hair smiling down at him.

“Howdy,” the boy said.  “You really Johnny Madrid?”

Johnny nodded, not taking his eyes off the gun he was cleaning. 

“My name’s Isham; got hired on yesterday.  This is my first gun job.  Mind if I sit?”

Johnny looked up at the boy who was grinning ear to ear. 

“Sure,” Johnny answered, “sit; take a load off.”

Isham sat down to watch.  

Johnny glanced up from what he was doing. “So, this is your first job.  How old are you?”

“Seventeen this last April,” Isham answered enthusiastically.   “How old are you? You don’t look as old as I figured you’d be.”

Johnny snorted. “Guess I’m fifteen, close to sixteen, not real sure.  As far as being old, sometimes I feel like I’m forty.”

“You wanna’ be friends?” Isham asked with that same grin on his face.

Johnny looked at the boy, figuring he was so green he’d be dead by the end of the week.

Shaking his head, Johnny responded, “Don’t think that would be a good idea.  Men in this business don’t have many friends.  Tell you what, if you’re still breathing this time next week, we’ll be friends.  That’s the best I can offer you.”

“You don’t think I’ll be alive this time next week?” There was a look of surprise on Isham’s face.

“Didn’t say that,” Johnny replied. “Just said if you weren’t dead, we’d be friends.   You keep your head down when the shooting starts; you’ll be fine.”

Johnny finished cleaning his gun and put it back together. 

Standing, Johnny put on his rig; tightening and then retightening the belt until he had it like he wanted it.  Looking down, he saw Isham still sitting on the blanket.

“Got to go, kid,” Johnny said as he reached for the backup gun and the blanket.

“Ain’t no kid, Madrid,” Isham countered.  “Besides, I’m older than you.”

Johnny laughed.

“You’ll never be older than me, Isham.   Come on; I’m hungry.   They gotta’ have something to eat around here.”

“They do,” Isham grinned.  “Food ain’t half bad, either.”

As the two boys walked back toward the bunkhouse, Val watched.   He’d wondered what they were saying.  It looked like there was a smile on Johnny’s face.  Val didn’t see that often.

Others had tried to become friends with Johnny over the years, and it had never worked out.  Val had become the closest thing Johnny had to family, so he’d became confessor, friend, big brother, and when needed, father. 

Johnny knew how to handle a gun; there was no one better.  He just had a hard time picking friends that didn’t end up dead within a month of meeting him.

Johnny spotted Val and went straight to him.  “Val, this is Isham.  Isham, this is my partner, Val Crawford.”

“Nice to meet you, Crawford,” Isham said holding out his hand, grinning.

“Isham, is it?” Val took the boy’s slim hand.  “You been in the game long?”

“No, sir,” Isham grinned again.  “This is my first job.  Want to learn from the best.  Figure Pardee’s the best.”

Val didn’t say anything, just nodded.

Val turned his attention to Johnny.  “Madrid, you hungry?  I found the cookhouse.”

“Sure am,” Johnny smiled and followed Val, leaving Isham standing alone.  Two seconds later Isham had caught up with them.

As evening settled in, everyone waited for Pardee to give the orders.   The younger gunhawks were doing all the talking.  The older ones sat back listening, wondering if they were ever that young.

Pardee walked into the bunkhouse, looking around.  Satisfied everyone was there he began to lay out his plan.

“I’m gonna’ give you some background on what’s going on here.  You work for me, and I work for Tom Dean.  Dean’s neighbor, Matt Hamilton, owns the property that backs up to Dean’s northwest pasture.   Hamilton’s moved the boundary stakes so that Dean has lost the river that goes through that parcel.  Our job is gonna’ be to make sure Hamilton gives back the land he took.”

Everyone was quiet.   Johnny looked around, knowing no one wanted to question the reasons behind the war. 

Pardee nodded.   Not one of them had questioned if Dean was in the right or not.  That was good because he didn’t care one way or the other.   Just as he started to give his first order, Val spoke up.

“Has Dean had a survey done?  Can he show Hamilton that he’s wrong?” 

“Don’t matter,” Pardee answered, irritated at the question.

“Just saying, it could save a lot of lives if he could,” Val replied in a slow drawl.

“That’s between Dean and Hamilton.  Our job is to convince Hamilton to back away and leave the river to Dean.”   Pardee glared at Val.  “Any more questions?”

When none came, Pardee roamed around the room looking at the men, stopping in front of Val. 

“Crawford, I want you to take half the men up to Dean’s north pasture and cut any fences you find on this side of the river.   Dean hasn’t strung any fence up that way.   Anything you find was put there by Hamilton.”  

Val nodded.

Pardee looked at Bushrod Smith. “Smith, you take the other half and do some cow tipping* over at Hamilton’s south pasture. 

Johnny snorted.   He knew cow tipping was a useless practical joke played on new gunhawks.

Pardee’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Johnny.  “Smith, I want you to take the young guns with you, and that includes Madrid.”

Both Val and Johnny’s heads shot up.  They were being split up.  It happened, but not often. 

Bushrod looked at Johnny.  He knew Madrid and Crawford rode together and seldom separated on a job.  When Madrid didn’t object, he nodded his agreement with Pardee’s order.

“Alright, let’s go.  I want everyone back here by midnight,” Pardee ordered as he headed for the door.

Everyone gathered their gear as they made their way out of the bunkhouse, starting for the barn.  Once the horses were saddled, Val pulled Johnny aside.

“Watch your back, hijo,” Val whispered.  “I don’t like the idea of Pardee splitting us up.”

“I know, Val,” Johnny answered looking around to make sure no one was listening.  “You watch yourself, too, Papi.  Don’t want to have to come back here and find out you got your ass shot.  That would piss me off something fierce.”

Val smiled and grasped Johnny’s shoulder.   “See you later, Amigo.”

While Val and his crew went to cut fences, Johnny rode out behind Bushrod Smith.  Johnny looked at the men with him.  Almost half of them were young, under the age of eighteen and all of them except for Johnny and Smith were on their first gun job.

Johnny wondered why Pardee was wasting time with a practical joke like cow tipping.  Maybe it was his way of initiating the new gunhawks, but why include Madrid with those new to the game.  He supposed he wanted to find out who would follow his orders and who wouldn’t. 

Johnny remembered the first time he’d gone cow tipping.  He’d provided a great deal of entertainment to the older, experienced guns.  Of course, that was years ago and Madrid was far from inexperienced now.   Still, Johnny always enjoyed watching the new men being initiated with some semi-harmless cow tipping.  

Johnny had learned quickly that the problem with cow tipping is you have to sneak up on the cow without it or the herd realizing it.  Cows don’t usually sleep standing up, but if you get to them early enough in the evening before they lay down, you have a good chance of tipping one.

It takes more than one man to tip a 1500-pound steer, and they always got right back up.  The ultimate trick to cow tipping was to get out of the way of an angry cow or steer that didn’t want to end up on its side.  Also, once the herd was aware of their presence, they would start making enough noise to raise the dead.

Anyone who thought that cow tipping would keep Hamilton or Slade’s men busy knew nothing about cows.   There were those who actually believed that once a cow was tipped, he’d stay down; they were wrong.     

Bushrod Smith looked at the men with him and then at Johnny.

“Madrid, show’em how it’s done,” Smith ordered with a grin.

Johnny slowly turned his head, glaring at Smith.   He held the gaze until Smith lowered his eyes.

In a lower voice, Smith said, “Johnny, just do it.”

“Why the hell not.  Pardee’s paying me good money, and I don’t have to shoot anyone.” 

“Alright, Isham you and four others come with me.” Johnny gave them a crooked grin.  “You see fellows tipping a cow is tricky work.”

Johnny watched the faces of the young men hanging onto his every word.  Most were just impressed at being in the presence of Johnny Madrid.

“It takes at least five of you to get it done right,” Johnny continued.  “One man would have a hard time getting those critters on the ground.  So, first, you sneak up on the cow.  Don’t want her bolting.”

Johnny started walking softly toward the closest cow.  The sleepy animal raised her head and stared at the young man.   Looking around, Johnny saw the five men with him tip-toeing their way toward him.

“Alright,” Johnny whispered, “two of you take the front and two get the rear.  Those in the front, grab her around the neck.  The ones in the rear grab hold of her tail and hold on tight.  Now you turn her head like you’re going to throw her for branding and pull her rear down by pulling the tail around.  Don’t give her a chance to get away. Once you have hold of her, the fifth man needs to give the cow a good push. Might want to get a running start.  The big lady won’t know what hit her.  She’ll lay right down.” 

Johnny hid his grin.  From the sidelines, he heard Bushrod Smith snicker.  Johnny turned his head to look at Bushrod, who was bent over his saddle horn, holding his sides, trying not to laugh out loud.  

Bushrod Smith had worked several range wars with Madrid.  The first time he’d seen the kid he, like so many others, thought he was just that…a kid.  It hadn’t taken him long to learn that Johnny Madrid was a force unto himself.   He may have looked young, but Madrid had an old soul and was as deadly with his Colt as anyone he’d ever seen.   

Smith had never seen Madrid laughing and having fun.  The young man tiptoeing up to a cow was someone he’d never seen before.  It looked like Madrid was enjoying himself.

“Now, when she’s down, you need to get out of the way real quick,” Johnny continued his instructions, “cause there’s always the chance you’ll piss her off, and she’ll come back up. You don’t want to be in the way when she does.”  

Johnny stepped back and looked at the faces of the men with him.   Hiding his grin, Johnny cleared his throat before saying, “Now, you fellows try it.”

The five young men tiptoed up to the cow.  They did just as he’d told them.  The cow took exception and started to move out of their grasp.

The men wrestled the animal until it looked like they weren’t going to succeed.  Johnny looked at the fifth man who was still standing by, ready to advance.

“Well, boy, get it done.  What are you waiting for?” Johnny asked, watching the man ready to run toward the steer.  “Be sure to push up high on her side.”

A second later, the young man hit the cow’s side.  The cow toppled with the boy flipping over the animal and landing on his back on the other side.   The first cow was down and just as quickly was back on her feet.

Johnny looked around laughing.  The other men didn’t look like they were anxious to get in on the fun. 

“Get to it, boys.  There are a lot of cows out here.  Pardee wants them down.”

A few men stood their ground, knowing the entire exercise was nothing more than a joke.  When Johnny glared at them, they looked at Smith. 

“You fellows heard Madrid’s instructions and Pardee wants them cows tipped, so best get to it,” Smith answered their silent question with as straight a face as he could muster.   

Johnny stood back watching the other men trying to run down cows to tip.  He was smiling as Isham sat on the side of a downed steer with a grin on his face.  Johnny wondered if Isham knew the difference between a cow and a steer, but what the hell. 

Isham and four other men had tried to topple the steer for more than thirty minutes.  Isham’s grin vanished when the steer bolted to his feet tossing the fledgling gunfighter onto his backside.

Bushrod Smith hadn’t even gotten off his horse; he just watched with an amused look on his face.  Two hours later he said he’d had enough, ordering everyone to mount up.

From out of nowhere, they heard a loud curse.  Everyone turned in time to see one of the younger men desperately trying to keep his balance as the right heel of his boot found a fresh cow patty.  Forgetting to let go of the tail he was holding; the boy continued to slide behind the moving cow.  When he did let go, the new gunhawk went down, face first into yet another fresh pile of manure.

The noise of men laughing stirred the already irritated herd into almost stampeding.

With that, Smith gave the order again for the men to mount and the tired and smelly men made their way back to the Bar D.

Not surprisingly, they hadn’t seen anything of Hamilton’s men or Slade’s gunfighters.  Johnny figured Slade was making a run of his own on Dean’s ranch tonight.


Johnny was sitting outside the bunkhouse, anxiously awaiting Val’s return.  It was close to midnight, and there was still no sign of him or the men who had ridden with him.  It took everything Johnny had to look calm.

The sound of horses coming into the ranch yard brought Johnny to his feet.   Val and his men rode in slowly.   Johnny saw Pardee and Dean walk out of the house.  Val rode over to them and stopped.   After a quick conversation, Val tipped his hat and made his way to the barn.

Johnny sauntered across the yard to the barn.  Once inside the dimly lit building, he watched the men start to unsaddle their horses and rub them down.  Johnny waited until the man closest to Val was finished and walked out of the barn before going to his partner.

“How’d it go?” Johnny asked as Val brushed his horse down.

“Went fine,” Val answered, not looking up.  “How about you?  How did it go?”

Johnny laughed.  “A waste of time, but I had some fun.  You should have seen those boys out chasing down cow trying to tip them.”

Val looked sideways at Johnny’s smiling face and then turned back to his task. 

“You tired?” Johnny asked, the smile still on his face.  “Figured you might be hungry when you got in.”  

Val huffed. “Yeah, I’m hungry and tired.  I’m getting too old for this kind of work.”

“You’re not that old,” Johnny replied, no longer smiling.

Val put the brush away and turned to Johnny. 

“You’re right, I’m not that old, but I sure am tired. Come on; let’s go find that grub.”

When they got to the bunkhouse, they found Pardee waiting for them.  

Johnny stepped into the room and to one side so that his back was to the wall.  Crossing his arms over his chest, Johnny waited to hear what Pardee had to say.

“You did good tonight,” Pardee started.   “Tomorrow night we’ll raise the ante.”

Johnny straightened up. “So, what did Slade do to Dean tonight while we were out chasing down cows to tip?”

Pardee gave Johnny a vicious look.  “Don’t matter what Slade did to Dean.  Dean’s cowhands will take care of cleaning up tomorrow.”

Johnny laughed. “So, what did he do, stampede a herd or set fire to a field?”

Pardee hesitated. “Stampeded a herd.  How’d you know?”

“Cause that’s what I would have done tonight instead of cutting fences or cow tipping,” Johnny answered. 

“That so?  Well, I tell you what Madrid, when you’re in charge, we’ll do it your way.  Right now, I’m ramrodding this outfit.  You don’t like it; ride out.”

“Didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Johnny replied with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Said, that’s what I would have done.   I know you’re ramrod.”  

“Alright then, get some sleep,” Pardee glared at Johnny before walking out.

Val and the men who had ridden with him went to get something to eat.

Johnny sat down on his bunk and started to take his boots off.  Isham moved across the room and sat on the bed in front of Johnny.

“Whoowee, Johnny, ain’t seen nothing like that before.  The way you stood up to Pardee.  I don’t know if I could have done that,” Isham chattered away.

Val walked up to see Isham sitting on his bunk.

“Boy, get the hell off my bunk.  I’m tired, and need some sleep.”

Isham looked up at Val, towering over him.   “Sure, Crawford, just talking to Johnny.”   Isham stood up and moved away.  “See you in the morning, Johnny.”

Val sat down and looked over at Johnny, who had a grin on his face.  

“Go to sleep, boy.”

Johnny laughed.  Taking his gun, he put it under his pillow before stretching out.  Looking to his right, he saw Val lay down, also putting his gun under his pillow.   The room soon filled with the sound of snoring men.

Johnny laid awake, listening to the sounds of the room, and thinking about the job so far.  There hadn’t been any shooting yet, which was good.  Johnny knew the way Pardee was playing the game; there wouldn’t be any for at least a few more days.  Even better, no one had called him out.  Things were looking up.


The sound of snoring men reverberated off the walls of the bunkhouse.    

Johnny rolled over, sliding his gun from under his pillow.  Throwing his legs off the side of the bed, he stood and stretched.   Looking down at Val’s bunk, Johnny smiled.  Val’s mouth was open, and he was snoring in rhythm with the other men.

Picking up his rig, Johnny eased out of the building heading for the outhouse.

After taking care of his needs and washing up, Johnny turned to see four of the younger gunhawks standing in his way.   All four had been with him the night before.  He recognized one of them as a boy who called himself Brit.   One of the others he’d heard called Joel.  He didn’t know the names of the other two.

“You boys need some help?” Johnny asked as he dried his face.

“You think you’re smart, don’t you?” Brit huffed. 

Johnny grinned.  “Smart?   I don’t know a lot of stuff, never had much schooling, but if you mean smarter than you, then yeah, I’m smart.”

“You made fools out of us last night.  Us out there chasing down cows you knew wouldn’t stay down,” Brit hissed.

“Wasn’t my call last night.  That was Pardee’s doing.  I just followed orders.  You have any complaints about last night you go talk to Pardee or Smith.”

“You think you’re a big man, don’t you Madrid.  I bet you’re not so big without that gun,” Brit said with a grin and looking at the three boys that stood next to him.

“I don’t need a gun to take you, boy.” Johnny smiled as he emphasized the word ‘boy.’

“I’m older than you, you half-bred bastard.  Bet that whore of a mother of yours didn’t even know who she bedded to get you on her.”

Val opened his eyes when the men in the bunkhouse started moving around.  Seeing Johnny was already up, Val pushed himself out of bed and stretched.    He was making his way to the outhouse when he heard raised voices.   Deep down he knew there was trouble, and where there was trouble, there was most probably Johnny.

Val came to a halt when he heard Brit’s words.  He knew that Johnny wouldn’t let anyone talk that way about his mother.

Off to his right, Johnny noticed men from the bunkhouse coming to a stop.  The last words Brit said still hung in the air.   Everyone had heard them.

Johnny tossed down the towel in his hand and stared at Brit. 

“You want to fight me Brit.  You know you can’t take me with a gun so I’ll give you a chance to best me with your fists, if you think your man enough.”   Johnny glared at the sandy-haired boy.

Johnny unbuckled his rig and looked around.  Seeing Val standing a few feet away, he casually took a few steps, handing the gun belt to his partner.   

“Come on, boy.  You got a big mouth, now let’s see if you can back it up, or are you just all mouth.”   Johnny hissed the last words.

Brit took his gun belt off and handed it to one of the other men with him.   With a grin on his face, he stepped forward, fists raised, ready to beat Johnny Madrid to a pulp.      

Johnny and Brit started circling each other.  Brit moved in and then out, dancing around with his fists raised.  Finally, Brit threw the first punch as Johnny dogged out of his way. Frustrated, Brit threw a second and then third.  Each time Johnny sidestepped neatly out of the way.

“Are you gonna’ to fight or run?” Brit ground out.

“Oh, I’m gonna’ fight,” Johnny answered with a smile on his face.  “Just waiting for you to stop dancing around like one of them fancy ladies in the saloon.  You kinda’ remind me of one I saw once in Nogales.  Pretty little thing.  Yeah, you remind me of her.  Fellows told me she was all talk, too, and not much action.”

Brit got red in the face and stepped in again, swinging.

Johnny ducked, Brit’s fist missing his head by inches.  Johnny reached out and for the first time threw his own blow, catching Brit in the stomach.

Brit staggered backward but recovered and then lunged for Johnny.

Johnny was ready for him.  Now they were fighting the way he’d learned to fight.  Back alley, free for all fighting, was what he knew — the type of fighting had saved his life more than once in the border towns.

Johnny sent an uppercut to Brit’s chin, then a punch to his stomach.  Grabbing Brit’s shoulders, Johnny dropped and flipped the other boy over his head.  Brit landed on his back with a thud.

Brit lay still for a brief moment before turning over and pushing himself to his feet.   Throwing a sharp jab, he caught Johnny on the side of his face.  

Johnny returned the punch and knocked Brit to the ground again.

At that instant, Joel decided to join in.  He moved forward, grabbed Johnny from behind, turned him around, and punched him in the stomach.  Johnny staggered backward.   

Seeing he had help, Brit jumped to his feet and grabbed Johnny in a bear hug, pinning his arms to his side.

With a smile on his face, Joel raised his fist to hit Johnny again.

That’s when Isham joined in the fight.  He ran from the sidelines, grabbing Joel before he could hit Johnny.  Spinning him around, Isham threw a punch that sent Joel sprawling.

Johnny broke the hold on his arms, by ramming his head back into Brit’s face.  Blood started gushing from Brit’s nose as he staggered backward.

Johnny bent over, out of breath, holding his knees, watching Isham wresting with Joel.   

Finally, Bushrod Smith stepped forward, grabbing Isham with one hand and Joel with the other, pulling them apart.

“That’s enough,” Smith growled.   “You two get cleaned up.”   Looking at Johnny. “You too Madrid.”

Isham and Joel pulled themselves out of Smith grasp.  Isham went to stand next to Johnny while Joel pushed his way through the gathering of men leaving Brit sitting on the ground bleeding.

Turning, Johnny looked at Brit.  Walking over to the boy; he offered him a hand up. 

Brit looked at the offered hand and then at Johnny’s face.  Reaching up, he grabbed hold, while Johnny pulled him up.  

“You alright?” Johnny asked, still catching his breath. 

“What do you care?” Brit hissed, wiping the blood from his still bleeding nose.

“I don’t, but it was a fair fight…for the most part.  We have to work together, Brit. If we can’t work together, then you need to your draw pay and move on.  ‘Cause I’m not.”

Brit didn’t say anything.

Johnny started to turn when Brit spoke up.  “Sorry I made that remark about your Mama, Madrid.  You’re right it was a fair fight… well, until Joel joined in, but he’s a friend and thought he was helping.”   Brit held out a hand. “No hard feelings?”

Johnny looked at the extended hand.  Gunhawks didn’t offer their gun hands freely.  Johnny glanced at Val, knowing Val expected him to make peace with Brit.  

Taking Brit’s hand, Johnny answered, “No hard feelings.”

Brit and the two boys who hadn’t joined in the fight moved off to take care of Brit’s injuries.  Johnny stepped closer to Isham.

“Thanks for the help.”

“That’s what friends are for.” Isham grinned, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth.  

“We ain’t friends yet, Isham.”  Johnny reminded him.

“Don’t worry, Johnny.  We will be.”   Isham’s grin got bigger as he moved away to clean up.

Val stepped forward.  “You alright?”

Johnny smiled.  “Sure.  Hell, that wasn’t nothing like the fights I use to get into.  Brit’s punch was a love tap compared to some of the punches I used to get.”

Val cringed.  He’d seen some of the scars the boy had as a result of those ‘fights.’  

“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.  You didn’t hurt your gun hand, did you?”

Johnny flexed his right hand.  “Naw just skinned my knuckles.  Am I gonna’ have a black eye?”

He turned his face up so Val would have a better look at it.

Val held back a smile as he lifted Johnny’s chin.  The boy’s handsome face was marred only by a reddish mark on his cheek.   “Nope, but you got a bruise on your cheek.”

Johnny ran his hand over his cheek, wincing.  “Guess it could have been worse.”

“It can always be worse,” Val snorted. “Come on; let’s get you something to eat and see what Pardee has planned for today.”

Val handed Johnny his rig and waited for him to strap it on before starting to the cookhouse.   


For the next five days, Pardee and Slade went back and forth playing their games.  Everyone knew the time was coming and soon that their guns would be needed and this would become a shooting war.

When Saturday came, Val and Johnny decided to go into town.  Both were looking forward to visiting Senor and Senora Diaz and being treated to one of their meals.

“Where you going, Johnny?” Isham asked with that grin on his face.

“Town.” Johnny’s answer was curt.

“Can I come with you?” Isham asked with enthusiasm.

“Nope,” Johnny answered as he swung into the saddle, waiting for Val to mount.

“Aw, come on, Johnny.  Let me come with you.”

“Isham, I said no, and I meant no.  Val, you ready?”

“I’m ready,” Val snapped as he reined his horse around and rode out of the yard. 

Johnny sat his hat square on his head and pulled it down over his eyes, before following Val.    Johnny liked Isham, and that was becoming a problem.  He knew that when the shooting started Isham was probably going to be one of the first to catch a bullet.   A man in this line of work didn’t have friends for that very reason.  If it weren’t for Val, Johnny wouldn’t have anyone.

Riding into Odessa, Val and Johnny stopped at the livery and stalled their horses.  Ten minutes later that they walked into the cantina and welcomed by Senor Diaz.

Good food, good drink, and good company kept them occupied for the next three hours.  When it was time to leave, Senora Diaz presented enough churros to Johnny to last him a few days.

Making their way to the saloon, Val and Johnny found the corner table empty.  They sat down and two beers.   That’s where they were when Isham came in an hour later.

“Johnny,” Isham called out from across the saloon, bringing all conversation to a stop.  Men watched the boy go to the corner table.  He was wearing a new set of spurs that sounded like bells ringing.

“Isham, Pardee let you come to town?” Val asked as he poured himself another drink.

“Sure, Val.  He let everyone come into town.  The fellows saw you two ride out, and he couldn’t keep the rest of us there.” Isham was grinning again.

Johnny bent down to look under the table at Isham’s spurs.  They had the biggest rowels he’d ever seen on a set of spurs.

“Nice spurs,” Johnny drawled. 

“I noticed the ones you wear.  Figured I’d get a pair too.  I like the way they sound,” Isham answered, still grinning.

Johnny nodded. 

The saloon doors flew open, and the gunhawks from Dean’s ranch started coming in.   The noise level in the saloon went up immediately with men talking and laughing.

Johnny got an uncomfortable feeling and started shifting in his chair.  He’d never liked crowds, and the saloon was soon too crowded for his liking.   Looking at Val, he could see he was thinking the same thing.

Pushing away from the table, Val said just loud enough for Johnny to hear, “Let’s get out of here.”

Johnny put a hand on Val’s arm. “Hold on Val.  I want another beer.”

“You don’t need another beer,” Val replied, seeing the half-full glass already in front of Johnny.

Val frowned when he saw the expression on Johnny’s face.  He’d seen that look before.    Turning, he scanned the room. 

At the bar, one of the gunhawks was staring at Johnny.  Val recognized him as Tad Gordon.  He knew the look on Gordon’s face, too.

“We’re leaving… now,” Val ground out.  It wasn’t a suggestion.

Johnny knew by the tone of Val’s voice he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.  He also knew that Gordon was going to push him into a fight before he got halfway to the door.

“Look, fellows, there’s Madrid,” Gordon blurted as Johnny started across the room.  “You know the kid who thinks he knows more than Pardee.”

Bushrod Smith stood next to Gordon.  “Gordon, you got a big mouth.  You don’t want to start trouble with Madrid.”

“You afraid of him, Smith?”  Gordon huffed.  “Cause I’m not.  He’s been struttin’ around like a big shot for the last week.  Hell, haven’t seen him pull that gun of his once.”    

Val stood back, letting Johnny take care of Gordon.  His job right now was to watch the boy’s back.   Keeping his eyes on everyone except Gordon, Val would make sure no one else got a chance at Johnny unless they did it face to face.

“I see you’ve worked up your courage,” Johnny laughed.  “Took you long enough.”

“Why you little …,” Gordon pushed away from the bar.

“It’s true, isn’t it,” Johnny kept his voice soft.  “You’ve been eyeing me for days.  Took a few drinks under your belt, but you finally found your courage.”  

“I’m calling you out, Madrid.”

The corner of Johnny’s mouth turned up in a menacing smile. 

“Anytime you’re ready.”

“I’m ready now.”

Johnny bent slightly and waved a hand toward the doors.   “Outside.”

Gordon downed the glass of whiskey on the bar behind him, straightened his gun belt, and moved toward the door.   Johnny followed.

Once outside, Gordon walked into the street, turned, and waited.

Johnny took a position thirty feet in front of Gordon.  Setting his feet apart, he took up an all too familiar stance.

“You’re sure you want to do this, Gordon?”

 Asking that question wasn’t something he did when he first started building his reputation.  Giving the other man a chance to back down, never crossed his mind in the beginning, but traveling with Val had changed him.   The one thing that hadn’t changed was his speed with a gun.  His draw had grown faster with each passing year.

Gordon made the first move.  It was his last; never making it to his gun.

The smoking Colt in Johnny’s hand was the only sign that he had drawn and fired.  No one saw the actual movement.

Johnny closed the thirty-foot gap between Gordon and himself.  Standing over the body, Johnny looked around for any other threats.   His eyes fell on Val, who nodded.  Beside Val stood Isham, his mouth hanging open and a look of hero worship in his eyes.

Holstering his gun and without a word, Johnny turned toward the livery stable.  All he wanted was get out of town.  

Val followed a few feet behind Johnny.  When Isham started to follow as well, Val stopped and turned on the boy. 

“Where are you going?” Val growled at Isham.

“Just thought I’d go with Johnny,” Isham responded with a grin.

“You go on back to the saloon or back to the ranch.  Madrid doesn’t need no company right now.”

“But you’re going with him,” Isham protested.

“I’m his partner.  That’s where I belong.  Now go on and get,” Val growled as he turned once again and walked away.

Val found Johnny in the livery already saddling his horse.  The two didn’t talk as Val reached for his saddle and threw it onto his horse’s back.   Less than five minutes later the two were riding out of Odessa.

Day Pardee stood outside the saloon, a cheroot hanging out of his mouth.  Watching the undertaker remove Gordon’s body from the street, he glanced up to see Madrid and Crawford riding away. 

When Gordon came to him saying he was going to call Madrid out, Pardee had his doubts but didn’t object.  He didn’t like the kid who was always second-guessing him.

Pardee shook his head in dismay.  It was the first time he’d seen Madrid in action.  It was plain the kid had earned his reputation.   He’d underestimated Madrid’s skill and speed; it wouldn’t be a mistake he’d make a second time.    


Johnny knew Pardee was watching the gunfight and guessed that Gordon had either acted on Pardee’s orders or with his approval.

Val rode ridden beside Johnny until they were a few miles outside Odessa.  Johnny abruptly reined his horse off the road and moved to an outcropping of rocks.   Riding behind the rocks, he stepped out of the saddle, fell to his knees, and threw up.

Val dismounted.  Taking his canteen and a towel from his saddlebag, he waited as he’d done too many times.

When Johnny finally sat back, Val wet the towel and handed it to the boy.  It was like this almost every time Johnny was in a gunfight.  

What people would never know or understand was that although Johnny was good with his gun and didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when needed, he never liked killing; it made him sick to his stomach.

Val sat next to Johnny and handed him the canteen. 

“You alright?”

Johnny nodded.  “I’m… I’m fine.  Just need a minute for my stomach to settle.” 

Val knew there was no rushing Johnny.  When Johnny was ready, he’d talk, and then they’d ride back to The Circle G.   Val only hoped the talk would hold off the ghosts he knew would come in Johnny’s nightmares.    He also knew they’d be spending the night in the barn with the horses or camping out under the stars.   Only Val would know of the night terrors that plagued the boy and kept him awake at night.


After the gunfight in town, Johnny’s status with Dean’s gunhawks went up a notch or two as did his reputation.

Val and Johnny stayed to themselves when not on the job.   Pardee insisted on separating them whenever he could.  The only constant in the next two weeks was Isham.   To Johnny’s amazement, Isham hadn’t gotten himself killed in the first week, and now the boy who was always grinning was holding Madrid to his promise.   He’d survived the first week, that made them friends.

The ante kept being raised by Pardee and Slade.  There had been a few gun battles, a few gunhawks that wouldn’t be collecting their pay.   When it seemed like the war was going to go on forever, it was suddenly over.  

Matt Hamilton and Jack Slade rode into the Bar D one morning shortly after sunrise.   Dean and Pardee met them in front of the house. 

With Dean’s gunhawks standing around, Hamilton announced he was pulling back the boundary line and that the headwater of the river belonged to Dean.  He had already let all of his hired guns go, except for Slade, who was riding out as soon as Hamilton got safely back to his ranch.

Val turned to Johnny with a smile on his face.  The job was over, and they would get paid today. 

“What are you going to do next, Johnny?” Isham asked as they packed up their gear.

“Don’t know yet.  Val and I need to talk it over.”

“Can I ride with you?”

Johnny looked up from his saddlebags at the boy he’d befriended.  He knew that soon or later, probably sooner, Isham would get himself killed and that would be the end of the friendship.

“I don’t think so, Isham.  Val and me, we work best, just the two of us.”

Isham’s face fell.   He was going to say something else when Pardee walked into the bunkhouse.

“Got your pay, come and get it,” Pardee sat down at a table near the door.   “Before I pay everyone off, I want to see if any of you want to hire on to the next job I’ve lined up.”

“Where you going?” Bushrod asked.

“A hundred or so miles southeast of here, San Angelo,” Pardee answered with a grin.   “Big ranch there is having problems with sodbusters.   Needs help convincing them to move on.”

“How many men do you need?” Isham spoke up. 

Pardee looked at Isham, giving it some thought.  The kid had held his own and followed orders without question.   He’d give him another chance. 

“Any of you who want to come, let me know.  I’ve got a few men already on their way there.”

As Pardee paid the men off, he asked each one if they were going with him.  When he got to Val and Johnny, he hesitated.   Finally, pushing their pay across the table, he asked, “You two heading for San Angelo?”

Val looked at Johnny, unable to read his expression. 

“We’ll talk it over.  If we decide to go, we’ll see you there,” Val answered as he pocketed his money and watched as Johnny picked up his pay.

“Fair enough,” Pardee responded, turning his attention to the next man in line.

Once they were saddled, Val and Johnny rode into Odessa.  They wanted to go to the cantina, visit with Senor and Senora Diaz, and decide what their next move would be.


Walking into the cool interior of the cantina was a relief from the mid-day heat. 

“Hola, mi amigos,” Senor Diaz’s voice greeted them the moment they walked through the door.

Senor Diaz waved them to a back-corner table, knowing Johnny wouldn’t want to sit with his back to the room.     Once they were seated, Senora Diaz seemed to appear out of nowhere giving first Johnny and then Val, hugs.

Holding Johnny at arm’s length much the same way she did on their first meeting, she shook her head and again scolded him on still being too thin.    The woman hurried away to fix something that was guaranteed to fatten him up.

“The fighting is over, no?” Senor Diaz asked as he placed dishes filled with tamales and frijoles in front of Val and Johnny.

“Si,” Johnny answered, reaching across the table for a dish.

Val slapped his hand.  “Mind your manners and don’t reach.”

“I’m hungry, Val.”   Johnny’s grumbling stomach punctuated the statement.

“I know.  You’re always hungry, but it’s bad manners to reach.  You ask for the dish to be passed to you.  You don’t reach.”

Johnny scowled.   “Alright, will you…”  Johnny stopped, looking at Val.  “Will you please pass the tamales?”

Val laughed, picked up the dish, and handed it to Johnny.  Johnny took the dish and piled his plate with tamales, before giving it back to Val.

“What do you say?”

Johnny muttered, “Thank you.”

“That’s better.  Now eat before it gets cold.”

Turning back to Senor Diaz, Val saw the amused expression on the older man’s face.  He could only imagine what someone thought when they saw him reprimanding Johnny Madrid on his table manners.   If they only knew what it was like raising a boy in the life they lead.

Yes, Johnny Madrid, one of the deadliest guns in the Southwest, needed a guiding hand as he grew into manhood.  Heaven knows he didn’t get it from his mother when she was alive.  Val tried to teach him what little he knew himself about being around civilized folks. 

They’d stayed at a small Mission in Mexico a few years back while Johnny healed from a bullet wound.   One of the Sisters at the Mission took it upon herself to teach the young pistolero to read and write and do some sums.    Val started buying books for him to read.   Gradually, he was making headway on Johnny’s education.  

Figuring Johnny hadn’t shot him yet, Val saw it as a good sign the boy appreciated the guidance.

If Arman Diaz hadn’t known who the joven was, he would have thought the older man was the chico’s Papa.   However, it was well known that Juanito Madrid had no mother or father.  His story was well known in Mexico and along the border.    (translation: joven – youth)

It did Senor Diaz’s heart good to see someone care for and about the boy who seemed to care about everyone but himself.   

“Where do you go next?” Senor Diaz asked as he watched Johnny shoveling food into his mouth as fast as he could.

“We’re not sure,” Val answered.  “There’s another range war in San Angelo.  We may go there.”  Glancing at Johnny, Val shook his head.  “Slow down, boy.  I swear I’m gonna’ have to sit down with you and teach you table manners.”

Johnny stopped the fork halfway to his mouth.    Looking around, he realized that not only Val was watching him but also everyone in the cantina.   Blushing, Johnny started eating slower.

“Where do you sleep tonight?” Senor Diaz asked, his attention now back on Val.

“Not sure,” Val answered as he took his first bite of food.  “Was wondering if we could rent your room back there for the night.”

“Alquilar, no Senor Val.  Not rent.  It is our honor to have you stay with us as you did before.  You come back here tonight.  My Sofia will have the room ready for you.”

“You’re sure?  We can pay you.  We got paid today and have the money.”

“No, Senor Val.  For you and Juanita es gratis.”

“Gracias,” Val answered.  He looked at Johnny, who was still eating.  He tapped him on the arm.

Johnny swallowed what he had in his mouth before speaking. “Gracias, Senor.  Es muy espreciado.”   (translation: Thank you, sir.  It is much appreciated)   

“De nada, Juanito.  De nada.” 

It wasn’t long before Johnny sat back with a full stomach.  “That was real good.”

“Sure was,” Val answered, as he sat back to relax.


“You want to go to San Angelo?”

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know.  Pardee pays well.  We don’t have anything back in Arizona or along the border right now.  We might even get him to pay fifteen a day.”

Val sat for a moment and sighed.  He didn’t like Pardee, and he, especially, didn’t like the kid Isham.  Hell, he didn’t like making a living with his gun.  Before he could answer, Johnny spoke again.

“What’d ya say we go watch the show?”

The show he referred to was what usually happened at the end of a job when the gunhawks from both sides got together.  It was the way gunfighters built their reputations, by taking down the less experienced or if they were lucky the faster gun.

“You know they’re waiting for you before they get the show started,” Val grumbled.  He had a bad feeling about Johnny going to the saloon.

“Yeah, I know.” Johnny grinned, pushing back from the table.  “So, let’s go.”

“You don’t need to be part of the show anymore.  You’ve made your name.” Val hoped to talk some sense into the boy.   

“I need to be part of the show if I want to make more than ten dollars a day.”  Johnny snapped and then hesitated; frustration etched on his face.   “Val, I want what Pardee and Slade have.  I want to make that kind of money and have the respect they get.”  

Johnny was on the edge of his chair.

Val bit back what he wanted to say.  He knew getting Johnny’s temper up now wouldn’t be a good idea, especially if he planned to go to the saloon.

“Val, I don’t want just to be good with my gun, I want …,” Johnny hesitated, seeing how Val was reacting.

“You want what?   Do you want to be the highest paid gun there is?   The only way you’ll get that is to take out the likes of Slade or Hardin.   The price is too high, hijo.   Can’t you see that?” 

Val had been watching Johnny’s face, and he knew he wasn’t getting through to him.

“What I see is that I’m treated like some kid, Val,” Johnny ground out.  “I’m tired of having to prove myself on every job.  I want to be known as Johnny Madrid, good at my trade.  I’ve earned my name, and I want to be paid what I’m worth.”

Standing up, Johnny waited a few seconds. 

Val glanced up at him and took a deep breath.

“Just how many more notches you figure you need, before your satisfied?”

Johnny didn’t miss a beat.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve got enough.  Right now, I’m going to the saloon.  Are you coming?”

Johnny turned and headed to the door leaving Val sitting at the table.   Once outside, he stopped, took a deep breath and exhaled.   He waited a few seconds before starting down the boardwalk.  

Johnny knew he’d find out soon enough if the man he loved like a father, was still talking to him.

On hearing familiar footsteps coming up from behind, Johnny sighed.   Relaxing, he slowed his pace.   He looked to his left as the older man moved to walk beside him, matching his steps.

Val was silent as they walked.  Johnny could tell he was angry, but he knew Val would still be there for him if needed.

The noise from the saloon could be heard a block away.  Music and laughter told Val and Johnny that the show hadn’t yet started.

Standing at the batwing doors, Johnny waited for a beat before pushing them open.  Val stood behind Johnny watching his back.  

Johnny, stepping into the saloon, brought an end to the music and talk.  All eyes were on him as he made his way across the room.   Men shifted left and right, creating an opening at the bar.

“What’ll be, Mr. Madrid?” the bartender asked, looking at the boy in front of him.  The boy who was too young to drink and too dangerous to tell him he couldn’t.

“Beer,” Johnny answered as he felt Val move in beside him. “Make that two.”

Val spoke up, “No, make mine a whiskey.”

Johnny didn’t say anything, but he could feel Val’s anger.   His friend was with him, but he wasn’t happy about it.  Val only drank whiskey when he was pissed.

The music started up again as the piano player pounded out the lively tune, ‘Oh, Them Golden Slippers.’   Talking and laughter resumed.

Johnny lifted his glass to his lips and took a long drink.  It tasted bitter.  As long as he and Val were sideways, he knew it would always taste that way.

The batwing doors opened. This time it was Jack Slade who silenced the room.

Slade stepped into the saloon and then sidestepped to the left; much the same way Johnny did when he didn’t have Val to back him up.

Slade saw the young dark-haired gunfighter at the bar and smiled.   Somehow there was always a sense of relief when one of the best made it through a job unharmed.   Slade had heard about the gunfight with Gordon.  He wondered how many notches Madrid had.

Johnny saw Slade start for the bar.  While other men would have shifted aside, Johnny held his place.  There was a time, and not so long ago that Johnny would have been one of those to move aside and let the top gun take his place at the bar.  Those days were over.  Johnny Madrid was a top gun and moved over for no one.

Slade reached the bar, noticing Madrid wasn’t moving out of the way.  He took no offense, Madrid had earned the right.

Slade leaned on the bar, looking at the bartender.

“Tequila and leave the bottle.”

A bottle of tequila and a glass appeared on the bar.  The bartender reached for a bowl of limes and one of salt and put them in front of Slade.

Slade poured a glass and downed it.    As he reached for a lime, Slade wondered if Madrid drank anything except beer.

“Join me?” Slade asked, turning to Madrid.

Johnny looked at the beer in his hand and then at the tequila.  He’d drank tequila before, but it had been a long time ago.  Val didn’t let him have anything but beer.

“Sure, why not,” Johnny answered, feeling Val tense beside him.  Johnny knew he’d catch hell later.

The bartender heard and sat a glass in front of Johnny.

Slade poured another drink for himself and then one for Madrid.  He waited to see if the kid would drink it.

Johnny picked up the glass and raised it in a toast to Slade.   Downing the glass in one gulp like Slade had done, he instantly regretted the action.  The drink took his breath away.  As tears filled his eyes, he fought not to choke.   The liquor burned all the way to his toes. 

Catching his breath and wiping his eyes, Johnny finally laughed.  “Whoowee, you know, I think I’m too young for that rotgut.”

“You’ll do, Madrid,” Slade laughed, slapping Johnny on the back bringing on another bout of coughing.

Johnny pushed the tequila glass away, wiped his eyes again, and picked up the beer.  Maybe he would stay with beer for a while longer.   Johnny chanced a look at Val.   There was a faint smile on the older man’s face. 

“You here to see the show, Madrid, or be in it?” Slade asked as he turned around to look at the gunhawks in the room.

“Don’t know yet,” Johnny answered, also turning to survey the room. 

“You thinking about calling me out?”  Slade asked softly, lowering his head so that only Johnny could hear.

Johnny looked at Slade, thinking.  He knew he wasn’t ready for the likes of Slade unless forced into it.   

“Nope.  How about you? You thinking about dancing?”   Johnny answered and asked in the same low voice.

Slade shook his head.  “Nope.  I figure our day will come, but not today.  You have a problem with that?”

“Naw.  Don’t have any problem with it,” Johnny smiled.  “You’re right; our day will come, but….”

The sound of raised voices, scraping chairs, breaking glass, and an overturned table drew everyone’s attention to the other side of the room.

Johnny strained to see who was involved in the upcoming gunfight.

“Guess the show’s about to start,” Slade drawled.

Johnny looked to his left to see Val with his hand resting on his gun butt.   Johnny did the same.  There was more than once that the ‘game’ got out of hand and turned into a free for all.

“Outside,” someone yelled out, and men started moving out of the saloon and into the street.

Johnny, Val, and Slade waited until everyone else was out before they started for the door.   Johnny looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was lingering behind him and saw that Slade was doing the same.

Once outside, Johnny realized one of the men involved in the gunfight was Isham.  

For a split second, he wanted to react and stop the kid from doing something that was going to get him killed.   Taking a deep breath, Johnny knew there was nothing he could do.  Isham had already lived three weeks longer than he thought he would.

The gunfight took only seconds.  When the sound of gunfire died down, Isham was still standing. 

Johnny was amazed and relieved his new friend still alive.  Isham was faster than Johnny thought. 

Isham walked out of the street and looked at Johnny with a grin on his face.   Before he could say anything, other gunhawks were pounding Isham on the back and offering to buy him drinks.

“You ready to go?” Val stood at Johnny’s left elbow.

Johnny shook his head.  He hadn’t gotten what he’d come for yet.   He knew if he waited long enough someone would work up the courage to call him out.  

Johnny could hear Val curse under his breath.  

Everyone filed back into the saloon.  

Johnny went back to his beer.  Val, beside him, ordered another whiskey.   Slade slide back into his place at the bar.

Johnny was turning to talk to Val when they heard a voice barely filtering through the noise.


The voice came from the other side of the saloon.   Those that had started talking again instantly quieted down.  

“Looks like you’re about to be part of the show,” Slade said without a smile.

“Guess so,” Johnny responded without emotion. 

Taking another sip of the beer in his hand, Johnny sat the glass down.  Turning, he leaned his back against the bar, relaxing as if he didn’t have a care in the world.


“Madrid, I’m calling you out.”

Smiling, Johnny eyed the boy who’d call him out.   He looked to be around 17 or 18 years old, blond hair, brown eyes and wearing his gun low on his leg.   Not recognizing the boy, he figured he worked for Slade during the range war.

“Slade, he one of yours?”  Johnny asked, still leaning against the bar.

Slade glanced over his shoulder at the boy that had been working for him for the past month.   He’d been cocky, always trying to force a fight with the other men.   Slade was surprised the boy was even still alive.

“Yeah, he worked for me.  Only heard him called Jamie.  He’s been building for this ever since he heard about you and Gordon.”

Johnny nodded. 

“You’re sure?” Johnny asked the boy with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“I’m sure.”

“Outside then.” Johnny motioned with his head toward the doors.

Again, the room emptied.   

Johnny was the last one to walk out.  The boy was already in the street. 

Johnny stopped at the edge of the boardwalk and pulled a black calfskin glove onto his left hand.   Straightening first his hat and then his rig, he walked out into the street.   The only sound anyone heard was the soft ringing of Johnny’s spurs.

Johnny faced the boy and took a deep breath. 

“What’s your name?”  Johnny always wanted to know the man he was facing.

“Wild, Jamie Wild.”

Johnny filed the name away with all the others he’d faced.   Johnny’s eyes locked onto Wild as his hand settled beside his holster.   He waited for the boy to make the first move.  He didn’t have to wait long.   A fleeting second, and it was over.   Jamie Wild lay face down in the street and Johnny’s gun was already back in his holster.

Johnny turned back to the boardwalk, searching for the one face he needed to see.  When Val stepped out from behind Slade, Johnny smiled.  Val, as usual, was watching his back.  

Fixing his best Madrid glare, Johnny looked at the men standing in front of the saloon.

“Anyone else want to join in the show today? 

Men fell back one by one under Madrid’s glare.    When no one stepped forward, Johnny nodded.

“Alright, the show’s over.” 

Johnny stepped up onto the boardwalk next to Val.  Punching Val in the side with an elbow, Johnny started to walk back into the saloon.

Val leaned down and softly said, “Fifteen minutes and then we’re out of here.”

Johnny gave Val a slight nod.  

The saloon filled up once again.  Slade was already back at the bar when Johnny and Val walked in.

Slade smiled. “Madrid, you sure know how to put an end to a show.   Guess I’ll be heading out.”

“Where are you going?” Johnny asked with his beer glass in his hand.

“Arizona, I figure,” Slade drawled.  “Had enough of Texas.   What about you?”

“We haven’t figured it out yet.  Pardee’s moving on to San Angelo and offered to hire us on again.”

Val leaned over. “Johnny, I’m headed for the cantina, you coming?”

“I’m coming,” Johnny responded.  “See you around, Slade.”

“Yeah, be seeing you,” Slade poured himself another drink and lifted it in a salute.  “Take care, Madrid.”

Watching Madrid and Crawford walk away, Slade figured he’d never see the young gunfighter again.  Madrid had already made a name for himself, but he still put himself into the middle of the show.   Slade wondered why.     He supposed it was because Madrid was young and still hungered for a bigger reputation.   He knew that would get him killed.

When he’d watched Madrid go up against Wild, Slade had no doubt Madrid would win.  What surprised him was how fast Madrid was getting.  Someday, Slade knew, if Madrid lived long enough, he and the kid would face each other.  Until that day, they’d stay out of each other’s way.


“So, this is San Angelo,” Val snorted as he looked down the dusty street.  

Two days after leaving Odessa, Val and Johnny rode into the cow town of San Angelo, Texas.

As they made their way down the street, they took in the highlights.  There were for four saloons, a couple of brothels, and a gambling house.   There was also a General Store, a livery, a blacksmith, and nestled at one end of town was a small white church.  Val figured the church was for the benefit of the farmers in the area.

On the outskirts of town, the Army had built a fort a few years earlier.  Fort Concho protected San Angelo and the Concho Valley from the Comanche. 

San Angelo was still too small for any kind of law, which made it perfect for the largest ranch in the valley to go unchallenged in forcing the farmers out of the area.

Tired and dusty, Val and Johnny’s first stop was the loudest saloon they could find.   They knew that’s where they’d find Pardee and the men he was hiring. 

Walking up to batwing doors, Johnny paused, pushed the doors open wide enough to see in, and scanned the room.  It was wall to wall gunhawks.  Johnny stepped back, an uneasy feeling washing over him.

“Something wrong?” Val asked, recognizing the look on Johnny’s face.

“Too crowded.”  The young man looked around to see if anyone was watching them. 

Val looked over the doors.  He knew what had the boy spooked.  There was no way to protect himself with that many men in the room.

“Let’s bed the horses down first.” Val moved to the hitching rail to get their horses.  “I’ll talk to Pardee.”

Johnny didn’t say anything as he followed Val to the horses.  A shiver ran down his spine as he glanced over his shoulder at the saloon doors.  Wondering where that reaction came from, Johnny kept walking, hoping it wasn’t an omen of things to come.


Val pushed the batwing doors open.   When he stepped into the saloon, he heard the voices in the room lower slightly, but only slightly.  Val knew his presence alone would never silence a room.  Not like when Madrid or Slade stepped into a saloon or any other room for that matter.

Val made his way to the bar asking for a beer.  When the beer was placed in front of him, he looked at it longingly for a few seconds before lifting it to his dry lips.   A long cool drink made him close his eyes and sigh.

Looking around the room, Val spotted Pardee sitting in the back corner.   He figured he’d better get it done.   He’d left Johnny bedded down at the livery with the horses.  He didn’t like leaving the boy alone for long.   Johnny could find trouble faster than anyone he’d ever known.

With a beer in hand, Val made his way to Pardee’s table.

Pardee had seen Crawford pass through the saloon doors and stroll to the bar.  Looking back to the doors, he expected to see Madrid.  When the young gunfighter didn’t show, Pardee wondered why.  

“Crawford.” Pardee nodded once Val got closer.

“Pardee.” Val returned the nod, pushing his hat back on his head.

Pardee looked past Val.  


“He’s in town but don’t expect him to walk in here.   Too many gunhawks looking for a reputation.”

“I can understand that.  You two want to sign on?” Pardee asked with a slight grin.

Val really couldn’t think of anything about Pardee he liked.  That shit eating grin he gave people was enough to make a man’s skin crawl.   Val wondered why he was even considering signing on again.

“Depends on what the job is and the pay,” Val answered.  “Mind if I sit?”

Pardee pushed a chair out with his foot.  

“The job?” Val took a sip of his beer.

“We’ll be working for a rancher by the name of Gregory Golden.  Golden has the largest spread in these parts; calls it The Circle G.  He’s got a problem with sodbusters moving onto the range.” Pardee shifted in his chair.  “We’re going to help convince the farmers to move on.”

“This land … Golden owns it?” Val asked.   He knew if they took the job, it really didn’t matter who owned the land.  Golden was hiring guns, and the guns would do as they were told.

“Golden says he does,” Pardee answered with a shrug.   “So, you two signing on?”

“How much?”  Now it was Val’s turn to grin.

Pardee knew this moment was coming.  He also knew if he wanted Madrid working for him, it was going to cost him. 

“Same as Odessa,” Pardee answered.

Val shook his head.   “Nope.  Madrid wants…”

“I don’t care what Madrid wants.  I’m telling you what I’m paying.”

“So, you’re offering ten a day for each of us.   Don’t think that’s gonna’ work, but I’ll talk to Madrid,” Val answered, finishing his beer and pushing back from the table, he stood and turned to go.

“You really let the kid call the shots?”  Pardee asked with a sneer.

Val stopped and turned slowly around, his right hand resting on the butt of his Colt.  

“First,” Val spoke slowly with a distinct drawl, “don’t underestimate Madrid.  He’s older than he looks.  He hasn’t been a kid for a long time.  Second, I let ‘my partner’ decide for himself which jobs he wants and how much he’s paid.” 

Val turned to leave then stopped.  “Pardee, Madrid’s worth every penny you pay for his gun.  We’re partners.  Which means we both work or neither of us does.  Think about it. Oh, and yeah, I let him call the shots.”   

Making his way back to the livery, Val shook his head.  What the hell was he doing?  Negotiating a fee for a fifteen-year-old boy who should be safe somewhere tucked into a real bed instead of lying in a stall with his horse.   A boy who should be going to dances with pretty, respectable girls instead of spending his nights in a saloon filled with girls that could make some grown men blush.   

He couldn’t remember the last time he heard Johnny laugh, really laugh.  Seldom did he see him relax or play like other boys his age.   

The one thing Val wanted more than anything was for Johnny to be safe.  To give him a home,  three meals a day, and a soft bed in which to sleep.  Yes, Johnny deserved a regular bed to sleep in, not a bed in a bunkhouse with twenty or more grown men where he had to be always on guard, listening talk not meant for a boy.  All he could give the boy was another day with his gun and pray that he’d be alive tomorrow.

Stepping into the livery, Val quietly made his way to the back where he’d left Johnny.  Peeking into the stall, he expected to see a sleeping boy.  Instead, he found the stall empty.  Frantically, looking in all the stalls, there was no sign of him.   

Val noted there were three horses in the livery that weren’t there earlier.  He recognized one of them.   Val’s blood began to boil.

Isham was here.

Val stepped out of the barn and wondered where the two boys had gone.  He knew Johnny wouldn’t be at one of the saloons.

Looking up and down the street, he tried to decide where Johnny and Isham would go.   When his eyes fell on the bordello, he knew where Isham would go, but would Johnny? 

“No, Johnny was too young for the bordello, but not for the cantina.”

Val started to head for the cantina and stopped himself.  He wasn’t the boy’s Pa, as much as he wished he was.  Johnny had made it clear he didn’t need a Pa; he wanted, no needed a friend.   That’s what he’d tried to be.

What would a friend do now… go after the boy or leave him be?


Val sat against the back wall of the stall where his horse stood sleeping.   It was several hours later when he heard the door to the livery open and then close again.   Faltering steps made their way to the next stall.  The sound of spurs jingling told Val who it was.

“Have a good time?” Val asked, breaking the silence of the barn.

Around the corner of the stall, peeked a dark head.

“Hey, Val,” Johnny slurred with a silly grin on his face.  “What you doing awake?”

“Waiting for you.  I left you here sleeping.  You were gone when I came back.  Where you been?”

Johnny staggered into the stall, then slid down the wall to come to rest next to Val. 

“Isham rode in after you left.”  Johnny was smiling.

“I figured.  Saw Isham’s horse.  That’s not what I asked.  Where you been, Johnny?”  

Johnny looked at Val and frowned.

“I’ve been with a friend.”

“Your ‘friend’ take you over to the cantina and get you drunk?”

“If he did?” Johnny snapped. “Look, Val, it was just one night.”

“Johnny, you know you can’t…”

“Can’t what, Val?  Can’t have a little fun?”   

Val looked at Johnny shaking his head.    “Didn’t say you couldn’t have fun, but you’ve left yourself wide open for anyone of the gunhawks in town to make a reputation for themselves.”

Val sighed, watching Johnny’s head fall to his chest.  Reaching up, he smoothed the boy’s dark hair.

“Lay down, hijo.  Get some sleep.” 

Johnny was already leaning sideways, resting his head on Val’s shoulder.  Val shifted Johnny so he was lying on the fresh hay in the stall.   He reached for a blanket and put it over the sleeping boy.

Pulling out his Colt, Val spent the remainder of the night standing guard.


A slight movement brought Val’s head up from his knees, gun readied.    A groan brought Val’s attention to the boy lying next to him. 

Johnny groaned again.  Turning over, he squinted at Val and tried to focus. Johnny’s face contorted in pain as he pushed himself to his knees.

“Val?” Johnny moaned.

“Yeah?” Val answered with a smile, knowing Johnny was hurting.

“What happened?   My head feels … oh… I think I’m gonna’ be sick.” Johnny leaned over, searching for a place to puke.   Miraculously, a bucket appeared under his chin.

“Feel better?” Val asked a few minutes later, taking the bucket away.  He came back with a fresh bucket of water and a clean towel.

“Yeah,” Johnny answered, splashing water on his face.  Looking at Val, he could tell something was wrong. 

“We need to talk about Pardee when you’re ready,” Val said, handing Johnny the towel.

“You talked to him last night?”  Johnny asked as he dried his face.

“I talked to him.  He’s offering us the same as we got in Odessa.  Ten a day for each of us,” Val replied while leaning against the stall wall, arms folded over his chest.

Johnny’s pounding head made it hard for him to think.    He was kicking himself for going with Isham the night before.  He knew he should have waited until Val got back.

Johnny looked up at Val, who was still leaning against the stall wall; his hat pulled down over his eyes.   It was clear Val was pissed.

“Alright, get it said,” Johnny ground out and then hissed, holding his head.

“Get what said?  I’m waiting for you to decide if we take the job or move on,” Val drawled.   “So, what do you want to do… Mister Madrid?”

Johnny’s head shot up.   Yep, Val was pissed.

“Val…,” Johnny started and was cut off by Val as he moved away from the wall.

“Don’t!  You had your fun last night.  Now it’s time to work or move on.    If you want more than ten a day, you need to talk to Pardee yourself.”   

Johnny grabbed the wall and pulled himself up.   Looking Val in the eye, Johnny nodded. 

“I’ll talk to Pardee this morning.  Did he tell you what the job was?”

“He did.  The big jefe around here is a fellow named Gregory Golden.  His spread is called The Circle G.  Sodbusters are moving onto land Golden says is his.   Golden hired Pardee to bust some heads and get the sodbusters to move on.”

Johnny frowned.  “Golden got proof he owns the land?”

“Does it matter?”

“It matters,” Johnny answered.  “You know it matters.”

Val smiled.  Yeah, he knew it mattered, and he was glad Johnny knew the difference, too.

“Val, I’m sorry about last night.  It’s just that Isham came in and was going over to the cantina.   It’s been a long time since… well, since…”

“I know, hijo,” Val stepped forward and put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder, squeezing it. “It’s been a long time since you’ve been with someone close to your age.  Someone you can talk to.  I know you have to let off steam sometimes.  It’s just that when I got back, and you were gone, I got worried.  You get drunk like that without someone to watch your back; you could end up dead.”

“Lo Siento, Papi.” Johnny took a step closer to Val.  

“Did you at least have fun?” Val asked as he started kneading Johnny’s shoulder.

Johnny took a deep breath, relishing the hand on his shoulder.

“I guess,” Johnny frowned. “You know Val, Isham wanted to go to the bordello instead of the cantina.  He talked like he had a lot of experience.”

“Is that so?” Val dipped his head, not wanting Johnny to see that his smile had gotten bigger.

“Why didn’t you go?”

Johnny blushed.  “You know why.”

Val chuckled. “Yeah, I know.”

“Val, you know I’m getting close to sixteen now, and I know what to do.   Well, I think I know what to do.   I’ve heard the men in the bunkhouse talk and saw Mama and her men…well, you know.”   Johnny dipped his head and toed the ground with his boot.  “You told me when I was old enough; we’d have ‘the talk’ or something like that.  You think maybe I’m old enough?”

It was Val’s turn to blush.   He never figured he’d be having this conversation with anyone, let alone this boy.  Johnny may have only been fifteen or sixteen in years, but he was a grown man in so many other ways.  The boy had become a man long before his body caught up with him

“We’ll talk about it someday… soon, but right now we have a job to consider,” Val turned so that Johnny couldn’t see the red tinge in his face. 

Johnny smiled, knowing Val was feeling uncomfortable.     

“I’m hungry,” Johnny said, picking up his hat and tightening his gun belt.

“You’re always hungry, boy,” Val growled.   “Let’s get over to the cantina and see what they’ve got.”

Stepping out into the morning sun, Johnny squinted, his headache worse than before.   Halfway to the cantina, Val and Johnny heard loud voices and shouting coming from further down the street.    They decided to see what was happening.

As they got closer to a gathering of men, they could see Pardee standing to one side, leaning against a post with his arms crossed. 

In front of the General Store, two gunhawks were taking great pleasure in throwing bags of grain out of a buckboard.   The owner of the buckboard, obviously a farmer, was trying to stop them. 

Pardee was smiling as his men harassed the farmer. 

A small blond boy, with light blue eyes, ran out of the General Store and into the street. 

“Leave my Pa alone,” the boy yelled as he kicked one of the gunhawks.

 The gunhawk caught the boy by his arm and was about to raise a hand to him when a soft drawl stopped him.

“I wouldn’t do that.”  

Johnny took several steps forward.  

The gunhawk looked around for the source of the voice.   Seeing Johnny step out of the crowd, the man lowered his hand.

“Let the kid go.”   Johnny’s hand rested on the butt of his Colt.  

Val stood at Johnny’s back.   He knew the minute the gunhawk grabbed the boy; Johnny wasn’t going to sit back and watch.  He’d been manhandled too many times as a child to let something like that stand now.

“This is none of your business, Madrid,” the gunhawk answered with a grin, his hand still on the boy’s neck.

“I don’t like repeating myself,” Johnny’s voice was soft and quiet, his eyes cold and hard. “Let… the… kid… go.” 

The gunhawk looked around at Pardee for some sign of what to do.   

Pardee nodded.

“Sure, Madrid, …sure.”  The gunhawk released his hand on the boy’s neck. 

The boy ran back to his father’s open arms.  Looking around, the farmer didn’t know what to do next.   He looked at Johnny expectantly.

“Thank you, Mister…,” the farmer said, trying to decide whether to smile or not.

“Get your wagon loaded and get out of here,” Johnny replied.   Then as an afterthought, Johnny added, “You may want to consider moving on altogether.” 

The farmer looked at the young man who helped him.  The gun low on the boy’s leg told him he was one of Greg Golden’s hired guns.  Why he’d helped a few moments ago, he didn’t know.  However, he wouldn’t forget the young man’s help.

“My names Blair, James Blair,” the farmer said.

“Like I said, Blair, get the wagon loaded and get out of here,” Johnny backed away, knowing Val had his back.

Val kept watch as Johnny stepped back before turning toward the cantina.  

The crowd started to break up, as Blair lifted his son to the wagon seat and began to pick up the bags lying on the ground.   The clerk from the General Store stepped off the boardwalk to help.

Blair looked at the clerk with appreciation.  “Thank you, Jeff.”

“No problem, Mr. Blair,” Jeff replied as he bent to pick up a bag.  “That was something.  I mean having Johnny Madrid step in like that.”

“Madrid?”    Blair looked toward the direction the young gunfighter had gone.  “That boy was Johnny Madrid?”

The clerk nodded as he put the last bag in the buckboard.

“Yes, sir, Mister Blair.  I heard tell he was on his way.  He’s supposed to be working for Mister Golden.”   

Blair didn’t know what to say.  He knew of Johnny Madrid; everyone did.  The young gunfighter who’d helped him didn’t fit with the stories he’d heard.


Pardee was seated in the saloon when the room went quiet.  There was no doubt Madrid had arrived.   He’d been expecting him.   Madrid was going to ask for more money and he was willing to pay.   He just wanted to hear the boy ask.

Tipping his head up, Pardee watched as Madrid hesitated at the doorway, scanned the room, and then saunter toward him.   Crawford entered behind him, going to the bar.

Madrid fascinated Pardee; always had.  The stories of Madrid’s childhood, or lack of, were well known.  It was also well-known Madrid had a soft spot for his partner, Val Crawford.   Pardee liked knowing a man’s weakness.  You never knew when it might come in handy.

Johnny stopped just short of Pardee’s table.  

“Madrid,” Pardee was the first to speak.  “Have a seat.  You want a drink?”

“Pardee,” Johnny replied as he pulled a chair out and shifted it so that his back wasn’t to the room.   “Thanks, but no on the drink.”

“Crawford tell you the offer?”

Johnny nodded. “It’s not enough.”

Pardee smiled.   “It’s the same as you got in Odessa.”

“That was Odessa.  This is San Angelo.  The price has gone up.”

Pardee shook his head.  “You’re not worth more.”

Johnny let a brief smile wisp across his face.   “Whatever you say.  Guess we’ll look around to see who else is hiring in the area.  Never can tell, the farmers might be able to afford my gun.”

Pardee’s eyes locked with Johnny’s.  

Thinking for a few seconds, Pardee smiled and looked away.

 “Alright, twelve a day for you and ten for Crawford.”

Johnny slowly shook his head.   “Not good enough.  Fifteen a piece for both our guns.”

It was Pardee’s turn to shake his head.   “Twelve a piece.”

Johnny chuckled and started to push back from the table.  “Be seeing you…Day.”

“Just a minute, Madrid,” Pardee snarled, grabbing Johnny’s arm, squeezing it hard.  Glancing toward the bar, he saw Crawford straighten up, placing his hand on the butt of his gun.

Johnny lowered his eyes to the hand on his arm and then back at Pardee’s face.  The look on Madrid’s face caused Pardee to pull his hand back.  

“Don’t ever touch me,” Johnny hissed. 

“Alright, Johnny,” Pardee responded.  “No harm meant.  Fifteen for you, twelve for Crawford. We got an agreement?” 

Johnny held his gaze for a few moments before nodding. “We got an agreement, but if you ever put a hand on me again, Pardee, we’ll find out which of us is faster.  Understood?”    

Pardee held both hands up in surrender.

“Understood.    Now, that we’ve got the price settled, you and Crawford can ride out to Golden’s ranch.   There’s room in the bunkhouse for the both of you.”

Johnny nodded.   Standing, he walked back to the bar where Val was waiting for him.

“We got a job?” Val asked, motioning the bartender for a beer for Johnny.

“Yeah, we got a job,” Johnny answered with a frown.

“What’s wrong?”  Val asked as the bartender set the beer in front of Johnny.

“Not sure,” Johnny answered. 

“How much did you get?”

“Fifteen for me and twelve for you.”

Val nodded. “That’s good; ain’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Johnny answered, rubbing the place on his arm where Pardee grabbed him.  “I got a bad feeling about this, Val.” 

Johnny glanced back at Pardee.   

“How so?” Val’s eyes followed Johnny’s.  

“I don’t know, Val.   I just don’t know.  My gut’s…,” Johnny stopped himself, lifting his beer and taking a long drink.   

“We can still walk away from this,” Val leaned in close and spoke softly.

Johnny shook his head.  “We’ll play the hand we’ve got and see what happens.”


Gregory Golden ran 3,000 head of prime Texas Longhorns on 23,000 acres.   The house and outbuildings weren’t as large as Tom Dean’s ranch in Odessa, but he still had a nice setup. 

Johnny frowned as he stood in the doorway of the bunkhouse commandeered by Pardee.    Looking over his left shoulder, Johnny saw a similar frown on Val’s face.     There were at least 20 men in the small building.    There was no way they were going to stay here.

Val groaned when a familiar voice drew everyone’s attention to Johnny.  Isham practically ran across the bunkhouse.   Not for the first time, Val considered putting a bullet between the stupid kid’s eyes. 

“I saved a spot for you two over by the back wall, Johnny,” Isham was all grins.  “Figured you’d want your back to the wall.”

“That’s right thoughtful of you Isham,” Val spoke up, “but it’s kinda’ crowded in here.    Johnny and me are bedding down in the barn.”

“But…,” Isham looked frustrated.  

Johnny looked from Val to Isham.   “Val’s right, Isham.   Pardee has more men coming.  They can have our bunks in here.  We’ll stay in the barn.”

“Alright,” Isham responded with a frown.   Then just as quickly, the frown was gone, and that silly grin was back.   “We had us a good time last night, didn’t we, Johnny?”

“Yeah, Isham,” Johnny smiled, remembering the time the two spent in the cantina. “We had a real good time.”

“Pardee wants to meet with everyone before supper.  You want me to help you get settled?” Isham’s enthusiasm was evident.

“Sure, Isham,” Johnny answered.  He noted Val had already started toward the barn.  Taking a few steps back, Johnny turned toward the barn with Isham by his side.  

Val didn’t say anything; he just listened as Isham rambled on about the night before in the cantina.    Val glanced at Johnny several times.  There was a smile on Johnny’s face as he listened to Isham.   Val liked it when Johnny smiled.

When Isham started talking about going to the bordello the next time they were in town, Val had heard enough.  He’d seen Johnny blush and knew what the boy was thinking.

“We’d better get back to the bunkhouse and see what Pardee has to say.”  Val’s tone wasn’t missed by Johnny, even if it was by Isham. 


Pardee stood in the middle of the bunkhouse, looking over the men he’d hired.  They were a scruffy bunch.  Only two or three of them were true gunfighters.  The rest were borderline outlaws, men in the game not for the reputation but for the money.

Val sat in a chair near the door.  Johnny leaned against the wall, arms across his chest, one ankle crossed over the other.

Pardee told the men they would be raiding the half dozen or so sodbusters that had set up homes adjacent to Golden’s ranch.   When he’d finished talking, Pardee looked directly at Johnny.

“Madrid, now that you’re working for me, the next time you interfere with my orders, you’ll have to answer to me,” Pardee stated without emotion.

Johnny pushed off the wall.

“As long as your orders don’t include picking on kids or hurting women, I won’t have a reason to interfere,” Johnny’s response was as emotionalist as Pardee’s declaration.  He then looked around the room, his right hand loosely grasping the front of his gun belt.   “Understood.”

Pardee shifted his weight to his left foot, his right hand falling to the side of his holster.  

The room was dead silent.  

Johnny hadn’t moved.  

Pardee relaxed, moved his right hand to his gun belt as well. 

“Sure, Johnny,” Pardee gave Johnny a toothy smile. “Sure.”

Johnny relaxed, moving back to his place against the wall.   It was as if everyone in the room took a single breath at the same time.


The first night’s raid on the farmers saw three fields burned to the north of The Circle G.   The next night the gunhawks hit farms south of the ranch.    After a week of raids, the gunfighters were getting cocky.   They’d raided seven farms, and not one shot was fired.

When Saturday rolled around again, Pardee led a half dozen of his men into San Angelo, Isham included.  He knew the farmers came to town on Saturday for supplies.   As they had a week earlier, the six men set about terrorizing the farmers as they did their shopping and loaded their wagons.   

Johnny decided to ride into town to make sure there wasn’t a repeat of the prior Saturday when James Blair’s boy ended up in the middle of everything.    Val shook his head, knowing if any of Pardee’s men got out of line, Johnny would be there to stop them.

Finding a rocking chair in front of the General Store, Johnny settled in to watch the gunhawks have a go at the farmers.    It wasn’t long before a familiar figure drove his wagon down the dusty street. 

James Blair, with his wife Sara, and their son Jimmy, stopped on the opposite side of the street from the General Store.  James helped his wife and son down from the wagon.  Together they crossed the street and walked into the store.   

Johnny continued to rock, enjoying the morning sun.   Fifteen minutes later, Jimmy Blair strolled out of the store, looked around, and walked over to Johnny.

“Howdy,” the six-year-old boy said with a bag of candy in his right hand.

Johnny nodded.  “Howdy.”

“You’re the one who helped me the other day, aren’t you?”

“I seem to remember.  That fellow didn’t hurt you, did he?”

The little boy shook his head. “Nope.   My name’s Jimmy.   What’s yours?”

“My name’s Mad… Johnny.  You better get back to your Ma.”

“Ma told me to come out here and sit down.”    Jimmy plopped himself down on a bench next to Johnny’s rocking chair.

Johnny’s attention went back to Pardee and the gunhawks with him.  Isham was grinning as he got the hang of harassing the farmers.

Jimmy opened the small bag in his hand.  Reaching in, he drew his hand back with a peppermint stick in his fist.    He jumped down from the bench and walked over to Johnny.

“You want a piece?”  Jimmy held the bag out.

Johnny looked at the smiling boy.

“Thanks,” Johnny replied with a smile of his own.  “You know peppermint’s my favorite.”

“It is?  Mine too.” 

Jimmy looked at the gun on Johnny’s hip.  “You a gunfighter?”

Johnny nodded.  “Sometimes.”

“My Pa says gunfighters are bad men.   You’re not bad; you helped me.”

Johnny huffed.  “Well, kid, there’s bad, and then there’s bad.”

Cocking his head, Jimmy looked confused.

“Jimmy?” a woman’s voice lilted from inside the store.

“I’m here, Ma,” Jimmy called back.

Sara Blair stepped out of the store, smiling.  The smile disappeared when her eyes fell on Johnny.

Jimmy ran to his mother, grabbing her hand, he pulled her toward Johnny.

“Ma, this is Johnny.  He helped Pa and me when we were in town last time.”

Johnny pushed out of the rocker, tipping his hat to Sara.


“It seems I owe you for helping James and Jimmy last week,” Sara said coldly.

“I helped the boy,” Johnny replied.  “Don’t like it when someone tries to hurt a kid.”

“So, …,” Sara looked around, “you’re one of them.”   She nodded toward the gunhawks still harassing one of her neighbors.

Johnny dropped his head, then looked her in the eyes.  “It’s a job, Mrs. Blair.  Nothing more.”

“Your job, as you call it, is to try to push us off our land; the land we bought and paid for with the last of our money.  You said you didn’t like it when a ‘kid’ gets hurt.  You and your business partners are hurting Jimmy.   Maybe you should think about that.”

Sara took Jimmy’s hand and started pulling him away when James Blair came out of the store.   He’d heard what his wife said to the young gunfighter.  He’d never told her who’d helped him the week before.

“Sara!” James snapped.

“James,” Sara turned to her husband, “he may have helped last week, but he’s still one of them. One of those trying to steal our land from us.”

“No, Ma.  Johnny wouldn’t hurt us,” Jimmy pulled his hand out of his mother’s grasp and ran to Johnny.  “Would you, Johnny?”

“Jimmy, go on back to your Ma.  I’ve got to be going,” Johnny said, looking at the expression on James’ face. 

“Mr. Madrid,” James spoke up.  “Thank you for what you did last week.”

“I didn’t do it for you, Mr. Blair.  I did it for the kid,” Johnny said as he turned away, tossing the remnants of the peppermint stick aside as he went.    Walking toward the cantina, he saw Val leaning against one of the buildings watching him.

“James,” Sara watched Johnny walking away, “did you call him Madrid?   That young man is Johnny Madrid?”

“Yes, dear,” James smiled at her. 

“Oh, my,” she blushed.  “James?”

“Yes, dear.”

“I spoke that way to Johnny Madrid, and he didn’t shoot me?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Oh, my.   James, let’s go home.”

“Yes, dear.”


Val pushed off the building.   “You ready to go back to the ranch?”

Johnny looked around the street and then at the Blairs once more.   “Yeah, I’m ready.”

The ride back to The Circle G was quiet.  Neither Val or Johnny had spoken a word.  They were almost at the ranch when Johnny glanced at Val.

“Well?” Johnny spoke for the first time since leaving town.

“Didn’t say anything,” Val responded.

“You were thinking it,” Johnny snapped.  “So, get it said.”

“Watch your tone, boy,” Val pulled up, turning in the saddle, giving Johnny an angry look.   “What’s wrong with you?”

Johnny hung his head.  “Val… that family, the Blairs…”


“What Mrs. Blair said about them buying the land.   You think… you think Golden’s in the right?”

“You know we try to be on the right side.   When we’re in this type of fracas, the lines between right and wrong get blurred, especially when we hire out our guns,” Val said as he looked at Johnny’s lowered head.   “You like those folks, don’t you?”

Johnny nodded.  

“You know they’ve got to go.  Golden’s gonna’ force them out.  We’re gonna’ be the ones that make sure they go.”

“I know.  Don’t mean I’ve gotta’ like it.”

“No… guess we don’t gotta’ like it,” Val answered as he kicked his horse forward again.

Johnny sighed and followed Val.


Pardee was grinning; that toothy grin he got when he was going to do something he enjoyed. 

“Well, boys, it’s time to move things along.  We’ve burned enough fields; time to burn a few barns and knock some heads together.”

The majority of the men in the bunkhouse were all smiles.  They were tired of doing nothing but burn fields and harass farmers in town.

The door to the bunkhouse opened.  A tall man dressed in denim pants and matching vest walked into the room.

“Mr. Golden,” Pardee exclaimed, moving toward the man.

It was the first time any of them had seen their employer.

“Men, this is Mr. Golden, our boss,” Pardee introduced the rancher.   Turning back to Golden, “I was just about to give the men their orders for tonight.”

“Good…good,” Golden nodded, looking around the room.  “It’s time to move things along.  I want the farmers off my land, and the sooner, the better.” 

Golden tensed when his eyes fell on Johnny’s tan face.  Turning to Pardee, Golden hissed, “Pardee, I don’t want that kind working at The Circle G.  Get rid of him.”

Johnny, standing against the wall, straightened giving Golden a faint smile.   “What kind would that be, Mister?” 

Pardee stepped forward.

“Mr. Golden…,” Pardee hesitated.  He didn’t want to go against their boss, but he sure didn’t want to rile Madrid.

“I said get rid of him,” Golden snarled.  “I don’t want a Mex on my place.”

Johnny looked from Golden to Pardee.

“Fine by me,” Johnny shifted to his left foot.  “I’ll go just as soon as I draw my pay.”

“Make that two of us,” Val drawled, stepping forward.  

“Mr. Golden?”  Pardee’s grin was gone and replaced with an expression of panic.

Golden stood his ground, glaring at Johnny.

“Mr. Golden, do you know who you want me to fire?” Pardee spoke up again.

“I don’t give a damn who he is.  I want him off my land.” Golden glare went from Johnny to Pardee.

Johnny looked at Pardee.   “We’ve been here ten days,” Johnny stated. “That’s one fifty for me and one twenty for Crawford.”

Golden’s brow knotted.  “You’re paying this… fifteen dollars a day?”     Increasing his glare on Pardee, it was Pardee’s turn to return the glare.  He never wanted his men to know how much the other was paid. 

“Pardee, we’ll be saddling up.   Get our money, and you won’t have to look at either of us again,” Val said as he turned to the door, following Johnny out.

In the barn, Val found Johnny calmly saddling his horse. 

“Where we headed,” Val asked, putting the saddle blanket on his horse.

Johnny didn’t answer right away.   When he did, he looked at Val over the top of his horse, smiling.

“Val, how do you feel about farmers?”


Pardee shook his head, frowning.  He’d paid Madrid and Crawford and then saw two more of his men coming toward him.  He knew what they were going to say.   They knew Madrid would be working for the farmers by morning and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of Madrid’s gun.

“Pardee,” Reb Larsen stopped just short of his soon to be former boss.   Isham stood beside Larsen.

“Larsen, you and Isham want out?”

“That’s right,” Reb answered with a deep Texas drawl and a firm nod “Golden’s a fool.  You know where Madrid and Crawford are headed.  No way I’m going up against him.   Anyone who does is a fool.” 

“Just remember who you’ll be going up against if you join Madrid.” Pardee gave them a smirky grin, wondering who Larsen and Isham were more afraid of, him or Madrid.

Pardee paid off Larsen and Isham and walked back into the bunkhouse to find Golden still there.   The moment he stepped in, Golden turned to him with a smile on his face.

“Now, Pardee.” Golden looked around the room at the remaining gunfighters, “I want to meet your top gun.  Where is this Johnny Madrid you’ve been telling me about?”

The men in the room shook their heads and chuckled, while Pardee groaned.


James Blair was a farmer.   Born in Indiana, he was the son and grandson of farmers.

Seven years earlier he’d met Sara Devlon, the daughter of a farmer. She was the love of his life.  It hadn’t been long after they met that he’d asked her to marry him.    

When Sara announced she was expecting, James knew he needed more for his family than sharing a small farm with his brother in Indiana.

Jimmy was two when word reached the farmers in Indiana of land for sale in West Texas.  The Concho Valley was reported to have land suitable for growing wheat and cotton.  James and his small family set out for their new home that same year. 

That was three years ago. The moment they laid eyes on the valley and the fertile land, James and Sara knew this was where they wanted to raise their family.

The first year, every cent they had was used to buy the land and build the house and barn.   The wheat crop they’d planted was one of the best in the Concho Valley.  With the money from the first crop, they felt comfortable buying new equipment and seed for the next year.   Their second crop was better than the first.   

For the first time in his life, James Blair felt like he could provide for his small family.  Then the trouble began.  Greg Golden hadn’t been the best neighbor to them when they’d first arrived, but he tolerated the Blairs.  It was when other farmers moved onto the land surrounding The Circle G that Golden started putting pressure on all the farmers to move out of the area.

When Golden started hiring gunman, James, along with the other farmers in the area, began to worry.   Their farms were all they had. 

James swore he wouldn’t give up without a fight.


“Pa…Pa,” Jimmy Blair yelled as he watched two riders coming toward the house.   “Pa, horses are coming.”

James Blair grabbed the rifle sitting near the front door as he headed out of the house.  Standing on the front porch, he waited for the riders to get closer.   He frowned when he saw who it was.

Val and Johnny reined to a stop in front of the house.  Leaning over the pommel, Johnny pushed his hat off his head so that it hung by the stampede strings.

“What do you want?” Blair asked raising the rifle, pointing it at the two men.

“Don’t mean you no harm, Mr. Blair,” Val drawled.  

“I asked you a question?”  

Johnny swung out of the saddle and stepped down.

“Mr. Blair,” Johnny said, taking a step forward.  “You can shoot us if you want or listen to what we have to say.”

Johnny gave Blair one of his best smiles.

“Alright,” Blair lowered his rifle, but only slightly.  “I’m listening.”

“It’s like this, Mr. Blair,” Johnny shifted his weight onto his right leg, at the same time hooking his left thumb in his gun belt.    “We’ve parted company with Golden.  Val and I are wondering if you and the other farmers were interested in hiring us.”

Blair’s brow knotted, thinking about what the gunfighter said.   

“Son, we don’t have money to hire you.  Every penny we have is tied up in the farm.”

Blair glanced at his wife, who had stepped out of the house and joined him on the porch.  Little Jimmy wiggled his way between his parents to stand in front of them.

Johnny straightened up, glaring at Blair.  

“First off, I’m not your son.”  Johnny snapped and let his voice soften.  “Second, we figured you didn’t have the money to hire guns, or you would have already.  Val and me don’t cotton to how Golden is going about trying to take the land from the farmers.  We’ll help you if you want us.  If not, we’ll ride out.”

Blair lowered the rifle and looked at the boy in front of him.  He knew Madrid’s reputation but still couldn’t believe the boy was offering his services for free.

“Of course, we’d like your help, Mr. Mad….”

Johnny held up a hand, stopping Blair.

“The name’s Johnny, Mr. Blair.  No need to add Mister to it.”

“Alright…Johnny.  As I was saying, we’d like your help, but what will you want in payment?”

Val chuckled.  “Mr. Blair, we’ve worked for our keep before.  If that’s alright with you.”

“I’m not sure how much just the two of you can do against Greg Golden and his hired guns.”   

Johnny lowered his head, smiling.  “Don’t worry about that, Mr. Blair.   We know what to do.”

Val took a step forward.

“Now that’s settled, you have a place we can bed down the horses?”

“In the barn,” Blair said, pointing at the barn to the right of the house.   “I’m afraid there’s no room in the house for you to sleep.”

“Not a problem,” Val replied.  “We’ll settle in the barn.”

Sara stepped forward, “Mr. Mad… Johnny would you, and your friend come in for supper once you’ve got your horses taken care of.  I’ll not take no for an answer.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny answered, tipping his hat.

The barn wasn’t as big as Golden’s, but it had clean hay for the horses, and the stalls were freshly mucked.   There was an extra stall where Val and Johnny dropped their bedrolls and saddlebags.

Once the horses were taken care of and they’d cleaned up, Val and Johnny made their way to the house.   They were almost to the porch when the front door flew open.

Johnny crouched, pulling his gun, aiming it at the door.   Val was only a second behind him.    Both men took a deep breath and let it out when they saw Jimmy Blair standing in front of them, mouth open; eyes wide.

Johnny straightened up and holstered his gun.  Walking forward, he mounted the porch steps and stood over the little boy.

“You know you could have got shot doing that,” Johnny growled.

Jimmy’s lower lip trembled, and his eyes were watering.  “I’m…I’m…,” he sniffled.   “I’m sorry, Johnny.  I was just coming to tell you supper’s ready.”   The boy turned back to the house and ran inside.

Johnny shook his head and sat on the top step.   Looking up at Val, he could see that he wasn’t the only one still reeling from the near miss.

Sara Blair came out of the house, wiping her hands on a towel. 

“What just happened?  Jimmy’s in there crying,” she angrily asked.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Val spoke up.  “The boy came out so fast; we didn’t know what was happening.  We… we drew on him.”

The woman went pale, putting a hand to her throat.

“You drew on him.  My God, you could have killed my son.   I want…”

“Sara,” James stepped onto the porch.  “That’s enough.  How many times have you told Jimmy not to run in the house or out the door?    The boy’s alright.  Now see to Jimmy and get supper on the table.  We’ll be in there in a few minutes.”

Sara gave both Johnny and Val an angry look and went back inside.

“Mr. Blair,” Johnny said as he stood up, “maybe we should…”

“No, Johnny,” James interrupted.  “You’ll both come in for supper.  As I said, no harm’s been done, and maybe Jimmy has learned a lesson.”

Johnny looked at Val, who shrugged.  They followed James inside.

Inside they found Jimmy seated at the table, head bowed.  

“Johnny, take the seat next to Jimmy.  Mr. …,” Blair looked at Val.  “You know I don’t even know your name.”

“Crawford, Val Crawford, Mr. Blair,” Val extended his hand to shake with the farmer.  “Just call me Val.”

“Val, please sit,” Blair indicated a chair opposite Johnny.

Sara sat the food on the table and took her place.   Johnny started to reach for the nearest dish when Jimmy’s red eyes looked up.   “Pa hasn’t said grace yet, Johnny.”

Johnny pulled his hand back. “Sorry.  Thanks for keeping me straight, Jimmy.”

Jimmy smiled and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.  

As soon as grace was said, James started passing the food around.  Johnny glanced at Val, not knowing how much to take.  He hadn’t spent any time at a table with anyone other than Val or other gunfighters.  

Val smiled as he took a helping of the food offered and watched Johnny imitate him.  

“Look, Jimmy,” Johnny spoke softly, “I’m sorry about scaring you earlier.  It’s just that…”

“I know, Johnny.   I could have been some fellow trying to gun you.  Isn’t that right?  I won’t do it ever again.  I promise.”

Johnny finished the food on his plate and looked around.  Everyone else was still eating.   He was still hungry but knew better than to ask for more. 

“More?” Sara picked up a platter with fried chicken on it and offered it to Val. 

“No ma’am that was plenty, thank you anyway,” Val answered, looking across the table at Johnny.

“Johnny, would you like some more?” Sara asked, holding the plate out.

Johnny looked at her and then Val.  He figured if Val wasn’t having any more, he’d better not.

“No, ma’am,” Johnny answered reluctantly. “That sure was good, though.”

“Johnny, I can’t believe you’re full.  You’re a growing boy.  I suppose I’ll have to give it to the hogs if you don’t want it,” Sara started to set the plate down.

“Well…,” Johnny started and was cut off by Val.

“Well, ma’am if you’re sure, I would like another piece,” Val said, reaching for the platter.  He knew Johnny was still hungry.  The boy was a bottomless pit.   “Johnny, you’re sure?”

“If it’s alright, then yes, ma’am, I’d like another piece,” Johnny answered with a grin, reaching for the dish.

Jimmy intently listened to the conversation between his mother and the two men.  Finally, he looked at his mother with a frown.

“Ma, when did we get some hogs?”

“Just eat your dinner, sweetheart,” Sara answered with a sweet smile and went back to her supper.

“But, Ma, you…”

“Jimmy, hush now and eat.”

Jimmy sighed and started eating again, wondering when his Pa was going to buy the hogs.

After dinner, the men went to the front porch to talk.   Johnny sat down in the rocking chair near the door and looked out at the fading light.  He wondered what Pardee had planned for tonight.

James sat on the stoop and lite a pipe.  Looking at the young dark-haired boy, he had to smile.  The boy sitting on his front porch looked nothing like the legendary gunfighter he’d heard or read about.

“Mr. Blair, can you get some of your neighbors together tomorrow to talk about what needs to be done to protect the farms?” Val asked, watching Jimmy come quietly out of the house and close the door behind him.

James nodded. “I can do that.  We’ve been worried.  Pardee has burned at least one crop of everyone in the area.”

Jimmy moved away from the door and stood next to Johnny’s chair. 

“What do you think Pardee will do next?” James asked, watching his son crawl into Johnny’s lap.  Johnny stopped rocking, helped the boy up, and started rocking again.

“Burn a few barns,” Johnny answered as Jimmy settled into his lap.  “Knock some heads together.”

James thought for a moment.   “Would they … kill anyone?  I’ve heard what gunfighters do…”

Val nodded. “Could come to that.  Mr. Blair, I know you’ve got everything wrapped up in the farm, but if it’s a choice between the farm and your family.”

“I will not leave my home!” Sara stood in the doorway.

Neither Johnny or Val said anything.

“So, what are you going to do?” James asked, looking from his wife to Val.   He was surprised when Johnny spoke up.

“The way we see it, we need to keep Golden’s men busy.  We know his layout, where his cattle are, where to hurt him most,” Johnny said as he continued to rock with Jimmy in his lap.

“Just the two of you?”

“Just the two of us,” Johnny responded with a grin.  “You have to understand something, Mr. Blair.  We’ve worked both sides of range wars.  We know what needs to be done and how to do it.”

Sara noticed her son yawning.  “Jimmy, time for bed.” 

“Aw, Ma, I want to stay up a while… longer,” Jimmy said with another yawn.

“You better do what your Ma says,” Johnny spoke up, shifting the boy off his lap.

“Alright, if you say so,” the boy said, sliding to his feet.   “I’ll see you in the morning, Johnny.” 

“Night, Jimmy.”

Johnny smiled as the boy was ushered into the house.

Looking at Val and the now darkened sky, Johnny stood up and stretched.  “Val, you ready to go to work?”

“Yep, guess we better.” Val stood, straightened his gun belt.

“What are you going to do?” James asked, watching the two gunfighters walk to the barn.

“You’ll see,” Val called over his shoulder.

Ten minutes later, Val and Johnny rode out.


Coming out of deep sleep, Johnny swatted at something tickling his nose.  Rolling his head, he pushed his head back into the makeshift pillow and dozed off again.    A few seconds passed.  Something brushed against his cheek.  Rubbing his cheek, Johnny sighed.  This time he woke, opening his eyes enough to see.   

When something brushed against his face for the third time, Johnny’s hand shot out, grabbing the small hand holding a long piece of straw. 

Jimmy Blair laughed as Johnny pulled the boy down onto him. 

“You know you shouldn’t wake a man like that,” Johnny laughed, tickling the boy’s stomach.

“Stop, Johnny, that tickles,” Jimmy giggled.

Johnny pushed the small body off of him.  Yawning, Johnny rubbed his face and looked around. 

“What time is it?” Johnny asked as he stood up.

“Almost 9:00.  Ma sent me out to see if you were awake yet.  She’s got breakfast for you,” Jimmy answered, jumping to his feet.

“Where’s Val?”

“In the house. Ma’s feeding him,” Jimmy answered.  “Come on, Johnny.”  The boy grabbed Johnny’s hand and started pulling him along.

“Give me a minute to clean up,” Johnny laughed, pulling his hand away.  “You go ahead; I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Ok, Johnny,” the boy grinned and ran to the house.

Johnny stood up, yawning again.  It had been a long night.  He and Val had cut the fences on Golden’s south range and stampeded his cattle.   They hadn’t returned to the Blair farm until the early hours of the morning.

When Johnny’s stomach started rumbling, he figured it was time to see what he could get to eat.

“Ma. Ma. Johnny’s awake,” Jimmy yelled as he tore into the house.    “He said he’d be in a little while.”

“You woke him up, didn’t you?  Jimmy, you should have let him sleep,” Sara scolded her son.

“It’s alright, ma’am,” Johnny said as he stepped into the kitchen.  “Looks like I should have been awake some time ago.”

“Sit down, Johnny,” Sara smiled, watching the young man with his dark hair standing up in all directions.

Val shook his head.  Reaching over, he tried smoothing Johnny’s hair down. “Lordy, boy, you need to comb that mop or get a haircut.”

Johnny swatted his hand away. Johnny ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it down.

“Leave me be, Val.  I’ll comb it, and I don’t need a haircut.  I like it like this.”

“Ma is always cutting my hair, Johnny,” Jimmy spoke up before giving Johnny a thoughtful look. “Ma can cut your hair if you want.  Can’t you, Ma?”

Sara’s eyes had gone wide. “Jimmy!”

Val laughed. “That’s a right good idea.  Ma’am, would you cut his hair for him?”

“Val!” Johnny ground out.

“What?  You let it get any longer; you won’t be able to see to shoot.”

Sara and Val were laughing when James walked into the kitchen.  Jimmy had his head down snickering.   Johnny’s eyes bore into them all.  

“What did I miss?” James asked, taking his seat at the table.

“Nothing,” Johnny snapped.   “Not a damn thing.”

“Mind your manners, boy,” Val snapped back.   “We were just joshing you.  No need to get all riled up.”

“Well….,” Johnny mumbled, lowering his head. 

“Well, nothing,” Val replied.  “Apologize.”

Johnny glared at Val.

Val was giving him one of those looks that meant he wasn’t taking any guff off of him.

“I’m sorry for snapping at you, Mr. Blair,” Johnny said in a low voice.   “Sorry, ma’am for cussing.”

Sara sat momentarily looking at the young boy at her table, wondering where the hardened gunfighter had gone.   His apology was sincere. 

“Thank you, Johnny.  I accept your apology.”  Sara smiled when she saw the young man look to Val for approval.

Val gave a sharp nod and went back to his meal.

Johnny reached across the table for a biscuit, caught himself, pulling back his hand.   Looking at Sara, Johnny smiled.  

Sara thought her heart would stop with the smile that lit up the boy’s face and seemed to lit up the kitchen.  

Val lowered his head to hide his own smile.  Johnny had turned on the charm with the woman.  He’d seen it many times.  The boy could charm the horns off the devil.

“Go ahead, help yourself,” Sara said in response to the look on Johnny’s face.

Johnny didn’t hesitate.  He reached again for a biscuit.  Sara handed him the plate filled with bacon and eggs.   Johnny started shoveling the food into his mouth.

Val waited a moment before saying anything. “Slow down.  It ain’t going anywhere.”

Johnny swallowed what he had in his mouth, looking around, then took another smaller bite. 

Sara stood up and walked to the counter.  When she returned, she had two glasses of milk.  She sat one in front of Jimmy and the other in front of Johnny.   Her actions got a smile from both boys.

James waited until the meal was almost over before breaching the subject of Gregory Golden.

Johnny sat his fork down before looking at Val.    Val nodded.  He knew it was Johnny who was going to do the talking.

“Mr. Blair…,” Johnny started.

“James.  Call me James.”

“James, we need to speak to the farmers that Golden’s threatening.  Can you get them to come here for a meeting?  The only way we are going to be able to defend the farms is if everyone works together.”

Johnny sat back, waiting from James to respond. 

“I can do that.  I know a few of my neighbors have lost a lot already.  I’m not sure they’ll trust you,” James replied.

“All we can do is try.   They either trust and work with us or give up their homes.  It’s their choice,” Val spoke up.

James nodded. 

“I’ll go to Floyd Parson’s farm first. He’s the closest.  I’ll do my best to get them all here,” James pushed back from the table and started for the door.  “Jimmy, you stay close to the house today.”

“Sure, Pa,” the little boy answered with a grin.  “I’ll stay close to Johnny.”

Johnny looked at the small boy and took a deep breath.  Being close to him wasn’t the safest place in the best of circumstances, but at least he would watch out for Jimmy while his father was away.


After leaving The Circle G, Reb Larsen and Isham went straight to the saloon in San Angelo.  The two men weren’t sure what they were going to do. The one thing they knew they didn’t want to do was to go against Madrid.  

Late the next afternoon two ranch hands from The Circle G strolled into the saloon, dirty and grumbling.    Downing his drink, one of the ranch hands noticed Larsen and Isham.

“You two work for Pardee?” the ranch hand asked.

Larsen shook his head. “Not anymore.  We quit yesterday.  What’s got you two stirred up?”

The second man huffed, “Spent the entire day rounding up cattle and fixing fences.”


“You tell us?” the man asked motioning for another drink.  “Someone cut all the fences on the south range and then stampeded the herd.  Figure they’re scattered from here to El Paso.  Old Man Golden’s fit to be tied.”

Isham started chuckling. 

“What’s wrong with you?” the ranch hand asked.

“Nothing,” Isham answered with a grin on his face.  “You may want to get some rest.  Figure you fellows are going to be busy again tomorrow.”

When the batwing doors opened again, two gunhawks sauntered in, going to the bar.   Seeing Larsen and Isham, the two men moved to their table.

“Temple, Alsup,” Larsen nodded as the two men sat down.  “What are you doing in town?”

“Quit,” Temple answered.  “You two hear what happened last night?”

Isham laughed.  “Yeah, we heard.   Is that why you quit today?”

“Sure as hell was,” Alsup answered.  “Golden’s a fool for firing Madrid.  You both know what’s coming next.  I ain’t stupid enough to go up against Madrid.   You two gonna’ sign up with the kid?”

“I wouldn’t let Madrid hear you call him a kid.  There was a guy over in Tucson who called him that. It pissed Madrid off.  Trust me you don’t ever want to see Madrid pissed off.  To answer your question, I’m not sure if I’m signing on with him,” Larsen answered. “What about you?”

“There ain’t no money working for the farmers,” Alsup grumbled.

“No,” Isham spoke up.  “No money.  Wonder why Madrid and Crawford are working for them?”

Larsen looked at Isham, shaking his head.  “Madrid’s your friend.  You should know.”

Isham frowned.  Yes, he was Madrid’s friend, but he still couldn’t understand why his friend did some of the things he did.  There was no money or glory in helping the farmers.

“Why would he help them?” Isham asked, leaning onto the table.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Larsen answered, pouring another drink. 

“We gonna’ go out and join up with him?”  Isham whispered, looking at the men at the table.

Isham could tell they were thinking about it.


The noise level of the men talking was deafening — everyone talking at the same time or trying to.

Johnny stood to one side, arms folded across his chest, hat pulled down over his eyes.   He was still tired from the night before and had a headache.  He’d been listening to the farmers argue for the last twenty minutes.

Johnny looked across the room to see Val with a bored look on his face. 

A new round of arguments was starting when Val finally straightened up.  Before Val could yell at the men, a shrill whistle pierced the air.   Everyone covered their ears and turned toward Johnny.

“Listen,” Johnny shouted out, “I really don’t give a ….” Johnny saw Sara Blair standing in the doorway.  He changed what he was going to say.  “I don’t give a darn one way or the other.  We’ve offered our help.  You want it or not?”

The farmers who gathered in the Blair living room were Fred Turner, Floyd Parsons, Carl Stinnett, Abe Billings, Edward Ward, Seth Jones, and Michael Wells.  Each of their farms was adjacent to Gregory Golden’s ranch.

“Madrid, you were with Pardee when he burned my fields,” Turners stated with a sneer.

“That’s right,” Johnny answered with no apology in his voice. 

“And you don’t regret it for a minute, do you?” Turner yelled.

“Look, Mr. Turner, I’m sorry about your field,” Johnny looked around the room.  “I’m sorry about all the burned fields, but that was the job.  We’re hired guns.  We were paid to burn your fields.  We don’t work for Golden anymore.  Now, we want to help you.  That is if you want our help.”

“How do we know it’s not a trick?” Floyd Parsons spoke up.  “You could be trying to work from the inside to get our farms.”

“All we can ask is that you trust us,” Val said as he stepped forward.  

“Alright, say we trust you,” Michael Wells said as he looked around the room at his neighbors. “What can just the two of you do to stop a man like Pardee?   He must have a least 20 gunfighters working for him.”

“Johnny and I are going to keep Golden’s ranch hands busy.  So busy that they won’t have time to do anything but fix fences and round up cattle.  The way we figure it, Golden will have Pardee watching his fences and herds at night.   They won’t have time to raid the farms.”

“And just the two of you can do that?”  Wells asked.

“You hear about the problem Golden had last night?”  Johnny asked with a sly grin.

“We heard,” Billings answered.  “I was in town when a few of Golden’s men rode in.  There were also a couple of gunfighters there. I heard they quit this morning.  The word is they didn’t want to go up against Johnny Madrid.”

Everyone turned to look at Johnny.

“Yeah, and they’ll be more to quit in the next few days,” Val laughed.  “Not many of Pardee’s men are willing to stand up against Johnny’s gun.”

“So, what do you want us to do?”  Edward Ward joined the conversation for the first time.

“Organize a warning system.  If Pardee strikes one of your farms, then the others come to help.  How many men do you have working for you?”  Val responded.

“Not many,” Carl Stinnett answered.  “We’re small farms.  We can’t afford to hire men unless it’s harvest time.”

Val looked at Johnny.  Now they understood why burning the fields had been so easy.  These men had no one working for them who could stand up to Gregory Golden.

Finally, in agreement, the farmers worked out a system where each farm would warn another when a raid was taking place.  A map of the area with the farms marked on it was spread out on the kitchen table.  Four hours after arriving at the Blair farm, the men rode back to their own farms.

Johnny and Val felt exhausted when the last man rode away.   Johnny knew he needed rest before they rode out that night to harass Golden.

Sara Blair brought each of them a glass of cold lemonade while they sat on the front porch.

“Do you think it will work?  I mean, will the farmers be able to help each other enough to win against Golden and Pardee?”  Sara asked as she sat in one of the chairs on the porch.

“We’ll know soon enough,” Val answered as he started drinking the cold liquid.

“We’re going out again tonight,” Johnny stated.  “Val and I have talked it over.  We’re splitting up, hit Golden in two places instead of one.”

“I’m gonna’ take a siesta before tonight,” Val said as he sat his drink down and started toward the barn.

“I’ll join you,” Johnny said, also standing.

“What’s a siesta?” Jimmy asked from his place on the top step.  He’d stayed out of the way during the meeting, but he’d heard everything said.  He didn’t understand most of it, but he knew that bad things were happening to the other farms.   The only thing Jimmy knew for sure was that Johnny was going to make it all better.

“A siesta is a nap,” Johnny answered the boy.

“A nap?  Johnny, you’re too old for a nap.” Jimmy frowned.

“Never too old for a nap.  Isn’t that right, Miss Sara?”

Sara smiled.  She fought Jimmy every day, trying to put him down for a nap.

“That’s right, Jimmy.  If Johnny takes naps, don’t you think you should too?”

Jimmy thought about it for a moment before first looking at Johnny and then his mother.   There was something wrong with what they were telling him, but if Johnny was going to take a nap, he would also.

“Can I lay down in the barn with Johnny and Val?” Jimmy finally spoke up.

“If it’s alright with them, but only this one time.  I don’t want to have to bathe you after every nap,” Sara answered.

“A bath?” Jimmy frowned again.  Maybe taking a nap in his own bed was better after all.  “I’ll see you later, Johnny,” Jimmy said as he started for the door and his bed.

Johnny laughed.  “See you later, Jimmy.”

Johnny followed Val into the cool of the barn.  Val was already lying down when Johnny stretched out beside him.  Moments later they were both asleep.   


Johnny heard the shot at almost the same moment the bullet plowed a furrow across his left shoulder.  Diving from the saddle, he rolled to the ground, coming to rest on his back. 

The rain when it started, came as a fine mist.   Through partially opened eyes, Johnny saw lighting flash, followed by the low rumble of thunder.   He cursed to himself when heavy drops of rain stung his face.   

Thunder and the sound of rain drowned out the sound of hoofbeats as Johnny lay motionless.

Finally, hearing the horses stop a few feet away, he held his breath, knowing there would only be one chance when the time came.   He could tell there were two of them.  When he felt a boot kick his leg, Johnny raised his gun, aiming at the man closest to him. 

A single shot hurled the man back onto the ground.   As the second man realized what was happening, Johnny kicked out with his foot, catching the man’s leg, knocking him down.   Before Johnny could get to his feet, the man was already up and coming at him with a knife.

Another lightning bolt lit the night sky, the light glinting off the knife blade as it cut through the air.   Johnny felt the burn across his ribs as the knife’s sharp edge sliced first the shirt and then skin. Staggering backward, Johnny raised his gun, leveling it at the man who once again lashed out.

The sky lit up again, long enough for Johnny to see who he was up against.   Joe Rudd was grinning right up until the moment a single shot from Johnny’s gun wiped the grin away.  Rudd fell to the ground but not before lurching at the young gunfighter once again.   The weight of Rudd’s body flattened Johnny against the ground with Rudd on top of him, the knife tip missing his neck by a fraction of an inch.

Lying stunned for a few moments, Johnny took a deep breath, before pushing Rudd away.   He lay there, breathing hard, rain pounding against him and wondering what had possessed Val and him to split up tonight.    Val was going to cut the fences on the north range of The Circle G, while Johnny took care of the wire on the east side of the ranch.    It should have been simple.   Cutting the fences was always simple.

What he hadn’t expected was to find any of Pardee’s men out this far.   That got him to thinking.  What were Pardee’s men doing out this far from the ranch?   What was out this way? 

A sudden image of the small farm on the edge of Golden’s ranch came to mind.   Who owned it?  Johnny tried to clear his mind as the rain continued to pour down. Stinnett.  That was the name.  He and Val had met the man that morning.  

Johnny pushed himself to his feet.  Looking around, he saw his horse standing twenty feet away.   Making his way to his horse, Johnny held onto the saddle horn as a wave of dizziness tried to claim him.  

Finally, pulling himself up into the saddle, Johnny turned toward the Stinnett farm.  

The flames could be seen a mile away. Topping the hill overlooking the farm, Johnny knew he was too late to help, even if he were in any condition to do so.   Flames shot skyward from the small barn.  The sound of horses screaming filled the night air.   Johnny thought he heard other screams mixed with those of the horses. 

Watching a dozen gunhawks riding out of the yard below, Johnny wondered if Stinnett or his family were still alive. 

Putting his hand over the wound on his side, Johnny felt the sticky wetness.  He didn’t dare go down to the Stinnett farm.  Whoever was there would think he was one of the raiders.  He’d been put in that position more than once.  The last time he was trying to help and ended up almost hung.

Turning back toward the Blair farm, Johnny knew that was the only place he would be safe.  He had to get to the farm and Val.

The longer he rode, the lower he fell over the horse’s neck. 

A bolt of lightning shot across the cloudy sky, running west to east, followed a second later by thunder that shook the ground.    Johnny’s horse reared, throwing his head.

Johnny slid off the back of the saddle, landing on the soggy ground.   His head hit a rock, the only solid thing around.  His consciousness registered another bolt of lightning, a clap of thunder, and then nothing.


Val rode back to the Blair farm wet, tired, and hungry.   Going straight to the barn, he was met by James.

“I’ll take your horse,” James shouted as another boom of thunder shook the barn.

Val nodded, handing over the reins.  Stepping into the barn, Val came to a sudden stop.  Johnny’s horse wasn’t there. 

“Where’s Johnny?” Val turned on James.

“Not back yet,” James answered, seeing the worry on Val’s face.   

Val stepped back to the barn door and looked out into the night.  The rain was coming down harder than before.  Frequent bolts of lightning streaked across the sky, as the thunder resounded off of the nearby hills.

“He should have been back before me.  The fence he was cutting was closest to your place.”

“I know,” James replied, moving to stand next to Val in the doorway.  “I’ve been watching for him.”

Val turned to his horse; he was going to go back out.   James grabbed his arm, shaking his head.

“Val, you can’t find him in this.  He could be anywhere.  Maybe he’s found a place to weather the storm.  He may have gone to one of the other farms when the rain started.”

Val shook his head. “Not Johnny.  He wouldn’t go anyplace but here.  He don’t trust no one else.”

“We’ll have to wait until morning, Val.”

Defeated, Val lowered his head.  “I know, but at first light…if he’s not back, I’m going after him.”

“I’ll go with you,” James replied.  “We’d better get some rest.”

Scanning the darkness one more time, Val moved back into the barn.  Shaking, he took a blanket and put it around his shoulders.  He knew he needed to get out of his wet clothes and into something dry, but if he needed to go out in the rain again, what difference would it make.

Sitting on a bale of hay near the door, Val leaned back, closing his eyes.  He was tired, still hungry, and more than worried.


Slivers of light filtered through the barn walls, bringing Val slowly awake.   Yawning, he dropped the blanket from around his shoulders.  Standing and stretching, Val looked around, suddenly remembering why he was sitting up.

Stepping into the bright morning, Val sighed.  Johnny hadn’t come back.  Now, it was time to go out after him.  He’d start with Golden’s east pasture.

Val saddled his horse and stepped out of the barn.  When he saw a rider coming, he felt relieved, then disappointed.  It wasn’t Johnny.

The rider came to a stop in front of the house.

“Mr. Blair,” a boy of around thirteen called out.

James and Sara stepped out of the house and onto the front porch.

“Zak?” James asked.  “What brings you out so early.”

“Pa sent me, Mr. Blair,” the boy answered as Val lead his horse from the barn.  “We found one of those gunfighters this morning laying out in the wheat field.  Pa sent me to get you.”

“Who was it?” Val asked with a sinking feeling before James could speak.

“It’s that Mexican gunhawk,” Zak responded.  “Pa said he was here yesterday.  Pa said for you to come, Mr. Blair, and bring the other gunhawk.  Would that be you, Mister?”

Val nodded.  “You said you found him lying in the wheat field.  Is he hurt?”

The gave an exaggerated nod.  “Sure is.  Looks real bad, too.”

Val swung into the saddle.  “You lead the way.”

“I’ll hitch up the wagon and be right behind you.  We’ll bring Johnny back here if we can,” James said, jumping off the front porch and heading toward the barn.  


Floyd Parsons spent the better part of the last hour watching over the young gunfighter he’d met the day before.  

When he’d looked out over his wheat field that morning, he saw a horse standing in the middle of it.  His first thought was that the horse was damaging his field.  It wasn’t until he got closer that he realized the horse was standing over a man.

The man he found was soaking wet and covered in mud.  Once he turned him over, he saw that it was the boy he’d met the day before; the gunfighter named Madrid. 

Parsons looked to see if there was anyone else around before running to the house.  With the help of his son, Zak, Parsons got the injured boy back to the barn.  He then sent Zak to the Blair farm.

The sound of horses racing toward the barn brought Parsons to the barn door, rifle in hand.   He was relieved to see Zak with the gunfighter’s partner.

“Where is he?” Val asked, throwing himself from his moving horse.

“In the barn,” Parsons answered, pointing to the open door.

Val dropped his horse’s reins and ran into the barn.   Johnny was lying on a bed of straw, covered with a horse blanket.   Kneeling, he pulled the cover back.   Johnny’s wet and muddy clothes were covered in blood.  The still bleeding chest wound told him all he needed to know. The boy was hurt badly and needed a doctor.   

“Johnny,” Val went down on both knees, putting a hand against Johnny’s cold cheek.   Looking at Parsons Val shook his head.

“He’s freezing.  You got any more blankets?”

“Zak,” Parsons said as his son stepped into the barn, “go to the house and ask your Ma for some blankets.”

“What have you done for him?” Val asked, unbuttoning Johnny’s shirt.

“Only what you see,” Parsons answered.  He wasn’t happy with having the gunfighters on his property.

Val glanced up at Parsons before turning his attention back to Johnny.   

The sound of a wagon stopping outside the barn brought Val to his feet, gun drawn.

James stepped into the barn.  Giving himself a moment for his eyes to adjust to the lower light, he moved to the other side of Johnny.

Val knelt again, pulling Johnny’s shirt open.  A gash of at least 12 inches ran across the boy’s rib cage and to his stomach, no doubt caused by a knife.   Lifting the shirt from Johnny’s left shoulder, he got his first look at the bullet wound.

“Val, we need to get him out of here and back to the house.  Sara can take care of him.”  James was watching Val’s face.   He could see the worry etched there.

Val nodded as Zak returned from the house with bandages and two blankets.  It didn’t take long for Val and James to wrap Johnny’s chest and bandage the shoulder.  Together they lifted the still unconscious boy, taking him to the wagon.

Val reached for his gun at the sound of riders coming.  James Blair and Floyd Parsons grabbed their rifles.   They relaxed when they saw it was Fred Turner and a few other farmers.

The men drew up in the yard.   The men’s angry eyes fell on Val.

“Carl Stinnett’s place was raided last night.  Do you know anything about it, Crawford?” Turner asked, looking at the still form in the back of the wagon.

Val held Turner’s gaze. 

“No, Johnny and I were out cutting Golden’s fences last night.  How bad was it?”   Val had no doubt it was going to be bad.

Turner lowered his head. “They killed Carl, burned the barn along with the horses in it.”   Turner took a deep breath before continuing. “Pardee’s men found Mary and the kids in the root cellar.  It wasn’t pretty.”

Val had hoped it wouldn’t turn to this.  Pardee had set his dogs loose last night, and now an entire family was dead.

“Four of Golden’s ranch hands came by this morning. They said they were quitting.  They couldn’t stomach what Golden and Pardee were doing.  They also said they found two gunhawks dead over on the east range this morning,” Turner stopped and looked once again at Johnny in the wagon.   “Is that where Madrid was last night?”

Val nodded.  “Johnny was supposed to cut the fence and meet me back at Blair’s.  He made it as far as Parsons’ wheat field.”

“He hurt bad?” Turner asked.  

“Bad enough,” Val answered.  “You got a doctor around here?”

Turner nodded. “There’s one in San Angelo.  I’ll send one of my boys for him.  Are you taking him to Blairs?”

“That’s right,” Val answered.  “Sorry to hear about your neighbor, Mr. Turner.” 

Val looked at Turner and the other farmers with him.  “You realize Pardee has just upped the ante.  The men with him now ain’t gonna’ stop at burning a few barns.  They won’t stop until a bullet stops them, or you’re all gone.”

“What do we do?” Seth Jones spoke up for the first time.  “I saw what they did to Mary and the girls before they killed them.  Those men are animals.”

“Yeah,” Val answered.   He could see the anguish in the faces of the men around him, but he needed to help Johnny.  That was his only priority at the moment. 

“Yeah, they are, but we’re not all like them.  I’m not like them, and neither is Madrid.   There’s nothing we can do for the Stinnetts now.  We can do something for Madrid.   Mad…Johnny needs help.  I need to get him to the Blair farm and have the doctor look at him.”


Val tied his horse to the tailgate and climbed into the bed of the wagon.   When he had Johnny settled, he nodded that he was ready.  James flicked the reins, and the wagon jerked forward.

It seemed like an eternity before James pulled up in front of his house.    Sara and Jimmy were waiting on the porch.

“James?” Sara hurried toward the wagon.

“We need to get him inside, Sara.  Fred Turner sent for the Doc.  He should be along soon.” James jumped from the wagon seat.

Together, James and Val carried Johnny inside the house.  He’d just got him on a bed when Jimmy ran in.

“Pa, horses coming.”

“Jimmy stay in the house with your mother,” James yelled, remembering what Turner had said about the Stinnett family.    He picked up his rifle and followed Val outside.

Val stepped down from the porch, gun in hand.   Recognizing the two riders, he nodded. 

“Isham.  Reb,”

“Val,” Isham responded.  “Golden’s men rode into in town telling everyone what happened last night to that farmer.  Then some kid rode in to get the Doc and said Johnny was hurt.”

“We heard about the farmer,” Val answered.  “What are you fellows doing here?”

“When we heard Madrid was hurt, we figured you might need some help,” Larsen spoke up, leaning over the pommel of his saddle.

Isham looked passed Val to the house.

“Those ranch hands said Rudd and Dabbs were found this morning.   When we heard Johnny was hurt, we figured he must have met up with them last night.”

Val stared at the two men, hesitating to tell them anything.   The matter was taken out of his hands when a buggy rumbled down the road and stopped in front of the house.

“I’m Doctor Bishop.”  A tall thin dark-haired man with a beard stepped down from the buggy, reaching for his medical bag.  “Where’s my patient?”

Val kept his eyes on Isham and Reb.  “In the house, Doc.”

Sara Blair stepped out of the house.  “Doctor, he’s in the bedroom.  Please hurry.”

Doctor Bishop looked at the gunfighters on horseback and then at Val, still holding his gun.

“Go ahead, Doc,” Val said.  “I’ll be in there in a minute.”

Bishop stepped past Val and onto the porch.

“How bad is Johnny’s hurt?” Isham asked, jumping off his horse and barreling toward the house.   

Val raised the barrel of his gun. “Hold it, Isham.”

“I wouldn’t hurt him, Val,” Isham responded honestly.  “You know I wouldn’t.  Johnny’s my friend.”

“What about you, Reb?” Val asked, looking at the gunhawk still on his horse.

“I don’t mean him no harm, Crawford.  If Madrid’s hurt, it looks like you’re gonna’ need our help.   The kid that came for the Doc spread the word all over town where Madrid was.  The gunhawks with Pardee know where to find him.” Reb said as he stepped down from his horse.

Val lowered his gun.

“Alright,” Val said, “but if either of you are lying or cause that boy any harm, I’ll kill you even if it’s with my bare hands.”

Isham pushed passed Val, entering the house. 

Jimmy saw the men come in.  There were tears in the little boy’s eyes.

“They won’t let me in,” Jimmy sniffled.   “Ma said for me to stay here.”

James put an arm around his son, pulling him close to his side.  

“Pa, Johnny’s not going to die, is he?”

“I’m sure he’ll be alright, son.”   James ushered Jimmy to the sofa and sat down with him.   

Val hesitated only a moment before pushing the bedroom door open and stepping into the room.

“Wait outside,” the doctor growled, leaning over the still form on the bed.  Sara stood by his side.

“How is he?” Val asked.

“I’ll tell you when I know.   Now…,” Bishop started.

“I ain’t leaving him, Doc,” Val interrupted.

“Are you family?” Bishop asked as he continued to work.

“The only family he’s got,” Val answered, swallowing hard.

Bishop looked up for a moment and then back down at his patient.  

“How long has he been unconscious?”

“Not sure,” Val answered.  “He was like this when I got to him.”

“He has a bullet wound on his left shoulder and knife wound across his ribs.  He’s also got quite a knot on the back of his head.   I’m sure that’s why he hasn’t woken up,” Bishop said as he started cleaning and stitching the knife wound.   “Was he outside in the rain all night?”

Val nodded. “Expect he was.  Mr. Parsons said he found Johnny in his wheat field this morning.”

The doctor stood and stretched his back.  Looking at the bare chest of the boy on the bed, he shook his head.

“How old is this young man?” Bishop asked, looking at Val.

“Figure he’s going on sixteen,” Val answered.

The doctor shook his head.  “I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean?” Val responded with a frown.

“He’s no more than fourteen, maybe just turned fifteen, but not close to sixteen yet.”

“He’s small for his age,” Val said.  “Always has been.”

The doctor smiled. “He would be small for his age if he were sixteen; not for a boy of fourteen.” 

“You really think he’s that young?”  Sara spoke for the first time.

“I do,” the doctor answered.

“I don’t think so, Doc,” Val smiled.  “I’ve known Johnny since he was five or six.  He’s always been small.”

“How long has he been living by his gun?” Bishop asked.

Val looked up, surprised.   “You know who he is?”

“I know,” the doctor nodded.  “Everyone in San Angelo knows who he is.”

“Is he gonna’ be alright?” Val asked, moving closer to the bed.

“I’ll know more when he wakes up.  Until then, keep him warm. I’m concerned about him being exposed to the elements last night.   I’ll be back later today,” the doctor said as he picked up his bag and started for the door. 

“He always runs a fever when he’s hurt,” Val added.

“He’s already started one.   Mrs. Blair knows what to do,” Bishop added opening the door and stepping out.   “If his fever spikes too high, send for me right away.”

Finding James Blair, Reb Larsen, and Isham in the living room, the doctor waited for Val and Sara to join them.  

“Doc…,” Isham asked.

“Let the Doc be, Isham,” Val said, irritated at the boy.  “I’ll tell you what he said.”

“But, Val,” Isham responded with a frown that came close to a pout, “just wanted to know if he was alright.”

Doctor Bishop nodded. “Well, I’ll leave it to you.  I need to get back to town.  After what happened to the Stinnetts last night, the entire valley is in an uproar.”  

“The Stinnetts?” Sara looked puzzled.  “What do you mean after what happened?  James, what happened?”

James sighed; he hated to tell his wife about her friend.  “With everything going on with Johnny I haven’t had time to tell you, Sara. Pardee raided the Stinnett farm last night.”

“Mary?  The girls?” Sara put her hand over her mouth.

James shook his head.

“My God, how could they?”  Sara fell into James’s arms with tears streaking down her face.

“Golden’s ranch hands have started quitting,” the Doctor added.  “The man has gone too far.  Some of the outlying ranchers have gone to Fort Concho to talk to the post commander.  They’re asking for a Federal Marshal to be brought in.” 

“It’s about time,” James said. 

“I’ll be going then,” Doctor Bishop climbed into his buggy.  “You know where to find me if that young man takes a turn for the worst.”

“I’ll be with Johnny,” Sara pulled out of James’ arms and took a deep breath.

Val shook his head.   “I need to get Johnny out of here.  If Isham and Reb are right, we’re gonna have visitors soon.”

“And take him where?” Sara spoke up.  “Johnny’s in no condition to go anywhere.  No.  He’s staying right here until he’s able to walk.”

“When Sara makes up her mind there’s no use arguing with her, Val.” James laughed.  “We’d better get ready.”

“What do you want me and Isham to do?” Reb asked.

Val let out a deep breath.  “Let’s get to it then.  Reb, how much ammunition have you and Isham got?


A clap of thunder brought Johnny up from the depths of darkness.   His first thought was the storm was still going on.   The thunder roared again and then again.  Soon there was nothing but the thunder.

A sharp pain shot through his head, taking his breath away.   The constant rumble of thunder made the pain worse.  

Opening his eyes, Johnny looked around the darkened room.  A whimper from the corner drew his attention.  Sara and Jimmy were crouched down, Jimmy clutching his mother.  

“Mrs. Blair?” Johnny groaned, knowing now that what he heard was gunfire.

Sara’s eyes widened when she saw Johnny try to sit up. 

“No, Johnny, stay down.”   Sara crouched as she made her way across the room to the bed, leaving Jimmy in the corner.

“What’s happening?” Johnny swung his legs off the bed; his hand went to his side. 

“Johnny, please lay back down,” Sara begged, trying to push Johnny back into the bed.

Suddenly everything was silent as the gunfire ceased.

“Crawford!” a voice called out from outside the house.   “Crawford!  We know Madrid’s in there.  Give him to us, and the rest of you can go.  We know you don’t want that woman and kid hurt.”

“Where are my clothes?” Johnny asked.

“You can’t….” Sara tried again to push him down.

“Where are they?” Johnny looked around the room.  “Mrs. Blair, I need my clothes.”

Sara quickly moved to the wardrobe, opening it, she picked up Johnny’s clothes and took them to the bed.

“You better turn around,” Johnny threw aside the quilt that covered him.  He continued to listen to what was happening outside as he struggled into his pants.

“Dodge,” Val called out.  “I thought you had more sense than to try something like this.  You know I’m not gonna’ hand him over.”

Jack Dodge laughed. “Figured as much,” he said as he opened fire again.

Sara helped Johnny on with his shirt and boots.  Standing on shaky legs, he wrapped his gun belt around his hips and buckled it down tight. 

“Johnny, you’re in no condition to out there.  You could start bleeding again, and you have a fever.”

“Ma’am, you go back over there with Jimmy,” Johnny nodded toward the boy in the corner. 

Johnny drew himself up, taking a deep breath fighting off the pain in his head and chest. 

“Johnny, please be careful.”  Sara gave Johnny a worried look as she squatted next to Jimmy, pulling him close to her.

Stepping out of the room, Johnny saw James and Val at the front windows, both returning fire. He moved toward the kitchen and the back door.    Easing the door open, he peeked out, making sure there was no one there before stepping out of the house.


“What the hell,” Reb shouted over the sound of gunfire.   Reb looked first to the corner of the house and then at Isham.  

Val had put Reb and Isham in the barn before Dodge, and his men rode into the farm.   With James and Val in the house and Reb and Isham in the barn, they had the entire yard covered.   From the barn, the two could also see one side of the house.

“What?” Isham turned to look at Reb.

Reb pointed toward the house.  They could see Johnny making his way across the open area between the house and the barn, knowing he was going to work his way around the barn.

“What’s he doing?” Isham asked, looking back toward Dodge and his men.

“He’s gonna’ try to get behind Dodge.”  Before he could say more, they heard Johnny call out.


The gunfire stopped.  

The front door of the house flew open as Val barreled onto the front porch.

Jack Dodge fired a shot toward the house and then spun around, mouth open.  He’d never expected to see Madrid on his feet.

“You wanted me, Dodge.  Here I am.”   Johnny’s hand brushed the side of his holster.

“Madrid,” Dodge leveled his gun barrel at Johnny. 

Johnny cleared leather and fired before Dodge could fire.  At the same time, Isham, and Reb fired at Dodge’s men who had raised from cover.  

When the smoke cleared four of the five gunfighters, who had attacked the Blair farm, were dead. 

“Don’t shoot,” Joel Park called out. “Don’t shoot.  I’m throwing my gun out.”  The fifth gunfighter raised his hands in the air and threw his gun out in front of him. 

“Stand up,” Reb called out, as he cautiously stepped out of the barn.

Park stood up and looked around.  Dodge was on the ground to his right.  He knew he shouldn’t have listened to Dodge and his plan to go after Madrid, but here he was, hands in the air and hoping Madrid would have mercy on him.

Isham followed Reb into the yard.  His eyes fell on Johnny, who still held a smoking gun in his hand.

Johnny holstered his gun and walked toward Park.    Standing in front of the gunman Johnny snarled, “Whose idea was it to come after me?”

Park immediately answered, “Dodge.  It was Dodge.  He said with you hurt he wouldn’t have no trouble taking you down.”   Park looked around at Reb and Isham.   “He didn’t figure you’d have any help except for Crawford.”

With the mention of Val’s name, Johnny looked toward the house.  His breath hitched when he saw Val lying on the front porch.

“VAL!”  Johnny screamed and started running toward the house.

James came out of the house and was kneeling next to Val by the time Johnny scrambled onto the porch.

“Val!” Johnny fell to his knees next to his friend.  He leaned over Val’s still form almost afraid to touch him.

There was a pool of blood spreading from under Val’s left shoulder.  It looked like Dodge’s last shot hadn’t been wasted.

“Let me see,” James said, pushing Johnny back. 

Reluctantly, Johnny leaned back and watched as James unbuttoned Val’s shirt, pulling it free of the bullet wound.  James rolled Val toward him and looked at his back.  There was an exit wound. 

Sara was there now with towels and water.

“It went through,” James said, taking the towels from Sara.  He folded one and put it on the exit wound and then pressed another on the entry wound.    “We need to get him inside and get the Doc out here.”

James looked at Johnny.  The boy had his eyes glued to Val.  A look of shock on his fevered face.   James reached for Johnny with a bloody hand.

“Johnny,” James’ voice seemed to penetrate the haze surrounding Johnny’s mind.  

Johnny raised his eyes from Val to James.

“He’s going to be alright.  We need to get him inside and get the Doctor,” James spoke slowly.

Johnny nodded, then his eyes fell back to Val.   Suddenly, Johnny changed.  His features hardened; his eyes grew dark.  Johnny stood up and turned toward Park.   Stepping down from the porch, Johnny marched toward the gunfighter who still had his hands in the air.

Stopping in front of Park, Johnny drew his gun and aimed it at Park.

“Madrid!  No!” Reb called out taking a step forward.  “You don’t want to do that.  Not in cold blood.”

Johnny’s hand was steady as he held the gun inches from Park’s head.   The sound of a familiar voice behind him, caused Johnny to hesitate.


Johnny glanced over his shoulder.  Val was standing with the help of James and Sara.  

“You want to come over here and give me a hand?” Val’s voice was weak.

Johnny looked back at Park. 

“Isham, give him his gun,” Johnny drawled.

Isham moved forward and picked up Park’s gun.  He handed it to the gunfighter and then stepped away.

Isham didn’t know what to expect from Madrid.   He’d known him for a few months.  They had become friends, but still, he had never seen this side him.

With Johnny’s Colt still pointed at Park, Johnny drawled, “Park, get on your horse and get out of here.  Go back and tell Golden he’s through in the Concho Valley.  If Pardee’s smart, he’ll pull out now.   As for you, if I ever meet you again, you’re a dead man.    The only reason you’re alive right now is because that man over there is alive.”

Johnny lowered his Colt and holstered it.

Park didn’t waste any time turning away and moving to his horse. 

“Isham, will you go into town for the doctor?” Johnny asked as he watched Park riding away. 

Isham nodded and without a word went to the barn for his horse. 

“Johnny,” Val’s voice carried across the yard.  

Johnny nodded and started to the house.   Calling over his shoulder, “Reb, can you get them loaded in the wagon and into town.”   

Reb looked at the bodies on the ground, then at Johnny’s back.  

James had his arm around Val, waiting for Johnny.   Johnny stepped onto the porch, stopping in front of Val.


“I’ll be alright.  Just stay with me.  You hear me?”

Johnny nodded.

James helped Val into the house.  Sara met them at the door.  Together they took Val to the room Johnny had left only a few minutes earlier.  

Johnny stood outside the bedroom door watching as James and Sara helped Val out of his shirt and laid him down.   The moment Val’s head hit the pillow; Johnny’s world started spinning.  He put his hand to his side.  Pulling back a bloody hand, he closed his eyes and spiraled to the floor.  


“Johnny, just lay still.” 

The voice was soft and comforting.  Opening his eyes, Sara Blair came into focus.   She was smiling at him.  Johnny returned the smile.

“Would you like some water?” Sara held a glass to his lips.

Johnny took a sip of the water, making sure there wasn’t any medicine in it.  When he tasted none, he took a bigger sip and then another.


“You’re welcome.  How do you feel?”

Johnny closed his eyes, thinking.  How did he feel?  His hand went to his side.  He felt a thick bandage around his chest.  There was some pain, but nothing he couldn’t handle.

“I’m fine,” he finally answered.

Sara laughed.  “Val said that’s what you’d say.”

“Val!”  Johnny strained to sit up.  

“He’s alright.”  Sara pushed him back into the bed.  “You stay where you are.  If you tear those stitches out again, the Doctor is going to have your young hide.”

“I’ve got to see him.  Please… I’ve got to see him,” Johnny pleaded as he again tried to get up.


“Please, Miss Sara.”

Sara sighed.  They had gone through the same scenario with Val only a few hours earlier.  When Val found out that Johnny had passed out, he’d tried to get out of bed and go to the boy.    The Doctor’s intervention had kept Val in bed.  Now she was faced with Johnny wanting to go to Val, and she was alone.

“Please.”  Johnny gave her one of his sweetest smiles and eyes that were known to steal a woman’s heart. 

“Alright, but only for a few minutes.  Here, let me help you up.”   Sara helped swing Johnny’s legs to the side of the bed and waited.   She could tell he was dizzy.

Johnny nodded when he was ready.   Sara helped him stand and guided him into the next bedroom. 

Seeing Val lying so still, Johnny swallowed hard.  He moved across the room and sat on the edge of the bed.   Slowly, reaching out, Johnny placed a shaking hand on Val’s chest.   Feeling Val’s heart beating, Johnny hitched a breath and closed his eyes, fighting the tears that were threatening to fall. 

Opening his eyes, he watched mesmerized as his hand rose and fell with each breath his friend took.   Val was alive, and that was all that mattered.

When he’d seen Val laying on the porch earlier, he thought he was dead.  He’d lost Val when he was six and didn’t find him again until he was twelve.  To lose his Papi again would be unthinkable.  He couldn’t imagine life without Val.  It was one thing for him to be hurt, but not Val…never Val. 

Sara watched Johnny and Val with tears in her eyes.  Never in her wildest dreams would she have thought that the Johnny Madrid she’d read about in dime novels could have such a tender heart.

There was no doubt of the boy’s feelings toward the older man or the man’s feelings for the boy.   They didn’t have to express their feelings with words.  They did it every day with actions.  Yes, these two loved each other as much as any father loved a son, or son a father.   

“Johnny, let’s get you back to bed.  I’ll bring you back when he’s awake.”

Johnny nodded.    Standing, he moved to the door. Turning, he looked one more time at Val’s sleeping form before he let Sara take him back to bed.


Johnny felt cold water cascade over his head and shoulders.  Turning, he saw Jimmy laughing with an empty bucket in hand.  The look on Johnny’s face put the boy’s feet in motion as he tried to run away.

Johnny was after him before Jimmy made it halfway to the house.

“Gotcha,” Johnny laughed as he grabbed Jimmy around the waist and dragged him toward the barn.  “I’m gonna’ teach you some manners, boy.”

Johnny sat down on a bale of hale, dragging Jimmy to him.

“What are you going to do?”  Jimmy asked, his eyes getting big.  He’d spent enough time in the barn with his Pa tanning his backside to recognize the look in Johnny’s eyes.

“I’m gonna’ tan you.  Don’t you think you deserve it?”

Jimmy shook his head.  “Nope.  Don’t think so.”

Johnny laughed.  “And why not?”

“Well, ….,” Jimmy tried to think of a reason.   “I was just funnin’ you.  You know… like I would a big brother… if I had one.”

“That so?  You know, I’ve always wanted a brother.  When I was little, I wished I’d had a big brother.”

Johnny lowered his head, thinking of how many times in his life he’d wanted a big brother to be there for him, to keep him safe and stand up for him.

“Would you be my big brother, Johnny.  I mean, I’d be a good brother to you.”   A smile spread across Jimmy’s face.

“You don’t want me for a brother, kid.  Having Johnny Madrid for a brother wouldn’t be something to be proud of.”

“Oh, Johnny, sure I’d be proud of you.  You think you’d be proud of me as a little brother?”

“Why sure.  I think you’d make a great brother.”

Johnny thought for a moment.  What harm would it do to tell the kid he’d be his brother.  It wasn’t like he was going to be around much longer.  If it made Jimmy happy, why not?

“Alright, Jimmy, you and me are gonna’ be brothers.  You know, as the older brother, you have to do what I tell you and mind me?”

“That would be great, Johnny.  I’ll listen to you, and I’ll mind.   So, are we alright?  I mean, you’re not mad about the water?”

“We’re alright, but don’t do it again.  Now go on. I need to see to my horse.”

Jimmy hugged Johnny before jumping down from the bale of hay.   Johnny watched the boy leave the barn.  He liked the kid.  It was too bad they weren’t brothers.

There had been something familiar about Jimmy.  He couldn’t put his finger on it.  Johnny covered his face with his hands.  

There was a flash of memory.  A recurring dream he’d had when he was younger.   In his dream, there had been a big man holding him on his lap, telling him about his big brother; his blond-haired, blue-eyed brother.  Those images had always seemed so real as if they were memories instead of dreams.  There had been other dreams where the big man held him.  Dreams where he felt safe and loved.  In each dream, he’d seen and heard the man laughing.   There had been times he’d woken with the memory of laying his head on the big man’s chest and hearing his heart beating. 

Shaking himself, Johnny turned toward his horse.  It had been a dream, nothing more. 

Johnny had just started to brush his horse when he felt the cold-water splash against his back.  Turning, he saw Jimmy, with a grin on his face, drop the water bucket and start to run out of the barn.

“Oh, no, you don’t, you little….,” Johnny yelled as he gave chase. 


“Will you quit fussing?” Val grumbled.   “I’m alright, or I would be if I could get some peace and quiet.”

“Val, I’ll leave you be when you finish eating,” Sara answered with a smile.

“You call that food.  I’m tired of broth.  How about a steak?”   Val shifted in the bed and groaned.

“No meat until the Doctor says so.  Now open your mouth.”

Val opened his mouth, and Sara spoon fed him the broth.  A few spoonsful later Val held up his hand.  “Enough.”

Sara lowered the spoon and waited.

Val looked passed her toward the door.   “Where’s Johnny?”

“He’s out front with Jimmy,” Sara answered.  “He’s been worried about you. You know he’s very special.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like him.  One minute he’s living up to the reputation he has, the next he’s as gentle as a kitten.  Jimmy adores him.”

Val nodded. 

“Val, how did you meet him?  I mean, from what Doctor Bishop said, he can’t be very old.”

“It’s a long story, and I don’t think Johnny would want it told.  Let’s just say I’ve known him a long time.”   

The sound of laughter lilted in from outside. 

“Johnny doing alright?  I mean that knife wound and his head.”

“Yes, he’s doing fine.  I’ve never seen anyone who could heal faster than he did.  I know he still has some pain, but he never shows it.”

“No, he won’t show it.  He’s learned to hide the pain so others can’t see,” Val replied.

“Val, how many men has he…,” Sara hesitated.

Val shook his head.  “Not sure.  Don’t think he knows for sure anymore.”

The laughter was getting louder.  Jimmy tore through the front door and into the bedroom, Johnny on his heels.  

“Ma, save me…. Save me, Ma.  He’s gonna’ get me,” Jimmy laughed as the ran to the other side of the bed.

“You bet I’m gonna’ get you,” Johnny growled as he circled the room. “He threw a bucket of water on me.”

Jimmy stood on the other side of the bed and stuck his tongue out at Johnny.

“Val, you’ll protect me, won’t you?”

Val laughed.  It wasn’t often he saw Johnny laughing and playing.

“Don’t know about that, but I bet he needed a bath anyway.”

“Val!” Johnny huffed.  “I took a bath last week.”

“From the smell coming off of you, you need another one.  Now, how about you two getting out of here and let me rest.”

Jimmy skirted around the bed and made for the door.  Johnny started to go after him and stopped.   The smile slipping off his face, he turned back toward Val.    

Sara gathered her things and moved out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Johnny moved over to the bed and sat on the edge.

“You doing alright, Val?”

Val reached up with his right hand and brushed the hair out of Johnny’s eyes.

“I’ll be right as rain in a few days.  You doing alright?  Your ribs hurting any?” 

“I’m alright.  Doc said he was gonna’ take the stitches out in a few days.”   Johnny lowered his head.  “Val, you scared me.  When I saw you laying there on the porch, I thought you were dead.”

“I’m sorry I scared you.  Now you know how I feel every time you get yourself hurt.”  Seeing the expression on Johnny’s face, Val knew he needed to say more.  “Hijo, I’m alright.”

Johnny looked into Val’s eyes.  There were pools of unshed tears in both their eyes.

“Papi…,” Johnny sniffed and fell forward onto Val’s chest.  

“It’s alright, hijo,” Val’s arm circled Johnny’s shoulders, stroking the boys head and feeling tears on his chest.  “I know you were scared, but I’m alright.”

Just as suddenly as the tears started, they stopped.  Johnny raised his head and wiped his face with the back of his hand.   The boy disappeared and was quickly replaced by the serious face of the gunfighter.

“Val, I’m gonna’ take Isham and Reb and go have a talk with Pardee,” Johnny said, watching Val’s face for his reaction.

Val had wondered how long it would take Johnny to go after Golden.

“I figured you would but what good will that do?  You can’t stop Pardee by yourself.  I want you to wait until I’m on my feet to back you up.”  

“Pardee is still raiding the farms.  He burned out Seth Jones last night.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  The other farmers showed up in time.   I figure he’ll be headed this way soon.   There’s no way I’m gonna’ let them hurt James and his family.”

Val nodded his understanding.

“The Army out at Fort Concho isn’t doing anything to help?”

“No.  They’ve sent for a Federal Marshal.   There’s no way to know how long it will be before he gets here.”

“What have you got planned for Golden?”

“Not sure.  Just want to keep Pardee’s men busy long enough to keep them away from the farms.” 

“You going out to The Circle G to talk to Pardee?”

Johnny shook his head.  “No, it’s Saturday.  Pardee should be in town.”

Val reached out with his good arm and pulled Johnny back to him again.

“You watch your back,” Val whispered into Johnny’s ear.

Johnny nodded.

“Johnny, you want to play…”   The door burst open. Jimmy hesitated in the doorway when he saw Johnny leaning into Val.

Johnny sat up and smiled.  “Can’t play right now, Jimmy.  I have to go to town.”

“Town!  Can I go too?”   Jimmy ran out of the room, yelling.  “Pa!   Can I go to town with Johnny?”

“No.”  Johnny jumped up and followed the boy out of the room.     In the kitchen, he found Jimmy talking a mile a minute.    “No, Jimmy, you can’t go with me.  It’s too dangerous.”

“Johnny’s right,” James interceded, seeing Jimmy start to pout. 

“But…,” Jimmy looked up at his father with pleading eyes.

“That’s final, Jimmy.  You are not going into town today,” James said firmly with his hands on his hips.

“Jimmy, can I ask a favor?” Johnny knelt next to the boy.   “Can you watch Val for me while I’m gone?   You know how ornery he is.  If someone isn’t watching him all the time…”  Johnny looked toward the bedroom.  Val was listening.  The look on his face caused Johnny to laugh. 

Jimmy turned toward the bedroom, shaking his head.  “You want me to make sure he behaves?  I don’t know Johnny.  Looks like he’s getting himself into a pucker right now.”

Johnny smiled.   “Yeah, he is, but I know you can keep him in that bed while I’m gone. Hogtie him if you have to.”

“JOHN!” Val yelled out from the bedroom.  “You stop filling that boy’s head with foolishness.”

Jimmy’s eyes got big and his mouth opened in a wide ‘oh.’   “Johnny, he called you John.  That means he’s getting mad.”

Isham and Reb had been listening from the doorway.    Both men started laughing.

“Yeah, he’s getting mad, but he didn’t use my full name, so I’m still good,” Johnny chuckled.

“What’s your full name?”  Jimmy asked.

Johnny glanced at Val, a flush of red on his neck.   Val was the only person that knew what his full name was.   He’d never said aloud other than that one time when his mother had told him about his father.    He swore two things when his Mama died.  The first was never to say the name, John Madrid Lancer, aloud again and the second was to kill the man who had sired him.

“Jimmy, that’s enough,” Sara intervened.   “Johnny, be careful in town.”

“I will, ma’am,” Johnny answered, straightening up, wincing as he did.  The wound on his ribs still bothered him even though he wouldn’t admit it aloud.

Johnny turned to Reb and Isham.  

“I’m going to town.  I’d like you both to go with me.  If you want out of this now, I’ll understand.   I appreciate your help earlier, but there ain’t no money in this job.   All I can give you is my thanks and my gun if you ever need it.”

Reb took a deep breath.  He wasn’t sure why he was doing this.  He only knew that for the first time in a very long time, he was on the right side of a fight.  No, there wasn’t any money, and he’d probably get himself killed, but there was something about Madrid that demanded loyalty.  He couldn’t explain it, even to himself, but his mind was made up.  He’d stand beside the kid. 

“I’ll stand with you, Madrid,” Reb spoke up.  “Damned if I know why, but I’m in.”   Reb turned to look at Isham.  “What about you, Isham?”

Isham was new to the game.  This was only his second job.   He counted Johnny a friend and planned to stand beside him until the trouble with Golden was over.   At first, it had been the prestige of working with Madrid.  He’d heard about Madrid for what seemed like years.  Reading the dime novels about the blue-eyed pistolero had spurred him into wanting to be one himself.  

When he’d met Madrid in Odessa, Isham was amazed at how young the legendary Madrid was.  They had become friends.  Imagine him, a friend of Johnny Madrid.  He’d watched and learned from the younger gunhawk.  Now, like Reb, he felt a loyalty he couldn’t explain.  Johnny had a way of bringing that out in a man.

“I’m standing with you too, Johnny,” Isham nodded.  “You’re my friend.  Seems like you don’t have many in the game, so I’m with you if you’ll have me.”

Johnny looked at both men and nodded.  “Saddle up.  We’re going to town.”     


Three young gunfighters sat in the back corner of the saloon. They’d been there for an hour, nursing the beers in front of them.   The town was quiet thus far, but they knew it wouldn’t stay that way.

The three hadn’t talked much since they left the Blair farm.  Johnny had ridden in the middle with Isham on his right and Reb Larsen on his left.   All three were on high alert to their surroundings.

Johnny had been lost in his own thoughts until they reached the outskirts of town.  There he straightened in the saddle, lowered his hat over his eyes, and adjusted his rig.   Isham and Reb watched with interest as the younger man went through the ritual.    Once Johnny was ready, he nodded his head, and the three rode down the dusty main street of San Angelo.

The Saturday bustle of the town first slowed and then came to a stop altogether once word spread that Johnny Madrid was in town.   The locals knew that Madrid had been helping the farmers.  They also knew that where Madrid walked, danger wasn’t far behind.

Johnny lifted his glass to his lips and heard the sound of horses in the street outside.  Shouting and a few shots fired signaled that Pardee and his men had arrived.

It wasn’t long before the batwing doors of the saloon flew open, and gunfighters started filling the almost empty room.   The first men through the door hadn’t scanned the room until they were almost at the bar.  Men came to an immediate stop on seeing Johnny Madrid sitting at the corner table.

Day Pardee pushed his way through the gunhawks in the saloon.  The wide grin on his face vanished when his eyes fell on Madrid.

Day stopped after taking several steps forward.    

“Madrid,” Day drawled.

“Day,” Johnny answered, tilting his head back with a slight smile.  

The fact that Madrid had used Pardee’s first name told everyone in the room which of them was in charge.   The balance of power had shifted, and Madrid had taken the high ground.   He’d placed himself on a level above Pardee.

Day took a few more steps into the room.  Day’s gunhawks stood quietly behind him.

“Heard you were… under the weather,” Day smiled.   “Glad to see you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah, feeling a lot better,” Johnny drawled back.

“I heard about Dodge,” Day said.

“Figured you would.  Hope you didn’t send Dodge after me.”   Johnny toyed with the beer glass, but never took his gaze never fell from Pardee.

Day threw both hands in the air in front of him. “Not me, Madrid.  Dodge wasn’t acting on my orders.”

“That’s good, Day.  That’s real good. ‘Cause if you had, I wouldn’t be happy.  Not at all happy.  Dodge tried to kill me and shot up the Blair farm.  But you know what really pissed me off?  Do you, DAY?”

Johnny pushed his chair back from the table and stood up.  His right hand on the butt of his Colt.

Day shook his head and then watched the steady transformation of a young Madrid into the gunfighter, the legend, Johnny Madrid. 

Johnny kicked the chair he was in out of the way and stepped around the table. 

“Well, Day, I’ll tell you what pissed me off.  Dodge put a bullet in Crawford’s shoulder.   No one hurts my friends. No one.  Dodge is dead.  Three of the men who rode with him are dead.   Park is damn lucky Val was able to call me off before I put a bullet between his eyes.”

“I told you I didn’t send Dodge after you.”

Johnny nodded and calmly took a deep breath, as he moved to the bar.     

“You know, John, I don’t like being threatened.  I, also, don’t like it when one of my own turns against me.”

“What did you expect me to do?” Johnny laughed, knowing Pardee was trying to reclaim his status in the room.  “I needed work. Golden fired me.”

“So, what do we do now?” Day asked.  

“Simple,” Johnny leaned against the bar, his right hand still on the butt of his Colt.  “You need to pull up stakes and move on.  The Army’s called in a Federal Marshal.   Golden’s through in the valley.”

Day thought for a moment.  He knew he couldn’t bow to Madrid and keep the loyalty of his men, but Madrid wasn’t saying anything he hadn’t already thought.  He knew he’d made a mistake when he’d turned Dodge and the others loose on the Stinnett farm.  While he hadn’t participated himself in the ‘fun’ with the Stinnett woman and girls, he hadn’t stopped it.  That had been mistake number one.  Mistake number two was sending Dodge to take out Madrid at the Blair farm.

“You may be right,” Day begrudgingly said.  “Still, …”

“There is no ‘still’, Day,” Johnny straightened up.  “Time to move on.” 

Johnny pushed off the bar and started for the door.   Pardee’s men stood firm in front of him.  He stared at them with icy cold eyes.  The men parted, allowing him to pass.

Reb and Isham stood and followed Johnny out of the saloon.  Once on the boardwalk, they watched as the young gunfighter moved toward his horse.    Again, they followed.  The sound of the batwing doors opening behind them drew their attention.

Two gunhawks moved quickly through the doors.    Reb recognized them as Keller and Ash.   Reb turned with his hand on his gun.

“You two want something?”  Reb asked.

Keller sneered, “Yeah, we want Madrid.”

Johnny was almost to his horse when he heard his name.  Turning, he saw Keller and Ash stepping into the street.  

Stepping to the middle of the dusty street, Johnny almost smiled.  He’d been expecting this.  He knew he wouldn’t get out of town without facing someone.  Deep down, he was happy to fight the men.  Since the moment Val had been wounded, Johnny had wanted to kill someone.  These two were as good as any. 

The gunfight was over in seconds.  Keller and Ash lay face down at Johnny’s feet.  Neither man had cleared leather.

Looking toward the saloon, Johnny saw Day Pardee standing on the boardwalk.  The corner of Johnny’s mouth turned up as he tipped his hat at Pardee.    Johnny suspected Pardee had sent the men after him.

Moving toward his horse, Johnny stopped and locked eyes with Pardee.  His voice was a soft drawl.   “Like I said, Day, time for you to move on, before…”   Johnny half turned and looked at the bodies of Keller and Ash.  “Before you don’t have any men left.”

Mounting up, Johnny rode out of town.  

Reb and Isham waited until Johnny was near the edge of town before mounting and following him.  They would make sure Madrid’s back was covered.


A small, blue-eyed boy, was running toward him, arms out wide.   A grin on the boy’s tan face. 

“Papi,” the boy yelled as he jumped into his arms.   Val wrapped his arms around the small body and held him close.    The boy’s small arms went around his neck. 

Val couldn’t help but grin as the boy buried his face into the hollow of his neck.

“You been good today, hijo?” Val asked, swinging the child around and around.

“Si, Papi,” the boy answered with a giggle.   

Val swung the boy around again and then realized something had changed.  Panic filled his heart as he opened his empty arms.      

“Johnny?   Johnny, where are you?” Val called out looking around.  The boy was gone.  

Suddenly finding himself standing in a dusty street, he saw the boy, older now, standing a few feet away.  His feet were set apart, his right hand on the butt of a gun.


“Stay out of this, Val,” the boy’s voice was more mature, harder. 

The boy turned to face him.  The small boy was gone, and a teenager had replaced him.  The blue eyes were no longer laughing.  Now they were cold and dark.

“Johnny, don’t do this,” Val pleaded as he took a step forward.

“Got to Val. Got to be the best.  Got to be the fastest.  Got to be good at my trade.  People are gonna’ remember the name Johnny Madrid.”

“But, at what price, hijo.  There’s always a price.”

“I’m willing to pay it, whatever it is.”   

Val looked past Johnny.  Isham stood in the middle of the street, waiting.   

“Isham, you’re his friend.  You can’t call him out.” Val moved closer to Johnny.

“Got to, Val.”

“Why, Isham?  Why?   There’s no need.”

Johnny looked at Val, his eyes searching for an answer.

“He has to Val.  Pride in his trade.”

“Johnny, don’t…,” Val pleaded again.

Johnny turned to face Isham.  Isham drew, but Johnny was faster.  The bullet missed Johnny by inches.  Isham wasn’t as lucky and fell to the ground.   His last words, “Pride in my trade” escaping his lips.

Val watched as Johnny went to Isham’s side, falling to his knees. Rocking back and forth, he raised his eyes to Val.

“See, Val; I’m Johnny Madrid, I’m the best.  I’m good at my trade.”

Val woke with a start, sweat beads on his forehead.  The nightmare was still vivid in his memory.   Isham was up and coming.  If the boy hadn’t been Johnny’s friend, he probably would have already called Johnny out. 

Val prayed Johnny and Isham would never have to face each other.

Val lay for a few more minutes with his eyes closed.  A slight movement at the edge of the bed caught his attention.

Rolling his head to the left, Val saw a small tuft of blond hair slowly rise above the edge of the bed.   Light blue eyes soon appeared, glaring at him.

“Jimmy, what in tarnation are you doing?” Val asked, trying not to smile as the little boy’s eyes bored into him.

Jimmy raised a little higher so that his chin was on the side of the bed.   “Watching you.”

“Why?” Val drawled.

“Johnny said to watch you.  So, I’m watching you.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep, Johnny said you were to stay in bed, and I was to watch you for him.   Johnny and me are brothers now.  He’s the big brother.  I have to do what he says.”

“Brothers?   When did that happen?”

“This morning in the barn.  Johnny said he always wanted a brother, and I always wanted a big brother, so he said he’d be mine.”

Val smiled. 

“You’re gonna’ stay in bed, aren’t you?  I don’t want to have to tell Johnny you didn’t do like he said.”

“Well, you see, Johnny gets a little overprotective at times.  He really didn’t mean for me to stay in bed the entire time he was gone.”

“Yes, he did.  He said you were to stay there.  He even said I could hogtie you if I needed to.”

Val chuckled.  “You wouldn’t do that, would you.”

Jimmy nodded with a grin.  “Already did.”  He stood up and pointed to the foot of the bed.

Val looked at his feet.   The boy had tied a rope around the bed and his legs, effectively holding him in place.

“Well, I guess you got me hogtied alright,” Val laughed.  “Jimmy, you mind untying me now.  I gotta’ get up and take care of some business.”

Jimmy shook his head.  “Nope.  Johnny said…”

“I know what Johnny said, but I gotta’ go.”  Val’s voice was louder than he intended.

“Jimmy, what are you doing in here,” Sara walked into the bedroom.   She looked at Jimmy and then at Val.  Val glanced at his legs.  Her eyes followed his. 

“James Robert Blair! What have you been doing?”

“Ma, I just did what Johnny told me to do.”  The boy answered with a pout, wrapping his arms around his small chest and lowering his head.

Val laughed.   It looked like something Johnny would have done. 

“Val, I’m sorry,” Sara hurried to the bed and started untying the rope.

“Yeah, well, it’s not your fault.  Wait ‘till I get my hands on Johnny,” Val growled as he worked his legs free and swung them off the bed.

“But Ma, Johnny said…,” Jimmy started.

“Jimmy, no.  Johnny was only joking when he told you to hogtie, Val.” Sara gave her young son a stern look.

“Are you sure, Ma.  ‘Cause Johnny sure sounded real serious when he told me to keep Val in bed.”

“Yes, I’m sure.  Now go out and play,” Sara slapped her son on his bottom, sending him out of the room.

“Don’t be too hard on the boy, ma’am,” Val grunted as he stood up.

“Your Johnny has a way with kids,” Sara said with a smile.

“He does at that,” Val answered. “Guess that’s because he’s still a kid himself.”

“He’s the oldest child I’ve ever met.”  Sara sat on the edge of the bed.  “It was good to see him playing with Jimmy earlier.”

“Johnny didn’t get much of a childhood.   He had to grow up quick and hard.”

“What about his mother?”

“His Ma’s dead; killed a few years back.  He’s been on his own since he was eight.”

“The poor child,” Sara sighed with tears in her eyes.  “So, you aren’t his father?”

“As close as he’s ever had, I reckon,” Val answered shaking his head.  “His real Pa is a rancher in California.  His Ma told him the man turned her and the boy out when Johnny was two.  Don’t know if I believe everything she said, but Johnny believed her.   Funny thing is, every time Maria told us about the boy’s Pa, her story changed.”

“So, you became his… what?”

“Guess I’m a lot of things to him.  Father, brother, but mostly, I’m his friend.”

“You’re a good man, Val Crawford.”

“No, Johnny’s the one who’s a good man,” Val huffed. 

“He’s just a child, Val.”

“No, ma’am, he’s not a child, but he’s not a man full grown yet, either.”

“No, I don’t suppose he’s a child anymore.  His reputation has seen to that.”

“Yeah, his reputation has done that, alright.  The bigger it gets, the harder it would be for him to walk away, even if he wanted to.”

“He doesn’t want to walk away from gunfighting?”  Sara asked, hearing the anguish in Val’s voice.

“No.  Johnny found something when he started wearing that gun.  He found that people didn’t treat him less than dirt.  It was hard for a half Mex, half white kid in the border towns.   Those blue eyes of his have caused him a lot of pain over the years.   When he took up the gun, he could finally defend himself.   Now, all he wants is to be the best.”   The lingering memory of his dream came back.

“Is he the best?”

“Not yet, but he’s getting there,” Val answered.  There was a sadness in his voice.  “Every time he faces a man, his reputation grows.  Soon I don’t think even he’ll be able to live up to it.”

“Val, I have to admit I read one of those horrible dime novels about Johnny Madrid.  They paint a picture so different than the young man who’s been living with us.”

Val snorted, “Those da…darn books have done nothing but make things worse.  People south of the border know a different Johnny Madrid than those north of the border.   The boy has become a legend down there.”

Sara smiled.  “I’m honored to know a legend.  Just don’t’ expect me to curtsy to him.”

“No, ma’am don’t suppose he’d be expecting that,” Val laughed.  “Folks down south treat him like some sort of hero or savior. All the attention makes him uncomfortable.”

Before Sara could respond, Jimmy ran back into the room.

“Ma!  Johnny’s back,” Jimmy yelled before turning around and running back out of the room.

Sara followed her son to the front porch and watched as the three riders came into the yard.

Johnny stepped down from the saddle.  The moment his foot hit the ground, Jimmy started running toward him.

“Johnneeee!” the boy screamed loud enough to cause Johnny’s horse to shy away.

Johnny knelt to catch the boy in his arms.

“Calm down, hermano. You’re scaring the horses.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny.  I’m just glad to see you.”  The grin on the small boy’s face was priceless.

“I’m glad to see you, too.  How’d things go while I was away?  You keep ole Val in line?”

Jimmy frowned.  “I tried Johnny.  Really, I did.  I tried to keep him in bed, but Ma untied him.”

“Untied him?”  Johnny swallowed hard, and his eyes got wide as first he looked at Jimmy and then at Sara.

Sara nodded, Reb and Isham started snickering, and Jimmy was grinning.

“Jimmy, you really didn’t…”

“Madrid!” Val bellowed from inside the house.  “Get your sorry…. in here now.  You and me are gonna’ talk, boy.”

Jimmy’s eyes got wide, and his mouth formed an ‘oh’, “Johnny, I think Val might be mad at you.”

“Me?   I’m not the one that tied him down.”   There was a brief flash of panic in Johnny’s eyes.

“But you told me to keep him in bed even if I had to hogtie him.  I did what you told me to do.”

The laughter from Reb and Isham was getting louder.   

Johnny stood up, turning, he gave them his best glare.   The two men stifled their laughter and quickly looked away.

“John Madrid Lan…,” Val started and then stopped.   “Get in here, boy, and I mean now.”

Johnny swallowed hard.   Val had almost used his full name.  He gave serious thought to mounting up and riding back out.  Shaking himself, Johnny handed his reins to Isham.   Taking a gunfighter stance, Johnny started walking toward the house and his fate.


That night at supper, everyone sat around the table listening to Jimmy carry on as to how he’d done what Johnny said to do that day.  The boy’s antics had everyone laughing, everyone except Val.  Val gave Johnny a piercing look but said nothing.

“How’d it go with Pardee?” Val asked once Sara put Jimmy to bed.

“You should have seen him, Val,” Isham gushed.   “Johnny warned ole Day off and told him he needed to leave the valley.  Boy, it was a sight to behold.”

“That right?” Val glared at Isham. 

Isham nodded, not noticing the look Val was giving him.  

“Sure did and then he took down Keller and Ash when they called him out.  I ain’t never seen the like of it.  Johnny was faster than lightning.”

“You were in a gunfight?” Val turned his gaze on Johnny, who had lowered his head.

“Wasn’t any big deal.  I knew I could take Keller and Ash with my eyes closed and one-handed,” Johnny responded coolly.

Reb had been watching Val’s face.  He could tell there was a mixture of anger and fear in his eyes.   He’d often wondered about the relationship between Madrid and Crawford but was smart enough never to voice his curiosity.

James watched the interchange between the two men.   Finally, he asked, “Will Pardee pull out?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Not sure.  Pardee’s smart.  He knows when he’s fighting a lost cause.  He’s got to have figured out by now Golden is going under and the money’s gonna’ dry up.”

“Pardee will stay until he has no other choice,” Val said, thinking about what Pardee’s next move would be.

“Maybe it’s time I went to see Golden himself,” Johnny said with a soft drawl and a slight smile.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” James asked.  The concern in his voice not hidden.

“Yeah, it’s dangerous,” Val growled, “and he ain’t doing it.”

Johnny started to say something but hesitated.   Val was giving him a ‘don’t even go there’ look.

“What good would it do to go see Golden?” Isham spoke up, seeing the way Val and Johnny were looking at each other.

“Oh, I was thinking that Pardee wouldn’t have a reason to stay around San Angelo if Golden wasn’t in the picture anymore.  The farmers would be safe and the war would be over.  Simple, isn’t it,” Johnny answered.

“Yeah, simple,” Val responded, not convinced.

“You’d kill Golden?” James sat back in his chair staring hard at the young man who had been in his home for the past two weeks.   Gone was the boy; now, only the gunfighter remained.

“If I had to,” Johnny answered softly.

The sound of horses riding into the farm caused everyone to stand and run to the front of the house.   Outside, Abe Billings reined his horse to a stop.

Johnny was the first out the door. 

Before Johnny could ask, Billings yelled out, “Pardee’s men are heading for the Turner place.  I just saw them.   I sent my boy to let Parson’s know.   He’ll meet us there.”

“Reb, Isham, saddle the horses,” Johnny called out orders.  “James, stay here with Val.  Keep a lookout.  Pardee may be trying to draw us away from here so he can raid the farm.”

Johnny turned to see Val looking at him.    He could see Val was thinking the same thing.  It made no sense to raid Turner when the Blair farm was closer to The Circle G.

Val watched Johnny ride out with Reb, Isham, and Billings.  He had a bad feeling but more than anything he wanted to be riding by Johnny’s side. 

“Sara, get Jimmy inside and hunker down in the back bedroom.  James and me will be set up in the front room,” Val said as he watched Johnny disappear.

“Val, you need to sit down.” Sara reached out, taking Val’s arm. 

Val nodded as he turned toward the door.  Taking one last look at the direction Johnny had gone, Val followed Sara into the house.


The men rode only a mile before Johnny reined his horse to a stop. 

Johnny looked behind them and then toward the Turner farm.   His gut told him Turner was a diversion.

“Reb, go back to the Blair farm.  Help Val.  Isham, go on with Billings to the Turner farm.  If Pardee’s men don’t show up then head back and help Val and Reb,” Johnny ordered as his horse danced, ready to run again.

“What about you?  Where are you going?” Isham asked as he tried to control his horse.

“I’m going to cut the head off the snake,” Johnny answered with a faint smile before riding toward The Circle G.


Reb rode into the Blair farm and straight to the barn.  He knew Val wasn’t going to be happy.  He also knew there was nothing he could do about it.  Surely, Val knew Madrid did what he wanted, when he wanted, and there was no stopping him.

Reb stepped out of the barn watching the front door open.   “Here it comes,” he thought.

“What are you doing back here?” Val asked with a gun in his hand and murder in his eyes.

Reb swallowed hard, took a step forward, and started to answer.   The sound of a bullet whizzing by his ear stopped the words from coming.  Reb turned and ran back into the barn.    Madrid had been right.  Pardee’s men were attacking the Blair farm.


Billings and Isham rode into the yard at the Turner farm.    Parson, Ward, Wells, and Turner stood on the front porch of the house waiting for them.

Isham jumped out of the saddle. 

“Any sign of them?” Isham asked, gun in hand, looking around the farm.

“No,” Turner answered, stepping forward.  “Billings, are you sure they were headed this way?”

Abe Billings nodded.  “They were headed this way.  No doubt about it.  I wonder….?”

“Wonder what?” Isham spoke up.

“Wonder if Madrid was right.   Maybe they’re headed for the Blair farm.   Letting me see them head this way was just a diversion.”

Isham took a deep breath and cursed.  “Parsons, you stay here with Turner.  The rest of you come with me.  We’re going back to the Blairs.  Val and Reb are gonna’ need help.”

“What about Madrid?” Turner asked.

“Madrid’s taking care of his own business right now.   With any luck this war will be over with today,” Isham answered as he mounted his horse and waited for the others.


“Where’s Johnny?” James yelled out as he fired a round toward the men on the other side of the corral.  “Why is Reb back?”

James could see Val shaking his head and hear him cursing under his breath.  “How the hell do I know,” Val answered, firing a shot and watching one of Pardee’s men fall.

Val turned his back to the wall, raising a hand to his shoulder. Between the pain shooting through his shoulder and arm and worry about Johnny, he was having a rough time.

“Val, are you alright?”  James asked, worry in his voice.

“I’m fine,” Val answered, gritting his teeth.  “Just keep firing.” 

Val thought about what he’d said.  ‘I’m fine’ was Johnny’s favorite reply when he was sick or hurt.  Val had heard it for years.  He prayed the boy was ‘fine’ right now.

The battle seemed to go on forever.   Suddenly the sound of increased gunfire could be heard. Val peered around the window edge.   Isham was riding into the yard, full out, yelling and firing at anything that moved.

Jumping from his horse, Isham ran into the barn, grinning and firing as he went.  He came to a sudden halt when he came face to face with Reb’s Colt.

“What the hell are you doing back here?” Reb yelled, turning his gun away from Isham and back to the yard.

“Figured out Pardee was coming here instead of Turner’s farm.  Ward, Wells, and Billings are right behind me,” Isham answered.   Looking toward the house, he could see only two guns firing.   “Johnny come back yet?”

“No,” Reb ground out.  “Figure he’s headed for Goldens.”

“Val know yet?” 

“No, I didn’t get a chance to tell him,” Reb answered, shaking his head.

Pardee stood next to his horse on a small rise near the Blair farm.  He’d been watching the gun battle.   Day knew Madrid and Crawford were staying with the Blairs and figured it was time to kill two birds with one bullet.  Take over Blair’s farm and kill Madrid in the process.

As he watched, Pardee realized something was wrong.  There should have been more guns firing from the farm.  He figured there would be five guns at the farm, Madrid, Reb Larsen, Isham, Blair, and Crawford if he was able to hold a gun. 

When they’d arrived, there had only been three guns firing back at his men.  When he saw Isham ride in, Pardee realized that not everyone was at the farm.  

Where was Madrid?

Pardee turned to see more riders coming.    He mounted up and turned away from the farm, calling to his men to retreat.

As Pardee rode toward The Circle G, he had a sinking feeling.   Somehow, he knew where Madrid had gone.


Johnny ground tied his horse behind the main ranch house of The Circle G.   With Pardee and his men raiding one of the farms and Golden’s ranch hands out working; there were few men near the house.

Johnny had become familiar with the layout of the house and surrounding buildings when he and Val had worked for Golden. 

Carefully, he made his way through the back door of the house.  Stopping in the kitchen, he listened for signs of anyone inside.  There was a faint noise coming from what Johnny knew was Golden’s study.

Cat pawing toward the study, gun drawn, Johnny looked around to make sure he wasn’t going to be disturbed.   Standing in the doorway, Johnny watched Golden at his desk.   It took several seconds for Golden to realize he wasn’t alone.

With knotted fists, Golden pushed himself up.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

Leaning into the door jamb, Johnny relaxed.  His eyes were cold, and a faint smile ghosted across his face.  His Colt never wavering.

“I’m here to get you to call Pardee and his men off,” Johnny said in a soft voice.  “You see, Mister Golden, you’ve lost.  You had it all right here, but you wanted more.  Men like you never get enough.   You tried to take it all, and you lost everything.”

“How dare you tell me what to do, you half-breed bastard,” Golden sneered.

“Now, now, Mister Golden,” Johnny drawled, drawing the word ‘Mister’ out, “not nice to call people names when they have a gun pointed at your gut.”

Golden hesitated, then sat back down.  “What do you plan to do?”

“Well, the way I see it, you have a couple of choices.   You agree to fire Pardee and leave the farmers alone.  In that case, you live.”

“And if I don’t?”   Golden’s right hand had slipped under the front of his desk.   The familiar feel of the gun he kept there gave him a false sense of security.

“If you don’t, then I shoot you now.  Cutting the head off the snake always works,” Johnny was watching Golden’s right hand move. 

“I’ll pay you,” Golden’s voice rose.  “I’ll pay you twice what Pardee was paying you.”

“Mister Golden, you didn’t want me working for you. Remember? You didn’t want the Mex on your property,” Johnny answered calmly.  “No, I don’t think I could work for you.  I’ve met some good people.  People like the Blairs are the future of the Concho Valley.   You’re finished here; I’m going to see to it.”

“You’d kill me in cold blood?”

“No, that’s not my way.  That’s Pardee’s way but not mine.  I only kill someone who is drawing down on me, just like you are with that gun under your desk,” Johnny straightened up.  

The shocked look on Golden’s face told Johnny he was right.

“Go ahead, Mister Golden, make your play,” Johnny’s smile broadened but still didn’t reach his eyes.

Gregory Golden jerked his gun from under the desk and leveled it, firing as he did.  The bullet shattered the door frame next to Johnny’s head.  

Johnny crouched and fired.  A bullet entered Gregory Golden’s chest.

Golden’s finger contracted one more time as he fell forward over his desk.  The bullet hit Johnny’s left arm, throwing him backward.

Standing straight, Johnny knew Golden was dead.  He heard noises outside the front of the house.   Looking around the room, Johnny backed out.  Turning, he went out the way he’d entered.

Making his way back to his horse, Johnny took a bandana and wrapped it around his arm.  He mounted and reined the horse away from The Circle G heading back toward the Blair farm and Val.  


Pardee rode full out until he reached the Golden’s ranch house.  He knew the moment he rode in the worst had happened.   Ranch hands were milling around outside. 

Pardee knew he was too late.   Pushing his way into the house, he stalked into the study, finding Golden sprawled, face down across his desk.

“Anyone see who did it?” Pardee barked.

The ranch hands all shook their heads.  

The foreman, Joe Bryant, stepped forward.   “No one saw anything.  We heard three shots.  Mr. Golden got off two shots.  One hit the door frame.  Don’t know what the other one hit.  It looks like Mr. Golden took one bullet.”

Pardee nodded, looking at the splintered wood of the door frame.  His eyes fell to a drop of blood on the floor.  Pardee stooped down and fingered the drop.  He noticed more blood drops leading toward the kitchen.  Pardee followed them out to the kitchen and then out of the house.  It didn’t take him long to find where a horse had been waiting for the bleeding man.

Smiling, Pardee knew who it was.   All he could think was he should never have let Golden fire Madrid.

Pardee went back into the house to search for what money he could to pay himself and his men.   He’d be leaving the Concho Valley today.


Sara Blair was hovering over Val when the sound of a horse entering the yard brought everyone to their feet.

Val pushed the woman aside and made his way to the front porch.    He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Johnny stepping down from the saddle. 

Val didn’t say a word.  He just looked the boy over.  His eyes fell on the bandana around his arm.

“You hurt bad?” Val asked, trying to remain calm.

“Naw,” Johnny answered, his eyes meeting Val’s.  “Just a scratch.”

Val nodded.   “You get whatever business you had to do taken care of?”

“Yeah,” Johnny sighed, dropping his eyes to the ground.  Kicking the dirt around with the toe of his boot, Johnny looked back up.   “Everything’s taken care of.”

Val nodded again.   “Well, come on in and let Miss Sara take a look at that arm.  Maybe she’ll stop fussing over me for a while.”

Johnny gave Val a weak smile.

Reb and Isham stood to the side, not saying a word.  They both knew where Johnny had gone.  No one had to say it.    They also knew that if Johnny had completed his ‘business,’ then the range war was over.

Sara moved across the yard.  “Johnny, come inside.  Let me take a look at you.”

Johnny didn’t balk as the women pulled him toward the house.

Jimmy tore out of the house, down the steps, and across the yard.  Throwing his arms around Johnny’s waist, he held on tight.

“I was worried about you, Johnny,” Jimmy said with tears in his eyes.  “It was awful.   Everyone was shooting, and I didn’t know where you were.”  Jimmy sniffled, “Val was worried too.”

Johnny smiled at the boy, putting a hand on top of the small head.   

“Val was worried about me?   Hard to imagine that.”

“Oh, he was worried.  I even heard him cuss a time or two when he heard you went off on your own,” Jimmy looked up at the older boy he worshiped.

“Well, I’m back now, and you know what?  Everything is going to be alright now.  You and your folks don’t have to worry about anything anymore.”  Johnny looked up to see James Blair watching him. 

“Golden?” James asked, hesitantly.

Johnny didn’t say a word; he just gave a slight nod.

Johnny stopped on the porch next to Val.  Looking up at his friend, Johnny waited to see what Val would do or say.   Val reached out with his right arm and put it around Johnny’s shoulder, then pushed him into the house.


Two hours after returning to the Blair farm, Johnny sat beside Val’s bed watching him sleep. 

Reb quietly stepped into the room.   “Johnny, riders are coming in.  I think it’s Pardee.”

Johnny gave Val one last look and stood.   Stepping into the living room, Johnny looked at James, Sara, and Jimmy.   

“Stay inside,” Johnny ordered before moving to the door.

Standing on the front porch, Johnny in the middle, Reb on his right, and Isham on his left, the three men waited for Pardee to come to a stop in the yard.

“Madrid,” Day drawled.

“Day,” Johnny answered with his own drawl. 

“We’re going to be moving on,” Day said flatly, his eyes going to Johnny’s bandaged arm.

“That so,” Johnny answered with no emotion.  “Why now?”  

Johnny heard a faint step behind him and felt Val’s presence.   He always knew when Val was close.

“The money’s dried up.  It seems someone killed Golden this morning,” Day replied with a smile on his face.   “Wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Johnny slowly shook his head.  “Nope.”

“Well, like I said, we’re moving on.  Thought we’d head to Dallas if you fellows want to join us. The McClellan brothers are meeting me there.”

“Don’t know about Reb and Isham, but Crawford and I are headed back to Arizona.   We’ve had enough of Texas for a while and don’t care too much for the McClellan brothers,” Johnny answered, knowing Val felt the same way he did about Texas and the McClellan’s.

The McClellan’s were six of the meanest men Val and Johnny had ever had the misfortune of working with.  Johnny swore he’d never work with them again.

“Reb.  Isham.  If you decide to join me, I’ll see you in Dallas,” Day said as he turned his horse and headed away from the farm.  The few men he had left following.

Reb let out the breath he’d been holding.   “Damn, Madrid, you did it.”

Johnny turned, giving Reb a fleeting look.  “Did what, Reb?  I didn’t do anything.”

Reb and Isham looked at each other smiling.   They knew Johnny would never admit to killing Golden and ending the war.

Val took another step forward until he was shoulder to shoulder with his partner.  Johnny briefly leaned into him.


 Johnny had the horses saddled and the saddlebags and bedrolls strapped down.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jimmy Blair sitting on a bale of hay, his head down.

Johnny sighed and strolled over to the boy, sitting down next to him.


Jimmy looked up, tears streaming down his cheeks. 

“I don’t want you to go, Johnny.  You’re my big brother, remember.  You can’t leave.  I… I love you.”

Johnny’s heart seized.  No one other than Val had ever said those words to him meaning it, and Val said them sparingly.   

“Jimmy, I can’t stay.  You know who I am and what.   If I stay here, you and your folks will never see any peace.    I love you too, Jimmy.  Maybe someday you’ll have a real brother.  Someone you can boss around.”

“But I want you, Johnny.  I want you to be my big brother.”   A flood of tears was flowing now.  Jimmy leaned into Johnny, grabbing the front of his shirt.

“Ssshhh, now, Jimmy.” Johnny hugged the boy.  “I’ll always be your brother.  I’ll try to keep in touch and let you know where I’m at.   I want you to take care of your Ma and Pa.  They’re good people.”

Jimmy looked up and wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand.   “You’ll write to me?”

“I ain’t much good at writing, but I’ll try.”

Johnny knew he’d never write.   He also knew he’d never see Jimmy Blair again.  

Val, Reb, and Isham walked into the barn and stopped.  They didn’t want to interrupt the conversation Johnny was having with Jimmy.

Johnny saw the men and nodded.  He was ready.  He knew he had to leave and soon.

“Where are you two headed?” Val asked Reb and Isham.

“Not sure,” Reb answered.  “Heard you two were going back to Arizona, but I thought I might head south to El Paso, then skirt the border west.  Heard in town there was a range war in the making on the American side of the border near Nogales.  A fellow by the name of Worthington is hiring guns.”

“Isham?”  Val looked at the young gunfighter.

“Thought I’d head over to Dallas and maybe join up with Pardee again,” Isham replied with a grin. 

Johnny was standing next to the three men now watching Jimmy walk back to the house.

Val looked at Isham.   Isham seemed older for some reason.  Maybe he’d done some growing up in the last few weeks.  Val couldn’t help himself though; he still didn’t like Isham or the influence he had on Johnny.

“Isham, you watch yourself with Pardee.  You know he runs with a rough crew.   He’s not always on the right side of things,” Johnny stated, looking at his friend. 

“I know, Johnny.  I’ll watch myself but can’t get a reputation by always being on the right side of the fight.  Sometimes you gotta’ bust a few heads and burn a few barns,” Isham answered with a laugh.

“Yeah, you do, but you still have to live with yourself when the fight is over.  Remember the Stinnetts?”

Isham nodded. “I remember, but I’m not like those men.”

“No, you’re not.  Just keep it that way.” Johnny reached out a hand to take Isham’s.  “Stay out of trouble Isham.  We’ll be seeing you around.”

Isham mounted his horse and looked down at Johnny Madrid.  “See you around.” 

Isham reined his horse around and headed east.     

“Well, I’ll be seeing you,” Reb said as he also mounted his horse. “You two take care.  Been a real pleasure working with you.”

“Take care, Reb and thanks for the help,” Val said as Larsen started south.

“You ready to go?”  Val looked at Johnny’s profile.  

“I’m ready.  Let’s go before… well, before Jimmy starts crying again,” Johnny answered with a hitch in his voice.

“Yeah, we don’t want Jimmy crying,” Val said with a smile. 

The two turned toward the house.  James, Sara, and Jimmy stood together on the front porch.  

“We’re heading out now,” Val said, leading his horse.  

“Johnny. Val.  Thank you for all you’ve done.  We’ll never forget you.”

James stepped off the porch and shook first Val’s hand and then Johnny’s. 

“Sara gave me some good news last night.  Jimmy’s going to be a big brother in a few months.  With your permission, we’re going to name the baby John, if he’s a boy.”

Johnny smiled and winked at Jimmy.  The boy was going to be a big brother.

“I’d be honored.  Thank you,” Johnny replied. 

“Hope he’s not as much trouble as this one is,” Val laughed and hit Johnny on the back.

“Val!”   Johnny shook his head.

“Let’s go, boy.  We’re not gonna’ get back to Tucson just standing here.”  

Val and Johnny mounted and started out of the yard.   The sound of Jimmy’s voice calling to them, brought them to a stop.

“Johnny,” Jimmy ran after them.  “I’ll be a good brother.  You’ll see.  I’ll be just like you are to me.”

Johnny nodded. “I know you will.  Take care, hermanito (little brother).”  Johnny said as he kicked his horse’s sides and rode away.

Val caught up with Johnny, keeping pace with him until he slowed his horse.

“You alright, hijo?” Val asked.

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered, looking sideways at Val.  “Gonna’ miss the kid.  I always wanted a brother, but I wanted a big brother; someone who was looking out for me.  I use to pretend I had one.  I even dreamed about him.  Funny thing though, the brother in my dreams had blond hair like Jimmy’s not dark like mine.”

“Blond?   Wonder where that came from?  I know you wanted a brother. Guess I’m the closest thing to a big brother you’re ever gonna’ get,” Val said with a smile.

“Guess so.” Johnny nodded.  “Guess you’re gonna’ have to be my Papi, hermano, and amigo.”


Val and Johnny rode in silence for some time before Johnny spoke again.  



“I never want to work with Pardee again.”

“Me neither.  The man is just plain evil.”

“I’m sorry we ever met the man.”

“You know if we hadn’t hooked up with Pardee, we’d never have met the Blairs and what about Senor and Senora Diaz back in Odessa.   We’ve met some fine folks and made some friends along the way.  Guess we had to meet Day to meet the rest of them.   Besides, looks like we’re in good with Jack Slade now.”

“Don’t get carried away,” Johnny laughed.  “No one is good with Slade.  Doubt we’ll ever be best friends.”

Val laughed.  

“But you’re right, Val you gotta take the bad to appreciate the good.   Still, I hope I never meet up with Day again, anywhere.”

“Amen to that,” Val answered.   “What say we make some time today?  We can be in Odessa tomorrow and sit down with Senora Diaz for supper.  I could stand a good meal.”  

“I’d like that, Papi,” Johnny answered with a smile on his face and a laugh.

Johnny looked over at Val wondering if this was a good time to bring up the subject.



“We got some time.  Can we have that ‘talk’ now?”

“What talk?

“You know ‘the talk’ you said we’d have someday.  I’m going on sixteen, don’t you think I need to know a few things?   You know… about…”   Johnny blushed.

“Lord, help me,” Val muttered.  “We’ll have that talk, but not just yet.”

“So, when?”


“Tonight, when we set up camp?

Val shook his head.  He was hoping to put this talk off a while longer.   “Maybe, we’ll see.”

Smiling, Johnny’s thoughts turned back to the job they’d just finished.  Kicking his horse forward, it felt good to be heading west.   Anywhere that didn’t have Day Pardee was alright with him.  

He knew he’d meet Pardee again. It was just part of the game.  Johnny had a faint smile on his face.  He knew how to play the game better than anyone.  He’d played it for a few years now and planned to be in the game for a few more.

Johnny knew his day would come; it came to everyone, even the best.  Before he got boxed in the though, he’d make sure the name Madrid was remembered.   He would be the fastest gun alive.  That’s all he wanted, to be Johnny Madrid, good…no, not just good at his trade, he wanted to be the best.

May 2019

* Note: Cow tipping is an urban joke similar to snipe hunting.  Even if you could tip a cow, it wouldn’t stay down.   Ranch hands would not go out the next day and find a herd of cattle laying on their sides trying to get up.

Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or  Email SandySha directly.


8 thoughts on “Meeting Day by SandySha

  1. I loved this story. I love the Madrid days. Johnny and val are fabulous. Poor val raising his young gun and the talk lol. Bless him. Loved the blairs and the whole story. Just wonderful.


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